The Battle of Culloden Part. 1: The Rising of ’46

Culloden battleOn 16 April 1746, the Scottish Jacobite army, led by Prince Charles Edward Stewart, fought the English Hanoverians in the bloody Battle of Culloden—the last pitched battle on British soil (the Battle of Britain in World War II was fought in the air). A last stand such as this defines an age, and many legends and songs about “Bonnie Prince Charlie” have celebrated the heroism of that day and mourned the fatal outcome. The loss at Culloden, the climax of Prince Charlie’s Rising, preceded the English repression of Scotland and attempts to obliterate Gaelic culture.

For those familiar with Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay, it can be said that Culloden is Scotland’s Battle of the River Deisa. It is a last stand (close to a river, the Moray Firth, no less) against a dominating force which eventually consolidates its control over the defeated defenders with slaughter and cultural repression, in an attempt to assimilate them. History has seen a few such battles…

Culloden features prominently in Alistair MacLeod’s novel No Great Mischief and in popular fiction such as Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series, in which one of the protagonists, Jamie Fraser, is a veteran of the battle. For those interested in such novels, or Scottish history more generally, this three-part telling of the battle (before, during, and after) is for you.

My personal interest in this battle extends deeper than a mere interest in Scottish history, since Scotland and particularly the Jacobite cause is within my heritage. People from my own ancestry played key roles in the build-up to the battle and the aftermath. My mother is a Macaulay and her mother was a MacDermid, and her grandmother shared a name with one of the key players in the Prince Charlie legend: Flora MacDonald. Furthermore, Campbells and MacDonalds appear with frequency in my family tree.

According to my uncle, who is the genealogist of my family, my ancestors were Jacobite politically and Catholic devotionally, which fits because Jacobites tended to be Catholic rather than Presbyterian or Anglican. My family is originally from South Uist, North Uist is more Protestant.

Uist
Uist

Now, to begin with the boring part (actually, not that boring) to the narrative, a.k.a. the politics. The reason for why.

Anyone familiar with films such as Braveheart will know that Scots have hated the English frequently in their history. The iteration of anti-English feeling that is called the Rising “arose” (get it?) as a reaction to the Act of Union in 1707, which unified Scotland, Wales, Ireland, and England into Great Britain.

Many of those who opposed the Union in Scotland wanted the old Stewart dynasty, instead of the Hanoverian kings of England (the first being George I), who were from a German family. Even among the anti-royalists, Stewarts were preferred over foreign Hanoverians. “Jacobite” came to refer to those who supported the Stewart cause, after “James,” the name of many Stewart kings.

The first Jacobite uprising followed the Act of Union and revolved around the pretender to the throne James Edward Stuart, who Louis XIV, the Sun King, recognized as King James VIII and III. The two numbers in his title refer first to his position on the Scottish line and then the English line. For some reason, Scotland really liked to call their kings James. During the first Rising, the Scots, as usual, had the support of France, a partnership called the “Auld Alliance.” Basically, the country that hated England the most after Scotland was France.

The first Rising ended when Prince James returned to France before ever setting foot in Scotland. Later Risings, such as the one 1715, also ultimately failed.

Prince Charles Edward Stuart (Stewart), aka Bonnie Prince Charlie, the Pretender
Prince Charles Edward Stuart (Stewart), aka Bonnie Prince Charlie, the Pretender

Now the Rising of Bonnie Prince Charlie, who will serve as the tragic protagonist of my narrative, is also known simply as “The 46.” It began with the mounting (to avoided the word “Raising”) of the Prince’s standard on 19 August 1745. By this time, Jacobite support had waned considerably. Since 1727, George II sat on the English throne, proving that the Hanoverians were here to stay. Meanwhile, the Jacobite leaders were still largely in Rome, bickering over futile plans to win back the throne. It might be said that Charlie had higher “standards,” which he “raised” but that’s enough with the bad puns.

What enabled him to raise his standard? Well, in 1743, the Jacobites saw an opportunity. The hilariously named War of Jenkins’ Ear, in which British captain Robert Jenkins had his ear cut off by a Spaniard who did not apologize, had hurt England’s feelings, making it enemies with Spain. And then came the War of Austrian Succession, which was unpopular except among our favourite rebels, the Jacobites, since it drove France and Spain to war against England. Party time! The time was ripe for a Pretender’s dreams, and Bonnie Prince Charlie landed on the isle of Eriskay in the Outer Hebrides on 2 August, hoisting the standard 17 days later.

