What Was the Battle of Culloden?

Battlefield memorial in commemoration of the Battle of Culloden.
Battlefield memorial in commemoration of the Battle of Culloden.


The Battle of Culloden is one of the most historically important civil wars of Great Britain. It was the final attempt of the Jacobite rising that resulted in a victory for the House of Hanover over the House of Stuart. The Jacobite rising was instigated by Charles Edward Stuart, essentially for the restoration of the House of Stuart as a ruling family. However, it soon got the religious touch as Catholic Christians supported the House of Stuart while the British army was backed by Protestant Christians. The Battle of Culloden is also famous for being the last ever pitched battle in the history of Great Britain.


In 1701, the English Parliament passed an act for the succession of crowns for England and Ireland. A major reason behind the introduction of the Act of Settlement 1701 was the failure of Queen Mary II and Queen Anne in terms of birthing a living successor to the crown. The Act of Settlement 1701 made it compulsory that the crown will pass to a Protestant Christian only. Queen Anne, the last ruler of the House of Stuart, had no living children at the time of her death; all other members of the House of Stuart other than Sophia of Hanover were Roman Catholics. This particular aspect made the line of Sophia of Hanover eligible to rule Britain, according to the Act of Settlement. Thus, King George I became the King of Great Britain, regardless of the fact that Sophia’s line was the shortest in the House of Stuart and the same reason raised an objection and prompted a fight between the House of Stuart and the House of Hanover.


The French Kingdom fully supported and backed the Jacobite rising. Even the Jacobites were under the impression that France will impose war against Britain to provide strength for their movement by opening another front against British Government. The Jacobite army, totalling 6,000 men, mainly consisted of Catholic Christians and Episcopalians of Scotland; moreover, they also had a handful number of Irish, Scottish, and Englishmen. On the other hand, the British army, totalling 8,000 men, was a combination of Protestant Christians, Ulstermen, Austrians, Hessians, Lowlanders, and Highlanders from Scotland under the command of the Duke of Cumberland, the son of King George II.


The successful siege of Edinburgh, Dumfries, and victory in the Battles of Prestonpans and Falkirk Muir built a momentum in the Jacobite rising that resulted as their invasion into England. The Jacobite armies advanced to Derby; this move was a serious threat to London. On April 15th 1746, one night before the Battle of Culloden, the Jacobite army made a strategic move by executing a night attack on the English army camped in Nairn. Slow march because of dark and lack of coordination among the Jacobite troops forced them to return to their camp without attacking the government forces.

On April 16th 1746, the two armies came face to face at the Culloden Moor. Repeating the mistake made the previous night, the Jacobite troops advanced without proper coordination which resulted in a poor arrangement of the army. The Duke of Cumberland utilized the best of this situation and attacked the Jacobites with a smart war strategy that shook the Jacobite front lines. Within the first half hour of the battle, Prince Charles moved away from his forces for safety, which affected their morale badly. Meanwhile, the Scottish Highlanders attacked the second line of government army, which was successfully responded by Major General Huske. Soon, the Jacobite lost their left wing. Seeing that, the Duke of Cumberland ordered an advance to the government armies to end the battle. It took only one hour for the government forces to win this battle. The British suffered casualties of 300, whereas the Jacobites lost 2,000 including 200 French.


The Battle of Culloden was the last ever attempt by the Jacobites against the House of Hanover. It not only ended the Jacobite rebellion against the government but also initiated the end of the Scottish Clan system and lead to the introduction of various laws to prevent such movements in future.


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