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Culloden: the bloody end of the Jacobite dream

6 February 2016

9:00 AM

6 February 2016

9:00 AM

What a wretched lot the Stuarts were, the later ones especially, the males at least. James II fled England without a fight in 1688, and the battlefield of the Boyne in 1690 earning him the unaffectionate nickname Séamus an Chaca, ‘James the Shit’. During the Jacobite rising of 1715 on the death of Anne and the accession of George I, his son Prince James Edward, coming late to the fight from France, fled Scone palace, telling his hapless supporters to ‘shift for themselves’ after the defeat at Sheriffmuir. In turn his son, Charles Edward, the Bonnie Prince, brought up in Rome, hurried from the field at Culloden in 1746, the culminating battle of the second major rising, the ‘Forty-five’, having mismanaged the whole affair. ‘There goes that Italian coward,’ spat Lord Elcho, one of his ADCs.

Only in the Scottish Highlands at that time, ‘one of the last feudal societies in 18th-century Europe’, could such a bloodline be thought worthy of the throne, let alone dying for. To admit otherwise would have been to undermine the very notion of feudalism, where blood was legitimacy. Paradoxically, Highland society had been under no danger from the House of Hanover, only where it threatened rebellion. Even its religion, chiefly, but by no means only, Catholicism — there were nonjuring Episcopalians (and south of the border the higher end of the Church of England) long after the death of King William, to whom they had found the oath of allegiance so repugnant — was largely tolerated. There was of course much resentment over the Act of Union, though Prince Charles Edward showed no marked enthusiasm for a return to the status quo ante; his sights were always set on London. He was never at home in the heather, contrary to the myths, the ballads and the pictures on shortbread biscuit tins.


His nemesis was a man the same age as he, 25, Prince William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland — clever, educated, soldierly and brave (if somewhat harsh even by the standards of the time). Not only had he seen action in the French wars, notably at Dettingen and Fontenoy, he had considerable experience of command, which meant he could take advice. His father, George II, called him back from Flanders and sent him north to deal once and for all with the ‘Highland army’, which had got as far south as Derby before deciding it was a forlorn venture and making back for Scotland. Cumberland coolly disengaged from the running fight, instead securing the east-coast ports through which the French had been able to supply the insurgents, and made Aberdeen his base for the winter, retraining his troops to deal with the feared ‘Highland charge’ — a reckless but nevertheless unnerving tactic that had discomfited some of the redcoat regiments. To what extent the device of lunging with the bayonet not at the man immediately to the front, who could parry with his buckler, but to the one adjacent — in essence the old trick of the Roman testudo — was actually employed is questionable, for in a melee instinct prevails; but the army that left Aberdeen for Inverness, the Jacobite base, in April (including several Scots Lowland regiments as well as loyal Highland scouts) did so confidently.

It was, however, the redcoats’ disciplined musketry that determined the battle on the 16th, not least their ability to keep their powder and flint dry in the ‘dreich’ weather of the Moray firth. That and Charles Edward’s lamentable choice of ground. Drummossie Moor, six miles east of Inverness, much of it bog, was no place to put one’s faith in a charge on foot by men who were tired out by a futile march the night before, had had nothing to eat worth the name for days, and whose only experienced military leaders were in open dispute with the prince over strategy. Even on a fine day (the battlefield is beautifully preserved and marked), it can beggar belief that even a novice could think to give battle there. And novice Charles Edward certainly was.

Trevor Royle is an accomplished military historian of the 17th and 18th centuries, and of the martial Scots generally, and describes the Forty-five with shrewdness and balance, though without the benefit of maps. His prose is lyrical but hardheaded, and the people-centred narrative is always engaging. He sets the Forty-five in its broader historical context, arguing that by affirming the Hanoverian succession, Culloden, and the people who fought there, shaped the whole political landscape of Europe and paved the way for the creation of the British empire. Even the SNP-leaning historian Tom Devine concedes that it underwrote the Scottish Enlightenment.

Whether or not a Jacobite victory at Culloden would have meant ultimate Hanoverian defeat is another matter; Unionism had hidden strengths, then as now. Though the fact that the Lowland regiments that fought on the government side in 1746 are now forced to wear the kilt is food for thought.

Available from the Spectator Bookshop, £21.00. Tel: 08430 600033. Allan Mallinson is the author of The Making of the British Army: From the English Civil War to the War on Terror.

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Show comments
  • rjbh

    Now the Scots rebel through the ballot box… follow Queen Nicola.. the only fans of Queen Liz .. are Rangers Fans.

    • Sanctimony

      Great… just push off… the sooner the better !

