Battle of Culloden

16th April, 1746

The Battle of Culloden took place on the 16th of April 1746 and marked the effective end of the Jacobite cause. A force of around five and a half thousand men fighting for Bonnie Prince Charlie was soundly defeated by nearly nine thousand government men under the Duke of Cumberland, the son of King George II.

Battle of Culloden

The uprising of 1745 had been successful initially but events came to a head in Derby when the beleaguered supporters of Charlie realised that there would be no re-enforcements and insisted upon a retreat. By February Charlie was holed up in Inverness and the government had been given time to prepare a response.

The Jacobite force was dwindling as Highlanders came and went according to their own needs. Supplies were running low and morale must have been terrible. The strength of the Jacobite army was the fearsome Highland charge and given the right terrain they had enjoyed much success. If they had waged a guerrilla war in the north instead of facing the Hanoverian army on open ground their success may have continued.

On the 15th April Charlie ordered his men out of Inverness and against the advice of his generals insisted they stand and fight on the most unsuitable ground imaginable - a boggy treeless moor. The Jacobite forces brought few supplies with them and the night before the battle there was an abortive night march to try and surprise the Duke of Cumberland's army which had to be abandoned when it became clear they wouldn't be able to attack before daybreak.

When the government forces arrived at Culloden Moor on the morning of the 16th the Jacobite army they faced was in a sorry state. Most of them had not eaten for more than two days, many had endured a pointless night march, they had chosen terrain which would benefit the Hanoverian artillery and dragoons and hamper the Highland charge and they were heavily outnumbered. The predictable result was a horrible slaughter; the government artillery pounded the Jacobite force for around half an hour before Charlie belatedly ordered them to charge. The boggy terrain and artillery fire broke the effectiveness of the charge and the few who made it to the government lines were routed by their new bayonet drill.

The government troops who had been embarrassed by the Jacobites on more than one occasion took this opportunity to exact revenge and engaged in a ruthless pursuit; the carnage was considerable. Charlie fled the field and after five months of hiding out in the Highlands and Islands he set sail for France never to return. Most of his loyal supporters were killed or captured, many were subsequently banished to the colonies and the rest returned home.

Over the next few years the Highland way of life was destroyed as government forces embarked upon a policy designed to prevent any future uprising. Kilts and tartan were banned and the clans were forbidden from carrying weapons. With the Act of Proscription the clan system itself was broken forever.

The Battle of Culloden was the last battle to be fought on mainland Britain. The Jacobite cause is often portrayed as a romantic movement and the Battle of Culloden as a conflict between Scots and English but this is far from the truth. The conflict was always about the succession, a fight between the Jacobites and Hanoverians for the throne and the government forces that defeated Charlie and his army at Culloden were mostly Scottish.

Culloden Monument Culloden graves Culloden Moor