Today is the 265th anniversary of Blàr Chùil Lodair, the Battle of Culloden. The conflict and its aftermath are forever burned into minds of Scottish Highlanders and their descendants around the world.
The consequences of that battle echoed throughout American History. Hugh Mercer, a Revolutionary General and a personal friend of George Washington was at the Battle of Culloden, serving as an Assistant Surgeon. He and countless others found themselves fugitives in their own homeland, and fled to America, Canada, and Australia, leaving an indelible mark on the the lands to which they were exiled.
The Consequences of the Battle have made an equally indelible mark on Scotland, and the Scottish People Worldwide.
At the northern tip of the great glen that cuts Scotland in half is a town called Drumossie. It was a few miles from there, on April 16th, 1746, that the last military battle on British soil took place. On one side stood a Frenchman of Scottish heritage and Catholic faith, on the other side stood a German whose Protestant family sat on the British throne. On either side stood with them English, Scots and Irish, and a few French with the Frenchman. The battle was a Spectacular defeat for the Jacobites under Charles Edward Stewart. It was the third such military defeat for Scotland. In 1689, 1715, and 1745, Scotland rebelled against the German monarchy, and attempted either to restore a Scottish one, or break away. Those Scots who fought for self determination were defeated just as they were in 1689 when they opposed the ascension of William of Orange. They were defeated in the mass democratic opposition to a fraudulent act of union in 1707. They were defeated in a military uprising in 1715, led by a former supporter of the union. Finally, in 1746, the hope for an independent Scotland in the near term died with the last Stuart Loyalists in the boggy marsh called Culloden.
Before going further, I must mention that this idea that the '45 was about Scottish independence is still hotly disputed. Some refer to it as a religious conflict. Certainly, the majority of Highlanders were Episcopalian, with a minority of Catholics, while the English, Irish, and French that served with the Jacobites were most definitely Catholic. On the other side stood English Regulars, mostly Episcopalian, Scottish Highland Troops with the Government who were also Episcopalian but with a not insignificant minority of Presbyterians, and Scottish Lowland Regulars who were almost exclusively and fanatically Presbyterian.
This assumption that it was somehow a war between Catholics and Protestants is simply not supported by fact. John Knox and others had made sure that Catholicism had been almost completely wiped out in Scotland by the end of the 17th century. Those former Catholics in the highlands were just barely protestant enough as Episcopalians to avoid constant civil war, true. But this was not the source of the Jacobite conflicts.
Certainly, Charles Edward Stuart wanted to restore his line to the throne of Britain. But the vast majority of his soldiers wanted an independent Scotland. When he marched south of the Scottish border into England, his soldiers deserted in droves. Those that stayed on urged him to turn back to Scotland. The Jacobites wanted a Scottish King, but they wanted him in Edinburgh, not hundreds of miles away in London.
They knew then something that Scotland has been relearning ever since: As long as they are ruled from London, England with its financial and trade wealth and massive population will always overrule Scotland, and England will do this unintentionally and democratically. That is evident even today. In the most recent election, England saw dramatic shift in the makeup of the British Parliament, but not a single seat changed hands in Scotland. Scotland still favors the Westminster Representation by the Labor party overwhelmingly. And just like the time of Margaret Thatcher, the Majority of Labor parliamentarians from Scotland are unable to make an impact in London when England swings to the right. The Scottish Liberal Democrats whose party is in a coalition with the Conservatives are facing a potential though unlikely wipeout in Scotland's next parliamentary election, their share of the vote declining as much as 70% in some polls. This despite the fact that the vast majority of Liberal Democrats in Scotland vocally oppose many of the actions of the Coalition.
Cameron and Thatcher's recent ruthlessness towards Scottish public institutions is nothing new. It is a pale relic of previous attempts to rebuild Scotland into a properly British province, according to whatever fashion the current leaders took.
In 1746, Cumberland, the Scottish Whigs, and the Hanoverian nobility engaged on a campaign of rape, murder and forced assimilation to destroy the culture of Highland Scotland, even as Lowland Scotland was being made acceptably British [I intentionally did not use the word Anglicize, because the people of England opposed the British Union as much as the Scots did. The loss of self determination was not something done by England to Scotland, it was something done by perfidious Englishmen, Welshmen, Irishmen and Scotsmen to England, Scotland, Ireland, Cornwall, and Wales in the service of a German King. It was a crime comitted by Unionists upon five unique Cultures, at cost to all of them a large part of their cultural distinctiveness.]
