To wanton me, to wanton me,
Ken ye what maist wad wanton me?
To see King James at Edinburgh Cross,
Wi fifty thousand foot and horse,
And the usurper forced to flee,
Oh, this is what maist wad wanton me!
—Traditional Jacobite song
Officials in the Spanish West Indies were at their wits’ end. For years, English and Scottish traders had been carrying on an illegal trade along their coasts. They collected salt in the Tortugas, cut timber in Honduras, and smuggled black-market slaves to plantation owners in Trinidad and Santo Domingo. So Spanish officials began issuing warrants to local captains to act as costa gardas or coastguard cutters, allowing them to stop and search any vessel they suspected of violating Spanish law. If any English smuggler found himself roughly handled as a result, he had only himself to blame.
On April 9, 1731, Captain Juan de Leon Fandino was patrolling the coast of Cuba with his ship the San Antonio when he spotted an English sloop, the Rebecca, under the command of Captain Robert Jenkins. Fandino ordered the Rebecca to stop and submit to a search. Jenkins, who was bound for London from Jamaica, allowed Fandino to come aboard to examine his log book and his cargo hold. According to Jenkins, the Spaniards then proceeded to tear the ship apart, including stealing his nautical instruments. When Jenkins remonstrated, Fandino had him tied to his own mast and cut his ear off as a final warning, before letting Jenkins and his crew go.
Seven years later, Jenkins had his chance to tell his story before Parliament. He brought with him his severed ear, still wrapped in a ball of cotton. He told the stunned House of Commons how Fandino had told him to give it to King George, and how the arrogant Spaniard had said that if His Britannic Majesty had been present, he would have cut his ear off. An MP rose to ask Jenkins what his feelings had been at this dreadful moment. “I recommended my soul to God,” he replied stoutly, “and my cause to my country.”
The phrase reverberated through the press and nation, and triggered a massive outcry. English public opinion demanded that Britain send a fleet to punish the Spanish. Prime Minister Robert Walpole tried to deflect the tide of war hysteria, much of it fomented by his political opponents, but in the end he could not hold it back. The official declaration of war came on October 19, 1739, with the ringing of bells and the Prince of Wales toasting the London populace outside the Rose Tavern near Temple Bar. “This is your war,” Walpole told his rival the Duke of Newcastle, “and I wish you joy of it.”
After a quarter-century of peace, Britain was about to enter into armed conflict with a fellow European power. It would not know peace again for a quarter-century more. The War of Jenkins’s Ear, as it inevitably became known, had reverberations far beyond Spain and the West Indies. It embroiled Britain in the political crisis simmering in central Europe, and by 1742 the kingdom found itself at war with Spain’s allies, including France.
Britain desperately needed soldiers for fighting on the Continent. Whitehall stripped garrisons in northern England and Scotland to the bare minimum. Realizing this, and examining its own options, France decided to take a new look at a plan it had not considered since 1719: dispatching an expeditionary force to land in Britain as a “second front” in support of James Stuart, now living in exile in Rome. What had seemed a permanently lost cause, restoring the Stuarts to the throne, now enjoyed a new lease on life—thanks to Captain Jenkins and his ear.
Jacobitism15 and the effort to bring “the auld Stuarts back again” is forever linked to the history of Scotland and the Scots. But in fact Jacobitism was as much an English problem as a Scottish one. In Scotland it served largely as a vehicle for anti-English feeling, and xenophobia in general. Until 1745, however, the truly fanatical Jacobite supporters, those willing to throw their lives and fortunes away for a vanquished political ideal, tended to be English.
The Stuarts were, of course, originally a Scottish royal house. By 1688, though, when Parliament had deposed James II, the father of Queens Mary and Anne, who would succeed him, and of James, Prince of Wales, who would not, they had become very much part of the English scene—certainly far more so than their German cousins the Electors of Hanover. But Elector George, who barely spoke English, enjoyed one key virtue: he was a Protestant, whereas James Stuart (his father had died in 1701) was a Catholic. So, when Queen Anne died in 1714, Parliament gave George the crown.
Despite what English historians would later assert, it was not a popular decision. The late Anne’s leading ministers had to be driven into hiding in France in order to secure the Hanover succession. With French help they set about trying to undo what was, from the perspective of many, an illegal coup d’état. Their original plan called for landing at Plymouth, not in Scotland at all, and for James to raise his army in southwest England.
It might have worked, too, except for the British ambassador in Paris. This was none other than John Dalrymple, second Earl of Stair, son of the Lord Stair who had ordered the massacre at Glencoe and had died saving the Act of Union. The younger Stair established an efficient network of spies and sources at the French court, including someone who shared his mistress with the leading Jacobite conspirator. Thanks to Stair’s information, the government rounded up the ringleaders in England, and the revolt of 1715 began in Scotland instead, under the ill-fated and incompetent Earl of Mar.
Even after the collapse of the Fifteen, pro-Stuart sentiment in England remained strong, although harshly muzzled. Northwest England in particular was a bastion of Jacobitism, thanks to its active Catholic minority. It was not just Catholics who remained loyal to the Stuarts, however. Government spies managed to foil another serious plot in 1722, this one involving the Anglican bishop of Rochester, Francis Atterbury. Indeed, a large cross-section of the clergy of the Church of England leaned toward the Stuarts, as did many landowners and members of Parliament who described themselves as Tories, in opposition to the pro-Hanover Whigs. Historians are only now beginning to realize how important a political movement Jacobitism really was in eighteenth-century England, and how for nearly sixty years it remained a serious threat to the Whig regime.
What drew people to the Stuart cause? It certainly was not the diffident, lethargic figure of James Stuart—deemed James III of England and James VIII of Scotland by his supporters. Nor was the typical Jacobite a crude reactionary, as their Whig opponents liked to claim. Samuel Johnson, no friend to tyranny, expressed private support for the Stuart claim. So did Alexander Pope.16 Lord Kames felt the pull of Jacobitism—it was probably the violence of the Forty-five that killed any lingering sympathy he had for it. Allan Ramsay wrote poems as a young man supporting the deposed Stuarts. When Prince Charlie’s army marched on Edinburgh in 1745, Ramsay chose to flee the city. But he did leave his house, with its strategic view of the walls of Edinburgh Castle, open to the Highland army when it occupied the town. It later provided a useful spot for snipers shooting at the royal garrison.
So what compelled sensible, law-abiding, and enlightened individuals to admire and sometimes even support a conspiracy to overthrow the existing government? In a word, nostalgia. Jacobitism reflected a nostalgic yearning for a traditional social order in which everyone supposedly knew his or her preordained place and stayed in it. It satisfied a deep utopian longing for the perfect society—except that it looked backwards, rather than ahead, for its model of perfection.
