Scotland's Bloody History
Scottish Heritage and Historical Stories


Charles Edward Stuart, better known as Bonnie Prince Charlie, was the grandson of James VII & II and he quickly realised that his father, James the unnumbered, had lost heart for the fight to regain the throne and so he went to the French court to see if he could obtain sufficient support to undertake the task himself.

Many historians claim that the French were not very forthcoming in their offer of help, but when you consider the enormity of the task Charles was contemplating, it is perhaps only to be expected that concrete support would only follow from Charles proving he was worthy of it.

So, the French offered Charles two ships so that he could sail to Scotland and discover the amount of support which could be expected from that quarter. They also offered him thirty thousand pounds of financial support which was to follow (this would be the equivalent of many millions of pounds today). Last, but by no means least, they promised Charles that if he could raise a Scottish army and march as far south as London, then the French fleet would sail across the English Channel and support the Jacobites, thus ensuring victory against the hated Hanoverians who were as much a thorn in the side of the French as they were the nemesis of previous Jacobite uprisings.

With high expectations, Charles Edward Stuart set off for the Highlands of Scotland with his two ships.

The venture started badly, for one of the ships was lost en route. When Charles arrived at Arisaig on the west coast of Scotland, just south of Mallaig, he had only one ship and six men with whom to conquer Redcoat Britain! Such optimism, but also such charisma, that he almost won the day.

The first old chief he met said, "Go home, for here you can do no good."

"Sir, I have come home," replied Charles.

At first the clan chiefs, sorely disillusioned by the dismal failure of his father’s uprising, were reluctant to support this new Jacobite uprising.

To a reluctant Cameron of Lochiel he said, "Lochiel may stay at home and learn his Prince's fate from the newspapers."

"But no," cried Lochiel, "if you are resolved to fight, I will fight too. I will share the fate of my Prince, and so shall every man over whom I have power."

Lochiel, with eight hundred men, swung in behind Charles and the standard was raised just outside Glenfinnan on an unsigned hilltop accessed by crossing the main road from the small pretty Catholic church which is also well worth a visit.

Here, on an exposed slab of rock are the words which translated from the Latin to English proclaim, “Here in the year of our Lord 1745, Charles Edward Stuart triumphantly raised his standard."

The raising of the Standard in Glenfinnan

The site of the more modern Glenfinnan Monument is about one hundred metres away at the head of Loch Shiel, the centre of an area used by the Harry Potter filmmakers for the series of wizarding movies.

Gradually numbers of supporters arrived, soon accumulating to three thousand men. This army used the roads built by General George Wade to keep the Highlanders under control, to their own advantage to move swiftly towards the Scottish capital.

Not all of the Jacobites headed for Edinburgh, some were needed to mop up resistance in the Highlands.

One Irish commander called Stapleton was making his way along the Great Glen from Fort William towards Inverness with a battalion of Irish soldiers. To his dismay he discovered that Fort Augustus was still a fully occupied and well defended Hanoverian fortress.

Never dispirited by overwhelming odds, Stapleton positioned his only cannon overlooking the fort on a hill, today known as Battery Rock.Stapleton's attack on Fort Augustus in 1745

His cannon did not just fire cannon balls, but also fired primitive shells which can only be described as like Pink Panther bombs with fuses. You lit the fuse, dropped the shell into the cannon and fired it, hoping to hell that the shell was fired, otherwise, like James II of Scotland, the cannon exploded in your face with the expected results.

Inside the powder magazine of Fort Augustus?Having just fired a handful of shots, one of the shells landed in the gunpowder magazine of the fort and blew up the entire wing. The fort’s commander, believing he was under attack from a huge force, quickly surrendered and the Jacobites had a very prestigious early victory.

Meanwhile, Charles and the main force moved on Edinburgh, quickly taking the city but not, it should be noted, the castle itself.

There did not seem to be a good reason to lose many men taking the hilltop castle when a simple siege would be effective, preventing the Redcoats from escaping, yet also preventing them from making excursions into the city or in support of any approaching reinforcements.

This resulted in the remaining Jacobites having sufficient men to win the battle of Prestonpans, thoroughly defeating the Redcoats, some of whom ran away from the Highland charge.