Most of the tales of what occurred after Culloden are too horrific to relate here. Many of them are told not by Jacobite witnesses, who left Scotland or did not speak out for fear of brutal retaliation, but of Highland Soldiers for the British Government who were horrified by the actions of their leaders.
Some of these accounts of John Fergusson's campaign on the Isle of Skye and Isle of Raasay are so brutally graphic that I don't even want to link them. One tale so horrific that I wish to disbelieve it is the rape and hanging of a teenage girl whose family were Rassay MacLeods and Jacobites. A less visceral account of Fergusson's activities was written by one Jacobite Officer, and his story is confirmed by government sources.
'I was … brought before Captain Ferguson, who used me with the barbarity of a pirate, stripped me, and had ordered me to be put in a rack, and whipped by his hangman, because I would not confess where I thought the Prince was. As I was just going to be whipped, being already stripped, Lieutenant McGaghan of the Scots Fusiliers, who commanded a party under Captain Ferguson, very generously opposed this barbarous usage, and coming out with drawn sword, threatened Captain Ferguson that he would sacrifice himself and his detachment rather than see an officer used after such an infamous manner'
The Scottish Clan System was forcibly transformed by act of parliament and threat of deportation into a traditional system of European aristocracy. Less than two decades after Culloden, those aristocrats were used to finish the job that Cumberland started. Though the original attacks targeted the rebellious clans, the attacks from the Aristocracy targeted all of them. Scottish Culture was essentially outlawed. Traditional Scottish Dress and the possession of arms was made illegal for anyone who did not join the British Miltary. In this way, the national identity of Scotland was further filtered into an identity of British Militarism, the military transforming the Scots over the years into an appropriately british and appropriately patriotic populace.
But this patriotism would not save the people of the Highlands.
The Newly Britannicized aristocracy was greedier than it ever had been. They desired the same level of wealth that their friends in the south had. While a Clan Chief of old was content to starve with his people in times of hardship, the new aristocracy desired riches. Starting in the 1760's, they engaged in a campaign of terror and deportation to clear the people off the land, and replace them with sheep for the lucrative wool trade.
As was written by Donald MacLeod from the relative security of Canada about the brutality of the clearances:
The consternation and confusion were extreme. Little or no time was given for the removal of persons or property; the people striving to remove the sick and the helpless before the fire should reach them; next, struggling to save the most valuable of their effects. The cries of the women and children, the roaring of the affrighted cattle, hunted at the same time by the yelling dogs of the shepherds amid the smoke and fire, altogether presented a scene that completely baffles description — it required to be seen to be believed.
A dense cloud of smoke enveloped the whole country by day, and even extended far out to sea. At night an awfully grand but terrific scene presented itself — all the houses in an extensive district in flames at once. I myself ascended a height about eleven o'clock in the evening, and counted two hundred and fifty blazing houses, many of the owners of which I personally knew, but whose present condition — whether in or out of the flames — I could not tell. The conflagration lasted six days, till the whole of the dwellings were reduced to ashes or smoking ruins. During one of these days a boat actually lost her way in the dense smoke as she approached the shore, but at night was enabled to reach a landing-place by the lurid light of the flames.
This is not an isolated incident. The tales of houses being set on fire without even eviction notices are common.
All the while Scottish Soldiers were seeing their families deported or burned alive in their homes by a greedy aristocracy even as they bled themselves to death on fields from Seringapatam to Bunker Hill in service of the British Crown. Even as Queen Victoria waxed ecstatic about her Beloved Highlanders, they and their families were being exiled from the lands where they had lived for Millennia.
By the hundredth anniversary of Culloden in 1845 the damage had been done. As the Crimean war lengthened, and British Casualties mounted, it was discovered that only a handful of Scottish soldiers were serving in the campaign, a cry went up from the London newspapers: “Where are the Highlanders?!” The answers from Canada, America, and Australia came in by letter some months later. “Why would we bother fighting for your empire? You've deported us all.”
Land that had been farmed successfully for generations, which had supported a significant population on kale, grain, and beef, now was reserved for sheep. Cashmere and other wool products are still one of Scotland's most profitable ventures.
And today the numbers are clear. Scotland has a population of barely five million. The global population of Scots numbers about a hundred and ten million by the best estimation, with both more liberal and more conservative estimates. Many Americans who are Scottish in Heritage consider themselves English, because of an understandable ignorance of Gaelic names. Houston (from Huisdean, which makes them Clan Donald from Skye), Calhoun, from Clan Colquhoun and even names as common and anglophonic as Grant, Fields, Fraser, Cullen, and countless others are essentially Scottish names.
