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Remembering Culloden

4 min


Site of remembrance

It was the last battle fought on mainland British soil and this Easter weekend saw commemorations take place for the men who died at Culloden in Scotland. 

Today it is a site of Remembrance. It’s often been said to be haunted and certainly carries an eerie otherworldly feel to it. Flags mark where opposing armies had stood. 

Cattle, horses and goats all now quietly graze in a place where canon fire and cries would have once pierced the air. The beauty of the Highlands acts as a picture postcard backdrop for the permanent stone tributes amassed at this sad scene. 

The stillness of moorland is brought into sharp contrast by a conflict which took place 276 years ago. For many, it’s a location which stirs powerful sentiments and emotions.

The significance of the events which happened here cannot be underplayed. In effect, it became the final stand for the Stuart’s claim to the throne. Their reign had lasted for more than a century before their rule finally came to an abrupt end in 1714. 

Parliament had effectively ousted, and replaced them, with distant European relations, the Hanoverians. 

The reasoning was simple. By the 1700s, the country had become largely Protestant in its thinking. Political leaders were distrustful of Catholicism which had been a cornerstone for the Stuart family.   

There had been numerous attempts by the Stuarts in the early eighteenth century to try to re-address their perceived injustices. Their appeals fell on deaf ears. The scene was being gently set up for a colossal showdown.

Fast forward to 1745 and Charles Edward Stuart stepped forward to mount another challenge. Despite being in his early twenties, Bonnie Prince Charlie was about to be taken very seriously.

Young pretender

He initially made fast gains for staunch support in certain parts of Scotland. By the end of the year, he entered England. Things appeared to be going well for this Young Pretender.

And then the tide turned. His campaign began to stutter. Support began to dry up. His army of several thousand men were quickly driven back north. Supplies of food and weapons became depleted. 

Morale among the clansmen became undermined. Arguably, his youth was also counting against him. He was up against older and wiser opponents. Men who had experience and military clout on their side. 

Combine these ingredients together and disaster was bound to befall Bonnie Prince Charlie. His army was to face calamity at Culloden Moor on Saturday, 16 April 1746. Outnumbered and outgunned, his forces are said to have lasted for less than an hour.

The battle saw tremendous casualties on Prince Charlie’s side and marked the end of his dreams to become King Charles III. It’s been estimated that more than 1000 of his men were killed. The loses for government troops were far, far fewer.  

Culloden Battlefield. Picture: Gary Anthony.

He died several decades later in the city of his birthplace: Rome. The latter part of his life is dogged with tales of alcoholism.  

Despite his defeat, his legacy remains strong today. The song of his escape to Skye remains part of our popular culture. So, too, does the symbol of the Jacobite Rose. 

Eighty miles away stands The Glenfinnan Monument. Thousands of people visit it every year. It resides as a permanent memorial for the Highlanders who had pledged their allegiance to the Jacobite cause.  

Built in 1815, it stands some 60 feet high and is nestled against a backdrop of Scottish mountains and the world-famous viaduct which provided the stunning setting for the Hogwarts’ Express in the Harry Potter films. 

Permanent memorials

The National Trust for Scotland is now the custodian of the Culloden battlefield. The area contains permanent memorials for the Clans which fought there. 

This year, the charity hosted both online and onsite events to commemorate this often overlooked, but crucial, part of our country’s history and heritage. 

The Gaelic Society of Inverness undertook its annual commemoration of the battle, which included a wreath laying ceremony. 

Experts also spoke about little known parts of the conflict and reflected on the voices which are often forgotten when exploring this part of history. 

The Culloden Visitor Centre contains artefacts from the time and interactive displays which provide background for what happened. 

The National Trust for Scotland says it’s both a ‘monument and a guide to a pivotal day in history.’    

‘The Battle of Culloden was the culmination of a year of brutal conflict across Britain,’ explains Raoul Curtis-Machin, The National Trust for Scotland’s Operations Manager for Culloden. 

‘So many people were affected and the events on the battlefield and their impacts echo still to this day, which is why so many people join in its commemoration.’ 

Images: Supplied / copyright: NTSMediaPics

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