Now please don’t be thinking that these Redcoats were cowards for running away. To understand their dilemma you must picture yourself as an eighteenth century Redcoat soldier in the pay of George II.

You have your tunic in bright red, a great camouflage colour and your musket. If you were really fortunate you may have a Brown Bess, one of the later muskets and with training you could load and fire at least once per minute. It is known that the Duke of Cumberland had drilled his men into loading and firing three times per minute by the Battle of Culloden, but that is months ahead of our current position.

Your musket stood almost as tall as you did and with its bayonet fixed it would have stood far taller than you.

The Jacobite Highlander would be wearing the kilt, an all in one blanket cum garment with a belt to hold it in place and a kilt pin to hold the loose section over his shoulder.

He would be equipped with a targe, a leather and iron studded shield about eighteen inches, forty-five centimetres in diameter. This he would hold in his left hand, assuming he was right handed. Also in his left hand he gripped a long dirk or knife. This would be some twelve or more inches, thirty centimetres long and so would protrude beyond the edge of the targe.

These two weapons would allow him to punch at you with the targe or swing it to knock your bayonet to one side or parry a thrust. He could also stab at you with the dirk if you left any part of your body exposed … which most of it was!

In his right hand he carried a double-edged basket-hilted broad sword, which, if he got a free enough swing, was capable of parting your head from your body.

In addition he may have carried a pistol, but as these flintlock weapons only usually carried one shot, it was not a vital weapon and it would normally be thrust into his belt until he came within firing distance when it would be pulled, the single shot discharged and then thrown at the enemy or kept as a useful cudgel.

Now picture yourself with your Redcoat colleagues marching along with a sloping hill to one side of you.

The Highlanders may well conceal themselves up such a slope waiting for the enemy to pass by. They valued the tactic of surprise very highly.

Suddenly they would run down the hill towards you and as soon as any of the Redcoats saw them the Highlanders would begin a blood-curdling scream, their kilts would be hoisted around their necks to keep them out of the way, or even discarded, and they would charge full blast at you, firing their pistols and screaming at you as they approached at full speed.

Imagine your reaction. You see them coming, you lift your musket, you fire your shot, you miss, they are still coming, you don’t have time to reload and the Highlander is getting closer and closer.

He knows what he is doing of course. He has escaped your musket ball somehow and is coming at you full tilt. If you point your musket with its bayonet at him he is going to knock it to one side with his targe and then slash at you with his razor sharp broadsword.

What would you do? Stay there and die or turn and run? Think about it.

There was no cowardice, it was a matter of personal survival!

After Prestonpans the Jacobites marched into England. Was this folly? Should they have concentrated on holding Scotland? Would Scotland be an independent country today if they had not marched into England? Would an enormous Redcoat force have been forced to march north and invade a reinforced Scottish position? What if, what if, what if?

It is all academic now because Charles and his army did invade England.

They took Carlisle in the north west; then Lancaster, the county town of Lancashire; next Preston, just north of Liverpool. Everywhere they went they won.

It was hoped that as they moved deeper into English territory there would be flocks of recruits to the Jacobite cause, but in fact, by the time they garrisoned the locations they had won, the main army did not grow at all and now they had Britain’s third largest city blocking their path eastwards … Manchester.

With the help of Episcopalian recruits in Manchester the city was taken and they moved on, outflanking ageing General Wade’s army, through Macclesfield to Derby where they were just over a hundred miles from London.

In the capital there was the beginnings of panic and the wealthy people were doing what wealthy people always do in times of trouble … they were selling their stocks and shares, which caused the stock market to collapse, then they converted all of that cash to gold causing a run on the pound. With chests bulging with gold, they abandoned their Hanoverian King George II and disappeared to their country estates to await the outcome. Today little would be different except that the country estates would now be the Cayman Islands!

There was no one to stop the Jacobites reaching London as the Duke of Cumberland’s force had been fooled into a westerly advance and General George Wade could not reach the south in time. The few Redcoat invalid regiments and reservists in the city would never have withstood the Highland assault.

In addition the French fleet was ready to sail in support. Everything was in place for an amazing Jacobite victory.

