Burning captured banners

By Rob Morgan

For me, the Renaissance, at least as far as the British Isles are concerned, ends with the defeat of the Jacobite Army at Culloden in April 1746, drawing as clear a line as possible under the now mis-named “early modern” era. Indeed, many of my historian colleagues are still inclined to regard Charles Stuart’s Highlander army as a lingering vestige of a late medieval world-in-arms. I needed to re-read John Prebble’s “Culloden” (Penguin £6.99) the other day, and found myself lingering over the fate of the Jacobite standards taken in the battle. Now, all bar two in the field, those of the Appin Stewarts and Clan Chattan, were captured by Butcher Cumberland on that fateful day.

Fourteen, including the Prince’s own standard, were carried in procession on 4 June 1746 through Edinburgh, and burned at the town cross by the hangman. They were carried and dragged and waved by the town’s chimney sweeps, wrote Prebble, heavily escorted by Lee’s Regiment of Foot, and followed by the Sheriff. A fifteenth standard was burned a few days later, in the same manner, and the last taken, that of the Keppoch MacDonalds, was burned on June 25.

All by order of HRH The Duke of Cumberland, victor of the battle and campaign, and indeed a cousin of the defeated Stuart Prince.

There was loud protest from the King’s Pensioners at Chelsea, who by custom had acquired and displayed in their hall the colours of enemy regiments, particularly the many French colours, captured in Marlboroughs’ great wars.

The reason for burning the rebel banners in Scotland is arguably understandable. This was after all, not the usual sort of war, it was barely a civil war, but one in which favour and support for the Catholic Stuart dynasty was widespread even in London, so all recognisable military signs of the internal enemy had to be eliminated. I wondered if there were any other examples, perhaps beyond British shores of such a thorough eradication of military emblems? My first thought is of the thousands of Nazi colours thrown at Stalin’s feet in 1945 — but of course they were never carried in battle.

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