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Prince William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland, (April 26, 1721 – October 31, 1765), was the third and youngest son of King George II of Great Britain and Ireland and his wife, Caroline of Ansbach, the daughter of Johann Friedrich, Margrave of Brandenburg-Ansbach, and his second wife, Princess Eleonore Erdmuthe of Saxe-Eisenach. Her father, a scion of the House of Hohenzollern, was the ruler of one of the smallest German states; he died of smallpox at the age of 32, when Caroline was three years old.

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William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland

William was born in Leicester House, in Leicester Fields (now Leicester Square), Westminster, London, where his parents had moved after his grandfather, George I, accepted the invitation to ascend the British throne. His godparents included the King Friedrich Wilhelm I and Queen Sophie in Prussia (his paternal aunt, Sophia Dorothea of Hanover the sister of George II, King of Great Britain, and the mother of Friedrich II, King of Prussia). The Prussian Monarchs apparently did not take part in person and were presumably represented by proxy.

On July 27, 1726, at only five years old, he was created Duke of Cumberland, Marquess of Berkhamstead in the County of Hertford, Earl of Kennington in the County of Surrey, Viscount of Trematon in the County of Cornwall, and Baron of the Isle of Alderney.

The young prince was educated well; his mother appointed Edmond Halley as a tutor. Another of his tutors (and occasional proxy for him) was his mother’s favourite Andrew Fountaine. At Hampton Court Palace, apartments were designed specially for him by William Kent. William’s elder brother Frederick, Prince of Wales, proposed dividing the king’s dominions. Frederick would get Britain, while William would get Hanover. This proposal came to nothing.

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George II, King of Great Britain and Ireland, Prince Imperial Elector of Hanover.

He had several mistresses but never married. He served in the army and for a short while in the navy and was wounded at the battle of Dettingen.

During the War of the Austrian Succession (1740–48), he became commander of the allied forces (1745) and was severely defeated by France’s Marshal Maurice de Saxe at the Battle of Fontenoy (May 11, 1745). His subsequent military failures led to his estrangement from his father, King George II (reigned 1727–60).

The lead to the Battle of Culloden: Background

In June 1688, two events turned dissent into a crisis; the first on June 10, was the birth of a son and heir, James Francis Edward, to King James II-VII of England, Scotland and Ireland, threatening to create a Roman Catholic dynasty and excluding his Anglican daughter Mary and her Protestant husband William IIII of Orange. The second was the prosecution of the Seven Bishops for seditious libel; this was viewed as an assault on the Church of England and their acquittal on June 30 destroyed his political authority in England. Anti-Catholic riots in England and Scotland now made it seem only Jame’s removal as monarch could prevent a civil war.

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Prince James Francis Edward, The Prince of Wales.

Leading members of the English political class invited Prince William III of Orange to assume the English throne; after he landed in Brixham on November 5, 1688, James’s army deserted, and he went into exile in France on December 23. In February the Convention Parliament grave the crown jointly to Prince William III of Orange and his wife Prince Marry eldest daughter of King James II-VII of England, Scotland and Ireland.

James Francis Edward was raised in Continental Europe. After his father’s death in 1701, he claimed the English, Scottish and Irish crown as James III of England and Ireland and James VIII of Scotland, with the support of his Jacobite followers and his cousin Louis XIV of France. Fourteen years later, he unsuccessfully attempted to gain the throne in Britain during the Jacobite rising of 1715.

Queen Anne, the last monarch of the House of Stuart, died in 1714, with no living children. Under the terms of the Act of Settlement 1701, she was succeeded by her second cousin George I of the House of Hanover, who was a descendant of the Stuarts through his maternal grandmother, Elizabeth, a daughter of James VI-I. Many, however, particularly in Scotland and Ireland, continued to support the claim to the throne of Anne’s exiled half-brother James Francis, excluded from the succession under the Act of Settlement due to his Roman Catholic religion.

On July 23, 1745 James Francis’ eldest son Charles Edward Stuart landed on Eriskay in the Western Islands in an attempt to reclaim the throne of Great Britain for his father, accompanied only by the “Seven Men of Moidart”. Most of his Scottish supporters advised he return to France, but his persuasion of Donald Cameron of Lochiel to back him encouraged others to commit and the rebellion was launched at Glenfinnan on August 19, 1745.

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Charles Edward Stuart “Bonnie Prince Charlie.”

The Jacobites won a battle at Falkirk between Edinburgh and Sterling in January 1746. The triumph was not followed up and counted for nothing as the Jacobites were being pursued by the Teutonic figure of William Augustus Duke of Cumberland. His temperament made him cruel by nature even to his own troops and had only genocidal contempt for Scott and I’ll Highlanders. The Duke of Cumberland preserved the strictest discipline in his unit. He was inflexible in the execution of what he deemed to be his duty, without favour to any man. In only a few cases he exercised his influence in favour of clemency.

Cumberland’s army at Culloden comprised 16 infantry battalions, including four Scottish units and one Irish. The bulk of the infantry units had already been defeated by the Jacobites in January at Falkirk, but had been further drilled, rested and resupplied since then.

On 8 April 1746, the Duke of Cumberland set out from Aberdeen for Inverness, and, on 15 April, the government army celebrated Cumberland’s twenty-fifth birthday by issuing two gallons of brandy to each regiment. That evening the Jacobites tried to carry out a night attack on the government encampment.

Night attack at Nairn

Jacobite lieutenant-general Lord George Murray was to cross the River Nairn and encircle the town, and confront Cumberland’s forces but there was only one hour left before dawn. After a heated council with other officers, Murray concluded that there was not enough time to mount a surprise attack and that the offensive should be aborted. Charles Edward Stuart was not told of the change of plan.

