By the time the Duke of Cumberland arrived home from Flanders, Prince Charles Stuart had taken Scotland for his father, assembled over 5,000 followers, and was clearly intent on heading south for England. Cumberland was given a tumultuous welcome in London, and immediately set about preparing his troops to address the menace of his ambitious cousin.
In November the Jacobite Army crossed into England, taking the town and castle of Carlisle within a few days before continuing southward. Cumberland took command of the forces stationed in the Midlands to intercept Prince Charles’ army, but by a series of feints the Jacobites outmanoeuvred the British, reaching Derby in December.
It was at this point that they made the controversial decision to retreat, and in doing so handed the military initiative over to the government. On 8th December Cumberland marched his fastest troops to try to overtake the Jacobite army as they moved north again, ordering General Wade to move west across Yorkshire to cut the army off in Lancashire.
But the Jacobites had a head start, and that, coupled with the fact that Cumberland was temporarily halted at Macclesfield due to rumours of a French invasion on the south coast, ensured that the retreating army got as far north as Clifton Moor before Cumberland’s advance guard caught up with Prince Charles’ rear guard. There followed a fire-fight and some fierce hand-to-hand combat in a running skirmish in which the dragoons were pushed back, after which the Jacobites retreated and continued their way back into Scotland.
The duke continued north in pursuit, retaking Carlisle Castle, which was held by Jacobite troops including most of the Manchester Regiment, on 30th December. In the surrender terms, Cumberland stated only that the ’rebels’ would not be killed on the spot, but would be ‘reserved for the King’s pleasure’. Although Cumberland was later accused of betraying the terms of surrender by the Jacobite garrison, who were treated with extraordinary brutality once captured, in fact he had given no guarantees as to what form the King’s pleasure would take.
After this, Cumberland returned briefly to London due to rumours of yet another French landing. He was greeted by the populace as a great hero once more.
Meanwhile the government discussed the policies to be used once the rising was over. All of them called for extreme measures to be taken against the enemy, the general view being that the rising was a case of King George’s subjects rebelling against their lawful king. This is an important distinction and the resultant actions taken against the Jacobites by Cumberland and his army must be seen in this light. In the eyes of both the duke and the British government the Jacobites had no right to be treated according to the rules of war, and if captured would not be treated as prisoners of war, but as traitors (an exception being the French troops who fought for Charles).
Some people also felt that all Scots were responsible for the rising, and that the whole country needed to be crushed. This was the prevailing mood in London when the news came that the Stuart prince’s army, far from retreating to Scotland to disperse, had in fact won a victory over General Hawley’s troops at Falkirk Muir.
Cumberland now went to Scotland, determined to put down this rebellion once and for all, and to ensure that the Highlanders would never be able to rise again. He recommended that small parties of men burn and destroy the homes of the rebels and kill anyone who was found to have weapons in their houses. As a result of this, even in advance of Culloden the looting and burning of Highlanders’ homes began, not all of them belonging to people who had risen for Prince Charles. During this time, among other things the Movern coast was devastated, and part of the town of Maryburgh was destroyed.
Not all Cumberland’s men agreed with this draconian and somewhat indiscriminate policy. In February General Campbell refused to obey orders to plunder the rebels’ houses, while the Lord Chief Justice for Scotland, Andrew Fletcher pointed out that Cumberland’s orders were illegal. Cumberland’s military secretary retaliated by saying that for those found in open rebellion, legal niceties could be disregarded.
Strangely, although the duke had expressly issued these orders, he took a very dim view of unauthorised looting, inflicting severe punishments on soldiers who overstepped the mark, even going so far as to hang some soldiers who plundered houses near Aberdeen without permission.
For himself, although a good number of Scottish soldiers fought on his side, he had a profound distrust of the Scots in general, and of the Highlanders in particular. In a letter to London, Cumberland summed up his view of the Highlanders, and no doubt this view coloured his future actions, which were to ensure that he go down in history as the Butcher of Culloden.
‘The Highlanders are almost universally a nest of knaves and they are always ready to rise in order to rob, many of them are also Papists, they have been poisoned by that connexion which has been kept up. Even those of the Episcopal Clergy who take the Oaths, retain generally their old principles’.
The duke marched north, finally reaching Aberdeen in March, where he stayed for a month, gathering supplies and retraining his men in a new manoeuvre intended to blunt the ferocity of the feared Highland charge, while he waited for the River Spey to fall enough to be fordable.
