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The Jacobites and the Rising of '45

Weel, ye've come tae find oot what a Jacobite is...

Jacobite is the term that was used for Scottish supporters of the exiled King James of Scotland and later his son the Bonnie Prince (Prince Charlie) who were attempting to reclaim the Scottish throne from the English. Jacobus or Jacob is Latin for James, hence his followers/supporters were known as Jacobites. The Scottish Jacobites consisted largely of Highland clansmen during the first Rising in 1715 and ending in the mid-1700's with the failed second Rising, the Rising of 1745.


The end for the Jacobites occurred in a quiet place called Culloden Moor (known more locally as Drummossie Moor), near Inverness, Scotland, when their Heilan Army was utterly decimated by the English Army under the Duke of Cumberland. Jacobite clansmen present at the battle included three branches of the MacDonalds (Glengarry, Keppoch and Clanranald), the Camerons, Robertsons, Stuarts, MacGregors, Gordons,  MacPhersons, Frasers, MacIntoshes, MacLachlans and MacLeans, to name a few. One Reserve Highland Regiment, that of the Campbells, fought on the side of the English, with much to gain against their highland brothers in the event of an English victory. In the eyes of the English, all Jacobites were traitors to the King of England and were to be dealt with accordingly.

Highlanders gather to charge.

As was often the case, the highlanders were outnumbered (about 5,000 Scots to over 8,000 English) even though the potential fighting force of the Highlands at the time has been estimated at nearly 33,000 able-bodied, fighting men. This handicap though had often had been to the advantage of the highlanders and many battles had been won under such circumstances (i.e.; the Battle of Prestonpans that sent the English Army running).

The Bonnie Prince and his Heilan Army had been met with nothing but success since their campaign had begun. But at Culloden, an ill-fated and ill-timed decision had been made to charge the English that lay in formation across the boggy Culloden moor rather than wait for the highlanders to fully assemble and plan their assault.

It was cold and raining and the highlanders had just finished two days of marching with little rest and little food in their bellies. Many of the men that were to take part in the battle were either just arriving or had not yet made it to the field at all. A number of the Prince's generals had advised against the charge as the men were too weary and they were going to have to make it across the wet moor in order to engage the English. Yet, the Prince's second hand man, O'Sullivan, thought otherwise and convinced Charlie that they needed to charge. An appeal to retreat and fight another day was dismissed and soon the signal was given to charge. After several failed attempts to get the men to charge, the highlanders finally began spilling out onto the moor in their tartan plaids and blue bonnets that were capped with a white Cockade feather.

Culloden burial cairn erected in Memorial of the Highlanders that fell during the Battle of Culloden.
[Burial cairn at Culloden erected for the fallen Clansmen]

As they charged, wave upon wave of highlanders were brutally cut down by an endless hail of English musket fire (grape shot) before they even neared the English lines. Cannon fire from the English was also to wreak havoc among the charging highland men and in less than an hour about 1,000 Highland clansmen lay dead or wounded on the cold and wet bog of Culloden moor.

With victory at hand, the English went to work mopping up the hapless Jacobites. Every wounded and dying highlander, both young and old, were executed (either shot or impaled with bayonets) as they lay bleeding and defenseless on the battlefield where they fell or in hay fields or barns where they had sought refuge after fleeing the doomed battle.

An estimated 500 highlanders would be killed as the Redcoat dragoons scoured the area on horse and on foot hunting for survivors and any remnants of the highland army. This unusual and particularly brutal treatment of a defeated force occurred after Cumberland had informed his men that the Scots were not going to excise quarter (mercy) if the Scots had won. Cumberland based this on a letter which he claimed had been written by the Scots giving instructions to their men to not give the English any quarter. It is interesting to note that Prince Charlie had his surgeons administer to the English wounded at Prestonpans before they were to get to his own wounded men. Whether the letter was real or a forgery, no quarter was given to the Scots as the English went about their butchery in the aftermath of the battle with gusto. The scene was to become so blood-thirsty that many innocent men, working and living in Inverness, were accused of being Jacobites on the spot and executed.

Several of the primary Scottish Jacobite leaders were also caught and summarily beheaded in London. Others that escaped sought exile in France while the Prince made his way back to Rome where he turned to the bottle for solace and ended his days in a drunken stupor. As the coming months wore on, the remaining Jacobites as could be found were either imprisoned or were banished to the British colonies in America. Some would return to Scotland, many would not.

So, the Rising of 1745 ended off with not just the final and fatal blow to the Jacobite cause, but also the last hope for the Scottish of riding themselves of the English forces that would now fully and ruthlessly rule their once mighty realm of Scotland. Culloden was also to signal the beginning of the end (the final blow fell during the Highland Clearances) for the highland way of life as Chieftains were stripped of their lands, titles, rights and honor. At this time the English also instilled the Disarming Act which banned the Highlanders in Scotland from possessing weapons, the wearing of any tartan (including kilt and plaid), speaking the Gaelic and playing of the highland Bagpipe (which the English deemed an instrument of war). The penalty for breeching this law was death.

Follow the links below to learn more about the Battle of Culloden:

Full Story of Culloden | Battle of Sheriffmuir & leading up to Culloden


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