The Battle of Culloden, the final confrontation of the Jacobite rising of 1745, known in Scotland as simply “The ’45,” is fought on April 16, 1746. The Jacobite army of Charles Edward Stuart, also known as Bonnie Prince Charlie, is decisively defeated by a British government force under William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland, on Drummossie Moor near Inverness in the Scottish Highlands. It is the last pitched battle fought on British soil.
Charles is the eldest son of James Francis Edward Stuart, the exiled Stuart claimant to the British throne. Believing there is support for a Stuart restoration in both Scotland and England, he lands in Scotland in July 1745. The Jacobite Army is often assumed to have been largely composed of Gaelic-speaking Catholic Highlanders. In reality nearly a quarter of the rank and file are recruited in Aberdeenshire, Forfarshire and Banffshire, with another 20% from Perthshire. Although the army is predominantly Scots it contains a few English recruits plus significant numbers of Irish, Scottish and French professionals in French service with the Irish Brigade and Garde Écossaise.
After amassing his army of Scots Jacobite supporters, Charles takes Edinburgh by September and defeats a British government force at Prestonpans. The government recalls 12,000 troops from the Continent to deal with the rising. A Jacobite invasion of England reaches as far as Derby before turning back, having attracted relatively few English recruits.
The Jacobites, with limited French military support, attempt to consolidate their control of Scotland, where by early 1746 they are opposed by a substantial government army. A scrambled Jacobite victory at Falkirk fails to change the strategic situation. With supplies and pay running short and with the government troops resupplied and reorganised under the Duke of Cumberland, son of British monarch George II, the Jacobite leadership has few options left other than to stand and fight. The two armies eventually meet at Culloden, on terrain that gives Cumberland’s larger, well-rested force the advantage.
The battle lasts only an hour, with the Jacobites suffering a bloody defeat with between 1,500 and 2,000 killed or wounded. Approximately 300 government soldiers are killed or wounded. While perhaps as many as 6,000 Jacobites remain in arms in Scotland, the leadership takes the decision to disperse, effectively ending the rising. The men of the combined Irish regiments, under the command of Brigadier Walter Stapleton, are the last off the field, covering the retreat of Prince Charles and the remnants of his army. The Irish had given their blood to the cause of a Stuart King for the last time. Most of the surviving Irish surrender at Inverness. The Prince himself eventually manages to make his escape to France.
Culloden and its aftermath continue to arouse strong feelings. The University of Glasgow awards the Duke of Cumberland an honorary doctorate, but many modern commentators allege that the aftermath of the battle and subsequent crackdown on Jacobite sympathisers were brutal, earning Cumberland the sobriquet “Butcher.” Efforts are subsequently made to further integrate the comparatively undeveloped Scottish Highlands into the Kingdom of Great Britain. Civil penalties are introduced to undermine the Scottish clan system, which had provided the Jacobites with the means to rapidly mobilise an army.
Today, a visitor centre is located near the site of the battle. This centre is first opened in December 2007, with the intention of preserving the battlefield in a condition similar to how it was on April 16, 1746. One difference is that it currently is covered in shrubs and heather. During the 18th century, however, the area was used as common grazing ground, mainly for tenants of the Culloden estate. Those visiting can walk the site by way of footpaths on the ground and can also enjoy a view from above on a raised platform. Possibly the most recognisable feature of the battlefield today is the 20-foot tall memorial cairn, erected by Duncan Forbes in 1881. In the same year Forbes also erects headstones to mark the mass graves of the clans.