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