O’Keeffe goes into considerable detail on the relief and celebrations that greeted Cumberland’s victory (special pieces composed by Handel among them) and the grim fate of those brought to trial and executed. But what Culloden illustrates is how divided Scotland was by the rebellion. Cumberland’s army included five Highland companies and the Scots Fusiliers. Many families were split. Lord George Murray, one of Charles’s top generals, was the younger brother of the Duke of Atholl, who was loyal to King George.
But the moment of history in which Cumberland and Charles Stuart faced each other will always be part of Britain’s story.
And without being there, those times could not be more vividly brought to life than in this tremendous book.
O’Keeffe has trawled archives and contemporary accounts, particularly newspapers, to give us a front-row view of the drama, deftly transporting us to the world of 18th-century Scotland. We follow in the footsteps of a 24-year-old Charles Edward Stuart — the eldest son of the “Old Pretender” and grandson of the deposed Stuart monarch James II — as he arrives in the Outer Hebrides in the summer of 1745 with just seven men to reclaim the throne for his father from the Hanoverian usurpers... It is a tremendous tale — one of the most dramatic in our island’s history — and O’Keeffe tells it beautifully, deploying a wide variety of sources to impressive effect. My one concern, as a Unionist with a Scottish wife, is that it won’t help the cause.
O’Keefe is concerned with much more than the military campaign of 1745-6, though he recounts this with authority and in great detail, drawing on numerous accounts by participants and observers. He pays more attention than most who have written about the Rising to the immediate responses of contemporaries: to the panic in London, which sparked wild rumours and a run on the Bank of England, before giving way to first relief, then rejoicing and the lust for revenge. This supplements his meticulous narrative of the pacification of the Highlands and the building of roads and forts which followed the victory at Culloden.