Here’s where Alistair MacLeod’s ancestor comes in. Meeting Charlie at the landing site was MacLeod of MacLeod, who stands as a bit of traitor, unfortunately. He mentioned his arrival to the English government—in a shrewd, say-no-more kind of way—as if he expected no one would notice. A tough legacy to live down for Alistair. And all the way from South Uist, the rocky homeland of my Scottish ancestors, came MacDonald of Boisdale to tell Charlie to go back to Italy. These people two did not want a war. But the exiled prince gave MacDonald a sly look (in a very Alessan di Tigana moment) and said, “I am come home.”

So the struggle began. Rounding up his allies and dealing with the clansmen who supported the Hanoverians, Prince Charlie fought a guerilla-style war against the redcoats throughout Scotland. In September he promoted Lord George Murray and the Duke of Perth as Lieutennant-Generals. Both men would play crucial roles at the Battle of Culloden.

Edinburgh
Edinburgh

The high point of the campaign was capturing Edinburgh. Fighting off English dragoons with his army, Prince Charlie marched into the Scottish capital after the Camerons beat the sentries guarding the city. He was proclaimed King James VIII on 17 September.

Unfortunately, that title meant little so long as the Rising itself was unconcluded. During a siege on Stirling Castle, morale fell apart. On 30 January, the Duke of Cumberland claimed control of the English army from General Henry Hawley and scattered the disorganized Jacobites, setting off for Linlithgow. The leaders convened in Falkirk, agreeing after much debate to march north, where they would encounter Cumberland for a final decisive battle.

The battle would take place on Culloden Moor, and it would see the end of the Rising, though not before a much romanticized battle, in which heroism meets the hard flying nails of grapeshot from regimented English canons.

Stay tuned for Part II of the epic of the Battle of Culloden, and learn how the battle was fought (including a guest appearance by the infamous James Wolfe, the Conqueror of Canada, of Plains of Abraham fame).

To be continued....
To be continued….

Works Cited:

Maclean, Fitzroy. Highlanders: A History of the Scottish Clans. New York: Penguin 1995.

Magnusson, Magnus. Scotland: The Story of a Nation. New York: Atlantic Monthly, 2000.

Wikipedia

Photo Credits:

Battle of Culloden: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Culloden

Death of James Wolfe: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Wolfe

Edinburgh: www.edinburghtravelguide.co.uk

Prince Charles Portrait: http://crivensjingsandhelpmaboab.blogspot.ca/2011/08/death-of-prince-bonnie-prince-charlie.html

Uist: http://www.western-isles-wildlife.com/visit_uist.htm

Nothing is True; Everything is Permitted: Historical Reality and the Creation of the Myth behind Assassin’s Creed

Horseback altair

A white-robed hooded rider spurs his stallion to the castle of Masyaf to receive an assassination contract from his master Rashid al-Din, the infamous leader of the Assassin Brotherhood. The rider’s name is Altaïr ibn la-Ahad. They meet in a library, and the assassin receives his instructions: Marquis Conrad of Montferrat, a Templar crusader, must die.

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If this sounds like a video game you’ve played, then you might be aware of how the creators of Assassin’s Creed conduct thorough historical research. Although they take liberties in inventing a fanciful storyline, there are historical realities behind the famous video game.

The fida’is, brave soldiers of the Ismaili sect of Islam, are the real-world historical source for the Assassin myth. In Crusader-era Syria and Iran, they would infiltrate the social circle of political targets and wait, keeping up appearances, before threatening them by thrusting a dagger beside into their pillow at night.

Often, the threat would be enough to deter the enemies of the Ismailis, but occasionally they used real violence against targets, as a last resort. One such a target was Marquis Conrad of Montferrat, assassinated in 1192 in a courtyard at the port-city of Tyre just before his coronation as King of Jerusalem—by figures disguised as Christian monks. Wearing robes reminiscent of these assassins, Altaïr is the character that players of Assassin’s Creed guide through multiple levels, conducting similar assassinations. However, the names of the real assassins are lost to history.

Rashid al-Din Sinan (left) was a real leader of the Ismaili.
Rashid al-Din Sinan (left) was a real leader of the Ismaili.

