Sunday, April 16, 2006

Anniversary of the Battle of Culloden

Today is the 260th anniversary of the Battle of Culloden. The battle took place on Culloden Moor, east of Inverness in Scotland. It was the final battle of the "'45", the 1745–1746 Jacobite Rebellion. It marked the final battle fought on the British mainland.

The '45 Jacobite Rebellion was an attempt to put Prince Charles Edward Stuart — Bonnie Price Charlie — on the British throne. Bonnie Prince Charlie was the son of James Francis Edward Stuart and thus grandson son of King James II of England and Ireland, James VII of Scotland. The reason James Francis Edward Stuart wasn't king is a bit complicated.

James II/VII was a Roman Catholic. At the time, the majority of Scots and English were protestants at this time (Calvinists in Scotland, Anglicans in England). Charles II, James II's older brother, died without an heir, putting James on the thrones of England, Scotland, and Ireland in 1685. Soon after he took the throne the Duke of Monmouth, Charles II's illegitimate son, declared himself king. The Monmouth Rebellion was put down, and the rebels were ruthlessly punished, leading James' subjects to see him as brutal and cruel. James started to change various laws that had been put in place over the years to limit the power of Roman Catholics in English and Scottish government and the aristocracy (it's unclear if this was to promote Roman Catholicism or religious freedom). As more and more Catholics assumed high positions in government, religious tension intensified. In 1688 James had a Catholic son. Fearful of a new Catholic dynasty, a group of Protestant nobles invited the Dutch William, Prince of Orange, to invade with an army. James' daughter was married to William, who was also James' nephew. William invaded in late 1688, and James escaped to France (William allowed him to escape, as he didn't want James to become a martyr). William became William the III of England and William II of Scotland in 1689. While William was fighting in wars, England and Scotland were ruled by Mary. (Americans best know of William and Mary because of the college in Williamsburg, Virginia named after them.)

William outlived Mary (she died of smallpox in 1694) and had no heirs. Mary's sister Anne had numerous children, all of whom died in childhood. Not wanting a return of Catholics to the thrown, English parliament passed the Act of Settlement, which limited the powers of the monarch and established the line of succession: if Anne didn't have an heir the throne would pass to the protestant Sophia, Electress of Hanover, and her heirs. William died in 1702 from pneumonia contracted after breaking his collarbone in a riding accident. Anne became Queen Anne of England, Scotland and Ireland in 1702, even though Scottish nobles and the Scottish parliament had not accepted the Act of Settlement. England crippled Scotland's economy through a series of trade measures, forcing the Scots to negotiate. The result of the negotiations was the Act of Union in 1707 that combined the kingdoms of England, Scotland and Ireland into one united kingdom of Great Britain. (Scotland agreed to the Union in order to remove trade sanctions; England agreed as they felt an independent Scottish king and parliament would negotiate with other powers — in particular, France — against England.)

Scotland lost its parliament, though not its laws. Dissent grew, particularly in the poor and largely Catholic Scottish highlands. A number of attempts were made to put James VII back on the Scottish — and English — throne.

James VII landed in Ireland in 1689 and fought William until he was defeated at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690 (the commemoration of the battle each July by protestants in Northern Ireland is perennially reported in the media because it intensifies protestant and Catholic animosity). James ran off to France, forcing his army to surrender the following year. Meanwhile in Scotland, John Graham of Claverhouse, 1st Viscount Dundee (to whom I'm apparently related on my mother's side) moved against William's forces. His side, known as the Jacobites (Jacobus being Latin for James), won the Battle of Killiecrankie on July 27, 1689, but Dundee was was killed in the fighting. Several expeditions into Scotland subdued the highlanders. Some highlanders refused to sign an oath of loyalty to William, which precipitated the massacre of Glencoe.

Queen Anne died in 1714. She was replaced by George I. His mother was Sophia, who died a few weeks before Anne. His grandfather was James I of England/James VI of Scotland (the "King James" of bible fame). He was a Germanic foreigner and not very popular. In response to his unpopularity and years of famine in the Scottish Highlands, another Jacobite Rising occurred in 1715. This corresponded to an abortive rebellion in England. The Jacobites were joined by James VIII, but he was too ill to lead properly and fled back to France in 1716. Attempts were made to end the use of Gaelic ("the Irish language") in Scotland, and militia units — such as the famous Black Watch — were raised, but Jacobitism continued in the destitute Highlands.

Relations between England and France deteriorated in the first half of the 18th century. France decided to invade England in 1744, and they invited James Francis Edward Stuart (son of James VII, who died in 1701) and his son, Prince Charles, to join them. The prince, who was born in Rome and had never set foot in Scotland, was made Prince Regent by his father in December 1743, allowing him to act with the authority of his father. A storm wrecked the attempted invasion. Highland clan leaders did get word to Bonnie Prince Charlie that if he landed with as few as 3,000 French troops, they would join him. Charles borrowed money and set out with a small force on June 22, 1745. He made for Scotland, but one of his two ships — with 700 volunteers — was forced back.

