"Wha wadna fecht for Charlie?" - the Battle of Culloden

16 April 1746, the Jacobite Rising of “Forty Five” ended near Inverness with a decisive defeat of the “Young Pretender” Charles Edward Stuart at the Battle of Culloden, the last pitched battle fought on British soil.

“If you had seen my Charlie at the head of an army
He was a gallant sight to behold
With his fine tartan hose on his bonnie round leg
And his buckles of pure shining gold
The tartan my love wore was the finest Stuart kilt
With his soft skin all under it as white as any milk
It's no wonder that seven hundred highlanders killed in restoring my Charlie to me

My love was six foot two without stocking or shoe
In proportion my true love was built
Like I told you before upon Culloden moor
Where the brave highland army was killed
Prince Charlie Stuart was my true love's name
He was the flower of England and a pride to his name
Oh but now they have banished him over to Spain
And so dear was my Charlie to me”

(“Prince Charlie Stuart”, traditional Scottish folk song)

The Anglo-Swiss military painter David Morier 's (1705 - 1760) take on the Battle of Culloden, understatedly called "An Incident in the Rebellion of 1745" from 1749. Allegedly, survivors of both sides from said incident modeled for Morier.

wadna fecht for Charlie? the Jacobites sung when the Young Pretender raised his banner at Glenfinnan in Inverness-shire and the “Forty-Five” had begun, the Jacobite rising of 1745. Without the knowledge of the Old Pretender, his father James Francis Edward Stewart, son of James II of England and Ireland and the VIIth of his name in Scotland, deposed in the Glorious Revolution of 1688, Bonnie Prince Charlie had taken advantage of one of the endless wars between France and England and persuaded King Louis XV to support his attempt on the throne, currently occupied by George II of House Hanover. It was the stuff legends and songs are made of. Arriving in the Highlands with just seven loyal followers, the Highland clans upped and rallied at the royal prince’s word and off he went to conquer Edinburgh. They didn’t call him the “Bonnie Prince” for nothing. Young, tall and almost girlishly good looking, grown up in Rome, well educated and well spoken and dressed in continental finery, the Young Pretender must indeed have been quite a sight for the rustic Highlanders. And Edinburgh fell for him as well, in the summer of the year, but neither did all the Highland clans, let alone the Lowlanders and all who had not forgotten how one chafed under the Stuart’s Absolutist rule. However, what passed for a governmental army in Scotland, 4,000 inexperienced men under swamped Sir John Cope who had avoided battle so far, was outflanked and swept away by a fearsome Highland charge at Prestonpans in September and by the end of the year, all the blue bonnets went over the border. Charlie and his 5,000 men strong Jacobite “Highland Army” advanced as far south as Derby, London itself was believed to be threatened and mobilised troops. There was the hope that Jacobites in England would flock to Charlie’s banners, some did, but there was no mass uprising and the Young Pretender was finally persuaded by his more experienced war leaders of his untenable position and, despite the prince’s foaming at the mouth, the Jacobites withdrew back to Scotland. Many of the Jacobite blue bonnets, contrary to later tradition actually the headdress of the mainly Protestant Lowlanders who fought against the Stuarts in the Forty-Five, had already gone home with plunder and the only reinforcements of the “Highland Army” to speak of were 800 men from the Écossais Royeaux (Royal Scots) and Irish Wild Geese serving with the French and had landed in November. It was the only support Bonny Prince Charlie would receive from the continent, the usually more hare-brained schemes of invading England did not materialise, neither during the “Forty-Five” nor later in the century, but the crown finally reacted in earnest and fighting troops returning from the continent took the field under the king’s third son Prince William, Duke of Cumberland. They arrived in Edinburgh on 30 January and marched north in pursuit of the Young Pretender and his Highland Army.

