What really happened at the Battle of Culloden?

1 min read
The Battle of Culloden as depicted by David Morier, 1746.


Culloden has been frequently presented as a battle fought by an incompetent, ill-equipped, and badly led Jacobite army wielding swords against superior, professional Redcoats armed with muskets. A new book by Murray Pittock, Bradley Professor of History at the University of Glasgow, challenges this consensus.

Professor Murray Pittock.

Murray shows that Government forces actually won the battle by blade, while the Jacobites, though few in number, were professionally managed and effective fighters throughout the clash. Professor Pittock said, ‘Arguably no battle out of living memory is remembered so powerfully and so falsely.

‘On Culloden Moor, what was in some ways the last Scottish army sought to restore the Stuarts to a multi-kingdom monarchy more aligned to European than colonial struggle. They were, in many essentials, a regular army.

‘They were outnumbered but not outgunned, and cavalry proved their downfall. My own archival research and the battlefield archaeology of the site shows that it was not British ball that brought down kilted swordsmen as much as British dragoon blades that cut down Jacobite musketeers.

‘Culloden as it happened is in fact much more interesting than Culloden as it is remembered.’

Professor Pittock thinks that post-conflict propaganda, depicting the battle as a victory for the civilised man over the savage, was later used to justify imperialism.

He added, ‘The Jacobite period has been strongly and systematically misremembered in order to emphasise a secure framework for the development of “Britishness” and the British imperial state. From as early as the 1740s, historians often took their cue from the language of anti- Jacobite propaganda.’

Culloden has recently been published by Oxford University Press. It is part of the Great Battles series and costs £18.99. Visit http://global.oup.com/academic for more information.


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