10 Myths about the Battle of Culloden.

Culloden by Morier.

Here are ten common misconceptions about the last major battle fought on British soil.

1. The highlanders were all swordsmen.
The basic facts are that from 750 dead bodies directly found on Culloden battlefield only 190 broadswords could be discovered as opposed to 2,320 muskets. It was indeed commonly accepted that a fully armed highlander should carry, dirk, pistol, musket, targe and sword, and both the Prince’s quartermasters and those supplying the government highland regiments sought to make this a reality. Indeed Charles sailed from France with 1,500 Muskets and 1,800 swords a parity of arms that suggests an attempt to regulate the troops under his command. All of this goes to say that the highland army probably had more muskets than swords, and that doesn’t even begin to factor in the French and lowland Scottish regiments equipped as conventional infantry in the second line.

2. Bayonets won the battle: This aspect of the British victory is commonly touted as the decisive factor but it just isn’t the case. A witness reported that the men of Barrell’s and Munro’s regiments killed one or two men each with their bayonets. But some quick mathematics quickly makes this seem very dubious. Barrell’s numbered just over 300 men, supposing the estimate is correct that means this regiment alone accounted for 3-600 enemy casualties with just their bayonets. This doesn’t tally. Nor does the historical record. Cumberland instructed his infantry to stab into the body of the man opposing the soldier to his right. This proved effective at first but in fact while it blunted the Jacobite charge it neither stopped it nor repelled it. The Clans cut clean through the centre of Barrell’s and was stopped by the concentrated firepower of the second line.

3. No Prisoners: Cumberland’s orders of the day were to give no Quarter to the pretenders troops. In subsequent centuries the image of British soldiers mercilessly skewering wounded highlanders as they advanced is one that has stuck. Though bear in mind all pursuits tend to be quite merciless. However it’s not quite accurate that prisoners were not taken on the field or on the road to Inverness. 154 “Rebel” prisoners and 222 French were recorded as being taken into custody, Cumberland writing on the 17th put the number 24hours later at 600. Indeed the cellars and jails of the town were soon full of Jacobite prisoners, some of whom were wounded, which rather more precludes the idea that all the wounded were instantly massacred. Nevertheless their fate was the fate of rebels and thus the mercy was hollow.

4. The Cowardly Prince.
Another rip roaring wheeze (And one I got fed as a kid) is the one where Bonnie Prince Charlie ran away before the battle ended. Although he would abandon his men at Ruthven, at Culloden he had to be restrained from throwing himself into the fray. The brutal speed with which his cause was lost on the Moor makes it seem like Charlie scarpered early, but recall that realistic estimates of the fighting, discounting the artillery bombardment when the Prince was still on the field, put the duration at somewhere just over 25 minutes. When the Clans were repelled, Charles was rallying broken troops of the second line, it was a downright necessity to get Charles off the field to escape the closing British Dragoons. O’Sullivan told captain Shea of the Prince’s escort, “Yu see all is going to pot. Yu can be of no great succour, so before a general deroute wch will soon be, Seize upon the Prince & take him off…” thus was Charlie removed from the field.

5. The field was not suitable for Highlanders.
This myth mostly comes from Lord George Murray, Jacobite Lt. General who said the field inordinately favoured the British cavalry and artillery and was ill suited to Highlanders due to its open plain flatness. However it’s hard to see why. Firstly the Clans had fought and won on much flatter ground at Prestonpans. Secondly the British cavalry were actually unable to charge until the Jacobites had broken due to the uneven and boggy state of the Moor. Likewise the government artillery were unable to be as effective as usual because the ground was too soft to make the roundshot ricochet. What made Culloden Moore unsuitable was the blatant and unimaginative Jacobite plan, mixed with the boggy state of the field.

6. Most Jacobite Casualties occurred during the Government artillery bombardment.
The contribution of the Royal Artillery in provoking the highland charge cannot be underestimated, but their killing effectiveness as been grossly overestimated. Because the ground was so wet the cannonballs wouldn’t bounce like they were supposed to. Although they did cause casualties they didn’t start becoming deadly until the Clans charged and they switched to canister shot. Although authors like Prebble estimated 30 minutes of unanswered cannon fire inflicting hundreds of casualties, modern authors like Reid put the bombardment at 9-15 minutes and further calculates 90-150 casualties.

