Today I finished reading

This is the second of John Prebble’s two histories of the demise of the way of life of the Scottish Highlands.

The author’s exemplary research and lively prose gives plentiful detail of the decisive battle of Culloden and its aftermath.

The picture is well amplified by the characterful wood engravings of Harry Brockway, the first of which features Alexander MacDonald of Keppel, an early clan leader casualty as the frontispiece.

Beginning with the organised march from Nairn to Culloden of the Royalist army and the gathering of the tired and hungry clans, in the harshest highland weather, we learn exactly what it was like for ordinary soldiers in particular preparing for battle in all kinds of freezing precipitation across boggy, rocky terrain. The reality of battle was even more dreadful.

Drummers woke and led the Redcoat soldiers,

while pipers like Ian Beg spurred the Rebel army

We are told of the Lowlanders and some Clansmen with axes to grind against the Highlanders; and Highlanders, like

Charles Stewart of Ardshiel, drawn into the conflict because of scores to settle with Royalist adherents, such as the Campbells.

Gilles MacBean was one of many who, fatally wounded, crawled away to die in the harsh undergrowth.

Although it was William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland who enjoyed the fame, and epithet “Butcher”, the hands-on commander responsible for the dreadful aftermath, details of which his own leader seemed content not to know too much about, was

Major General Henry Hawley.

The Highland capital of Inverness was occupied by the Redcoat army, from where they they searched the highlands for fleeing Rebels, laid waste the terrain, looted, destroyed and burnt highlanders homes, until a line of soldiers formed along the shore of Loch Ness carved a cleft across the north. The remaining clansmen rooted out were imprisoned in appalling circumstances, including the holds of ships which transported many to America and the West Indies.

Anne McKay, despite days of torture, refused to betray a group of Jacobites.

Murdoch McRaw was the last man hanged for alleged spying.

Samuel Kelsell received 2,000 lashes of the Cat o’ Nine Tails spread over 10 sessions for stealing 15 sheep.

Stewart Carmichael of Bonnyhaugh was the only man to escape from the Tilbury transports.

Cumberland was fêted in England on his return.


  1. It sounds like the book kept your interest. I looked up John Prebble and discovered he had also been a screenwriter and novelist.
    The engravings are marvelous.

    1. I imagine so, Liz. Today warfare doesn’t involve direct contact with the people in conflict. hanks very much

  2. It is interesting to note that the English government have never quite got over the fear that Scots might not be as grateful for English rule as they should be.

    1. That’s a strange thing to say. There is no such thing as an English government – hasn’t been for more than 300 years, longer than the USA has been in existence. The ’45 wasn’t a national conflict – it was about the attempt to restore the Catholic Stuart dynasty to the throne of Britain, though many supporters on both sides had their own reasons for being there.

  3. Fascinating, Derrick. Love the engravings. I’ve visited the Culloden battlefield at least three times. It is a bleak place. The battle lasted less than an hour. I walked the frighteningly short distance from the rebel to the government lines getting angrier and angrier at Bonnie Prince Charlie for getting men senselessly killed for the sake of his dynastic fantasy. As for Cumberland, these days he’d be tried for war crimes.

  4. This is so interesting. Thank you for your review! Now I want to know more about Anne McKay.
    And those illustrations are amazing…so much detail! They really capture me!
    (((HUGS))) ❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️

  5. Hi Derrick, a most excellent review. We visited the museum and battle scene of Culloden in 2019. So much tragedy ❤️‍????

  6. A lot of ghosts must still haunt that battlefield, as they do all. Mankind has a bloody past, present and probable future. The reasons, tools and methods of destruction change with the times, and war continues to rage in many places. All senseless.

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