Nairn and the Night Attack

On the 16th of April 1746, the Government army and the Jacobite army fought at Culloden Moor (then known as Drumossie Moor) for their final battle. The day before, the Duke of Cumberland, leader of the Government side, turned twenty-five. He and his troops stopped in Nairn, a seaside town about twelve miles east of Culloden, and celebrated with some brandy. The Jacobites planned to take advantage of this, and in an aim to replicate their success at Prestonpans, they employed one of the same tactics they had used for that battle: a night attack.

The Duke of Cumberland was a son of the Hanovarian King George II. After the Jacobite victories at Prestonpans and Falkirk Muir, the Duke arrived in Edinburgh to take over the command of the Government army. He planned to go to the Highlands, where Charles Edward Stuart was, but deciding to wait until spring for another battle, he first went to Aberdeen. There he had the troops trained in a tactic that rendered the Highland Charge less effective; this was deemed very important as the Highland Charge had been instrumental in the Jacobites’ victories in the previous two battles. From Aberdeen, the Government army marched towards Inverness, and just outside of the town of Nairn, it was decided that they should rest and drink in celebration of the Duke’s birthday.

Charles Edward Stuart, Lord George Murray and the Jacobites were in Culloden. Rather than wait there, it was decided that they should all march to Nairn and attack the Government army during the night. There were immediate obstacles, however; provisions had dwindled, and that day many of the Jacobite troops had only had some hard bread to eat. Some had been wandering around in search of food, and when called back, had responded that they would rather be shot than starve any longer.

The plan was to set out at dusk, with George Murray leading the first column, mostly made up of the clans, and Charles and the Duke of Perth leading the second column, which mainly consisted of the Lowland regiments. The projected arrival time in Nairn was around two in the morning.

The Jacobites set off. Houses were avoided on their journey, as well as anything else that could have alerted the Government army to their whereabouts. From the beginning it was difficult; an aide-de-camp of George Murray and Charles’s later wrote,

“This march across the country, in a dark night, which did not allow us to follow any track, had the inevitable fate of all night-marches. It was extremely fatiguing, and accompanied with confusion and disorder.”

The second column found it difficult to keep up with the first, but even the clansmen, more used to the terrain, struggled due to hunger and exhaustion. George Murray, having been informed that the second column had fallen behind, slowed his pace considerably. They all struggled on until two in the morning, when it was judged that they were still three or four miles away from Nairn. The leaders deliberated, before reaching the conclusion that they should turn back; they reasoned that even if their troops were able to quicken their pace, which seemed unlikely, there was still little chance that they would all get to Nairn before daylight broke.

There was confusion, with not all of the troops being made aware of the changed plan. Charles, not realising that the first column had turned back, carried on to Nairn. When it got to him that the first column had gone back to Culloden, he turned back too. Others had almost reached Nairn before they realised that they were alone, and that many members of the Government army were awake, celebrating the Duke of Cumberland’s birthday. The Government army found out about the planned attack and set off for Culloden between four and five in the morning, eager to fight with the knowledge that the Jacobites would be weaker after walking all night.

We hope enjoyed this short post on the infamous failed night attack. As always please like, share, tweet and comment.

All the best, The Culloden Team

A Family Affair…

The Jacobite story is a long one and has many complexities to it, from religion, to politics, to economics; there is a lot to contend with. But, the first thing you need to get you head around is the family connections, of which there are many.

family tree

Firstly, let’s look at the Jacobites. We can start with James VII & II who was king from 1685-1688 when he was deposed. This is what kicked off the first Jacobite Rising in 1688, known as the Glorious Revolution. We then follow a pretty simple line with his son James VIII & III becoming ‘the Old Pretender’ and trying to take back the throne, and then his son Prince Charles Edward Stuart as ‘the Young Pretender’ making his attempt in 1745.

Meanwhile, there are obviously changes in the monarchy when James VII & II was deposed. The crown first passed to his daughter Mary, who ruled with her husband William of Orange. When they both died without heirs it then moved to James VII & II’s other daughter, Anne, who ruled until 1714.

At this point though there was a problem. The next successor should have been James VIII & III but many in the government did not want this. So, whilst Anne was still on the throne,  they passed a law that prevented Catholics from taking the throne, thereby ruling James VIII & III out of contention.


family tree2
House of Stuart – made by local school pupils



To find the next monarch they went back through the family tree to find the closest, suitable, relative. This takes us back to James VI & I whose granddaughter was Sophia of Hanover. She was named as the successor to the throne. Unfortunately, she died shortly before Anne so the next monarch was her son, George I.

By the time we reach the 1745 rebellion we have George I’s son, George II on the throne and it is his younger son, William Augustus, the Duke of Cumberland who fights Prince Charles Edward Stuart at Culloden. Both men were 25 years old and were distant cousins.

family tree3
House of Hanover – made by local school pupils




In terms of other key historical figures which we sometimes get asked about at Culloden. Mary Queen of Scots was the mother of James VI & I. She was also the great niece of Henry VIII and challenged his daughter Elizabeth I to the throne but failed. Robert the Bruce was alive from 1274-1329, so quite a while before the Jacobites, but he was a direct ancestor of the Stuarts as James VI is his 8x great grandson.

We hope that helped you make a bit more sense of the family tree and the succession of the monarchs. As always please like, share, tweet, comment and feel free to ask us any questions you may have.

All the best, K & D



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