Not long after the exhausted Jacobite forces had made it back to Culloden, an officer of Lochiel’s regiment, who had been left behind after falling asleep in a wood, arrived with a report of advancing government troops. By then, many Jacobite soldiers had dispersed in search of food or returned to Inverness, while others were asleep in ditches and outbuildings; several hundred of their army may have missed the battle.

The Battle of Culloden

The morning of April 16, 1746 camel the decisive Battle of Culloden, in which the Stuart forces were completely destroyed.

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Prince Charles ignored the advice of general Lord George Murray and chose to fight on flat, open, marshy ground where his forces would be exposed to superior government firepower. He commanded his army from a position behind his lines, where he could not see what was happening. He hoped that Cumberland’s army would attack first, and he had his men stand exposed to the British Royal artillery.

The battle, which lasted only 40 minutes, resulted in bitter defeat for the heavily outnumbered Jacobites. Some 1,000 of the Young Pretender’s army of 5,000 weak and starving Highlanders were killed by the 9,000 Redcoats, who lost only 50 men.

The morning following the Battle of Culloden the Duke of Cumberland ordered his troops to show no quarter against any remaining Jacobite rebels (French Army personnel, including those who were British-or Irish-born, were treated as legitimate combatants). His troops traversed the battlefield and stabbed any of the rebel soldiers who were still alive.When Cumberland learned that a wounded soldier lying at his feet belonged to the opposing cause, he instructed a major to shoot him; when the major (James Wolfe) refused to do so, Cumberland commanded a private soldier to complete the required duty.

The British Army then embarked upon the so-called “pacification” of Jacobite areas of the Highlands. All those troops believed to be ‘rebels’ were killed, as were non-combatants; ‘rebellious’ settlements were burned and livestock was confiscated on a large scale. Over a hundred Jacobites were hanged. Women were imprisoned, and droves of people were sent by ship to London for trial; as the journey took up to 8 months, many of them died on the way.

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While in Inverness, Cumberland emptied the jails that were full of people imprisoned by Jacobite supporters, replacing them with Jacobites themselves. Prisoners were taken south to England to stand trial for high treason. Many were held on hulks on the Thames or in Tilbury Fort, and executions took place in Carlisle, York and Kennington Common.

The common Jacobite supporters fared better than the ranking individuals. In total, 120 common men were executed, one third of them being deserters from the British Army. The common prisoners drew lots amongst themselves and only one out of twenty actually came to trial. Although most of those who did stand trial were sentenced to death, almost all of these had their sentences commuted to penal transportation to the British colonies for life by the Traitors Transported Act 1746.

Flight of Bonnie Prince Charlie

Murray managed to lead a group of Jacobites to Ruthven, intending to continue the fight. Charles thought that he was betrayed, however, and decided to abandon the Jacobite cause.

Charles hid in the moors of Scotland, always barely ahead of the government forces. Many Highlanders aided him, and none of them betrayed him for the £30,000 reward. Charles was assisted by supporters such as pilot Donald Macleod of Galtrigill, Captain Con O’Neill who took him to Benbecula, and Flora MacDonald who helped him escape to the Isle of Skye by taking him in a boat disguised as her maid “Betty Burke”.

He ultimately evaded capture and left the country aboard the French frigate L’Heureux, arriving in France in September. The Prince’s Cairn marks the traditional spot on the shores of Loch nan Uamh in Lochaber from which he made his final departure from Scotland. With the Jacobite cause lost, Charles spent the remainder of his life on the continent.

Charles’s subsequent flight is commemorated in “The Skye Boat Song” by Sir Harold Edwin Boulton and the Irish song “Mo Ghile Mear” by Seán Clárach Mac Domhnaill.

Butcher Cumberland

Following Culloden, the Duke of Cumberland was nicknamed “Sweet William” by his Whig supporters and “The Butcher” by his Tory opponents the latter being a taunt first recorded in the City of London and used for political purposes in England. Cumberland’s own brother, the Prince of Wales (who had been refused permission to take a military role on his father’s behalf), seems to have encouraged the virulent attacks upon the Duke.

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Butcher Cumberland

The Duke’s victorious efforts were acknowledged by his being voted an income of £25,000 per annum over and above his money from the civil list. A thanksgiving service was held at St Paul’s Cathedral, that included the first performance of Handel’s oratorio Judas Maccabaeus, composed especially for Cumberland, which contains the anthem “See the Conquering Hero Comes”.

After Culloden

The Duke of Cumberland then returned to the war against the French; in July 1747 he lost the Battle of Lauffeld to Saxe. During the Seven Years’ War (1756–63) he was defeated by the French at the Battle of Hastenbeck (July 1757) in Hanover, one of George II’s possessions. Because he signed the Convention of Klosterzeven (September 1757), promising to evacuate Hanover, he was dismissed by his father, who repudiated the agreement. His refusal to serve as commander in chief unless William Pitt was dismissed as prime minister led to Pitt’s fall in April 1757. Following the Convention of Klosterzeven in 1757, he never again held active military command and switched his attentions to politics and horse racing.

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Cumberland’s final years were lived out during the first years of the reign of his nephew, George III, who acceded to the throne on the death of William’s father on October 25, 1760: Cumberland became a very influential advisor to the King and was instrumental in establishing the First Rockingham Ministry.

Cabinet meetings were held either at Cumberland Lodge, his home in Windsor, or at Upper Grosvenor Street, his house in London. The Duke of Cumberland never fully recovered from his wound at Dettingen, and was obese. In August 1760, he suffered a stroke and, on October 31, 1765, he died at his home on Upper Grosvenor Street in London at the young age 44. He was buried beneath the floor of the nave of the Henry VII Lady Chapel in Westminster Abbey. He died unmarried, without an heir and his titles reverted back to the crown.