Battlefield Britain - Culloden: The Jacobites' Last Stand

By Corinne Field | Updated: 27 February 2011
BBC Battlefield Britain

The BBC series Battlefield Britain spanned 2000 years and told the story of eight key battles fought on and over British soil. See the spoils of war and discover the story behind these violent clashes at a museum or historic site with Culture24's Battlefield Britain trails.

shows a line engraving of the Battle of Culloden. Armies of redcoated soldiers can be seen stretching away in formations on the hills. An officer on a horse can be seen in the foreground.

The Battle of Culloden, near Inverness, Scotland. Line engraving published by Bowles and Carver, 1746 © Trustees of the National Museums of Scotland

The Battle of Culloden

The Battle of Culloden was the last pitched battle fought on British soil. It also marked the last Jacobite attempt to seize the British crown and perhaps the last chance for a Catholic monarch in England.

"It crushed the army of the Jacobites," says Andy Robertshaw, Head of Education at the National Army Museum, where they have a wealth of material on show relating to Culloden including Cumberland’s seal, paintings of the battle by Hogarth as well as uniforms and weapons.

"It meant the end of the Jacobite claim to the throne and that the house of King George and succession of George was confirmed and would continue."

He adds, "It was also an end to a period of uncertainty and meant that England could devote her energies to fighting in Europe instead of fighting Scotland, a side show compared to what was going on in Europe."

shows an engraving of Charles Edward Stuart. He is wearing knee length breeches and and tricorn hat typical of the period

Prince Charles Edward Stuart. Engraving by Cooper, 1745 © National Army Museum

Charles Edward Stuart, otherwise known as Bonnie Prince Charlie, was the son of the uncrowned Stuart King, James III of Britain and grandson of the last crowned Stuart king - James II, who had ruled from 1685-88.

From his exile in France he crossed into Scotland in July 1745 - arriving on the Hebridean island of Eriskay on what is still called Prince’s Beach. He raised his standard at Glenfinnan at the head of Loch Shiel on August 19 with the intention to sieze the English throne of the Hanoverian King George II.

Glenfinnan Monument, set amid the superb Highland scenery of Loch Shiel, was erected in 1815 by Alexander Macdonald of Glenaladale in tribute to the clansmen who fought and died fighting for Bonnie Prince Charlie.

In the visitor centre there are displays including a model of the raising of the standard and an audio programme about the Prince's campaign, from its beginning at Glenfinnan to the final defeat at Culloden.

shows a photograph of the Glennfinan Monument. It is a large tower surrounded by a circular wall. It is situated on the banks of a loch. There are picturesque mountains in the distance.

Glenfinnan monument © The National Trust for Scotland Photo Library

Bonnie Prince Charlie, the Young Pretender, was carrying on the traditons of his father, James II, who had made various attempts on the throne of England. His supporters were known as Jacobites, derived from Jacobus, the Latin for James.

Charles did not have to look far for support. Shortly after he arrived the 'Gentle' Lochiel, clan chief of the Camerons joined him as did the MacDonalds of Keppoch.

It is said that Lochiel heard about Charles’ arrival in Scotland whilst planting beech trees on his estate at Achnacarry. The trees still stand on the estate today.

Also part of the estate is the Clan Cameron Museum where one of the rooms is devoted to the Prince. In pride of place is his waistcoat as well as a ring which features a picture of the Jacobite leader together with swords of the period.

shows an exterior photograph of the Clan Cameron Museum. It is a Scottish Cottage style building with white walls and a thatched roof.

Clan Cameron Museum © Clan Cameron Museum, Achnacarry

The Jacobite army marched south picking up recruits on the way. In Perth they were joined by Lord George Murray who would become Charles’ Lieutenant-General.

On September 21 they took on the government forces, under Lieutenant-General Sir John Cope, at Prestonpans. It was a resounding victory for the Jacobite army.