The average Jacobite wanted to return to a community that was stable and harmonious, two qualities that eighteenth-century Britain notoriously seemed to lack. He extolled the virtues of a rural-based society and the authority of a traditional landowning class. He detested the new rising competitive capitalist society, with its getting and spending, its greedy merchants and vulgar upstarts, its contempt for the old rules, its creative destruction, as much as any Marxist. And like the Marxist, he cared deeply about “justice,” which in his mind meant inferiors willingly obeying their superiors: tenants obeying their landlords, the middle class obeying the nobility, the people obeying the king and the Church.
In England, and in much of the Scottish Lowlands by 1745, this longing for the security of a stable, hierarchical social order was largely, even self-consciously, a matter of nostalgia. Just as today we still have sentimental Marxists who put bumper stickers on their cars that say “No Peace Without Justice,” so eighteenth-century Englishmen were aware of sentimental Jacobites among their Tory neighbors, who secretly toasted “the king across the water.”
In the Highlands, though, Jacobitism was not nostalgia but reality. The Stuarts were not symbols of “a world we have lost,” but emblems of a power that existed here and now. For a century they had shored up and strengthened the authority of the clan chiefs—none of them needed reassurances from the Roman Catholic Church (very few chieftains or clans were Catholic anymore, anyway) to see the Stuarts as the only real kings they had ever known. A Stuart uprising in Scotland made sense, not just as good strategy but as an attraction of like to like. There was one person who understood that, and in the end he was the one who mattered.
Just before dawn on January 9, 1744, James Stuart’s son and heir, Charles Edward Stuart, left his house in Rome on the pretense of going boar-hunting north of the city at Cisterna. This was to throw English spies off the scent. Instead, his younger brother Henry went to Cisterna, while Charles made his way in disguise to the Tuscan coast. There he picked up a boat bound for Genoa, and then Savona, where a Spanish fishing smack slipped him past the watching British fleet to Antibes. Lyons was his next destination, and then on January 29 he reached Paris.
Prince Charles was twenty-three years old. In contrast to his father, he was charming, handsome, and personable. In normal circumstances he was exactly the kind of person one might want to succeed to a royal throne. That was how the French saw him: in February 1744 he had a big place in their plans.
The War of Jenkins’s Ear had gone well for the British, then badly. They had scored a major success against the outmanned and outgunned Spanish fleet in the Caribbean, which had satisfied the English thirst for revenge. But then things got stuck. Spain had found a capable ally in France, which was able to launch an invasion of Germany, threatening King George’s home territory in Hanover. Suddenly Britain had found itself drawn into a European land war it was neither prepared for nor wanted. As Britain’s war effort began to bog down, the French saw an opportunity to smash their ancient rival once and for all. This included putting their Stuart allies back in power.
By the end of the month, the French Crown put together an expedition of seven thousand men on transports at Dunkirk under the Marshal de Saxe to take Charles across the English Channel. The British, realizing what was coming, had put together a fleet in the Straits of Dover to block them. But then a storm scattered the French fleet and sank several of the transports. Charles himself managed to escape harm, but any invasion of England was now on hold.
The Dunkirk storm, “the Protestant wind” as gleeful English commentators dubbed it, did not just sink Charles’s transports. It also sank French confidence in Charles. New ministers stepped in, who believed de Saxe would be better employed fighting the British on land in Flanders rather than at sea in a risky amphibious landing on the English coast. Charles refused to give up hope, and for the rest of the year he continued to lobby for French help, but without results. In November he wrote to his father that his debts amounted to some thirty thousand crowns. “The more I dwell on these matters,” he confessed, “the more it makes me melancholy.” Isolated, frustrated by inaction, and furious with his French hosts, Charles had formulated a new plan: to land in Scotland with a small and trusted band of followers, and raise an army himself.
No one knows who first came up with the idea of Charles going to Scotland with no troops or resources, and with no real way out if the enterprise failed. But the notion of failure apparently never entered Charles’s mind. From the very beginning, a kind of headstrong, heedless optimism seems to have possessed him, goading him on when other, more experienced heads sensed disaster. When the first hint of his plan reached Scotland in the spring of 1745, even loyal supporters called it “the mad enterprise.” They hoped he could not be serious.
But he was serious. By May he had cobbled together enough money and arms from the French government to outfit two warships, the Du Teillay and a sixty-four-gun frigate, the Elisabeth. On July 12 they set sail from Belle Île for Scotland. Bad luck dogged them from the start. A British man-of-war spotted them off the Lizard, and nearly sank the Elisabeth, forcing her and her consignment of seven hundred men, 1,500 muskets, and twenty small field pieces to turn back. The Du Teillay resolutely sailed on, carrying Charles and seven companions—two English, two Irish, and three Scots—for their destination on the Scottish west coast.
On July 23 they landed on the tiny island of Eriskay off South Uist, at a point still called Coilleag a Phrionnsa, or the Prince’s Shore. It was the first time Charles Edward Stuart had ever set foot in Scotland.
News of his arrival brought not joy and celebration, but shock and dismay. His first visitor was the chieftain Alexander MacDonald of Boisdale, who told him “there was nothing to be expected from the country” and that “not a soul would join him.” One of Charles’s companions noted that “everyone was struck with a thunderbolt, as you may believe, to hear that sentence.” They began to urge Charles to leave before it was too late. He refused, convinced that the Highlanders would stand with him. When Charles finally landed on the mainland at Borrodale, he organized meetings with the other branches of the MacDonalds. Charles asked about the strange Highland dress, which he had not seen before, and about the Gaelic language. He told them he intended to raise the royal standard and claim the crown of his ancestors.
The MacDonalds, like the Camerons of Lochiel and the Murrays of Atholl, listened with mixed emotions. For nearly one hundred years they had watched the Highlands, for all its continuing poverty and problems, grow more peaceful and secure. Incidents such as the Glencoe massacre notwithstanding, serious interclan feuds were largely a thing of the past. The British Crown left them alone to enjoy themselves as Scottish aristocrats and gentlemen. Now, Charles’s arrival endangered it all.
But they could not evade the thrust of his appeal, that if he returned empty-handed, he would be humiliated in front of a pack of foreigners (meaning the French), who would see that he had no friends. Out of a sense of honor, they reluctantly agreed to summon their clans to battle. But from the start they sensed their doom. Charles, and Charles alone, believed they had a chance of success. And to everyone’s amazement, the government of London, out of sheer incompetence and poor planning, was about to give it to them.
