Was Culloden a glorious last expression of loyalty for the Rightful King, a stupid mistake, or the only thing left to do? Could Bonnie Prince Charlie have prevented the massacre?
To judge his actions by our, or even Victorian standards, is ludicrous and the answer is, no, he couldn’t, his personality wouldn’t have allowed it. When he left France he expected the whole of Britain to understand that his father was, by the ordinance of God, the king of Britain, no matter what the rightful government of the land decreed; that they would realise they would be doomed to eternal damnation if they did not accept that; that they would understand their crops would be blighted and their flocks die from heaven sent plagues if they did not recognise their rightful monarch.
By the time his adherents had turned back from Derby against his belief that once he was in London the people would fall on their knees to acknowledge him as their future king, he had developed a death wish, not so much for himself but for his gallant followers. It is recorded that he had to be restrained from going to a glorious martyr’s death charging at the head of his warriors; a death that would create a Bruce like legend of bravery and a rallying identity for future revolution. He didn’t draw his sword and threaten to kill anyone who stopped him, so one can imagine the conversation. ‘I must go and die with my loyal men.’
‘No, the cause will die if you are not alive to sustain and encourage. We’ll get you a wee boat to take you back to France.’
‘Oh, all right, I must admit, the cooking’s better there, but not too wee a boat, I have a delicate constitution.’
Seriously, why not let the men just melt away into their glens? Why fight modern troops on a moor ideal for cavalry? Why let a wild charge go against hardened regular troops, troops who had faced down cavalry?
It can’t be denied that Charlie had seen ‘modern’ warfare. Seen how regular troops formed their lines three deep, the front rank kneeling, muskets loaded, long bayonets fixed, like a steel fence of silent shining death. How the sections were split into four platoons, each platoons rear ranks firing and reloading in succession so that the volleys rolled constantly along the face of the waiting ranks, creating a row of dead and wounded of the front line of any group mad enough to charge headlong in frontal attack; the chargers at the back pushing those in front so that they stumbled and fell over the bodies. If the chargers got close, the kneeling front rank would stand, firing, point blank, into the press and using their bayonets to deadly effect on those off balance as they tripped and scrambled over the row of dead.
How could a leader allow that to happen? Because his right to the crown was divine and the dead were assured of a place in heaven.