Further south, the rebels took Carlisle on November 16 and Manchester on the 28.However they had not received the support they expected in the North of England and many highlanders headed home.

shows a colour photograph of Bonnie Prince Charlie's room at Derby Museum. It is an oak panelled room with a large table. A wax effigy of the Prince is seated at the table.

Bonnie Prince Charlie's room at Derby Museum. Courtesy of Derby Museum

The remaining Jacobites reached Derby on December 4. The following day the Prince held a council with his advisors in Exeter House, many of whom strongly recommended a retreat. The prince did not agree but was forced to consent due to lack of support.

Derby Museum has a permanent display on Bonnie Prince Charlie including commemorative medals. In the city itself, at the back of the cathedral, there is a statue of him.

On the morning of December 6 the Highland army left Derby. They turned round and marched back north, arriving in Scotland on December 20 where new recruits and regulars from France brought renewed hope.

shows a shot of kilted men charging across a field with their swords drawn.

A recreation of the terrifying Highland Charge. The sight of hordes of screaming highlanders would cause many troops to turn and flee without firing a shot © BBC

In January George II dispatched General Hawley to put down the rebellion. Marching out of Edinburgh in January 1746 the general commanded 8,000 troops to take on the Jacobites at Falkirk on January 17, but he was defeated by the formidable Highland charge.

So far the Jacobites were undefeated.

After Falkirk Charles led his army north to Inverness, arriving there on January 21. His army broke into small units and began a successful campaign of assaults on Blair Castle, Fort William and Fort Augustus - the latter named after the military barracks that were blown up by Bonie Prince Charlie’s Highlanders in 1746.

shows a painting of Lord George Murray. He is wearing a red tartan outfit with kilt and black bonnet. He is holding a shield and sword.

Lord George Murray from the collection at Blair Castle, Perthshire. Courtesy of Blair Castle

Blair Castle was the family home of Lord George Murray so it perhaps seems strange that he should attack it. However, his brother the Duke was on the opposing side and fought for the government forces - which made it a target.

On show at the castle is a picture of Charles’ Lieutenant-General in highland dress as well as artifacts from the period including gloves belonging to both Murray and Charles. There are also cannon balls from the siege.

shows a Scottish targe or shield. It is black and appears to be made of tough leather. It is also round and decorated with circular metal pins and studs.

Targe, Scottish, early 18th century © The Board of Trustees of the Armouries

The West Highland Museum, based in Fort William is home to a famous portrait of Prince Charles. They also have his sash, picked up at the battle of Culloden and his waistcoat as well as a map of the battle believed to have been drawn up soon after the event.

Inverness Museum & Art Gallery boasts weapons of the period including pistols, broad swords, and dirks. They also have powder horns and targes (shields of the period) on display as well as Bonnie Prince Charlie’s death mask, his pen knife and even a lock of his hair!

shows a portarit of the Duke of Cumberland. He is a portly figure in red frock coat and sword. He leans against a large tree.

William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland (1721 - 1765), c. 1750. Oil on canvas by David Morier © National Army Museum.

In the face of so many government defeats George II’s son, the Duke of Cumberland, took command of the British army and marched north. Crossing the River Spey on April 12, his 9,000-strong army closed rapidly on Inverness and by April 14 he was in Nairn.

According to the manager of Nairn Museum Jenny Rose Miller, both armies spent time in the town leading up to the Battle of Culloden. However it is believed that the majority of Cumberland’s troops camped just outside the town on the night before the battle. The Duke himself spent the night at Roses Town House and a plaque has been put up in the High Street to mark the spot.

shows a photograph of an old faded Union Jack flag. The flag was carried by the British at Culloden.

Barrel's Regiment - King's colour carried at Culloden, 1746 © Trustees of the National Museums of Scotland

On April 15 Charles led his men to Drumossie Moor, east of Inverness while he established his quarters at Culloden House. Today the house is a luxury hotel but they no longer hold any artefacts of the battle. However there is a Jacobites versus Redcoats chess set in the lounge.

