Thursday, December 13, 2018

Ep. 286 - Culloden Battlefield

Moment in Oddity - French Stilt Walkers
Suggested by: John Michaels

There was a time, in the mid-19th century, when the Landes region in southwestern France was a swampy terrain. Raising sheep and keeping a homestead was very difficult in this area. The people who lived here were poor shepherds and they knew they needed to come up with a way to make their lived easier. That's when they came up with the idea of making stilts and using them to traverse the landscape. The stilts were called tchangues, which meant “big legs.” They were made from wood and stood five feet high, had wide straps to support the feet and the bottoms were widened and solidified with sheep’s bone. The shepherds used the stilts to take wide strides and it gave them the opportunity to see their flocks from a high perch. Some used staffs to give themselves more support and the shepherds became so comfortable on the stilts that they spent most of their lives on them. This skill also transfered to the other townspeople and included women and children. All the people became very adept and could perform amazing feats of balance and dexterity. Children walked to school on stilts and did their chores on them as well. Women could pluck flowers from the ground. Eventually, they were performing feats for visitors to the region, which included Empress Josephine who stopped here in 1808 to meet Napoleon. The stilt walkers greeted her and managed to keep up with her carriage horses. By the end of the 19th century, the marshland was drained and replaced by a plantation of pine trees and a forest is there to this day. But there was once a time when living on stilts, saved a French community and that, certainly is odd!

This Month in History - First Virginia Company Expedition Leaves London

In the month of December, on the 20th, in 1606, The Virginia Company expedition to America began with three small ships. These ships were called the Susan Constant, Godspeed and Discovery. Captain Christopher Newport led the expedition as it launched from London with 105 men and boys and 39 crew members. The ships landed in Puerto Rico on April 6th and they collected provisions. They arrived at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay in late April/early May of 1607. Chaplain Robert Hunt offered a prayer as a cross was set up at the landing site. The expedition would move further inward. They ventured up the James River and found a suitable spot to establish the first permanent English settlement in America. They called it Jamestown after King James I.

Culloden Battlefield (Suggested by: Brian Morse)

The Battlefield of Culloden is under the care of the National Trust for Scotland and can be found in the Scottish village of Culloden. Culloden Village is an ancient town with buildings dating back to the 1600s, one of which is Culloden House that is today a hotel. The battlefield was the scene of the Battle of Culloden that would be the final confrontation of the Jacobite rising of 1745. This battle was bloody and causalities were high. This has led to paranormal activity on the battlefield that seems to recreate the battle. Along with this are stories of omens, premonitions and The Scree. Join me as I share the history of the Battle of Culloden and the resulting hauntings of the battlefield.

Culloden Village is found in the Scottish Highlands and the name is Gaelic meaning "back of the small pond." Historic buildings that are found here include Culloden House, the Culloden Stables and the Barn Church. This village would become the scene of the final battle in the Jacobite uprising and the resounding defeat of the Jacobites would do more than just stop an uprising. This defeat would make it illegal to play bagpipes or to wear tartan and the clan way of life and system were destroyed. Jacobites were Scottish clans that supported the reinstatement of King James II who had been deposed by English nobility and they had him replaced by William and Mary. James II had been King over both England and Scotland and he had converted to Catholicism, which is what caused him to be deposed. The Scots would recognize nobody but James as their King. There would be several uprisings.

The Jacobite Rising began in 1745. This was also called the Forty-five Rebellion and was an attempt by Charles Edward Stuart to regain the British throne for his father, James Francis Edward Stuart. After William and Mary, Queen Ann took the throne until she died in 1714. She had no children alive, so the Act of Settlement of 1701, gave the throne to her cousin George I, which passed from the House of Stuart to the House of Hanover. Charles was more famously known as Bonnie Prince Charlie and he launched the rebellion on August 19th in 1745. The initial battle was at Glenfinnan and the result was the capture of Edinburgh. Some of the Scots were unsure of continuing to push back against the British, but Charles guaranteed that English Jacobites would come to the rescue. The group entered England in early November and they reached Derby by December. The English support never materialized and a split began between the Scots and Charles. The Battle of Culloden would take place in April of 1746.

The battle took place on the southeast of Inverness, which was a few miles southwest of Nairn and the date was April 16th. This would be a match-up between The Jacobite Army of Prince Charles and the Royal Troops of King George II under the Duke of Cumberland. The armies were fairly equally matched with 7,000 in the Jacobite Army and 8,000 in the Royal Army. The regiments present at the battle were: Cobham’s (10th) and Kerr’s (11th) dragoons, Kingston’s Light Dragoons, the Royals (1st), Howard’s Old Buffs (3rd), Barrel’s King’s Own (4th) Wolfe’s (8th), Pulteney’s (13th), Price’s (14th), Bligh’s (20th), Campbell’s Royal Scots Fusiliers (21st), Sempill’s (25th), Blakeney’s (27th), Cholmondeley’s (34th), Fleming’s (36th), Munro’s (37th), Ligonier’s (48th) and Battereau’s (62nd) Foot. Many might think that the Jacobite Army was mostly Gaelic-speaking Catholic Highlanders, but the reality was that many of these men were Non-juring Episcopalians from the Lowlands and English, French and Irish men were also among their numbers.

