Jacobites by Name

By Annie Cumming

Hugh shook himself awake. He was stiff with cold and his damp plaid afforded no comfort from the biting wind fresh off the Moray Firth. Looking down in the gloom, he saw another tartan-clad figure lying prone with ghastly dark streaks down his chalky face. Hugh gave the body a nudge with his waterlogged brogue. An empty whisky jar rolled over the pebbles.

The muddy outcrop provided little shelter. The earth was sodden and icy bog water dripped down his neck, but he was past caring. Thinking of Mairi and the bairns back at the cottage he shook his head in despair. Once again he was returning to the croft - if return he could - injured and penniless.

Sounds of battle raged in his aching head. His nostrils still seared from acrid musket smoke. And in the end they had lost the fight. He fell into a delirious sleep again, with the sounds of pipes and drums still echoing in his ears.

Waking fitfully he asked himself over and over just why he had agreed to join this motley rebel group. Why had this romantic notion taken him over body and soul? He had been so easily persuaded when they approached him. But then Hugh had to admit to himself that the demon 'uisge-beatha' had been his downfall that night as it had been so often before. He thought over the whole tragic story again. His memory clear one moment, confused the next. It had been entirely his own fault. Yet many others had met up to see this through too. He was far from alone in this scheme. And all because of an ill-conceived unattainable cause. All for the foppish Prince Charles Edward Stuart, even after all this time.

It had been nearly thirty years since the clans had gathered in such numbers to fight. Many were brandishing rusting weapons that had been hidden in thatch and crumbling blackhouse walls since the previous rebellion. The Bonnie Prince had been a weak looking individual. Seated on a weary grey horse, his reddish locks blowing over his soft features, in truth he did not inspire a great deal of emotion when seen in the flesh. But something in the legend of the Stuarts had stirred a passion in the mainly Highland blood and so here lay Hugh: wounded, chilled to the bone and with an empty belly.

He tried to move his leg. The pain was agonising. The battleground had been ill-chosen. Sleet battered the clansmen as they staggered forward in a disorganised charge. The leaders were in disarray. Treacherous bogs, clumps of rough heather and a stone wall impeded their advance. A deep ditch had done for Hugh's leg. He tried to stifle his cries of agony without much success. As he recovered his senses all his energies were required to drag himself to a sheltered spot. An overhanging heather ridge was the best he could do.

Hugh would have plenty time now to regret his decision to take part. Memories of this day's events flooded his mind. The Jacobite forces had been totally unprepared for what was expected of them. They had marched from their base in Inverness to Drumossie Moor about twelve miles from Nairn. Thereafter, Lord George Murray proposed a night attack on the government forces encamped in Nairn itself. But the terrain was heavy, the clansmen tired and hungry, and progress slow. It became apparent that the night move was not viable as they were still several miles from the town with only one hour remaining until daybreak. A comedy of errors resulted in orders being confused and the fighters being split up. Totally exhausted, Prince Charlie's men marched back to the Culloden Moor area where they tried desperately to gain some sleep or forage for food.

Whether it was the pain or the cold getting to him he did not know. He only felt a terrible sense of foreboding. Logic told him that he was relatively unscathed but the ghastly atmosphere of the place pervaded his senses. History was to record the terrible slaughter that took place on the moorland on April 16th 1746 in a matter of only an hour or so. Prince Charles Edward Stuart 'took himself away to safety' and the winning government forces with a triumphant Duke of Cumberland at their head exacted a cruel revenge on men, women and children for years to come.

Night was falling. Hugh realised that he had to make himself known if he was to avoid freezing to death in the mud and sleet. He had heard faint cries on and off during the day. The voices seemed louder now, coming closer. Ragged pipe tunes rent the air and discordant drumming started up. He tried to move again. He only managed to slither a few inches on the boggy slope, his proud tartan saturated. 

A new sound met his ears. A roaring rasping noise. Lights swept over the bank and lit up the overhang. A rough voice yelled close by...

“Hey there! Thig an seo! Get yur arses in gear! Ah've been looking fur youze fur 'oors! The war games is over, the film guys have gone away and we can enjoy a decent dram now so hurry up will ye!”

Hugh had never felt so relieved. He dragged himself forward, catching his sword on the tartan-clad bundle at his feet. The 'body' stirred, lifted its gory head and muttered through repellent whisky fumes: "Magic: pure dead magic, man."

Hugh agreed much later that it had indeed been magic, when he recounted his adventure to Mairi. Unexpectedly, the film company had left a pile of money to share and he didn't go home empty handed. But his highly traumatic brush with what had been a savage rebellion in a far distant time – albeit only as a re-enactor – lent the distance extra magic.

jacobite rebellion