Saturday, April 16, 2016

From Culloden to Cumberland

Today marks the 270th anniversary of the Battle of Culloden (April 16, 1746) – in which Prince William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland (third and youngest son of King George II of England) destroyed the Jacobite army of Charles Edward Stuart (aka “Bonnie Prince Charlie,” and “The Young Pretender”), putting a definitive end both to the latter’s rival claim to the British throne and to centuries of Scottish resistance to British assimilation.

The battle is a significant one for many reasons. For starters, it is noteworthy for being the last pitched battle fought on British soil. But its greatest significance lies in the events (and people) which it set in motion. Having spent the last several years reading a good deal of English and Scottish history, I’m convinced that an adequate understanding of the American Founding is impossible without a thorough knowledge of the earlier and parallel flow of historical events on the other side of the Atlantic pond. 

Would that time permitted me to write something more polished on the subject, but I’ll have to limit myself to spurting out a few brief facts concerning some of the things which can be traced back to Culloden and the associated Anglo-Scottish struggles.

  • Scotland experienced a great mass exodus following Culloden, as many despairing and discouraged citizens saw no better hope than to emigrate to the American Colonies and begin life anew.
  • Many who fought in America’s War for Independence three decades later were survivors of – or the sons of those who had fought at – the Battle of Culloden. 
  • Some of those who emigrated did so with the deliberate intent of living to fight again another day, perhaps half a world a way. Some of the leaders of America’s War for Independence (Arthur St. Clair being perhaps the most notable example) saw that struggle as a mere continuation of the same struggles of their homeland.
  • A number of geographical features associated with my own native region – the Cumberland Mountains, the Cumberland Plateau, Cumberland Gap, and the Cumberland River – owe their names to the Duke of Cumberland, aka “Butcher Cumberland.” Explorer Thomas Walker, who named them in 1750, was an apparent admirer, which I suppose testifies to where his own sympathies lay.
  • The original settlers of my hometown of Nashville, Tennessee were overwhelmingly of Scottish descent. The two acknowledged founders of the settlement, James Robertson and John Donelson, were sons of Scottish expatriates (albeit pre-Culloden). Ironically, the settlement was established (1779-1780) on a high bluff overlooking the Cumberland River, a name which could hardly have been more odious to anyone with Scottish lineage and sympathies.
  • The aftermath of the Battle of Culloden provides the setting for Robert Louis Stevenson’s famous novel Kidnapped, and the story is virtually incomprehensible without a decent understanding of that historical context.