DRIZZLE and sleet greeted the fighters on grim Drumossie Moor 286 years ago last Saturday (April 17, 1746) as the bloody crushing of the Jacobite cause at Culloden was over in around 40 minutes.
Inverness man Jim Johnstone has run his own tourist guide business for 40 years, leading thousands of visitors on a personal tour of the battlefield – as well as other historic attractions across Scotland.
He wrote “A Private Tour Through Scottish History” titled: Was William Wallace a Jacobite? – a question a Michigan lawyer once asked him, not realizing the 400-year gap involved!
Jim, who has read extensively on the subject, points out: “The traditional view of Culloden as the last great battle between England and Scotland is fundamentally wrong but, unfortunately, one that still persists.”
He says the romanticized view largely stems from the fictionalized 19th-century retelling of the Jacobite saga and perpetuated by modern historical drama.
Certainly hundreds of Scots, including a number of Highlanders, fought in the battle of the British army against the Jacobites
Johnstone emphasizes the approach of Prince Charles Edward Stuart, who after his victories at Prestonpans and Falkirk ensured that enemy casualties received medical treatment, demanded that prisoners be treated with dignity and that personally supervised teams are sent to bury the dead on both sides.
He contrasts this with Cumberland’s order that no assistance be given to the wounded and dying scattered on the moor and that no friend or relative be allowed to claim their dead for burial.
Many prisoners were held in local churches, with executions in the old cemetery. Jim quotes a statement by English Jacobite James Bradshaw, just before his execution. “After the Battle of Culloden, I had the misfortune to fall into the hands of the most ungenerous enemy I believe ever took the name of a soldier…whose inhumanity exceeded all than I could have imagined.
“I was put in one of the Scottish kirks with a large number of wounded soldiers who were stripped naked and then left to die without any assistance. Although we had a surgeon of our own, a prisoner in the same place, he was not allowed to dress their wounds, but his instruments were taken from him to prevent it. As a result, many died in agony.
The author points out that today this would be considered a war crime.
Jim says many of the guests he led were unaware that the Jacobite movement was not purely a Highland movement, but existed in many parts of the UK and Europe. But by regarding the Highlanders as “little more than savages,” the Cumberland troops justified the atrocities in the same way as the Russians in the Ukraine. When news of Cumberland’s conduct after the battle is finally known, England recoils in horror. The ‘Butcher’ was just 44 when he died in London, not much lamented.
Johnstone, now 67, who led Inverness provosts such as Bill Fraser, Bill Smith and Jimmy Gray to official duties, got the idea for his career while visiting the southern United States in 1982. He noticed the number of taxis in Nashville offering private tours taking in the homes of country music stars and thought, “We’ve got Loch Ness, Culloden and Cawdor Castle, why don’t we do something like that. ?” It all started from there.
I love his story of King William of Orange killed when his horse tripped over a molehill at Hampton Court and the monarch died of his wounds. The Jacobites would raise a secret toast to the “little gentleman in the black velvet coat” – the mole!
Jim’s book is an insightful and entertaining dive into Scottish history. Iain and Marjory Mackenzie diverted guests from their Culloden House Hotel for guided tours – and one of them, a ‘Mr Benjamin’, fascinated by Fort George, turned out to be Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s future president .
“Visitors appreciate the cleanliness of Inverness and comment on the quality of the restaurants for such a small town,” he comments. Covid-19 has limited his tours – “but now Americans are back and bookings are pouring in.”
Including more to visit the battlefield…
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