GUEST POST: The Failure of the '45

I'm very pleased to announce that David McNicoll has agreed to do a second guest blog post, a follow-up to his article, The Road to the '45, which was posted here in March.

David McNicoll was born and bred in the Scottish Highlands, but now lives in New York where he runs Highland Experience USA, a travel company specializing in Scottish vacation packages, including an Outlander-based tour.

I think it's entirely appropriate to post this very interesting article on the eve of the April 16 anniversary of Culloden.  I hope you all enjoy it as much as I did! And thanks very much to David for taking the time to share his knowledge and his love of Scottish history with us.

If you have any comments or questions about either of these articles, please feel free to post them here.

So Near and Yet So Far: The Failure of the '45
by David McNicoll

A just and loyal cause

During the summer of 1746 a dark apprehension hung over the Highlands; a sense of foreboding that clung to every village and community from Mull to Strathspey. Thirty years before the government had warned the wayward clans in the north to expect a swift, brutal and fundamental punishment if they ever again dared to threaten the crown by supporting the exiled Stuart Princes’ claim to the throne. The soldiers were coming and it was going to be bad; very bad.

Highland Sunset
A year earlier amid the stunning grandeur of Glenfinnan, Prince Charles Edward Stuart addressed a throng of loyal Chiefs and warriors and proclaimed his father king of Scotland, England and Ireland. The standard of the Royal Stewarts was raised, and the 1745 Rebellion begun.

The British Government, and the Royal House of Hanover, were well aware of a potential uprising through their network of spies and informants; and all signs pointed to poor support for a Stuart restoration outside the confines of the Scottish Highlands. Previous rebellion attempts in 1715 and 1719 had failed miserably, and while the establishment were rightly concerned about the Prince landing in Scotland, they weren’t overly worried. They had two armies in the northern half of the UK, which they felt was adequate to deal with any possible insurrection; and didn’t feel it necessary to recall the bulk of the professional army from Holland.

Virtually unopposed, and generally greeted with a hero’s welcome, Charles and his 4000 strong Jacobite army made a grand procession through the Highlands, stopping en-route to pick up support from places like Dunkeld. They captured important strategic locations like Inverness and Blair Castle, but essentially ignored places like Fort William that would be hard and slow to take – and it gave them momentum for the foray into the Lowlands. As in 1715, the principal key to the rebellion lay with crossing the River Forth, guarded by Stirling Castle. Unlike the Earl of Mar however, the Jacobites chose to cross the river upstream from Stirling at the Fords of Frew. They then by-passed the castle stuck up on the rock, and made for Edinburgh.

On the 15th of September the city guard and small garrison fled their positions – some up to the safety of the castle, others from the city altogether. Such was the fearsome reputation that a Highland army had, none wanted to face them. The Lord Provost packed his bags, and without a shot being fired the prince entered the ancient Scottish capital. The Jacobites neither cared, nor bothered trying to capture the castle – it was of no danger to them, and useless for the aims of the cause. Charles enthroned himself in the Palace of Holyroodhouse at the other end of the Royal Mile, and proclaimed his father king of Scots. He unilaterally annulled the Treaty of Union and created himself Regent of the kingdom (although the majority of Scots were against him and his cause). His ambitions did not end however with the recapture of his dynasty’s homeland, but there was now a more pressing problem.

Palace of Holyroodhouse

General Sir John Cope had been a very successful officer during the War of the Spanish succession, and following a short parliamentary career he was posted as the Commander in Chief of the army in Scotland – and for a while it was all quiet in the hills. An enigma was about to land in his lap however in the form of Lord George Murray who would wreck his world. The Murrays of Atholl were torn in their loyalties, and there was both a Jacobite Duke and a Hanovarian Duke: and their younger brother George was wavering. Following the Prince's landing, Murray met with Cope and presented his credentials and was given a commission. However, when Charles reached Blair Castle, the seat of the Murrays, he switched sides.

Lord George Murray was a rare genius, a bit like Dundee, and the Prince made him joint commander of the Jacobite army – Lord Perth was higher ranked, but nowhere nearly as competent. So, in reality Murray had the reins: and Cope would be the first victim of his martial genius. In mid September General Cope led his redcoat army towards Edinburgh to seize the city, but ten miles to the east Murray negotiated the Jacobites through a marsh before dawn, and surprised them. The Battle of Prestonpans lasted less than 20 minutes, and was a total rout. Faced with a wild war-band of Highlanders, the fresh-faced and untested soldiers turned and ran like the wind. The story goes that General Cope led the retreat himself.

