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The Scottish History That Inspired Outlander

Outlander © Sony Pictures

It’s not just Scottish people who love a ramble through the Highlands – millions of you have done so vicariously through books, TV shows and films. From Braveheart to Brigadoon, the Highlands has been the setting for an eclectic range of productions.

One of the most successful novels of recent times to depict the Highlands is Outlander and its subsequent sequels. Set largely in 18th century Scotland, this enormously successful series has sold upwards of 20 million copies worldwide. Unashamedly romantic, the love story at the heart of Outlander proves that old school chivalry still appeals to a modern audience. Now a hit TV show, this epic saga also traces the political upheaval from the Jacobite Risings all the way through to the American Revolution.

To get you up to speed on some of the historical events that inspired the books, here’s a brief history lesson.

Who were the Jacobites?

Historic cottage with thatched roof at Culloden Battlefield

Culloden Battlefield © VisitScotland / Luigi Di Pasquale

Outlander begins around the time of the Jacobite Rising of 1745. We follow the plight of Claire Randall, a nurse who is mysteriously swept back in time from 1946 to 1743. Seemingly stuck in the past, she meets the handsome Highlander Jamie Fraser. He is a brave soldier and Scottish landowner with Jacobite sympathies, educated in France and handy with a sword. But who were the Jacobites?

Jacobite simply means, in Latin, ‘supporter of James’. The James this refers to is James the VII of Scotland, the last Roman Catholic monarch to reign over the kingdoms of England, Scotland and Ireland. Invaded by his Protestant son-in-law in 1688 and subsequently overthrown, James was forced into exile in France. Still following?! Over the next sixty years James’ supporters would stage a series of rebellions with the aim of restoring James and his heirs to the throne.

Sometimes romanticised, the Jacobite Risings were marked by divisive battles where many lives were lost. Despite the bloodshed, inspiring tales and characters have endured, such as Bonnie Prince Charlie, who also appears in Outlander.

Find out more about the Jacobite risings

Who was Bonnie Prince Charlie?

Still of a scene in the Outlander TV series featuring Bonnie Prince Charlie and two women

Outlander, Bonnie Prince Charlie © Starz, Sony Pictures

Prince Charles Edward Stuart, also known as ‘the Young Pretender’ was the grandson of King James VII. Raised in exile in Rome, his desire for military success and belief in his family’s right to the throne led him to plan an invasion of England. After a brief period in France where he tried to gain support for his endeavour, he landed in Scotland in 1745.

The Prince gained support from Highlanders and other factions and experienced some success in battle, eventually advancing into England. But he and his troops were forced to retreat, and Charles was eventually stopped at the tragic Battle of Culloden in 1746. After Culloden, Charles made his escape to Europe with the help of Jacobite heroine Flora Macdonald and lived the rest of his life in exile. The tale of his escape is now part of Scottish folklore.

In the Outlander novels, Charles develops a fictional friendship with Jamie Fraser. We witness the Prince scheming to reclaim the throne in France before the decisive battles in Scotland and his eventual defeat.

Find out more about Bonnie Prince Charlie or discover more about this chapter of Scottish history by visiting the informative Skye Museum of Island Life

What happened at the Battle of Culloden?

Culloden Battlefield Memorial at sunset

Culloden Battlefield Memorial

The Battle of Culloden was fought just east of Inverness on the 16 April 1746. With an army of 5,000 Jacobites, Bonnie Prince Charlie fought against a Government army of 8,000 led by the Duke of Cumberland. The battle was the culmination of years of upheaval and political turmoil – the throne of Great Britain was at stake. Who fought, and why they fought, is complicated – a vast web of allegiances and loyalties.

One thing we can be certain of is that Culloden was a resounding defeat for the Jacobites. In less than an hour, around 1,500 men were slain – more than 1,000 of them Jacobites. It was the last pitched battle on British soil and influenced the course of history for decades to come. The aftermath of the battle saw many people arrested for treason and eventually the dissolution of the clan system in Scotland.

Visiting Culloden is a moving experience. Headstones mark the graves of hundreds of clansmen who gave their lives and an eerie silence often falls across Drumossie Moor.

Find out more about visiting Culloden Battlefield

Learn More About Outlander in Scotland

Still of a scene of Jamie and Claire in the Outlander TV series

Outlander © Sony Pictures

Fans of Outlander have been visiting historical sites mentioned in the novels since they were first published, but the television series has seen Outlander filming locations enjoy record visitor numbers. Below are some useful links to find out more and plan your own journey.

Love history? Read our blog on these iconic historic Scottish events

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