In the company of prominent supporters of the Bonnie Prince, clan chiefs and French commanders, the menu comprised ‘Mussel Brose, Rack of Lamb wi’ a Skirlie Crust, Neeps and Tattie Cakes, Dunlop Cheddar with Bannocks, Cream Crowdrie’.
It is not too fanciful to assume that those present would have used the estate china – a Chinese export porcelain service bearing the polychrome arms of the Forbes family. What price a single dinner plate from that service? Among the ‘Relics from Culloden House’ offered as part of a two-day sale at Laidlaw (18.5% buyer’s premium) in Carlisle on July 30-31, one took £3700 (estimate £300-500).
The watertight provenance of this material, sold on behalf of a direct descendant of the Forbes family, made all the difference to its commercial fortunes.
The prince is understood to have spent three nights at Culloden House prior to his role in the last pitched battle fought on British soil.
A 10 x 8in (24 x 20cm) fragment of 18th century printed cotton tester bed drapery was, said an old note of provenance, Part of curtain on Prince Charlie’s Bed at Culloden. It was offered together with a photograph of the bed taken prior to the 1897 house’s contents auction held by Messrs A Fraser & Co in which the Georgian four-poster bed was the highest selling lot.
A comparable, if smaller, fragment was sold by Lyon & Turnbull in August 2020 for £1200. That same buyer had to stretch to £5800 to add this piece to his collection.
Relics of Drumossie Moor itself included a brass sporran cantle, bearing an old label Found on the battlefield and given by the late Duncan Forbes of Culloden to my father and two small rock fragments described in the 1897 contents sale as ‘fragments of the Stone on which Prince Charles stood during the battle of Culloden’. These brought £1100 and £320 respectively.
As Presbyterian Whigs, the Forbes family of Culloden had embraced the arrival of both William and Mary in 1688 and the Hanoverians in 1714. As early as 1690, as a reward for their loyalty to the Protestant cause, the family had been granted the privilege of distilling whisky in perpetuity free of duty.
In the years after Culloden the family fortunes were restored by the Ferintosh distillery (the first legal distillery in Scotland) which by c.1780 would account for two-thirds of all Scottish production. An empty bottle dating from this period bearing a Culloden seal was sold here at £850.
As Lord President of the Court of Sessions, the most senior representative of the British Crown in Scotland, Duncan Forbes in particular had played a major role in helping the government suppress the Jacobite rising. A Jacobite commentator later wrote that ‘had the Lord President been as firm a friend of the Stuarts as he was an opponent… we should have seen an army of 18,000, not 5000 invade England’.
Buttons from an officer’s tunic for the Culloden Battalion of Volunteers, a local militia unit of around 2000 men commanded by Forbes in the run-up to the battle, sold for bids of between £100-130 each while groups of pewter buttons, each bearing the Forbes family crest with the motto Spernit Humum and the initials CV were sold in lots of five for between £60-70.
Unexpected bids of £1350 and £1600 were also tendered for Forbes’ white metal spectacles in a shagreen case and a 18th century gilt-tooled leather wallet labelled This pocket book belonged to Duncan Forbes of Culloden, Lord President of the Court of Session, 1745-1746.
Despite his actions, in the aftermath of the ’45 Forbes spoke out against the brutal treatment of lesser Jacobite supporters and the suppression of Highland culture. He was rebuked by the Duke of Cumberland who complained: ‘He is Highland mad… and believes once dispersed, the rebels are no more consequence than a London mob.’