Updated: Dec 10, 2022
The Battle of Culloden occurred on April 16, 1746. The supporters of Charles Edward Stuart ("Bonnie Prince Charlie"), who was the grandson of deposed Catholic King James II and VII, were called “Jacobites” based on the Latin name “Jacobus.” These Jacobites were decisively defeated by a British government force under William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland, on the captured estate of Duncan Forbes, 5th Laird of Culloden (1685 - 1747). This battle ended the Jacobite Uprising of 1745.
The uprising was a foreign invasion funded by the French and Spanish Catholic monarchs who attempted to use Charles Edward Stuart to destabilize the government of Great Britain and install a client Catholic monarchy. Predominantly rural Scottish Highlanders supported his cause to “re-establish” the Stuarts on the British throne. This was in spite of the fact that Charles Stuart (who was born after his father fled Great Britain) and the current monarch George II were both great-great grandsons of James VI of Scotland and I of England.
Scots who became Jacobites generally held to the notion of the divine rights of kings. They believed that the English Parliament sinned by forcing out James VII of Scotland and II of England in favor of his sister Mary II. They were also angered by the Union with Scotland Act 1706 passed by the Parliament of England and the Union with England Act passed in 1707 by the Parliament of Scotland. This combined the two parliaments and "United into One Kingdom by the Name of Great Britain".
However, not all Scots or Highland clans supported the Jacobites. Based on contemporary accounts in 1745, between 9,000 to 14,000 joined the Jacobite cause. These fighters were provided by a small number of northwestern clans which were based on feudalism, where tenants could be compelled to provide their landlords with military service. On the other hand, with regiments raised in support of the government in Scotland and the Scottish regiments already within the British Army, more Scots fought against Charles Stuart than with him.
Major branches of the House of Forbes were caught on both sides of the conflict – and in the middle. Clan chief James, 15th Lord Forbes, (1689 – 1761) had been a Jacobite sympathizer during the Uprising of 1715. However, in 1745, Lord Forbes did nothing, being a man of nearly sixty.” (House of Forbes, Alistair and Henrietta Tayler, 1937.) His son James, Master of Forbes, (1725 – 1804) joined the King's army before 1745. At the age 21, was commissioned as a captain in 25th Regiment of Foot in 1746. This regiment fought at Culloden under Colonel Hugh Sempill, 12th Lord Sempill. James would survive the battle succeed as the 16th Lord Forbes in 1761.
Alexander Forbes, 4th Lord Pitsligo (1680 – 1762) was a member of the Scottish Parliament before the Union and fought on the Jacobite side in the 1715 Battle of Sheriffmuir. At the of 65, he returned to the Jacobite cause as Charles Stuart’s Master of Horse (cavalry.) He fought at the Battle of Culloden and escaped first to Elgin and then to his home at Pitsligo Castle near Rosehearty. His estates were seized in 1748 and his title was attainted. For four years, he hid from government forces before taking shelter with his son at Auchiries, under the name of Mr. Brown. He died in 1762 at the age of 85 and is buried close to his home.
Duncan Forbes, 5th Laird of Culloden (1685 – 1747) inherited his title and the Culloden Estate upon his brother John’s death in 1734. During the Jacobite Rising of 1715, Forbes and his brother raised independent companies and fortified Culloden and Kilvarock. They joined forces with Simon Fraser, Lord Lovat, and forced Inverness to surrender to them just before the Jacobite defeat at the Battle of Sheriffmuir. As a reward, Forbes was made Depute-Advocate in March 1716. In 1737, Forbes was appointed as Lord President of the Court of Session, becoming the senior legal officer in Scotland. When Forbes learned of Charles Stuart’s arrival in Scotland, he immediately notified the British Government in London. After the Jacobite army’s victory at Prestonpans in September, Forbes and John Campbell, Earl of Loudoun based themselves in Inverness with around 2,000 recruits. They were forced to retreat to the Isle of Skye when the Jacobites retreated to Inverness after abandoning the siege of Stirling Castle in February 1746. Stuart then stormed and captured Culloden Estate, which he used as his headquarters during the preparations for the Battle of Culloden. After the British Government victory in Culloden in April, Forbes returned home to find his house looted and all his cattle stolen.
While he supported severe penalties for the leaders, Forbes counselled that “Unnecessary Severitys create Pity.” He opposed the 1746 Dress Act banning Highland attire except when worn in military service, arguing it was unnecessary and enforcement of the 1716 Disarming Act was more important. This advice was largely ignored. Forbes himself was financially ruined by the Rising, due to the damage done to his estate and because he was never reimbursed for the monies spent on behalf of the government. He died on 10 December 1747 and was buried in Greyfriars Kirkyard, near to his brother John. A statue of him by Louis-François Roubiliac was erected in the Parliament House, Edinburgh by the Faculty of Advocates in 1752. In 1881, Duncan Forbes, 10th Lord Culloden, erected the Culloden memorial cairn and placed stones around the estate to signify the clans involved with the battle.
In 1816, J. Bannatyne published the Works of the Right Honourable Duncan Forbes, of Culloden, Late Lord President of the Court of Session in Scotland, to Which is Prefixed, a Biographical Sketch of the Life of the Author. (This is available to Active Members in the Clan Forbes Reference Library) This provides detailed insight into the Jacobite uprising and its aftermath.
Rev. Robert Forbes (1708 - 1775) graduated from Marischal College, Aberdeen, in 1726 and was ordained in the Scottish Episcopal Church in 1735. As were many Scottish Episcopalians of that day, he was an ardent Jacobite. Along with two other clergymen, Forbes was arrested in September 1745 at St. Ninians, near Stirling, on suspicion of intending to join the rebellious Jacobites. He was confined first in Stirling Castle and then in Edinburgh Castle until May 29, 1746, long after the Battle of Culloden. Even though he was not personally involved with the Jacobite fight, he has commemorated the details in his meticulous book, Lyon in Mourning or A Collection of Speeches, Letters, Journals Etc. Relative to the Affairs of Prince Charles Edward Stuart. This includes ten octavo volumes in manuscript and is filled with collections relative to the Jacobite Rising of 1745. (This is available to Active Members in the Clan Forbes Reference Library.)
While the Jacobite uprisings failed to subvert the British government, the doomed undertakings later captured the imagination of the world. Starting with his Jacobite novel Waverley or, 'Tis Sixty Years Since in 1814, Sir Walter Scott sparked a romantic view of the Jacobites that culminated in King George IV’s visit to Scotland in 1822. Interest in Highland tartans and clothing surged. Although long neglected, the battlefield at Culloden began to be celebrated.
Ironically, the Jacobite uprisings have spurred an interest in Scottish nationalism – even though they were more about religion and foreign interventionism. As noted by journalist Nick Drainey, “It was almost Old World versus New Empire and if the Jacobites had won we would have been part of France, an old Catholic religion would be in charge and it would be a different culture.” (“The Battle of Culloden - The final Jacobite rising,” The Scottish Banner, April 2021.)