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Culloden, Thomas Hastie Hay, a public beheading and the last battle to be fought upon British soil

A recent and striking discovery of a familial link to the last battle to be fought on British soil at Culloden moor, which is located close to Inverness, on the 16 April 1746, was uncovered when tracing the ancestral links to a Glasgow born oil company merchant called Thomas Hastie Hay ( d.1891) whose headstone lies close to the Dissenters Chapel in Ladywell cemetery. Thomas who died at the relatively young age of fifty, had been living in Catford at the time of his passing and was married to a Maud Annie Greenstreet (d.1933)*

With the 276th anniversary of the Battle pending, which battle saw forces loyal to Bonnie Prince Charlie defeated by the Duke of Cumberland's government army, it seemed apposite to relate the fascinating historical link to the event, set within the 1745–46 final Jacobite uprising, and a direct link to its gory aftermath.

The Battle of Culloden took place on Culloden Moor, near, Inverness on the 16 April 1746. It was the final battle of the 1745 Jacobite Rising and the last battle to be fought on British soil. The Battle on Culloden Moor, was both quick and bloody, it started with an unsuccessful Jacobite Highland charge across flat boggy ground, totally unsuitable for this previously highly effective manoeuvre. The Jacobite troops were soon routed and driven from the field, the battle only lasting about an hour.

The Battle of Culloden saw some 1500 Jacobites killed or wounded, while government losses were lighter with 50 dead and 259 wounded. Culloden Battlefield and Visitor Centre is a first class resource for those visiting the battle site. Jacobite derives from the Latin as 'supporters of James' -James the VII of Scotland, the last Roman Catholic monarch to reign over the kingdoms of England, Scotland and Ireland.

Headstone of Thomas Hastie Hay, Ladywell cemetery - Source: Billion graves

Thomas Hastie Hay's ancestral connections are particularly interesting as he is a distant relative on his fathers side to William Boyd, 4th Earl of Kilmarnock. He was a Scottish peer who joined the 1745 Jacobite Rising, was captured at Culloden and subsequently executed for high treason on Tower Hill. His family were supporters of the government and Kilmarnock had not previously been involved with the Stuarts; he later stated "for the two Kings and their rights, I cared not a farthing which prevailed; but I was starving." His title was declared forfeit and his heavily mortgaged estates confiscated; they were later returned to his eldest son James, later Earl of Erroll, who fought at Culloden on the government side.

William Boyd, 4th Earl of Kilmarnock c. 1746

William Boyd was captured on the battlefield and there is a very poignant account of him being dragged bareheaded in the rain by his captors. At this moment his son James emerged from the redcoat ranks embraced his father and placed his own hat on the Earl’s head. His broken-hearted wife was said to have retired to Kilmarnock where she wept herself to death.

Execution of the Earl of Kilmarnock and Cromarty, and Lord Balmerino at Tower Hill, 1746 - Image:  National Library of Scotland.

In a macabre postscript to the Earl's beheading, his only wish was that his severed head be caught in a large cloth as he couldn’t stomach the idea of it rolling around in the dirt. His wishes were duly carried out but it seems his head is still around !!. People have reported seeing the ghostly skull rolling along the floor of the corridors, at Dean Castle ( Kilmarnock, Scotland) which was home to successive generations of Boyd's until the 4th Earl – William – was captured at the Battle of Culloden. The family surname changed from Boyd to Hay in the 1750's.

Another Jacobite executed at Tower Hill ( in 1747) was Simon Fraser, Lord Lovat, who was dubbed the 'Old Fox' and,will be familiar to fans of the historical drama television series Outlander as the grandfather of the hero Jamie Fraser. Shortly before the execution, a scaffold for spectators viewing the beheading had collapsed and left 20 dead, much to his amusement. Apparently Lovat was laughing about the spectacle as the executioner's axe fell. So ended the life of Simon Fraser and the phrase ‘laughing your head off’ was born!

* Thomas' brother in law was the genealogist James Harris Greenstreet (1846-1891) who was born in Brixton, the son of a traveller in the wine trade and started life as a clerk in an insurance office but by 1881 when living at Camberwell was describing himself as a record agent. In 1883 he helped Walford Selby to form the Pipe Roll Society. In 1888 at Catford he was recommended by Walter Rye and by 1891 when at Lewisham was a literary agent. He wrote a number of articles for Archaeologia Cantiana, was editor of the The Lincolnshire Survey (1884) and author of Memorials of the ancient Kent family of Greenstreet (1891). He did not marry until 1887 and had no children. At his early death in 1891 he left £290. He is also buried in Ladywell cemetery.