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Culloden – Battle Lines Re-drawn

December 21, 2007
Incident in the Battle of Culloden by David Morier

In an attempt to separate the myth from the reality and the romance from the prosaic, a new visitor centre opened its doors yesterday with its curators promising to teach forthcoming generations the truth about what really happened on April 16, 1746.

As the last stand of the Jacobites in the failed ’45 rebellion led by Bonnie Prince Charlie, Culloden is as famous for its bloody aftermath as for the battle itself. It is believed to have signalled the end of the clan system and contributed to the exodus of many of the defeated to the New World. It draws more than 250,000 visitors each year to Drumossie Moor where it was fought.

According to the National Trust for Scotland, the majority of the 250,000 who visit the moor each year come with a romanticised and misleading version of the battle and of war itself. Culloden Moor

Alexander Bennett, its project manager said:  “Many of our visitors think that it was Scotland against England, but it was actually a British civil war, an internal political struggle which changed the course of world history. We also wanted to dispel any of the romantic ideals that often surround the story of Culloden and demonstrate just how bloody and brutal the combat really was.”

The £9 million centre tells the tales of those caught up in the turmoil as the sides prepared for battle. There is the agricultural tenant forced to enlist with the Jacobites or face the destruction of his home and land. There is the Aberdeen housewife who billets officers from the Duke of Cumberland’s army. Then there is the emigrant from Inverness who explains how much he likes his new life in exile in America.

As well as redrawing visitors’ perceptions of those involved in the battle, the curators have also redrawn the site.

Dr Tony Pollard, director of the Centre for Battlefield Archaeology at the University of Glasgow, said that previous views had been based on written accounts. He said: “Using archaeology is more forensic and objective. It has changed the shape of the battlefield. The battle was fought over a much wider area that previously suspected, and we also identified the area where the fiercest fighting took place, which was much further south than previously thought.

“Our research has also made the lines longer and increased the distance between the two sides by at least 100 metres, which makes it impressive that the Jacobites even reached the government line in the first place. The fact that they charged that distance in a hail of musket fire is incredible.”

The Jacobites were outnumbered by about 9,000 to 6,000 by the Duke of Cumberland’s army. The Duke is thought to have lost fewer than 100 troops whereas estimates of Jacobite deaths vary from 1,000 to 4,000. Dozens more were executed after the fighting and scores more died from their wounds or starved to death while in hiding.

Culloden Cairn

John Gold, a professor of geography at Oxford Brookes University who has studied British heritage centres, said that Culloden had suffered after being viewed through political and social contexts that were now irrelevant.

“Once a battle is over that is when the stories start and those stories in the case of Culloden have been contested. Culloden has been drawn into a narrative of rivalry between Scotland and England, but now that Scotland has devolution it does not necessarily need to see England in the same way,” he said.

— Culloden was the last of the great Jacobite efforts to reinstate a Stuart monarch

— Support was raised among the Highland clans by Charles Edward Stuart, Bonnie Prince Charlie

— As the grandson of the deposed James II of England, he planned to oust George II and his Hanoverian line from the throne

— Edinburgh, and later Carlilse, fell to the Jacobite forces who marched south. They turned back at Derby and retreated to the Highlands in 1746, pursued by the Duke of Cumberland with a Hanoverian force

— Despite being advised to avoid direct conflict with Cumberland and rely on guerrilla tactics, the two armies met at Culloden

— The defeated Bonnie Prince Charlie fled back to France


One Comment leave one →
  1. pasthorizons permalink*
    May 12, 2008 9:08 pm

    Read an article on Culloden by Tony Pollard:

    Issue 2

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