In this blog we explain why we chose to base the battle in our new model The Jacobite Risings: The Fight for Britain's Throne on the Battle of Killiecranckie, which was fought on this day in 1689.
Choosing a battle for a LEGO model is always a tricky act, particularly when the the period you are presenting has become entwined within competing notions of national identity, romanticism and sectarianism. Under such notions subtitles and complexities are sometimes lost while myths and legends gain ground. The presentation of conflict in our latest model has therefore been carefully thought about.
The Jacobite Risings are often romantically depicted as a David and Goliath struggle between Highland Scots and an English dominated British Government, with the former’s tartan clad warriors clashing with the latter’s musket firing redcoats. However, the reality, as always, is more complicated. The support for the Jacobite cause alternatively grew and waned throughout the period, but it’s never likely to have gained the support of the majority of Scots. In fact it never even had the unanimous support of the Highland Clans and time and again we see Highlander fighting Highlander from opposite sides of the battlefield. Conversely, though less prevalent, the idea that every Englishman was an enthusiastic Williamite or Hanovarian is also false as, for example, we see from the ill-fated adventure of Charles Edward Stuart’s Manchester Regiment. The agency of individuals or groups cannot and should not be underplayed. We also see the intervention of foreign powers, with at various points French and Spanish troops fighting on the Jacobite side and Dutch and German troops on the Government’s, the latter able to draw on the resources of an increasingly global empire. Such complexities are the hallmark of civil conflict and it’s perhaps best to regard the Risings as such, Britain’s last civil wars.
We also have to consider that unlike our models of earlier battles, such as Hastings or the Viking raiders of England 793, many of the rank and file who fought in the Risings were not anonymous faces but people for whom we have records and accounts. People who have identifiable ancestors and ancestors who identify with them. There are therefore additional sensitives that need to be recognised when creating a battle out of LEGO. This is not to say that depicting a battle such as Culloden, or indeed any battle, is taboo. If it were then the entertainment industry, be it involved in film, television, video games or literature would have overstepped the mark some time ago. The important thing is how you frame and present your creation.
Choosing a battle for The Jacobite Risings and deciding on how to depict it has proven challenging. There are after all no shortage of options, with Killiecrankie and Cromdale in the ‘89, Sheriffmuir and Preston in the ‘15, Glen Shiel in the ‘19 and Prestonpans, Falkirk, Inverurie and Culloden in the ’45 all being strong candidates. Even the Battle of the Boyne, which is generally ascribed to the Williamite War in Ireland, can be seen as part of the broader Jacobite efforts of the first rising. Given its importance to British history and its role in forging Scotland’s national identity, the Battle of Culloden would seem like the obvious choice. It’s location within the Highlands also makes it a strong contender, particularly as the “Forty-five’s” other major battles all took place in the Lowlands. Yet it is also marks the end risings and the end of realistic efforts to restore a Stuart to the throne and we wanted the model to feel like it was during the risings, to feel like events were yet to fully unfold.
This left us with a bit of a problem because, as mentioned earlier, the “Forty-five’s” other major battles were fought in the Lowlands and therefore outside of the area we wanted to create. It’s true that skirmishes and other encounters, such as the two sieges of Ruthven Barracks, took place in the Highlands, but these were limited in scale and peripheral to the thrust of the main campaign. In the Highlands, the major battles of the risings were Glen Shiel in 1719, Killiecrankie in 1689 and Cromdale in 1690. Yet these were also problematic, because as explained in our original blog, we are largely basing our model during the “Forty-five” and certainly, in terms of architecture and minifigure design, this is the period we draw our references from.
To address this we returned to our aim of representing a dramatic highland landscape and in particular the landscape of the area now designated as the Cairngorms National Park. The battlefields of both Killiecrankie and Cromdale are within the Park, the former in the south the latter in the northeast. While the area around the Haughs of Cromdale undoubtably holds a subtle beauty it is Killiecrankie that possess the drama we were searching for.
The geography of the Pass of Killiecrankie is dominated by deeply incised gorge, through which flow the waters of the River Garry. It’s slopes are littered with crags and densely wooded and in the shade of the often snow-capped summits of the Cairngorm Mountains. The gorge provided a strategic bottleneck in the main route through the Highlands, a fact that was well recognised by the Jacobite commander, John Graham of Claverhouse, Viscount of Dundee (also known as Bonny Dundee), who was camped with an army of some 3,000 men near Blair Castle, just to the north. Having heard that a government army of 4,000 foot, two troops of cavalry and three pieces of old artillery under General Hugh MacKay of Scourie was moving north from Stirling, Claverhouse moved his army to a ridge above the pass. As the government army moved through the gorge they were forced to climb uphill through woods to a position below the Jacobite’s ridge. For two hours the armies faced each other with the government artillery firing speculative shots. At 7pm, the setting sun blinding the west facing MacKay’s troops, Claverhouse ordered a charge and while the musket fire of the government lines caused much damage it failed to check the oncoming Jacobites. The government army was routed and their baggage train overcome, the Pass of Killiecrankie choked with fleeing men. MacKay made a last stand in which Claverhouse was killed, though it was not enough to prevent a Jacobite victory and the Williamite general was forced to retreat. Though Claverhouse’s death sent the rising in Scotland into terminal decline, the victory on the battlefield was complete, with around 2,000 government troops lying dead compared to just 600 Jacobites.
We decided therefore to base our battle on the geography of Killiecrankie even though stylistically our armies would reflect a later date. While this does remove our battle from real events slightly it does fit with our approach towards landscape, in which we must place buildings and features in a way that provides balance of interest, rather than attempting to place them relative to one another as they might appear in real life. Furthermore, we are still able to capture the essence of military conflict in the period while also showcasing the type of landscape on which the conflict took place.
National Trust Scotland run a visitor centre at Killiecranckie, where you can find out about the battle and get information on walks around the gorge. It's open daily from April 1st to November 5th and entry is free. Find out more here:
LEGO Killiecrankie will next be on display as part of The Jacobite Risings: The Fight for Britain’s Throne at the Great Western Brick Show in Swindon on 7th and 8th October – why not come and see it for yourself?
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