Bonnie Charlie & Culloden

You are here: Heritage | Timelines | Bonnie Prince Charlie - Part 2

Bonnie Prince Charlie - Derby to Culloden

Previously... The Early successes and the March to Derby

It was the greatest ever moment in the history of the Jacobite movement. Bonnie Prince Charlie and his army had victoriously marched down through England, and were poised to strike at London itself.

But at the very moment of their triumph, the Young Pretender and his forces decided to turn back and retreat to Scotland.

It was a decision which eventually turned out to be a disaster, because it led to their bloody and inglorious defeat at Culloden - the last military battle ever to be fought on British soil.

With the capital in panic at the thought of a Jacobite advance, the Prince was determined to press on try and secure the British throne for his father, the exiled would-be James VIII.

However, his chief lieutenants knew that victory would be no easy matter. As the prince's forces had marched south, they had not secured territory behind them. Two of the king's most formidable military commanders, General George Wade and the Duke of Cumberland, were in pursuit and London itself had a large militia of loyalist troops ready to take the Prince on.

The sensible thing to do, it seemed, was to pull back, Charles sullenly agreed, and on 6 December 1745, the retreat started, On his way north, he fought off an attack at Clifton in the Lake District and left 400 men to garrison the castle in Carlisle. On Christmas Day, he reached Glasgow.

Once he arrived, however, Charles had huge problems picking up support for his cause. The city was strongly pro-government, and hundreds of its men were fighting on the Hanoverian side against him.

Reluctantly - and probably more to get rid of him than anything - Glaswegians did provide Charles with provisions to refit his army, and they left 10 days later.

By now, Edinburgh had been reclaimed for the king by General Henry Hawley, and the Jacobites knew a showdown was in prospect. Reinforced by the arrival of a further 4000 troops, they finally came face to face with Hawley's forces at Falkirk.

The battle was a disaster for the Hanoverians. They lost ten times as many man as the prince - 400 to 40 - with most of the government forces fleeing the field and leaving behind their artillery and baggage. Victory at Falkirk, combined with the fact that still more troops and supplies were arriving from France and elsewhere, bolstered the Jacobite army further.

With government forces continuing to press against him and with the clan chiefs insisting on returning to the Highlands, however, the only way Charles could realistically go was north.

He tried and failed to seize Stirling Castle before arriving in Inverness and taking the town on February 18. Fort Augustus succumbed in March, though Fort William held out and did not surrender at all.

By now, there was another problem: the able Duke of Cumberland was in pursuit of the Jacobite forces along with an army of 9000 men. A seasoned and intelligent military strategist who was the son of the King, Cumberland would not make the sort of tactical mistakes which had allowed the Jacobites to win the battles of Prestonpans and Falkirk.

By April 14, Cumberland was in Nairn while the Prince's army was only ten miles west at Drummossie. Charles's Quartermaster General, Colonel John William O'Sullivan, decided that the best approach was to try and catch the Hanoverian forces by surprise.

The Pretender's troops, by then tired out and hungry, marched to Nairn, only to learn by hearing a drumbeat that Cumberland's forces were clearly awake - they were celebrating their leader's 25th birthday. The Highlanders were then forced to trudge back to Drummossie, where they arrived, exhausted and demoralised, just after dawn.

Unknown to them, however, word had reached Cumberland that the enemy forces had tried to pounce on him. Knowing full well how tired and hungry the Jacobites were, he decided to attack them when they were at their weakest. He set off just behind them, preparing for the inevitable battle later in the day.

The two sides finally faced each other at Drummossie Moor - also called Culloden - in a howling, freezing gale at lunchtime that same day - Wednesday 16 April 1746. The position of the Prince's army on the west of the desolate battlefield meant they had to charge up a gently rising slope. It was, as the Prince's general Lord George Murray observed, a hopeless place to fight a Highland battle.

For the first time during the entire campaign, Charles decided to take personal command of his troops. He was outnumbered from the start - his 5000, ill shod, untrained and hungry men stood against nearly double the number of well fed, well equipped Hanoverians.

Cumberland had studied his enemy carefully. He knew the way they would fight, and arranged his army in positions which would ensure his troops struck with maximum impact.

Cumberland positioned his men, who were only about 400 yards away from the Jacobites, in two lines. The first was expected to break when the Highlanders attacked, but the second was carefully laid out three deep to provide massive and continuous firepower.

The battle began with an artillery barrage by the Hanoverian forces. It lasted only a few minutes but cut down many of the Prince's men before they had a chance to charge. To make matters worse, the wind was blowing in viciously from the north east, meaning that the Pretender's men were being blinded by their own and their opponents' gunsmoke.

When the charge finally came, the Highlanders did manage to break through the Hanoverian left flank. But it was not enough: the prince's army could not overcome the disadvantages of inferior firepower and sheer weight of numbers.

The battle was over in less than an hour. When it had finished, some 750 of the Jacobites lay dead, while only about 360 Hanoverians had been killed. There was no doubt that Culloden had been an uncompromising victory for the forces of King and government.

Cumberland had proved to be an astute commander during the battle: it was afterwards that he indulged in behaviour which earned him the notorious nickname of "Butcher" and ensured that his name would be forever tarnished north of the border.

Cumberland was determined that for the Jacobites, defeat in battle should not be the end of the matter - he wanted to ensure that the King's authority should be stamped on the region and on people he and his army regarded as little more than savages.

As a result, he ensured that the slaughter did not stop along with the firing. The wounded were murdered where they lay on the battlefield, and those Highlanders found hiding were brought back to the moor where they were shot.

Others died in even more gruesome ways. A group of men found in a local barn, for instance, were simply locked in and left to burn to death, their screams ignored, as the building was torched and razed to the ground. In all, some 450 people, including innocent bystanders and women and children, are reckoned to have been slaughtered by the Hanoverians after the battle.

Some Jacobites were luckier - if you could call it that. They were taken to Inverness, where they were put into the jail, churches and even ships. There, many died of their wounds or of the cold.

The government was determined to make an example of the leaders of the rebellion. Some - among them Lord Lovat, who had not even been involved at the battle at Culloden - were tried and executed. Others were imprisoned for life.

For Bonnie Prince Charlie, however, there was to be no such ignominy. The flower of the Stewarts had fled the battlefield at Drummossie Moor before the fighting had even finished.

The hero of the Jacobite rising had become the most wanted man in Britain. The fight for the Stewart cause was over forever. The question now was whether he would himself evade capture.

Next... The Prince evades capture but Scotland is changed for ever


Meanwhile...

  • 1746 College of New Jersey - later Princeton - is founded
  • 1746 Francisco de Goya, the Spanish painter, is born
  • 1746 Jean-Etienne Guettard draws the first geological map of France

 Print