King James II of Scotland

The Freelance History Writer

Woodcut of King James II of Scotland showing the birthmark on his face

History repeats itself. This aphorism is especially true for the Scottish monarchy. There was a period during Scottish history where Kings would die, leaving a child as heir to be ruled by a regency council. This happened over and over and it happened to King James II.

James II was born on October 16, 1430, one of twins. The other twin died in infancy leaving James as heir. There may have been other problems with the birth because James had a vermilion birthmark on his face which led contemporaries to call him “Fiery Face”. This would also be looked upon as an outward sign of a fiery temper. His father was King James I of Scotland and his mother was Joan Beaufort, the grand-daughter of John of Gaunt and Kathryn Swynford. Little is known of James’…

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Scotland’s Rebels…

England ruled by Edward I
Scotland seized by the English,
from a land in turmoil
with no ruling King.

English soldiers and barons
plunder across Scottish lands,
Scotland’s way of life, gone forever
as its people are slain.

Scotland’s plight is a desperate one
as its people rise up,
with sword and spear in hand
claiming, what is rightfully theirs.

King James I of Scotland

The Freelance History Writer

A sixteenth century portrait of King James I of Scotland by an unknown artist A sixteenth century portrait of King James I of Scotland by an unknown artist

James Stewart I, King of Scots had an unusual reign in many ways. His rule began while he was a prisoner of King Henry IV of England. And his rule certainly ended in a tumultuous and violent manner.

James was born on July 25, 1394 at Dunfermline Palace. He was the son of King Robert III and Annabella Drummond, the daughter of a Scottish nobleman. James was the third son born to King Robert. While we don’t know much about James’ early years, he probably received the education of a boy of his rank for the time. James’ father had become king late in life and probably for health reasons was unable to rule in his own capacity. Consequently, Robert’s brother, the Duke of Albany, governed the kingdom. Robert and Anabella’s second son died young…

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Scotland: Act of Union 1707

Key dates in the history of the union between England and Scotland:

Queen Elizabeth I of England dies in 1603 and James VI of Scotland becomes James I of England.  The kingdoms remain separate but are ruled by a single monarch.

The Glorious Revolution of 1688/89 sees the Catholic James II deposed in favour of his Protestant daughter Mary and her husband William of Orange.

In the year 1700, William the Duke of Gloucester, William and Mary’s nephew and heir presumptive dies, aged eleven.

In the year 1701, James Edward Stuart, son of the James II (known as the Old Pretender in England), recognised as heir to the English and Scottish thrones by Louis XIV of France.  The Act of Settlement in England leaves Scotland to make its own choice of succeeding monarch.

In the March of 1702 William III dies.

In the November of 1702 Queen Anne, William’s sister-in-law opens negotiations with the Scottish Parliament.

Stormy negotiation of 1703-1704, end in deadlock.

The Aliens Act restricts Scottish trade with England in 1705.

First proposal for a United Kingdom of Great Britain is laid on the table in 1706.  In July the sealed Articles of Union are presented to Queen Anne.

In January 1707, articles are ratified by the Scottish Parliament, then in March ratified by the English Parliament.  In the May the Act of Union becomes law in both countries, now united into a single kingdom.

In 1715 the first Jacobite Rebellion is in favour of the Old Pretender.  Then in 1745 a second Jacobite Rebellion sees Bonnie Prince Charlie defeated.  In 1746 the clan system is dismantled by Act of Parliament.

Scotland: The Four Kingdoms

With the departure of the Roman’s from Scotland, four kingdoms emerged.

The Picts covered northern Scotland from the River Forth to the Shetlands, and are also remembered for their carved symbol stones.

The Britons wrote poetry in Old Welsh, and held Dumbarton Rock and the South.

The Gaelic speaking people of Dal Riato famed for their metalwork, like the Hunterston Brooch which dates from around AD 700, showing the Gaels, to be a highly artistic culture.

The Angles, Germanic invaders who held the Kingdom of Bernicia, who brought with them the Anglo-Saxon tongue, which became the Scots language.

In the early years of the 7th century, the Angles captured Edinburgh from the Britons, then pushed west to Galloway.  In AD685, they struck north into Pictland, reaching a climax at Dunnichen.  In the Battle of Dunnichen, King Bridei of the Picts, massacred the King of the Angles.