      • Domhnall MacCoinnich

        Yeah, push off. I would go further- clear off you bunch of red haired haggis munching, heather scramblers. Clear off to Scotland.

    • Desperate Dan’s Porridge

      You will not be missed.

      • Domhnall MacCoinnich

        Yeah you tell them. Bloody Scots freaks.

  • Domhnall MacCoinnich

    What utter hokum!

    • Todd Unctious

      Over a quarter of Prince Charlie’s army were English. Half the Hanoverian forces at Culloden were Scots, including the traitorous Campbell’s. Most of the rest were Germans.
      We should repeal the Act of Settlement. The only discriminatory law still on our statute books and restore the rightful Catholic King Francis of Bavaria.

      • Domhnall MacCoinnich

        You reckon!?

        • Todd Unctious

          I know. Having done a Dissertation on this very subject and analysing the regimental records.

          • Yes, and then shamefully abandoned to its fate at Carlyle during the retreat that ended at Culloden.

          • Domhnall MacCoinnich

            That is a shame. Yes. Nasty……..abandoners………….Uh, who exactly is it you have a beef with? Who (what group/ethnicty etc.) do you think carried out the shameful act of abandoning?

            Do tell?

          • Charles Stuart, who was probably the worst military and political leader in British history.

            His grandfather ran him a close second. Quite why he scampered off to Ireland instead of retreating to Scotland is anyone’s guess. He could probably have kept the Scottish throne if he had done that and England offered him the Irish one, anyway, so two out of three isn’t bad. The silly sod wanted England or nothing, and ended up with the latter.

            The grandson I think could have quite easily cut a deal after Prestonpans when the Hanovarians were in severe bum-clenching mode. The state of his army showed that a quick deal that would have given the Stuarts control of Scotland was in his interests, but no, he had to chance his arm in England, get as far as Derby and then just decide to go back to Scotland, leaving the Manchester Regiment to its fate just south of the border.

            What a waste of space that dynasty was.

          • Todd Unctious

            Surely George Elphinstone, Arthur Percival ,William However , Recovers Buller and Lord Raglan were worse military commanders?

          • I think Howe was much maligned, but the rest I’ll give you. That said, Charlie was lousy at both his military and political functions, so he is kind of unique.

            Virginia, I think, offered him some deal in the run up to the American War of Independence, but by then he was too far gone in drink to consider it. A loser throughout his life…

          • Domhnall MacCoinnich

            What he did have going for him was the bonny thing though. That can go a long way!

          • Domhnall MacCoinnich

            I can’t believe I am going to say this… but it always did for me. My bonnyness and my self delusion have taken me places I might not otherwise have got to. Interesting and uncomfortable places. Hilarious and silly and sometimes very dangerous places. However, I never started a major military campaign, so anyone still reading this should probably stop now as I have nothing to teach you as regards what a great military leader should have done back around 1745 and that.

          • No Man’s Land

            Well the Stuarts I suppose, so that’d be what… Bretons?

          • Todd Unctious

            The Stuart dynasty were Scots. Founded by King Robert II in 1371. The most successful Scots royal family as it took over the whole of England, Ireland and Wales too. Prince Charlie was born in Rome and raised a Catholic but came incognito to London in 1750 to convert to protestantism at St Martins in the Fields , now in Trafalgar Square.

          • Domhnall MacCoinnich

            Yep…I concur. Bring it.

            Or, maybe royal families and all that are a bit …old hat??

          • Domhnall MacCoinnich

            Well please get back to me when you have worked out just who it is you have it in for.

            Actually, on second thoughts, don’t bother.

          • No Man’s Land

            No problem sunshine.

          • Domhnall MacCoinnich

            Glad we were able to sort that out.

            So nice when we can work through things together like this.

          • No Man’s Land

            There’s nothing we can’t achieve when we work together.

          • Domhnall MacCoinnich

            Amen brother and god bless our tinkering.

          • Todd Unctious

            Carlisle. Many of the Manchester regiment deserted once not heading for London. Up to 700 joined Charles Stuart in Manchester but only 300 remained at Carlisle. About 50 volunteered to man the Jacobite artillery and were at Culloden for the sad and bitter defeat.

          • Domhnall MacCoinnich

            Ah well at least 50 of them hadn’t been abandoned but then again perhaps they wished they had been?

          • Domhnall MacCoinnich

            Yes..shame on abandoners and their ilk everywhere!

          • Domhnall MacCoinnich

            Well good for them.

            Can I just ask what has that got to do with anything? Are you assuming I think it was a Scotland England thing or something dreary like that?

            Or, are you trying to actually engage me in conversation?

