The Battle of Culloden (1964)





Director:     Peter Watkins.

Starring:     Olivier Espitalier-Noel (Prince Charles Edward Stuart), George McBean (Alexander McDonald), Robert Oates (Private Alexander Laing), Peter Watkins (Field Interviewer, uncredited).

Bonnie Prince Charlie defeated at this 1746 battle



Spoiler Warning:


Wednesday, April 16th, 1746.  Here comes the advance battalion of an English government army of 9,000 soldiers.  They are headed for Scotland's Culloden Moor, 4.5 miles southeast of the Highland town of Inverness.  [Inverness is considered the capital of the Highlands of Scotland (northwest to northeast of Glasgow and Edinburgh, and southwest, west and northwest of Aberdeen in the Lowlands.]  The goal is to destroy the Highland Jacobite army of rebellion, a weak collage of less than 5,000 men.  [A Jacobite was a supporter of the deposed English King James II and his descendants in their claim to the British throne after the Revolution of 1688.]

Sir Thomas Sheridan, Jacobite military secretary, old and suffering from loss of memory; last battle was some 56 years ago. 

 Sir John MacDonald, Jacobite captain of Calvary, aged and frequently intoxicated and described as a man of the most limited capacities. 

John William O'Sullivan, Jacobite quartermaster general, whose vanity is superseded only by his lack of wisdom. 

Prince Charles Edward Stuart, Jacobite commander-in-chief, military experience gained at a 10 day attendance at a siege at the age of 13. 

Here are some of the comments from the soldiers:

"You must understand, without putting too fine a point on it, that the army here is in a total shambles."

"I've got half my company missing.  I just can't find them.  They've run off somewhere to sleep.  The first thing my men will find when they do awake is the enemy on them cutting their throats."

"Culloden.  An account of one of the most mishandled and brutal battles ever fought in Britain.  An account of its tragic aftermath.  An account of the men responsible for it. An account of the men, women and children who suffered because of it."

The bag pipes are played as the men and boys wait for battle. 

James MacDonald, tax man, has brought with him men whose lands he controls.

Alistair MacWoodock, subtenant of a tax man, owns one-eighth of an acre of soggy ground and two cows.

Allan MacCall, a subtenant of a subtenant, owns half-share in a small potato patch measuring 30 feet. 

Angus MacDonald, servant of a subtenant, owns nothing.  He is called a potter. 

Alexander MacDonald has brought them all onto the moor.  He is the owner of all his tenants' lands.  The rent he has charged them is to fight with him as clan warriors whenever he decrees.  This is the system of the Highland Clan:  human rent.  Some of the other men had to be forced to come.  Some of the clans here include the MacDonalds, The McLains, the Chisholms, the Camerons, the Farsons, the Frasiers, men of 14 mainland Highland clans.   

Bonnie Prince Charley, half-Polish, age of 25, landed in Scotland nine months ago.  He gathered men together and marched to Darby and came within an inch of toppling the Hanoverian dynasty and regaining the throne for his father.  The Prince is confident of victory and confident the English people will welcome him.   

Lord George Murray, age 51, Lt. General in the clan army.  He was the winning general over the English at the Battle of Prestopans and the Battle of Falkirk Muir.  He has bitterly quarreled with the Prince over the choice of the field as the site for battle, chosen by John William O'Sullivan.  The field is flat, treeless and devoid of shelter.  It is a fine setting for the enemy's cannon and cavalry.  And to one side of the field, there is a stone wall, from which the English could catch the Scots in a crossfire and outflank the Scottish forces.  The Prince says the field is a good choice because God is on his side.  Murray says the choice of this field is suicidal. 

Here comes the English forces with their ten cannon and 9,000 men. 

Waiting for the English are the Wild Geese, 150 exiled Irishmen serving in the army of Louis XV, King of France. 

Brigadier General Walter Stapleton, commander of the Irish Pickets of the French Army.

William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland, third son of King George II, age 25, commander-in-chief of the English troops in Scotland. 

A Scottish cannoneer says his three pound cannon is of no use because he only has four pound cannon balls. 

The time is 12:15 pm. 