On August 19, at the northern end of Loch Shiel at Glenfinnan, Charles and the clans met. Cameron of Lochiel had summoned together seven hundred men; McDonnell of Keppoch fulfilled his boast of nearly five hundred. Charles ordered casks of brandy opened to allow the Highlanders to drink King James’s health. Then the assembled warriors cheered the royal standard of blue, white, and red silk and hailed their commander, Thearlaich mac Sheumais, or Charles, son of James. Thearlaich would sound to non-Gaelic ears like “Charlie.” Thus, the sobriquet that Charles would carry throughout the revolt and which history remembers as a dashing diminutive, Bonnie Prince Charlie, was in fact his name to the Gaels who now rallied to obey a prince they had never met, in order to serve a king who had never sat on any throne.
Charles waited two days until the MacDonalds of Clanranald arrived. Then he sent messages to the other clans between Glencoe and Glengarry to join him, and on August 21 started off to the east.
When news reached Edinburgh that the Highland army was on the march, the inhabitants, in David Hume’s words, were seized with a “universal Panic,” and, he added, “that not groundless.” The military situation could not have been worse. The government had stripped available troops down to fewer than three thousand, most of whom were inexperienced or “invalid” garrisons stationed in towns such as Edinburgh and Stirling, or Highland regiments such as the Black Watch, whose loyalty was suddenly very much in question. The English commander was General Jonathan Cope, who, despite warnings from Duncan Forbes in early July that something was up, had done nothing until it was virtually too late. By the time Cope decided to move his troops to block Charles’s line of march, the prince had already joined up with Stewart of Appin, MacDonald of Glencoe, and Grant of Grandiston, crossed Corriearrack Pass by Wade’s military road, and taken Perth. Edinburgh, the capital, was clearly next.
Cope decided his only option was to avoid Charles’s army—which he believed to be twice the size it actually was—and withdraw to Inverness. This, he believed, would give clans loyal to the government a chance to rally and allow him to send reinforcements by sea to Edinburgh. There was only one problem: the Disarming Act of 1725, which had outlawed weapons and firearms in the Highlands after the last Jacobite rising, was widely ignored by disloyal clans such as the MacDonalds, but obeyed by the loyal. It in effect disarmed precisely the Highlanders Cope now needed to have armed.
Meanwhile, Edinburgh would have to fend for itself. Its reputation as a bastion of Whig and pro-Hanover sentiment began to wilt as the Lord Provost and the town council met. They showed no interest in opposing the advancing Highland army, and temporized about taking any emergency measures. Instead, organizing the defense of the city fell to two private citizens, a merchant and former provost named George Drummond and a professor of mathematics at the university, Colin Maclaurin. They immediately called for volunteers to help the undermanned royal garrison in Edinburgh Castle. Their summons brought forward a host of young volunteers, many of them students. One was William Robertson, future author of The History of Scotland, who was serving as pastor at Gladsmuir. Behind him came William Wilkie and John Home, both probationers awaiting their first assignments as ministers. Theology student Alexander Carlyle signed up, as did William Cleghorn, who would later beat out David Hume for the chair of moral philosophy at Edinburgh. Clerics and intellectuals, they were the future stars of the Edinburgh Enlightenment, who now put their lives on the line for the House of Hanover and the Union.
They drilled twice a day. Cannon of various sizes and from various eras were assembled on the city walls. Professor Maclaurin drew up designs to modernize Edinburgh’s defenses, and vigorously supervised the building and repair work. One of his assistants was the seventeen-year-old Robert Adam. In the meantime, citizens anxiously watched the weather vanes, hoping for a change in the wind and news that Cope’s army would be under sail to rescue them. On September 15 they learned instead that the Jacobite army was only eight miles from the city and closing fast.
It was the moment of truth for Edinburgh’s bands of volunteers. The result was one of those episodes that epitomizes the contrast between a culture that is prepared for war, whether it wants it or not, and one that, however willing, is not. Drummond hastily drew up his four hundred volunteers at the Lawnmarket for the march down the Bow, a long, winding street through the heart of what is now the Old Town, to the West Port. Students and other citizens set off in serried ranks through the crowds, drums beating and flags flying, to meet the invaders.
To their dismay, however, the crowd sent them off not with cheers but jeers and insults, while the rest of Edinburgh quickly shut up its houses and barred its windows. The volunteers, with Drummond at their head, marched on. When they got farther down the Bow, Alexander Carlyle remembered later, “the scene was different, for all the spectators were in tears, and uttering loud lamentations.”
Still they marched on. Finally, as the volunteers neared the West Port, Drummond turned around to review his troops. To his shock, they had almost all disappeared. One by one, his brave young volunteers had reconsidered their position and, with the help of neighbors, quietly melted away up a convenient wynd or into a nearby tavern. Only Carlyle, Robertson, Home, and a few others still stood sheepishly with him, muskets in hand.
Their humiliation, and Drummond’s, was not yet complete. Bearing down on them was the Principal of the University, William Wishart, and a gathering of local clergy appealing to Drummond not to expose “the flower of the youth of Edinburgh” to certain death at the hands of the fearsome Highlanders. Turn back and send them home, Wishart begged him. The crowd added their entreaties, cheering and applauding. Drummond was furious, but with no troops left, his options were limited. He finally gave the order to withdraw, and the West Port gates were closed. The volunteers were to see no action that day.
Carlyle, Robertson, Home, Cleghorn, and another student volunteer, Hugh Bannatine, retired to Turnbull’s Tavern to restore their pride and spirits. A couple of glasses of claret put them in a better mood, and together they swore an oath to carry on the struggle for “the security of our country’s laws and liberties,” as Carlyle put it, even if Edinburgh surrendered, as now seemed very likely.
In fact, the end came even more swiftly than they had imagined. The next day Prince Charles camped at Gray’s Mill, two miles from Edinburgh, and sent a note asking the city to surrender. Deputies from the town council met him to discuss terms, but the two sides could not reach any conclusion. As the deputies returned to the Bow Port and ordered the gates opened, however, a detachment of Camerons that had set out earlier to reconnoiter the city walls dashed as quick as lightning through the opening and seized the guard. With a triumphant shout, the Highlanders pelted up the street to the city guardhouse, taking possession of it and then the other gates to the city. Edinburgh Castle, with its garrison of six hundred men, remained secure. But the city had fallen before most people knew it was under attack. The next morning a citizen out for a walk noticed the strange-looking soldiers standing guard on the walls. He asked a Highlander who was leaning on a cannon and smoking a pipe, surely these were not the same soldiers as yesterday? “Och, no,” the man answered, “she pe relieved.”