7. The Jacobites were all Highlanders.
Only half of the Jacobite Army was made up of clan regiments. The other half was composed of lowlanders such as Lord Ogilvie’s Regiment and Lord Kilmarnock’s Footguards and the French regular troops of the Royal Ecossais, Irish Picquets and Fitzjames’ Horse. There were even remnants of English units integrated in the army, plus deserters from the regular British army who would face no mercy if caught in arms against their former masters.

8. The MacDonalds didn’t charge.
It’s legendary that the three MacDonald Regiments on the left flank failed to engage the enemy with much vigour and indeed never closed with the British. While it’s true that they did not strike a blow it isn’t true that they didn’t charge. The story goes that they were in a snit about Lord George allocating the right flank to the Atholl battalions and refused to obey orders. However in reality they stubbornly refused to redeploy when the Jacobite line was moved closer to the longitude of the Culwhiniac enclosure, thus accounting for the strange skewed nature of the Jacobite line. When the main charge went in, the clan Donald also charged but they had further to run and encountered knee deep bogs that impeded their impetuous and thus when met with the steady platoon volleys of the Royals and Pulteney’s regiments were checked and forced to withdraw by the movement of the enemy cavalry.

9. Cumberland’s army was English.
Just as the Jacobite Army was not all highlanders, Cumberland’s army was not all British. Indeed King George’s army had never been all English. The Duke commanded an army British in makeup and indeed in organisation. 4 of the Government regiments were notionally Scottish to begin with and it has long been a theory that there were more Scots fighting against Charlie than with him. We should also beware of thinking only lowlanders supported King George, 3 independent militia companies of Campbell’s were under the command of Colin Campbell of Ballimore who also commanded his own regular highland company of the 64th Highlanders, amongst these troops were officers drawn from the regular 43rd Highlanders (The Black Watch).

10. The war was over after Culloden.
The Jacobite cause had been dealt a devastating blow at Culloden. The scale of the defeat was great on many levels. Yet an estimated 1-2,000 men had not even been present on the field, arms, money and munitions was to arrive in Scotland from France soon after. The Frasers main force had not actually arrived, and enough of the army had escaped to gather 4,000 or so men at Ruthven on the 17th, all of whom felt it was possible to continue the fight. While it seems impossible that the effects of Culloden could have been reversed, French assistance though unrealistic was never off the table, the fight in military terms was by no means over either and given Cumberland’s harsh actions in pacifying the highlands it isn’t out of the question to think that the butcher might have driven more men to Charlie’s standard if he had stayed to fight on.

Gregory Fremont Barnes, The Jacobite Rebllion 1745-1746.
Murray Pittock. Great Battles: Culloden.

The 45′. Christopher Duffy.
Jacobites. Jacqueline Riding.
Culloden. John Prebble.
Culloden. Stuart Reid.
Culloden. Peter Harrington.
Like Hungry Wolves. Stuart Reid.
The Highland Jacobite Army. Stuart Reid.
Highland Clansman. Stuart Reid.
British Redcoat (1). Stuart Reid.
No Quarter Given. Muster Roll of Prince Charles Edward Stuart’s army.
The Making of the British Army. Allan Mallinson.

The Causes of the 1745 Rebellion in 5 Steps.

The Glorious Revolution.

William of Orange the Protestant Saviour. A man Parliament could work with. A man Jacobites despised. Wikipedia.

James, Duke of York went public with his conversion to Catholicism around 1677. Almost immediately a movement was started to exclude him from the line of succession. Charles II narrowly managed to save his brother, but when he died James was on his own. It soon became apparent that the new monarch intended to have his son baptised a Catholic, and was planning to lift oppressive anti catholic laws. James was also seen to be very fond of standing armies and there were two things that were calculated to put the fear of God into the English Parliament, it was Catholicism and Regular Soldiers. Faced with these prospects ministers took the step of asking William of Orange to come and rescue them. The Protestant Hero knew a good thing when he heard it and eagerly accepted. In 1688 a Dutch army landed at Torbay on that most propitious Protestant day, 5 November, and advanced on London. James, plagued by faction, sloth and debilitating nosebleeds was at Salisbury, ready to fight potentially the biggest battle since the Civil Wars. But it never happened. The defection of key commanders, like the Earl of Marlborough and the resulting desertion rates of the ordinarily soldiers scuppered the Royal effort. James fled and was instructed by William to leave the kingdom soon after. The state had been saved and now Parliament moved to ensure that the King played by the rules. In order to preserve the true line, William was asked to rule in partnership with his wife, Mary Stuart. He also had to sit through readings of the different laws and bills that made up the English constitution and swear to uphold them, they made it law that no Catholic could ever rule as monarch of England and Scotland. James fled to France, where Louis XIV set him up in his palace at St Germain en Laye where he would die in 1701. The Protestant Succession was saved, but Jacobitism was born.

