Martin Margulies cannot explain his devotion to studying history and shedding contemporary light on stories that might otherwise be lost to time.
“It fascinates me,” said Margulies, professor emeritus at Quinnipiac University School of Law. “I’ve never been self-analytical enough to figure it out.”
Most recently, he devoted his research skills to a revealing new book that exonerates an 18th-century British military officer who supported the House of Hanover, a succession of kings and queens who ruled the United Kingdom from 1714 to 1901, and who are often regarded as incompetent leaders.
The belief holds that General Sir John Cope hastily fled a battlefield east of Edinburgh, Scotland, when he was caught sleeping during a surprise attack at dawn by Jacobite rebels. A centuries-old Scottish folk song has perpetuated the idea.
But in “The Battle of Prestonpans 1745,” Margulies joins a small number of academics who conclude that Cope did nothing wrong during the battle. His primary source of reference was the original transcript of an official military inquiry into Cope’s conduct, published two years after battle. “The dominant view is too uncritical of the original sources,” he said, many of whom may have had axes to grind with Cope.
As part of his research, Margulies spent a week at the Prestonpans battlefield, where British government forces, led by Cope, fought against the Jacobite rebel followers of Prince Charles Edward Stuart, known as Bonnie Prince Charlie.
The conflict was not between England and Scotland, but was a royal battle. Bonnie Prince Charlie was the grandson of deposed King James II and VII. The Jacobite movement tried to restore the family to the throne.
Tempus Publishing Group of Gloucestershire, England, released the book in February to a kind reception by The Scotsman and Glasgow Herald newspapers. In the United States, the book is available online through Trafalgar Square Publishing, at www.trafalgarsquare-books.com.
Margulies spent two years researching and writing the book and said that his official retirement from teaching in 2006 allowed him to finish the project.
Poring through reference material and building the framework for his story became a full-time responsibility, especially once he signed the contract with Tempus. “With a project that preoccupies your time, you find ideas coming in the unlikeliest of settings,” including dinner at a restaurant, said Margulies, who earned his bachelor’s degree in history from Columbia University.
Margulies, who is teaching criminal law this semester and constitutional law in the spring, said Cope’s tale also speaks to lawyers. “Whether you’re talking war or you’re talking litigation, you’re preparing for combat,” Margulies observed. “A lawyer who has done everything he can to prepare carefully can then have something unforeseeable happen, like the witness changing a story.”
Or, in Cope’s case, a surprise early-morning raid that left him largely ridiculed by history.
Do you know of a lawyer with an interesting hobby or second job, or who devotes considerable time to volunteer work? Send suggestions for After Hours profiles to dmalan