So we have a split in Prince Charlie's men. The main cause for the split was deciding what kind of warfare to engage with. Part of the Jacobites wanted to go back to their roots of guerilla warfare. These clan men were used to conducting raids, not professional military strikes. There was also a split within the ranks. The officers of the infantry were from the upper classes and aristocracy, while the foot soldiers were basically poor agricultural workers. Some major issues that happened during the decision making about tactics, weakened the Jacobites further. Lord George Murray led a heated council with the officers as he pushed for guerilla warfare and he believed there was not time to launch an attack and that they should abort. He sent Prince Charlie's right-hand man named O'Sullivan to inform him of the change in plan, but O'Sullivan missed him in the dark. Meanwhile, Murray took his men, which were one-third of the Jacobite forces back to camp as they aborted. The other two-thirds of the force had no idea that there was a change in plans. Some of these forces had dispersed to find food or were asleep in ditches and outbuildings when the British forces began engagement.

The British did have at least a thousand more men in total and you don't have a complete Jacobite army here. The British were more skilled with the artillery as well. The highland terrain also made a charge very difficult and rain and sleet were falling. This would be a very brief skirmish starting around 11:00 and lasted only an hour. The Jacobites formed three columns with the three Macdonald battalions; a small one of Chisholms; another small one of Macleans and Maclachlans; Lady Mackintosh and Monaltrie's regiments; Lord Lovat's Regiment; Ardsheal's Appin Stewarts; Lochiel's Regiment; and three battalions of the Atholl Brigade. Bonnie Prince Charlie ran off and hid somewhere and once found was pressed to order a charge, which he did with the Clan Chattan charging first. The Jacobites advanced on the left flank of the government troops, but faced superior fire power and had volleys of musket fire with roundshot that switched to grapeshot raining down on them. They managed to charge all the way to the government lines and there a direct clash ensued. Two British regiments took the brunt, but it was minimal and a counter attack followed. This attack formed a five battalion strong horseshoe-shaped formation and the Jacobites found themselves trapped.

A catastrophic collapse of the left-wing followed and this group of Jacobites began a retreat. Another clan group were waiting in the wings as a type of ambush, but their leader was killed and they soon were in retreat. A group of Irish picquets came to the rescue and prevented a massacre. Prince Charlie was not ready to give up, so Captain Shea told Charlie's bodyguard, "Yu see all is going to pot. Yu can be of no great succor, so before a general deroute wch will soon be, Seize upon the Prince & take him off ." He did so. The Lowland regiments retreated southwards and the Highlanders went back towards Ruthven Barracks, but the government cavalry cut them down and the rest had to retreat to Inverness. They were pusued and given no quarter. The only ones spared were 50 French officers and soldiers. The government forces captured fourteen of the colours or standards. The Jacobites had suffered a crushing defeat that left 2,000 of their number dead or wounded. The British suffered only 300 casualties.

There would be one more small skirmish that was naval and the uprising was over. This solidified the fact that the House of Stuart would not return and Bonnie Prince Charlie never tried to challenge the crown again. The punishment that the Duke of Cumberland issued after the battle left him with the nickname "The Butcher" and this has caused some controversy even in our era when the University of Glasgow awarded the Duke of Cumberland an honorary doctorate. Further civil penalties helped eradicate the Gaelic culture and undermine the Scottish clan system.

Today, people come from all over the world to see the Culloden Battlefield. The visitor centre is located near the site of the battle and was opened in December of 2007. The field had been a grazing ground during the battle, but today is covered in heather and shrubs. There are footpaths to explore and a memorial that stands 20 feet high, made of stones, was erected by Duncan Forbes in 1881. In the same year, Forbes also erected headstones to mark the mass graves of the clans. "The English Stone" marks the place of the government dead near the Old Leanach cottage. Something that might surprise people is that this was not an English versus Scots thing. More Scots fought for the Duke of Cumberland than for Prince Charlie. In fact, Scottish Captain Ferguson chased down and hanged highland rebels as he scoured the Scottish isles. Many Jacobites fled to the American colonies. The only building to survive the battle, still stands today: Old Leanach Cottage. It was inhabited until 1912 and is now kept by the National Trust for Scotland and looks like it did in the 18th century. There were barns around the cottage, but they no longer exist because Government redcoats found 30 wounded Jacobites seeking refuge within them and so they barricaded the barns and burnt the Jacobites alive.

