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How historically accurate is Outlander?

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The popular TV show Outlander, now in its third season, is based on a series of historical novels written by Diana Gabaldon. In the series Claire Randall, a nurse from the Second Wold War, travels back in time to Scotland in 1743 just prior to the Jacobite risings.

She meets and falls in love with highlander Jamie Fraser. With her knowledge of the catastrophic result of the Battle of Culloden for the Scots, Claire is determined to change history. Here are a few ways the television show correctly portrays life in Scotland during the 1700s – and a few other times it missed the mark:

Events and Characters

The Battle of Culloden was fought just east of Inverness in 1746. Around 5,000 Jacobites led by ‘the Young Pretender’ Prince Charles Edward Stuart fought against a Government army of 8,000 led by the Duke of Cumberland in order to try and restore a Stuart monarch to the throne. As the zenith of the Jacobite uprising which had been building for years, the Battle of Culloden ended in major bloodshed and defeat for the Jacobites. It was the last major battle to be fought on British soil and brought about major changes to the seats of power and spheres of influence in Scotland.

Dr Tony Pollard, the historical advisor on the TV show, is careful to point out that the Jacobite Wars were far more complicated in real life, with civil conflicts and more nuanced religious differences than those presented in the show. He also makes it clear that “some historians regard the Jacobites as a nationalist movement, but this is only a part of the story.”

According to author Gabaldon the character of Jamie Fraser was developed from an account in the book Prince in the Heather, which describes how 19 wounded Jacobites hid in a farmhouse after the battle. After two days they were executed under the Red Coat’s command for No Quarter, “except one man, a Fraser of the Master of Lovet's regiment, who survived the slaughter.”

Other events in the series, such as Claire and her friend Geillis Duncan’s trial for witchcraft were less accurate. The last witch trial in Scotland took place over twenty years before, in 1722. However, it is somewhat feasible that women would continue to be accused and stand trial after the initial mania had ended and for their cases to not be found on record.

Costumes and Locations

Perhaps the most glaring inaccuracy in the show is the Fraser clan’s tartan. There are actually two clan Frasers – the highland clan (Clan Fraser of Lovat, to which Jamie belongs) and a related lowland Fraser family. Fraser of Lovat’s territory borders the Makenzie Clan in Inverness-shire with a historic seat in Beaufort Castle (Castle Dounie). The drab grey and blue costumes used by Jamie Fraser and his kin in the show are a far cry from the actual bold red and green of the clan’s kilts.

However, the rigmarole women went through to get dressed is portrayed more accurately, even down to the tight corsets and extra padding of Claire’s pannier.

The series is filmed in Scotland at places such as Doune Castle near Stirling which stands in for Castle Leoch and Blackness Castle in West Lothian which is used as the setting of Fort William. The standing stones at Craig-na-dun, which Claire time-slipped through at the start of story, do not really exist, but similar ancient circles can be visited in several places around the country, from Orkney’s Stenness to the Twelve Apostles in Dumfries. While you may not travel through time you will feel a strong sense of history when visiting these Scottish locations. 

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