The Battle of Culloden in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery – Part 2: The Battle and Aftermath

The Battle of Culloden in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery – Part 2: The Battle and Aftermath

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By Minjie Su

‘Burned are their homes, exile and death
Scatter the loyal men;
Yet ere the sword cool in the sheath
Charlie will come again.’
—— ‘The Skye Boat Song

The juxtaposition of Pàdraig Grannd an Dubh-bhruaich and the ‘Bonnie Prince Charlie’ is an interesting arrangement, but they are not the only two Tartan wearers in the hall. A portrait of a lady in similar red tartan is hung just next to the pair, smiling to the views in triumph and high spirit. This lady’s story is one of courage and Jacobite patriotism; without her, the Prince may never succeed in making his voyage to Skye, which inspired the folk song quoted in the beginning.

Yet it will be too soon to talk about Charles Stuart’s escape, for we must not bypass the battle itself. Intriguingly, there are not many depictions of the Battle of Culloden in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, and when they do depict the event, the sentiment seems more English than Jacobite. A few prints are on display, showing the plans of the Battle. The first one shown here is clearly more detailed, having spelled out the clan names and specified their numbers, whereas in the second one they have been reduced to being marked by alphabetic numbers only. Nevertheless, both prints are made from English perspective, since the Jacobite army is simple ‘The Rebel Army’, as opposed to the royal force.

The third print, made by unidentifiable printer/artist, depicts Prince William Augustus, the third Duke of Cumberland, in the centre of the foreground. Interestingly, the Duke, the youngest son of George II, was born just less than five months later than Charles Stuart. In other words, it is two young men of similar age that commanded the opposite armies and orchestrated the battle, though a comparison between their portraits seems to indicate rather different characteristics – the Duke in his regal dress appears more solemn and impressive, but less charming than the Young Chevalier. In the picture below, the Jacobite and the King’s armies are already locked in hot fighting: one can see a group of highlanders – identifiable by the bonnet and tartan – on the lower, right corner; they are fiercely attacking an English brigade. But on the left, a British cavalry is just about to charge at the rear, perhaps carrying out the Duke’s latest command – we can see his sword pointing towards that direction. The background, though only roughly sketched out, shows an interesting contrast between the two armies’ weaponry. It seems that the Jacobite soldiers are mostly on foot, and fight with sword and shield, while the English soldiers are shown proceeding much more orderly and mainly using muskets. A building can be seen on the horizon; this perhaps is the Culloden House, where Charles Stuart was lodging at the time and which was also his battle headquarter. So, in a way, both commanders are portrayed; though the Jacobite commanders are not shown, one can picture them busy planning and discussing the battle in that distant, grand Georgian mansion.

Although the 1745 rising and the Battle of Culloden attest to the strong desire among the Scotsmen to reinstall the Stuart, the same cannot be said for the rest of the country. Thomas Keyse’s painting, Culloden Quodlibet, was made to commemorate the Duke of Cumberland after his death 20 years later. The defeat of the Jacobite army at Culloden was seen a miracle and certainly a relief – the seemingly endless risings are finally put to an end – and the young Duke became a hero. The painting gathers several items that announce the royal army’s victory: the Duke’s portrait and his personal letter addressed to George II, a coloured print of the battle, and the London Gazette’s front page (it is hard to read the article, but presumably it reports the news and its general reception). This painting becomes even more interesting when viewed against the other pictures in the Gallery room, for it copies both the portrait of the Duke, which you can find hung not far from the tartan-wearing Bonnie Prince, and (half of) the print just mentioned above. The vivid colour confirms that it is indeed a group of tartan-wearing highlanders at the lower, right corner. The Duke’s face is just visible, but the Culloden House is entirely omitted. Is it a random choice, or a strategic move on the painter’s part?

After the defeat, the Bonnie Prince escaped. Having procured various helps, he managed to be always one step ahead the royal army after him, and no one turned him in for the government’s reward. One person essential to his safe conduct to the Isle of Skye is Flora MacDonald, the lady mentioned above and portrayed below. Charles Edward Stuart disguised as her Irish maid, Betty Burke, and thus evaded his pursuers. He was picked up by two French ships from Skye and fled to safety, whereas, however, Flora was arrested and only released a year later.

This story was much romanticised in Scotland and the general sentiments after Culloden was that of sympathy, mostly because of the Duke of Cumberland’s brutal ‘no quarter’ order that gained him the nickname ‘the Butcher’. Prints appeared that showed favour towards the Prince and the rebels. One such, shown here, depicts the Duke on one side with an axe, clearly referring to his nickname, and the Bonnie Prince on the other. Brittania sits in the middle, obviously dictating ‘mercy’ with her scale. On Charles’s side, a lamb is shown subdue a wolf, symbolising the emotional turn. In his defeat and exile, Charles gained admiration, and was always depicted youthful and joyful – even in his womanly dress, it is his charm and fairness that were foregrounded; the print aimed not at ridicule. Perhaps it is this very feeling, romanticised through the years, that eventually led to the wish that ‘Charlie will come again’, which he obviously never did.

You can follow Minjie on Twitter at @minjie_su

Watch the video: Culloden (July 2022).


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