In AD793 the ferocious raids began on monasteries; Iona and Lindisfarne among others, creating fear and confusion across the kingdoms.  Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles fell to these Norsemen.

In AD839 the Vikings wiped out the Pictish royal family.  Competitors emerged for the kingship, and Kenneth MacAlpine, King of the Gaels of Dal Riata, became the undisputed King of the Picts in AD849.  He brought with him the relics of St.Columba from the island of Iona to Dunkeld – the saint and his preaching’s were a powerful symbol of authority to accompany a Gaelic king to his new kingdom.  Pictland hadn’t been fully conquered, but rather the foundations had been set for a new Gaelic Kingdom which included the Picts.

It wasn’t long before the Vikings were back, this time to conquer Britain.  In AD867 they seized the Anglian Kingdom of Northumbria, followed up three years later, by storming Dunbarton Fortress, and went on to conquer much of Britain.  The Picts and Gaels found themselves encircled by Viking forces.

In AD900 Constantine mac Aed became King of the Picts.  In less than four years had defeated the Vikings at Strathcarron, not a battle of the sword but one out of diplomacy.  He married off his daughters to the Vikings, creating an alliance along Gaelic lines and renaming it Alba.  Alba was the creation of the Scottish nation, and the founding father was Constantine II, grandson of Kenneth MacAlpine.

In AD934 Ethelstan, the Anglo-Saxon King of England set about subduing the north of Britain to his will.  He attacked Constantine at Dunnottar, but failed in his quest.  Constantine invaded Britain but was defeated at the Battle of Brunanburh.  Even though Constantine lost the battle he achieved in joining the Picts and Gaels into a single Gaelic speaking nation.


Scotland: The Declaration of Arbroath

The Declaration of Arbroath was signed at Arbroath Abbey in 1320 by Scottish nobles including Sir Henry St.Clair, who urged the Pope to accept Scottish Independence from England.

The stage was set for a bold move toward independence with the Scottish victory at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314, in which Henry St.Clair served as one of Robert the Bruce’s commanders. 

The Papacy was one of the most powerful forces in the world during this time and any effort by the Scots to attain independence required the Vatican’s blessing.  The Declaration indicated that should the Pope refuse to accept the Scottish case, the bloody wars of independence would continue with future deaths, being the responsibility of the Pope.  The Pope accepted the Declaration and granted Independence for Scotland.

Declaration of Arbroath:

Most Holy Father and Lord, we know and from the chronicles and books of the ancients we find that among other famous nations our own, the Scots, has been graced with widespread renown. They journeyed from Greater Scythia by way of the Tyrrhenian Sea and the Pillars of Hercules, and dwelt for a long course of time in Spain among the most savage tribes, but nowhere could they be subdued by any race, however barbarous. Thence they came, twelve hundred years after the people of Israel crossed the Red Sea, to their home in the west where they still live today. The Britons they first drove out, the Picts they utterly destroyed, and, even though very often assailed by the Norwegians, the Danes and the English, they took possession of that home with many victories and untold efforts; and, as the historians of old time bear witness, they have held it free of all bondage ever since. In their kingdom there have reigned one hundred and thirteen kings of their own royal stock, the line unbroken a single foreigner.

The high qualities and deserts of these people, were they not otherwise manifest, gain glory enough from this: that the King of kings and Lord of lords, our Lord Jesus Christ, after His Passion and Resurrection, called them, even though settled in the uttermost parts of the earth, almost the first to His most holy faith. Nor would. He have them confirmed in that faith by merely anyone but by the first of His Apostles — by calling, though second or third in rank — the most gentle Saint Andrew, the Blessed Peter’s brother, and desired him to keep them under his protection as their patron forever.

The Most Holy Fathers your predecessors gave careful heed to these things and bestowed many favours and numerous privileges on this same kingdom and people, as being the special charge of the Blessed Peter’s brother. Thus our nation under their protection did indeed live in freedom and peace up to the time when that mighty prince the King of the English, Edward, the father of the one who reigns today, when our kingdom had no head and our people harboured no malice or treachery and were then unused to wars or invasions, came in the guise of a friend and ally to harass them as an enemy. The deeds of cruelty, massacre, violence, pillage, arson, imprisoning prelates, burning down monasteries, robbing and killing monks and nuns, and yet other outrages without number which he committed against our people, sparing neither age nor sex, religion nor rank, no one could describe nor fully imagine unless he had seen them with his own eyes.

