The constitutional position of Scotland has been in constant flux these past few years, with the rise of the SNP, and the Union seemingly in crisis at every turn. In his Edinburgh International Book Festival Event, Trevor Royle argues that the Union in crisis is nothing new. With Culloden he takes us back to a time when armed rebellion, and not peaceful democracy, presented a threat to the future of the United Kingdom.
Written from the point of view of the British army, Culloden is an attempt to rehabilitate the government side of this battle. The aftermath of that fateful day in 1746 has lingered long in the collective memory of Scotland, but Royle argues that it should be placed in the proper context of the time – that prisoners being killed was accepted practice by both sides, comparisons to modern genocide are ludicrous, and the lessons learned from Culloden shaped British army policy for decades to come, especially in subsequent conflicts such as the Seven Years War in North America, and more famously, the American Revolution.
Rather than a purely ‘British’ affair, the Jacobite rebellion is also placed in the context of the ongoing power struggle between Britain and France, and Royle argues that essentially, the rebellion was a second front for France, the original battlefields in Flanders the main theatre of war, the conflict to settle the Austrian succession bringing Europe’s great powers to loggerheads.
Royle is at pains to re-evaluate the Duke of Cumberland, the commander of the government forces, with cold, sober analysis, that praises his professionalism, and argues that his actions were widely popular and approved off at the time by a grateful populace in London, glad to see the rebellious Scots crushed at last.
Royle is at old hand at these types of events, deftly providing amusing anecdotes, engaging with audience questions, and keen to answer questions from his readership.
The result is an entertaining and insightful look into a much discussed, but rarely understood, chapter of British history.