Battle of Culloden: The End of Scottish Dreams
The Battlefield of Culloden is a memorial to the pivotal 1746 battle in which Britain defeated Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Scottish Jacobites. Kilts, bagpipes, and the Scottish language were forbidden, and traditional Highland culture would never recover.
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Just beyond Loch Ness, I feel the real spirit of Scotland most deeply at Culloden, the site of the last major land battle fought on British soil.
About 300 years ago, Scotland was embroiled in a bloody civil war with England. While it's a complicated story, basically, the Scots were fighting for their culture — to put a Catholic king on the throne and to keep their ancient clan traditions. The last leader of this cause was Prince Charles Edward Stuart — fondly known as "Bonnie Prince Charlie." His forces were called the "Jacobites" — named for his grandfather, the deposed King James. (James was Catholic, and his name was "Jacubus" in Latin — and that's why the rebels were called "Jacobites.")
For a long time, Bonnie Prince Charlie confounded the English and their Protestant monarch. Slipping from valley to valley, hiding behind clever disguises and in sympathetic farmhouses, Charlie kept the Scottish dreams of his Jacobite followers alive.
Those dreams ended here, at the decisive Battle of Culloden in 1746. The onsite museum tells the story vividly. Docents demonstrate battle techniques to give visitors context. And a small theater captivates its audience with a dramatic re-enactment.
The Scottish clans gathered every possible warrior. But they were outnumbered and outgunned by the British Redcoats. While the clans fought fiercely, the British were cool, methodical, and ruthless. The hour-long battle was a catastrophe for the Highlanders, as the British army finally and thoroughly defeated the Jacobites. Survivors broke ranks and ran for the hills.
After the battle, the British army hunted down and killed clan chiefs and sympathizers. They banned kilts, tartans, bagpipes, and even the local language. Scottish Highland culture would never fully recover.
On the battlefield, flags mark where the two armies lined up. This is where most of the hand-to-hand fighting took place. As visitors wander the battlefield, they pass mass graves and ponder how entire clans fought, died, and were buried here at this Scottish Alamo. For many, this is an emotional visit.