A Look at the Historic Battle of Culloden

Around and About Culloden: The Battle and Background

When one is planning brief, informative article about Culloden, brief enough for the casual peruser,complete enough for the more historically minded, one must tread carefully.

The Battle

The Battle of Culloden (Blar Chuil Lodair) was fought on April 16, 1746. It lasted 46 minutes (some accounts say forty minutes). What led to a battle shorter than a sitcom ( including commercials) becoming so important?

The English and Scots have fought dozens of battles with each other, dating from The Battle of Raith in 596CE. The Scots and the Picts defended the coast of Fife, near Kirkcaldy, from an invading force of Angles.(today’s Kirkcaldy football team is called the Raith Rovers). Culloden is one of those battles. It is situate in northern Scotland one hundred miles northwest of Aberdeen, one hundred seventy miles north of Glasgow.The battlefield has been preserved by the Trust,although developers loom.

The Scots-Gaelic celebration of Summer - Bealtane, is traditionally April 30th. However, the weather in the north of Scotland mid-April is decidedly not summery. The temperature generally ranges from 2-9 degrees Celsius (36-49 degrees Fahrenheit). On the day of the battle Culloden was rainy, foggy, muddy and cold.

The English army, which included Hessian mercenaries was comfortable, well fed and wined in Nairn. [Nairn’s sandy beaches were used during WWII, as practice grounds for the Normandy Landing]. They were twelve miles from the Jacobites. The number of combatants vary. Some sources estimate the total English/Hanoverian/Hessian forces as 8,000, others, 9,000.The English, overestimating the threat, brought troops from Flanders, where they were fighting in the war of Austrian Succession.

The English Army at Culloden was led by Duke of Cumberland, the son of King George II. Cumberland was renown for his cruelty, and called”the Butcher” for his inhumane treatment of prisoners, the Geneva Convention notwithstanding The Jacobites were led by Lord George Murry and Charles Stuart. Their soldiers were hungry, ill sheltered and clothed. in fact, on the day, one third of the Jacobite soldiers were on foraging detail and not available for battle.

The Scots/French/Irish side consisted of Scots from the various clans in the Highlands; the French Jacobites, who contributed two regiments,(Charles had asked the French government for 20,000 troops) and the Irish Brigade consisted of 650 men made up of the Irish Piquets and Royal Ecossais( exiles in France). The Irish suffered almost 100% casualties. The total troops allegedly 5,000 to 7,000. Various sources report 1,000 to 1500 deaths.

Battle commenced with an assault by the Scots at 10:30,on this rain soaked morning. The English army had struck camp and headed towards the moorland around Culloden and Drummossie to take up their positions. Charles ignored his officers’ advices to fight using guerrilla tactics. Charles preferred a defensive action. He decided to confront his enemy at nearby Drummossie Moor(Moor – a bleak stretch of boggy, heatherclad upland moor above Culloden House overlooking the broad waters of the Moray Firth). He also ignored that the marshy rough ground may favour the larger Government forces. Over the first half-hour of the battle, Cumberland’s artillery battered the Jacobite lines, first with roundshot and then grapeshot. Following an unproductive delay, Charles ordered his men to charge the enemy. Although hampered and slowed down by the boggy ground, many of Charles’ soldiers reached the English lines. Hand to hand combat followed, favoring the new English tactic of bayoneting the exposed side of the man to the right. The Highlanders finally broke and fled, the entire battle had lasted three quarters of an hour.

In the following weeks, those Jacobites that managed to escape the battlefield were hunted down and brutally killed. The Butcher’s tactics left unerasable hatred. Charles, on the advices of the Commander of his bodyguard, Captain Shea, had removed himself from the field of battle. Charles evaded capture for five long months, eventually making good his escape to France and final exile.He did not regard this as the end of his campaign to regain the Stuart throne.

The Background

Outlander, the Gabaldon series, has sparked a revival of interest in Scotland, the Stuart Pretenders, the Sassenachs, the Jacobites - and Culloden. A bibliography of the more factual nature fills many pages. The site at Culloden Mor, maintained by the National Trust for Scotland has become a well attended tourist destination, as well as the site of study for descendants of the participants and their families.

It should be borne in mind that Culloden is complex, widespread, fraught with such as the Act of Supremacy 1558 (Protestant succession only) ,the Acts of Settlement 1701( Hanoverian kings George I,II,III - only the latter born in England); the Acts of Union 1706 and 1707 ( the Kingdoms of Scotland and England united in one kingdom under the name Great Britain) and numerous other side steps and main roads of history of the times. There are at least, two sides in any war. The Battle of Culloden was no different. Was Culloden a civil war; a war for independence; a war of conquest; a war for restoration or a war for survival? And then there is always revenge. There are always multiple reasons for wars: territorial, spiritual, economic,
familial and social, and again, revenge. Culloden was essentially fought to defend whether the monarch of Scotland and England would be Catholic or Protestant. But multiple motives and events are involved.

