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Apr 16 Culloden and the Highland Clearances

The Battle of Culloden was the last major battle fought on British soil. It was the end of the Jacobite Uprising and the killed the final hope of the Catholic House of Stuart. In its aftermath the brutal Highland Clearances was intended to prevent the clans being united and challenge the Crown again. Today we look at the end of Bonnie Prince Charles' dreams and the circumstances that led to it


On the 16th April 1746, the Battle of Culloden was the climax of the Jacobite rising and ended it. The rebellion had begun as an attempt to recover what they considered to be a hijacked throne by the House of Orange. The House of Stuart, the royal house of Scotland, England, Ireland and later Great Britain went back almost 300 years replacing the House of Bruce in Scotland, which had finished without an heir, so the Stewarts had considered themselves a legitimate lineage. The first monarch of the Stewart line was Robert II, and they ruled from 1371 until the union with England in 1707. Mary, Queen of Scots was brought up in France where she adopted the French spelling of the name Stuart. In 1503, James IV married Margaret Tudor, thus linking the royal houses of Scotland and England. When Elizabeth I of England died without an heir in 1603, James VI of Scotland succeeded to the thrones of England and Ireland as James I in the Union of the Crowns. The Stuarts were monarchs of Britain and Ireland and its growing empire until the death of Queen Anne in 1714, except for the period of Cromwell’s Commonwealth between 1649 and 1660.

The Jacobite cause (named after James) believed there was support for a Stuart restoration in both Scotland and England, after the protestant William of Orange had taken the throne. The restablishment of the ancient Catholic faith was an important factor. However today on 16 April, the army of Bonnie Prince Charles, Charles Edward Stuart was decisively defeated by the Duke of Cumberland, on Drummossie Moor near Inverness in the Scottish Highlands. It was the last pitched battle fought on British soil.

The Jacobites had expected and hoped for more French military support, supporting a Catholic Monarch. A large invasion force had been prepared and put to sea from Dunkirk in February 1744, only to be partly wrecked and driven back into harbour by violent storms. Charles’ army had already taken Edinburgh, defeated a British government force at Prestonpans, and reached as far as Derby. However by then the momentum was faltering, English recruits had dried up, and with supplies and pay running short, Charles leadership was proving to be more romantic than pragmatic, and they were pushed back. The alarmed King had recalled 12,000 troops from the Continent to deal with the rising. This provide to be a decisive surge in troop deployment the government troops resupplied and reorganised under the Kings son, the Duke of Cumberland. The two armies eventually met at Culloden, on terrain that gave Cumberland's larger, well-rested force the advantage. The battle lasted only an hour, between 1,500 and 2,000 Jacobites were killed or wounded, while about 300 government soldiers were killed or wounded. In the face of such a defeat the leadership took the decision to disperse, effectively ending the rising.

The aftermath proved brutal for the human ecology of the Scottish Highlands. Efforts to further integrate the Highlands into the Kingdom of Great Britain were in effect suppression and the dismantling of ancient cultures and tradition. Civil penalties were introduced to undermine the Scottish clan system, which had provided the Jacobites with the means to rapidly mobilise an army. A period of depopulation which is referred to as the Highland Clearances took place. Culloden was a tipping point moment, but the seeds of the clearances had already been laid for economic reasons when the Duke of Argyll had decided to put tacks (or leases) of farms and townships up for auction. After Culloden the break-up of the traditional townships was devastating, as they were an essential element of land management in Scottish Gaeldom. To replace this system, smallholdings or crofts were created, with shared access to common grazing. This process was often accompanied by moving the people from the interior glens to the coast, where they were expected to find employment in the kelp or fishing industries. The properties they had formerly occupied were then converted into large sheep holdings.

The beginning of the clearances was a relocation rather than outright expulsion (similar in many ways to the recent Chinese policy of urbanisation). However, this intensified and 1815, after the collapse of wartime industries and the continuing rise in population, the landlords moved to the brutal policy of expelling people from their estates. This was increasingly associated with 'assisted emigration', in which landlords cancelled rent arrears and paid the passage of the 'redundant' families in their estates to North America and, in later years, also to Australia.

Roman Catholics had experienced a sequence of discriminatory laws but this was more likely to voluntary emigration rather than eviction. Although one case of harassment of Catholics was in the Outer Hebrides, Islands of the North West Coast of Scotland, when the chief of the Macdonalds of Clanranald attempted to forcibly convert his tenants on South Uist to Presbyterianism, threatening to remove them off his lands. Over 200 people from South Uist sailed for Prince Edward Island in Canada to escape religious persecution at the hands of the chief of Clan Macdonald of Clanranald. The immigrants first settled at Scotchfort on the northeast side of the island, established with the assistance of the Scottish Catholic Church. The first winter hit the settlement hard and a year later a local minister wrote that they were in "great misery". In 1790–1791, a second wave of about 900 fresh emigrants from South Uist, Barra, Moidart, and Morar, settled in the area. Once the more adventurous settlers got their bearings, many moved out of Scotchfort into better areas of the island. In time Scotchfort a staging post rather than a permanent settlement.


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