If you're going to kill someone, do it in style. Hamlet knew this, and so too did the Jacobites, as is borne out by the weapons on view in a new exhibition commemorating the 1745 Rising. Look, for example, at the hilt of the sword used at the Battle of Culloden by Prince Charlie's man Donald Cameron of Lochiel, chief of Clan Cameron. The intricate silver basketwork is a complex piece of art- a harmonious structure of allegorical hearts, quatrefoils, horns and stars. Even more elaborate is the Jacobite sword from Huntly Castle with a silver hilt in the form of a thistle and crown and a lengthy inscription. Predictably, the most stunning example of the sword maker's art on view here belonged to Prince Charles himself (below centre). It is sculptured in low relief with a dolphin's head, rococo scrolls, martial trophies and the head of Medusa. What all these swords have in common is their individual character - their personality. On the field of Culloden, their presence in the hand would have imbued their owners with a majesterial sense of honour and superiority.
Compare them though with the weapons of the opposing army - the British Army of 1746. Lieutenant James Dalrymple of the Second Dragoons was furnished with a standard issue cavalry sword - a 38-inch steel blade topped with an unadorned, machine made brass hilt. His fellow officer, James (later General) Wolfe, favoured an even simpler weapon - close in its spare line to a modern bayonet. These were butchers' tools. What need for the soul- stirring decoration of the Jacobite sword when you were part of a well- drilled killing machine?
The contrast is not merely that between weapons, but cultures. What this exhibition teaches is that the victory of the government forces at Culloden was the victory of mass production over craftsmanship. It was the death of art.
Culloden Visitors' Centre, Culloden, Inverness, to 20 Sept
Left: detail of three basket hilted swords (from left:) - Marquis of Tullibardine, Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Earl of Cromarty