The Battle of Culloden, David Morier, 1746
the Battle of Culloden, 1746
Other Scottish Country Dances for this Day
Today's Musings, History & Folklore
"Dark, dark was the day when we looked on Culloden
And chill was the mist drop that clung to the tree,
The oats of the harvest hung heavy and sodden,
No light on the land and no wind on the sea."
~ Culloden, Andrew Lang (1844-1912)
The final and least successful use of the Highland charge (a battlefield shock tactic used by the clans of the Scottish Highlands which incorporated the use of firearms) was in 1746 during the final confrontation of the Jacobite rising of 1745, the Battle of Culloden. With the introduction of muskets and cannon, the previous tight formations used by highlanders with their heavy axes and claymores, became vulnerable. As a result, Highlander warriors developed a lighter, one-handed basket-hilted broadsword that protected the hand. This was generally used with a shield or targe strapped to the weak arm and a dirk or biotag "long knife" held in the other hand.The charge required a high degree of commitment as the men were rushing into musket range and would suffer casualties from at least one volley. Speed was essential, so the Highlanders preferred to employ the charge downhill and over firm ground; they removed clothing from their lower body for the same reason. They ran forward in clusters of a dozen (often blood relatives) which formed a larger wedge shaped formation. Once in effective musket range (60 yards) those with firearms would shoot; gun-smoke from this mass discharge having obscured enemies' aim, the Highlanders obtained further protection from the expected return volley from the opposing force by crouching low to the ground immediately after firing. Then, firearms were then dropped and edged weapons drawn, whereupon the men made the final rush on the enemy line with a Gaelic battle cry.
The last major battle to be fought on British soil, the April 16th, 1746 battle of Culloden was the final confrontation of the 1745 Jacobite Rising – an attempt to reinstate a Stuart monarch on the throne of Britain – and is today considered one of the most significant clashes in British history. It saw a Hanoverian government army led by the Duke of Cumberland, son of King George II, go head-to-head with the forces of ‘Bonnie Prince Charlie’, in a battle that lasted less than an hour.
Raising an army consisting mostly of Scottish clansmen along with smaller units of Irish and Englishmen from the Manchester Regiment, Charles' efforts initially met with success and at one point began to threaten London. However, a series of events forced the army's return to Scotland, where they were soon pursued by an army raised by the Duke of Cumberland. The two forces eventually met at Culloden, on terrain that made the highland charge difficult and gave the larger and well-armed British forces the advantage. The battle lasted only an hour, with the Jacobites suffering a bloody defeat. Between 1,500 and 2,000 Jacobites were killed or wounded in the brief battle.
Mythologized by poets, nationalists, and propagandists for various purposes, this battle and the historic pressures and contexts leading up to it have been reexamined by modern military historians.
In the aftermath, the British Government enacted laws further to integrate Scotland – specifically the Scottish Highlands – with the rest of Britain. Members of the Episcopal clergy were required to give oaths of allegiance to the reigning Hanoverian dynasty. Those lords and clan chiefs who had supported the Jacobite rebellion were stripped of their estates and these were then sold and the profits were used to further trade and agriculture in Scotland. The forfeited estates were managed by factors.
Anti-clothing measures were taken against the highland dress by an Act of Parliament in 1746. The result was that the wearing of tartan was banned except as a uniform for officers and soldiers in the British Army and later landed men and their sons.
For one modern historian's take on some of the myths surrounding this clash, click the memorial marker on the Culloden Moor.