George II was on the verge of leaving London when he received a message that the Jacobites were retreating from Derby. What on earth could have caused a retreat from such a promising position?

The main Jacobite military leader was General George Murray and he had been using a Redcoat spy to keep himself appraised of the locations of the Redcoat armies. Before marching on London, Murray decided to make contact one final time to make sure that there were no surprises in store for them on the final push southwards.

Dudley Bradstreet, whose information had always previously been accurate, told George Murray that the Duke of Cumberland’s army was larger in number than it actually was and that it was going to cut the Jacobites off before they reached London. Murray did not know it yet, but Bradstreet had turned double agent.

George Murray gave Charles the bad news. Charles wanted to contact the French and get the invasion brought forward, but Murray believed there was too little time. The Prince was adamant so Murray called for a vote and the council’s vote went against Charles, leaving him in tears and telling the others that they were missing their opportunity.

The Jacobites retreated.

It was not until some time later they discovered that if they had pushed into London immediately and simultaneously sent for the French invasion to proceed, they would have won. Charles had lost his war owing to poor communications. For the want of a cell phone, the outcome would have been different and Charles would have walked into London and James the un-numbered would have got his precious numbers – VIII & III.

Just picture how this may have changed the world we live in today. If the Jacobites had won, Britain would have been Catholic. Some believe Charles may have been given dominion over North America. Canada would have been Catholic, he would have put Catholics into positions of power in what is now the United States and this may have either precipitated an early rebellion[1] or, more likely, caused the war of independence to be delayed decades.

A more Catholic North America would have had completely different relations with the emerging South American nations. A Catholic Britain would have interacted differently with Spain, Portugal, France and Italy and so Europe would have had a different complexion. Australia and New Zealand would have been Catholic and the old British Empire would have had a very different character.

But they did not win. Through the great skill of General George Murray and a measure of good luck, they managed to exit England relatively intact.

Once back in Scotland there was an aborted attempt to siege Stirling Castle before they continued northwards, picking up some additional recruits en route to Inverness and securing a minor victory at the Ruthven Barracks.

Up to this point the Jacobites had won every single battle they had fought, but this was all about to change. The modern Inverness Castle. The bastion at the left is from the original Fort George.They arrived at Inverness and one final and very emotive victory was the blowing up of Fort George[2] by a French Lieutenant with the Jacobite forces. He probably didn’t intend to kill himself in the process, but that is what he did as he gave a final “up yours” to the fort which had been named after the hated Hanoverian King George II.

While the Highlanders had come straight up from Stirling to Inverness, the Hanoverians, after leaving Stirling, made their way eastwards towards the coast and continued to follow the coast around past Aberdeen and along the Moray Firth past Elgin, Forres and finally to a camp outside the small port town of Nairn.

In the Highland Capital the Jacobites were already half starving and rations were a real problem. Charles and his Generals met at Culloden House[3], about six miles east of the city.

Here they analysed their situation. Perhaps there was one last opportunity to defeat the Hanoverians.

The fifteenth of April was the Duke of Cumberland’s birthday and it was well known that he always ordered a feast for his men each year. A liberal measure of rum was supplied free of charge, although the soldiers had to pay for their meat.

Surely, after the feast the Redcoats would be in a drunken stupor and the Jacobites could descend on the Hanoverian camp and slit their throats while they slept. Nothing less than a touch of William Wallace’s tactics.

After dark on the evening of the fifteenth, General George Murray and the main force set off on the eight mile march to Nairn, but the moon was giving no light through the overcast sky, they could not light torches and the men tripped over walls, bumped into trees, got separated, lost, dropped weapons and, by the time Murray arrived at a position above the Redcoat camp he had far too few men to attack.

They waited as long as they dared, but soon movement in the camp could be heard and the smell of roasting meat wafted up towards the starving Jacobites as the butchers burned the carcasses of the cattle from the previous night’s feast. The Jacobites had had but a single biscuit per man in the previous twenty-four hours, they had marched eight miles for no purpose and now had to march a similar distance back with the refreshed, well disciplined, well equipped Redcoats preparing to pursue.

Without doubt Charles Edward Stuart’s Protestant General George Murray was a most resourceful, enterprising and successful military practitioner, so it is strange that Charles should be the man who chose to make a stand on probably the most unsuitable battleground in the whole of the Highlands.

