As a child, I never fully got to appreciate the significance of Culloden Battlefield to both the local history of my home town –Inverness – or to the UK as a whole. The final battle in 1745, between the Jacobite rebels led by Bonnie Prince Charlie, and the Redcoats fighting for King George II, was the end of a series of uprising starting as early as 1689 wishing to restore King James II and VII of Scotland and his descendants to power. Most of this was lost to me as a child, even with the semi regular school trips and after school trips while my Dad worked as a tour guide. It’s easy to take something instilled from childhood and from national consciousness for granted, but having grown a lot since my pre-teens (and obtaining a History and Politics BA in the process...somehow!) I’ve come to realize the importance of the Battle of Culloden and its ramifications on Inverness, the Highlands and the UK.
For such a key event in British history – the final battle to occur on UK soil - it lasted less than a Game of Thrones episode, but with far more bloodshed! In less than an hour, over 1000 Jacobites were slain in the boggy moors of Culloden, a last ditch attempt to stop Government forces from seizing Inverness, the Jacobites’ key supply depot. The Redcoats on the other hand only had 50 fatalities. As ever, Bonnie Prince Charlie’s efforts to regain the crown didn’t fail due to one simple reason but a myriad of events that led to that fateful battle. Weeks before, he’d been within sight of taking London but was convinced to retreat at the last moment, not knowing Welsh and English Jacobites were rising up and King George II was preparing to evacuate! The battle sight was one of several considered but between infighting and the need to protect the trade route to Inverness, the moors were chosen. A third of the army were on leave when the battle occurred and the boggy land made moving and using artillery hard for the troops. Luckily as an adult, I can now appreciate the intricate history of such an important and bloody event in local history that I couldn’t begin to fathom as a kid who simply enjoyed the tales of a ferocious battle. Today they’re stunningly recreated by the Culloden Battlefield Visitor Centre, where films, animated tables and live re-enactments occur to bring you into the spirit of that fateful day in Scottish history. Plus new facts are discovered to this day, including 3D analysis of a Jacobite skull which revealed the deep impact of a short range musket shot!
And that’s not to mention how things changed for Scotland as a result of that battle. The efforts of the Scottish Government to reintroduce Gaelic with the road signage and dedicated schools, I used to find somewhat bizarre for what I assumed to be a niche islander language as a young boy. But it was only because of the defeat at Culloden that the language fell into disrepair thanks to the efforts of the British Government to cull the language and highland tradition, where everything from tartan clothing to the bagpipes and the power of the Scottish clans themselves were either banned or strictly regulated. Even the fallen soldiers hadn’t seen the last of the disrespect– the battlefield had a road paved over it! It’s strange to stand in the middle of Culloden Battlefield, to realize just how significant a place I used to take for granted is to my life and the lives of everyone in the UK. It’s rare to stand in a place where you can truly say the tide of history turned and it’s an eye-opening, humbling experience.
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