But from these countless evils we have been set free, by the help of Him Who though He afflicts yet heals and restores, by our most tireless Prince, King and Lord, the Lord Robert. He, that his people and his heritage might be delivered out of the hands of our enemies, met toil and fatigue, hunger and peril, like another Macabaeus or Joshua and bore them cheerfully. Him, too, divine providence, his right of succession according to or laws and customs which we shall maintain to the death, and the due consent and assent of us all have made our Prince and King. To him, as to the man by whom salvation has been wrought unto our people, we are bound both by law and by his merits that our freedom may be still maintained, and by him, come what may, we mean to stand.

Yet if he should give up what he has begun, and agree to make us or our kingdom subject to the King of England or the English, we should exert ourselves at once to drive him out as our enemy and a subverter of his own rights and ours, and make some other man who was well able to defend us our King; for, as long as but a hundred of us remain alive, never will we on any conditions be brought under English rule. It is in truth not for glory, nor riches, nor honours that we are fighting, but for freedom — for that alone, which no honest man gives up but with life itself.

Therefore it is, Reverend Father and Lord, that we beseech your Holiness with our most earnest prayers and suppliant hearts, inasmuch as you will in your sincerity and goodness consider all this, that, since with Him Whose vice-gerent on earth you are there is neither weighing nor distinction of Jew and Greek, Scotsman or Englishman, you will look with the eyes of a father on the troubles and privation brought by the English upon us and upon the Church of God. May it please you to admonish and exhort the King of the English, who ought to be satisfied with what belongs to him since England used once to be enough for seven kings or more, to leave us Scots in peace, who live in this poor little Scotland, beyond which there is no dwelling-place at all, and covet nothing but our own. We are sincerely willing to do anything for him, having regard to our condition, that we can, to win peace for ourselves.

This truly concerns you, Holy Father, since you see the savagery of the heathen raging against the Christians, as the sins of Christians have indeed deserved, and the frontiers of Christendom being pressed inward every day; and how much it will tarnish your Holiness’s memory if (which God forbid) the Church suffers eclipse or scandal in any branch of it during your time, you must perceive. Then rouse the Christian princes who for false reasons pretend that they cannot go to help of the Holy Land because of wars they have on hand with their neighbours. The real reason that prevents them is that in making war on their smaller neighbours they find quicker profit and weaker resistance. But how cheerfully our Lord the King and we too would go there if the King of the English would leave us in peace, He from Whom nothing is hidden well knows; and we profess and declare it to you as the Vicar of Christ and to all Christendom.

But if your Holiness puts too much faith in the tales the English tell and will not give sincere belief to all this, nor refrain from favouring them to our prejudice, then the slaughter of bodies, the perdition of souls, and all the other misfortunes that will follow, inflicted by them on us and by us on them, will, we believe, be surely laid by the Most High to your charge.

To conclude, we are and shall ever be, as far as duty calls us, ready to do your will in all things, as obedient sons to you as His Vicar; and to Him as the Supreme King and Judge we commit the maintenance of our cause, casting our cares upon Him and firmly trusting that He will inspire us with courage and bring our enemies to nought.

May the Most High preserve you to his Holy Church in holiness and health and grant you length of days.

Given at the monastery of Arbroath in Scotland on the sixth day of the month of April in the year of grace thirteen hundred and twenty and the fifteenth year of the reign of our King aforesaid.

Scotland: Dunnottar Castle

To understand the history of Dunnotar Castle, we have to go back in time, well before a castle was even built upon the site.

The “Picts” (Late Latin painted men) lived upon the site, from 5000Bc to 700AD, and were known to worship a religion, similar to that of Druidism, in that they worshipped; masculinity, feminity and spirits of nature.

The site which the castle stands has a strong feminine presence in the spiritual world.  For one known as the “Green Lady” has been observed in the castle looking for her lost children.  As the legend goes, they were Picts who had converted to Christianity around the 5th century.

A Celtic Saint  named Ninian brought Christianity to the Picts, in the 5th century and Dun became the site for one of their churches.  It was a simple structure built out of timber, wattle and daub, a standard style of building for that time.

Brude the Pictish King of Fortriu attacked Dun in 681 to extend his powers over the north-eastern parts of Scotland.  Between 681 and 694 the time of the second siege, the people of Dun more likely turned their former church into a hill fort, to protect themselves from further attacks, by Pictish warriors.  (Dun was the pictish name meaning hill fort, and between 681 and 684, they changed their name).

