Culloden: Scotland’s Last Battle and the Forging of the British Empire

Written by Trevor Royle
Review by Nicky Moxey

The battle that ended Bonnie Prince Charlie’s hopes in 1746 had consequences that exploded across the globe. Trevor Royle traces the effects of the Jacobite defeat and the careers of combatants on both sides across the next 50 years, vividly delineating the forces that shaped the British Empire, made the French defeat in the Seven Years War inevitable, and so set up the necessary conditions for the American Revolution to succeed. Culloden changed the world.

In parts, the book is not an easy read. Cumberland’s sobriquet of The Butcher was earned by his brutal suppression of the clan system in the Scottish Highlands – his soldiers had orders to “burn the ploughs, and destroy what you can”. There are uncomfortable parallels with the treatment of Native Americans whilst British and French forces jockeyed for ownership of North America, and the casual racism of the time is appalling. My Scottish brother-in-law’s passion about a battle lost three centuries ago sparked my curiosity. I expected a blow-by-blow account of the battle. I got much, much more than I bargained for – a vastly broader appreciation of a formative period in world history.