On the morning of the seventeenth, John Home and the others watched as Charles and his troops paraded in the King’s Park, just below Arthur’s Seat and out of range of the Castle’s guns. Alexander Carlyle remembered them as “short and dirty, and of a contemptible appearance.” John Home had a more appreciative eye. The prince himself “was in the prime of youth, tall and handsome,” while the Highlanders “seemed to be strong, active, and hardy men,” armed with muskets, fowling pieces, swords, and even scythe blades on pitchfork handles. Their “stern countenances, and bushy uncombed hair, gave them a fierce, barbarous, and imposing aspect.” Then he, Carlyle, and William Robertson slipped away to find General Cope.
They found him and his army at Dunbar, some forty miles east of Edinburgh, where he had just arrived by ship from Aberdeen. They managed to give him a detailed description of the Highland army, and Cope ordered them to act as forward scouts as his forces closed on Haddington from the west, while the rebels marched east. The two armies collided at Prestonpans, eight miles east of Edinburgh on the Firth of Forth, on September 21.
The result must have been secretly gratifying to Home and other ex-Edinburgh volunteers, however disheartening at the moment. At the first charge of the Highlanders, Cope’s dragoons ran away so fast that Charles’s generals thought it must be a feint. The Highlanders then lashed the royal infantry with musket volleys and, grabbing their broadswords and dirks, charged them headlong. The soldiers—professionals this time, not amateur volunteers—broke and ran. Cope and his fellow officers chased after them, calling “For Shame, Gentlemen, behave like Britons,” but to no avail. It was a stunning victory, and at one stroke, to everyone’s amazement, Charles found himself master of Scotland.
In Charles’s mind, still unclouded by any doubts or reflections, his next move had to be southward, into England and on the road to London. Again, there seemed to be little to oppose him. The government was frantically recalling troops from Flanders because there were virtually none in England; Charles had the promise (which ultimately proved empty) of nearly five thousand armed volunteers from the northern counties of England, as well as the hope of French assistance now that the revolt had caught fire. But his generals, who understood the military realities, were less sanguine. Their troops were melting away with constant desertions, as many Highlanders, pleased with their success and their booty, simply packed up and went home. Even with additional volunteers from the Gordons, Mackinnons, and MacPherson of Cluny, Charles had no more than five thousand foot and five hundred horse. Eventually they would have to face a British force of at least six times that number.
Charles’s lieutenants also doubted the likelihood of further French help (here they were mistaken; reinforcements did arrive, but too few to make any difference). In the end, they and Charles worked out a compromise. They agreed to take the army south through Cumberland, where the rough, mountainous terrain would help to disguise their maneuvers from the English. On November 3, in a dense fog, they set out from Dalkeith in two columns, one commanded by James, Duke of Perth, and the other by Charles and Lord George Murray. On the eighth, Charles’s force crossed the River Esk into England. As they crossed, “the Highlanders without any orders given,” according to an eyewitness, “all drew their Swords with one Consent upon entering the River, and every man as he landed on tother side wheeld about to the left and faced Scotland” to raise a salute to his homeland.
Once again the Hanoverian forces, this time commanded by old General Wade, now a field marshal, were outdone by the rebels’ boldness. Charles’s division of forces drew Wade east, while Charles and Perth reunited their forces and closed on Carlisle in the fog and driving rain. The royal garrison withdrew to Carlisle Castle while the city itself surrendered. The Highlanders then marched into what, in less than fifty years, would become the heart of the English industrial landscape. Kendal, Lancaster, Manchester, Macclesfield, Derby—at each town the response to Charles’s coming, while not overtly hostile, was far less warm than he had been led to expect. By December 4, however, they were less than 130 miles from London.
The English natives were as amazed by the appearance of these Scottish invaders as if they had been Eskimos or Watusis. They were certainly just as ignorant of who they were and what to expect. Most could not distinguish between Highland and Lowland Scots. Since many of Charles’s Lowlander volunteers chose to wear kilts and bonnets, English obervers simply described them all as “Highland savages” and let it go at that. Fears ran high that they intended to plunder their way to London, “which according to Ancient Customs will be the murdering of people of all Sexes and Ages, the Burning of Houses, and Cutting of Cattle to pieces, with Swords and dirks. . . .” When Charles and his staff stopped at one house, according to Murray of Broughton, its owner begged the soldiers not to eat her child. But as Murray said of his troops, “There is no instance in the history of any times in whatever Country where the Soldiery either regular or irregular behaved themselves with so much discretion, never any riots in the Streets, nor so much as a Drunk man to be seen.”
In one sense it is idle to speculate what might have happened if Charles and his little army had decided to press on to London, but the temptation is overwhelming. Could Charles really have taken the city, proclaimed his father king at Westminster, and then crafted a political settlement that would have put the Stuarts on the throne again?
It does seem indisputable that if Charles had marched farther south, he never would have made it. Not just one, but three British armies were now converging on him, including the one commanded by King George’s son, the Duke of Cumberland, recently arrived from campaigning in Flanders. Thirty thousand troops were now available for action against the Stuart army of barely five thousand. From a military point of view, those who counseled Charles to abandon his plan to march on London were right. He never had a chance.
But this raises a more interesting point: that the odds against Charles in November of 1745 were more military than political. In other words, if Charles had somehow evaded Cumberland (very unlikely), and if he had made it to London, it is hard to see how anyone could have stopped him from carrying out his plan. Despite the hopes of English Jacobites, the great majority of their countrymen were not going to rise up in support of the Stuarts; but the same majority was not ready to risk life and property to keep the Hanovers. A compromise between Parliament and the Stuarts was not only possible but probable. As early as 1739, when the War of Jenkins’s Ear was starting to heat up, Robert Walpole had sent secret letters to James asking what his intentions were regarding the Church of England and the personal safety of the members of the House of Hanover, if the Stuarts should come back to the throne again.
If they had, the English constitution would never have been the same. The notion, enshrined since 1688, of the sovereignty of Parliament would have died on the spot. But in 1745, not only sentimental Jacobites but most Englishmen would have willingly traded it in to avoid a civil war and have a little peace and quiet.
So who had the most to lose if Charles succeeded? The answer is not the English, but the Scots.
This seems shocking, especially in view of the revolt’s bloody aftermath. Yet it gets to the heart of what really mattered to key political players at the time, and to two very distinct and different groups of Scotsmen.