William Hogarth's "The March of the Guards to Finchley" (1749), showing the rather picturesque muster of troops to counter the Jacobite threat to London

"Ladies from Hell”, “Kilted Devils” and what not, for the more than two centuries to come, Scottish troops, now fighting under the Union flag, never failed to impress their enemy with the sheer, fierce, stubborn tenacity of their stands and charges from Portugal to China, North and South Africa and the Americas. The Highland Charge at Culloden certainly is the most memorable event of the slaughter that took place east of Inverness. And they charged, slowed down by soggy ground through the barrage of government artillery, first roundshot and then canister and into the “Brown Bess” volleys and waiting bayonets of the two government lines. The “Highland Army” came crashing, despite of it all, into their left wing, into Barrell’s 4th and Dejean’s 37th foot, prepared to receive them and for a while, it was bloody touch and go. Cumberland had drilled his men well to receive a Highland Charge, though, and to parry the clansmen’s shields, the targes, by stabbing the bayonet to the attacker on the right while those redcoats not immediately engaged fired their muskets over their heads into the attacking Camerons, MacLeans, Chattans and MacLachlans while Clan MacDonald was a bit miffed that they had to fight on the Jacobite’s left and not their traditional position on the right wing. They charged with the rest of them, though, even if they had to cover more, especially swampy ground than the rest. The 4th and the 37th bore the brunt of it and legend has it that not one of their bayonets wasn’t bloodied and after some twenty minutes, the Clansmen broke. Cumberland had his cavalry charge into their retreating right wing and turned the whole bloody mess into a rout. Bonny Prince Charlie had lost and fled the field, while the redcoats, by order of the duke, slaughtered everything they could stab their bayonets into, wounded or not. About one third of the “Highland Army” was killed and only those of the Irish and the Écossais Royeaux were seen as foreign troops and treated with the honours of war. Those Highlanders fighting for the Young Pretender, traitors in the eyes of the Government, were not. Nor were their people.

John Seymour Lucas (1849 - 1923): "After Culloden: Rebel Hunting" (1884)

It was then that Prince William Augustus became known as “Butcher Cumberland” and his troops rampaged through the Highlands in search of Jacobite supporters, behaved worse than in Ireland and gave short shrift to any forms of such trifles as “guilt proven” or basic humanity. The clans were disarmed, their castles burned and for a while even wearing Tartan was punishable by death. It was the end of Scotland’s traditional clan system. “… that old woman who talked to me about humanity“, Butcher Cumberland spat out when he recalled the pleas of many local influential supporters of House Hanover, in that particular case Duncan Forbes, Lord Culloden, who had advised the formation of Highland regiments even before the “Forty Five” began. In fact, at Culloden, one fourth of Cumberland’s men were Scots, three Highland and one Lowland regiment and the whole affair since the Young Pretender’s arrival at Glenfinnan had the dimensions of a Scottish civil war, Highlanders against Lowlanders, Catholics against Protestants, Jacobites against Hanoverians, more often than not, without any clear lines of traditional loyalties or value propositions. The “Forty Five” was over after Culloden and with it the last serious attempt of House Stuart to regain the throne, even if their scions and supporters on the continent, in France, Italy, Spain and elsewhere, dreamed on, bore outdated titles and illusory claims well into the 19th century. In regards to the lad that was gone, fled through the Highlands with a price on his head, slept soft on the ocean’s royal bed when a bonnie boat carried him over the sea to Skye and finally escaped to France, dressed up as maid Betty Burke to the redoubtable Flora MacDonald. Bonnie Prince Charlie would never see Scotland again, roved through Europe instead, siring a flock of illegitimate children, taking to drink, renouncing the Catholic faith to gain popularity in England only to get re-baptised when he married a princess from the Austrian Netherlands who left him, allegedly over repeated cases of domestic violence. At the height of the Seven Years’ War, the “Young Pretender” appeared before the Duc de Choiseul, then the French foreign minister who planned the next invasion and evaluated the idea of using him to raise the still active Jacobite elements on the other side of the Channel. He was appalled and shelved that part of his cunning plan for good. But by then, the Royal Navy had already sunk the Duc’s strategy at Lagos and the Bay of Quiberon. Bonny Prince Charlie died 28 years later at the age of 67 in Rome and was at least posthumously awarded with the honours of being the true, Catholic King of Great Britain and Ireland by Pope Pius VII. 

From left to right: Hough Douglas Hamilton’s portrait of Charles Stuart in 1775, in the centre a Romantic depiction of Bonnie Prince Charlie addressing his Highland followers at Glenfinnan: "GENTLEMEN," HE CRIED, DRAWING HIS SWORD, "I HAVE THROWN AWAY THE SCABBARD." and Maurice Quentin de La Tour’s portrait of him from 1746 on the right.

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