I won’t write here about the Battle of Culloden. Anyone who has read my books or knows anything of the ’45 knows that all the hopes of the Stuart cause were crushed in less than half an hour on 16th April 1746.
After the battle the French troops surrendered, were taken prisoner and dealt with as legitimate prisoners of war, many of them later being sent home. This was not the fate of the rest of the Jacobite troops. Cumberland and the British authorities now had the chance and the excuse to finally rid themselves of that perennial thorn in their side, the Highland clans, until now virtually ungovernable, answering to no law except their chiefs’. Much of the rest of Britain considered them to be barbarian savages; the extirpation of such a threat could only be good for the country as a whole. There was also the real threat that the Jacobites, if left unpunished would rise again, one we tend to forget, having hindsight.
One of the controversies surrounding the battle itself was the fate of the wounded. Only about 154 were taken prisoner and it’s certain that some of the wounded were killed after the battle. No order from Cumberland survives stating that he sanctioned this, but he certainly made no move to stop it.
Once the battle and its immediate aftermath were over, the redcoats were ordered to take any Jacobites found as prisoners rather than killing them, unless they resisted, with the result that the prisons soon became vastly overcrowded, and the prisoners suffered horrific conditions, many dying of untended wounds or disease. The attitude of the government towards this appears to have been one of utter indifference, their main concern being how to securely house as many prisoners as cheaply as possible.
On 24th May Cumberland arrived at Fort Augustus, determined to subdue the Highlands as quickly as possible so that he could return to Flanders. It was now that the actions took place that were to earn the Duke of Cumberland his new nickname ‘the Butcher’, a name by which he is still known, nearly 300 years after the events. Raiding parties were sent out to burn houses, drive off cattle and shoot anyone who resisted. Before long stories started to spread of women and children dying of hunger and cold, having had their homes destroyed, and not only Jacobite supporters; the redcoats were not overly concerned as to whether the villages they were burning belonged to loyalists or rebels. Jacobite stories abound of atrocities committed against innocents, and it is impossible to ascertain for certain how many of these are exaggerated. But what is known is that for months the redcoats rampaged around the Highlands, looting and burning at will, with few consequences.
Those who would defend Cumberland state that he could not be held responsible for those of his men who exceeded their orders, and it is on record that periodically he did restore stolen property to their owners. But although known as a strict disciplinarian, he seems to have done little or nothing to rein in the savagery of his officers, and in view of his known attitude towards Highlanders and his tight control over his troops, it is hard to believe that he was either unaware of what was going on or did not condone the actions of his army.
In July the duke returned to London to a hero’s welcome. Churches the length of the country rang the bells, bonfires were lit and celebrations were held. But it was not only the English who were happy that the Jacobite threat had been squashed. Celebrations were also held in much of Scotland, including Edinburgh, Glasgow and Stirling. The duke himself however, still believed that the Scots were ready to rise again, stating ‘I have nothing to say new from this country but that to my great astonishment I find them a more stubborn and villainous set of wretches than I imagined could exist’.
To a modern eye it might seem obvious that the Highlanders, loyal or rebel, were hardly likely to feel conciliatory or grateful to either the Duke of Cumberland or the British government, in view of the contempt in which they were held by them, and the horrific and somewhat indiscriminate retribution that had been meted out to them. Indeed Duncan Forbes of Culloden, a devoted Hanoverian, stated that the common Highlanders should be shown some indication of mercy, otherwise they would be bound to rise again at the first opportunity.
Cumberland and the authorities did not see it this way, however. A series of Acts were passed intended to destroy the very fabric of Highland life, and which were largely successful.
In August Horace Walpole stated in a letter that; ‘the Duke, who has not so much of Caesar after a victory, as in gaining it, is for the utmost severity. It was lately proposed in the city, to present him with the freedom of some company; one of the aldermen said aloud, “Then let it be of the Butchers!”’
In this way was the nickname which was to haunt the duke born. But at this time Cumberland’s star was still rising. He was still only twenty-five, yet a veteran of three campaigns, and had saved his country from the Stuart threat. His popularity was enormous.
In my next and final blog I’ll look at the Duke’s later life, and examine why the nickname, seemingly a throwaway remark, stuck to him, and dogged him, not only throughout the rest of his life, but down to the present day.