The Act of Union.

Queen Anne, the Act of Union would not be easily forgotten north of the border. Nor would Catholics soon forget the hardline policies of her government. Wikipedia.

In Scotland, the first of the Highland risings take place lead by the charismatic Viscount of Dundee, but the campaign fizzles out after he is killed at the moment of victory at Killiecranckie in 1698. Later in 1690, King William’s troops wade to victory across the bloodstained waters of the Boyne in Ireland. William however did not have long to savour his success, he died in 1702 after being thrown from his horse which had stumbled on a molehill. Toasts passed over water bowls across the country were heard to give health to the “Gentleman in the black velvet Coat”. A long term project of William’s was to unify political power with Scotland and at his death, the last Stuart, Queen Anne took up the banner. In 1707 she instructed her parliaments to agree on a treaty that would join the two kingdoms forever. In Scotland there was much political, manipulation, jockeying and gamesmanship. Eventually a nobility that had been starved of a head of state since 1603 pushed the treaty through, but it was much against the will of the Scottish people, especially when it was learned that the big promises about taxes and trade were found to be worthless. The open wound of the act of union would remain raw right up to 1746, Scotland had given away her sovereignty and independence for an eventual and distant long term gain, “bought and sold for English gold” as Burns put it but that was in the future. For now the promises of the treaty seemed as empty as the powers of the Scottish Parliament.

The Hanoverian Succession.

George I, Elector of Hanover and King of Great Britain. A man easy to cast as the enemy. Wikipedia.

You’d have thought that with a Stuart on the throne things might have been quiet. But although Anne had the name, she was still an upholder of the constitution of 1688, the architect of the hated act of union and a staunch Protestant (under her reign Catholics couldn’t even inherit property). Significantly she had also been at war with the Stuart guardian Louis XIV since 1703. Under Charles II, France had been an ally rather than an enemy, but William had sucked Britain into his own duel with Louis, and Anne had been happy to renew the hostility when Carlos II of Spain died without an heir and had named Louis grandson as his successor. The Protestant powers would have much preferred the Habsburg claimant, as would the Holy Roman Emperor, the War of the Spanish Succession thus ground onwards until 1713, and offered Jacobites the best chance of fighting for their cause. It so happened that London had levied a Malt Tax on the Scottish, and the resulting discontent seemed to offer an opening for James III. He issued a highly liberal manifesto, promising to uphold the constitution of 1688, pardon anyone who had fought him, give freedom of religion and repeal the act of Union if he was proclaimed King. At this point his religion was the only real bar to his being a wholly acceptable claimant and except for an abortive attempt in 1708 to land the young Prince James Francis Stuart in Scotland nothing really happened. Yet something had occurred, a shift in the dynamics of the cause. It was becoming increasingly clear that a Jacobite Restoration was now as much a Bourbon mandate as a Stuart one and the Kings over the Water dancing to a French tune. Before Anne died in 1714, having outlived all of her numerous children, James had written to her, pleading to be named her heir but it was not to be. Instead the crown was offered to the George, Elector of Hanover, a dour Protestant conservative, likely to toe the line, keep the boat steady, and also a firm opponent of France. If James III was denied chance to succeed peacefully, at least the ascension of this German nobody opened the door to a real shot at the throne. In 1715 the disaffected Earl of Mar raised the Stuart standard at Braemar and James hurried with the Duke of Berwick to join the rising. He arrived too late. Mar had not lost the battle of Sheriffmuir, but he had not won it either, and his army had all but melted away. James, more of an organiser than a heroic leader, returned to France, never to see Scotland again.

The Birth of Bonnie Prince Charlie.

Charles Edward Stuart, the hero Prince. NMS. Wikipedia.