The 8th – 11th century was a bloody and scary time, for Vikings the scourge of the waters, no more than a race of barbaric savages, raided settlements across Europe.  King Donald II (889-900) was killed during an attack on Dunnottar Castle, from Viking raiders.  They captured the castle, pillaged and finally destroyed it.

The castle was rebuilt out of earth and timber.  It was not until 1276, that a Norman styled stone church was built and consecrated on the site of the former Ninian chapel.

When Edward I (1272-1307) made his claim upon the Scottish throne, Dunnottar got caught up in the battle as English troops occupied the castle.

William Wallace and his army captured the castle in 1297, during the “Wars of Scottish Independence.”  Some 4000 English warriors retreated into the church; seeking refuge.  Wallace proceeded to burn the church to the ground with the English inside, and then destroyed the castle.

Robert I of Scotland died in 1329, and in 1336 Edward I made a bid for the Scottish Throne by dispatching William Sinclair 8th Baron of Roslin with eight ships to Dunnottar Castle ruins, to re-build and fortify the site.  Before the year had ended, Sir Andrew Murray had captured the castle from the English, and burnt it to the ground.

During the 14th century William Keith married Margaret Fraser, the niece of Robert the Bruce, and he became Baron of Dunnottar.

William Keith constructed a tower house, and placed it on the consecrated ground of the parish church, sending them into uproar, and he was excommunicated for his actions.  Pope Benedict XIII issued a Bull notice in 1395, effectively lifting the excommunication order placed upon him.  He went on to enhance the structure of Dunnottar by building stone defences, with a curtain wall around the cliff-top site, and a stone keep.

Dunnottar received royal visits in the shape of King James IV in 1503, Mary Queen of Scots in 1562 after the Battle of Corrichie, and again in 1564.

In 1581 George Keith became 5th Earl Marischal, and so the medieval fortress was turned into a comfortable home, yet still retaining many of its security features.

During a Catholic noble’s rebellion in 1592, Captain Carr captured Dunnottar on behalf of the Earl of Huntly, but it was short lived, for Dunnottar was restored to Lord Marischal, a few weeks later.

For it was, John Crichton was sentenced to death for practising the art of witchcraft in 1595, and burned to death at Dunnottar.

In 1639 William Keith, 7th Earl Marischal supported a Presbyterian movement (Covenanters) who opposed the established Episcopal Church.  With the assistance of James Graham, 1st Marquess of Montrose took up arms against the Catholic Earl of Huntly, thus defeating the Royalists attempt in the seizure of Stonehaven.

James Graham later changed sides, joining the Royalists and marched north, whist William Keith remained at Dunnottar, and James Graham burnt Stonehaven to the ground.

William Keith joined forces with the Engagers who made a deal with the King, and engaged in the Battle of Preston in 1648, supporting the Royalists.

Charles I was executed in 1649 and the Engagers supported their new king: Charles II, as he arrived in Scotland in June 1650, and visited Dunnottar in July 1650.

Oliver Cromwell led a force into Scotland, defeating the Scots at Dunbar in September 1650.

The coronation of Charles II took place at Scone Palace on 1st January 1651, and the Honours of Scotland (Regalia of Crown, Sword and Sceptre) were used in the ceremony.

With Cromwell in Lothian, the Honours of Scotland could not be returned to the safety of Edinburgh Castle, and were duly smuggled into Dunnottar for their safety.  With Sir George Ogilvie as Lieutenant–Governor of the castle, they believed the Honours of Scotland, would be safe in his custody.

What they had not bargained on was the sheer determination of Oliver Cromwell, to destroy what was sacred to the Scots; the Honours of Scotland.  For in September 1651, so started the siege of Dunnottar, against a garrison of sixty-nine men, who held out for eight months, before surrendering a battle scarred castle to Cromwell’s army.

What Cromwell wanted most had been smuggled away for safety, right under the noses of the English army?

So how were the Honours of Scotland smuggled out of the castle?  It is believed that Mrs Grainger, the minister’s wife from Kinneff, slipped them under her skirt, whilst visiting the castle on compassionate grounds.  Or they could have been lowered over the wall to a servant of Mrs Grainger.  It shows to what extent people would go, to save their heritage, from the English army, intent on destruction.

