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Culloden
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CullodenCulloden is an evocative place for many people. Not only is it the site of the last full-scale battle to take place on British soil, and the last stand of an ancient royal dynasty which traced its ancestry back to the Dark Age Gaelic Kingdom of Dal Riata and beyond, but it is also the place where the Highland clan culture of Scotland sang its last song. The Battle of Culloden in 1746 meant, quite simply, the end of an era for Scotland.

Culloden Factsheet

  • The Battle of Culloden was fought on Drumossie Moor, to the north east of Inverness, on April 16, 1746. It was the last of the great Jacobite risings - popular attempts to reinstate a Stuart monarch on the throne of Britain - and was led by Charles Edward Stuart, also known as Bonnie Prince Charlie or the Young Pretender.

  • The term Jacobite comes from the name ‘Jacobe’, which is Latin for James - a popular Christian name among Stuart kings. Charles was the son of the Old Pretender, James Francis Edward Stuart, and grandson of the deposed James II of England. He landed on the shores of Scotland in July 1745 in an attempt to oust King George II and his Hanoverian line from the throne, which had become the birthright of his family in 1603 when King James VI of Scotland had travelled south to become King James I of England and Ireland.

  • Charles raised support for his rising amongst the Highland clans which were devoted to the Jacobites, although not all clans were loyal to his cause and many openly supported the Hanoverians. The majority of lowland Scotland is also thought to have opposed the Jacobite rising of ’45, although they did have many supporters there as well as in England and the continent - traditionally in France. Many nobles supported the rising and Lord George Murray and the Duke of Perth joined the Young Pretender’s ranks as lieutenant-generals.

  • Charles and his gathering army reached Perth on September 4, 1745, where the Young Pretender proclaimed his father, the Old Pretender, to be the rightful King. He took Edinburgh on September 17 and won a decisive victory at Prestonpans on September 21. Carlisle fell on November 15 after a short, five-day siege, and the Jacobites marched on toward London through Lancaster, Preston and Manchester. The army reached Derby on December 4, but turned back to Scotland two days later on the advice of Lord George Murray and several of the Highland Chiefs when it became clear that the much-promised support of the French and the English Jacobites wasn’t forthcoming. It was this retreat, against the wishes of Charles himself, which many historians believe to have been the fatal move which defeated Duke of Cumberlandthe ’45 rising.

  • Once back in Scotland Charles was victorious against the government forces at Falkirk on January 17, 1746, and was involved in siege at Stirling Castle. However, morale in the Jacobite camp was wavering and the Jacobites retreated into the Highlands in early February as the Duke of Cumberland advanced with a larger Hanoverian force. Charles then took Inverness from the Earl of Loudoun and raided various others government strongholds in the spring of 1746, as the Duke of Cumberland built and trained an army in Aberdeen.

  • Charles was advised by his commanders to avoid direct conflict with Cumberland’s army, and to pursue the guerrilla tactics which were so effective in Highland warfare, however, Jacobite funds were running short and desertion in the ranks was becoming more frequent. This was the context in which the two armies met at Culloden Moor on April 16, 1746.

  • Cumberland made the first move by crossing the River Spey on April 12, with the Jacobites on the other bank retreating without offering any fight. On the night of April 15-16, Charles hoped to gain advantage by a surprise attack on the Hanoverian camp near Nairn. The plan, however, was a failure and the Jacobites retreated to Culloden - a place which Charles was strongly advised not to chose as the site for a battle. When the Hanoverians advanced onto the field the next day many of the Jacobites were exhausted after the night-time raid on Cumberland’s camp.

  • The Jacobites were outnumbered around 9000 to 6000, and the ground was too marshy to accommodate the Highlanders’ favourite tactic - the headlong charge into the enemy’s ranks. Culloden did, however, lend itself more to Cumberland’s strength in heavy artillery and cavalry. The artillery decimated the clans as they awaited the command to charge. Many clansmen fell simply because the command to charge came too late, as Charles waited for the government troops to advance first, whereas the government troops just kept firing in the light of their highly successful Bonnie Prince Charliebombardment. When the command did come, the charge itself was disorganised. The Hanoverians stood firm and blasted the Jacobite army into retreat.

  • Many of the Highlanders headed for Inverness and were hunted down and killed without mercy by Cumberland’s dragoons. Others, who headed into the mountains, stood a better chance of survival, but the government troops were thorough in their retribution. Many of the legends surrounding Culloden involve the clans’ attempts to return to home and the severity of government’s reaction. The ’45 was over and Bonnie Prince Charlie headed back to the safety of France and a life of obscurity.


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