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Battle of Culloden: The end of Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobite Rising

Updated on June 18, 2013

Song: Ghost of Culloden by Isla Grant

A macabre scar

The Battle of Culloden took place on 16’th of April 1746. Culloden, just east of Inverness (Scotland), is where Bonny Princes Charlie’s Jacobite army was defeated by Royal troops under the command of the Duke of Cumberland, loyal to King George II. This defeat put paid to the uprising. It was the last full scale battle fought on British soil and marked an end of the clan culture in the Highlands of Scotland. It is sometimes stated that this was a battle between Scottish and English forces but it was not that simplistic. This was a conflict for the throne. On one side, Charles Edward Stuart (Bonnie Prince Charlie) who sought to oust King George II and reinstate the Stuarts to the throne. On the other side, King George II and his loyal supporters.

Another assumption is that all Highlanders supported Bonnie Prince Charlie. This is incorrect and there were some clans who openly opposed him. The popularity was less great in the lowlands of Scotland, where Glasgow and Edinburgh are situated today. To further complicate this there were supporters in England and Ireland for Bonnie Prince Charlie. Certainly, up and down Britain, there were two opposing beliefs that culminated with this bloody battle in Culloden. The demographics of the soldiers also provide an insight into how close to home these different ideals came. There were family members who stood in opposition on that battlefield. Brothers and Cousins fighting on separate sides.

A year before the definitive battle at Culloden, the Jacobite army had marched south and took Edinburgh, then won its first significant battle at Prestonpans on 21’st September 1745. After taking Carlisle the Jacobite army marched through Lancaster and Manchester reaching Derby on the 4’th of December 1775. Many historians consider the decisions taken at Derby to have been critical in the outcome of the conflict. The support from English and Irish Jacobites failed to materialise and it was presumed futile to push further South to London. They decided to return back up North. This is symbolic of the Scottish national psyche which has, and still, never fully believes it can be an independent nation in its own right. It’s a fascinating subject as, today, not only does such disparities of opinion exist amongst family and close friends. But even in the mind of individuals many Scots can’t decide about the issue of independence.

Whist returning north the Jacobites enjoyed victory at Falkirk on the 17’th of January 1776. However, Loyal forces were in pursuit and some soldiers deserted home. The night previous to the Battle of Culloden Bonnie Prince Charlie made a tactical error. He had ordered his army to instigate a surprise nocturnal attack on the Duke of Cumberland’s soldiers in Auldern. This was a failure and left the Jacobite soldiers exhausted for the battle the next day. Also conspiring against the Jacobite army was the muddy terrain on the battlefield which hampered their favoured tactic of the head on charge. Culloden allowed Cumberland’s forces, who were greater in numbers, to full take advantage of their artillery and cavalry. The Jacobite army was decimated and many fell before the order to charge was given.

The ill feeling that resulted and exists to this day is a consequence of what followed the battle. The injured Jacobites were slaughtered on the field were they lay. Furthermore, those we were looking to return home were dealt with without mercy. After, the government had banned kilts, bagpipes, and other symbols of Scottish identity. They also build a formidable fortress called Fort George such was their eagerness to prevent a future uprising.

In Truth this was another bloody example of how the hierarchy used men as cannon fodder in a conflict they probably did not fully comprehend. Those with land and title acted for gain and self preservation. The battlefield and its supporting visitor centre exist not as a monument to victory but to retell the tragedy. It’s important to fully understand this dynamics of this battle. It should not be remembered in a romantic context or a victory for the English over Scotland.


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    • JamaGenee profile image

      Joanna McKenna 20 months ago from Central Oklahoma

      Not to quibble, Barry, but I recently discovered that in the 1600s and 1700s, my earliest SAVAGE ancestors lived in Clifton, Cumberland, site of the Battle of Clifton Moor in December 1745. Clifton Moor, not Culloden, was the last battle on *English* soil, as Culloden was in Scotland. In fact, my ancestor Thomas Savage penned what is considered the "definitive account" of the Battle of Clifton Moor. After the battle he was surprised to find none other than the Duke of Cumberland on his doorstep (Town End Farm), seeking a place to rest his head for the night, a request Thomas and his daughter (or dau-in-law, the terms being interchangeable) were delighted and honored to grant.

