• CONTACT US if you have any problems registering for the forums.

Scotland Culloden - the last battle to be fought on British soil


Culloden was the last battle to be fought on British soil and marked the defeat of the Jacobite Army and the Stuart claim to the throne. To understand the importance of the battle, it is necessary to understand the background leading to it.

Even though many Scots were protestants, loyalty to the Stuart monarchs was still strong and many regarded James VII of Scotland and James II of England as their legally constituted king.

The removal of Catholic James II to be replaced by the protestant William and Mary in 1689 led to a series of battles culminating in Culloden and the defeat of the romanticised and highly charismatic Charles Edward Stuart by the Duke of Cumberland, son of George II.

Often depicted as a clash between the Highland Clans and the English, this is misleading. The Jacobite Army was predominantly made up of Highland Gaels but also included Lowlanders as well as French and Irish and even some English. The English Army also consisted of Lowland Scots as well as Dutch, Hanoverian and Austrian regiments.

The first Jacobite rising was in 1689 and although initially successful they were forced to agree a truce in 1692.

The Act of Union of 1707 had failed to deliver prosperity to Scotland and there was widespread discontent. After the death of Queen Anne in 1714, was the crown passed to her second cousin, the Elector of Hanover , who became George I .

In 1715, Jacobites sought to replace George by James Francis Edward Stuart, the Old Pretender, and eldest son of James VII. The rebellion lacked strategic initiative and, faced with defeat, James headed back to France. In 1719, the Jacobites secured support from Spain for another rebellion but storms at sea prevented most of the Spanish from landing and, with a poorly equipped army of about 1000 men, it soon failed.

The Government sent General Wade to inspect Scotland and construct barracks, bridges and roads to to help impose government control of the country.

By 1744, relations between England and France had again deteriorated resulting in war. Unrest and resentment in Scotland was ever present and in 1745, the scene was set for another rising under Charles Edward Stuart, son of the Old Pretender, with the help and support of France, flushed b y the success of their defeat of the British Army lead by the Duke of Cumberland at Fontenoy.

Charles Edward Stuart seized the opportunity and began to assemble an army. He planned to land in Scotland where he had been told numerous supporters would welcome him. His ships loaded with weapons, supplies and money were attacked by a Royal Navy warship and two were badly damaged. Charles landed with a handful of supporters at Arisaig, on the west coast of Scotland on 25th July 1745. He managed to win over clan chiefs with promises of substantial French aid. Other promises included abolishing the Union with England and religious freedom . Gradually men arrived in support.

News of his arrival took time to reach London, and took the government by surprise, especially as most of the British Army was fighting in Flanders, leaving few men in Scotland.

Despite his lack of military experience, Charles took the role of commander in chief of the Jacobite Army. They marched south and took Perth and Edinburgh, where his father was proclaimed King James VIII. The Jacobites defeated the British Army at the Battle of Prestonpans killing and injuring many of the government soldiers . Following this, Charles held court at the Palace of Holyroodhouse for nearly six weeks raising funds as more recruits arrived from the north. He also wrote to France asking for them to invade England.

The British Government recalled the Duke of Cumberland from Flanders to take command of the British Army along with 12,000 troops. It has been suggested that Cumberland may have been smarting from his defeat by the French at Fontenoy and was wanting to redeem his reputation by inflicting a defeat on the Jacobite Army. This may explain his actions after the battle.

Charles, against the advice of his council decided to march into England and in November, with an army of between five to six thousand man headed to Carlisle. They made rapid progress reaching Carlisle in November and morale was high. Charles favoured continuing south and reached Derby by December. Although large crowds collected to see the army pass, few were willing to join. There was increasing unease among his commanders about lack of English support, especially as the government army had regained control of Edinburgh.

Although only 125 miles from London , six days march away, Charles’s commanders urged caution. The British Government had sent armies to Newcastle and Chester and they believed another was defending London. Support by English Jacobites was non existent and the promised French help had failed to materialise. Charles was eventually over ruled and the Jacobites began to retreat north. (Little did he know London was in chaos with the government panicking. An advance on London may well have been successful, completely changing the course of history...)

The French hearing of the retreat cancelled plans for an invasion.

Marching north, the Jacobites left a small garrison to defend Carlisle, but this was soon recaptured.

By December they were back in Scotland, more reinforcements had arrived and Charles now had between 8000-9000 men. They were pursued by Government troops who had been raising forces in Scotland, although they were defeated by the Jacobites at Falkirk Muir in January. However the Jacobites failed to press home their advantage.

The Duke of Cumberland had now arrived in Edinburgh and although Charles wanted to confront him, he was opposed by his commanders who wanted to consolidate their army that had been depleted by sickness and men deserting to go home. They advised retiring to the Highlands to secure forts and renew their campaign in the Spring.

During the early months of 1746, the Government were actively drumming up troops in the Lowlands and also northern Highlands. The Duke of Cumberland’s Army arrived in Aberdeen at the end of February and he spent the next six weeks consolidating his position, building up supplies and drilling troops.

The Jacobite Army were based near Inverness and soon took control of Inverness, Fort George and Fort William They also inflicted damage on Government troops at Blair Castle, Banffshire and Dornoch.

Unfortunately for the Jacobites, the Government troops captured the Jacobite Ship Le Prince Charles with money sent from France. With money and supplies dwindling, this was a disaster for the Jacobites.

In April, the Duke of Cumberland began to march towards Inverness and encamped at Nairn. With only a few days money and food left, things were getting desperate for the Jacobites. Charles planned for immediate action, although many of his troops had yet to arrive. They took up battle positions on Drummossie Moor, a bleak stretch of boggy, heather-clad upland moor above Culloden House, on the 15th April and waited for the Duke of Cumberland to arrive with his troops. They didn’t and remained at Nairn, twelve miles away. It was the Duke of Cumberland’s Birthday and his men had been supplied with a generous measure of spirits...

