Saturday, July 23, 2011

Ghosts of Culloden..

A friend once said of Culloden:
Even the birds don't chirp here...

Remembered as one of the bloodiest battles between the English and the Scots, its only when we start reading the visual display at the Culloden center that we understand how loosely these definitions hold,  For there were many Scottish clans who fought for the English during the course of this battle. Bannockburn was a happy place, but Culloden is just sad, we feel it when we walked in and we feel it when we walk through the fields. Our audio guides attempt to recreate what happened  in these green fields of today, many many many years ago.

Culloden is important. It shaped history. Emotive,  as it is historically important , its hard to completely understand the events that lead to the moment of battle.  The visitor center is excellent. It reconstructs the battle as it were with accounts from both sides fighting. Along with it, dates and important events leading up to the bloody Apr 16th 1746 in Culloden, tell a tale of a struggle for power between the Jacobites and the English. A struggle that came at the cost of many lives and altered the course of history forever.

Remembering the dead - Those who fought in Culloden...

I Realize again how flawed my understanding of history is. Reading can sometimes make actual events simplistic without meaning to. Its easy to take sides, to judge is even easier...But to stand back and view everything, giving every story an equal ear is so incredibly hard.
Today the moors where we stand are a picture of peace, but the ground beneath holds the graves of hundreds of men. Is life ever worth giving , even for a war? I wonder .. And while I hold mine precious I respect those who give their lives in pursuit of something they deem higher than themselves.

Exploring the display at the Visitors Center..
It started with one king , who ruled two kingdoms under two names -  As James II he ruled over all England and Ireland and as James VII he ruled all Scotland. The Catholic King ,was seen as a threat to an increasingly protestant English elite who turned to his son-in-law William of Orange for help; And as always when there is a struggle for power people turn against one another, even your own blood.. More so your own blood! And so James was deposed and  replaced by his daughter Mary II and her husband William III both protestants.  James fled to France. The Jacobite uprising  sought to restore power to the Stuart Kings , the last of the lineage being the recently disposed James.
History unravels.. The thrill of seeing 'Madras' in a place far from home..
At that time , The kingdoms of Scotland, England and Ireland were divided over religion. The Jacobite uprising found sympathy with a Catholic population who felt largely discriminated against by the ruling Protestants; May of the Jacobites were protestants themselves. Clans were sharply divided and in the end there were a few who even fought on the side of the English.
The battlefield..
England had for a while been ruled by the Whigs, believers in Constitutional Monarchism wherein the powers of the king are not absolute and he serves as head of state within the framework of a constitution.
Going by what we have today it might seem like the Whigs were right. But that's where the plot thickens. Plagued by corruption charges, struggling to contain political infighting and internal dissent , the Whigs did not see the Jacobite uprising coming. The French threw their support behind the Jacobites and it seemed like this was a threat that the English had to take seriously.
Markers of events that happened here...
The Whigs found a leader in William , The Duke of Cumberland. What precipitated the rising was an English defeat on May 11 1745; The French defeated the English forces at the Fonteoy of Flaunders.
Scottish Loyalties were already divided then.  The Jacobites fought with the French; The highlanders with the English...
The French King 'Bonnie Prince Charles'  saw an opportunity, a moment of weakness in the enemy and left France. He intended to gather support. But a series of unfortunate events saw him turn back from his march to London and move all the way up again, an English army at his heel.

In memory of the clans..
It all culminated in Culloden. A weakened Jacobite army tired from its march back from London was crushed by the English.....
Memorial to the dead in the background
There are gravestones to every clan who fought here.  Over 1000 people died , most buried at the site of where we stand now.
Those who fell in battle..

In honour of their Clans.. 

Its a hot sunny day and its incredibly quiet. We walk up to the memorial erected in honour of the dead.

When we leave I feel an incredible sadness, I can't quiet define why..
The ghosts of Culloden hang around to this day!

Meena Venkataraman


  1. I particularly liked "to stand back and view everything, giving every story an equal ear..." So beautifully written...thanks for sharing!

  2. Visiting the battlefield must have been somewhat eerie, knowing that hordes of me gave up their lives at this very spot. Very well written Meena!



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