Culloden

On this day in 1746, the last pitched battle on British soil was fought at Culloden Moor between the Jacobite forces under Prince Charles Edward Stuart and the forces of King George II under the Duke of Cumberland. It was the final act in a story that had begun in 1688, when Charles Stuart’s grandfather, King James VII/II[1], fled his kingdom and was replaced by William of Orange. William, who claimed the thrones of Ireland, Scotland, England & Wales by right of his wife, Mary (James’s daughter), had been invited to replace the Catholic King James by the leaders of the Protestant establishment. After holding out in Ireland for a time, James eventually went into exile on the Continent.

Though King James never returned to Britain, some in Britain remained loyal to him and his family, and his son and grandson both attempted to retake their kingdoms by force. The rising of 1745 was the last and most successful of these attempts. Gathering his forces as he went, Charles captured Edinburgh and marched into England – so far south that London seriously began to panic. And then, for no apparent reason, the Jacobites withdrew. Despite a few military successes during their retreat, they were chased into the Highlands to Culloden, where in the space of an hour they were utterly defeated. Once those on the field had been killed, Cumberland’s forces began to chase down those who had escaped, anyone who had supported them . . . and some who’d had nothing to do with the rebellion at all. So many people were killed off the field that Cumberland became known as ‘the Butcher of Cumberland’. Even so, many of those who had survived Culloden reassembled several days later, willing to fight on. But Charles knew the cause was lost. He dismissed his followers, urging them to save their own lives. 

Although the story is well known, a number of misconceptions are often accepted as fact – perhaps especially in the New World, where the details of the conflict itself are largely forgotten. For example, the Rising of 1745-6 had nothing to do with Scottish independence. The Stuart kings had been kings of England as well as Scotland since 1603; they had, frankly, preferred England. Neither Charles Stuart (The Young Pretender) nor his father (The Old Pretender) had any intention of setting up a kingdom in Scotland and leaving their cousins on the throne to the south. It is true that there was greater support in Scotland than in England for the House of Stuart. However, not only were there Jacobites among the English, but a decent number of English soldiers deserted to the Jacobites during the campaign.[2]

“The ’45” was also not a matter of Highlanders versus Lowlanders. Again, there were more of the former than the latter in their ranks, and certainly the Highlanders bore the brunt of the government’s retaliation. But parts of Lowland Scotland – particularly the northeast (where Marischal College in Aberdeen saw all but one of its professors deposed for Jacobitism after the rising of 1715) – were considered hotbeds of Jacobite activity. Whole units of Lowlanders are included among the Muster Roll of Prince Charles Edward Stuart’s Army, 1745-46.[3] In fact, if there was any clear division between those who supported the Stuarts in 1745 and those who did not, it was along religious lines. Catholics in Scotland and England of course supported the Stuarts, but research has shown that the vast majority of the Jacobite forces in Scotland were Episcopalians[4]; it’s likely that in Scotland the Jacobite cause was seen by some of these as the only defence against total Presbyterian dominance.[5]

The Macalisters as a clan did not fight at Culloden – indeed, there are not that many of them named in the Muster Rolls or the prisoner lists. The Loup family had always been Jacobites, as were the Tarbert family early on; by the time of the last rising, however, the Tarbert family were once again tenants of the anti-Jacobite Campbells of Argyll, and Tarbert allowed a force to be stationed on his land specifically to prevent local Jacobites from joining Charles’s army. It is possible, too, that Loup was one of the many Highland chiefs who thought the rising of 1745 doomed from the start and opted to sit it out. 

Nonetheless, individual Macalisters did serve in Charles’s army as part of the Clan Donald contingent. Seven of them are known to have survived the battle of Culloden, though at least six of these were later captured. And one branch of the clan found another way to serve ‘Bonnie Prince Charlie’: It was to the home of Ranald and Anne Macalister of Kingsburgh in Skye that Flora MacDonald brought Charles Stuart – famously dressed as her maid – during his escape back to France after the defeat at Culloden.

Copyright (c) Lynn McAlister, 2012


[1]The king was the seventh King James of Scotland; he was only the second King James of England.
[2]Seton & Arnot, The Prisoners of the ’45, edited from the State Papers, vol. 1-3 (Edinburgh: Scottish History Society, 1928).
[3] Livingstone of Bachuil, Aikman & Hart, eds., Aberdeen University Press, 1984. See also McDonnell, Jacobites of 1715, North East Scotland, and Jacobites of 1745, North East Scotland (Clearfield, 1997).
[4]“Well over 75 percent of the manpower mobilized for the Stuarts consisted of Episcopalians”, according to Andrew MacKillop of Aberdeen University (Oxford Companion to Scottish History, p. 350).
[5]When the Scottish bishops refused to support him, William of Orange gave in to the demands of the Estates of Parliament that prelacy be abolished and Presbyterianism established as the official Church of Scotland.
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