Sunday, February 25, 2007

[culloden] welcome tae your gory bed

The story of the '15 and the '45 are well known. Not everyone knows who was to blame for what followed Culloden.

Culloden itself, while a huge tragedy, had one interesting aspect. Butcher Cumberland's method of diagonal bayonet thrusting, so that you killed the foe diagonally to your right instead of the one you were actually fighting, was supposedly learnt from the Blackwatch, the original Highland Regiment in the British Army. One who escaped, Donald Mackay, reported:

When we reached Culcabock we stopped, feeling faint with hunger. I had some oatcakes in my bag and we got a drink of milk from an old lady who was beside the road. "How did the day go? she asked. Badly for the Prince," we replied, and left in haste.

The Prince fled the battlefield and survived for five months in Scotland despite a £30,000 reward for his capture, then made his humiliating escape to France, disguised as a "lady's maid" to Flora Macdonald.

After the victory, Cumberland ordered his men to execute all the Jacobite wounded and prisoners, he rode into Inverness, his drawn sword still covered in blood, patrols were sent back to the battlefield to kill any survivors, executions were conducted on the basis of drawing lots on a ratio of about 1 in 20, the detachments of Irish soldiers from the French army were permitted to formally surrender, were treated well and eventually returned to France.

The clan system was destroyed, largely due to the Act of Proscription, banning the kilt and the tartan and then the real tragedies occurred.

The Glengarry [under Marjorie MacDonell], Strathglass [under Elizabeth Chisholm] and Duke of Sutherland clearances took place, with people evicted, homes burned and Cheviot sheep put in their place. Interestingly, the 2nd Duke of Sutherland later gave 80 000 pounds as a sort of apology for what had happened.

The thing which stuns me is how the Highland Chiefs themselves gave way to greed and sold out their own people. It's not excusing the English but the first two clearances were Scottish. It reminds me, in reverse, of Tony Blair, in the modern day, selling out his own people.


Tom Paine said...

But he's a Scot, James. In selling the English out to the Scottish Raj, Blair may be a rogue but he is no traitor.

Or perhaps that is not what you meant?


james higham said...

I meant that he has sold out the people of these isles, which he is ostensibly representing, to his European masters. It was a bad example, I admit, in terms of his origin but he did spring to mind.

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

They weren't the first or last in history to sell out their own people, though, were they? And "Bonnoe Prince Charlie" was not the hero myth has painted him as; he'd probably have been a rotten monarch. I think the comparison with BLair is a bit strong! Interesting post, though.

Notting Hill Nonsense said...

I'm a Macdonald, my father was born on Mull. But I say that the end of the feudal clan system in the Highlands was a good thing.

For most Highlanders in the 18th and 19th centuries, when most of the depopulation happened, life was backbreakingly hard and poverty stricken, as it had always been.

So they went and founded the United States of America, Canada and Australia. Aspirational bastards.

Martin said...


I'm a bit confused by this post.

1. The 1st Duke of Sutherland was previously the Marquis of Stafford, real name Leveson-Gower, and as English as they come.

2. The series of events you're describing took place several decades apart. The kilt and tartan went to the wall in 1746, while The Clearances started at least three decades later.

There is absolutely no question that Scots were complicit in the Clearances, but by and large they were motivated more by the Enlightenment spirit of 'improvement' than by a conquering force's desire to crush its' enemies symbols.

In that sense, your analogy with Blair is absolutely apt - what is someone who describes his party thus - 'We are the change makers' - other than an improver bent on 'improvement'? Regardless of its consequences?

You shouldn't be surprised at how willing some of the clan chieftains were to aid the clearing of the land. Before 1746 they had been family heads; the annihilation of clan power after 1746 left some of them as little more than social climbers.

As John Prebble put it,

"They bartered their birthrights for a house in Belgravia".

One of the best critique's of Blair I've ever read was 'Blair Sells Britain, Buys A House', by Paul Craig Roberts -

Try and spot the differences between Blair's behaviour and that of the clan chieftains.

And let me know if you find any.

james higham said...

Oh dear, I didn't explain myself well. When I wrote here: 'It's not excusing the English but the first two clearances were Scottish,' this was a reference to Sutherland being English, i.e. the first two clearances I mentioned of three. Therefore the 2nd Duke felt the need to contribute money. Yes, they were decades apart and came in two distinct phases.

dearieme said...

James, this is bonkers. The Clearances were nothing to do with "The English" unless you attribute race guilt because young Sutherland married an English boy. And Culloden wasn't especially to do with The English either - it was a Hanoverian army defeating a Jacobite one. If you wish to abase yourself over something, can you please find something that you can reasonably blame on The English. The Rough Wooing would do.