The first group were Charles’s allies, the Highland chiefs. They had joined their fortunes to his out of a rash sense of honor and pride. To their amazement, they had succeeded. Now, as they assembled at the prince’s headquarters in Derby to discuss what to do next, they realized what success might actually mean. Having a Stuart at Whitehall was not, and would never be, the same thing as having a Stuart at Holyrood. The influence of his Highland allies would inevitably shrink away in the vast labyrinth of competing and conflicting interests of Great Britain. They had every reason to help Charles secure his position in Scotland, but they had no interest in seeing him win his father’s crown in England and Wales. So, military necessity apart, returning to Scotland served their larger political agenda. No wonder, then, that they stood foursquare together against going any farther.
When Lord George Murray broke the news to Charles that “it was everybody’s opinion that the only party that was to be taken was to retire,” the prince “was astonished at this proposition,” and said, “why the Clans kept me quite another Language and assured me they were all resolved to pierce or to dye.” The debate took place at Exeter House, even as clansmen lined up outside to sharpen their swords in preparation for battle. Although Charles argued and pleaded, the chieftains remained unmoved. Provoked by their intransigence, Bonnie Prince Charlie “fell into a passion and gave most of the Gentlemen that had spoke very Abusive Language,” according to an eyewitness, “and said they had a mind to betray him.” A second meeting that evening produced no change. Finally the prince gave up and ordered the retreat.
The retreat from Derby was a low point for the Jacobites in more ways than one. Charles fell into a pout and a funk, and refused to talk to his subordinates. His troops were equally furious. They quickly lost their earlier discipline and fell to looting the locals, leaving a trail of resentment and rage behind them. Outside Penrith they clashed with some of the Duke of Cumberland’s advance dragoons, who, unlike the raw recruits at Prestonpans, stood to fight rather than run away. Rumors that the Highlanders had cried “No quarter!” and killed some of the British wounded circulated among the duke’s troops, with ugly repercussions later on.
On Christmas Day the army entered Glasgow. As Charles’s chief Irish adviser noted, “the Prince was resolved to punish the Town of Glasgow, who shew’d a little too much Zeal to the Government.” He demanded 5,500 pounds in ransom, as well as supplies and food, including “6,000 pair of shoes, 6,000 bonnetts, and as many tartan hose. ” City merchants paid up with a bad grace, and it was with difficulty that some of the Highlanders were restrained from burning the city down. Nowhere else, Charles said bitterly, had he found so few friends as in Glasgow.
This was his first full encounter with that second group of Scots who had no interest in seeing him succeed: Scotland’s growing middle class of merchants and professional men, as well as improving landowners. Like Robertson, Carlyle, and the other Edinburgh student volunteers, they were Whigs, but less from conviction than out of practical self-interest. Union had brought them affluence and prosperity. Just as its architects had calculated, it secured their loyalty to the new government. Union, and the Hanovers on the throne, implied a Scotland with expanding horizons and possibilities; growing commerce and trade; the rule of law; the good things in life. Returning the Stuarts meant returning to the old Scotland. In the minds of Scottish Whigs, this was not an option.
In the sharpest sense, the Forty-five was not a war between Scots and Englishmen, but a civil war. The split that divided Scots transcended class or religious divisions, or even the division between Highlander and Lowlander. (According to one recent scholar, Murray Pittock, perhaps as much as 40 percent of Charles’s army consisted of Lowlanders.) It was in fact a cultural split, between two competing visions of what Scotland should be and where it could go. Charles’s supporters could not afford for Scotland to move forward, and so they were prepared to fight and die to topple the existing Whig regime. Scottish Whigs could not afford to go backward, and so they were willing to do anything and make any sacrifice to keep the Stuarts off the throne.
Charles’s march south had given them a chance to catch their breath, and as he returned to Scotland to gather reinforcements, they began to mobilize against him. What they may have lacked in martial valor, they made up for in deep pockets and political skill. The city of Glasgow had already raised a regiment of militia which attached itself to the royal forces converging to retake Edinburgh. With them was a diehard company of volunteers commanded by John Home. On January 6, 1746, they retook the capital. Charles’s army, meanwhile, was bogged down in a pointless and ineffectual siege of Stirling Castle, which critically divided his forces and depleted him of resources such as artillery for the rest of the campaign.
More decisive intervention came from two Scottish Whig politicians. One was Archibald Campbell, the former Lord Islay and Francis Hutcheson’s old patron, who was now Duke of Argyll. He brought the powerful Campbell clan firmly on the side of the government, thus securing most of the western Highlands—although, ironically, Argyll’s success in making agriculture more prosperous in the clan area made his followers less than willing to leave their farms to risk their lives on the battlefield.
The other, even more important at the moment, was Duncan Forbes of Culloden. After Prestonpans he found himself, as he remembered later, “almost alone, without troops, without arms,” and “supported by nobody of common sense or courage.” Nonetheless, he knew he had to act to “prevent extreme folly.” Single-handedly he waged a campaign to keep the clan chieftains of the northern Highlands loyal to the house of Hanover. MacLeod, Sutherland, Munro, MacDonald of Sleat—Forbes cajoled, persuaded, and with his own money bribed them into passivity. Other clans he managed to divide, including the Grants, Gordons, Mackenzies, and Frasers. By his efforts Forbes prevented the one thing that might have saved the Stuart cause: a general rising of the clans. If any single individual can be said to have defeated the Forty-five, it is not the Duke of Cumberland but Duncan Forbes.
Of course, Scottish Whigs could use their money and political smarts to prevent Charles from winning, but they still needed a military solution to crush him altogether. Ten days after they retook Edinburgh, royal troops had another disastrous encounter with the Jacobite clans at Falkirk. Once again, British cavalry and infantry flew into a panic as the Highlanders attacked. John Home, stationed with his volunteers on a hill, watched incredulously as the redcoats broke and ran, just as they had at Prestonpans. Yet Samuel Johnson could understand the professionals’ distress. “Men accustomed only to exchange bullets at a distance,” he wrote, “are discouraged and amazed when they find themselves encountered hand to hand, and catch the gleam of steel flashing in their faces.” It was all over in less than twenty minutes. The Jacobites took more than three hundred prisoners, including Home and his volunteers (although he led his men in a daring escape a few nights later and rejoined the royal army). “By my soul, Dick,” one prisoner was heard saying to another, “if Prince Charles goes on in this way, Prince Frederick [the Prince of Wales] will never be King George!”
He was wrong. The end of Charles’s hopes was at hand, in the person of the new British commander in chief, Prince Frederick’s brother William, Duke of Cumberland. Despite Cumberland’s later sobriquet of “Butcher” and his gross rotund appearance, he was a skillful and experienced soldier, and only four years older than Bonnie Prince Charlie. He soon set about restoring the royal army’s morale. He brought them fresh artillery, something sadly lacking at Prestonpans and Falkirk, and a new technique for their new weapon, the bayonet. By training his soldiers to lunge with their bayonets not at the charging Highlander in front of them, but at the one to their right as he raised his arm to strike and thus exposed himself to a lethal thrust, Cumberland now had the tactic that could counteract the violent shock of the clansmen’s charge. His troops sensed for the first time that they could beat the Jacobites in a pitched battle.
