No Quarter Given

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.

cumber4
Duke of Cumberland

 

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.

murray
Lord George Murray

 

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.

As always we hope you enjoyed this post and please like, comment, tweet, share and keep coming back to learn more.

All the best, K&D

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4 thoughts on “No Quarter Given

    • I’m a MacDonnell/McDonell/etc. (spelling variants) descendant as well. I visited Culloden for the first time in 2004 and was, unecpectedly, utterly enthralled. The place invaded my entire being and has been with me ever since. So totally the opposite experience to yours, Jane.

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  1. I have said countless times the “no quarter given” was an extreme action to repatriate fallen comrades who were rudely treated. In The Great War many acts of butchery were visited by the Germans against Scottish Companies. They were repaid in kind without mercy. The Scots are a truly civilized nation and not without Mercy. However, when they are deliberately harmed they will react in kind. This is our Natural Inclination when injured.

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  2. I visited Culloden on 23rd October. It was an experience that will stay with me for a very long time. I walked every inch of the battlefield and it was very somber; the clan graves felt very, very sad. I grew up near Gettysburg, PA and played on that battlefield often. Culloden has the air of Gettysburg about it even though they don’t resemble each other physically; both are haunted. I’d like to come back sometime.

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