On 23 July 1745 Charles Edward Stuart landed on Eriskay in the Western Islands in an attempt to reclaim the throne for Great Britain for his exiled father James, accompanied only by the "Seven Men of Moidart". Most of his Scottish supporters advised he return to France, but enough were eventually persuaded and the rebellion was launched at Glenfinnan on 19 August. The Jacobite army entered Edinburgh on 17 September and James was proclaimed King of Scotland the next day. On 21 September, a government force was defeated at the Battle of Prestonpans; the London government now recalled the Duke of Cumberland, the King's younger son and commander of the British army in Flanders, along with 12,000 troops.
The Prince's Council, a committee formed of 15-20 senior leaders, met on 30 and 31 October to discuss plans to invade England. The Scots wanted to consolidate their position and although willing to assist an English rising or French landing, they would not do it on their own. For Charles, the main prize was England; he argued removing the Hanoverians would guarantee an independent Scotland and assured the Scots that the French were planning to land in Southern England, while thousands of English supporters would join once across the border.
Despite their doubts, the Council agreed to the invasion on condition the promised English and French support was forthcoming; the Jacobite army entered England on 8 November. They captured Carlisle on 15 November, then continued south through Preston and Manchester, reaching Derby on 4 December. There had been no sign of a French landing or any significant number of English recruits, while they risked being caught between two armies, each one twice their size; Cumberland's, advancing north from London, and Wade's moving south from Newcastle upon Tyne; despite Charles' opposition, the Council was overwhelmingly in favour of retreat and turned north the next day.
; the Jacobites spent two months in early 1746 unsuccessfully besieging the strongest fort in Scotland
Apart from a minor skirmish at Clifton Moor, the Jacobite army evaded pursuit and crossed back into Scotland on 20 December. Entering England and returning was a considerable military achievement and morale was high; Jacobite strength increased to over 8,000 with the addition of recruits from the Frasers, Mackenzies and Gordons, as well as Scottish and Irish regulars in French service. French-supplied artillery was used to besiege Stirling Castle, the strategic key to the Highlands. On 17 January, the Jacobites dispersed a relief force under Henry Hawley at the Battle of Falkirk Muir, although the siege made little progress.
On 1 February, the siege of Stirling was abandoned and the Jacobites retreated to Inverness. Cumberland's army advanced along the coast and entered Aberdeen on 27 February; both sides halted operations until the weather improved. Several French shipments were received during the winter but the Royal Navy's blockade led to shortages of both money and food; when Cumberland left Aberdeen on 8 April, Charles and his officers agreed giving battle was their best option.