I first became familiar with William “Billy the Butcher” Cumberland when I read the first book in Diana Gabaldon’s series, Outlander. The hero is a Scotsman from the late 18th century, so the topic of the Duke of Cumberland comes up.
(I can highly recommend the first three books of Gabaldon’s Outlander series, but it starts running off the rails – for me at least – around book four. Her Lord John series is 100% awesome still, so I can recommend all of them. Unless the fact that the protagonist is gay is a problem for you. In which case you should get a grip.)
Prince William, the Duke of Cumberland, was a younger son King George II and was given the job of “quelling” the Jacobite Rebellion in Scotland. That’s where the nickname “Butcher” came in. The rotten bastard “pacified” the Scottish Highlands by ordering the slaughter of non-combatants, including women and children, and those he didn’t have murdered outright he left to starve to death after his troops destroyed their farms or other source of income. The common English person distained and disliked the Scots during this time period, but the populace of England was disgusted by his grotesque attempted genocide/ethnocide (not they had names for what he was doing). In Scotland he is remembered even less favorably, as you can imagine. Some sources report that the flower that is ostensibly named for the Duke of Cumberland, the “Sweet William”, is called the “Stinking Billy” in the British north, but other sources say it is actually the ragwort that the Scots referred to “Stinking Billy” in remembrance of Cumberland.
He’s on my mind, because we’ve just firmed up plans for visiting my parent’s house near Cumberland Falls win a few weeks, and the Cumberland area of Eastern Kentucky was named after the same murderous Duke who perpetrated such carnage against the Scots Highlanders. Everything around here, including the local university, is named after the Cumberland River and Lake Cumberland, and thus after the Dastardly Duke.
When I thought it was in honor of the bastard, I was vexed, but then I read that the Cumberland River was actually named such because it was as CROOKED as the Duke of Cumberland. That was much more to my taste. Now, I chortle internally instead of stew about it.
Cumberland’s statue in London was removed because of his war crimes, as is fitting. However, when a new art project was installed, a soap statue of Billy the Butcher that would melt in the rain, many people were less than pleased. Apparently even a temporary statue of a known fiend isn’t welcome.
Considering what he did, I have to agree.