On the advice of Lord Murray, Charles decided to stage a surprise dawn attack on the Hanoverian forces who he thought would be the worst for wear having celebrated Cumberland’s 25th birthday the night before.

shows a very old and faded Scottish flag. It is partly torn and features a faded blue background with what appears to be a yellow cross running across it. The flag was carried by the Scottish at Culloden.

Appin Stewart Regiment - regimental colour carried at Culloden, 1746 © Trustees of the National Museums of Scotland

That night the 4,500-strong Jacobite army set out to march the eight miles to Nairn. The going was not easy and with just two miles to go dawn broke. The Jacobites had lost the element of surprise.

The already tired and hungry Jacobite forces were exhausted after their night march and in no fit state to fight.

However the government troops came into view on April 16 so they had no choice. At about 11am the two armies faced each other across the moorland.

shows a line of men dressed as redcoat English soldiers.

How the Redcoats of King George's army would have looked. The clash between them and the Highlanders in 1746 would be one of the greatest mismatches in British history © BBC

The Jacobites were no match for the disciplined and well-equipped redcoats and the last pitched battle on British soil was over in an hour. Facing certain defeat the prince deserted his troops and left the field before the battle was over.

Not content with defeating their foe, and if eyewitness accounts are to be believed, what followed was a brutal and bloody massacre of injured Jacobites and bystanders, earning the Duke of Cumberland the title The Butcher.

The best place to learn about the Battle of Culloden is Culloden Battlefield and Visitor Centre. There is an audio-visual presentation and a weapons exhibition that includes swords, muskets, axes, dirks, targes and memorabilia – much of it on loan from the .

a photograph of a stone slab with the words Clan Donald carved into it

The Clan Donald stone marks one of the clan graves © National Trust Scotland.

On the battlefield are the clan graves and the Well of the Dead, where many clansmen were slaughtered whilst quenching their thirst or washing their wounds. There is also the Memorial Cairn and the Leanach Cottage around which the battle was fought and where a re-enactment of 18th century field surgery takes place daily.

For those in search of more artifacts from the battle, the National War Museum of Scotland at Edinburgh Castle has various objects relating to the battle including a Gaelic bible belonging to a soldier of the Argyll militia killed at Culloden.

shows an ornate engraved silver canteen. It is a flask-like object with a hinged lid containing many things such as forks and knives.

The Prince's travelling canteen © Trustees of the National Museums of Scotland

The highlight however is the Prince’s travelling canteen. The latter was lost, along with much of the Prince's other baggage, at Culloden and fell into the hands of the Hanoverian commander, William, Duke of Cumberland. He presented it to his aide-de-camp George Keppel, Lord Bury, later Earl of Albemarle.

The Museum of Scotland houses perhaps the two most significant relics of the battle on show anywhere, the Appin and Barrel Colours. One of these flags belonged to the Jacobite clan the Appin-Stewarts, and one was Barrel’s regimental flag. Both were put together by a 19th century historian who reunited them as a symbol of reconciliation.

shows a silver sword with an engraved hilt

Basket hilted sword, Scottish, about 1760 © The Board of Trustees of the Armouries

Following defeat at Culloden Bonnie Prince Charlie fled to the Isle of Skye where he hid out before returning to France, never to be seen again. He abandoned his army on the field to the Butcher Cumberland and his highland followers to severe retribution meted out by the British.

Graeme Rimer, Head of Collections at the Royal Armouries, Leeds where they have weapons of both sides on display in their British Warfare in the 18th Century Gallery, describes losing the Battle of Culloden as, "the final nail in the coffin for the highlanders."

Ultimately the repression carried out by the victorious Hanoverian army led to the highland clearances, which saw the loss not only of their lands but also the highland way of life. There was a population decline as mass emigration took place with many highlanders leaving Scotland to start anew in the USA and Canada.

To find out more about the BBC television Battlefield Britain series visit the BBC programme archive.

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