Culloden Battlefield: History on my Doorstep

I’m sure there are plenty of New Yorkers who have never been up the Empire State Building and many Parisians who scoff at the idea of climbing the Eiffel Tower. My version of this is Culloden Battlefield. I grew up approximately 2 miles from this famous landmark and while I had (probably reluctantly) walked around it once or twice as a child, I am slightly ashamed to admit I knew very little about the events that took place there until last week. My lesson? Don’t look past your own doorstep – you never you know what you might learn.

Culloden Battlefield with Amy

Personally, I would recommend visiting the exhibition before venturing onto the battlefield to gain a full understanding of the story from the point of view of both sides. The centre is set up so that the story of the Jacobites lines one side of the corridor while the story of the Government lines the other side. Eventually, these two timelines meet on 16 April 1746, where you are taken into a room with full size screens on all four walls and can stand immersed in the middle of the ‘field’ as the battle rages on around you. It’s both brutal and memorable.

Along with details of the historical events that happened here you can also see details such as the clothes that were worn, the weapons that were used and memorabilia that reinforce that this was a real life event.

Read on for the full story of what took place but if you want to go and see for yourself then *spoiler alert*.

Flags

The Battle of Culloden took place on 16 April 1746 and was the last ever battle to take place on British soil.

Bonnie Prince Charlie (Charles Edward Stuart) arrived in Scotland from France in July 1745 with an agenda to oust King George II and the Hanoverian line which had previously caused the Bonnie Prince’s Grandfather (King James VII) to flee Britain due to his Catholic faith.

Bonnie Price Charlie gathered a Jacobite army of mainly Scottish Highland Clansmen and successfully occupied Edinburgh following a Battle at Prestonpans. The British government (the Hanoverians) were caught off guard, with many of their forces already fighting the French, so had to quickly recall them to deal with the Jacobite rebels.

Bonnie Prince Charlie was convinced that he would gather support from the English Jacobites and so advanced further south in an attempt to threaten London. However, the English Jacobite support was not as strong as anticipated and the Prince’s army were forced to withdraw, marching all the way back to the North of Scotland.

On 15 April 1746, the Hanoverians were camped at Nairn. Their spirits were high as they celebrated their Commander’s 25th birthday (The Duke of Cumberland) and made finals plans to end the uprising the following morning. The Jacobites – who were camped in Culloden – began marching at dusk in an attempt to carry out a nighttime attack on them.
Unfortunately for them, a combination of the dark, confusion and disorder meant that they had to turn back to Culloden, exhausted and vulnerable. (A real common theme with the overly confident Bonnie Prince?!)

On 16 April 1746, the well rested Hanoverians advanced to Culloden and within a few hours the two armies were facing each other on the Battlefield with 3km of barren moorland between them.

The battle was short (lasting approximately an hour) and bloody. The Jacobites were outnumbered by around 3000 men and were forced to retreat by their stronger and better equipped enemies. 1500-2000 Jacobites were killed compared to the 300 Hanoverians.

Clan stone

Following the battle, the British Government hunted down anyone they thought might be a ‘Jacobite Rebel’ and burned down many houses and castles in the Highlands. Highlanders were not allowed to carry weapons and the kilt was banned. The clan system was falling apart.

Bonnie Prince Charlie fled the Battlefield and remained on the run for five months, escaping to the Outer Hebrides (good choice Charlie), being kept hidden from the Hanoverians by many brave souls. The Government were closing down on him in South Uist where he met his unlikely rescuer, Flora MacDonald.

They sailed from Benbecula to Skye with Bonnie Prince Charlie disguised as a maid for the journey. He then managed to get a boat to Raasay and from there sailed back to France. Bonnie Prince Charlie and Flora MacDonald never met again. (So it’s thanks to them that every child in Inverness can play ‘Over the Sea to Skye’ on the recorder…).

Bonnie Prince Charlie died in Rome in 1778 at the age of 68 as the result of a stroke. He lived a life of obscurity following the Battle of Culloden and struggled with alcoholism.

Meanwhile, the British Government brought in laws to better integrate Scotland (specifically the Highlands) with the rest of Britain. The aftermath of Culloden accelerated the Highland Clearances which continued throughout the 18th and 19th centuries bringing about an end to Clanship in the Highlands.

By 1775, Highland soldiers were being recruited in to the British Army and became known for their loyalty. The Jacobites became romanticised by writings from Sir Walter Scott and the image of the Highland Soldier was now one of courage and competence.


For more information I would highly recommend visiting this famous landmark. The field is well preserved and is protected by the National Trust for Scotland.

Also, if you’re stuck for something to do on your next day off – consider what you’ve got in a 2-5 mile radius – you might be surprised.

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