THERE were 269 years and five months between the two greatest chances to break the Union. Had Prince Charles Edward Stuart and the Jacobites won the Battle of Culloden, then he might have listened to those many advisers who had urged him to stay in Edinburgh the previous year and proclaim the end of the Union. The Duke of Cumberland (below) and the Hanoverian government army won the day, however, and the Union survived, strengthened by the many Scots who sided with the government and set the scene for the establishment and growth of the British Empire, in which many Scots played a huge part. The next opportunity to end the Union was on September 18, 2014.

As I have shown over the last few weeks, contrary to its promoters in modern times, until 1746 the Union was very far from robust. Soon, I will return to one particular episode, the Porteous Riots of 1736, to show how fragile the Union had been at times.

The National:

I wrote at length about the bloody aftermath of Culloden in November 2018, and have no wish to return to that painful subject which I now refer to as the Massacre of the Glens. Subscribers and non-subscribers alike can view it in The National’s archive.

Out of those dreadful times came one shining beacon of light – how the people of the Highlands and Islands showed immense courage, enduring loyalty and proper morality in aiding their Bonnie Prince to escape to the Continent. It’s one of the great romantic stories of Scottish history, but first let me set the scene by briefly summarising the events in the weeks after Culloden.

Cumberland stayed in Inverness and supervised the horrendous treatment of the people in that area. English troops under his direct command carried out atrocity after atrocity in the search for Charles and the remaining Jacobites, but they were joined Scots, many of whom were Highlanders themselves. John Campbell, the 4th Earl of Loudoun, along with George Munro of Culcairn, co-founder of the Black Watch regiment in 1725, led the companies of independent Highlanders – Campbells and MacDonalds – who were loyal to King George II on raids into Lochaber and Shiramore. English dragoons roamed far and wide, killing indiscriminately. They were led by General Hawley, the loser at the Battle of Falkirk Muir, whose fury for revenge knew no bounds – he duly earned the nickname Hangman Hawley.

READ MORE: Stinking Billy and the undisguised genocide that followed Culloden

Anyone suspected of harbouring the prince was arrested, tortured, and usually hanged to save a bullet. Cumberland went south in late July and was given a rapturous welcome – he was given the Freedom of Glasgow, Edinburgh and Dundee and the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland paid him a generous tribute, while Scottish universities queued up to give him honorary degrees. He was cheered all the way to London, with Handel composing See the Conqu’ring Hero Comes in his honour.

Let me quickly finish his story: when news emerged of the genocide that he had attempted, English Tories turned against him and it was they, not the Scots, who called him Butcher. Cumberland returned to Flanders and the Netherlands to resume the campaign against the French, but lost the Battle of Lauffeld. On October 18, 1748, the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle ended the War of the Austrian Succession and confirmed the right of succession of the House of Hanover.

During the Seven Years War, in July 1757 he lost to the French at the Battle of Hastenbeck and then he signed the Convention of Klosterzeven in September 1757, promising to evacuate his family’s “home” province of Hanover. He was promptly called home by his father, King George II, who sacked his own son and cancelled the agreement. Humiliated, Cumberland never served in the army again and suffered a stroke in 1760, dying five years later at the age of 44.

Cumberland’s butchery in the Highlands had set the tone for how the United Kingdom dealt with the Jacobite prisoners. As Magnus Magnusson recounts in Scotland: The Story of a Nation: “Of the total of 3471 Jacobite prisoners, 120 were executed: most by hanging, drawing and quartering, four by beheading because they were peers of the realm – the privilege of rank. Of the remainder, more than 600 died in prison; 936 were transported to the West Indies to be sold as slaves, 121 were banished “outside our Dominions”; and 1287 were released or exchanged.”

If we go along with the generally accepted figure of 1200 Jacobite dead on the battlefield of Culloden, then it seems that double that number of battle survivors later died at “British” hands. As for the death toll in Cumberland’s genocidal rampage in the Highlands and Islands, the estimates vary from a few thousand to a number well in excess of 10,000. Nobody kept records.

THE most famous person to escape death at Culloden was undoubtedly Bonnie Prince Charlie himself.

Much has been written about his lack of generalship and his failure to properly command an army, which comprised Irish and French soldiers, as well as the thousands of Highlanders who had won such glory at Prestonpans. No-one can doubt, however the prince’s extraordinary personal courage. As the Jacobite army collapsed at Culloden, he wanted to stay and rally his troops, but his Irish adviser, Colonel John William O’Sullivan, practically wrenched the reins of his horse from Charles’ hands and hurried him off the field.

It was the start of a quite remarkable journey for the prince, one that has passed into legend. How Charles was hunted across the Highlands and Islands and survived – often sleeping rough – to escape to France reads even now like a thrilling novel.