Three of the English infantry battalions are Scots.  In reserve are 8,000 volunteer militias of Sterling, Edinburgh, Dumfries and Glasgow.  In all, there are more Scots in arms against the Prince than there are fighting for the Prince.   

The Scots fighting for Scotland are exhausted and hungry.  Many of the men haven't eaten for two days.  And last night there was a surprise sneak attack on the English lines, which failed.  Many of the men were up half the night marching back and forth. 

The battle starts with cannon fire from the Scots, but their cannon are over-elevated.  The English return cannon fire and the Scots start dying. 

The Prince gets behind the lines and now can't really see what's going on. 

1:12 pm.  The rebel artillery stops firing, but the government cannon keep firing.  Murray shouts that their forces haven't moved because the Prince has not issued any orders to attack and they are being "shelled to pieces". 

1:22 pm.  The Prince is still paralyzed by indecision.  While he hesitates, the Cameron Clan have 200 men shot to pieces, Clan Stewart has 180 men shot to pieces.  The Chisholm Can have 47 killed or maimed.  An observer says that the rebels are being literally blown apart.

1:30 pm.  Still no order to attack and the Scots have suffered 700 casualties.  The Prince is hoping that the British will be drawn forward out of their battle lines.  Cumberland makes a move, but it's a left-flanking move over by the stone wall. 

 1:32 pm.  The English have men in place behind the stone wall that Scot John William O'Sullivan refused to pull down.  This is the cross-fire set up.  Cavalry is sent on the flanking movement, out of sight of the Prince. 

Finally after 29 minutes of cannonading, the Prince orders his troops to advance.  The message fails to reach the right wing of the army with its 850 casualties. 

With the attack coming, the cannon are now firing grapeshot at the Scots.  The Scots go down in large numbers. 

Now the English troops behind the stone wall open fire, killing many more Scots. 

The entire right wing of the Scottish army head for one unit, Barrel's Fourth of Foot  --  its 800 Scots coming in a solid clump.  The Scots lose many more men, but they reach the English lines, where many are bayoneted.  The Highlanders break through the line, but Cumberland has a second line and they open fire on the Highlanders. 

1:57 pm.  The Prince sees his men running from the concentrated musket fire. The McDonalds hold back from charging the English lines. 

1:58 pm.  The cavalry advances toward them and the McDonalds start backing up.

1:59 pm.  The rout of the Highland army begins.  The English let the French and Irish run through their lines unharmed. 

The Prince tries to rally his men, but they just run past him. 

2:01 pm.  The Prince is led from the battlefield. 

The English lose about 50 men dead.  For every one of their dead there are 24 dead in the clan army or 1,200 dead. 

2:14 pm.  "Thus has ended the last battle to be fought in Britain and the last armed attempt to overthrow its king."  The battle lasted one hour and eight minutes. 

There are many wounded Scots on the battlefield.  The English march through bayoneting those who are still alive.  Englishmen on horses chase down many a run-away and slash them to death with their swords.  One hundred are maimed or killed on the road to Inverness.  Some of the casualties took no part in the battle.  Jean Clarke was slashed about the head and face and left for dead. 

English troops, especially Kingston's Light Horse, go into the town of Inverness and kill civilians. 

4.5 miles away causalities have been laying on the ground for some 13 hours. 

The English now go out to the various villages killing any wounded survivors of the battle.  Lowland Scots kill Highland Scots.  Many of the Lowland Scots hate the Highland Scots more than the English do. 

Scots held as prisoners die at a high rate because they are given no medical treatment or food.  Others were executed by hanging and then being drawn and quartered.  John William O'Sullivan goes to Rome to tell of his efforts for Catholicism and is given a Knighthood and then a  Barony.  Murray is forced to seek exile in Europe. 

May 23rd, 1746, Lord Cumberland begins the pacification of the Highlands.  Many patrols are sent out to eradicate rebel families. 

May 30th, a patrol finds a fugitive rebel family hiding in the hills, out in the open.  The family starts running.  The soldiers bayonet and slash the family to death.  

July 18th, Lord Cumberland leaves Scotland.  Back in London he receives a hero's welcome.  The patrols in the Highlands commit a great many atrocities. 

Bonnie Prince Charlie leaves for the European continent. 

The British destroy the Highland Clan system.  "Thus they reduced him to a homeless, unwanted oddity."  Many Highlanders emigrated out of Scotland to foreign lands. 

"On an April morning, I no longer hear bird songs or the lowing of cattle on the moor. I hear the noise of sheep and the English language, dogs barking and frightening the deer."

"Thus, within a century from Culloden, the English and the Scottish Lowlanders have made secure forever their religion, their commerce, their culture, their ruling dynasty, and in so doing had destroyed a race of people.  They have created a desert and have called it peace."


Powerful movie. I didn't know about the Battle of Culloden except for the name.  My wife and I were shocked at how poorly prepared the Highland Scots were for battle  The army was an army largely of paupers, many victims of the Highland Clan system.  The army was in chaos and with very poor leadership.  The men were very hungry, not well-armed and many were tired after an unsuccessful night attack on the British lines.  Long story, short.  It was a massacre of the Highland Scots.  We were also surprised by the atrocities committed by the English and Lowland Scotsmen on the Highland Scotsmen.  Their techniques reminded me of some of the atrocities committed by the Mongols under the Khans. 

The style of the film is like Walter Cronkite's old series: "You Are There" with reporters asking the participants different questions.  I loved that old program when I was young.  And I enjoyed the film on Culloden even though it was brutal to watch.

The film was very hostile in tone toward the British.  I'll let that stand by itself. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D. 


Historical Background:

1745  --  Charles Edward Stuart, known as "Bonnie Prince Charlie" or the "Young Pretender", arrives  in Scotland.  His goal is to foment a rebellion of Stuart sympathizers against the House of Hanover. He successfully raised forces, mainly of Scottish Highland clansmen.

1745 (September 21)  --  the Battle of Prestonpans was the first significant conflict in the Jacobite Rising of 1745. The Jacobite army loyal to James Francis Edward Stuart and led by his son Charles Edward Stuart defeated the government army loyal to the Hanoverian George II led by Sir John Cope. The inexperienced government troops were outflanked and broke in the face of a highland charge. The victory was a huge morale boost for the Jacobites. The city of Edinburgh was occupied, but the castle held out and most of the Scottish population remained hostile to the rebels.  The British government recalled forces from the war with France in Flanders to deal with the rebellion.

1745 (Novemer 8)  --  Charles' army of around 5,000 invaded England They advanced through Carlisle and Manchester to Derby and a position where they appeared to threaten London. The Jacobites met only token resistance. There was, however, little support from English Jacobites, and the French invasion fleet was still being assembled.

The armies of Field Marshal George Wade and of William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland, were approaching. The Jacobite general, Lord George Murray, and the Council of War insisted on returning to join their growing force in Scotland.  

1745 (December6)   -- Charles Edward Stuart leaves, leaving command to General Murray.

On the long march back to Scotland, the Highland Army wore out its boots and demanded all the boots and shoes of the townspeople of Dumfries as well as money and hospitality.

1745 (December 25)  --  the Jacobites reach Glasgow. There they were reprovisioned and were joined by a few thousand additional men.

The Battle of Falkirk Muir was the last noteworthy Jacobite success.  They defeated the forces of General Henry Hawley

1746 (January 30)  --  the Duke of Cumberland arrives in Edinburgh to take over command of the government army from General Hawley. He then marches north along the coast, with the army being supplied by sea. Six weeks pf training were spent at Aberdeen.

The King's forces continued to pressure Charles. He retired north, losing men and failing to take Stirling Castle or Fort William.

1746 (early April)  --Charles invested Fort Augustus and Fort George in Inverness-shire. Charles then took command again, and insisted on fighting a defensive action.

1746 (April 14 and 15)  --  Hugh Rose of Kilravock entertains Charles Edward Stuart and the Duke of Cumberland respectively, before the Battle of Culloden. Charles' manners and deportment were described by his host as most engaging.

Problems of the Jacobite Army:

1) lack of trained officers;

2) it's soldiers were poorly armed;

3) the Jacobite artillery was ineffective in the battle;




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