Duke of Cumberland

This year marks 250 years since the death of William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland. In August 1760 Cumberland suffered a stroke and five years later on 31st October 1765 Cumberland died aged 44 at Upper Grosvenor Street in London.

(c) Ministry of Defence Art Collection; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland

Today, Cumberland is largely known by his nickname ‘Butcher Cumberland’, following the Battle of Culloden and the pacification of the Highlands, and he remains a controversial British military figure. In order to fight the Jacobite army, led by Prince Charles Edward Stuart, Cumberland was recalled from duty in Flanders where he had been fighting in the War of Austrian Succession. His move back to England to the head of the British Army for a popular appointment and caused morale to lift amongst the government troops. He is credited with training the government men to stand fast against the Highland charge and to hold their firing until the Jacobites were within good range to inflict maximum damage. This training would help the Government army when they came to meet the Jacobites at Culloden.

The day before the battle, 15th April 1746, a copy of the general orders issued to the Jacobites was stolen, and someone, presumably on Cumberland’s instruction, inserted a forged addition, to the effect that no quarter was to be given to any Government prisoners. The Jacobites were to be portrayed as ruthless men unwilling to let ay Government men escape the battlefield alive. On the morning of the battle Cumberland’s troops were circulated with an order that said: ‘Officers and men will take notice that the public orders of the rebels yesterday was to give us no quarter.’ Cmberlands response was to in turn order his men to give no quarter to the Jacobite men and after the battle had been won his men marched across the battlefield bayoneting any man lying dying or wounded.


Duke of Cumberland

Following Culloden Cumberland then began the process of the pacification of the Highlands. All men believed to be ‘rebels’ were killed, as were non-combatants; ‘rebellious’ settlements were burned and livestock was confiscated on a large scale. Over a hundred Jacobites were hanged and many men and women were imprisoned and often sent by ship to London for trial. The journey south could take up to 8 months and many of prisoners died in the ships before they reached their destination. Cumberland was known as displaying the strictest discipline in his camp. He was inflexible in the execution of what he deemed to be his duty, without favour to any man. In only a few cases did he exercise his influence in favour of clemency.

In the months that followed there appeared to be two very different opinions of Cumberland. Some christened him ‘Butcher Cumberland’ for the atrocities he was enacting on the Highlands whilst other nicknamed him ‘Sweet William’ and celebrated his success at defeating the Jacobite army. Cumberland was given the freedom of the City of Glasgow and made Chancellor of both Aberdeen and St Andrews Universities. In London a thanksgiving service was held at St Pauls Cathedral, which included the first performance of a new oratorio by Handel ‘Judas Maccabaeus’ which was composed especially for Cumberland and which contains the anthem ‘See the Conquering Hero Comes’.

However, the brutality of the aftermath of Culloden slowly began to take the shine off Cumberlands image and the taunts of ‘Butcher’ certainly did not help. His image further sank when he was defeated in the Seven Years War. Cumberlands men were vastly outnumbered and he was forced to retreat. On return to Britain he was publicly reprimanded by King George II and consequently resigned all his military and public offices and retired into private life. Retiring to Cumberland Lodge in Windsor, Cumberland largely avoided public life and died both unmarried and childless. Following his death he was buried beneath the floor in the Henry VII Lady Chapel of Westminster Abbey.

The Duke of Cumberland is a figure of much controversy but hopefully this post gives you a bit of an insight into the actions that led to his ‘Butcher’ moniker.

As always please share, comment, tweet, ask questions and be inspired to learn more about the true history of the Jacobites.

All the best, K & D


6 thoughts on “Duke of Cumberland

  1. Some of my Scots ancestors who emigrated first to North Carolina, then Tennessee and finally Texas belonged to a Cumberland Presbyterian Church, a small branch on the Presbyterian tree. Curious that they would choose that name.


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