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The Battle of Culloden 1746


Culloden Battlefield is located five miles east of Inverness in the Scottish Highlands.

The Battle of Culloden, the culmination of the Jacobite Rising of 1745, was fought on 16 April 1746 and is the last full-scale pitch battle fought on the British Isles.

Even if the eighteenth century isn’t your major interest, most people will have come across a reference to Culloden, the Jacobites or ‘Bonnie Prince Charlie’. 

From the BBC’s Doctor Who to Tony Pollard and Neil Oliver’s Two Men in a Trench, Walter Scott’s Waverly or Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series, Culloden and the Jacobites have fascinated people all over the world. This enthusiasm and interest is growing and last year Culloden Battlefield and Visitor Centre shared the story of the ’45 with close to 250,000 people.

The ’45

The ’45 was the fourth Jacobite rising in close to 60 years and was to be the last major attempt to restore the exiled Stuart monarchy back to the throne of Great Britain. Surviving accounts of the Battle of Culloden and the wider conflict present a range of views of the battle and its consequences. Some viewed the battle as Scottish Highlanders against the Lowlanders; some as a religious conflict between Catholics and Protestants; others viewed it as a war between the English and the Scots. Yet none of the statements are true – ultimately this conflict was between the Jacobite army trying to restore the Stuart family to the British throne, and the Government army determined to quash the challenge.

A common question we are asked at Culloden is who exactly were the Jacobites?

The Jacobites were men and women who supported the exiled Stuart monarchy; originally supporting James VII & II following the ‘Glorious Revolution’, then supporting his son James Francis Edward/James VIII & III, and subsequently Charles Edward Stuart and his brother Henry Benedict Stuart. 

Jacobitism is not a Scottish Highland phenomenon. During the campaign and on the field the Jacobite army was made up of men from across the British Isles – for example Englishmen like 22-year-old John Daniel who joined the Duke of Perth’s regiment at Garstang, to famous Gaelic poet Alasdair mac Mhaighstir Alasdair who was born near Glenfinnan. 

The ’45 was part of a wider global conflict – although the battle itself was over within one hour, the repercussions were widespread and felt through the generations.

The Battle of Culloden

By mid-April 1746 the Jacobite army had been on the campaign for nine months. Following the raising of standard at Glenfinnan on the 19 August 1745, they fought in several skirmishes and battles and marched as far south as Derby. They were within six days march of London when, following a tumultuous council of war, the Jacobite army turned and headed back to Scotland.

By April the Jacobites were beginning to run out of money and resources. The main Jacobite army had been in and around Inverness and Culloden House for several weeks and on 15 April they were prepared to face the Government army and their new Commander in Chief William Augustus, the Duke of Cumberland.¹

Prepared to fight a battle on 15 April, the Jacobite command were informed the Duke of Cumberland was celebrating his 25th birthday and there would be no battle that day. Cumberland had issued additional rations of alcohol and food to the Government army and the Jacobites thought this provided them with an excellent opportunity to surprise attack a vulnerable army.

A plan to march the 12 miles to Nairn at night was floated to the Jacobite command and with few other options the Jacobites began to prepare their hungry, weak and exhausted army for the march. The march did not go according to plan and most of the Jacobite army returned exhausted after marching for miles.

¹William Augustus, the Duke of Cumberland was the second surviving son of George II the Hanoverian monarch of Great Britain. He became the commander in chief of the Government army in late 1745; the Government army was the standing army for Great Britain at the time. The term Government is seen as the best term to use when discussing the British army as both the Jacobites and the Government are fighting for who they deem their rightful monarch, both sides have a thoroughly British army.

On the 16 April 1746, following the disastrous night march, the Jacobite command returned to Culloden House and began to argue; the cracks in the Jacobite command were deepening.

By noon the two armies were in sight of one another. The Jacobites numbered between 5000 and 5500 men and the Government army numbered 8000.

The battle began at midday; in the first half an hour there was cannon fire between the armies and a Government attempt to outflank the Jacobites. After this the Highland Charge began to move across the moor. The north flank of the Highland Charge moved relatively slowly through the boggy ground at the north end of the battlefield and the southern end of the Highland Charge set off too early.

The southern flank of the Highland Charge impacted into Barrell’s, Monro’s and Royal Scots Fusiliers of the Government front line, where fierce hand-to-hand fighting occurred. Two regiments of the Government second line began to move forward surrounded the successful Highland Charge. In the space of two to three minutes 700 men were killed or wounded. At north end of field the Highland Charge was slowly moving through the bog but following the defeat of the southern flank they turned and fled the field.

