on 8 January 2010
Sweet William or The Butcher by Dr Johnathan Oates is a highly original account of the Duke of Cumberland, his character and conduct during the Jacobite Rising of 1745/46. The purpose of the book is to investigate and establish whether Cumberland deserves his lasting reputation of 'the Butcher' or if this epithet is somewhat undeserved. The question posed by the author on the front cover is essentially answered on the back-cover where his opinion becomes immediately evident. Professor W A Speck is is quoted as saying of Cumberland, "..he was rightly regarded as the conquering hero." Exactly where or whom did the Duke conquer? The Highlands? The Jacobite movement? Only a fraction of Highlanders rose in support of the Stuarts in 1745 and the Jacobite threat remained until the deterioration and eventual death of Charles Stuart in January 1788. Although this threat lacked substance in the latter years of Charles's life, the Hanoverian dynasty genuinely dreaded another rising which somewhat contradicts the view that Cumberland was a 'conquerer'.
Another author frequently referred to in the piece is Stuart Reid 'the leading authority on the subject of the '45' who refutes 'fashionable but silly assertions that the British army engaged in genocide or ethnic-cleansing.' The reasons Dr Oates uses to point to Reid's impartiallity are that he is Scottish and a Scots Nationalist therefore the review done on Amazon accusing him of 'Anti-Scottish racism' and 'white-washing the British army's actions after Culloden' are a load of old tosh. Scottish Nationalism at the time of the '45 was a convenient tool used by genuine supporters of the House of Stuart to promote and accumulate followers to their cause. As was shown by Charles's advance into England, he had little personal interest in an independent kingdom of Scotland. Being a Scottish Nationalist in the modern context does not necessarily mean that one has a great love for all Scots. Without suggesting in any way at all that Reid has a personal contempt for Highland Scots, I know from personal experience that some (a minority, granted) Lowland Scots hold Highlanders past and present in contempt so for Dr Oates to make such a sweeping statement, effectively saying that because of Reid's political views he is incapable of being biased against fellow Scots is bizarre to say the least.
Despite this, i believe Dr Oates does make what he believes is an attempt at being impartial and his observations on 18th century Britain being a society where violence was commonplace and therefore to an extent acceptable are, on the whole, true. The chapter 'The theory and practice of the times' deals with the subject in depth and the general purpose is to account for and justify the violence shown by government troops in supressing the Highlanders. To an extent the author succeeds although he fails to account for the reasons given as to why non-participant women, men and children were butchered following Culloden.
The next chapter 'Cumberland's early life' gives a description of the Duke's upbringing and career pre 1745-46 and attempts to portray him as a dedicated son and soldier, held in high regard by both his family and those who served under him. That he was (at this time pre-Culloden)held in such high regard by these people is beyond question and Dr Oates backs up his point with several accounts and quotes from those who knew the Duke well. His treatment of his own troops and officers was certainly no harsher than most other commanders in the 18th century as well as his conduct to prisoners of war in the "gentlemanly" wars of Flanders. To concentrate too much on such niceties is to miss the point of where his reputation was made and/or lost- his conduct towards the defeated Jacobites and in this Dr Oates fails to convince that it was anything other than deplorable.
That Cumberland was outgeneralled by Marshale De Saxe is not mentioned in the account of Fonteney, merely that he was outnumbered and beaten off by a timely intervention from the Irish brigade.
'Cumberland and the campaign of the '45' gives a brief account of the rising itself and Cumberland's thoughts, actions and conduct throughout. Dr Oates makes much of the fact that Highlanders pursued and slaughtered many of the British regulars in the battles of Prestonpans and Falkirk to draw comparisons with the victorious armys' behaviour following Culloden. What he fails to account for is the behaviour of Cumberland's army away from the field of battle when they were effectively let loose in the Highlands.
To his credit, Dr Oates refers to the fact that the Jacobite army was well behaved and paid for everything that they took on the march south although an exaggerated one thousand deserters are mentioned "such was the reluctance of the Scots troops to march into England". There was indeed reluctance on the part of some of the clan chiefs, notably Lochiel and also the Prince's lieutenant general, Lord George Murray, who advocated attacks on government-held garrisons and the 'loyal' clans. To be fair, Oates himself has stated that his reference for this opinion was the account of Lord Elcho, and it might seem odd that a Jacobite would want to over-estimate desertions in an army of which he was a part. However, what has to be remembered is that Elcho wrote his account whilst in exile, embittered against Charles Stuart through the failure of the cause and smarting over an outstanding loan given by Elcho to the Prince at Perth in the early days of the Rising. His later views on the rising are somewhat sceptical and therefore, at times, unreliable.