So near, and yet so far

Following this stunning victory the high-command convened a meeting to assess the next move. Many of the chiefs were already showing signs of the jitters; being so far from their native mountains and anxious that the next redcoat army sent against them would be a far tougher proposition. However, with the wind in his sails and carrying the argument the prince forced the committee to agree to an invasion of England and the seizure of the English crown. Many wanted him to consolidate what he had gained in Scotland first. It is the measure of the man, that his vaulting ambition demanded a bigger prize. He promised the Scots that English Jacobites would rise in huge numbers, and French help for the final push on London. Punch-drunk on the success of battle, he won the day – it was to prove a pipe-dream and the hangover would be hard.

Since time immemorial Scottish armies had entered England by crossing either the River Tweed in the east, or the Sark in the west: rarely had it gone well. The Jacobites chose the Sark at Gretna to enter English soil. As was the custom: they lined up, drew their swords, turned and saluted Scotland and marched over the border. As he did so Cameron of Lochiel cut his hand on the blade: a bad omen that he had to hide from his men. Despite this, the foray was initially a blinding success. Town after town across the northwest of England capitulated - Carlisle, Preston, Manchester: and all the while the redcoats were running across the north like headless chickens.

By the 4th of December the Jacobites had reached Derby, little over a hundred miles from London. The Prince was beaming, and already planning his triumphant entry into the capital – his chieftains on the other hand were getting increasingly worried. The Highlanders were now a long way from home, winter was on the way, no Jacobite support was forthcoming from England, and the French were nowhere to be seen. Even Lord Murray was becoming uneasy. A spy (who turned out to be a liar) told them that a huge redcoat army lay between them and London, and that the city was hostile to a Stuart restoration. A council was convened, and the chiefs voted to go home to Scotland and consolidate; Murray included.

Charles went ballistic – damning them all as traitors, but without their support he had no choice; and although this didn’t break him, he never recovered. There was no huge army between Derby and London, the king was packing up the crown jewels and the Prime Minister was about to switch sides; so, who knows.

A huge and battle-hardened army had however landed from Holland led by the king’s son: William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland. The duke was a hard task master, and a gifted general. His arrival coincided with the decision of the Jacobites to return to Scotland, and with their loss of momentum the pendulum swung to the government. Cumberland replaced the octogenarian General Wade who, although being the most famous soldier in the army, had been completely out-manoeuvred by the Jacobites on their sojourn south; and, immediately harried them north.

The increasingly rag-tag Highland host made haste back to Scotland, chased all the way by Cumberland’s forces. At a skirmish in Falkirk they held the redcoats off long enough to return to the safety of the mountains. By early April 1746, Prince Charles and his high command had chosen Inverness as their base; while Cumberland approached from the east, setting up camp fifteen miles away at the town of Nairn. The next move in the game would prove decisive – but, for whom?

The Battle of Culloden

Lord Murray had a brainwave – the 15th of April was the Duke of Cumberland’s 25th birthday, and he expected that there would be some sort of celebration, at least for the officers: perhaps, a little too much celebration. Maybe, just maybe, if they surprised the redcoats at camp, they might be a little hungover. So, in the middle of the night the Jacobites began the march to Nairn. With less than a mile to go, the sun rose the Jacobite army was spotted and they had no option but to beat a hasty retreat back to Inverness. Worse still, the soldiers of the Government army, far from being hungover, were well rested and well fed: nor, had they just marched fourteen miles.

The morning of the 16th of April 1746 was cold and wet – a fierce easterly wind was bringing in sleet from off the Moray Firth; and as the two armies approached the exposed and bleak Drumossie Moor they felt the full force of the elements. The redcoats finally caught up with the exhausted Highlanders near to the small township of Culloden five miles east of Inverness. Completely drained after an overnight slog of 24 miles with little food or water; the Jacobites turned to face a well fed and rested enemy.