The effects of the forced deportation, murder, and depopulation of Highland Scotland is visible from Space. I've prepared a map comparing the territories of Jacobite clans with the best measure of population density I could find. (Unfortunately, population density in Scotland is measured typically by parliamentary constituency, so there isn't an accurate look at the specifics of population density in the Highlands that I have been able to find.)
Comparing that map to a similar metric to Spain and other mountainous regions of europe you see that even sparsely populated regions have small towns that provide some light pollution. But the whole of the Scottish Highlands is completely black, and almost completely depopulated.
If you're up for a very depressing experience, look up an old map of Scotland before the '45, and go highland town hunting. You'll find that many once-towns are either empty fields or collections of burned out stone foundations.
St Kitts, Finally Abandoned in the 1930's
Unknown Settlement near Glennfinnan, where the Banner was raised for Tearleach in 1745.
Unkown Town in MacLeod of Raasay territory, Isle of Raasay. John Fergusson, mentioned before, Commanded the HMS Furnace anchored off Raasay, from which he and other government forces engaged in a campaign of vengeance against MacLeod of Raasay for leading his Clan at culloden. Even Today, the Chiefdom of MacLeod of Raasay exists not in Scotland, but in Australia.
[About this last image of Raasay: One of the interesting things about this last photo is that you can see some of the foundations being absorbed by Peat. Peat on the Isle of Raasay grows at a rate of about 1 foot per 100 years. Not knowing the height of those stone foundations or the date they were built, I can only guess at the age. That those structures may have been abandoned or destroyed in the 1740's is not an unreasonable guess.]
Culloden and its aftermath is an emotional issue for the Scottish Diaspora. Depending on your definition, how you include or exclude individuals from the Diaspora, the Diaspora outnumbers the population of Scotland by no less than 12 to one. This loss of people has been disastrous for Scotland in recent years, leading to the rise of the Scottish National Party.
Certainly, those of us who live outside of Scotland and are aware of the current politics often favor Scottish Independence. Especially those of us whose families emigrated to America just after the 1740's, as mine did. The Scottish Nationalists have a broad base of support within Scotland as well, and they're one of the few Scottish parties that has actually attempted to to engage with the Diaspora at large.
In 1997, when Tony Blair came to power, he promised the creation of an elected assembly in Scotland and Wales. The response from then Prime Minister John Major was his 72 Hours to Save the Union campaign. He argued that if the Scottish Parliament was reconvened, it would only be a matter of time before the breakup of the union. Major was probably right. It took only ten years for the Scottish National Party to move from key player, to largest party in the Scottish Parliament. In the Scottish Parliamentary Elections in a few weeks, we'll see if the SNP can hold on. I'll likely have a diary about that up later.
As in 1745, the struggle for an independent Scotland is not a conflict between Scotland and England. It is a conflict between Self Determinist Scotland, and Unionist Scotland. Britain is tearing itself apart as a result its entry into the European Union. England too is in the midst of an identity crisis as it attempts to cope with mass immigration. Meanwhile, the British Government often seems to act primarily to serve its own ends, rather than the interests of its people. The Flooding of the Dryweryn valley to provide England with water and the destruction of a center for Welsh language and culture nearly led to an Irish-Style military revolt in Wales. Indeed, if the various seperatists had unified and received IRA support for the construction of bombs, Prince Charles wouldn't have lived to be invested as the Prince of Wales. An attempt was made to blow up the Royal Train en route to Caernarvon, but the bomb detonated before it could be placed, killing the separatists who were attempting to plant it. An ineffective bombing campaign was the result, with the occasional bomb threat coming still today, despite Plaid Cymru, the Welsh National Party, committing to democratic reform. As far as British government interferences with Scottish and Welsh politics are concerned, that political history and the litany of modern grievances could fill several diaries.
Scotland has avoided the pitfalls of violence, and since 2007, the Scottish Government has been in the hands of the Scottish National Party. Like Plaid Cymru, the SNP has taken a stand against racism. Bashir Ahmad was the first Asian-Scots and first Muslim member of the Scottish Parliament. He was part of the leadership for the Scottish National Party.
