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Published March 6th 2020
Step back in time to the last major battle on British soil
Over the centuries there have been many bloody battles fought on the land that is now Britain. From Iron Age warriors defending their hill forts, Queen Boudica and her army's defeat by the Romans at the Battle of Watling Street, Saxon King Alfred's victory over the Great Viking Army in Edington in 878, and the Norman conquest of Saxon England at the famous Battle of Hastings in 1066; to the Wars of the Roses, the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485, the Civil Wars fought between the Roundheads and the Cavaliers in the 1600s (and every other battle fought in between), the soil of Britain is stained with the blood of countless men, women, and children.
On 16 April 1746, a battle that was no less bloody and no less ferocious was fought on a wild, lonely moor near Inverness, Scotland. The battle was fought between the Jacobite army of Charles Edward Stuart (Bonnie Prince Charlie) and a British government force under William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland and the son of the reigning Hanoverian King, George II. Known as the Battle of Culloden, this was the last major battle to be ever fought on British soil.
Today you can visit the carefully conserved battlefield of Culloden at Culloden moor and the excellent Culloden Visitor Centre where you will travel back in time and learn the story of the Jacobites and their famous last stand.
The seeds of the conflict that culminated in Culloden had been sown during the previous 100 years, during a time of great political and religious upheaval in Britain. The Scottish Stuart family ruled England and Scotland in the 1600s. But there were fears of a Roman Catholic dynasty when the very Catholic wife of King James VII of Scotland and II of England and Ireland gave birth to a son, James Francis Edward Stuart. King James' nephew, the Protestant William of Orange, landed a large army in England to popular support, and James was forced to flee England with his wife and son. William and his wife Mary became joint monarchs and defenders of Protestantism. In Scotland, however, where Stuart monarchs had ruled for 300 years, loyalty to the deposed James was strong. The first Jacobite Rising took place in April, 1689. The Jacobites (who took their name from the Latin form of James, Jacobus, after their deposed King James VII) were led by John Graham of Claverhouse, 1st Viscount of Dundee who gained the support of those Highland clans who were Catholic or Episcopalian. Dundee's army met British government forces at the Pass of Killiecrankie and they were victorious. But over one-third of the Highland force was killed and Dundee himself fatally wounded. What followed was a series of government expeditions to subdue the Highlands, including the infamous massacre of members of the MacDonald clan in Glencoe in 1692. The Jacobites were forced to agree to a truce and surrender.
Glencoe, scene of the 1692 massacre (Source:https://www.nts.org.uk/visit/places/glencoe/highlights/the-glen?lang=
In 1701, an English Act of Settlement required the monarch to be a Protestant. When William of Orange died the following year, the Protestant daughter of James VII, Anne, took the throne. And when Queen Anne died in 1714, the crown passed on to her nearest Protestant kin, George I, the Elector of Hanover. The Jacobites attempted but failed, to depose George and replace him with James Francis Edward Stuart, the son of the deposed King James VII. After George I died in 1727, his son was crowned King George II. George II also faced the Jacobite threat but this time, the Rising of 1745 gave the government more cause for concern. And this time, the Jacobites were led by James Francis Edward Stuart's son and heir, the charismatic Charles Edward Stuart, also known as Bonnie Prince Charlie.
Charles Edward Stuart, or as he is more popularly known: Bonnie Prince Charlie (Source:https://www.nts.org.uk/visit/places/culloden/the-battle-of-culloden)
Charles Edward Stuart had been in exile in France, but in July 1745, he landed on the west coast of Scotland. And the final Jacobite rebellion began. In August, Charles gathered his men at Glenfinnan. There the standard was raised and his father was proclaimed King James VIII of Scotland and III of England and Ireland. In September the Jacobites captured Edinburgh and won a stunning victory over government forces loyal to George II in Prestonpans, East Lothian, Scotland. They marched on south towards London, but they failed to get the support they needed in England. So they retreated all the way back to Scotland. They failed to take Stirling Castle but they defeated government forces at Falkirk Muir. The Jacobites withdrew ever further north, and by February 1746, they had captured Inverness. They stayed there for 2 months. In the meantime, a government army, led by King George II's younger son, Prince William Duke of Cumberland, was not very far behind them.
Prince William, Duke of Cumberland. Also known as 'The Butcher'. (Source:https://www.nts.org.uk/visit/places/culloden/the-battle-of-culloden)
Culloden It was here that the Jacobite army took their last stand to reclaim the thrones of Britain from the Hanoverians for a Stuart king. On April 16, 1746, Bonnie Prince Charlie and his Jacobites met the Duke of Cumberland's forces on Drumrossie Moor. At around 1pm, the Jacobite artillery opened fire on government soldiers. The government responded with their own cannon, and the Battle of Culloden began.