          • Todd Unctious

            Not a Scotland England thing at all. It was an intra Scottish blood letting piggybacking on European dynastic disputes. German mercenaries and duplicitous Scots back-stabbing and manoeuvring for personal gain.

          • Domhnall MacCoinnich

            Ah, I see ‘duplicitous Scots…’. As long as we know where we stand. Always good to know that people doing history dissertations are not full of silly xenophobia/racism! That they can look at the evidence and not fall into the trap of letting it merely conflate their existing prejudices and world views. I bet your mum is proud!

          • Todd Unctious

            I must admit my initial feelings were otherwise, caught up in the romance of it all. But the more I read of Scottish history the more cynical I became.A shocking lack of consistency or national spirit seemed to pervade the Lowlands. Duplicityvthst would make Byzantine court seem straightforward.
            Dealing with Scotland has always been like putting eels in a jar.

          • Domhnall MacCoinnich

            Perhaps you could try a little empathy? You know …not assuming people did bad or immoral things because of their nationality/ethnicity but perhaps because of the unique situation they found themselves in? I mean I know it is a lot easier to just associate bad decisions with an imagined inherent group weakness….but is it good history?

          • Domhnall MacCoinnich

            ‘Dealing with Scotland’ …these colonial touches are just so quaint. I am never sure if you guys really think it or are just fooling!

            I suppose it doesn’t really matter!

      • No Man’s Land

        Genuinely interesting, the stories we tell ourselves about history eh?

        • Domhnall MacCoinnich

          Not just history though eh?! All kinds of stories for all kinds of situations. I don’t mind admitting that I myself have come up with some whoppers!

          Lying to myself is the easiest and most gratifying I find though. Always good to back things up with a tenuous grasp of what is going on interwoven with a load of bullshit stories.

      • Artgus

        Something like 20% of the Hanoverian army was Scottish, and the % of English in the Jacobite army could not have been more than 5 or 10.The battle was something like 90% Scots v. 80% English / continental.

        • Todd Unctious

          Not according to Frank McLynn. Charlie had about 500 Irish soldiers from the French Army and some 200 French too, also the remnants of the English recruits. The French Army regulars and Cluny MacPhersons clan were the only Jacobites to leave Drummossie moor in good order.
          There were English regiments with Cumberland of course but also Hessians and Hanoverian and sundry other Germans.

  • Fife Lad

    Nope…can’t stand the ‘ Old Firm’ in any form. It’s Neanderthal, bigoted, tribal, hateful and petty. No, as a Scot I happily and on occasion drink a toast to our Queen and continued longevity of the Union.

    • Tom Sykes

      Well said. If only there were many more like you.

      • OldPete

        Thankfully there are not. Independence for Scotland soon please.

        • Tom Sykes

          You are correct. The others are bigoted and greedy.

    • Domhnall MacCoinnich

      Hmmmm yeah more hokum. Keep it up!

    • Todd Unctious

      Of course you do. Lowland Scots by and large embraced the protestant Hanoverian regime. Highlanders, both catholic and episcopalian were ethically cleansed from their ancestral home by the absentee lairds and turncoat clan chiefs. Most ended up in Tennessee, Kentucky, Arkansas, Canada, Ireland or France.
      You jocks rarely talk about the Highland Clearances. A shameful episode in a history of back stabbing.

      • Fife Lad

        ‘ Of course you do…’ Ooooohhh you’ve got me all sized up you bad man! Fife born, brought up in Wales, England and Scotland ( where I reside now) English parentage…sorry. Thanks for the history lesson…fascinating stuff. As an aside….is that your real name?

    • rjbh

      A Toast to Queen Nicola is quite acceptable… the Union is over in all but name.

      • Todd Unctious

        Good.

      • Desperate Dan’s Porridge

        Would be that sour faced bore who had to watch Dylan Hartley pick up the Calcutta Cup? Again.

      • Fife Lad

        Haha…no thanks. I’d certainly raise a glass to their eventual demise ( politically of course ) though. Says you…half of Scots don’t agree.

  • Ken

    Any true conservative regrets the usurpation of the Georges. We’ve had a Germanic monarchy ever since.

  • Domhnall MacCoinnich

    I love conservatives banging on about history! It is all down to military tactics and their appraisal of people’s characters mixed in with a general sprinkling of hostility to whatever group they imagine might be after their whatever. Always the same, always hostile and self congratulatory and reads like some weird boys adventure book.

    • No Man’s Land

      Reads more Whiggish than Tory…

      • Domhnall MacCoinnich

        Haha ….Quite!

        At least there was a break in the weather though!

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