Myth of 'primitive' Jacobite army at Culloden laid to rest

Contrary to legend of claymore-wielding savages, Highland forces were well equipped and trained

They are dismissed as primitive savages who charged into battle screaming and waving their claymores, only to be cut down by musket fire from well-drilled British army redcoats.

The defeat of Bonnie Prince Charlie's forces at Culloden, near Inverness, in 1746 is widely considered a triumph of modernity over the romance of a bygone age.

But new research has established this is yet another of the many myths about the rebellion based largely on government propaganda of the day. Gaelic poets also share some blame for the misconception because of their obsession with the sword as a heroic weapon. In reality, the battles between the Jacobites and Hanoverian forces were more contests between equals with the rebels using up-to-date military tactics and relying on the musket and bayonet – not the claymore.

Professor Murray Pittock, who carried out new research for the forthcoming edition of his book The Myth of the Jacobite Clans, said: "It helps to create a story that they were primitive and barbaric to present them as very badly armed. Highland self-representation played along with propaganda and interpretations by later historians which presented this caricature of the so-called 'Highland charge'. It is associated with a simple forward charge using swords, but it was part of a wide range of tactics which are being used by the Jacobites.

"There are far, far more guns than there are swords and the Jacobites thought 'real soldiers used muskets'. There was also a very large number of cannon – about 70-plus cannon were in Jacobite hands in 1745."

A British army suffered a shock defeat at Prestonpans, near Edinburgh, in 1745, partly because its commanders believed their own propaganda that "controlled fire-power" by a modern army would see off what they regarded as a bunch of irregulars.

Then at Falkirk, the redcoats received a taste of their own medicine. "General [Henry] Hawley orders his dragoons to ride at the Jacobites and break the frontline. But he ends up facing not a bedraggled charge, but the McDonalds holding rank and opening fire – this was controlled Jacobite fire bringing down a cavalry charge," said Professor Pittock of Glasgow University. The defeat at Culloden, he says, happened because the Jacobites were outnumbered, did not have their heavy cannons and tried to cross boggy ground. The redcoats' use of cannons firing grapeshot also had a major effect.

Even the National Trust for Scotland's visitor centre at Culloden is not immune from the false depiction of the Jacobites. Professor Pittock said while it had "a lot of good information", the dramatic recreation in its "immersion theatre" film played to public expectations. "Everybody is hairy and screaming and they don't have a gun. Basically, it shows a lot of Highlanders, many in kilts, charging and waving swords against a lot of redcoats with muskets," he said. "It doesn't represent the fact that from Culloden alone 2,320 muskets and 190 swords were picked up from the battlefield; that's more than 10 to one."

The National Trust for Scotland said visitors were told that the Jacobites were not the "unruly rabble described in Whig propaganda", but were "organised under full military discipline". A spokeswoman said the film was not meant to be realistic. "The aim is to give visitors some insight into the sights, sounds and confusion of the battle for soldiers on both sides," she said, "rather than to provide a factual representation of the battle."

The second edition of 'The Myth of the Jacobite Clans' is published in March

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Life and Style
Powdered colors are displayed for sale at a market ahead of the Holi festival in Bhopal, India
techHere's what you need to know about the riotous occasion
Arts and Entertainment
Larry David and Rosie Perez in ‘Fish in the Dark’
theatreReview: Had Fish in the Dark been penned by a civilian it would have barely got a reading, let alone £10m advance sales
News
Details of the self-cleaning coating were published last night in the journal Science
science
News
Approved Food sell products past their sell-by dates at discounted prices
i100
News
Life-changing: Simone de Beauvoir in 1947, two years before she wrote 'The Second Sex', credited as the starting point of second wave feminism
peopleHer seminal feminist polemic, The Second Sex, has been published in short-form to mark International Women's Day
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Assistant / Credit Controller

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are an award-winning digit...

Ashdown Group: Senior VMware Platform Engineer - VMware / SAN / Tier3 DC

£45000 - £55000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior VMware Platform En...

Recruitment Genius: Purchasing Assistant

£10000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A distributor of specialist ele...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Ledger Assistant

£17000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A distributor of specialist ele...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

Confessions of a planespotter

With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

Paris Fashion Week 2015

The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

Paul Scholes column

I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable