The History and Archaeology of the Last Clan Battle

Edited by Tony Pollard

front cover - Culloden

Having lived all of my life in Scotland, it is unsurprising that I should be very familiar with the Jacobite uprisings and their climax at Culloden in 1746. However, much of my learning has been coloured by the romanticism that is always attached to this period in Scottish history. It is refreshing that, in "Culloden: The History and Archaeology of the Last Clan Battle" edited by Tony Pollard, there is a book that concentrates on the established facts of the battle rather than the surrounding mythology.

Pollard is a leading battlefield archaeologist and is perhaps best known as co-presenter of the BBC television series, "Two Men in a Trench". The book also features contributions from leading historians, each either focusing on an idividual aspect of the battle or discussing the battle with respect to a particular field of historical research. So, as well as chapters giving narrative accounts of the '45 campaign and the battle itself, there are chapters covering the detailed composition of the opposing armies, the role played specifically by cavalry on the day and the social and political consequences of the battle. There is a chapter discussing several of the maps that are often used as evidence to support details recorded in accounts of the battle. Further chapters concentrate on works written about the battle in the years immediately following the rebellion and the efforts made over the years to preserve and restore the battlefield and to erect suitable memorials to the fallen troops.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the title of the book and its editor, the most extensive chapter covers recent archaeological work that has been carried out on parts of the battlefield and the material that this has uncovered. Some of this evidence appears to contradict certain previously accepted assumptions regarding the battle, including the starting positions of the opposing armies and the role played by troops in the Culwhiniac enclosures to the south of the battlefield. This evidence, and the new theories that it supports, is presumably one of the major selling points of the book.

The nature of this book - comprising the work of several contributors - raises a couple of points. Given that each author is essentially discussing the same event, there is inevitably a certain amount of overlap in their subject matter. However, the fact that there are different authors, with different styles and tones, means that any overlap does not feel quite as repetitive as you may expect. Furthermore, this is a battle that tends to be discussed in a very subjective and even passionate manner generally and these authors, while obviously striving to maintain an academic objectivity, are clearly deeply immersed in their topic. The fact that different voices are telling the story here means that no single viewpoint is dominant with the result that a more balanced and interesting set of arguments is delivered.

Of course this book is extremely well written and has been thoroughly researched. After all, it has been compiled with contributions by some of Britain's leading historians and archaeologists. However, it is also fascinating and absorbing. Even for those who are apparently already familiar with the subject matter, it will provide further insight and perhaps even challenge a few assumptions about the details of the battle.

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