IT is the tale of an exiled prince and the heroic struggle and dying days of the Highland clans, ending in a brutal clash which was the last major battle ever fought on British soil.

Little wonder the story of Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobite Risings is one of the most famous and romanticised in Scottish history, inspiring hundreds of years of song, music, books and films – and most recently, the hit series Outlander.

The real tale of the Jacobites, however, is far more complex than fiction often portrays.

At its centre is the final brutal conflict – the Battle of Culloden on April 16 1746, in which the Hanoverian Government army, led by the Duke of Cumberland, defeated the outnumbered forces of Charles Edward Stuart.

In less than an hour an estimated 1500-2000 Jacobites lay dead on the bleak and windswept Drumossie Moor, near Inverness.

The brutal crackdown on Highland culture which followed is as notorious as the battle itself, and those who escaped the battlefield were hunted down and killed for weeks afterwards by Cumberland’s men.

Cultural historian Professor Murray Pittock, of Glasgow University, said the enduring appeal of the 1745 uprising and the Jacobite cause is that it represents a version of what might have been.

“It is in a sense unfinished business,” he says. “It is not just a dynastic struggle, it is something about the nature of Britain itself. It is widely seen that the defeat at Culloden and the defeat of the Jacobites really paves the way for the successful development of the British Empire.

“But they [the Jacobites] represent an alternative narrative and alternative outcomes. And it is not difficult to see how the whole of world history might have changed if there had been a Stuart restoration.”

Culloden was the bloody ending to the fifth and final Jacobite Rising, which had began when the Stuart King James VII of Scotland and II of England was deposed and sent into exile following the Glorious Revolution in 1688.

The Jacobite cause – which rallied English, Welsh and Irish supporters as well as Scottish – was to restore the House of Stuart to the throne.

But following the Act of Union in 1707, which led to the creation of the United Kingdom, it took on a particular dimension in Scotland.

Pittock says: “The official programme for ‘old’ Jacobites is to restore James VII and then James VIII of Scotland.

“In Scotland the aim is to end the Union after 1707, that is transformational.

“Before the Union in 1689 the Jacobites got about 3-4000 men together just after James had been deposed.

“But in 1715, they got 22,000 men together – which is just about the maximum Scotland could have assembled in such a small period of time.”

Growing support for ending of the Union might sound much like the independence campaign in modern Scotland. But whether Jacobitism could be viewed as an 18th-century version of the Yes movement is a different matter.

“They are not Scottish nationalists as you would now understand the term,” Pittock says.

“What they want by ending the Union is to restore the multi-kingdom monarchy of the late Stuarts – where there is one monarch, but three separate governments and establishments in England, Scotland and Ireland.

“However there is something of the modern features, in the sense they tend to be much more pro-European.”

The myths surrounding the Jacobite cause have undoubtedly gathered pace over the centuries, fuelled by a mix of propaganda, romanticism and nostalgia.

One which can be firmly debunked, Pittock says, is the idea of the Jacobite forces at Culloden as being primitive Highlanders against the might of the British army.

“You still get this in popular history – as popular history is a long time in dying,” he says. “There is no doubt the Jacobites in 1746 were a well-armed and well-drilled force.”

The battle is also often included in the long list of conflicts fought between the Scotland and England over the centuries.

Historian and author Trevor Royle, who wrote Culloden: Scotland’s Last Battle and the Forging of the British Empire, says this idea has been sold for “years”, but is simply not true.

“It wasn’t a Scotland/England confrontation at all – it was the British Army led by the Duke of Cumberland, who was a member of the Hanoverian Royal Family,” he says.

“Most of the infantrymen who fought in the British army at Culloden were Irishmen.

“There were quite a number of lowland Scots who served in the British Army – two of the regiments, the King’s Own Scottish Borderers and the Royal Scots, are both well-known Scottish regiments.

“The Highland army had a lot of Irishmen fighting in its ranks as well.”

When it comes to the longevity of the Jacobite story, Royle says it does appeal to a romantic view of history.

“It’s a good story – everybody likes the story of a gallant loser,” he says.

“And Bonnie Prince Charlie and his Jacobites are seen as gallant losers – I think the reality would have been very different.”

AS well as the last battle fought in Scotland, Royle points out Culloden was part of the War of the Austrian Succession.

The decision by the French to support Charles Edward Stuart’s claim to the throne in 1745 was intended to start a revolt in Scotland, which would divert British attention away from the war going on in mainland Europe.

Royle says there would have been a very different outcome if Bonnie Prince Charlie had won at Culloden – and it wouldn’t have been Scottish independence.

“It would have led to the restoration of the Stuart cause, the dismissal of the Hanoverians from the British throne and Britain would be under French control,” he says.

Bonnie Prince Charlie – also known as the Young Pretender – is one of the most famous figures in Scottish history.

His rallying of the clans to fight for him and his evasion of government troops effort to capture him after Culloden have been immortalised in song and poetry – but portrayals of his character are not always flattering.

Michael Nevin, chairman of the 1745 Association, a historical organisation dedicated to studying the Jacobite period, insists he had a “strong personality”, but says questions do remain over his leadership.

“He is portrayed in Outlander as a slightly weak, effete character,” he says. ‘‘I don’t think he could possibly have been like that, as none of the Highland clan leaders would have followed him.

“He has quite a charismatic personality within himself, but he didn’t have his own army, he only had seven men he came over with, so he effectively had to rule through the clan chieftains.”

Nevin says this explains his decision to turn the Jacobite army back when it reached Derby in November 1745 rather than attempt to press on and capture London – a turning point which ultimately doomed the cause.

“He wanted to go on to London and continue the advance and he couldn’t,” he says. “The clan chieftains said, ‘we want to go back to Scotland’, as some of the promises he made hadn’t been realised.

“They could see no sign of the French, and the English Jacobites hadn’t risen for him either. He couldn’t go on as he didn’t have his own army.”

Nevin adds: “He is extremely courageous if you look at how he acted. But he was weak in the sense that he had to depend on the people who rallied to his cause to continue to support him. He was like a rather weak Prime Minister who was trying to master all these warring factions.”

Nevin says he believes the Jacobite story has held such fascination over the centuries because it represented the defeat of a “way of life”.

“It wasn’t just the defeat of a dynasty, the Highland way of life and Gaelic culture was destroyed by it,” he says.

But he argues there was also another long-term impact relating back to the origins of the Jacobite wars, when James VII and II – Charles Edward Stuart’s grandfather – was deposed in 1688.

“The reason he was deposed was he was advocating freedom of conscience essentially, for Catholics, Episcopalians and other religious minorities who were not allowed to hold public office or vote, so he was trying to relax that,” he says.

“But he made a big mistake, as he told the Anglican bishops you have got to read this out in your churches and threatened them with high treason and execution.

“Then the Anglican – dare I say it, the southern English – elite in London and Oxford and Cambridge got William of Orange to come over and depose him.”

Niven says: “In historic terms, what happened afterwards was a consolidation of power in the Anglican elite in the south-east of England, which continues to this day. That is why London and the south-east is where all the money and power is. It is a battle which is still going on.”

Niven says the Jacobite Risings have long resonated because of the intriguing question of ‘what might have been’ – arguing their success would have led to a more positive outcome in history.

He says: “People who are sympathetic to Jacobites like me think there would have been a better alternative. It wouldn’t have been quite so dominated by the southern English, and Great Britain and Ireland would have been more balanced and tolerant.”

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