The politics behind the Jacobite rebellions of the 18th century were as simple and as complex as the blood relationships which governed the lives of royal families all over Europe at that time. In 1688 an overwhelmingly Protestant English people grew heartily sick of their Catholic Stuart king and his pretentions to absolutism. James II, whose father had been beheaded on the orders of Oliver Cromwell and whose brother had only been restored to the throne in 1661, was deposed in favour of his sister Mary and her Dutch Protestant husband William of Orange. Unfortunately, they died childless and the throne passed to James' second sister Anne. This poor woman spent most of her life in childbirth and her tragedy was to bear seventeen children in all and see not one of them live past infancy. The next in line were the children of Sophia the Electress of Hanover and when Queen Anne died in 1714, George Elector of Hanover became George I of Great Britain. In Scotland he was known as the "wee German lairdie". All the time the exiled James and his son brooded in their palace of St.Germain in France. The Government Army.
Those who supported James were known as Jacobites, from Jacobus the Latin rendering of James. Though Jacobite sympathies in England grew hot and cold in parallel with the general level of political contentment, there was little chance that England would ever seriously contemplate a Stuart restoration with it's accompanying Catholic baggage. In one place, however, the Stuarts could depend on a great deal of support and that was in the Highlands of Scotland. There had been an invasion scare in 1708 and a French fleet had actually got as far as the Firth of Forth before Admiral Byng and the Royal Navy drove it off. The most serious of all the Jacobite attempts to overthrow the government, however, came in 1715. It was led by a Scots lord, the Earl of Mar who had the unfortunate nickname of 'Bobbing John'. Mar had originally been an enthusiatic supporter of the Hanoverians, but when he was snubbed by the new king he took himself north and somewhere on the journey became a committed Jacobite. He raised the standard of the Stuarts on the Braes o' Mar and the Mackintoshes and the Mcdonalds came to join him. Stirling was held for the government by the Duke of Argyll and in an attempt to take the rebellion into England, Mar sent Mackintosh of Borlum and 2,000 men across the River Forth, down through the Borders and into the northern counties of England. Borlum picked up some support along the way, notably Viscount Kenmure and his borderers, but the ordinary folk gave him no help and in England were downright hostile. Linking up with the Earl of Derwentwater and his English Catholics, the Jacobites attempted to invade Lancashire but were stopped at the town of Preston. For two days of bitter street fighting they battled a superior government army but were finally forced to surrender.
Back in the north Mar was indecisive and unable to provide the passionate leadership that a call to rebellion requires. Early on his men had occupied Perth and Inverness but no French warships bearing either the 'rightful king', gold or weapons had come to his aid. In October after sending Borlum on his melancholy mission to defeat at Preston, Mar came came down from the Highlands and in the shadow of the Ochil Hills, not far from the town of Dunblane, his men met the Duke of Argyll in open battle on the field of Sheriffmuir. Mar's army was twice as large as his opponent's and on the right of the Jacobite line the MacDonalds broke the government infantry and the horse behind them. On the left, however, Argyll's men did much the same and like some great bloody rotating wheel the battle was fought out indecisively. It was not a fight that either could claim a victory (though both did) and at the end of the day Mar retreated to Perth and Argyll still held Stirling and the roads to the south. The battle had been fought on that same Sunday that saw Borlum surrender at Preston.
Just before Christmas James II's son, who had styled himself James III since his father's death in 1701 and whose reputation has laboured under history's title of 'the Old Pretender', finally landed at Stonehaven in the north-east of Scotland. He was a cold man and did little to inspire those few who had stayed loyal to Mar after Sheriffmuir. With winter raging, no French troops or supplies and Argyll marching north against him, on February 4th he and Mar took ship for France. Neither would ever see Scotland again.
The government were not as vicious in their pacification as they would be after the next great rising and only two of the leaders, Derwentwater and Kenmure, were beheaded. A series of roads were built into the Highlands by General Wade and a string of forts constructed down the line of the Great Glen. The clans were ordered to disarm but they handed in only old and rusty weapons, hiding the best for later use. That would come almost thirty years later and would be led by the Old Pretender's dashing young son - Bonnie Prince Charlie.
He gave us this charge, that if we had time to load so to do, and if not, to make no delay but to drive our bayonets into their bodies and make sure work.