Instead of manoeuvring the Redcoats into a glen or area where their superior firepower and discipline could be negated, Charles made a stand on one side of the peat bog known as Culloden Moor.

Whether they expected the Redcoats to charge them across the bog or had some other subterfuge in mind we may never know, but the Duke of Cumberland was one of the most accomplished military leaders of the period. There was no way he would be lured across the bog.

Cumberland formed his men up into ranks some quarter of a mile[4] from the Jacobite line and began firing his superior artillery.

We all know the impact modern shells can have on infantry, but it may not be appreciated how destructive ordinary cannon balls were when fired at massed infantry lines. The cannon ball could kill or mortally injure five or six men with each shot and it did not take long for the Redcoat gunners to get their range.

The Jacobites were just standing there dying.

Perhaps at this stage the order should have been given to scatter and fight a guerrilla war from the mountains and glens, but no, the order was given to charge.

A charge, more than four hundred yards across a peat bog, with every step sinking into the mire, with no protection from the cannon fire. It was ludicrous.

The Battle of Culloden 16th April 1746 - the last major battle fought on British soil.To make it worse, the man taking the order to the right of the line was shot and the order didn’t arrive. For some reason the order was never sent to the left of the line meaning that the most ferocious fighting force, the MacDonalds and MacLennans, who actually had the furthest to run, didn’t receive an order at all.

Men in the line at both ends and their clan chiefs or commanders must have watched the charge start in the centre with some puzzlement. Was this a tactic, or should they join in?

When both ends finally decided to advance, the charge became fragmented and, with these exhausted, starving men, it would soon have become a desperate walk into the face of the relentless fire.

As soon as the charge was underway, the Duke of Cumberland switched tactics. They ceased firing cannon balls and switched to grapeshot[5].

Imagine running into this with nothing but your kilt and targe to protect you.

So they progressed, slowly and painfully towards the crimson line and once they got within a hundred yards of the Redcoats the musket fire began. Cumberland’s troops had been disciplined and drilled to fire up to three shots per minute, more than double the normal expected rate.

But all the time the Highlanders were getting closer to the Redcoat line and they knew that once they came into hand to hand combat range the Redcoats would turn and run as they always had in the past … and so they walked and ran and stumbled onwards.

On the southern side of the battlefield another problem had arisen for the Jacobites. Dykes[6] were forcing the southern assault to be squeezed in towards the centre, causing bunching of the Highlanders which made them very vulnerable to the Redcoat musket fire. These same dykes were providing defence for the Hanoverians too.

Imagine yourself as a Highlander approaching one of these dykes. They can be between three and five feet[7] high and above the wall there is a raised area of ground upon which the Redcoats were standing.

Using their long Brown Bess muskets with bayonets fixed they just thrust downwards into the helpless Highlanders, causing many deaths at the Well of the Dead on that southern flank.

In the centre the surviving Highlanders were getting closer to the Redcoat lines and the enthusiasm for the task would have been growing. This was where the Jacobites skills would be brought to bear. There had previously been no real defence against the Highland charge.

But the musket balls were now flying thick and fast[8].

Still they moved on and as they approached the Redcoats they would have reorganised their charge so that it was a concerted effort and then prepared for that final rush from maybe thirty or forty yards (metres).

But the Highlanders had no idea that the Duke of Cumberland had been preparing for this very event. One preparation was the training of his men in a new technique to defeat the Highland charge and the other, a secret plan known only to him and his immediate commanders.

Earlier in the tale I asked you to picture a charging Highlander in order to appreciate why the Redcoats turned and ran, now I would like you to imagine yet again that you are a Redcoat soldier in the front line and the Highlanders are approaching.

When the Jacobite is about ten yards away you will fire your last musket ball. Others behind you will be continuing to load and fire, but you have been instructed to adopt a stance with your bayonet facing the Highlander who is charging you, and the Jacobites usually fixed their attention onto a single individual as that helped to strike terror in the enemy’s heart and mind.

The clansman is now eight yards away, seven, six, five.

