“The Muir of Culloden”


"I'll sing of my country, its deep glens and fountains... I'll sing of its battles renowned in story." "On the sixteenth of April, I'll ever remember." The Jacobite leaders disagree and attack half-heartedly; "Cauld lies the lads on the Muir of Culloden."


Most songs of the end of 1745 Jacobite Rebellion (at least the ones in English) seem to talk about Bonnie Prince Charlie. This is a genuine exception; it is almost entirely about the tragic Battle of Culloden, which not only destroyed the Jacobite army but, ultimately, the Highland culture.

Going into the Battle of Culloden, the Jacobites under Bonnie Prince Charlie had had, on paper, complete military success, winning the battles of Prestonpans, Falkirk, and Clifton. But they had done this by picking their battles very carefully. They had had one chance -- the March on London -- to win the Rebellion, and Charlie's officers (though not Charlie himself) had chickened out. That gave the government time to bring home more troops, and gradually they were forced back into Scotland. Then into the Highlands. Then to Culloden.

And after them came William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland (1721-1765), the third son of George II (and the second son to survive infancy). Cumberland's record in wars in Europe shows that he was no general, but he inflicted ferocious discipline and understood butchery very well; massacres don't require brainpower.

And his army had the Highlanders outnumbered two to one, with their backs almost to the sea. At Culloden, there was little room left to maneuver.

The battle plan was ill-executed. In essence, it was supposed to be a surprise Highland charge. But the ground was bad, Lord George Murray (Charlie's chief military advisor) had his doubts, and what should have been a night attack came in, without much weight, when the Hannoverians were awake, well-fed (the Jacobites were thirsty and famished), and able to bring their artillery to bear. The result was a slaughter -- caused not by the hesitation of some of the troops, as in the song, but by the tactical problems in implementing the plan.

"Lochiel" is Donald Cameron, Lochiel of Cameron (1695-1748, the "Young Lochiel," even though he was middle-aged, because his father was in exile as a Jacobite), the first great chief to come to Charlie's support.

Drummond is William MacGregor of Drummond (Bahaldy), another early supporter of Charlie.

Lewis Gordon was responsible for raising most of the troops from the Aberdeenshire area.

The argument these three presented was, in a sense, sound: The Highlanders would have been depressed and would have deserted had the Jacobite army retreated. You wonder, though, if they weren't motivated partly by the fear of British retribution. Lochiel, e.g., died in exile in France, and the British would later execute his brother. - RBW

Historical references

  • Apr 16, 1746 - Battle of Culloden Muir ends the 1745 Jacobite rebellion


  1. Ord, p. 293, "The Muir of Culloden" (1 text)
  2. Roud #3777
  3. BI, Ord293


Author: unknown
Earliest date: 1930 (Ord)
Keywords: Jacobites battle death
Found in: Britain(Scotland)