Oates admits that the Jacobites did pose a serious threat by the time of their arrival at Derby but that an advance to London would have been a massive gamble. It is hard to argue with this point; the main factor that lead to the retreat was a lack of reliable information on government forces dispositions due to the Jacobites dire espionnage system. With hindsight perhaps the best option would have been to attack and destroy Cumberland's worn out army which amounted to no more than four thousand men capable of fighting a battle at this time. That would leave the largely ill-trained (though not a rabble) force at Finchley to contend with, and there can be no serious doubt of the outcome.
Oates however almost inevitably believes that the Jacobite forces hopes were slender forgetting that these forces of the government could well have been defeated seperately. Throughout this period of invasion Lord George Murray consistently out-thought Cumberland, no better demonstration than this was at the Battle of Clifton on the retreat north. However Cumberland is portrayed by Oates as a man fully in control of the situation when he assumed command of Hawley's routed army after the Battle of Falkirk. The author clearly shares Cumberland's views in his quotations and correspondences with the Duke of Newcastle and other politicians that the rising was now doomed and victory virtually assured. This was far from being the case.
Genocide is "the deliberate and systematic extermination of a national, racial, political or cultural group" which is exactly what Cumberland, along with less relevant members of the British parliament had in mind for Highland Jacobites. Oates seems to use the fact that they were not representative of the Scots as a nation to quash any notion of genocide. Oates uses an example of Cumberland forbidding the destruction of some Lowland Jacobite properties as evidence that the Duke did not intend genocide or "so much for later claims of genocide," as he puts it. He somewhat misses the point. If Cumberland had intended wholesale destruction of Scottish properties he would have had more than the Jacobite army to contend with. There is no mention by Dr Oates of Cumberland refusing to approve of the destruction of a Highland Jacobite property. The author notes almost ironically that "In fact, compared to Chesterfield, Cumberland appears rather moderate." This does not say much for Cumberland. An authority on the '45 described Chesterfield as having 'the manners of a dance master and the morals of a whore'. There is nothing here which would suggest otherwise.
Undoubtedly, Jonathan Oates has undertaken a great deal of research in producing this book, drawing on primary as well as secondary sources to enforce his account. Much in the way of first-hand accounts from a Jacobite perspective, however, is derived from Lord Elcho, who, as discussed, had become deeply disillusioned with the Stuart cause by the time of his writing. More quotation from stalwart Jacobites such as Lochiel, Lord George Murray and the Prince himself would, I feel, have provided a more fair reflection of the whole enterprise and the subsequent aftermath. On the plus-side, Oates draws on the work of creditable authorities such as Frank McLynn and Daniel Szechi although he also leans heavily on the works of the notoriously biased Stuart Reid.
Government correspondences are quoted extensively, from Cumberland's level as overall commander right down to the private soldier level, most of which reveals the venomous attitude many held towards the Jacobites and Scots in general. In a way, this book has the opposite effect of that desired by the author: what emerges from reading Cumberland's correspondences is an unpleasant, bigoted, ignorant young man. No amount of air-brushing can hide the Duke's many faults.
To slightly balance this we should be aware that this attitude was not unique in Hanoverian Britain, one only has to read the Duke of Newcastle's or the vulgar Lord Chesterfield's letters to realise this.
Although Cumberland cannot be held wholly responsible for the unintelligent, indiscriminate nature of the reprisals following Culloden, (he was under intense political pressure to use extreme measures) the buck ultimately has to stop with him. Arguably the Highlands were in even worse state following the British armys period of occupation than it had ever been and one could possibly pose the question, "What did Cumberland actually achieve?"
The pace of the book is pedestrian, the content largely dull, with bland, childish defences of Cumberland being the norm throughout its content. The only positive would perhaps be that it is good to see that the debate is still alive and well; everybody cannot see things in the same light, afterall. Consulting one side of the argument would be an extremely narrow path to walk in what is a hotly-debated, complex subject.