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Jacobite Stories: The Battle of Culloden

The course of British, European and world history was changed at Culloden on 16 April 1746.

          

It was here that the Jacobite army fought to reclaim the thrones of Britain from the Hanoverians for a Stuart king. The government army was equally determined to stop this happening. The ferocious European war had come to Scotland, dividing families and setting clan against clan.

In spring 1746, many Jacobite troops were still far from Inverness and were urgently summoned to join the Prince. Food and money were in short supply and the army was not at full force – few commanders thought they could win a battle in this state.

Cumberland marched his troops from Aberdeen in good order. They were closing in on the Jacobite army for what would surely be the decisive battle. Morale was high as they camped at Nairn on 15 April, Cumberland’s 25th birthday.

Although Alexander, 19th Brodie of Brodie (a Hanoverian) did not take an active part in the Battle of Culloden, family history tells of government troops being camped in the wood behind Brodie Castle, in an area known today as the ’45 Wood.

Although Alexander, 19th Brodie of Brodie (a Hanoverian) did not take an active part in the Battle of Culloden, family history tells of government troops being camped in the wood behind Brodie Castle, in an area known today as the ’45 Wood.

Rather than risk a pitched battle in their weakened state, the Jacobites agreed on a final desperate plan: a surprise night attack. This could have been a brilliant strategy: sleeping redcoats would have been no match for Jacobite troops. In reality, as the hungry and exhausted Jacobite column stumbled along in the dark, their progress was too slow and they had to turn back.

As dawn broke, battle was still not inevitable. Even now there was time for the Jacobites to draw back to Inverness and regain their strength at a safe distance. Bitter arguments broke out between the senior commanders – even the French envoy pleaded on his knees for the Prince to withdraw.

But the Prince was determined and took the decision to fight there and then. Many of his soldiers were asleep, exhausted from the night march, while others were away looking for food or had yet to arrive in the area.

Some Jacobite leaders favoured a retreat to high ground south of the River Nairn. The Prince preferred to fight where they stood, on the moor at Culloden. With Cumberland’s army in sight, the pipers began to play and the tired army struggled into position.

At around 1pm, the Jacobite artillery opened fire on government soldiers. The government responded with their own cannon, and the Battle of Culloden began.

Bombarded by cannon shot and mortar bombs, the Jacobite clans held back, waiting for the order to attack. At last they moved forwards, through driving rain, smoke, gunfire and grapeshot. Upon reaching the government lines, some fought ferociously; others never reached their goal. This time the government troops were prepared for the dreaded Highland charge; under brutal gunfire and faced with deadly bayonets, the Jacobites were forced to retreat.

Culloden was the last pitched battle on British soil and, in less than an hour, around 1,300 men were slain – more than 1,000 of them Jacobites.

Culloden was the last pitched battle on British soil and, in less than an hour, around 1,300 men were slain – more than 1,000 of them Jacobites.

Hardly an hour had passed between the first shots and the final flight of the Prince’s army. Although a short battle by European standards, it was an exceptionally bloody one that changed life in the Highlands forever.

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