I love that one of the most widely distributed images in Scottish politics is this one:
The Scottish Nationalists are Nationalists in name only. They don't espouse any of the ethnocentric bile typical of traditional Nationalist groups like the BNP, or White Nationalists in the US. Indeed, the music of Scottish Nationalism is disgusted with the ethnocentric ideas that are themselves an integral part of the BNP's British Nationalism, or its predecessor the National Front's English Nationalism. (Thankfully, there are political groups such as the English Democrats that are working to reclaim English national identity. They fly the flag of St George, blast Jerusalem from their battle wagons, and run Sikh candidates.) The reason that Scottish Nationalism is so different from traditional nationalism is because it sets itself up in opposition to a traditional nationalist ideology that already exists. As British Nationalism favors ethnic purity, Scottish Nationalism rejects it as ludicrous. As British Nationalism relies on religion (Land of Hope and Glory, “God Save our Blessed Union!” etc.) Scottish Nationalism rejects religious dogmatism and embraces secular thought, and occasionally outright Atheism (though there are certainly religious groups who support Scottish Independence, including a significant portion of the Church of Scotland and a Majority of Scotland's Muslims.) As British Nationalism recalls the Golden Age of the British Empire, Scotland Weeps for its role in the destruction of other nations.
Nowhere is this more noticeable than in Nationalist music.
“Both sides the Tweed”
Roch the win i the clear day's dawin
Blaws the clouds heilster-gowdie owre the bay
But thair's mair nor a roch win blawin
Thro the Great Glen o the warl the day
It's a thocht that wad gar our rottans
Aa thae rogues that gang gallus fresh an gay
Tak the road an seek ither loanins
Wi thair ill-ploys tae sport an play
Nae mair will our bonnie callants
Merch tae war whan our braggarts crousely craw
Nor wee weans frae pitheid an clachan
Murn the ships sailin doun the Broomielaw
Broken faimilies in launs we've hairriet
Will curse 'Scotlan the Brave' nae mair, nae mair
Black an white ane-til-ither mairriet
Mak the vile barracks o thair maisters bare
(Black and White to each other married, make the vile barracks of their masters bare.)
Sae come aa ye at hame wi freedom
Never heed whit the houdies croak for Doom
In yer hous aa the bairns o Aidam
Will fin breid, barley-bree an paintit room
Whan MacLean meets wi's friens in Springburn
Aa thae roses an geeans will turn tae blume
An a black laud frae yont Nyanga
Dings the fell gallows o the burghers doun.
(And a black lad from yon Nyanga, Brings the fell gallows of the Burgers down.)
“No Gods (and Precious Few Heroes)”
I was listening to the news the other day
I heard a fat politician who had the nerve to say
He was proud to be Scottish, by the way
With the glories of our past to remember
"Here's tae us, wha's like us", listen to the cry
No surrender to the truth and here's the reason why
The power and the glory's just another bloody lie
They use to keep us all in line
For there's no gods and there's precious few heroes
But there's plenty on the dole in the land o the leal
And it's time now to sweep the future clear
Of the lies of a past that we know was never real
Farewell to the heather in the glen
They cleared us off once and they'd do it all again
For they still prefer sheep to thinking men
Ah, but men who think like sheep are even better
There's nothing much to choose between the old laird and the new
They still don't give a damn for the likes of me and you
Just mind you pay your rent to the factor when it's due
And mind your bloody manners when you pay!
And tell me will we never hear the end
Of puir bluidy Charlie at Culloden yet again?
Though he ran like a rabbit down the glen
Leavin better folk than him to be butchered
Or are you sittin in your Council house, dreamin o your clan?
Waiting for the Jacobites to come and free the land?
Try going down the broo with your claymore in your hand
And count all the Princes in the queue!
So don't talk to me of Scotland the Brave
For if we don't fight soon there'll be nothing left to save
Or would you rather stand and watch them dig your grave
While you wait for the Tartan Messiah?
He'll lead us to the Promised Land with laughter in his eye
We'll all live on the oil and the whisky by and by
Free heavy beer! Pie suppers in the sky! -
Will we never have the sense to learn?
I didn't really set out to make a case for Scottish Independence here. I just wanted to explain some of the history, and reflect on my own thoughts surrounding this anniversary. As a final thought, I'll leave you with one of the best arguments for Scottish Independence that I've ever seen:
Saorsa na hAlba Anois.
[A note, I have an extensive bibliography for this diary which needs to be posted, but I need to prepare for a friends birthday party now, and have run out of time. If you're interested in further reading or a list of sources, watch this space. If this Diary does well, I'll write a series on the Scots in America, the loss of our language, and the struggle to maintain our cultural identity.]