Culloden Moor was the site of the last major battle fought on the British mainland. The battle took place in the north of Scotland on April 16, 1746 and its outcome ended the Jacobite uprising of 1745. The Jacobites had hopes of restoring the exiled Stuart dynasty to the throne of Britain, but those hopes were dashed that April day on the bloody field of battle. The army of Prince Charles Edward Stuart, “Bonnie Prince Charlie,” was crushed by government forces led by the Duke of Cumberland. The battle took less than an hour but its repercussions would be felt for years to come. The brutal measures imposed after the battle brought to end the distinctive way of life and culture of the highland peoples of Scotland.
A discussion of the politics and motives for the battle will not be found here. Instead our focus will turn to one of the battles participants, James Reid.
Reid was one of several pipers who played at the battle. He was captured along with 558 men by Cumberland’s troops and taken to England. There James was put on trial and accused of high treason against the English Crown. Piper Reid claimed that he was innocent because he did not have a gun or a sword. He said that the only thing he did that day on the battlefield was play the bagpipe.
After some deliberation the judges had a different opinion on the matter. They said that a highland regiment never marched to war without a piper at its head. Therefore, in the eyes of the law, the bagpipe was an instrument of war. James Reid was condemned and subsequently hanged then drawn and quartered.
The decision of those judges has echoed down through the generations. It was the first recoded occasion that a musical instrument was officially declared a weapon of war. For hundreds of years and many conflicts to come the bagpipes, when listed among the items captured in combat, was counted among rifles, sabers, and munitions. It is interesting to note that bugles and drums were recorded as musical instruments, where the bagpipe ranked among the lists of weapons. This continued through the Great War. Perhaps a fitting place for the pipes, but a tragic legacy for the piper James Ried who played at the last bloody battle of the Jacobites on Culloden Moor.
* Set of two drone bagpipes found on the battlefield and currently on display at the Culloden Moor Battlefield museum. Original owner, piper, of the set unknown.