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The Battle of Culloden

A remarkable prophesy from the 17th Century Highland prophet,
The Braham Seer.

"Oh! Drumossie, thy bleak moor shall, ere many generations have

Passed away, be stained with the best blood of the Highlands.

Glad am I that I will not see the day,

for it will be a fearful period; heads will be lopped off by the score,

and no mercy shall be shown or quarter given on either side."

 

 

"The defeat at Culloden led to the end of the Clan system and to great

devastation in the Highlands, but to all Highlanders the year of the

rising was a chapter in their history which can never be forgotten."

Sir Donald Cameron of Lochiel, K.T.

 

The '45 rising of the clans which culminated in the Battle of Culloden - the last major battle to ever be fought on British soil - was probably the most disastrous event ever to overtake Scotland. The immediate effect was the post-battle, indiscriminate and infamous slaughter of much of the cream of Scottish manhood and 'clanhood' by Butcher Cumberland - the second son of King George II.

Born in 1721 he was only 25 when, as Duke of Cumberland and Commander-in-Chief of the English army at Culloden Moor, he defeated the Jacobites led by the equally young Charles Edward Stuart, Bonnie Prince Charlie, who was just three months his senior. Leaving aside the folly and foolhardiness of the Young Pretender in engaging in battle in the first place, the aftermath must have been Charles' worst nightmare come true - it was certainly Scotland's!
"After the battle on April 16th 1746, Cumberland gave orders for the systematic extirpation of all 'rebels' who were found concealed in the Highlands. All houses where they could find shelter were to be burnt and all cattle driven off. This was interpreted to mean the killing or burning of all Highlanders found wounded or with arms in their hands, and Cumberland did nothing to soften such an interpretation of his orders. Hence came his well-known sobriquet of the ' Butcher,' which was given to him in London as early as August of that year." (historian David Nash Fords).

Modern military historians aver that the issuing of the 'give no quarter' order to the Duke of Cumberland's army is an unforgettable stain on the character of the British army. The cruelties, tortures and atrocities visited upon the Jacobites and their supporters and many of the uninvolved men, women and children unfortunate enough to live in the area, are all the more horrifying when one considers that this battle took place 260 years ago - just 73 years before the birth of Victoria. Those barbarous acts seem to have been indelibly etched in the Scottish psyche and no doubt provide oxygen for the jingoistic embers that flare up now and then in Scotland.

Lest one becomes weighed down by the sins of the English, it has to be remembered that more Scots fought against Bonnie Prince Charlie than for him and that the Government army comprised one third Scots - many of them from the Highland clans that supported the English parliament (Whigs). For them, Culloden was an ideal opportunity to settle old scores with their fellow Scots and indulge in widespread murder and pillage.. . . . "Campbell, an officer of militia . . . went with a party to Fraser of Kilbokies, who was not with the Highland army, and burnt all his houses and effects and took 13 score (260) of cattle, with many horses of the best kind. His loss was valued at 10,000 merks. For several days they killed man, wife and child many miles from the field of battle . . ."

Civilians in the area took sides too, many of them pragmatically supporting the winning army and there are tales aplenty of seriously injured and naked Jacobites being ejected from churches and hospital beds by their countrymen and women and being turned over to Cumberland's forces. It has to be remembered of course that the protagonists were not just divided into Jacobites and Hanovarians but also Catholics and Protestants. This added a regrettable further dimension to the military & civil conflicts - a religious divide that has blighted sections of the community over the centuries and down to the present day.

After the dust of battle had settled, out of a total of some 5,000 in the Prince's army, it's reported that 1200 died - including very many slaughtered as they lay on the battlefield. 50 escaped overseas and over 100 combatants and Jacobite supporters were later executed, and over 1100 transported to the West Indies to end their days in slavery. Government losses were reported as 76.

The Prince's army had, in the main, consisted of rag, tag and bobtail - not professional soldiers but farmers, shopkeepers, students, weavers, joiners and young and old from all walks of life, high and low, led by just a handful of trained military men. Many of them were unwilling participants, inveigled into action by their own chiefs with threats of imprisonment, death and the burning of their homes. No-one on either side of this conflict came out of it smelling of roses!

What of the aftermath? Existing schisms were widened even more . . . clan set against clan . . . church against church . . . community against community . . . country against country . . . senior figures in Scottish clan society killed in battle, executed or transported . . . the carrying of weapons, the wearing of tartan and Highland dress, the playing of bagpipes . . . all banned . . . whole communities pillaged and sent into the hills for no crime other than an inability to speak English . . . the total extinction of the ties between clan chief and clan . . . 18th century ethnic cleansing with a vengeance!

Rob Donn was a Gaelic poet described as the most eloquent voice ever heard in Mackay country (Strathnaver) and he enjoyed total freedom of expression which he extended to his 'treasonous' comments on the disarming Acts after Culloden: "The English have taken the opportunity to leave you weakened, so that you will not be reckoned warriors any longer. But when you are without your weapons and equipment you will receive a thorough frisking, and your punishment will be all the more immediate. I see your misery as something unprecedented . . . but if you are lions, retaliate in good time, and have your teeth ready before your mouths are muzzled."

Retaliation was out of the question however - the Highland way of life was destroyed and the relationship between the 'tribal father and his children' was gone for all time. The price paid by his trusting countrymen and their kith and kin for the Young Pretender's ill-fated Stuart dream was high indeed.

Reproduced here by kind permission of the House of Edgar, Perth.


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