Eighteenth century England, on the imperial ascent, was engaged in combat in more places than a forty six minute battle at Culloden in the northeastern corner Scotland. England was at war from 1740 to 1748 in Canada with the French; in Florida and Georgia with the Spanish. Their troops were in Flanders and in Italy, as supporter of Hapsburg succession (English kings George I, II and II were Hapsburgs).

Scotland added to English woes, with the help of the French Jacobites. The Jacobites were a thorn in the side of the king in Ireland,France and Scotland, and to the American colonies, in later decades.

Jacobite Risings is applies to a series of battles/revolts/rebellions from 1688 to 1759. The final blow was the 1759 English naval defeat of the French navy at Quiberon Bay, off the coast of France. The French were embarked on a campaign to invade England, but the weather was extremely uncooperative. The Jacobite Risings were named for Charles’ grandfather, James II/VII (Jacobus in Latin, Seumas in Scots- Gaelic). They were the attempts to reclaim the throne for the Stuarts. Culloden, and associated skirmishes, was the last of the land battles.

The English had opposed James II, because he supported the papacy and the Catholic faith in contravention to the 1558 Act of (Protestant) Succession.Concern mounted in 1688 following the birth of his son, James III, by his second wife Mary of Modena. That meant a Catholic succession.

They fled to France. He had only been king for three years. Following the invitation ( some sources state that William ‘invaded” rather than was ‘invited’) of a group English of politicians of Protestant sympathies, William of Orange arrived to take the throne with his wife as co-monarch. William ‘s wife,Mary was his cousin and James II’s own daughter. Both William and Mary were both staunch Protestants. The Parliament knew that the new son would mean another Catholic monarch. They preferred the succession of James II’s daughter and her husband. To secure his position, William called a Convention Parliament to depose James, so as to facilitate Mary’s and thus his succession. James was deposed by this Convention Parliament in 1689.

Two years later,1690, James II left his family in France and went to Ireland in his campaign to regain the throne. James’ reputation with the Irish was not great. He had only been king for three years before his ouster by Parliament. When he faced with his replacement, the new English monarch, William of Orange and William’s overwhelming force at the Irish Battle of the Boyne (1690) , James ran off to France. In Ireland he is still known as “Seamus an Chaca” or ‘Seamus (James) the shite’. His campaign to regain the throne was carried on by the family. His grandson,Bonnie Prince Charlie - Charles Stuart was 26 years old at the Battle of Culloden. Charles’ lifestyle did not recommend him as a military genius. He had more enthusiasm and energy than expertise. He was alcoholic, undependable, unfaithful - not traits which would recommend him for a successful military enterprise - or the monarchy. Despite that, he is lauded as Bonnie Prince Charlie and myths abound. Charles was ‘pretty’ - bonnie
being the Scots word meaning handsome). In his determination to reclaim his family’s throne, he set about to secure military aid from the French and the Irish.The Jacobites were ready, and he had ready support from the Scots, and the Irish, who were essentially fighting the same battle with Mother England.

Culloden is a stone with many facets. Even a brief inspection of the geopolitical climate of the late 1600’s and early 1700’s reveals the ambitions, fears, schemes, plots, treaties, colonial concerns of England and the Kingdom of Scotland. One of the significant economic elements of the late 1690’s was the establishment, by the Kingdom of Scotland, of the Darien Scheme. Under this scheme the plan for Scots colonisation of the Isthmus of Panama (New Caledonia Colony), was initially so successful that a quarter of all the investment money in Scotland was involved. Given the then current economic theory of mercantilism, wherein the profits of one entity/ country took away from that of another. The government and the merchants became partners in an effort to prevent foreign powers through use of trade barriers, subsidies and regulations to limit imports. Therefore it was incumbent upon England to undermine the Kingdom of Scotland’s New Caledonian expansion.

The East India Company, and the English government worked together to undermine the Darien Scheme, which they viewed as a threat. In five years the venture was dead. Many Scots investors, especially in the Borders, were financially ruined. Royal compensation, therefore, for their financial ruin, made them more willing to agree the Act of Union.

This was a significant factor in the political Scots agreeing the Treaty of Union, after more than six years of negotiation. Article 15 of the Act of Union promised to repay all Scots investors, with an additional payment of 42% interest, the amount of their investments. One need not think long and hard that this was a large carrot to insure the signatories in Scotland to the Act.

On 22 July 1706, the Treaty of Union was agreed. The Treaty ended the Kingdom of Scotland. A second Treaty of Union went into effect on 01 May 1707. It was signed by England ( Wales was already included) and Scotland, giving rise to the new nomenclature: Great Britain. Hence English hegemony
over Scotland was accomplished.

A Caveat: When researching further for information, do not rely on one source. Remember, that history is more loudly writ by the victor, although a good cause can have a loud voice.

Dr Lucille Craig
Secretary, Scottish Society of the Treasure Coast