Culloden Battlefield today seems an unremarkable place, sitting on high ground just 5 miles from the Highland Capital, Inverness. But this windswept moor has an importance and a legacy far more influential than this location might suggest.
It was here, on the 16th April 1746, Bonnie Prince Charlie was defeated and the Jacobite cause was finally crushed. Why here? Why then? What lead up to this, and what happened next? To answer these questions we need to go back further in time, around 100 years earlier…
A bit of Jacobite history
In 1603, Scotland and England had joined together under one king, an event known as the Union of the Crowns. The king as this time was James VI of Scotland/James 1st of England. He was from a line of Stuart kings. Bonnie Prince Charlie, or Charles Edward Stuart to use his given name, was born in 1720 and was the great-great-grandson of James VI/I. There’s more about him later. In Scotland, there had been a long line of kings all called James. The term Jacobite comes from the Latin Jacobus, for James.
Meanwhile, the Stuart line continued after the death of James VI/I with his first-born son, Charles I. There was also a younger son who later became James VII/II. But when Charles I died in 1649, he was succeeded by his son & heir, Charles II. Both their reigns were at a time of social unrest, fuelled by a combination of constitutional argument, religious divides, political upheaval and financial disputes. This was a time of the Civil War, with the King’s Cavaliers against Oliver Cromwell’s Roundheads. Charles Ist was defeated and later beheaded. His son Charles II went into exile. After the triumphant Cromwell died, the English parliament reinstated Charles II as monarch but he had reduced powers.
An issue was that he was married to a Catholic. The constitutional arguments and religious divides mentioned above partly stemmed from Charles I’s belief in The Devine Right of Kings. This was a commonly held belief amongst many monarchs that their power came directly from God, which meant that they could never be challenged. To do so was to challenge the wisdom of God himself. Bishops in the church hierarchy gave support to this idea, as they were appointed by the king. The whole system of kings and bishops mutually supporting one another was viewed as corrupt by many and Catholicism was viewed with suspicion. So a monarch could not be seen to be supporting Catholic ideals.
The Scottish Protestants had embraced Presbyterianism whole-heartedly. This was a system of church teaching and governance that they could support, where Ministers were chosen by the people and Bishops were redundant. Any attempt by the monarch to dilute their faith or to restructure the Church north of the border by imposing bishops was firmly rejected by the Presbyterian Scots. In the Highlands, however, the Catholic faith was still strong.
So, what’s this got to do with Bonnie Prince Charlie?
Well, on the death of Charles II, his brother, James, became James VII of Scotland/James II of England. But his reign was short-lived. Outwardly he was Anglican but he had Catholic sympathies. He tried to impose Catholicism on the United Kingdom. For this he was deposed and exiled in 1688. He took his infant son, James Francis Stuart with him to live abroad. This infant would become Bonnie Prince Charlie’s father. But James VII also had 2 daughters. They were older, having been born to a previous wife. Mary was born in 1662 and Anne in 1665. Mary and Anne were raised as Protestants, while James Francis was Catholic. He was 26 years younger than his sister Mary. When James VII/II had been deposed, Mary, along with her husband William of Orange, were invited to come and rule together as joint monarchs. She ruled with her husband until she died in 1694.
Mary’s father James VII/II died in exile in 1701. In the same year there had been an English Act of Parliament, insisting that all future monarchs were Protestant. Anne was next in line, their brother James Francis having been side-lined as he was Catholic. Her reign was taken up with foreign interests and internal wrangling between the English and Scottish Parliaments. The separate Parliaments joined together in 1707, largely due to some wealthy Scots making a very poor investment abroad, which left the country bankrupt.
The problem being…
On Anne’s death in 1714, the crown went to the next Protestant Stuart, her second cousin, who was Elector of Hanover at the time. He came to Britain and was crowned King George 1st. His grandmother had been Elizabeth, a sister of James VII/II. So he was a Stuart but through the female line. The house of Hanover was now on the throne of the United Kingdom. Meanwhile, James Francis was still very much alive and wanted to claim the throne.
There was a mood in some parts of the country where some powerful Catholic & Protestant families in Scotland, England and Ireland were thinking that a return to a Stuart on the throne would suit them better. They believed that James Francis was still the rightful heir and had a legitimate claim to be king.
The start of the Jacobite uprisings
The first Jacobite uprising began in Dundee, with Viscount Dundee (John Graham) in 1689. This was a year after James Francis’ father, James VII/II had been deposed. Government troops were sent north. They met at Killiecrankie, where the Jacobites won the battle, but Viscount Dundee was fatally wounded. Due to a lack of organisation, they didn’t capitalise on their success. This was an error that would repeat itself many times.
The government were now alerted to the possibility of further unrest, so a plan was drawn up to improve the infrastructure in Scotland. Roads, bridges and barracks were built for troops to access remote areas. It was also a show of strength. Garrisoned soldiers were in place, ready to respond quickly should the need arise.
Other rebellions broke out in 1715 and 1719 in support of James Francis Stuart. There were successes and defeats on both sides. Some clan chiefs who had supported the Jacobite cause had their lands confiscated and so were cautious of committing themselves again.
James Francis lost heart, and his son, Charles Edward Stuart, stepped forward to claim the throne for the Stuarts once again. He landed on the west coast of Scotland and at Glenfinnan & raised his royal standard in July 1745.