A government soldier on his commander's order before the battle
At 5.00am on the morning of 16th April, 1746 the beat of the drums summoned the army of King George to the march. There were almost 9,000 of them arrayed in sixteen battalions of foot, three regiments of horse, an artillery company and the Argyll Militia. It was not an English army but a government one and of the foot battalions three were lowland Scots, one Irish and the Argyll Militia was raised from the Cambell lands in the west of Scotland. The Jacobites.
The common soldier that made up the army's ranks came usually from the lowest levels of society and most of them had enlisted for economic reasons. Some had even been pressed into service. The soldier enlisted for a period of three years and for this received a bounty of four pounds sterling. For the privilege of risking his life in the king's service a soldier was paid sixpence a day and from this twopence was stopped to pay for his uniform and equipment. The basic rations he was allotted were inadequate and often inedible so more of his meagre wages went on food. He wore a wide-skirted heavy coat of scarlet similarly coloured breeches and white or grey gaiters above his black, buckled shoes. On his head there was a black three-cornered hat that gave little relief from sun or rain and round his neck was a constricting leather stock designed to ensure he kept his head up and facing forward. On his white belt were slung a cartridge pouch, a short curved sword and a 16 inch bayonet of fluted steel. Though the average soldier was literate enough to write his own name he had had little schooling in anything other than the arts of war and for the footsoldier these were not particularly complicated.
He carried a Brown Bess musket that weighed just over five kilos, had a barrel just over a metre long and fired a 37 gram ball of lead from a bore of 0.735 inch. It was completely ineffective at anything over 300 paces and at distances less than that only an expert could expect to hit a reasonable target. Its effectiveness lay in the contolled fire of large groups of men 100 or even 200 discharging their weapons on command at the same time. The infantryman was expected to stand his ground as an enemy advanced, withstand his opponents artillery fire and musketry, then after volleys of his own fire go forward in tightly packed ranks with the bayonet. The key to this was the ability to maintain a disciplined tight formation, in either offence or defence, in the face of sometimes withering enemy fire. It was a lottery with survival as the only prize.
In the Duke of Cumberland's army that day were men who had stood solidly against the French roundshot at Fontenoy two years previously and joked that the approaching cannonballs looked like so many black puddings. Fontenoy had been a bloody defeat for the British but the men had aquitted themselves well. There were others in the army who had run like rabbits before the Highland charge at Falkirk just a few months before. As they moved off from their camp at Nairn, the three regiments of horse in column on the left, the sixteen battalions of foot in three columns between the cavalry on the left and the sea on the right, the Argyll Militiamen slipping through the heather in skirmishing line ahead, perhaps both Fontenoy and Falkirk veterans prayed that this day would be different.
Of all Cumberland's men it was the artillery that would do the most execution that day. At 34 years of age Brevet Colonel William Bedford, commander of the ordnance was a dedicated, skillful gunner who had seen service at Carthagena, Dettingen and Fontenoy. His artillerymen were better trained and more professional than anything the Highlanders had ever faced in their half century of sporadic rebellion against the crown. Bedford had ten 3 pounder cannon which he was to place in the front line by pairs. To the rear he kept some other three pounders and his cohorn mortars. The barrels of the 3 pounders were just over a metre long and into each was placed a pound and a half (675g) of powder. A 3 pound (1350g) ball of iron was then rammed home. Some powder was placed in the touchhole and the beast was ready to fire. After each shot, the barrel was swabbed out with a wet sponge to cool it down and the process began again. A roundshot could tear a man apart and do the same to the men in the ranks behind him. Sometimes the cannonballs bounced and did even greater execution. The muzzle velocity was not great and usually the roundshot could be seen coming. Against dispersed or dug-in troops the effect would have been negligible, against tightly packed ranks only a few hundred yards away they would prove devastating.
Ill-starred are the brave did no vision foreboding,
Tell you that fate had forsaken your cause,
Yet were you destined to die at Culloden,
No victory crown nor your fall with applause.
