When he was four his parents made him the Duke of Cumberland, Marquess of Berkhampstead, Earl of Kennington, Viscount Trematon, and Baron Alderney. He was his parents’ best loved son, so much so that his father would actually look into how to make him the heir to the throne instead of his older brother, Frederick. He was trained for the military, perhaps not the best career choice for someone so bloodthirsty and convinced of his family’s inviolate supremacy. Sure, he was GOOD at being a military commander; but his personality was made for self-justifying genocide.
Which is exactly what he did.
When Bonnie Prince Charlie marched into England at the head of his Jacobite Army in November 1745, evading Field Marshal Wade’s forces to reach Derby, Cumberland was recalled to England to take charge of all forces in Britain … when Hawley was beaten by the Jacobites at the Battle of Falkirk Muir on 17 January 1746, Cumberland headed north, where he arrived in Edinburgh on 30 January … When the two armies did meet on 16 April, the outcome was a decisive victory for Cumberland. The Duke of Cumberland, however, was interested in doing more than winning a battle. He wanted to ensure that the long series of Jacobite uprisings in Scotland, with previous flare-ups in 1689, 1708, 1715, and 1719, would be brought to an end, once and for all. He was, after all, part of the Hanoverian dynasty the Jacobites were trying to overthrow. A copy of the general orders issued to the Jacobites the day before the battle had been captured on 15 April, and someone, presumably on Cumberland’s instruction, had inserted a forged addition, to the effect that no quarter was to be given to any Hanoverian prisoners. On the morning of the Battle of Culloden, Cumberland’s troops were circulated with an order that said: Officers and men will take notice that the public orders of the rebels yesterday was to give us no quarter. As hints go, it was a heavy one, and in the aftermath of the battle, Cumberland’s troops committed widespread atrocities, killing many wounded, surrendering and fleeting Jacobites, as well as bystanders, residents, and just about anyone else within reach … he sent out columns of troops backed by ships of the Royal Navy to commit what would now be regarded as genocide across the Jacobite areas of the Highlands. Cumberland actually considered shipping the entire population of these areas to the colonies: but in the end satisfied himself with burning every farmstead, croft and house; with widespread murder and rape; and with rounding up and sending south 20,000 head of cattle, effectively wiping out the entire basis of the economy of the Highlands.
Anyone left alive after the initial slaughter faced starvation the following winter. Most of the Highlanders were left with little choice but to leave their native mountains in order to survive, creating a significant wave of the Scots diaspora, particularly to North American British colonies (often as indentured servants in near-slavery conditions).
As for Cumberland, his monstrous atrocities were viewed as necessary by a grateful Protestant population in the United Kingdom … at least initially. He was called “Sweet William” and lauded in the popular media. However, people tend to find rape and skewering babies to be repellent sooner or later, and it wasn’t too long before he became known as “Billy the Butcher” or “Butcher Cumberland”.
Karma caught up with him, at least in part. His reputation as Billy the Butcher destroyed his credibility in politics and made him increasingly unpopular over time. Topping it off was his humiliating defeat in the Seven Years’ War. Facing the trained and well-feed troops of France, Austria, Russia, Sweden, and Saxony was quite a bit different than assaulting malnourished and under-equipped bands of gallant Scots rebels. Accordingly, Billy the Butcher got his ass handed to him in a hat at the Battle of Hastenbeck on 26 July 1757. Humiliated, he agreed to the Convention of Klosterzeven, which demanded that Cumberland’s army be disbanded and most of his family’s ancestral home of Hanover would be occupied by French forces.
King George II was furious at Cumberland’s negotiated settlement, and when the duke returned home with his tail between his legs, George greeted him by saying, “Here is my son who has ruined me and disgraced himself”. Clearly no longer a parental favorite and shamed beyond the telling, Cumberland resigned all his military and public offices, retreating into private life to lick his wounds. He died several years after a stroke on 31 October 1765. It seems appropriate that he died on Halloween, since it is a fitting time to loose one more devilish ghoul into the afterlife. (I’ve Scots heritage; can you tell?) He is buried beneath the floor of the Henry VII Lady Chapel in Westminster Abbey, which surprisingly does not crack open and belch smoke from the desecration. Billy the Butcher thought he would be a famous war hero, but instead he remains infamous for his crimes against humanity.
I can only hope that his historical reputation really bothers him as he sits among the brimstone and sucks sulfur.