Today at the Culloden Visitor Centre, you can actually recreate the Battle of Culloden as it would have been fought in the centre's incredible 360-degree battle immersion theatre. The theatre puts you right in the centre of the action.
The Centre also houses a museum which takes you on a journey through the 1745 Jacobite Rising. The exhibition tells the story from both the Jacobite and Government sides, with artefacts from the time on display to admire such as types of weapons used by both sides. There's also a bird's-eye view battle table which details the tactics and movements of the day.
Located right next to the Visitor Centre is the moor where the Battle of Culloden took place. The moor is the resting place of Jacobite and Government soldiers who fought and died here in 1746. Today, you can walk along the battle lines and see the graves of the soldiers beside the memorial cairn in the centre of the battlefield. Flags represent the front lines of both armies and show the vast scale of the battle, whilst in the centre clan markers indicate the graves of the fallen.
Blue flags mark where the Jacobites stood. (Source:https://www.nts.org.uk/visit/places/culloden/highlights/battlefield?lang=en_gb)
At the edge of the battlefield stands Leanach Cottage. It was originally built in the early 18th century but has seen many changes since then. The cottage served as the first visitor centre for people coming to see Culloden Battlefield. Now it is a temporary exhibition space for you to discover more about Culloden's heritage. The thatching on the cottage is made from heather that was collected from the battlefield.
What happened to the Jacobites?
The Battle of Culloden was the last pitched battle on British soil and, in less than an hour, around 1,300 men were slain – about 1,250 of them Jacobites. It was a victory for Cumberland and therefore a victory for the Hanoverians and their supporters. Bonnie Prince Charlie fled Culloden. Over the weeks that followed, those Jacobites that managed to escape the battlefield were hunted down and killed. Cumberland's attitude to the Jacobites was ruthless; he was later nicknamed 'The Butcher'. Those Jacobite captives who were not killed on the spot were shipped to England to be imprisoned and face trial. Many were executed, others were sent to a life of slavery and deportation to the American South and West Indies.
Charles himself evaded capture for five long months, eventually making good his escape to France and his final exile. He died in Rome on January 31, 1788.
In the months following Culloden, the government began a brutal military occupation of the Highlands, designed to stop once and for all any political and military threats to the government. So Catholic chapels and Episcopalian meeting houses were destroyed; the mighty Fort George near Inverness, one of the strongest artillery fortifications in Europe, was completed in 1769; the Disarming Act of 1746 forbade the carrying of weapons; the kilt and tartan, both potent symbols of Highland culture, were banned from everyday life and were only allowed to be worn within the British Army; bagpipes were outlawed as instruments of war; clan chiefs were deprived of their legal powers, and Jacobite estates were forfeited to the Crown.
In the last years of the 18th century, some attempts were made to redress the effects of the hostile policies imposed upon the Highlands. But life in the Highlands would never be again the same.
Culloden is 5 miles (about 8km) east of Inverness, off the A9/B9006. Follow the brown signs to Culloden.
Culloden Battlefield is open daily, year-round. The Culloden Visitor Centre's opening hours vary throughout the year. Please go here for more information.
Entry prices at the time of writing are Adult £11.00; Family £27.00; One adult family £22.00; Concession £9.50; Members of the National Trust for Scotland FREE.
Facilities include a cafe (where you can try their exclusive Culloden ale or Culloden whisky!), gift shop, toilets, full disabled access, baby changing facilities, plenty of parking, guided tours, wi-fi, picnic tables, wheelchairs free of charge as well as powered scooters to tour the battlefield.
For more information on Culloden, please visit the website here.
National Trust for Scotland The National Trust for Scotland is Scotland's leading conservation charity. Founded in 1931, it promotes care and conservation of the Scottish landscape and historic buildings while providing access for the public to enjoy them. Culloden Battlefield and the Culloden Visitor Centre belong to the National Trust.
If you love the Jacobites and their history, you can visit other significant National Trust sites in Scotland such as Killiecrankie where the first Jacobite Rising took place under Dundee in 1715; Glenfinnan Monument at the place where Bonnie Prince Charlie began the Rising of 1745 on behalf of his father; and Glencoe where, on 13 February 1692, thirty-eight men, women and children of the MacDonald clan were murdered by a regiment of soldiers whom they had welcomed into their homes.