The Battle of Culloden in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery – Part 1: Prelude

By Minjie Su

‘Many’s the lad fought on that day
Well the claymore could wield.
When the night came, silently lay,
Dead on Culloden’s field.’
—— The Skye Boat Song

When day dawned on April 16th, 1746, what would be the final pitched battle on the British soil took place on the field of Culloden near Inverness in the Scottish Highlands. When the sun set, the soil, reddened by blood, witnessed the brutal defeat of the Jacobite army and the end of the last major attempt to restore the Stuart on the throne.


It is impossible to trace here the events that finally led up to this bloody, tragic battle. Nor is it possible to narrate the whole history of the intricate relationship between England and Scotland, for that would be the subject of one or several books. What is looked at here are a few paintings and prints preserved and exhibited in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery. The representation and the choice of subject may shed some new, interesting lights on understanding the emotions around the fatal battle.

The Baptism of Prince Charles Edward Stuart, by Antonio David – National Galleries of Scotland

We might well start with the biggest painting in Room 4, a hall dedicated to the them of ‘the Jacobite Cause’. Titled ‘The Baptism of Prince Charles Edward Stuart’, this elaborate painting was the work of Antonia David, a Venetian painter who was working as the official painter at the Jacobite court in Rome. It was commissioned by James Francis Edward Stuart, known as ‘the Old Pretender’, to commemorate the birth and baptism of his son and heir on December 31st, 1720 – perhaps also to showcase his (illusion of) power. The infant, described as ‘large and well-made’, caused great joy and renewed the hope for future Jacobite risings. In the painting, the tiny prince, however small and rigidly portrayed, is the centre of attention. Held by his first governess, he is just being blessed by Pope Clement XI, godfather to the titular queen Maria Clementina Sobieska. The young ladies and the two boys immediately near and behind the new-born clearly adore him very much, and are fain to have caught a glimpse of him. Yet the gazes of the other figures are puzzlingly directed elsewhere – the titular king not the least, standing by the Pope, looks straight to the right but seems to be looking at nothing. The four gentlemen standing behind the group of indifferent ladies on the right are rather too gloomy for such a joyous occasion – especially the one whose face is completely hidden in the shadow. Who are they? Are they plotting? Or have they foreseen the turmoil the future holds?

Sir Charles Wogan, Blaikie. SNPG.3.4

The richly-dressed gentleman on the right, though not named, bears some resemblance to Sir Charles Wogan, a soldier loyal to the Jacobite cause who won the Polish princess Maria Clementina Sobieska for James Francis Stuart and helped to realise the wedding. A figure that looks like him is also found in the right corner in the painting ‘The Solemnisation of the Marriage of James III and Maria Clementina Sobieska’, painted by Agostino Masucci. As James’s diplomat, Wogan initially aimed to win a Russian princess but instead found in Clementina a suitable bride. Maria Clementina was temporarily imprisoned in Innsbruck by Emperor Charles VI; she managed to reach her betrothed only thanks to Wogan’s help. Although it is not absolutely certain if these two figures are indeed Wogan, his role in securing the princess definitely would ensure him an important position, if not in both paintings, at least in the Jacobite court.

Agostino Masucci, The Solemnisation of the Marriage of James III and Maria Clementina Sobieska – National Galleries of Scotland
William Mosman, Prince Charles Edward Stuart – National Galleries of Scotland

The result of this union is the youth who grew up to be known as ‘The Young Pretender’ and, as we will come to later, ‘Bonnie Prince Charlie’. At the age of 25, Charles Stuart returned to Scotland to claim his birth right, and incited another wave of Jacobite rising against the Hanoverian dynasty. The art piece shown here, painted by William Mosman 5 years prior to Charles’s return, depicts a dashing young man clothed in red tartan with the order of the Garter on his chest, as if in him one finds the unification of Scotland and England. The white cockade on his bonnet refers to the white rose that was adopted as the Jacobite symbol. This image was immensely popular before and after the Battle of Culloden, and was depicted by various artists. One Jacobite badge, now on display in the same gallery, shows almost an almost identical image, though the prince seems somehow a bit older and less ‘bonnie’. This is perhaps because the difference in medium, but the reason may also be that this particular badge was modelled on a print made a few years after Culloden, when the triumphant and hopeful spirit of the Jacobite gradually gave way to the misery of exile…

Unknown; after Sir Robert Strange (1721 – 1792), The Jacobite Badge

Interestingly, this portrait of Charles Edward Start is put just above a much larger portrait of someone else dressed in red tartan, as if inviting comparison. This is none other than Pàdraig Grannd an Dubh-bhruaich, or Patrick Grant of Dubh-bhruaich (Dubh-bhruaich being a place in Upper Deeside that could be roughly translated as ‘Black Bank’). Hands resting on his sword, the Culloden veteran looks rather robust for someone 109 years old. On King George IV’s 1822 visit to Edinburgh, he was alleged to have been introduced to the king as ‘His Majesty’s oldest enemy’. This may be true or not, but Grant and his daughter were granted an annual pension by the king, as a gesture to reconciliate the two nations. Having survived Culloden by 78 years, it comes as no surprise that Grant became a legend for the later generation. This portrait, commissioned by Grant’s landlord to hang in his castle, would be the best testimony to Grant’s fame and influence.

Colvin Smith, Patrick Grant [Pàdraig Grannd an Dubh-bhruaich] – National Galleries of Scotland

Click here to read Part 2: The Battle and Aftermath

You can follow Minjie on Twitter at @minjie_su


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