Charles decided to mount a surprise night time attack believing the Government Army would all be sleeping soundly and vulnerable. It was a huge challenge across difficult country, especially for an army hungry, weak and exhausted. Many of the Jacobites drifted off in search of food, and the army set off without them. With dawn approaching, they were still four miles from the enemy and the decision was taken against the wishes of Charles, there was not enough time to mount a surprise attack and they should turn back.

The remnants of the Jacobites arrived back at Culloden, exhausted and demoralised. Many went scavenging for food. The terrain was wet boggy moorland and Charles had been advised it was unsuitable for Cumberland’s horse and artillery but would be advantages for the Highland Charge that had proved so effective in previous battles.

Battle lines were drawn up with the Duke of Cumberland having over 7,500 men who were fresh and well fed. The Jacobites had around 5500 men who were tired and hungry, being led by commanders who had advised against a battle. Numbers were depleted by soldiers who had failed to return from their search for food and regiments still travelling from Inverness. Between the two was an area of boggy ground and it was raining...

Cumberland’s Army arrived before the Jacobites had assumed their positions which were further back than the previous day. Their sides were also vulnerable from attack .

The government armies marched towards the Jacobites firing cannons that tore holes in the Jacobite ranks. The Jacobite’s opening fire had little impact on the advance. Eventually the Jacobite’s charged but many became bogged down in the marshy ground. Others had to veer to the right to avoid them. Not only did this diminish the effect of the charge, they also got in the way of each other. There was bitter hand to hand fighting and being outnumbered and out manoeuvred the Jacobites sustained heavy casualties. They were also being assaulted on their flanks and rear by Cumberland’s men, forcing them to retreat causing further confusion.

The battle was over within fifteen minutes with the Duke of Cumberland victorious. Over 1200 Jacobites had been killed with a similar number wounded. In comparison, Government forces had fifty dead and less than 300 wounded. The dead were buried in mass graves, now visible as raised mounds in the ground.

Remaining Jacobites were told to disperse as it was every man for himself. Charles fled west and spent five months on the run narrowly escaping capture several times. This led to many legends including the story of Flora MacDonald, although she only played a minor role in his escape. He eventually managed to escape to France but was expelled from there a few years later and spent the rest of his life undercover plotting , drinking and dreaming. He eventually died in 1788

Cumberland’s attitude to the Jacobites was ruthless. He was determined to eliminate them and capture Charles. He ordered ‘no quarter or mercy’ for them. Troops were ordered to search out any surviving rebels and kill them , although any French or Irish were spared as prisoners of war. Men, women and children and children were killed as well as injured soldiers.

News reached London of Cumberland’s victory on 24th April and he was hailed as the ‘Conquering Hero’. In the months following the defeat, government troops launched a savage programme of repression particularly across the Highlands. The message was clear - military uprising against the King and government would not be tolerated. Any Jacobites captives who were not killed faced deportation The Highland way of life was crushed The Disarming Act of 1746 forbade the carrying of arms, bagpipes and the wearing of and the kilt and tartan were banned and only allowed within the British Army.

This was the only battle the Duke of Cumberland won and when news of the barbarities carried out reached London he was soon nicknamed Butcher Cumberland.

By the late C19th Scotland and all things Scottish had been made popular by the Victorians. Culloden become a romantic legend and the battlefield and a place of pilgrimage. In 1881, Duncan Forbes of Culloden House erected a memorial cairn and simple headstones along the Inverness road to mark the mass graves of the clans. Clan names were chosen at random as no attempt had been made after the battle to identify the different clans or bury them together.


Culloden graves.jpg

No evidence of burials have been found by the stone marking the Field of the English.


The battlefield is now in the care of the National Trust for Scotland with a Visitor Centre and guided tours of the battlefield.

Leanach cottage dates from 1760 and was built on the turf walled cottage that probably served as the field hospital for for government troops after the battle.



Over the years, trees planted in the 1880s also altered the drainage patterns and the land has become a lot drier.


The bog which hampered the Jacobite battle charge was no longer a bog. Trees on the land owned by the National Trust for Scotland have been felled and a herd of Highland and Shetland cattle now graze the area. They will eat everything from saplings to gorse. This has allowed the area to recover with the original bog landscape. This really highlight the problems facing the Jacobite army during their charge


(Unfortunately they were on their ‘holidays’ at Culloden House when I visited...)

Culloden is one of the most popular visitor sites in the area. It is well worth spending time in the Visitor Centre as there is a lot of information about the background to the battle and its aftermath. The 360-degree battle immersion theatre gives an impression of the frenzy of the attack. The guided tour of the battlefield puts the battle into perspective with coloured flags marking the positions of the opposing armies and the absolute disaster for the Jacobite army. If anything could go wrong , it did. 


The Guidebook is also worth buying with a lot of information.

How to Find Information

Search using the search button in the upper right. Search all forums or current forum by keyword or member. Advanced search gives you more options.

Filter forum threads using the filter pulldown above the threads. Filter by prefix, member, date. Or click on a thread title prefix to see all threads with that prefix.


Booking.com Hotels in Europe
AutoEurope.com Car Rentals

Recommended Guides, Apps and Books

52 Things to See and Do in Basilicata by Valerie Fortney
Italian Food & Life Rules by Ann Reavis
Italian Food Decoder App by Dana Facaros, Michael Pauls
French Food Decoder App by Dana Facaros, Michael Pauls
She Left No Note, Lake Iseo Italy Mystery 1 by J L Crellina

Share this page