The phrase ‘no quarter given’ is well known to us here at Culloden and the story that lies behind it is an important one to tell.
To give ‘no quarter’ meant that no prisoners would be taken. Any men on the battlefield would have no mercy shown to them and surrender would not be accepted.
On the eve of the Battle of Culloden the Duke of Cumberland was determined to end the Jacobite Rising and prevent the Jacobites from ever being capable of challenging the throne again. After losing to the Jacobites at every turn, up to this point, he would not let them win again. To motivate his men he informed them that Lord George Murray had ordered ‘no quarter’ to be given to the Government men on the field. This meant the men would be shown no mercy by the Jacobites . However, this claim was not true. No such order had been given.
From copies of Lord Murray’s orders there was no mention of ‘no quarter’ anywhere. But, in Cumberland’s papers there was a copy in which the words ‘and to give no quarters to the electors troops on any account whatsoever’ had been inserted. Whilst Cumberland may not have been responsible for doctoring the order he certainly did not shy away from the words written and retaliated in kind.
After the battle Cumberland ordered his men to search out any surviving rebels who were to be treated as traitors, outside the conventions of international combat. Those with the Royal Ecossais or the Irish Piquet’s would be regarded as prisoners of war but everyone else was to be considered traitors. Whilst some men in the government army refused to kill, and tried to turn a blind eye, there were some who committed terrible acts. As well as wounded soldiers, civilians, women and children were all killed in the horrible aftermath of Culloden.
The act of no quarter at Culloden was undoubtedly a terrible occasion but the fact that it was built upon a lie makes it even worse. The period that followed Culloden, with Cumberland’s pacification of the highlands, was an awful time and led to Cumberland being called ‘the Butcher’ in later life.
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All the best, K&D