He is running now as fast as his legs will carry him. He is preparing for action. He is about to use his targe to knock your musket and bayonet to one side while he slashes into you with his double-edged broadsword.

Four yards and his arm starts to rise. His eyes are on your bayonet.

Three yards and he is wondering in amazement why you are not turning to run away.

The deadly surprise as the Highland charge meets the Redcoat ranks.Two yards and the sword arm is in the air and he is puzzled by the fact that you are now ignoring him and are looking at his mate, on his left.

Suddenly his life is extinguished by the man on your left who has stuck his bayonet under the Jacobite’s raised sword arm and deep into his chest.

Each Redcoat used this same diagonal attack to massacre many poor Highlanders who died wondering, “Why hasn’t this fool turned and run?”.

As the lines clashed, Cumberland’s other tactic came into play. Taking a lesson from the book of military tactics of that ruthless man Edward I, he allowed mortars[9] to be fired onto his own men in order to kill as many Highlanders as he could and to stop them breaking through.

Unfortunately we do not have many accounts of the Battle of Culloden, but the following eye witness account was written by a friend’s ancestor, Donald Mackay of Achmonie near Drumnadrochit, Glenurquhart, who was on the spot. I reproduce here the entire piece as translated from the original Gaelic by his granddaughter. I thank his current descendent, another Donald Mackay, for telling me about this fascinating text:

"Friends, I am now an old man and it is a long, long time since the year of Charles. But if you want a story, I shall tell you about the battle of Culloden. At that time I was a young and strong man. I had not left home and worked the croft with my father and brother. News came to our glen that Duke William and the red soldiers were approaching Inverness and that Prince Charles and the Highlanders were preparing to fight against them. No sooner had we got the news than my father, brother, myself and quite a number of others from the glen left to go to the aid of the Prince.

The Butcher Cumberland allowed the most dreadful atrocities.“We went through the town of Inverness and reached Drumashie where we found the Highland army in battle formation on the hill. They put us in the Glengarry regiment where we had many relatives and friends. When we reached the army a great shout of joy went up, welcoming us. Prince Charles himself, riding a white horse, was moving around among the Highland army. He was a fine fellow, a true prince. There has not been seen, and there will never be seen again in the Highlands, a prince of his equal.

“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 tartan 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 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 (Big Iain Gillies) cutting down the English as if he was cutting corn and Iain Breac Shiosallach (Freckled Iain Chisholm) 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.

“When I saw that the battle was lost, I thought it best to leave and make for home. I said this to my brother who was near me and we made in the direction of Inverness as quickly as we could. When we reached Culcabock we stopped, feeling faint with hunger. I had some oatcakes in my bag and we got a drink of milk from an old lady who was beside the road. "How did the day go?” she asked. “Badly for the Prince", we replied, and left in haste.

“We went through the river near the islands above the town of Inverness and arrived home during the night. My father arrived safely in the morning and boundless was my mother's joy at having us back home safe and well."


[1] Unlikely as the circumstances were not right in 1746.

[2] Fort George was originally built in Inverness by General George Wade. It stood where Inverness Castle stands today. From across the river an original bastion wall can still be seen at the left end of the modern castle.

[3]  The existing Culloden House Hotel was built on the site of this house and parts of the cellars are still original.

[4] About 400 metres.

[5] Grapeshot consisted of lumps of iron including jagged pieces and even glass in a pressed paper or canvas bag, fired from the cannon so that it spread out similar to a shotgun, but scaled up to devastating effect against charging infantry. Culloden was one of the first major battles to see this method used to great effect, although there are references back to the early seventeenth century.

[6] Walls built from stones lifted to the surface of the ground during cultivation and piled into boundary walls or, as in the case of some at Culloden, used to hold back good quality soil from boggy or marshy land.

[7] One to one and a half metres.

[8] Recent archaeology on the battlefield turned up a musket ball with a deep groove in it. The ball had hit the edge of a broadsword. Then more were found and more and more. They found large numbers of balls which had obviously impacted the leading edges of Highlanders’ swords. Can you imagine how thick the air was with musket balls for such a thing to happen so often. Horrific!

[9] Edward did not, of course, have mortars available to him. He called in his archers to rain arrows down upon both friend and foe on the front line.

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