The Jacobite army, though it contained a Regiment of Irishmen and Scots serving with the French and a few lowlanders romantic or foolish enough to follow Prince Charlie, was essentially an army of Highland clansmen. As such it was the last feudal gathering to take the field in the history of Britain. To the English officers of Cumberland's staff they must have seemed like the Zulus or Apaches in later wars; admired for their courage, feared for their skill in battle and despised for the primitive nature of their society. The Battle
The clan was a group of men with a common surname and, in theory at least, connected by ties of blood. The chief was their master and bore both the name and the purest blood of this extended family's common progenitor.They grew up in a harsh enviroment that geology had formed untold millenia before their birth, when the great icesheets had carved out the Highland glens and bequeathed them a land of great defensive potential and little economic possibility. As the ice retreated most of the topsoil went with it, that remaining thin and poor. Simple animal husbandry was the only possible way to scratch a living from the land and the people became herders of hardy black cattle and goats. The thieving of these beasts was regarded as a noble profession for the clansmen to follow and the stories of martial glory and honour satisfied or discharged that were the stuff of the bards and storytellers' tales often had their genesis in the theft of livestock or other movables from neighbouring clans.
The chief had absolute power over his men, the power of 'pit and gallows', and there was no appeal against his judgement. Though by the 18th century the chief may have been educated at a university in Scotland or France, have spoken French, Latin and English as well as his native Gaelic, drunk claret at his table, it was his ability to protect his 'children' and lead them in battle that were the measure of the man. A chief's rent roll was calculated not in coin but in the number of broadswords that would follow him into battle. Already this system was an anachronism and only the difficulty of penetrating their Highland fastnesses had allowed it to go on for so long. Some of the chiefs had been lucky or prescient enough to sniff the direction of the prevailing wind and had hitched their banners to the government's flagstaff, most notably the Cambell Dukes of Argyll. Even today the Duke of Argyll is the foremost of Scotland's peers.
Duncan Forbes, the Lord President of the Council, who looked on his Highland neighbours with a condescension greatly softened by sympathy, once concluded that all the clans raised in a single body could have fielded over 32,000 broadswords; a daunting prospect for any government to face. Prince Charles never had more than 10,000 at any time during the '45 rising and usually he only had 4,000 or 5,000. The prospect of a united armies of the clans was, however, something that could never be. Like all tribal societies, ancient feuds, current jealousies and a tradition of perpetual strife made a mockery of any pretensions to unity.
On the morning of the 16th April 1746, as Cumberland's army advanced, the Jacobites had just returned from an abortive attempt at a surprise attack on the government camp at Nairn. They were cold and tired, none having slept the previous night. And they were hungry, the chaotic supply system of Prince Charles' army having left their rations back in Inverness. They were still a formidable foe. Sinewy, fast and strong they had spent their lives chasing deer, stealing cattle or fighting in the constant internecine feuds that bedevilled their race. Many had not wished to come out in rebellion but the common man had no right of refusal to a chief's command. Any that had been slow to respond to the call to arms would have had the roofs of their cottages burned by the chief. They wore the great plaid, a long sheet of woven wool wrapped around their thighs in the fashion of a skirt, and held at the shoulder by a brooch or pin. They carried basket-hilted broadswords that could cleave a limb from the body or a skull to the neck. With a round targe, or shield, covered in bullhide they could sweep away a bayonet and leave its red-coated holder open to the downward thrusts of their swords. The wealthier men carried silver embroidered pistols, the poorer great Lochaber axes to hew the life from their enemies. All carried dirks, the vicious Highland dagger that could gut a man foolish enough to let it get close. They had one tactic - the charge. A wild flurry of screaming men in headlong attack, it must have been terrible indeed to stand against, but it could be used only one time. Once it was released there was no recalling it and when its force was spent it could not be mounted again.
When the Jacobite army lined up on Drumossie Moor on 16th April 1746, their stomachs were empty, they were exhausted from their night march the failure of which had undermined their already fragile morale, and they were heavily outnumbered, almost two to one.
On the right of the Jacobite line stood the Athollmen and this place of honour had been given them at the request of their leader Lord George Murray. To their left were the Appin Stewarts and then the Frasers. Next came Clan Chattan and the Farquharsons, followed by a regiment consisting of men of mixed clans, Roy Stewart's regiment and finally on the left the Macdonalds. Ever since Bannockburn the MacDonalds had claimed the right of the Scottish line as their own and this morning they were still bitter at losing their place to Lord George Murray's Athollmen. There was a second line but the fury of the charge was such that the first line was the more important. In the second line were the Irish and Scots soldiers of the French king, the Ogilvies, the Duke of Perth's regiment, Lord Gordon's men and assorted units of horse.
