The Battle of Culloden

In 1688, the Dutch Protestant Prince William of Orange, the husband of Britain’s Princess Mary, overthrew her father King James II (James VII in Scotland) the Stuart Catholic King of Great Britain to protect Protestantism. William and Mary became king and queen, and James fled to France with his family. His supporters still in Scotland and England were known as “Jacobites”, for the latin term for James, “Jacobus”, and they opposed the “Williamites” better known as “Whigs”. For the next sixty years, the Jacobites periodically but unsuccessfully revolted in the name of James II, or his son James Francis Edward Stuart aka “The Old Pretender” with the support of the French Catholic monarchs, most notably Louis XIV. In 1720, after nearly forty years in exile across Europe, the Old Pretender had a son, Charles Edward Stuart, unsurprisingly nicknamed “The Young Pretender” but better known in history as “Bonnie” Prince Charlie. (Get all that?)

In 1745, the tall and charismatic, not to mention dead sexy, Bonnie Prince Charlie landed in Scotland and raised the flag of rebellion in his father’s name. But a storm off the Scottish coast scattered his French fleet, and he landed with just 70 men, not an auspicious start. Still, the highland clans flocked to his banner, but most lowland clans and English Jacobite’s did not, because of his perceived weakness. Nonetheless, for eight months the insurgency defeated every “redcoat” army sent against them, and invaded England. However, the support wasn’t there to seize London and Charlie fell for an elaborate ruse of a fake army blocking his path, so the Jacobites returned to Scotland to fight the next redcoat army on their own terms.

The fake British army that was still being assembled in 1745, invaded Scotland in March 1746 under the King George II’s obese little brother the Duke of Cumberland. Cumberland had a large 9000 man army versus the Charlie’s’ 5000. On 15 April, Cumberland stopped to celebrate his 25th birthday and Charlie decided on a surprise night attack on the celebrating camp. After an overly ambitious night march, Bonnie Prince Charlie realized that his stumbling army wouldn’t make it in time and stopped famished and fatigued at the boggy Culloden Moor. Bonnie Prince Charlie, against the advice of the clan commanders, awaited an attack.

Cumberland didn’t look the part, but he was a ruthless trainer of men. He drilled his soldiers so much in the basics, that he increased their musket rate of fire from two rounds a minute to three, and cannon from one to two, a significant increase in firepower. Instead of charging, Cumberland bombarded the Scots to devastating effect. The Scots, armed in the traditional manner of broadsword and targe (small round shield) with few muskets or cannon, stood there and took it, losing nearly 800 men as Charlie hesitated. After thirty minutes, Bonnie Prince Charlie finally ordered an assault, but the feared, and up to this moment usually successful, “Highland Charge” was not enough to overcome the British firepower advantage. At 400 paces round shot sent columns of torn bodies through the Scottish ranks. At 100 paces, condensed and rapid musketry piled the bodies up as the Scots clamored over. At sixty paces, grapeshot turned men into red mist. At three paces, the disciplined redcoats bayoneted, not the man in front of them, but the man to his right, which avoided the targe. The single breakthrough was easily contained by Cumberland’s second line. 1100 more Scots died in the charge.

As the broken Scots fell back, the British army advanced and bayoneted the wounded, and dragoons chased down and ran through another thousand. Bonnie Prince Charlie escaped and the ten month chase is the stuff of legends, but in the process Cumberland killed any man he found with a musket or broadsword, or even suspected of rebel tendencies. The Jacobite resistance was broken forever and thousands of Scots fled or were banished to Ireland and the Thirteen Colonies. The Battle of Culloden was the last major land battle on British soil, and has left an indelible mark on the Scottish consciousness.

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