Scotland's Bloody History
Scottish Heritage and Historical Stories


Britain has a national anthem today, but British readers may be unaware of a verse which is rarely sung today owing to reasons which will become clear. Read it to the tune of God Save the Queen:

Lord grant that Marshal Wade
May by thy mighty aid
Victory bring.
May he sedition hush,
And like a torrent rush,
Rebellious Scots to crush.
God save the King!

Without doubt the period after the battle of Culloden was one of the most dreadful in Highland history. Read this account by a Francis Stewart of Inverness:

"It is a fact undeniable, and known almost to everybody, that upon Friday, the eighteenth of April, which was the second day after the battle, a party was regularly detached to put to death all the wounded men that were found in and about the field of battle. That such men were accordingly put to death is also undeniable, for it is declared by creditable people who were eye-witnesses to that most miserable and bloody scene.

"I myself was told by William Rose, who was then greeve to my Lord President, that twelve wounded men were carried out of his house and shot in a hollow, which is within very short distance of the place of action. William Rose's wife told this fact to creditable people, from whom I had it more circumstantially.

"She said that the party came to her house, and told the wounded men to get up, that they might bring them to surgeons to get their wounds dressed. Upon which, she said, the poor men, whom she thought in so miserable a way that it was impossible they could stir, made a shift to get up; and she said they went along with the party with an air of cheerfulness and joy, being full of the thought that their wounds were to be dressed.

"But, she said, when the party had brought them the length of the hollow above mentioned, which is a very short distance from the house, she being then within the house, heard the firing of several guns, and coming out immediately to know the cause, saw all those brought out of her house, under the pretence of being carried to surgeons, were dead men."

This is just one example of the atrocities which were committed by the Duke’s men on, it appears, the Duke’s personal instructions.

In fact, in England the Duke of Cumberland, William Augustus Cumberland, was so well loved that a flower was named for him, “Sweet William”. In the Highlands of Scotland the same flower is called “Stinking Willie”! When it is considered that this is now more than a quarter of a millennium after the event, the depth of feeling can be appreciated.

A serious clampdown was placed on the Highlands including the banning of all weapons, the prohibition of the wearing of the kilt and the playing of the bagpipes. With the cultural issues to one side, can you imagine the problems in managing any sort of farm without a sharp knife?

Highlanders took to keeping a knife under their armpit and the name Skean Dubh[1]. When Highland dress was again permitted some thirty years later the knife migrated to being kept in the right leg’s kilt hose where it is still traditionally worn today.

The Battle of Culloden was a turning point both culturally and economically. The clan system was very much part of the feudal system. The land was held in trust by clan chiefs for their people. The word “clan” actually means “family” and you would cultivate your plot of land given to you by the clan chief and would provide some of your produce in the form of a feu.

You would also be expected to provide your “sword arm” when needed.

This could mean that you would be asked to join your chief in support of a local Mormaer or the king, or just to join him or a few other clansmen in a raid on the neighbouring clan’s cattle!

You would know your clan chief by his first name and you would know all of your neighbours well. You would have lived in your small home with your extended family for generations.

Suddenly the clan chief is no more. He has been imprisoned or executed for supporting Bonnie Prince Charlie. You have heard about a new land owner, coming up from lowland Scotland or even England. You have some misgivings, but assume everything will work out well in the end.

One day the door, bursts open and in walks the new land owner with his men. He shouts for your attention, family look down from the first floor and any other rooms as he announces, “Get out of my house and off my land … now!”

And he meant “now”, not tomorrow or next week, but immediately, instantly, while he and his men waited.

You are stunned by this, but can do nothing other than to gather together your few possessions and to leave your house.

When outside you get ready to leave when one of the new landowner’s men shouts, “Wait and watch!” as they set fire to your home and burn it to the ground. It was important for you to know that there was nothing remaining to which you could ever return.

The long walk to Fort William with all your worldly possession.If you ask what you are supposed to do, you are told, “Go to a town or city and find work.” Then, as an afterthought, “or you can go to Fort William. If you go to Fort William the government officer will look after you.”

You traipse away along the Great Glen with whatever is left of your family after the Battle of Culloden.

Most of the young men would be dead or wounded. You walk with the elderly, infirm, children and babies, pushing a cart or carrying bags on your backs towards the west Highland port of Fort William.

Sent to all the most dreadful places in the world!Once there the government officer puts you on a ship and in disgusting conditions you are sent to one of the worst places you could ever imagine in your most dreadful nightmares … the United States … or Canada … or Australia … or New Zealand[2].

Of course, what none of these poor countries quite realised was that the Highlanders were conquering the world, but they just were not announcing it!

The Highland Clearances, as they became known, lasted for a century and by their end much of the Highlands had been literally cleared of people replaced by vast areas of open grazing land covered with hundreds of thousands of sheep and many derelict ruins of black houses, haunted by their tenants who were scattered like seeds throughout the English speaking world.

Government continued from Westminster then, in 1921 Eire gained its independence and in 1999 Scotland gained its own parliament.

On 3rd May 2007 the Scottish Nationalist Party became the biggest single party in Scotland and won the election, partly on the ticket to hold a referendum on Independence.

At the time of writing (November 2007) they cannot achieve this election promise because although they are the largest party, they do not have an overall majority and cannot create a coalition who will support an independence agenda.

Scotland therefore finds itself in an interesting situation with, potentially, three outcomes.

Scenario one is that the Nationalists will make a mess of government and will be voted out during the next election.

Scenario two sees the British Parliament being obstructive to the objectives of the Nationalists and trying to prevent their other policies from being carried out effectively. This could cause a backlash in Scotland resulting in a landslide towards the Nationalists in the next election. The referendum then becomes a serious possibility – the Scots hate injustice.

The final scenario is that the British Parliament assists the Nationalists in their other objectives and, come the next election, the Nationalists proclaim how well they managed to get things done. Again there could be a landslide towards them.

It seems to me that, although Alex Salmond, our current First Minister, is hardly a latter day William Wallace, the spirit of independence is back on the agenda and I give one short sentence of advice to readers:

 Can we be a nation again?

Watch This Space!

[1] A Skean Dubh translates as, literally, Knife Black. This could have originated from the occasional use of the word “black” to mean “hidden” or “concealed”.

[2] With apologies to the colonists who may be reading this!

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