I’ve been anticipating and dreading this post in equal measure since I embarked upon blogging through my Scotland journey. This one was hard. This was very, very hard. The longer I think upon it, the more my heart is broken by it.
This is the post where I talk about how a bunch of men died on a hill for an idea, and how that idea died with them.
We had a nice bite of breakfast at our B&B in Inverness. I couldn’t keep much down, but I did what I could and we readied our bags to hit the road again. There were a few things in Inverness I’d been hoping to see, but the real goal had always been Culloden and Clava Cairns. We went to the museum at Culloden first and then walked over the ground of the battle. I highly recommend the museum; it is really very well done and deeply educational.
I knew we’d be hitting a lot of the hotspots of the Jacobite Rising of ’45, but it wasn’t until we’d strolled through the museum at Fort William, stared up at the monument at Glenfinnan, and walked past Flora MacDonald’s grave on Skye that the gravity of visiting Culloden started to strike a true chord.
You see, the Highlanders wanted a government that listened to them, respected them, and let them have their economic and religious freedom. They wanted what Charles “The Bonny Prince” Stewart was offering them. So they stood behind the Stewart succession to the throne and told the British Royal Army “Come at me, bro.”
The English army did just that.
Against some really bad odds, some terrible luck, and truly dreadful financing, the Scots did pretty okay for the first few months of the ’45. They made some bad decisions, though, and soon they lost ground. Then, in April of ’46, the rebels made their stand on a hill near Inverness. The moor itself is within sight of the waters by the town and the highlands beyond. It is on the edge of good, proper farmland, and the hills where life is hard and the people are harder.
It somehow seems fitting that the edge of the Highlands is where the Highlanders made their stand against the great powers of England. But it was a really bad tactical decision. Everything went wrong. I don’t just mean that a lot of things went badly.
Everything. Went. Wrong.
The ground was muddy, the armaments were mismatched, and the men were tired and underfed/paid/trained. They were outmanned, out-positioned, and outgunned. Lemme see if I can make this really clear. The Brits lost around 350 men that day.
THE SCOTS LOST BETWEEN 1,500-2,000.
Once more for the people in the back: FIVE TIMES MORE SCOTS FELL THAT DAY THAN DID THE ENGLISH.
The losses just started there. Because it was after Culloden that The Bonny Prince fled, and hope was lost.
After hope was lost, then the civil liberties began to disappear as well. In order to integrate the Scottish Highlands into civilized society, the English government imposed such things as bans against playing bagpipes, wearing tartans, and speaking Gaelic. The very idea and identity of Scotland as it was under Clan rule was lost.
Everything went so very wrong.
Even now, with the resurgence of interest in Scottish clans and heritage, the commercial and tourist interests in the old things, that Scotland is gone.
She died on Culloden Moor on April 16, 1746. An entire nation fell that day.
I won’t lie to you, standing on that wet, spongy earth, with the clear breeze of the sea coming over the Moor, I grieved for that loss most of all. I grieved for the men who died for her. I touched the stones of the clans who fought for the Bonny Prince, all pitted with weather and roughly stabbed into the earth – as rough and ready as the Highlanders buried in the ground surrounding them.
While walking through the museum, I couldn’t help but draw some parallels between the ’45 and America’s ’76. This was their Bunker Hill. But they didn’t win. They didn’t have George Washington crossing a Delaware River, they had Charles Stewart fleeing over the sea to Skye. Theirs was the revolution against England that didn’t end in stars and stripes, but blood, hangings, and the deportation of any inconvenient citizens to America or Australia.
Of all the things to see on the Moor, besides the ghosts of soldiers and stones left to remember them by, the thing that stuck with me the most was a common little thing. The Scots don’t have a normal national flower. They have a thistle.
Perhaps it has to do with how well watered the Moor was by the blood of those who died for Scotland, but it was the healthiest flower there.
The memory of Scotland is still alive. Her people keep it alive. It’s alive in the flowers and the hills and the sea. Perhaps someday the people will do more than just remember. Perhaps she will live again.
They tried and died on Culloden Moore,
Those bloody Highland Scots
The English cheered when they won the day,
But that was a day Freedom lost.