They had their chance to prove it on April 16, 1746. Charles’s situation had now deteriorated to the point of collapse. His war chest was empty; his men had no pay; supplies were gone; worst of all, he and his field commander, Lord George Murray, were no longer on speaking terms. He and his troops had been on a long line of retreat for weeks from Cumberland’s much larger army, toward Inverness. Most of his soldiers had not eaten for two days. On the sixteenth, the sorry ragtag force reached Culloden House, overlooking Drummossie Moor—the home of Duncan Forbes, the man who had doomed Charles’s last chance for a Highland uprising. Charles’s officers, “sullen and dejected,” according to one eyewitness, lay down to sleep in the deserted house, “some on beds, others on tables, Chairs, and on the floors.” The Jacobites had drained Forbes’s private supply of sixty hogsheads of claret on an earlier visit: the prince, weak from a recent bout with pneumonia, had to be content with a dram of whisky and some bread.
With Cumberland close on his heels, Charles decided the only way to reverse his fortune was by offering battle. Murray and the other commanders were appalled by the suicidal plan, and Charles again lost his temper. “God damn it! Are my orders still disobeyed?” he cried. Walter Stapleton, commander of his Irish volunteers, now ventured his opinion: “The Scots are always good soldiers till things come to a crisis,” he said contemptuously. This silenced the other commanders’ objections. Now they had to fight, to prove their manhood. At the end of their enterprise as at its start, honor compelled them to take a position they knew to be a mistake. They and their clansmen were about to pay for that mistake in full measure.
The next day, as the clans and other Jacobite contingents wearily drew up their line of battle, Cumberland’s army marched onto the field, with flags, drums, and the squeal of the Campbell pipes. His army outnumbered Charles’s by two to one. Three of his fifteen regular battalions were Scottish, in addition to Lord Loudun’s regiment of Highland volunteers and Campbell’s clansmen. As rank after rank of redcoats moved slowly but inexorably into position—the two armies were only five hundred yards apart—the hearts of the Jacobite commanders sank. “We are putting an end to a bad affair,” George Murray muttered to Lord Elcho. Even Prince Charlie’s optimism faded, and for the first time he “began to consider his situation desperate.”
Numbers, discipline, and technology now took over. Cumberland opened the battle with an artillery barrage that pounded the Jacobite line for half an hour, killing, wounding, or scattering nearly a third of Charles’s effectives. Charles himself narrowly escaped death when a solid shot decapitated the groom holding his horse. Meanwhile, a contingent of Campbells had seized the low stone fence that was supposed to secure the Jacobite right, and began to pour a deadly fire into their flank. Charles’s troops still had not fired a shot, and yet the battle had been largely decided.
However, the clansmen did not realize this. While their commanders had steadily lost their nerve, they were eager for battle. They had scattered their enemies not once but twice, and assumed they could do it again. At last, maddened beyond endurance by the shelling, the Mackintoshes, who held the center of the prince’s line, could no longer be held back and charged. Without waiting for orders, Cameron of Lochiel, sword and pistol in hand, led his “sons of the hound,” as the Camerons called themselves, after them.
Then the rest of Clan Chattan—Mackintosh, MacGillivray, and MacBean—surged behind them, coming up “very boldly and fast all in a cloud together, sword in hand,” as one English soldier described it; “like wildcats,” said another. Most came on too fast to use the muskets they were carrying; in their bloodlust, they threw their firearms away. The British laid a withering fire into them as they came on, forcing the charging Highlanders to swerve to the right, as if to evade the hailstorm of lead and shot. “Making a dreadful huzza, and even crying ‘Run, ye dogs!’” they broke onto the British line.
But this time the British did not run. Even the Scots of Munro’s regiment, which had disgraced itself at Falkirk, stood their ground. It was vicious hand-to-hand combat, with the clansmen blindly hacking and thrusting as the choking gunsmoke closed around them. “It was dreadful to see the enemies’ swords circling in the air as they were raised from the strokes,” said one eyewitness, “and no less to see the officers in the army, some cutting with their swords, other pushing with their spontoons, the sergeants running their halberds into the throats of the opponents, the men ramming their fixed bayonets up to the sockets.”
Meanwhile, the British fire continued undiminished. The smoke became so thick that the Highlanders had to feel rather than see their way to the enemy. Clansmen were shot down in heaps three or four deep as they climbed over the bodies of cousins and brothers and “hacked at the muskets with such a maniacal fury that far down the line men could hear the iron clang of sword on barrel.” Those who were not mowed down by musket fire and grapeshot died on the points of the Britishers’ bayonets. “No one that attacked us, escaped alive,” said one of Munro’s officers afterwards, “for we gave no quarter, nor would accept of any.”
The last head-on clash between a modern army and a premodern one on European soil ended when the clansmen could no longer stand up to the slaughter. First in ones and twos, then in clumps of ten or a dozen, they broke off and headed to the rear. Some, “in their fury and despair, threw stones for at least a minute or two, before their total rout began.” Now the Campbells rose up, tearing down the stone wall and shouting “Cruachan!” as they fell on their ancient foes. Within minutes the Jacobite center and right turned and ran. The MacDonalds, holding down the left flank, soon followed.
Some chieftains refused to give up. MacDonnell of Keppoch cried out, “Oh my God, has it come to this, that the children of my tribe have forsaken me!” and charged, sword in hand, toward the enemy. He fell when a ball struck him in the arm, just as his brother Donald was shot down at the head of his company. Keppoch struggled on and took a second wound before dropping to the ground in front of the advancing line of British grenadiers. James MacDonald of Kilchonat tried to help him up, when another bullet hit the chief in the back. Kilchonat left him for dead and fled. But Keppoch was not dead, and when his natural son Angus Ban found him, he was unable to speak but still breathing. Angus and some of his soldiers (he had single-handedly rallied what was left of his father’s regiment and led them off the field) managed to carry Keppoch to a small bothy filled with wounded and dying MacDonnells. There the old chieftain, who had once boasted of having five hundred warriors at his beck and call, expired, surrounded by the clansmen he had led to defeat and death.
