Friday, September 25, 2009

Fort George and Culloden . . .

Earlier this week, we visited Culloden Moor, a World Heritage site, with a new visitor center, and I found it very hard to write about, for the visit challenged our long-held beliefs about which side we favored. We saw maps, read excerpts of documents from both sides, and then walked around this open field of battle, marked by stone walls and memorials, still echoing with the deaths of nearly 2,000 men.

Culloden Battlefield, Scottish side

In fact, I couldn't take my usual number of pictures here. The battlefield feels too hallowed by war and loss, too much an icon of Scottish history. This picture from Webshots shows the expanse of the moor on the Scottish side, the purple heather just now in September beginning to bloom.

The famous Highland Charge resulted in more than 1,500 deaths for the supporters of Bonnie Prince Charlie. His battle plan was one disaster after another, with men exhausted from an all night march. The cloudy day, the empty moors, all combined to give us a feeling of loss. MacLeans, MacKenzies, MacDonalds, McGillverays. And after the battle was over, the Lord of Cumberland, known ever after as "Butcher Cumberland", issued pretty much a scorched earth policy for Highlanders in general, "Find the rebels and destroy them."

Government troops, rested, well trained, and primarily Dutch, English and some Scottish, used this house to outflank the rebels. The Jacobites, exhausted after an all night march, fired once and began their dreaded Highland Charge, over 7,000 Highlanders screaming across the open field, up to the ramrod straight shooting line of Government troops. They fell by the hundreds before the unbending line of Government steady fire, a tactic that was unsuccessful in North America not too many years in the future.

So as a long-term supporter of Bonnie Prince Charlie, did I change my mind? Prince Charlie, the underdog, was a royalist through and through, and believed vehemently in the divine right of kings to rule. The House of Hanover, supported by some Highlanders as well, balanced the concept of absolute divine right with some religious tolerance and a role for an expanded Parliament, hotly contested issues in 1746. In fact, unrest in France (I'm remembering the excesses of the French Revolution later) terrified both the upper and middle classes; when Bonnie Prince Charlie's revolution was presented as a rabble, people flocked to the Government side. But speaking of sides, neither side moved too far away from the issue of divine right of kings. These were early, hard days for any concept of democracy.

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