After Culloden


Saturday 16 April marked the 270th anniversary of the Battle of Culloden, which brought to a violent and bloody end the Jacobite uprising of 1745-46. Popular interest in the battle and the ’45 uprising has been reignited by Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander books and the accompanying television series. The story of Culloden is often told, but what happened to the Highlands in its aftermath garners much less attention.


What if we were to take the Jacobite story forward several decades, to the outbreak of the American Revolutionary War? Only thirty years later, Highlanders were viewed not as the enemy but as an essential part of the British military, comprising a significant proportion of the army during the course of the war. Meanwhile, in the Highlands, the first clearances had already occurred by the time of the first shots of the Battles of Lexington and Concord in 1775. The Clearances continued throughout the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, representing a final, fatal break with clanship. What happened in the three decades after Culloden to effect such changes?

Focusing on the military dimension casts considerable light on the wider picture. While the Jacobites enjoyed support from all parts of Britain, Scottish Highlanders provided the majority of their fighting strength in both the 1715 and 1745 risings.


David Morier’s famous painting highlights the strength of government forces at Culloden

During the ’45, British army officers and government officials viewed almost all Highlanders with suspicion despite the fact that a number of Highland clans and individuals fought for the government.[1] This dislike and distrust of Highlanders reflected a common anti-Scottish and, more particularly, anti-Highland sentiment that was common in the eighteenth century. Highlanders were thought to be ‘barbarous savages’ and disloyal subjects, naturally inclined to rebellion against the British state. As a result the British government and army believed it was necessary to civilise the population in order to ensure lasting peace in the region. This led to the violent pacification of the Highlands in the days and months following Culloden, and the implementation of longer-term ‘civilising’ measures throughout the Highlands.


Prohibited weapon

The Act of Proscription (1746) aimed to destroy the military power of the clans by banning traditional Highland dress, possession of arms and bagpipes – which were deemed to be an ‘instrument of war’. A number of Highland landowners who had supported the Jacobites had their estates forfeited as punishment. Most were sold to pay off debts or raise revenue but thirteen were kept and put under the management of a commission which was to encourage agricultural improvement, introduce industry and develop communication.[2] Thus, penalising military disloyalty fed directly into wider government and landowner-led strategies for ‘modernising’ the region. The commission encouraged economic diversification upon the estates it was responsible for managing. This led to the dismantling of the runrig system of farm management on numerous estates with small tenant farms being broken up and replaced with crofts. This provided a ready workforce for new industry such as kelping and fishing in the coastal regions and linen manufacturing in Highland Perthshire. Crofting became increasingly widespread as clan chiefs throughout the Highlands began to diversify their economies, with little or no consultation with their tenants. Some landowners began to invest in sheep farming or pursued commercial interests such as shooting and stalking on their estates; industries which required large tracts of uninhabited land. It was the common people who suffered. 1792 became known as the ‘Year of the Sheep’ following the first mass emigration of the Clearances.

Although Culloden and its aftermath certainly helped to accelerate these changes, it would be incorrect to argue that they caused the Highland Clearances of the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. As Allan Macinnes has shown, the process of commercialisation had begun in the early seventeenth century and many Highland clan chiefs were eager accomplices in this process, wishing to style themselves more like Lowland landlords than as typical Highland clan chiefs.[3] The aftermath of Culloden provided these chiefs with a welcome opportunity to continue this commercialisation process.


Robert Gibb, ‘The Thin Red Line’ (1881)

The recruitment of Highland soldiers into the British army in the latter half of the eighteenth century played a central role in changing attitudes towards Highlanders. Andrew Mackillop has emphasised that Highlanders were targeted for military service simply because they were seen as an accessible and expendable source of manpower.[4] Highlanders had fought in both regular regiments and independent companies of the British army since before the ’45 but the scale of recruitment during the Seven Years’ War was unprecedented. Upon the outbreak of war in North America in 1754, Highland elites recruited large numbers of men to the army for service in that theatre, using recruitment to integrate themselves within the wider British elite. The economic changes occurring in the Highlands which saw commercialisation begin to dominate over clanship meant there were many Highland men who required a way to supplement their income.[5] Highland regiments quickly gained a reputation for competence and loyalty, and, as the same time as Jacobitism was being romanticised by writers such as Walter Scott, the image of the Highland soldier radically shifted to the embodiment of the brave defender of the British Empire. Emerging during the Seven Years’ War, this imagery became even more pronounced during the American Revolutionary War, when numbers of Highland soldiers increased once again.

By 1755 attitudes towards Highlanders and the Highlands themselves had changed immensely. The policies introduced by the government in the aftermath of Culloden were one in a series of attempts both before and after the ’45 to accelerate change in the Highlands. These changes were part of a long-term decline of clanship in which Highland elites often played an active role. Whilst Culloden did not lead directly to these changes it certainly played its part in the process. Moreover, as the last pitched battle on British soil it marked the end of Jacobitism as a military, if not cultural, challenge to the monarchy. All of these factors have combined to cement the legacy of Culloden and the ’45 in the minds of people all throughout the world. And if the number of people who chose to attend the anniversary commemorations at Culloden this year is any indication – approximately 500 from as far afield as Europe, North America and Australia – that legacy shows no sign of fading.



[1] The Black Watch regiment, a regular regiment within the British army composed of Highland soldiers, was not thought to be trustworthy enough to be deployed in the Highlands during the uprising. Even the Duke of Argyll, who was otherwise well connected in the British government, was subject to a general suspicion against Highlanders upon the outbreak of the rising as he faced delays in being granted permission to call out his Argyll militia.

[2] Annette M. Smith, Jacobite Estates of the ’Forty-Five (Edinburgh: John Donald Publishers Ltd, 1982). The papers of the Commission for the Annexed Estates are held in the National Records of Scotland and they contain a wealth of interesting information about the commission and the measures implemented in the Highlands in the second half of the eighteenth century.

[3] A. I. Macinnes, Clanship, Commerce and the House of Stuart, 1603-1788 (East Linton: Tuckwell, 1996); A. I. Macinnes, “Landownership, Land Use and Elite Enterprise in Scottish Gaeldom: From Clanship to Clearance in Argyllshire, 1688-1858,” in Scottish Elites: Proceedings of the Scottish Historical Studies Seminar, University of Strathclyde 1991-1992, ed. T. M. Devine (Edinburgh: John Donald Publishers Ltd, 1994).

[4] Andrew Mackillop, More Fruitful than the Soil: Army, Empire and the Scottish Highlands, 1715-1815 (East Linton: Tuckwell, 2000).

[5] Many Highland soldiers were persuaded to join up to the army because of the promise of land grants upon their completion of service. These often did not materialise upon the soldier’s return from war. Some former Jacobites used armed service as a way to rehabilitate themselves within the eyes of the British state such as Simon Fraser, son of the Jacobite peer Lord Lovat who was executed in 1747.

Thanks to the National Trust for Scotland for the figure regarding the number of attendees at the anniversary commemorations in 2016.

Nicola is an AHRC funded PhD candidate jointly supervised by the University of Stirling and the University of Dundee. Her research focuses on British imperial attitudes in the period 1745-1775.