As for the castle of Masyaf, it actually does stand in Syria, though not in the location specified in the game. Sinan Rashid al-Din, Altaïr’s master, was the actual legendary Ismaili leader who once called it home. Called “The Old Man of the Mountain,” he was lame in one leg, a learned alchemist, and was said to have had telepathy, clairvoyance, and the ability to communicate with spirits. Perhaps the Apple of Eden, Assassin’s Creed‘s illusion-creating artefact, had had something to do with that .. but once again, these stories are lost to history.

The truth of the Ismaili Assassins is often difficult to separate from myth.

Modern-day Masyaf castle.
Modern-day Masyaf castle.

One of the first myths is from Marco Polo’s account of the Earthly Paradise of the Assassins in his Travels. Assassin’s Creed II: Revelations has sequences that play off Niccolo Polo’s supposed encounter with the Brotherhood.

A painting of the Old Man of the Mountain receiving assassins in his castle within the garden of the Earthly Paradise.
A painting of the Old Man of the Mountain receiving assassins in his castle within the garden of the Earthly Paradise.

Supposedly, the Old Man of the Mountain had command of a fortress called Alamut (in Polo’s account not Masyaf), where he had an exceptionally beautiful garden. Milk and honey flowed in rivers through his garden, which was filled with fragrant fruits and flowers, appearing as the Qur’an’s vision of Paradise. The Old Man would bring men into the garden and have young virgins entertain them, before serving them wine laced with hashish. He would then bring them into his presence.

There, mission briefing would occur, and a promise. Since an assassination was essentially a suicidal job—it was assumed that the guards protecting the target would inevitably kill or capture an assassin—the Old Man offered Paradise itself to his minions. Since the drugged assassins thought they had truly found Paradise at Alamut, they believed the Old Man could offer that.

Through this method, the Old Man of the Mountain supposedly eliminated his political rivals and advanced his own interests.

Marco Polo’s account is a juicy myth. Essentially a result of Western fascination with the East, Europeans found in the Earthly Paradise of the Assassins a way to explore fantasies forbidden within their moralistic society. The myth gained popularity throughout the ages. According to Wikipedia, Friedrich Nietzsche in his Geneology of Morals considered the Assassins free spirits not bound by Western strictures of morality, operating according to the creed—now made famous by the video game—that states, “Nothing is true; everything is permitted.”

The Ismaili Assassins have captured the imagination of the West for centuries.
The Ismaili Assassins have captured the imagination of the West for centuries.

However, the historical reality behind the Brotherhood demolishes these Orientalist fantasies.

To begin with, there could never really have been a garden at Alamut. Peter Willey, in his book Eagle’s Nest: Ismaili Castles in Iran and Syria, to which I am indebted in this article, describes the castle’s physical details at great length. Alamut, which means “Eagle’s Nest,” is perched above a steep and rocky ridge. It is a very narrow castle and is said to have once contained a great library. However, it is simply impossible to imagine a luxurious garden growing in such a narrow courtyard.

A modern-day shot of the castle of Alamut.
A modern-day shot of the castle of Alamut.

Marco Polo clearly had never seen Alamut, which leads scholars to suppose that his famous journey to the Orient never actually happened. He may never have left Constantinople, composing his Travels from hearsay and the stories of other travelers.

To debunk the myth that the Assassins took hashish before carrying out their murders, Peter Willey draws attention to how it is impossible to aim a blade with any accuracy while high. Dexterity takes a serious hit when the mind is clouded, and a successful assassination would require presence of mind to quickly slide a blade between a target’s plate armour or through chain mail—and sometimes the target would be on horseback.

It also must be emphasized that the fida’is did not always kill. Often, the mere threat of a dagger thrust in a target’s pillow would make him withdraw a siege from a castle, or pull back his troops from a strategic region. The fear caused by the fida’is had a real affect on the enemies of the Ismailis, who were much more powerful and numerous. It kept them away from strongholds and villages—and added to the paranoia that would launch the Assassin myth.

The Ismailis were considered heretics by many Muslim religious groups. Hunted like witches by enemies seeking to weed out the fida’is from their ranks, they became blamed for assassinations that they did not commit. Innocent people were accused of being Ismaili assassins. For these, the punishment could be severe: al-Ghazali suggested the death penalty for any Ismailis who remained apostates of the Islamic faith. Meanwhile, the political situation in the Middle East—so little has changed since—was volatile and paranoid, filled with many rival political groups, most of whom employed assassination as a tactic.

