A memorial stone on Culloden Moor calls the Jacobite soldiers who died fighting beside Bonnie Prince Charlie ‘the gallant Highlanders’.

While there were many Highlander casualties at Culloden, the Jacobite cause also drew support from the Lowlands, as well as from France and Ireland. The memorials left behind after the Jacobite of the 17th and 18th centuries show that this was one of the most important periods in Scottish history. But what led to such a long struggle? Who was the Bonnie Prince? And how do we remember it now?

The Glorious Revolution

A century of bloodshed began with a family feud. King James VII (King James II in England) would be the last Roman Catholic monarch on these islands. His downfall came at the hands of his daughter Mary and his son-in-law, a Dutch Protestant called William of Orange, who became joint monarchs.

When William invaded England in 1688, James fled to France, but his supporters in Scotland would rise up together to challenge the new king and try to restore James to the throne. These supporters of James were known as Jacobites (from the Latin for James, Jacobus).


The first battle fought in Scotland against King William was at Killiecrankie in 1689. James’s biggest supporter, Viscount Dundee, somehow rallied several rival clans to the cause.

At Killiecrankie, 3 miles north of Pitlochry, ‘Bonnie Dundee’ claimed victory in a vicious and gory fight against a much bigger Williamite army. In the process, Dundee would lose his life, and following other bloody scenes at Dunkeld and Glencoe, clans across Scotland started declaring allegiance to one side or the other. The fighting had only just begun.

The magnificent wooded gorge at Killiecrankie in glorious autumn colours
The magnificent wooded gorge at Killiecrankie in glorious autumn colours

The Union of 1707

King William died in 1703, without any direct successors, so the crown was passed to his wife’s sister, Queen Anne. On his deathbed, William recommended a union between the parliaments of England and Scotland, much to the dismay of the Jacobite cause.

When the Union passed in 1707, several uprisings followed. The Battle of Sheriffmuir in 1715, led by John Erskine, Earl of Mar, on behalf of James VIII, ended in retreat and embarrassment. Then in 1719, Lord Tullibardine and Earl Marischal would lead the Jacobites in the Battle of Glenshiel, but their efforts would also end in failure, along with the capture of 300 of their Spanish allies. Visitors can see Mar’s castle at Alloa Tower and the Glenshiel battlefield at Kintail.

Alloa Tower is the largest surviving keep in Scotland
Alloa Tower is the largest surviving keep in Scotland

Bonnie Prince Charlie

By the middle of the 18th century, things were not going to plan for the Jacobite cause. And then James VII’s handsome grandson Prince Charles Edward Stuart, later known as Bonnie Prince Charlie, landed in the Hebrides in 1745. His arrival would signal the start of some success for the Jacobites, and under Charlie’s leadership the uprising would claim important victories against the government armies. But in 1746 the Jacobite cause would come to an abrupt and tragic end at Culloden.

A miniature of Bonnie Prince Charlie
A miniature of Bonnie Prince Charlie

The Battle of Culloden

In April 1746, Bonnie Prince Charlie’s Jacobite army went into battle against the Duke of Cumberland and his redcoats at Culloden, near Inverness. In less than an hour around 1,600 men were killed, 1,500 of them Jacobites. This would be the last major battle ever fought on the British mainland.

What happened to the Bonnie Prince? With help he managed to escape, fleeing to Skye where he was never betrayed, despite a huge reward being placed on his life.

The memorial cairn on Culloden Moor
The memorial cairn on Culloden Moor

Did you know?

It's said that in 1702 King William III (William of Orange) was riding his horse when it stumbled on a molehill, causing him to fall. He broke his collarbone and subsequently developed pneumonia, which killed him. To this day, Jacobite supporters still toast ‘the wee gentleman in the black velvet waistcoat’ at gatherings, in honour of the mole and his hill.