Culloden is a name that resonates like some doom-laden infinite gong throughout Scotland. It still sounds in Scottish heads, long after the day in 1746 when (as morose Scots will tell you) the birds fell silent on that blasted, blood-soaked moor. It rings with finality, the last battle on British soil; a romantic, heroic Scottish failure; The End of the Dream – as the Scottish Daily Record newspaper describes it in its partisan partwork The Story of Scotland. It haunts us with what might have been had the plucky retreating Jacobites of Bonnie Prince Charlie not been comprehensively, ruthlessly defeated by the Auld Enemy, England.
We conveniently forget that Scots and Irish troops fought alongside the English that day. The truth of history is never as simple as the mist of legend. I proudly call myself Scottish, conveniently forgetting the English and Irish muddle of ancestors who make up a good half of me.
Celebrity souvenir, c1748 (V&A, London)
William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland (1721-1765)
widely lionised in both England and Scotland
for his victory at Culloden
Still, it’s embarrassing in certain circles to have to admit that one of those Irish ancestors lined up with the English ranks at Culloden. Lieutenant Eyre Massey, my 6x great uncle, was not only there on the wrong side. He distinguished himself sufficiently in the battle to attract the attention of the English commander – a man hated in Scottish oral history for his brutal persecution of Jacobites after the victory, William Duke of Cumberland, known around these parts simply as The Butcher.
Eyre served with the grenadiers in Colonel Blakeney’s Regiment, later known as the Enniskillens or the 27th Foot. Blakeney was another Irishman. Although most of the regiment were held in reserve during the engagement and saw little action, the grenadiers led by Massey were in the thick of it. Massey was descended from a wealthy Irish military family and had bought his commission in the army; but he led from the front, earning the respect and support of his men. He was wounded at Culloden and his bravery won him the useful patronage of the Duke, a son of George II the English king.
2000 Jacobites and 50 Hanoverians died
at the Battle of Culloden, 16th April 1746
Under Cumberland’s influence Eyre began to rise through the ranks – Captain-Lieutenant in 1747, Captain in 1751 and Major in 1755. He again distinguished himself in the Canadian campaign of 1757-60 (of which I wrote here some time ago) and afterwards in the West Indies. He was appointed Colonel in the regiment in 1773, Major-General in 1776 and became a Lieutenant-Colonel in 1782. After a period of frustratingly inactive if comfortable semi-retirement, Massey was called into service again to quell a mutiny amongst Irish troops and rewarded in 1796, at the age of 77, with promotion to the rank of full General.
His military career is impressive, even if it was launched with grenades against the Scots at Culloden. It could all have gone very differently. The second-last battle on British soil was fought three months earlier and 100 miles further south. Eyre Massey was there too. If the Scots had been able to capitalise on their successes that day, the English advance might well have stalled along with Massey’s military career. No Culloden – no end of the Scottish dream. Ironically, it was failure within their own ranks, and at the very highest level, which led instead to the death of the dream and of so many Scots at the hand of other Scots, English and Irish enemies. More in Part 2!