As we all can imagine, this battlefield is full of negative energy. The supernatural activity here is high and the legends and lore that date back to even before the battle, reveal even more strange activity that had nothing to do with the aftermath of the battle. On the edge of Inverness and on part of the battlefield stands Culloden Woods. It is within these woods that one can find St. Mary's Well. Although the name leads one to think the well has a Christian connection, it actually has its roots in Pagan traditions and was originally called Tobar n'Oige, which meant Well of Youth in Gaelic. The well is named for St. Mary who lived in the woods. She would do her rounds with a bucket in her hand. It was said that she healed the sick with water from her well. This well has a legendary claim of being a place of healing. People are encouraged to come to the well and carry on a tradition in which they make a wish, walk around the well three times, gather water in a cupped hand and drink deeply and then tie a scrap of cloth from your clothing very tightly around a nearby tree. This ritual is said to only work when done on Beltane. It is more than just tourists and villagers who come. It is said that the clansmen come too, although Beltane is two weeks too late for them. They have been seen so many times, that few are skeptical about the stories.

The clansmen were said to have experienced an omen before the battle. Many were gathered near a well on the road from Uig to Portree. They were all stunned when a blood-soaked man ran up to them with pure terror in his eyes. He called out, "Defeat!" He yelled it twice more with anguish and then vanished before their eyes. The group all looked at each other realizing that they had witnessed a phantom. they they heard distant drums and the clash of swords. The sound moved quickly upon them and it was as if a ghostly army and battle passed right through their midst. The group had no way of knowing that this was an omen of the demise that was to come the next day at the Battle of Culloden.

Have you ever heard of the Scree? I had not. And if you Google Scree, you'll just find information about rock debris. But the Scottish clans believed in a figure that they called the Scree and they said that it was bad luck to see the Scree.  Death was said to surely follow. The Scree is described as a large black bird that rises up from the heather , screaming. The day of the battle, the men leading the Scots all claimed to see the Scree. George Murray was frozen to his spot. The bird practically blocked out the evening sky. It flew over Drummossie Moor giving off a shrieking caw. And then it just disappeared midflight. This was another bad omen. And it was not just something for the people of this time to see. A tourist witnessed it on the battlefield in July of 2005. What makes this legendary bird odd here is that it makes noise. For no bird makes any noise at the battlefield. They nest in the heather and the trees and fly over the moor and the graves, but they make no noise.

The ghost of The Highlander is said to wander here. A woman from Edinburgh was visiting in August of 1936. She was reading some of the clan stones and noticed that someone had laid a tartan on the cairn. She lifted the cloth so she could read the name and a ghostly face peered back at her. He stared at her and she ran. Other people who have seen this apparition, claim that he seems shell-shocked and lost. He walks for a while and then just stops. When people try to approach him, he disappears. It seems that most stories about him have him being spotted on April 16th.

Temperature fluctuations happen rapidly near the Cairns. On the anniversary of the battle, locals claim that they hear the battle as though it is being reinacted. There are the sounds of drummers beating a tattoo, weapons clashing and men yelling and then the sounds just stop. Andrea Byrne of Scottish Paranormal took a team of investigators onto Drummossie Moor and they used dowsing rods to try to find energy lines and they found one running from Cumberland's Stone to St. Mary's Well. Temperature and humidity flutuations were dramatic near the graves. They conducted interviews with staff who claimed to hear disembodied sounds and they reported that visitors often claimed to hear the sounds of battle. Most psychics who visit claim that the activity is all residual, just replaying events.

Even if none of this activity is intelligent, it still seems to exist. A reminder replaying over and over of the horrible thing that happened here when men fought and killed each other over a power struggle. Many lost their physical lives, but what was really lost was a culture. Highlanders bogged down in mud and overwhelmed by more powerful artillery could have had no idea that their way of life was dying with them. Perhaps the energy that replays here over and over is a desperate attempt for this culture's spirit to live again somehow. Is the Culloden Battlefield haunted? That is for you to decide!

Show Notes:
Outlander is a historical fiction novel that is a series that also was turned into a TV series about a WWII nurse named Claire who walks through one of these megolith/ley line places in Scotland and goes back in time from 1946 to 1743. So most of the novel and TV series is set in Scotland, specifically in the Highlands. One of the settings is the Battle of Culloden. It comes up in several of the books and in the Season 2 finale.


  1. I love history and I really enjoyed your post.It was a wonderful article and I find it informative. Hope to read more of your blog. Am hoping also that I could visit France to see this place with my very own eyes. Thank you.

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