The government's first line consisted of Pulteney's regiment on the right facing the Macdonalds, then the Royals, Cholmondley's, Price's, the Fusiliers, Munro's and Barrel's on the left. It was common in those days for regiments to be named after their commander. The second line consisted of (from right to left) Battereau's, Howard's, Fleming's, Conway's, Bligh's, Sempill's and Wolfe's. Two battalions were held in reserve.
At the southern end of the field, between the armies and the water of the River Nairn, were two enclosures bound by a stone wall. This wall, almost the height of a man, stretched from the extreme left of the first government line to the rear of the right flank of the second Jacobite line. It was a terrible oversight on the part of the Jacobites to have left the wall standing. This failure to have the wall pulled down would have a dramatic effect on the action that followed.
The battle began, some say, with a shot from a Jacobite gun probably trying to hit Lord Bury, a government officer who had ridden out to make a last reconnaisance of the field. The shot was unsuccessful and now the government guns opened up in reply. The Jacobite guns were few, short on ammunition and manned by inexperienced or poorly trained men. The government artillery was just the opposite and within ten or fifteen minutes all the rebel guns had been silenced. Soon the government roundshot were tearing into the tightly packed ranks of clansmen waiting for the order to charge. No order came and the men stood in impotent fury as their ranks were thinned again and again by the enemy cannonballs.
To have restrained the clans in their desire to charge was foolishness of the highest degree. It can only be explained by the lunacy of Prince Charlie in taking personal command of the army on that day. Never before had he commanded troops in battle and the victories of Prestonpans and Falkirk that had struck such terror into the redcoats were the work of Lord George Murray, an able soldier and one who knew his men like no other. Prince Charles' assumption of command was the result of vanity perhaps, idiocy more probably, a total inability to understand the circumstances of the fight that was to be fought most certainly. It was a disaster. Charles chose the field himself - a mistake. He listened to the hysterical rantings of his Quartermaster General the Irish O'Sullivan - a greater mistake. He held back his men in the face of a killing cannonade - perhaps the greatest mistake.
Eventually, the men went themselves. Clan Chattan were the first to go forward. Punished by the government guns their discipline broke and they surged towards the enemy yelling "Claymore!", the order to charge. The tunes of the pipers rent the air until closing with the enemy line the pipers gave their pipes to an apprentice, pulled out their swords and rushed forward with the other men of their name. The Jacobite line was not exactly parallel to the government one but set at a slightly oblique angle. As such the clansmen charged with a slight slant to their left. In the middle of the field the Camerons and Appin Stewarts bumped into Clan Chattan and seemed to recoil off to the right. This pushed the Athollmen towards the stone wall.
Earlier, Campbell Militiamen and a force of dragoons had entered the the enclosures on the left of the government line. They had gone forward and torn down the wall at the western end, almost in the rear of the Jacobite position. Here they found a deep sunken road they were unable to cross and Jacobite horse on the other side ready to dispute their passage. The outflanking manoeuvre by the dragoons failed but the Campbell Militia now lined the stone wall and were in enfillade - that most dangerous of positions to an attacker where his flank is exposed to the fire of enemy troops. The Duke of Cumberland was not a great soldier but he was careful and more cognisant of military necessity than his distant cousin on the other side of the field. He ordered Wolfe's regiment to march forward, and place their backs against the stone wall and thus form an 'L-shape' with Barrell's regiment. It was a trap that the Athollmen could neither see (with all the smoke of battle) nor counter, but one that they had to enter if they were to come to grips with the redcoats.
As Clan Chattan neared the government line the redcoats began to fire. Along the line the front ranks of each battalion knelt, brought up their Brown Bess muskets and fired. Stepping aside and to the back and kneeling down to reload, they made way for the second rank to fire. Then the third rank and once more the first rank. Soon the soldiers faces were stained by the powder from the cartridges which they had to bite open in order to reload. The government fire rolled along the seven battalions of foot in the first government line again and again and as the artillery had switched from roundshot to grapeshot (nails, pieces of iron and suchlike) the effect on the charging clansmen was brutal. There were twenty-one officers in Clan Chattan when the charge began and eighteen of them were to die, most before they reached the government line. Incredibly though, some of them managed to cut their way through the ranks of Cholmondley's battalion and came up on the second line of government troops. Fighting singly, their hopeless fury ended on the points of government bayonets driven home by the men of Howard's or Fleming's.