Eventually Prince Charles left the field under cavalry escort and the battle was over with the route of the Jacobite army.

In the aftermath of the battle, Cumberland ordered his cavalry to pursue retreating Jacobites. The Government foot regiments were issued the order to give No Quarter, meaning to show no mercy to the fleeing troops. In the space of one hour the Jacobite wounded and dead numbered around 1,500. The battlefield was closed for three days following the battle to ensure no one could leave or gain entry to remove wounded or dead Jacobites.

During the battle the Government army’s death toll is stated as 50 from an army of 8000 men. The 1,500 Jacobites and 50 Government dead were all buried on the moor in mass graves.

The Consequences of Culloden

Following the Jacobite defeat at Culloden, the Government army began the military occupation of Highlands from the garrisons at Fort William, Fort Augustus and Fort George, which at the time of the battle was Inverness Castle.

In the year following Culloden the Government occupation was realised as a programme of repression to deal with the perceived Jacobite threat. Entire communities were raided and searched for fleeing Jacobites and men, women and children began to be arrested as suspected or known Jacobites. There are no reliable numbers for those killed in the aftermath of Culloden and during the occupation of the Highlands.

On 1 August 1746 the Parliament in London enacted the Act of Proscription which restrained the use of Highland Dress, disarmed the population and aimed to prevent any future risings by ensuring that children were not educated by disaffected or rebellious people.

Around 3,500 individuals were arrested for treason and shipped south of the border being imprisoned in locations such as York, Carlisle, Tilbury Fort and London. Of those arrested 1:20 were tried for high treason resulting in 120 individuals executed, close to 1000 sent abroad and the rest were either freed or exiled.

‘A Clichy, le 5. Novembre, 1746’

The story of Charles Edward Stuart on the run in the Highlands with a £30,000 fine on his head, his subsequent meeting with Flora MacDonald and his eventual escape to France is well documented. While the story of his escape is known we are very fortunate at Culloden to have a packet of letters written by Charles Edward Stuart on the 5 November 1746.

Within a month of arriving in France Charles wrote to his cousin Louis XV, King of France asking for money, men and arms to reignite the Jacobite cause. Charles was desperately seeking any audience with the French king.

The letters, purchased by the National Trust for Scotland in 2014, went on display at the Visitor Centre in October 2016 and provide a fantastic insight into the mind-set of Charles post Culloden.

The packet includes a cover note to the Marquis d’Argenson, the French Minister of War, which was delivered by a Jacobite agent, George Kelly. Charles explains in the covering note that he has written an account of affairs as he sees them, and asking for a personal meeting with Louis XV.

Charles says, ‘Armed men were not lacking in Scotland. Instead I missed at once money, provisions, and a handful of regular troops – with just one of these three resources I would be master of Scotland today, and probably of all England too.’

For Charles the Battle of Culloden would have been a victory had he ‘…received even half the money that your Majesty [Louis XV] sent me but two months earlier, I would have been able to meet Prince William of Hanover [Duke of Cumberland] with an equal number of troops, and I would certainly have beaten him…’ The failure of the Rising is not his doing rather everyone around him not following through on promises of support.

The memoir was written as the local population in the Highlands were living through the military occupation and the Act of Proscription being enforced. Charles pointed out that ‘The situation in which I left Scotland on my departure merits the complete attention of your Majesty, this Kingdom is on the verge of seeing itself annihilated and the government of England is resolved to confuse those subjects who have remained loyal to it with those who took arms for me, from which it is easy to conclude, that the discontent of this nation is general and that I would find today three partisans for every one I found when I arrived.’

While recognising the impact that the rising had on the people who supported him, the letters show that Charles was portraying that Culloden was more of a setback rather than a defeat.

By Catriona McIntosh, Head Education Guide, Culloden Battlefield and Visitor Centre

National Trust for Scotland’s 80th anniversary

While commemorating the battle this April, 2017, we are also marking the 80th anniversary of the National Trust for Scotland (NTS) conserving the battlefield. Over the past 80 years NTS have been managing and latterly restoring the landscape back towards what it would have looked like in 1746. With everything from brush cutting to conservation grazing we are restoring the landscape back to the open moorland that it once was.

This year, over the weekend of the 16 April 2017 Culloden Battlefield Visitor Centre will see hundreds of people arrive at the site to commemorate the battle and discover more of the nuanced history behind the Jacobite Rising.

The National Trust for Scotland is one of Scotland’s leading conservation charities, which relies on the financial support of its members and donors to fund its important work of caring for the natural and cultural heritage of Scotland for everyone to enjoy. You can join the National Trust for Scotland for as little as £7.00 per month for a family. To become a member, visit

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