The Battle of Culloden
It is often attested that the Battle of Culloden was the last stand of the Clan system of the Highlands, sounding the death knell of a Celtic way of life. It would prove to be so, but the men that cold morning had no idea that it would be so decisive – they were in no way fighting for a way of life or anything but loyalty to chief and prince. Infighting over the positioning of the various clans sparked a fracas within the ranks, Charles decided to take personal charge, and they now turned to face the biting wind and sleet – it was looking pretty ominous. By contrast the government army had the wind to their backs, and were lining up with the very latest in field warfare technology. Instead of simple rifle fire and bayonets – they used a variety of frightening weaponry including cannonballs, incendiaries, grapeshot (a lethal type of cannon-fired shrapnel) and an effective system of continuous firing. The be-kilted Highlanders armed with little more than their claymores and knives never had a chance.

In under an hour the Highland army lay in tatters: nearly 2000 were killed for less than 50 in reply. Worse still, as the wounded lay on the blood-soaked heather screaming for mercy, Cumberland ordered they be shot where they lay – there would be no quarter given. His family and the establishment had come so close to losing everything: the revenge would be hard, brutal and lasting. To this day no regiment in the British army carries Culloden in its battle honours due to this dishonourable act; but, it was only the beginning for the government’s plan to punish and change the Highlands forever.

Culloden was the last hurrah of the Jacobite cause; the Stuart dynasty was finished and the constitutional, Protestant monarchy outlined in the Act of Settlement was preserved. But, this was a civil war, not a simple clash of ideology – many families sent sons to both sides; and more Scots would end up on the winning side than on the losing side. Ultimately, Scotland would benefit from the outcome of this bloody battle: the last to be fought on British soil – but, tough times lay ahead.

(The third and final installment of this series of posts can be found here. If you want to see more about Culloden and its connection to the OUTLANDER books, look here.)


Anonymous said...

Another of his engaging reads.

Thanks for publishing it, Karen.


Karen Henry said...


I'm glad you enjoyed it!


Karen Henry said...


Thanks again for a very interesting article! Many of us here know very little about the events leading up to Culloden except what's in Diana Gabaldon's books, and I was surprised by a couple of the details you mentioned here:

First, I didn't realize that the Duke of Cumberland was only 21 at the time of Culloden, which seems awfully young to be leading an army. (Though I guess Charles Stuart himself was only a few years older than that.)

Second, I knew from Diana's books that the Highlanders arrived on the battlefield exhausted and starving, but I didn't understand until I read your summary exactly why they would have been so exhausted. It wasn't just weakness from lack of food, but from that long and futile march the day before. Interesting.


Deniz Bevan said...

Thanks for sharing David's essay with us Karen. I hadn't known that about the two rivers marking entry points from Scotland to England. It's harrowing to read over and over of the lead up to and the awfulness of the events at Culloden. Hope I can visit the site someday.

David said...

Hi Karen
Yes the Jacobites would have been utterly exhausted by the time they got to Culloden and faced one of the best equipped armies on earth - not much chance. Have you been to Culloden since they built the new centre? Well, if not - and for those who want to visit: look at the wall on the side of the building on your way out to the battlefield. Each slate brick sticking out represents someone who fell that morning. They make a gap between the redcoats and the Jacobites and the difference in scale is staggering - a wonderful way to illustrate such a one-sided conflict.

ps - I actually made a typo: Cumberland was 25 not 21 (still, very young to be the supreme commander)

Deniz - The Rivers Tweed and Sark have stood now for 1000 years as the border, and while the UK has been in existence now for 300 years, the sense of change as you cross these rivers if palpable.

Pat said...

quote: Town after town across the northeast of England capitulated - Carlisle, Preston, Manchester:
Minor quibble - these towns (and the River Sark etc) are in the North West not North East....

otherwise, these articles make very interesting reading. Cheers.

Karen Henry said...

Thanks, Pat! I will be the first to admit that I personally know nothing about the geography of either England or Scotland. I'll correct the wording in the article.


pat said...

Always here for geographical oddments! It may well have been (as I know little about the '45 apart from what Diana's told us!) that the North East (my area) capitulated as well.

David said...

Hi Pat
Yes, a glaring error - and a shameful one as I have a Geography degree. The northeast didn't fall to the Jacobites, as that was General Wade's base. His attempt to stop the Jacobites however failed miserably as he tried to drive his army through the mud of the trans-Pennine roads and got completely bogged down. The Jacobites on the other hand were slicing through Lancashire like a hot knife through butter

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