The slaughter among the clan leadership was heavy. Grapeshot had shattered both of Lord Lochiel’s ankles, and he had to be carried off the field. The only regimental commanders to escape unwounded were Lord George Murray, Lord Ardshiel, and Lord Nairne—although Nairne’s brother, Robert Mercer of Aldie, was killed, as was Mercer’s son Thomas. Their bodies were never found. Only three of the Mackintosh officers survived. But if the Jacobite chieftains and their tacksmen paid a heavy price for their misplaced loyalties, it was their followers who suffered most from the retributions of Cumberland and his soldiers.
We can try to make various excuses for their behavior. We can say war and its aftermath is often very nasty, and that the killing of prisoners and noncombatants is more common than most of us care to admit. There were the rumors that the Highlanders had massacred their prisoners at Penrith, which inflamed many British spirits. There was the desire on many soldiers’ part to settle scores for the humiliations at Prestonpans and Falkirk. Then there was a political culture that treated rebels as traitors and the lowest of the low, undeserving of mercy or pity. And so on. But the bitter truth is that the British at Culloden behaved monstrously, in violation of all the accepted conventions of warfare at the time, and that Cumberland himself set the poorest example.
When riding across the battlefield, he came upon the twenty-year-old colonel of the Fraser regiment, Charles Fraser of Inverallochy, standing wounded and bloody in front of him. Cumberland asked him to whom he belonged. “To the Prince,” Fraser replied. Furious, Cumberland turned to an officer, Major James Wolfe, and ordered him to shoot the boy on the spot. In less than twelve years, during the French and Indian Wars, Wolfe would be the conqueror of Montreal, and would himself make the commander’s ultimate sacrifice on the battlefield. Now, to his everlasting credit, Wolfe refused to obey the order, and offered to resign his commission. Instead, Cumberland gave a signal to a passing soldier, who raised his musket and shot Fraser through the head.
Cumberland did show great solicitude for his own troops, giving twelve guineas for every wounded man, and ordered up rum, brandy, biscuit, and cheese for their provision. He praised “my brave Campbells” and the Scots of Munro’s regiment. But there was no mercy for the rebels, either on the battlefield or afterwards. For two days the wounded were left unattended on the field, with sentinels on guard to prevent anyone from helping them. Soldiers went from house to house in the area, rounding up rebel stragglers and executing them by the dozens. The hut in which McDonnell of Keppoch had died was set on fire, consuming his body and those of his followers, those still alive screaming horribly until they were “scorched to death in a most miserable, mangled way.” A nearby hut containing eighteen clansmen was also put to the torch.
Cumberland’s cavalry pursued the retreating army all along the Inverness road, riding down and killing everyone, rebel or not, whom they met. Afterwards one eyewitness came upon a horrific scene, “a woman stript and laid in a very indecent posture, and some of the other sex with their privites placed in their hands.” At King’s Milns, close to Inverness, he found a twelve-year-old boy, “his head cloven to his teeth.” A Mrs. Robertson, widow of the late laird of Lees at Inshes, came home after the battle to find sixteen dead men in front of her door, all of them murdered by passing dragoons. She summoned her terrified servants and told them to give the clansmen a proper burial.
The atrocities redoubled when Cumberland’s forces marched across the Great Glen and into the home territories of the rebel clans, in search of the fugitive prince. All summer and autumn the harrying continued, and while hundreds were killed outright, hundreds more died during the severe winter of 1746–47, or died in prison. According to John Prebble, at any given time there were more than 3,400 Jacobite prisoners being held in jails in England and Scotland, or on transports at Inverness and Tilbury. Many had been arrested for being seen “to drink the Pretender’s health” or “known to wish the Rebels well.” What served as a radical-chic gesture at Tory Oxford was now the equivalent of a death sentence in the post-Culloden Highlands.
Those in the transports suffered worst. A prisoner on the Alexander and James, its hold crammed with prisoners being taken to London for trial and execution, remembered: “They’d take a rope and tye about the poor sicks west, then they would hawll them up by their tackle and plunge them into the sea, as they said to drown the vermine; but they took speciall care to drown both together. Then they’d hawll them up on deck and ty a stone about the leggs and overboard with them.” He added, “I have seen six or seven examples of this in a day.”
At the same time, the rest of Scotland was returning to normal. When the city of Glasgow learned of the royal victory at Culloden, citizens rang church bells and built bonfires that blazed on through the night. The Lord Provost of Edinburgh, who had failed to defend the city against the prince’s troops, was arrested and thrown into prison. George Drummond replaced him, and the young volunteers whom people had earlier laughed at and mocked were now the heroes of the hour. Colin Maclaurin, who had supervised reinforcement of the city’s defense so diligently and to so little ultimate purpose, returned from his exile in York. But his health was gone, and before the summer was over he was dead. A popular and respected teacher, Maclaurin’s textbooks on mathematics had made Newton’s calculus standard practice across Britain. Enlightened Edinburgh mourned one of its own.
The bulk of Cumberland’s army returned to Flanders. His successor, the Earl of Albemarle, divided Scotland into four military districts, and said of the Highland Scots, “Nothing but fire and sword can cure their cursed, vicious ways of thinking.” But except for patrols to look for remaining rebels or the unaccounted-for Prince Charles (who was still in hiding in the Great Glen), his troops spent most of their time completing the military fortifications and roads General Wade had started two decades before, including Fort George at Ardersier Point, near Inverness. A forbidding example of the most advanced eighteenth-century fortificatory technology, it was finally finished in 1769. It has never seen a shot fired in battle.
At the recommendation of soldiers and bureaucrats, Parliament passed laws banning weapons (again), the tartan, and the kilt. This time the laws had teeth, and the threat of Cumberland’s dragoons, behind them. For a generation Highlanders had to dye their plaid clothing black or brown, and learn to sew their kilts together at the crotch. Warriors hid their swords and targes in the heath, hoping that they or their children would remember where they had buried them. Year by year, the clan battle cries and the tales of ancient cattle raids began to fade from the people’s memory.
Most of this, like the bloody reprisals in the Great Glen, did not touch the lives of Lowlanders. Scottish Whigs were either ignorant of, or indifferent to, what was happening. An exception was David Hume. He had acquaintances who had turned Jacobite, and he beseeched his cousin, Alexander Home of Eccles, who, as solicitor general, was prosecuting many of these cases: “Seek the Praise, my dear Sandy, of Humanity and Moderation.”
Another was Duncan Forbes. He had returned to Culloden House to find the windows smashed, the furniture broken or stolen, his wine cellar drunk dry, and his tenants beaten and robbed by both sides. He also learned that twelve wounded Jacobites had sought shelter in the house after the battle, and that British soldiers had turned up and, on the pretext of taking them away to be treated for their wounds, dragged them into the forecourt and shot them. Later, when he met George II, the king asked him if the story was true. “I wish I could say no,” Forbes said.
