‘Butcher’ Cumberland

Published in 18th–19th - Century History, Issue 2 (Summer 2000), Letters, Letters, Volume 8

Sir,—The cliché ‘I hold no brief for…’ is usually followed by a qualifying ‘but’ and, as often as not, by some defence of the indefensible. In his letter to History Ireland (Winter 1999) Mr Margulies does not subvert that venerable convention. In contrast to my account of the ‘Butcher’ Cumberland (‘A Tale of Two Generals’, HI Autumn 1999) which he finds ‘simplistic’ and ‘one-dimensional’, Evan Charteris’s early-twentieth-century buck-passing biography strikes him as ‘pretty persuasive’. He further makes the startling claim that ‘It is widely acknowledged today…that after Culloden Cumberland offered an amnesty to all Jacobites who would lay down their arms’, and subsequently tried to ‘rein in the worst excesses’ of his troops.
One wonders what, precisely, Mr Margulies understands by wide acknowledgement. As I point out in my article Allan MacInnes describes the post-Culloden operations as ‘systematic state terrorism, characterised by a genocidal intent that verged on ethnic cleansing’. As for Charteris, another senior Scottish historian (writing ‘today’), Bruce Lenman, could only gasp at what he called the ‘breath-taking impudence’ of his responsibility-shifting manoeuvres.
Of course historians will always disagree. It is true, for instance, that the blame can be spread. Chesterfield, lord lieutenant of Ireland during the ‘45, advocated a blockade of Scotland and remarked that he would ‘starve the loyal with the disloyal’. Yet if Cumberland did not hold a monopoly on cruelty, and if his actions must be viewed in their contexts, ultimately, also, the buck must indeed stop at him. The campaign of terror was carried out not merely under his command, but—Mr Margulies’s claim about ‘amnesty’ notwithstanding—at his command. The evidence is plain enough. To cite only one example, on 25 April 1746 (nine days after the battle of Culloden), Cumberland wrote to Lord Loudan:

You will constantly have in mind to distress whatever country of rebellion you may pass through and to destroy or take prisoner as many of those who have been in rebellion or their abettors and to be particularly diligent in pursuit of their chiefs.

Chillingly the words ‘or take prisoner as many of those’ are crossed out. The revised version reads ‘destroy all persons who have been in rebellion’. Amnesty? One point, though, I must concede to Mr Margulies: Cumberland’s brutality did extend to his own men.—Yours etc.,
University of Notre Dame


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