Charles landed at Eriskay, in the Outer Hebrides, on July 23, 1745. At first Charles' landing was met with little enthusiasm. However, when it was clear that he intended to take the throne in his father's name, Highlanders joined him in numbers. They took the Scottish cities of Perth and Edinburgh virtually unopposed. The government army, which included lowland Scots regiments, chased the Jacobites but the government force was defeated near Edinburgh at the Battle of Prestonpans.

The Prince stayed at Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh for five weeks, as he tried to convince Lord George Murray to move with him against England. He lied to Murray, saying that a large Jacobite force was waiting to rise in England. Murray finally relented and the Scots army marched into England. They got as far south as Derby in early December, about 125 miles from London. Although few Englishmen joined them, there was little to oppose them. Such was the panic caused by Charles' army that George II (son of George I) made plans to run to Hanover.

At Derby the Jacobite force learned that the French invasion fleet was still being assembled. Two armies, one under General George Wade and another under William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland were approaching and a militia was forming in London. Finally, they received fictitious reports of a third army closing on them. Murray and the Council of War insisted on returning to join their growing force in Scotland and on 6 December 1745 they withdrew. The petulant prince left the command to Murray.

They made it back to Glasgow on Christmas Day, 1745. The government army under General Henry Hawley was defeated in a battle near Falkirk. The Duke of Cumberland took over from Hawley in January, 1746 and pressed the Jacobites. They retreated northward, with Charles once again taking charge.

Charles would have been better leaving the fighting to Murray, for he was not much of a tactician. He insisted on fighting a defensive battle at Drummossie Moor, three miles south of the village of Culloden (which is five miles east of Inverness). The moor land was uneven and flanked by swamp. Only about a quarter of the Highlanders had swords, the rest were armed with axes, makeshift weapons, and captured weapons. Very few of the Highlanders had firearms. Their success relied on the Highland Charge. Unfortunately the land Charles chose was terrible for an army relying on a charge into melee. Even after this was pointed out to him, he insisted on fighting on this ground.

The government army camped at Nairn. On April 15, Murray tried to launch a night attack (as was done at Prestonpans) but the half-starved highlanders took until dawn to get into position and then had to retreat. Many lay hungry and exhausted near Culloden House during the battle that followed.

The next morning, April 16, the government force marched from Nairn. The Jacobite artillery sounded to form the troops into two lines, but not all the Highlanders heard the guns. The Jacobites had about 5,400 men, while the government force numbered around 8,000. The Jacobites set up with a wall to their right and in front of them. Cumberland put some of his men there. Charles' artillery was outnumbered 3:1, and inexperienced gunners meant that it did little to the government forces. The marshy land kept Jacobite casualties down, too, but as Charles had them stand there for some 30 minutes the Jacobites' morale started to suffer. Finally he ordered the charge. The Macdonalds on the left refused, insulted because they were not given their traditional spot on the right flank. The left flank regiments struck swampy ground, slowing them down and veering them to the right. The result was a charge that hit the government line piecemeal. Some of the highlanders on the right managed to break through, but most of them simply broke against the government line, or fell to artillery and flanking fire. After 60 minutes, the battle was over. About 1,250 Jacobites were killed, a similar number were wounded, and 558 were taken prisoner.

After the victory, Cumberland ordered the captured and wounded Jacobites to be executed. This earned Cumberland the sobriquet "Butcher". Some Jacobite leaders were captured and executed in Inverness. Bonnie Prince Charlie evaded capture for several months before escaping to France disguised as a "lady's maid" to Flora Macdonald, a Jacobite heroine. A series of brutal laws made it illegal to speak or teach Gaelic, and to wear the tartan. Clan chieftains lost power due to legislation, which set up the lord system that resulted later in the Highland Clearances (a form of ethnic cleansing that saw many Scots emigrate to the U.S. and Canada). Bonnie Prince Charlie died in 1788. His son Henry became a Roman Catholic Cardinal and called himself Henry IX. (The current Jacobite heir is Franz Bonaventura Adalbert Maria Herzog von Bayern, the 72 year old Duke of Bavaria.)

A romantic Jacobite revival came about due to the works of the poet Robert Burns and the author Sir Walter Scott. Scott arranged for a pageantry of re-invented Scots tartans in 1822 for George IV's visit to Edinburgh. This resulted in the clan tartans you see in books today (which are mostly 19th century inventions) and an appreciation of Scotland among the English aristocracy that exploded with Queen Victoria's love affair with the highlands.

I visited Culloden in late September, 1992. I have photographs from the battlefield which I will, some day, post to my HyperBear site.

1 comment:


War is a fascinating subject. Despite the dubious morality of using violence to achieve personal or political aims. It remains that conflict has been used to do just that throughout recorded history.

Your article is very well done, a good read.