    • Academicviews profile image

      Academicviews 5 years ago from Scotland

      Thank you for your comment and time reading my Hub. The Jacobite period of Scottish history is interesting especially now that we are looking at voting for independence. The mindset of the Scots is fascinating with regards this. I am going to publish a Hub about this pretty soon. Even in the same human brain we have this cognitive dissonance where by one would feel patriotic, wish independence… yet are fond of the monarchy and being part of the UK. Add to that the West coast sectarian issues then we have a very complex and difficult to understand psyche.

    • scarytaff profile image

      Derek James 5 years ago from South Wales

      A bit more informative than my effort on Bonny Prince Charlie, Barry, But as a Welshman with a genuine interest in all history of the UK, I was glad to read your version of events. Voted up and interesting.

    • JamaGenee profile image

      Joanna McKenna 5 years ago from Central Oklahoma

      Barry, not all of America is the "Route 66 culture", but the good news is a LOT of it IS. btw, I used to live a half a block from a section of "the Mother Road" (another name for Route 66), which to my neighbors and I was "just another highway" that happened to be the one we HAD to take into the next bigger town to work and shop. There are parts of it, though, that still look and feel very much as it did when it was first built. Some of the same roadside cafes and businesses catering to tourists, although thanks to the Interstate a few miles away, there are far less tourists these days.

      But much like the pearl of wisdom about England in "84, Charing Cross Road", whatever you're looking for in America IS there and easily found on the Internet as well in any number of off-the-beaten-path magazines.

      Although Route 66 doesn't go through it (that I know of), Iowa happens to be one of my favorites for small-town culture. I've had several memorable adventures there, and have even written hubs about a few of them. ;D

    • Academicviews profile image

      Academicviews 5 years ago from Scotland

      I wouldgo to America tomorrow if i could. Love the route 66 cultures. I can see how the scots would do that, although not by choice for many in the past. The trip would have not been pleasant either.

      I'll try to hurry up with the article then. Cheers Jama. My real name is Barry btw.

    • JamaGenee profile image

      Joanna McKenna 5 years ago from Central Oklahoma

      I have no idea, but not for trying. About all I've been able to learn is my ancestor Robert McClellan (MacLellan?) was born in Edinburgh (date uncertain) but by 1784 had removed to York County, Pennsylvania, the year and place he married Elizabeth McLorg (McClurg), whom we also assume came from Scotland. Everything before that...i.e. their parents' history in lost to time, at least on this side of the Pond.

      I suspect...but of course haven't been able to prove yet...that immigrating to the New World was a combination of "unpopular" religious beliefs and the banning of clans.

      There was, btw, a large contingent of Scots in York County at the time, so the McClellans and McLorgs weren't the only families who felt life in Scotland had become intolerable...

      The article on the Highland Clearances sounds quite interesting!

    • Academicviews profile image

      Academicviews 5 years ago from Scotland

      I've not read it but I'll be sure to do that. I’ll add that to my long list. Hubpages has taken over my life. Culloden was a bloody affair. To be honest my account misses out a lot of what happened. Think this is one I’ll look at again. Were your ancestors involved in the highland clearances? That an article I’m working on.

      Thanks for your comment.

    • JamaGenee profile image

      Joanna McKenna 5 years ago from Central Oklahoma

      Academicviews, what an insightful explanation of the tactical disaster known simply as "Culloden". From what I've read of "Bonnie Prince Charlie", he was much too "bonnie" to be a serious or effective ruler. Sad that so many lost their lives (and their heritage) in the attempt to put him on the throne.

      I'll probably never know how much Culloden had to do with my own Scottish ancestors deciding to leave Scotland for America in the mid-1700s.

      Have you read Nell Rose's hub on how Scotland came under English rule in the first place? It includes the battle of Culloden:

      Voted up and awesome! ;D