Although it never seems to have occurred to James II and his son, 26 years of living as the guests of the most powerful catholic monarch in Europe was not inclined to remove suspicion in Britain. The long absence of the Kings over the water, the multiple rebellions and plots over the years and their associations with popish autocrats had if anything worsened their position in their former kingdom. The Peace of Utrecht in 1713 had ended the War of the Spanish Succession, it had gone against France, but it was not a total loss. Louis had been forced to disinherit his grandson but a Bourbon was at least on the throne of Spain. A condition of the peace was that he had to expel the Stuart court and thus was done. James III, was now twice an exile. The bookish James Francis found a new home as a guest of the Pope, who recognised him as the official King of Great Britain, and set him up in the Palazzo Del Rey in Rome. It was not a move that would be inclined to lessen suspicion amongst his Protestant subjects. Yet it was here that his lovely Polish wife gave birth to a Prince who would be able to carry on the struggle to restore their fortunes. He was named Charles Edward, to use the shortened form of half a dozen names which included Casimir and Maria. James affectionately called him Carluccio but had him raised as an Englishman, surrounding him with fawning Jacobite exiles. Charlie grew up to be an exceptional athlete and a young man of exceptional charisma, in short he was the hero that the House of Stuart needed to win back the throne.

The War of the Austrian Succession.

The Battle of Fontenoy. French sponsorship was fast becoming the only way back to the throne for the Stuarts. The War of the Austrian Succession seemed a good opportunity. Wikipedia.

The coming of age of the Stuart Prince of Wales coincided with another pan European war about the succession of a ruling house. The French and Prussians objected to a woman succeeding to the throne of Austria, the two greatest military powers in Europe now prepared to face off against a powerful coalition headed by Austria and Britain. Louis XV like his father before him was not above using the Stuarts like a torpedo to sink the British ship. A letter arrived in Rome cordially inviting Prince Charles to come to court to join a planned invasion of Britain which promised to plant him on the throne. Thus Bonnie Prince Charlie began his adventure, for no one invited him to Scotland, indeed the French project was vetoed in 1744. But Charles was not going to be dictated to by Versailles and pressed on regardless believing he would find support in Scotland. It was to be an uphill struggle. The French mandate had infected the old Stuart support base, clan chiefs had promised support, but it was conditional on French assistance. Charles animated the hesitant spirit of Stuart resistance in Britain like a dynamo. Ironically the early success enjoyed by the rebels was almost entirely down to the long odds against them and the audacity of the Prince in challenging them. Likewise however events during 1745 moved with such alarming speed meant that Charlie made Versailles dance to his tune, sadly however he could not sustain himself long enough to reap the benefits. Out of date information reaching Paris in dribs and drabs first made Louis wait and see if Charlie’s long shot paid off (as did many clan chiefs), then when London seemed ripe to fall, frantically muster troops, but by the time the French mustered enough men the news of Jacobite Successes were also out of date with current events and Charles, having exhausted his reserve of charm and persuasion, with no word from France and no rising in England was retreating from Derby on the road to Culloden.


The Politics of Britain, 1688-1800 By Jeremy Black. A Year in the life of Stuart Britain. Andrea Zuvich. Marlborough. Richard Holmes.  Time Travellers Guide to Restoration Britain. Ian Mortimer. The 45′. Christopher Duffy.
Jacobites. Jacqueline Riding. The Making of the British Army. Allan Mallinson.

The Battle of Culloden 1746.

Culloden by Morier. Royal Collection

This is a Dramatic reconstruction of the General course of events that occurred on Culloden Moor 271 years ago.

Spring had come late to the Highlands. Across the slate grey waters of the Moray Firth snow caps coated the peaks of the distant mountains beyond the Black Isle. By midday on the 16th of April 1746 a cold westerly wind was blowing an icy shower of sleet over two armies standing on an upland plateau formed by the valley of the River Nairn and the ground sloping down to the Firth. For the most part it was a common stretch of grazing land, dotted with some crofters cottages, five miles east of Inverness, and forming part of the Culloden estate that abutted the larger Drumossie Moore which stretched south and west towards Nairn. Long trunk lines of red marked one army while the other, a line of dark and varied tartans blended with the grass and heather. Continue reading “The Battle of Culloden 1746.”