Prince William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland lived from 15 April 1721 to 31 October 1765. A younger son of George II and Queen Caroline, he became a celebrated military leader at a very young age and commanded the Government forces that defeated the Jacobites at the Battle of Culloden in 1746. His the behavious of his troops after the battle and his oversight of the genocide across the Highlands that followed, earned him the title of "Butcher Cumberland": but his defeat of the Jacobites also earned him gratitude in the Lowlands and great acclaim in London. The wider picture in Scotland at the time is set out in our Historical Timeline.
William was born in London in 1721. At the age of four he was created Duke of Cumberland, as well as Marquess of Berkhampstead; Earl of Kennington; Viscount Trematon; and Baron Alderney. He was well educated, and his parents' favourite: his father, George II, would later consider how to make William heir to the throne in preference to his older brother Frederick.
Aged 19, Cumberland joined the Royal Navy, but in 1742 he transferred to the Army, becoming a Major General in December of that year at the age of 21. In 1743 he saw active service in the middle east, then on 27 June 1743 fought alongside his father at the Battle of Dettingen in Germany. Cumberland was wounded, but considered a hero at home, and promoted to Lieutenant General.
On 11 May 1745, at the age of 24, Cumberland was Commander-in-Chief of the allied British, Hanoverian, Austrian and Dutch troops when he led his troops to a valiant defeat at the Battle of Fontenoy. When Bonnie Prince Charlie marched into England at the head of his Jacobite Army in November 1745, evading Field Marshal Wade's forces to reach Derby, Cumberland was recalled to England to take charge of all forces in Britain. He hotly pursued the Jacobite Army back to the Scottish border, but then returned south to ensure the south coast of England was safeguarded against French attack: leaving the continued pursuit to Lieutenant General Hawley.
But when Hawley was beaten by the Jacobites at the Battle of Falkirk Muir on 17 January 1746, Cumberland headed north, where he arrived in Edinburgh on 30 January. Now in active pursuit of the Jacobites, Cumberland took time out in Aberdeen to make sure his troops were trained in specific tactics he had developed to withstand the famous highland charge. He set out from Aberdeen towards the main body of the Jacobites at Inverness on 8 April 1746. By 14 April Cumberland's army had reached Nairn, and the Jacobites marched out from Inverness to meet them at Culloden Moor on 15 April. Instead, Cumberland gave his army the day off to celebrate his 25th birthday. When the two armies did meet on 16 April, the outcome was a decisive victory for Cumberland.
The Duke of Cumberland, however, was interested in doing more than winning a battle. He wanted to ensure that the long series of Jacobite uprisings in Scotland, with previous flare-ups in 1689, 1708, 1715, and 1719, would be brought to an end, once and for all. He was, after all, part of the Hanoverian dynasty the Jacobites were trying to overthrow. A copy of the general orders issued to the Jacobites the day before the battle had been captured on 15 April, and someone, presumably on Cumberland's instruction, had inserted a forged addition, to the effect that no quarter was to be given to any Hanoverian prisoners. On the morning of the Battle of Culloden, Cumberland's troops were circulated with an order that said: Officers and men will take notice that the public orders of the rebels yesterday was to give us no quarter. As hints go, it was a heavy one, and in the aftermath of the battle, Cumberland's troops committed widespread atrocities, killing many wounded, surrendering and fleeting Jacobites, as well as bystanders, residents, and just about anyone else within reach.
Worse was to come. Cumberland established his headquarters at Fort Augustus, which had been named after him during his childhood. From there he sent out columns of troops backed by ships of the Royal Navy to commit what would now be regarded as genocide across the Jacobite areas of the Highlands. Cumberland actually considered shipping the entire population of these areas to the colonies: but in the end satisfied himself with burning every farmstead, croft and house; with widespread murder and rape; and with rounding up and sending south 20,000 head of cattle, effectively wiping out the entire basis of the economy of the Highlands. For his activities at Culloden and afterwards, Prince William Augustus came to be known in the Highlands as "Butcher Cumberland".
But in the Lowlands it was a different story. The Glasgow Journal produced a special commemorative edition after Culloden in which they recorded "the greatest rejoicings that have been known in the city". In May, the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland sent Cumberland a letter noting that it had been able to meet "in a state of peace and security exceeding our greatest hopes... owing to...your generous resolution in coming to be the deliver of this Church and Nation." Meanwhile, Cumberland was given the freedom of the City of Glasgow, and made Chancellor of both Aberdeen and St Andrews Universities. Most Lowland Scots had little love for the Jacobites, and even less sympathy for those in the Highlands who had become involved in Charles Edward Stuart's destructive adventure.
Back in London, Cumberland was lionised with a special anthem being composed in his honour by Handel: "See the conqu'ring hero comes." Despite this, Culloden and its brutal aftermath did begin to take the shine off Cumberland's public image south of the border, and the taunt of "Butcher Cumberland" began to take hold. And it is significant that no British Army regiment ever included Culloden amongst its battle honours.
Things got much worse for Cumberland when, in 1757, he was placed in command of British and allied forces defending Hanover from French attack during the Seven Years' War. It was a major humiliation for a dynasty that had its origins and took its name from Hanover that he should fail. George II refused to be bound by Cumberland's agreement to evacuate Hanover, and in disgrace Cumberland resigned from all public office. After his young nephew George III had succeeded to the throne, Cumberland tried but failed to become Regent. Prince William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland, or if you prefer, "Butcher Cumberland", died in London in 1765, aged just 44.