Apr 16, 2012 by

If there is one event that can be said to have changed Scotland forever, that event must be the battle that was fought on this day in 1746—Culloden.

This is a rather long post, but there isn’t a way to properly summarize this momentous battle in just a few sentences… The one hour bloody skirmish was fought by the Jacobite forces of Charles Edward Stuart(Bonnie Prince charlie)against loyalist troops commanded by William Augustus, theDuke of Cumberland, on Drumossie Moor, near Inverness in the Scottish Highlands. The term Jacobite comes from the name ‘Jacobe’, which is Latin for James – a popular Christian name among Stuart kings. Charles was the son of the Old Pretender, James Francis Edward Stuart, and grandson of the deposed James II of England.

Charles Stuart’s Jacobite army consisted largely of Scottish Highlanders, as well as a number of Lowland Scots and a small detachment of Englishmen from the Manchester Regiment. The Jacobites were supported and supplied by the Kingdom of France and French and Irish units loyal to France were part of the Jacobite army. The government force was mostly English, along with a significant number of Scottish Lowlanders and Highlanders, a battalion of Ulstermen and a small number of Hessians from Germany and Austrians. The battle on Culloden Moor was both quick and bloody, taking place within an hour. Following an unsuccessful Highland charge against the government lines, the Jacobites were routed and driven from the field. Charles was advised by his commanders to avoid direct conflict with Cumberland’s army, and to pursue the guerrilla tactics which were so effective in Highland warfare, however, Jacobite funds were running short and desertion in the ranks was becoming more frequent.

This was the context in which the two armies met at Culloden Moor on April 16, 1746. Cumberland made the first move by crossing the River Spey on April 12, with the Jacobites on the other bank retreating without offering any fight. On the night of April 15-16, Charles hoped to gain advantage by a surprise attack on the Hanoverian camp near Nairn. The plan, however, was a failure and the Jacobites retreated to Culloden – a place which Charles was strongly advised not to chose as the site for a battle. When the Hanoverians advanced onto the field the next day many of the Jacobites were exhausted after the night-time raid on Cumberland’s camp. The Jacobites were outnumbered around 9000 to 6000, and the ground was too marshy to accommodate the Highlanders’ favourite tactic – the headlong charge into the enemy’s ranks. Culloden did, however, lend itself more to Cumberland’s strength in heavy artillery and cavalry. The artillery decimated the clans as they awaited the command to charge. Many clansmen fell simply because the command to charge came too late, as Charles waited for the government troops to advance first, whereas the government troops just kept firing in the light of their highly successful Bonnie Prince Charlie bombardment. When the command did come, the charge itself was disorganised. The Hanoverians stood firm and blasted the Jacobite army into retreat.

Many of the Highlanders headed for Inverness and were hunted down and killed without mercy by Cumberland’s dragoons. Others, who headed into the mountains, stood a better chance of survival, but the government troops were thorough in their retribution. Charles fled the mainland and made for the Hebrides, outwitting both a massive military cordon and a reward of £30,000 which had been offered to anyone prepared to betray him. The French had sent various rescue missions to try to find Charles and get him out of Scotland. On September 19, they were finally successful. Charles emerged from hiding and boarded the frigate L’Heureux at Arisaig. It was the end of his adventure and of the Stewart threat to the British throne.

Many of the legends surrounding Culloden involve the clans’ attempts to return to home and the severity of government’s reaction. Immediately after the Hanoverian victory at Culloden, the Duke of Cumberland – by now bearing the nickname Butcher for his indiscriminate slaughter of the wounded and innocents after the battle – was determined to capitalize on his success and teach the unruly Highlanders a lesson they would never forget. Cumberland quickly consolidated his position by bringing thousands of British soldiers north. They were allowed to pillage the Highland Glens, raping the women and putting houses to the torch. The clan chiefs who had backed the Jacobite cause had their castles burned to the ground and their estates seized. Cattle were plundered and taken south, many of them bought by traders from Yorkshire.

The plan was clear, to strip as much wealth as possible from the Highlands in the hope that the residents would starve and freeze to death. Even this however was not enough for some supporters of the Hanoverian cause. In London, parliament debated sterilizing all women who had supported the Jacobites. Another suggestion offered was to clear the clans out and replace them with immigrants from the south. These suggestions were not acted on, but the law deliberately changed to suppress the Highland way of life. Highland dress was banned except that worn by regiments of the British army serving abroad, and anyone found wearing tartan illegally could be executed.

With their old bonds to the land and the clan system of rule broken, many opted to leave Scotland altogether. They sailed for the New World, settling in places such as North Carolina and working the land in order to make a living. As more and more Highlanders learned about the opportunities available to them in America, the numbers crossing the Atlantic swelled. It was the start of a mass emigration, which was eventually to lead to Scots becoming a powerful force in the establishment and development of the USA.

image:(Painting of the Battle of Culloden (16 April 1746, British Hanoverian vs French & Jacobites) by David Morier, oil on canvas. File is in public domain in the USA and the €U.)

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