A Body of Brave and Determined Men

Posted on July 21, 2016 by Cape Rebel

From Escape from Culloden
by The Chevalier de Johnstone

On occasions when everything is to be feared, we ought to lay aside fear; when we are surrounded with dangers, no danger ought to alarm us. With the best plans we may fail in our enterprises, but the firmness we display in misfortune is the noblest ornament of virtue. This is the manner in which a Prince who, with an unexampled rashness, had landed in Scotland with only seven men, ought to have conducted himself.

We were masters of the passes between Ruthven and Inverness, which gave us sufficient time to assemble our adherents. The clan of Macpherson of Clunie, consisting of five hundred very brave men, besides many other Highlanders who had not been able to reach Inverness before the battle, joined us at Ruthven. Our numbers increased at every moment, and I am thoroughly convinced that, in the course of eight days, we should have had a more powerful army than ever, capable of re-establishing without delay the state of our affairs, and of avenging the barbarous cruelties of the Duke of Cumberland. But the Prince was inexorable and immoveable in his resolution to abandon his enterprise, and to terminate, in this inglorious manner, an expedition the rapid progress of which had fixed the attention of all Europe.

Our separation at Ruthven was truly affecting. We bade one another an eternal adieu. No one could say whether the scaffold would not be his fate. The Highlanders gave vent to their grief in wild howlings and lamentations. The tears flowed down their cheeks when they thought that their country was now at the discretion of the Duke of Cumberland, and on the point of being plundered, whilst they and their children would be reduced to slavery and plunged, without resource, into a state of remediless distress.


Thus did Prince Charles begin his enterprise with seven men and abandon it at a moment when he might have been at the head of as many thousands. He preferred to wander up and down the mountains alone, exposed every instant to being taken and put to death by detachments of English troops sent by the Duke of Cumberland to pursue him. The troops followed him closely, often passing nearby, but he evaded them as if by miracle. He declined to place himself at the head of a body of brave and determined men, of whose fidelity and attachment he was secure and all of whom would have shed the last drop of their blood in his defence. Indeed, this was now their only means of saving themselves from the scaffold, and their families from slaughter by a furious, enraged, barbarous soldiery.

The Highlands are full of precipices and passes through mountains, where only one person at a time can proceed and where a thousand men can defend themselves for years against a hundred thousand. As it abounds with horned cattle, of which above a hundred thousand are yearly sold to the English, provisions would not have been wanting. But it would only have been necessary to adopt this partisan warfare as a last resource, for I am morally certain that in the course of ten or twelve days we could have been in a position to return to Inverness and do battle with the Duke of Cumberland on equal terms. When I reflect on this subject, I am always astonished that Lord George Murray and the other clan chiefs did not resolve to carry on this mountain warfare themselves, in their own defence, as nothing can be more certain than what was once said by a celebrated author, namely that in revolt: ‘when we draw the sword, we ought to throw away the scabbard’. There is no half-measure. We must conquer or die. This would have spared much of the blood that was afterwards shed on the scaffold in England, and it would have prevented the almost total extermination of the race of Highlanders that has since taken place, whether from the policy of the English government, the emigration of their families to the colonies, or the numerous Highland regiments raised and cut to pieces during the Seven Years War (1756-1763).


At length the Prince embarked, on the 17th of September 1746, having escaped death a thousand times during the space of five months, and having exposed himself to a thousand times more danger than he would have done if he had acted with courage and perseverance, leading his faithful Highlanders for as long as he could hope to make headway against the English. He should only have resorted to skulking and running about the Highlands without attendants as a last resort, after the passes had been forced and all possibility of opposing the enemy had been destroyed.

But our situation was not desperate. All we can say is that this Prince had embarked on his expedition rashly and without foreseeing the personal dangers to which he was about to expose himself; that in conducting it he had always taken care not to expose his person to the fire of the enemy; and that he abandoned it at a time when he had a thousand times more reason to hope for success than when he had left Paris to undertake it.

The battle of Culloden was lost on the 16th of April 1746 due to a series of blunders on our part rather than by virtue of any skilful manoeuvre on the part of the Duke of Cumberland. By terminating the expedition of Prince Charles, this loss prepared a scene of unparalleled horrors for his partisans and precipitated the ruin of many of the most illustrious families in Scotland. The scaffolds of England were, for a long time, daily deluged with the blood of Scottish gentlemen and peers, whose execution served as a spectacle for the amusement of the English populace, naturally of a cruel and barbarous disposition, whilst the confiscation of their estates reduced their families to beggary. Those who had the good luck to make their escape into foreign countries were consoled for the loss of their property by escaping a tragic death by the hands of the executioner.

Posted in English