1500-1799 | Battlefield butchery | Burning villages | Civilians slaughtered | Collective punishments | Prisoners murdered | Punitive operations | Scotland | Wounded killed


J.S. Lucas – ‘Rebel Hunting,’ Oil on Canvas 1884 ( via Wikimedia )

16 APRIL 1746

During the autumn of 1745, Jacobite rebels, led by ‘Bonnie Prince Charlie,’ and desiring to replace the Hanoverian king George II with the prince’s catholic father, James Stuart, marched on London, reaching as far south as Derby before they retreated to Scotland. The rebellion was motivated by a range of complex issues, but many Scots had supported it, hoping that they would be able to at least create an independent state.1 Such aspirations were ruthlessly crushed by British forces under King George II’s youngest son, the Duke of Cumberland, at what was politely described as ‘the Battle of Culloden’ near Inverness in the Scottish Highlands on 16 April 1746. As Cumberland’s highly trained Redcoats, equipped with far superior weaponry, opened fire, any possibility of a Jacobite victory vanished in moments and the mass slaughter of suspect rebels, their families and anyone deemed sympathetic to their cause continued for months afterwards.

A British officer recalled that ‘the action with cannonading and all did not last above half an hour in which about 1,500 of the rebels were killed.’2 Lieutenant General Henry Hawley similarly noted that his cavalry ‘cleared all the country for three miles before them and… made great slaughter every way.’3 The victorious British troops took Irish and French troops of the Jacobite army prisoner, but rarely gave quarter to the Scots. The Duke of Cumberland bragged that Major General Bland had ‘taken about a hundred of the Irish officers and men prisoner but not one Scotchman !’4 Chris Bambery in his People’s History of Scotland, comments that ‘this was not a case of troops escaping control, this was a vicious reprisal sanctioned at the very top,’ while Jeremy Black in his history of the battle refers to press reports that ‘the Duke’s army had murdered innocent spectators and the wounded.’5 British newspapers typically exulted in the bloodbath, reasoning that the rebels were not worthy ‘of any claim to pity or favour’ since their ‘crimes’ were ‘of the blackest dye.’6

An army of over 11,000 British troops remained stationed in 400 camps across Scotland for the next nine years to ensure that rebellious villages were properly punished and pacified.7 As early as 6 June, the Scots Magazine explained that due to the ‘perfidy’ of the highlanders, ‘His R Highness has… been obliged to lay the rod more heavy upon them, by carrying fire and sword through their country, and driving off their cattle, which were brought in to the camp (at Fort Augustus) in great numbers, sometimes 2000 in a drove; and that the people were in a most deplorable way, and must perish by sword or famine.’8


  1. For an interesting article on the varying motivations of the rebels see Professor Murray Pittock, ‘Culloden: why truth about battle for Britain lay hidden for three centuries,’ accessed online at url https://theconversation.com/culloden-why-truth-about-battle-for-britain-lay-hidden-for-three-centuries-62398
  2. Captain Thomas Davis cited in Jeremy Black, Culloden and the ’45, Grange Books, London, 1997, p. 174.
  3. Chris Bambery, A People’s History of Scotland, Verso, London, 2018, p. 65.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Ibid and Jeremy Black, op. cit., p. 174.
  6. The General Evening Post, 22 July 1746, cited in The Scots Magazine, October 1746, p. 471.
  7. Alison Campsie, ‘Map shows 400 British Army Camps in Scotland after Culloden,’ The Scotsman, 31 July 2018 accessed online at url https://www.scotsman.com/lifestyle-2-15039/map-shows-400-british-army-camps-in-scotland-after-culloden-1-4776394
  8. ‘Accounts of the King’s Forces,’ The Scots Magazine, 6 June 1746, p. 287.

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