At the news that they could not be found in the castle, Oliver Cromwell was so enraged, that the chapel and castle were torn apart, and ransacked of fixture and fittings.  Cromwell’s government then imposed fines upon Marischal, and he was forced into selling his lands and possessions to pay them.

Charles II was restored to his rightful place in 1660, and the “Honours of Scotland” were removed from their hiding place in Kinneff Church and returned to the King.

Dunnottar Castle; its Keep now in ruins, and the great hall, all but destroyed, yet there was still enough to create a military presence in the area.

The year was 1685 and King James VII was on the Scottish throne, and religious turmoil had broken out, as authorities had stamped out Presbyterianism.  A total of 167 men and women, who would not accept the King’s ruling on spiritual matters, and the use of the new prayer book, were imprisoned in Dunnottar for five weeks, and their dark cellar became known as the “Whigs Vault.”

Some 167 entered the vault, 37 were released upon taking an oath to their King.  Of the remaining, some managed to escape, but most were shipped off to a Penal Colony in the West Indies, and seventy were known to have died on the voyage.

Viscount Dundee’s campaign in support of the now deposed James VII in 1689, saw Dunnottar Castle garrisoned for William and Mary with Lord Marischal appointed captain for the duration.

The 9th Earl Marischal regained Dunnottar in 1695, but years of military occupation had taken its toll on the building.  The 10th Earl Marischal made a mistake that would see the loss of the family home.  He joined up with the Jacobite Rebellion, supporting James VII.  James and the Earl Marischal were forced to flee their homeland, after an unsuccessful uprising, and headed to France for safety.


The northern parts of Scotland are known to suffer from the savage waters of the North Sea.  Some ten miles south of Aberdeen, sits Dunnottar Castle, close to the town of Stonehaven.

Time has not been good to Dunnottar, this fine old castle has stood up well, to what man has thrown at her.  She is located on the shoreline, and nature has been doing its worst, gale force winds beating down upon her, and savage waters lapping at her walls for hundreds of years.  All that remains is a ruinous building, slowly slipping away, taking its memories with her.

A 14th century Tower House (Keep) had a dual use, on one hand it represented a noble mansion, whilst still being a fortified mansion.  It contained a stone-vaulted basement, with three floors above and a garret topping, measuring 39ft x 36ft x 49ft high, which housed a great hall, private chamber, bedrooms and kitchen.  Alongside stood outhouses, containing a storehouse and forge.

Located close by stands the Priests’ House as used by William Keith.  It contained a hall and kitchen on the ground floor, with private chambers above, with a northerly spiral staircase, and it is believed to have been built in the 1570’s.

The palace built in the latter part of the 16th and mid 17th century, are based on three wings within a quadrangle, believed to be the work of 5th Earl Marischal.  It was an unusual design for those times, as most buildings tended to be tall, and this was a long and low design.

It had seven lodgings that opened out onto the quadrangle, above was the gallery, all part of the west range, and at the end of the gallery was the drawing room linked to the north range.  The north range basement housed kitchens and stores, with dining room and great chamber above.  Located between north and west ranges on the ground floor is the Water Gate giving access to the northern cliffs.

The east range has a larder, brewhouse and bakery on the ground floor level with a suite of apartments for the Countess above.  A north-eastern wing would contain the Earl’s apartments, which included the “King’s Bedroom” as used by Charles II, when he stayed at Dunnottar.  An inscribed stone can be found within: 7th Earl and his wife dated 1654.

Below is the famous “Whigs’ Vault” 52ft x 15ft, and a lower vault accessed by a trap-door in the floor.

Artillery defences surrounded the north-west corner of the castle, facing inland, and the south-east corner, facing seaward, and overlooking the coastline.

Scotland: Mary Queen of Scots

Mary, Queen of Scots was born at Linlithgow Palace on the 8th December 1542, to parents King James V and Marie de Guise.

James V had been defeated at the “Battle of Solway Moss” by English forces commanded by Oliver Sinclair.  James chose to retire to his hunting lodge at Falkland Palace in Fife out of disgrace, and on the 14th December he died.

Henry VIII, called off the war against Scotland, and sought to negotiate a marriage between Mary and Prince Edward VI heir apparent to the English throne, then aged five.

