Wednesday, July 25, 2012
Battlefield Royal: Prince William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland
nd Foot Guards. As he grew older his parents expected him to follow a career in the Royal Navy and eventually become the Lord High Admiral. However, after volunteering in 1740 the Duke found that he didn’t care much for life at sea and instead decided to devote himself to the army. In 1741 he was made colonel of the 1st Foot Guards and began his formal military career. During King George’s War he saw his first action in Germany, having been promoted to major general in 1742 and posted there. He was with his father at the victorious battle of Dettingen where King George II became the last reigning British monarch to lead his troops on the battlefield. Cumberland was wounded in the leg and promoted to lieutenant-general afterward.
In 1745 he was given the top command of the allied British, Hanoverian, Dutch and Austrian forces gathered in Belgium. Full of youthful aggression and with little experience, his first impulse was to throw caution to the wind, invade France and march on Paris. Fortunately, his advisors were able to dissuade him from such a suicidal move and instead he moved his forces to relieve the town of Tournai which was being besieged by the great French marshal Maurice de Saxe. The result was the battle of Fontenoy, a hard blow to Cumberland and a historic victory for France. Being up against Marshal de Saxe, Cumberland was quite simply outmatched. Numerically each army was about even but de Saxe was one of the great captains of the age and a greatly experienced military man having previously served under the likes of Peter the Great and the brilliant Eugene of Savoy. During the battle the Duke of Cumberland showed great determination but also a single-minded fixation on seizing the town of Tournai, ignoring the danger to his flanks and failing to take some basic precautions. The defeat could be attributed to his own personality and his inexperience. The allied army was badly mauled and Cumberland was forced to retreat to Brussels. Ultimately, this disaster for British arms inspired the exiled Jacobite court to decide that the time had come to strike down the House of Hanover and restore the Stuarts to the British throne.
The Duke of Cumberland did not pursue them too closely as he was still trying to gather together as large an army as possible. The Jacobites still had some fight in them as well, which was proven at the battle of Falkirk where the Jacobites defeated General Henry Hawley. However, that was the last Jacobite victory and their defeats were much more numerous. The Duke of Cumberland pursued them out of England and across Scotland, allowing his enemies to be worn out by hunger and privation before cornering them at Culloden Moor. On that famous battlefield the Jacobites launched their last, desperate attack and were completely annihilated. In the aftermath, Cumberland had wounded men shot and launched a campaign of pacification that was shockingly brutal with many Scots being killed indiscriminately, homes burned, livestock killed or confiscated and large areas of the country simply devastated. “Bonnie Prince Charlie” had escaped but Cumberland had his revenge on those left behind. In most of Great Britain and the colonies Cumberland was cheered as a great hero, their deliverer from “Papist tyranny” and their savior from the “Jacobite Menace”. However, in the highlands, his cruelty toward the defeated earned him his lasting nickname of “Cumberland the Butcher”. It was fully deserved.