As Lord President, he presided over many trials of accused traitors that spring, and tried whenever possible to make sure that justice, rather than revenge, was served. When MacDonald of Kingsburgh was arrested because the fugitive prince had stayed at his house, Forbes offered to put up his bail himself. He warned the Earl of Albemarle, “Unnecessary severity creates pity.” The ban on weapons was something Forbes had been pressing for years, but he thought the ban on the kilt both ridiculous and too severe. He called it “a chip in porridge” and worth “not one half penny.” Instead, he urged the government to put the ban on the rebel clans instead of on everyone, regardless of loyalty. The London government, which was not in the mood to distinguish between good and bad Highlanders, ignored him. Having saved the government from its worst nightmare, a general uprising of the Highlands, Forbes never received any honor or reward, not even a knighthood.
Forbes did, however, have the satisfaction of seeing through a piece of legislation that he considered key to breaking the power of the chieftains. This abolished the ancient, hereditary jurisdictions of chieftains over their clansmen, including the so-called regalian rights, which made them virtual kings in their territories. At the same date, Lord Kames was writing his Essay Concerning British Antiquities, pointing out that the old Scottish law had been set up to keep tenants under the thumb of their feudal overlords. Now Forbes oversaw the creation of a new legal framework for the Highlands, shattering the age-old dependence of clansman and peasant on the will of his chief. It established a new principle, that the Highlander was a free individual, who could contract to work his own land and keep the proceeds for himself.
Forbes even introduced a new system of written leases, which freed the tenant from compulsory services in kind to his landlord, including service with the sword. No Highland chieftain could ever again summon up a private army to fight his neighbors—or the British Crown. But the change was also supposed to benefit the tenant as well, by letting him work to pay his laird rather than fight for him. The fact that it did not quite work out that way was not entirely Forbes’s fault; the Highland Clearances were still a long way off, and something no one could have foreseen in 1748.
Instead, like other Scottish Whigs, Forbes watched with relief the disarming of the Highlands and the disruption of clan life. They had just had a brush with disaster; no one wanted to see it repeated. Looking back, Alexander Carlyle said, “God forbid that Britain should ever again be in danger of being overrun by such a despicable enemy.” According to John Clerk of Penicuik, news of Culloden “gave universal joy” not only to Whigs “but there were even Jacobites who were at least content at what had happened.” Thanks to the rebellion, “all trade and business in this country were quite at a standstill.” Now, Clerk noted with pleasure, “peace and quietness began to break in.”
Scotland was ready for the next stage of its future.
There are many aftermaths to Culloden and the Forty-five.
Prince Charles spent five months hiding from Cumberland’s troops. With a price of thirty thousand pounds on his head, he wandered hungry and sick from one sanctuary to another, endangering everyone who gave him shelter. At one point he traveled disguised as an Irish maidservant with Flora MacDonald, daughter of MacDonald of Milton, to her future father-in-law’s house at Kingsburgh, on the Isle of Skye. Escorted on foot to Elgol, he was able to catch a boat to the mainland, and on September 19, 1746, he made his rendezvous with the French privateer L’Heureux. He returned to France until 1748, when the terms of the peace treaty between France and Britain deported him to Italy. He lived the rest of his life in Rome a corpulent alcoholic, blaming the failure of the revolt on everyone except himself. When his father died in 1766, Charles became the Stuart claimant—but by then it was a meaningless claim. On January 31, 1788, the man who more than any other was responsible for bringing death and destruction to the Highlands expired, still admired by too many of the people whose lives he had ruined.
The notion that Culloden destroyed the Highland clans is a myth; the traditional ways had been dying for years. Long before, without realizing it, the chieftains and the Crown had conspired to obliterate the old system of loyalties and mutual dependence in order to consolidate their own power. The battle was the clans’ last stand, just as the myth states. The glory was gone. But the sordid reality of that way of life lingered on for decades: the poverty, the bruising punishment of the weak and helpless, the sullen hopelessness.
More than a quarter-century after Culloden, Samuel Johnson and James Boswell made their famous visit to Scotland. From the western Highlands they traveled to the Isle of Skye, and from Skye to Raasay. Raasay, a narrow, barren island fifteen miles long and only three miles wide, was MacLeod land and the scene of some of the ugliest reprisals of the Forty-five (committed, we note in passing, not by the English but by fellow Scots, including MacLeod clansmen from the loyalist side). By 1773, however, the bitterness of those years had faded. The captain of Boswell and Johnson’s boat to Raasay was Malcolm MacLeod, who had escorted the prince to Elgol. Now sixty-two, MacLeod struck Boswell as a perfect “representative of a Highland gentleman”—although he wore breeches and a plaid jacket instead of a kilt. Boswell found him “frank and polite, in the true sense of the word.”
Boswell and Johnson even stopped in on Flora MacDonald, now a middle-aged married lady, and drank gin with her and her husband. Johnson slept on the same bed Prince Charles had used when he stayed there disguised as Betty Burke. Flora had even saved the sheets the prince had slept in (she would eventually be buried in one of them). Boswell stayed up to visit with his hosts, and was distressed to learn that they were “under a load of debt and intended to go to America.” In 1774 they did as they promised and emigrated to the colonies, just in time to be caught up in another revolt against the British Crown.
During his stay, Johnson observed that “the clans retain little now of their original character.” The people had lost their taste for war: “their contempt of government is subdued, and their reverence for the chiefs abated.” In general, he noted with satisfaction, progress in Scotland has been “rapid and uniform.” It was finally becoming a civilized country. “What remains to be done,” he concluded, “they will quickly do, and then wonder, like me, why that which was so necessary and so easy was so long delayed.”
Still, the fate of the Highlands and Highlanders bothered him. Before the Forty-five, “every man was a soldier, who partook of national confidence, and interested himself in national honor. To lose this spirit, is to lose what no small advantage will compensate.” This led Johnson to wonder whether in fact any nation ought to become “totally commercial,” or whether “it be necessary to preserve in some part of the empire the military spirit.”
It was an acute and profound point. But in fact Scottish Whigs had been there a decade or two ahead of him. As they watched the new Scotland take shape around them—a nation that men such as John Home and William Robertson had risked their lives to see emerge from the shadows of the past—they would see much to celebrate and extol. But always a small doubt remained: a sense of loss, of something missing from the modern cultural universe they and their generation, more than any other, could take credit for creating. And for them as well as for Scots ever after, the symbol of that something would be the Highlanders who fought and died at Culloden.