The Regent of Scotland, The Earl of Arran was in favour of the marriage, and so the Treaty of Greenwich was entered into, thus Mary and Edward were betrothed to each other.  However, opposing factions saw it as a threat to Scottish nationality and their Catholic religion.  Pressure was brought to bear on the Earl of Arran, to withdraw from the treaty, and seek an alliance with France.

On the 9th December 1543, Mary was crowned Mary, Queen of Scots at Stirling castle.

In 1558, Mary married Francis the dauphin of France at Notre Dame in Paris, and on the 10th July 1559, Mary ascends to Queen Consort of France, when her husband becomes King Francis II of France.

Many in England feared this marriage could have long term consequences.  For Mary was now queen Consort of France, Queen of Scotland, and declared herself as the true Queen of England, whilst her husband became King Consort of Scotland and King of France, this royal alliance had united French and Scottish crowns.

On the 5th December 1560, Mary’s husband King Francis II of France died.

In 1560, Mass performed in Latin became illegal, according to the law laid down by the Scottish Parliament, as the Protestant faith, spread across much of Scotland.

Mary, Queen of Scots found herself a widow at eighteen, and returned to her homeland of Scotland in 1561, to take up her position as Queen of Scotland.  She a Catholic, in a predominately Protestant country, forced into accepting her Scotland was now led by a Protestant Government.

In 1565, Mary marries Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, her cousin, believing upon the death of Elizabeth I; with him on her side, any claim to the English throne would be increased.  They married at Mary’s private chapel in Holyrood House on the 29th July.  The marriage was a failure, for Darnley wanted to be joint ruler with Mary.

Mary appointed one David Riccio an Italian as her personal secretary, and on the 9th March 1566, Darnley burst into her chambers at Holyrood House with fellow conspirators in a jealous rage, and murdered Riccio.

On the 19th June 1566, Mary gave birth to a son; James at Edinburgh Castle, who would grow up to become King James VI of Scotland, and baptised on the 12th December at Stirling Castle.

Early in 1567, Darnley was known to be plotting against Mary’s life.  Then on the 9th February Stuart Darnley, the King of Scotland was strangled to death in the grounds of Kirk O’Fields, following an explosion.  Then in the May, the Earl of Bothwell believed to be behind the murder marries Mary, Queen of Scots.

On the 15th June 1567, Protestant Lords confronted Mary at Carberry Hill, near Edinburgh, where she surrendered and was imprisoned at Lochleven Castle.  Pressure was brought to bear, forcing her to abdicate in favour of her infant son; James.

Mary escaped in 1568, defeated in the “Battle of Langside” on the 13th May, and fled south, crossing the border into England, expecting Elizabeth to support her … how wrong she was.

Mary found herself a prisoner, first at Carlisle Castle, then Bolton Castle.

In October of 1586, Mary found herself on trial for treason against the life of Elizabeth, through correspondence with Anthony Babington.  On the 25th October she was found guilty of the charges and sentenced to death.

On the 8th February 1587, Mary Queen of Scots, she who sought help from Elizabeth and England, a conspirator against the life of Elizabeth, lost her own life to the executioner… at Fotheringhay Castle, and was buried first at Peterborough Cathedral, then in 1612 moved to Westminster Abbey.

Scotland: Ghosts of Culloden

The moor – site of the last battle on British soil, has its share of ghostly traditions, perhaps befitting for the scene of so much bloodshed and slaughter.

The Battle of Culloden – April 16th 1746 – marked the fall of the Jacobite rebellion of 1745, which sought to restore the Stuart monarchy to the throne. In barely 40 minutes of fighting, the massed army of Bonnie Prince Charlie had been slaughtered by government troops (which also contained Scottish clans) led by Prince William the Duke of Cumberland.

The odds were already stacked against them, the boggy, rain sodden ground of the moor was not suited to the Highland charge, they were vastly outnumbered, and they were exhausted after a many days marching back from England where they had failed to muster the support they badly needed to ensure victory. They had also launched a surprise attack on their foes during the night which had ended without them even coming into contact with the Duke’s men.