In such an environment of fear, myths can easily arise. The Ismailis were blamed for more assassinations than it would have been prudent to commit. Those who blamed them were either reacting out of paranoia, or seizing an appropriate scapegoat, to better mask their own political and military stratagems.

It is precisely through such times of paranoia that fantasies take root. The historical record today can only give us glimpses into the past, and those records may be contaminated with hearsay at best, if not a deliberate falsification of information. Today, you can immerse yourself in the myths that history has passed down to you, playing a part in them through your PS3 controller.

What the the Assassin myth tells us is that human beings prefer to indulge in great stories rather than seek the truth of history. Fiction and reality: these are opposed modes and people enjoy fiction more than reality. For a writer of historical fantasy such as myself, what an insight! “Nothing is true; everything is permitted”: the creed of the historical fantasist!

Photo Credits:

http://www.gamesradar.com/awordfromoursponsors/?page=2&zone=p3_pc_x3/reviews&sendMeBackTo=http%3A//www.gamesradar.com/assassins-creed-review/%3Fpage%3D2

http://assassinscreed.wikia.com/wiki/William_of_Montferrat

http://assassinscreed.wikia.com/wiki/Rashid_ad-Din_Sinan

http://www.iis.ac.uk/view_article.asp?ContentID=101164

http://www.sickchirpse.com/2011/01/13/origin-and-myth-the-mashed-assassins/

http://simerg.com/special-series-i-wish-id-been-there/the-great-resurrection/

Christopher Marlowe : An Elizabethan Assassination Conspiracy?

A famous portrait of Marlowe from Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, painted in the year he may have become a spy for England
A portrait of Marlowe from Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, painted in 1585, the same year he may have become a spy for England. Who killed him? But more importantly, why?

On 30 May 1593, Christopher Marlowe, illustrious author of such plays as Faustus, The Jew of Malta, and Tamburlaine, walked into the Deptford house of the widow Eleanor Bull. There, he encountered three men: Robert Poley, Ingram Frizer, and Nicholas Skeres. Marlowe never left the place alive: a knife wound in the eye dispatched him presently to the afterlife.

The question that has been buggering Elizabethan historians is, why?

The assassination of Marlowe has spawned countless hypotheses, many conspiratorial. What they teach in high schools is that Marlowe was murdered in a bar fight. However, closer analysis of events suggests that Marlowe’s death may have had to do with a little more than simply an excessive bar tab.

Historians such as A. D. Wraight in his book In Search of Christopher Marlowe and Curtis C. Breight in Surveillance, Militarism, and Drama in the Elizabethan Era have investigated the mystery behind one of literature’s greatest dramatists.

First, the witnesses.

The three men called to the witness box during the trial were all gentlemen. Robert Poley was a secret agent of some repute in the service of Queen Elizabeth. Nicholas Skeres served as a court messenger and was likely also an agent, having played a major part in the disclosure of the Babington Plot, which led to the beheading of Mary Queen of Scots. Ingram Frizer was a retainer in the service of Sir Thomas Walsingham II, before becoming joined to his son, also named Thomas, who was Marlowe’s patron. It was Ingram knife that was found lodged in Marlowe’s skull.

The evening seems to have begun pleasantly enough. They had dinner and walked in the garden, making business conversation. After their 6:00 supper, the coroner Willian Banby remarks that Ingram and Marlowe became involved in an inflamed argument “about the payment of the sum of pence, that is, le recknynge” (qtd. in Wreight 293).

Marlowe, lying on a bed in the room where they had supped, then drew a dagger and rushed at Ingram, whose back was against him as he sat at the table and the other men. Marlowe struck two wounds in Ingram’s head, an inch long and a quarter inch deep.

Ingram struggled against Marlowe to save his own life and, in the fight, reclaimed the dagger. The wound he inflicted in Marlowe’s right eye went in two inches, supposedly killing Marlowe instantly.

Mr. Banby’s story proves that Ingram acted “in the defense and saving of his own life” (293). Queen Elizabeth eventually pardoned Igram for his crime.

However, Wraight notes how unsatisfactory the testimony has been to scholars, ever since Dr. Hotson’s observation that Robert Poley and Nicholas Skeres may have lied to save the life of Ingram Frizer. What, after all, could explain how Marlowe, with the advantage of surprise, only managed to inflict two cuts to Ingram’s skull? Did Skeres and Poley merely stand back and watch? There is even medical evidence that says “a knife thrust two inches in depth into the brain would not result in instantaneous death, or necessarily death at all”! (296)

Furthermore, upon his release from prison, Frizier immediately re-entered the Walsinghams’ employment. Such forgiveness on the part of patrons was exceptional; other men, whether servants or gentlemen, found no such forgiveness after becoming prisoners of the state.

