16 September 2009

Sightseeing in the Highlands: Culloden Field

(This is the latest post in a multi-part series on our recent trip to Inverness, Skye, and the Black Isle in the Highlands. You can find the first two posts here and here.)

Yesterday, we treated our loyal readers to the world-record briefest-ever history of Jacobitism in Scotland. Today, we visit the sight of the last chapter of the Jacobite story, Culloden Field, a soggy moor a few miles east of Inverness.

Bonnie Prince Charlie's defeat in the Battle of Culloden marked the end of the 1745 Rising. It was also the last land battle ever fought in Great Britain.  
As I mentioned yesterday, there were Scots on both sides of Culloden--more, in fact, on the government side than on the Young Pretender's--and partly for that fact alone, the battle and its aftermath represent one of the bloodiest episodes of Scottish history (which is saying something).
Historically, though, Culloden is most important as the final major blow to the Highland way of life, and those clans who supported the Jacobite cause were, through imprisonment, destruction of property, deportation, and outright execution, nearly erased from the Highlands.
I won't go into much detail about the battle itself: you can learn a lot more through the excellent National Trust Scotland website--or, if you happen to be in the Inverness area, at the battlefield itself. Access to the battlefield is free, and there are plenty of interpretive signs to help you make sense of the place. The visitor's centre is pricey, but excellently done, and well worth the cost for history buffs.
Today, the moor still looks much like it did in 1746, and provides an appropriately moody backdrop for the day's lessons.
One portion of the field includes a large cairn in memory of the fallen Highlanders, surrounded by headstones marking the various mass graves belonging to each clan.
A few of the order of battle markers had had flowers lain on them, presumably by the descendants of the soldiers in that unit.
Interestingly enough, there is little offered in memory of the government troops, in part because of the tendency of later Scottish nationalists to romanticize the Jacobite cause--though there were far fewer government casualties on the day.
Nana may have her own comments on Culloden later, but to me, Culloden was just deeply sad. It's so easy to see, in retrospect, the strong reasons that drove soldiers to fight for each side (in fact, many Scots would have had relatives on both sides), and thus all the more tragic, I think, that so many had to die for what they believed in.
As I said yesterday, Culloden and its aftermath started a 100-year flood of immigration from the Highlands to North America. As far as I've been able to learn, I didn't have any family at Culloden: though a batch of MacKinnons were involved in the campaign, they were captured the day before at Littleferry.

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