I first became aware of the Battle of Culloden while in a Scottish Literature course in college, and the battle has cropped up in various other places over the years – in research, in art, in television and movies – and now in my book Wherever Would I Be. Thus, I thought it might be helpful for those unfamiliar with it for me to provide a bit of background of the battle.
The battle occurred on April 16, 1746, and it was the final confrontation between the Jacobites and the British. The Jacobites were led by Charles Stuart (son of the exiled James Stuart) who believed there was enough support to restore the Stuart line (meaning himself) to the throne. He raised his supporters in Scotland (known as the Jacobites) beginning in July 1745 and took Edinburgh by September of the same year.
After the Jacobites landed a victory in Falkirk, the two armies met up at Culloden for what would be the final battle, lasting only an hour. Over 1,500 Jacobites lost their lives in the bloody defeat (contrasted with only about 300 British soldiers). The leadership of the Jacobites took this moment to disperse, thereby putting an end to the uprising.
From here, the British worked to undermine the Scottish clan system, which had allowed the Jacobites to mobilize so quickly, right down to the banning of wearing tartan. A number of the surviving ranking members were tried and executed. On average, one in twenty soldiers stood trial, and almost all of them were sentenced to death; for most of the rest, they were instead transported to the British colonies as indentured servants. Once their sentences were complete, few could afford to return home.
This is actually how Lucy’s ancestor came to be in the colonies – he was a Jacobite soldier who survived the battle but subsequently was tried and sent to the colonies to “serve his time.” Lucy does visit the Culloden field when she takes her trip to Scotland, as did we on our own trek. The morning we went, there was fog, which gave an extra eery sense to the grounds. After everything I learned about this battle and this field, it was something else to stand on the ground, to see the mounds where bodies were buried in mass graves, the stones set on top of them a guess at who might be buried underneath.