The 1745 Jacobite rising reached its bloody climax at the Battle of Culloden on 16 April 1746, in which the Jacobites under Prince Charles Edward Stuart were decisively defeated by the Hanoverian Government army commanded by William, Duke of Cumberland. The aftermath became as notorious as the battle itself, as Cumberland ordered his men to pursue the shattered Jacobite army and to offer ‘no quarter’. Thousands were killed, not only men but women and children, as Government soldiers and their allies hunted down actual and suspected ‘rebels’ in the days following the battle. Such brutality against innocent civilians as well as combatants shocked contemporary opinion on both sides of the conflict, and earned Duke William his nickname of ‘Butcher Cumberland’.

Culloden became an iconic event for the defeated Jacobites and victorious Hanoverians alike. The brutality that followed the battle was well remembered by the Jacobites, but, as one might expect, rarely featured in the many Hanoverian representations of the event, which celebrated the military triumph and lauded Cumberland as a hero whose victory saved the country and safeguarded the Protestant succession. The more brutal aspects of the battle and the cruelty of its aftermath were obscured through selective representation and idealisation.

Many Hanoverian propaganda images choose to show Cumberland receiving submissive tartan-clad prisoners immediately after the battle, suggesting leniency and clemency, rather than depicting the savagery inflicted on the remnants of the Jacobite army and the local civilian population. The inclusion in pro-Government battle images of Culloden House, which had been requisitioned as Bonnie Prince Charlie’s military headquarters, stressed that Culloden had been a personal as well as a military defeat for the prince.

Such use of artistic license emphasises that there was never any objective, ‘truthful’ depiction of the Battle of Culloden among the propagandists of Georgian Britain. Rather, the battle was adopted as an iconic symbol of Jacobite defeat, and of Hanoverian supremacy.

Source: In the Name of the Rose: The Jacobite Rebellions, Symbolism and Allegiance (Fairfax House, 2013)