The battle started with an exchange of artillery that quickly became a one sided affair, as the Jacobite gunners were vastly outnumbered and outclassed. Twenty minutes of constant bombardment decimated the Jacobite lines as they awaited the order to charge. Bonnie Prince Charlie took no part in the battle, and with no leader to sound orders their hesitations was to play a large part in their defeat. When they finally did charge – taking it under their own initiative – the slaughter continued, those who did not die in a volley of bullets and grapeshot, were cut down when they reached the lines. The government troops used a new way of meeting the Highland charge, each soldier stabbed at the man to the right of those they faced directly, so their bayonet would pierce under the man’s raised sword arm, and avoid the targe, the highlander’s small shields most often held in the left hand. 

There was no mercy for the wounded soldiers, many were slaughtered where they had fallen, and those who had managed to flee were hunted down and executed. Bonnie Prince Charlie managed to evade the Government forces, and after five months on the run throughout the Highlands, escaped to Italy via the Isle of Skye, never to return.

There is a tradition of haunted battle sites in Britain and Culloden is no exception, ghostly soldiers are supposed to appear on the anniversary of the battle on the 16th of April, and the cries of battle and the clash of steel have also been reported.

The spectre of one of the Highlanders is also said to frequent the area, he is tall in stature with drawn features – he is supposed to say, “defeated” in hushed tones when encountered. One woman visiting the moor from Edinburgh in August 1936 lifted a tartan cloth covering one of the mounds – which mark the Jacobite graves – to discover an apparition of a dead Highlander underneath it. Another tradition attached to these grave mounds is that birds do not sing in their vicinity, perhaps hushed by the ominous atmosphere.

There are numerous wells dotted around the area, on the battle site itself and nearby. St Mary’s Well is said to be haunted by the ghosts of the dead highlanders, and a Clootie Well in Culloden wood is festooned with brightly coloured rags, offerings from people wishing to be cured of ailments.

Scottish Heroine: Flora MacDonald

Flora MacDonald was born in 1722 on South Uist, to parents Ranald MacDonald of Milton and his wife Marion, daughter of Angus MacDonald.  Flora lost her father in her early years, and her mother re-married Hugh MacDonald.

Bonnie Prince Charlie led the second Jacobite uprising of 1745, to overthrow King George II, and in the spring of 1746 the Scots were beaten at the “Battle of Culloden.”

Bonnie Prince Charlie headed to the Scottish Hebrides in a desperate need for assistance.  Help came in the shape of Flora MacDonald who dressed the Prince as the maid Betty Burke.

With Flora’s help Bonnie Prince Charlie made it by boat to the Scottish Island of Skye, and onto France and safety.

The English army captured Flora MacDonald for her part in the Jacobite Rebellion, and she was imprisoned first at Dunstaffnage Castle at Oban, before being held at the Tower of London.  In 1747, Flora was released from prison, and she returned to her homeland of Scotland, a heroine amongst her people.

In 1750 she married Allan MacDonald, and in 1774 they emigrated to North Carolina, just as the American War of Independance was brewing.  He joined the Royal Highland Emigrants and was captured at the “Battle of Moore’s Creek.”  Flora fled into hiding, whilst American rebels destroyed the family plantation… she lost everything.

In 1779, Flora left America and returned to Scotland; Dunvegan Castle on the Isle of Skye.  Her husband got his release in 1783 and returned to the Isle of Skye and his Flora.

On the 5th March 1790, Flora MacDonald died and was buried at Kilmuir on Skye.  Her body was wrapped in a sheet which Bonnie Prince Charlie had slept on.

Samuel Johnson paid tribute to Flora MacDonald: That which is inscribed upon her memorial stone.

Flora MacDonald.  Preserver of Prince Charles Edward Stuart.  Her name will be mentioned in history and if courage and fidelity be virtues, mentioned with honour.

The part that Flora MacDonald played in the escape of Bonnie Prince Charlie, over the sea to Skye, is immortalized in the “Skye Boat Song,” published in 1884.


Speed, bonnie boat, like a bird on the wing,
Onward! the sailors cry;
Carry the lad that’s born to be King
Over the sea to Skye.

Loud the winds howl, loud the waves roar,
Thunderclaps rend the air;
Baffled, our foes stand by the shore,
Follow they will not dare.


Though the waves leap, soft shall ye sleep,
Ocean’s a royal bed.
Rocked in the deep, Flora will keep
Watch by your weary head.


Many’s the lad, fought in that day
Well the claymore did wield;
When the night came, silently lay
Dead on Cullodens field.


Burned are their homes, exile and death
Scatter the loyal men;
Yet ere the sword cool in the sheath
Charlie will come again.