On 16th April, 1746 the House of Stuart witnessed its last hurrah. The Battle of Culloden fought 274 years ago signalled the end of the Jacobite cause and the consolidation of the Hanoverian monarchy. Apart from two more failed plots in 1751 and 1759, no actual serious attempts would be made to restore the House of Stuart to their throne, and King James III and his sons would die in exile.
So, what actually happened at Culloden?
Well, in simple terms, we arrive at Culloden after the events of 1745. In that year, Charles had landed with seven men, and had quickly managed to convince members of the Highland clans to fight for him and his father. They took Perth and Edinburgh (though not the castle), they defeated a government army at Prestonpans and then marched southwards. They took Carlisle and managed to gain support in Lancashire, before arriving at Derby, where it was clear no support from English Jacobites or France was forthcoming, which led to a retreat into Scotland and several minor skirmishes.
This then led to Culloden, where a battered and tired Jacobite army went up against an army led by Hanoverian Prince, the Duke of Cumberland on Culloden Moor. The Jacobite army at 5,000 men was smaller than the Hanoverian army, they lacked cavalry and their enemy had learned to holdback from the initial charge of the clansmen.
A charge which was rendered ineffective by the terrain on which the battle site had been chosen. With their main weapon neutered, the Jacobite lines were easily disrupted by the Hanoverians, they were sent packing and many either fled or were captured. This led to disastrous consequences for many.
Prince Charles himself only just about managed to escape capture, hiding with one Flora McDonald before fleeing on a ship back to his continental exile and a life of sadness and drink.
At a glance, that is what happened at Culloden. It was fought in Scotland, but it was not, unlike what some nationalists in Scotland claim, an attempt to remove Scotland completely from London’s orbit. The goal was to restore the Stuarts to their rightful place as rulers of England, Scotland and Ireland, though the Stuarts themselves wanted to rule the United Kingdom either as one or as a federal union with policy dictated by London.
Furthermore, the Jacobites were not all just angry Highlanders, there were a great many Englishmen and Irishmen who supported the Stuarts right until the end of the 45. Their support was however premised on the basis that the Stuarts would land with French support, to be able to effectively challenge the Hanoverian army, something which would always plague the Jacobite cause and hinder success.
Finally, Culloden earned William, Duke of Cumberland his reputation as Butcher Cumberland for the brutal measures he took to deal with the Jacobites and their allies. It also cemented his reputation as a national hero and a famed military commander-one which would go up in smoke after the early stages of the Seven Years War- and gave him the position and power his brother could only dream of.
The defeat at Culloden also ensured that the Stuart cause was seen as effectively over. No French support had arrived, the English did not rise in great numbers, and the factionalism within the movement tore it to pieces.
Consequently, many Jacobites reluctantly accepted the Hanoverian monarchy and made their peace with it. This was made easier when the British born and raised George III ascended the throne due to his desire to embrace all things British, unlike his predecessors.
The defeat of the Jacobite cause so completely also enabled the British government to focus on becoming the premier power in the world, through naval and financial means, as they had removed an effective threat from being used by their enemies such as France. However, in so doing, the government ended up planting the seeds for long held resentments in Scotland alongside those already present in Ireland, through clearances and military rule.
A final pondering
Culloden and the 45 does raise the interesting question of what might have happened had things gone the other way. Had Charles actually won the 45 and enabled his father to ascend the throne, what sort of Britain might we have seen?
James was said to be a fairly tolerant man, who would’ve respected the established churches in England and Scotland, and no doubt would’ve adapted to the settlements formed since 1688. No doubt the Act of Settlement of 1701 would have been repealed, and the Act of Union would’ve been reexamined and either adjusted or dissolved and a federal union perhaps would have been created.
The Highland way of life might well have been maintained for a time longer before massive changes in societal ways of life forced an adapt or die mentality. And having won the war with might, it would be much easier for James and Charles to retain some more monarchical power, potentially preventing the mere figurehead we have today.