Lord George Murray had commanded a third of the Jacobite wing at Culloden and managed to retreat in good order to Badenoch where he wanted to re-start the rising, aided by clans who had not previously joined in but were now correctly fearful of government reprisals. At first deeply mentally disturbed by the defeat, Charles then rallied within a few days and had thought of a second attempt to bring the government army to battle, but he eventually sent Murray and the remainder of the army away. He feared there were traitors in their ranks and wanted to get to France and recruit a French army for a second rising.

Thanks to accounts by Charles’s closest advisers and the extraordinary Culloden aftermath account, Lyon in Mourning by Robert Forbes, as well as the prince’s own memoirs, we know a great deal about what happened in the next five months.

He spent the first few nights after Culloden in various houses of loyal clansmen, such as Donald Cameron of Glenpean, before reaching the home of Alexander MacDonald at Arisaig. Warned that Lord Loudoun and a government division was heading for the area, and hearing of the surrender of the men of Glengarry, Charles wrote a letter to the clan chiefs to be given to them only after he had made it to France. It makes very sad reading: “Alas, I see with grief, at present I can do little for you on this side of the water, and for the only thing that can now be done is to defend yourselves till the French assist you. If not, to be able to make better terms.”

NO wonder he post-dated the letter as it was a virtual capitulation. Charles decided to sail to the Uists at the end of April, and Charles and his companions – Colonel O’Sullivan, Allan MacDonald and Edward “Ned” Burke – were awaiting transport to the Outer Hebrides just as French ships, Mars and Bellone, arrived at Loch nan Uamh on the mainland to rescue him. The latter ship reportedly offloaded 40,000 Louis d’Or – people have been searching for the lost Jacobite treasure ever since. Another French ship, the Hardi Mendiant, also missed him, as Charles had already made the perilous journey across the Minch. They had left on the evening of April 26 when his boatman Donald MacLeod asked the prince not to go as a storm was brewing.

Charles insisted and through howling winds and rain, MacLeod eventually got the small party to Benbecula, landing at Rossinish. They took shelter in a hut and shot a cow to feed themselves, Charles insisting on paying the owner later. The plan was to go to Stornoway to hire a boat to Norway, and the party moved to the house of Mrs Mackenzie at Kildun, only to hear the news that the folk of Stornoway wanted nothing to do with the Prince. To be fair, they still did not turn him in despite the £30,000 reward – more than £2 million in today’s money.

​READ MORE: Culloden 275: ‘Why I care about battle and land it was fought on’

There followed weeks of stravaiging about the Hebrides, Macdonald of Clanranald being the local laird who did most to help. Charles wanted to get back to the mainland, but Royal Navy ships were now scouring around the islands and it was wiser to seek shelter at Coradale where the Macdonalds cared for him.

They were nearly all captured several times, having to take evasive action when ships landed raiding parties. Then came his famous meeting with Flora MacDonald at Milton on South Uist.

As I wrote in 2018, we will never know exactly why Flora MacDonald chose to act as she did in the summer of 1746. Her stepfather was in charge of the local militia and it would have been in the family’s best interests for her to stay out of the events that ensued.

She was cautious at first, but out of loyalty to the House of Stuart and her Macdonald friends, Flora became actively involved in a plot led by the Clanranalds to get Charles off the islands and out of the country. With the redcoat clampdown, anyone travelling off the island needed a passport, and Flora managed to obtain one from her stepfather.

On the evening of June 28, Flora and five boatmen got Charles over the Minch to Skye. Charles was disguised as a maid, Betty Burke, and when they got to the house of Macdonald of Kingsburgh, Lady Macdonald was greeted by someone she later described as “an old muckle trallup of a carlin, making lang wide steps through the hall.”

The prince and his companions traversed Skye to Portree where he took his leave of Flora, giving her a locket with his miniature portrait. She and her relatives were all arrested later and Flora was taken to the Tower of London, though she was released the following year under the Indemnity Act.

By now Charles was comfortable in a kilt, and after they got across to the mainland via Loch Nevis, he was protected by the MacKinnons. Yet the government army was closing in, and Charles and his party made a daring break through their lines and reached Glen Shiel. They went deeper into the Highlands, all of them sleeping rough and eating what game they could catch. Charles very much wanted to stay in the houses of Cameron of Lochiel and Macpherson of Cluny, but their homes had been razed by Cumberland’s ravagers.

Charles and his men eventually reached Loch nan Uamh and from there in the early hours of September 20, 1746, they sailed to France. The prince never did come back again, at least to Scotland.

Next week you can find out where he did go in one of the great unsung adventures of Bonnie Prince Charlie’s life.