Marlowe was also supposed to appear before the Privy Council—he may or may not have actually done so—on 20 May 1593, ten days before his death. The charges he was supposed to answer for included blasphemy. He later made his fatal journey to Deptford. The connection, or absence of connection, between his murder and these charges has never been proved.

Naturally, such anecdotes give rise to all kinds of theories.

Perhaps the juiciest theory is advanced by Dr. S. A. Tannenbaum, who claims that Sir Walter Raleigh had Marlowe silenced out of fear that he would confess to the atheism of those involved in the fabled School of Night. A face-saving gesture by a Machiavellian hermeticist.

A secret society speculated to have existed, the School of Night was centred around Raleigh and consisted of scientists, courtiers, and poets such as George Chapman, Thomas Harriot, and Marlowe. However, all other evidence seems to acquit Raleigh of conspiracy to commit murder. His noble personality and his lack of caring about his public image, Wraight says, suggests he would not stoop to whacking Marlowe, or using him as a scapegoat.

But could the assassination still have had a political motive?

There is convincing evidence to support the theory that Marlowe was a spy. In 1587, the Privy Council awarded Marlowe an MA from the University of Cambridge as a reward for serving his country in certain secret affairs. Waight says he might have been a spy since 1585. Later on, reports of Marlowe’s shady dealings include an attempt to falsify coinage in Flanders in 1592, where he was briefly arrested. He was suspected of siding with Catholics, but may have been attempting to penetrate the group associated with the Catholic plotter William Stanley as a double agent.

Might he have fallen in with Catholics again, shortly before his death?

Perhaps Marlowe’s patron Thomas Walsingham involved the trio of secret agents in a great conspiracy to eliminate the poet, and have each other pardoned according to a pre-arranged giving of false testimony. Or, we may imagine with a smile Marlowe’s hasty burial in the Deptford parish church as evidence that Walsingham had his agents replace Marlowe’s body with another corpse! Of course, Marlowe would have had to disappear, if he was going to write Shakespeare’s plays in total secrecy…

These conspiracy theories have a way of fogging the real evidence. Elizabethan England’s witch hunts, Puritan hearsay, and paranoia about Catholics, atheists, and “Machievels” played their part to create a paranoid society. Curtis C. Breight describes how Sir William Cecil, the Secretary of State, maintained a police state reminiscent of the McCarthy era, if the use of twentieth-century anachronism can be forgiven.

Similarities between both eras of Elizabethan espionage (including that of our present Queen) have also been drawn: James Bond’s MI6 origins had their origins under Sir Francis Walsingham and William Cecil’s intelligence networks. When spies are behind every corner, you have to careful what you say about your political or religious beliefs. And Queen Elizabeth, as ahead of the Church of England, represented both State and Church.

Cecilian England gives rise to one final theory about Christopher Marlowe’s death, one that may be as incredible as the others. It says that Cecil gave the order, because of Marlowe’s Catholic sympathies.

At the time, England was supporting the French king Henri IV against the radical Catholic League. The war was unpopular, necessitating the use of Protestant propaganda. Christopher Marlowe wrote a play called The Massacre at Paris, which told the story of the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre. On 23 August 1572, King Charles IX ordered the assassination of Huguenot (French Protestant) leaders in Paris, resulting in the deaths of anywhere between 5,000 and 30,000 souls. However, some scholars have argued that the play, told from the perspective of the Catholic Duke of Guise and Catherine de Medici, who act as Machiavellian characters, depicts the Protestants as no better than their Catholic foes.

Might it be likely that Marlowe was considered too much of a intellectual rebel?

Perhaps. We may never know, after all, what really happened to Christopher Marlowe after that supper in Deptford. What historians do confirm is that history is arguable. Whether we might personally believe in the conspiracies, or adopt a more grounded understanding of what happened, we each construct a narrative of events that may or may not represent the true course of history.

If one thing is certain about Marlowe’s death, it is that his disappearance has spawned many stories to fill the void of his absence. It is only human nature, after all, to find meaning to the unexplainable.

The sign over Marlowe's grave.
The sign over Marlowe’s grave.