The Battle of Culloden

In 1746, a small band of Scots tried to restore the Stuart (Scottish) royal line to the throne of England, which had been overthrown in 1688 by William of Orange. This uprising is known as the Battle of Culloden, and today it stands as a symbol of Scottish nationalism and a symbol of resistance against English control. The following is an eyewitness account of the Battle of Culloden by Donald Mackay of Acmonie, Glen Urquhart. The passage is translated from Gaelic.

The morning was cold and stormy as we stood on the battlefield—snow and rain blowing against us. Before long we saw the red soldiers, in battle formation, in front of us, and although the day was wild and wet we could see the red coats of the soldiers and the blue tartans of the Campbells in our presence. The battle began, and the pellets came at us like hail-stones. The big guns were thundering and causing a frightful break-up among us, but we ran forward and—oh dear! oh dear!—what cutting and slicing there was and many the brave deeds performed by the Gaels. I saw Iain Mor MacGilliosa cutting down the English as if he was cutting corn, and Iain Breac Shiosallach killing them as though they were flies. But the English were numerous, and we were few, and a large number of our friends fell. The dead lay on all sides and the cries of pain of the wounded rang in our ears. You could see a riderless horse running and jumping as if mad.

The spot where the fiercest fighting of the battle took place is marked by a cairn—a large monument made from many stones. The cairn, built of rough stones mingled with soil, measures six metres high by 5.5 metres in diameter. It was erected in 1881 and bears the following inscription: “The Battle of Culloden was fought on this moor 16th April, 1746. The graves of the Gallant Highlanders who fought for Scotland and Prince Charlie are marked by the names of their clans.” The Scottish forces, made up of the many Highland clans, were led by “Bonnie” Prince Charlie and numbered approximately 5000 men. England, led by the Duke of Cumberland, was better equipped, with about 9000 men, consisting of 15 regular regiments of infantry and other militias. On that fateful day in 1746 the English forces sounded the death knell for the old Highland way of life. Shortly after the defeated Scottish army withdrew from the battlefield, the Duke of Cumberland rode into Inverness clutching a drawn sword to show he was the victor. It was a gesture full of menace for the Highland people. The battle was over, but the killing was not. The roads into the town from the east were scattered with the bodies of men, women, and children cut down at random by Cumberland’s advancing troops. On the battlefield, parties of English infantry remained, killing any wounded enemy who caught their attention. The days after the battle saw patrols hunting out and executing more than 100 Scottish infantry men and interrogating thousands of civilians in their search for Prince Charles. 

How Prince Charles escaped the wrath of the English Hanoverian forces is the stuff of legends. With a price of £30 000 on his head, Prince Charles was hunted across the Highlands and throughout the islands of Scotland. He endured great hardships with considerable fortitude, and it is to the credit of the people of the North that no one gave him away. It was because of the ingenuity and courage of a young Highland woman named Flora MacDonald that Prince Charles was able to escape. When the English forces were closing in on him, Flora MacDonald helped Charles escape from South Uist and eventually to France, where he sailed on the French privateer L’Heureux on September 20, 1746. For decades afterward, the wearing of Highland kilts in clan colours was banned by London.

Reprinted from Scotland and Wales: Houses of their Own, CBC, November 1997