Monuments to notorious people fall and are renowned. What about Cumberland?

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CUMBERLAND – Across the ocean, pedestals and columns dedicated to the man named after this town and the largest county in Maine are empty, with the statues long gone.

This man, Prince William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland, was for a quarter of a century in the mid-1700s one of England’s greatest heroes: military champion, defender of Protestant England against so-called Catholic conspiracies and the Scottish barbarism, and the power behind the throne of his young nephew, the infant King George III. Statues rose to glorify “Sweet William” in English and Irish towns, and British colonial authorities from North Carolina to Nova Scotia gave names to towns, counties and forts.

A painting of Prince William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland, by Sir Joshua Reynolds

So he wasn’t.

In the 1780s Cumberland was posthumously embarrassed in England and vilified in Scotland and Ireland as “the Butcher”, a war criminal who slaughtered captured Scottish troops and the area’s women, children and elderly afterwards. the Battle of Culloden. Cumberland then oversaw the removal of the defeated Scottish Highlanders, who were prohibited from wearing their tartans, speaking their language or playing the bagpipes.

His reputation today in Scotland? “Not good,” says Rab Houston, professor emeritus of history at the University of Saint Andrews in Edinburgh, “even among the Unionists,” those who oppose Scottish independence. Its reputation across the UK is no better. In 2005, readers of BBC History magazine voted him seventh the most vilified Briton of the past 1,000 years, a few places behind Jack the Ripper and Robin Hood’s nemesis King John.

Cumberland’s rapid fall from hero to monster exemplifies the pitfalls of naming things after living political figures, whose reputations can quickly change as the political fog of an era recedes, allowing for more estimation. broad and often more precise about their place in history. His case parallels that of American figures such as Andrew Jackson, Robert E. Lee, and Woodrow Wilson, whose status as war heroes in their day has obscured the actions, atrocities and positions widely endured by people “of the past.” ‘others’ at the time: Native Americans in Jackson’s case, and African Americans in Lee and Wilson.

The naming of places has always been political, and Maine is no exception. The Wabanaki places were given English names in the early 1600s and then renamed again after Massachusetts forcibly annexed the Royalist Colony following the English Civil War of the 1640s (York, Scarborough and Falmouth were, in then, humiliating references to the sites of Royalist defeats in the conflict in England.) Waldo’s son-in-law, Henry Knox, a war hero turned corrupt land speculator who became so hated by the early Mid-Coast Mainers 19th century, that his Thomaston mansion was nearly set on fire by a torchlight mob.

“The Duke of Cumberland was an important military leader and hero, and a prominent member of the royal family close to the line of succession,” says Emerson Baker, York resident and colonial New England historian and professor at Salem State University. “I guess I’m not surprised that a county is named after him.”

Cumberland County was created and named in honor of the Duke by order of the Massachusetts Assembly in June 1760, when New England was still British territory and “Sweet William” was still alive and in the height of his power and influence. He had led the British forces to a resounding and decisive victory over the Scottish forces at Culloden, outside Inverness, bringing a final end to a 1745-46 uprising in favor of the Catholic rival to the British throne, “Bonnie Prince Charles ”. Handel wrote one of his most famous compositions, “See the Conquering Hero Comes”, as a tribute. His father, King George II, made him place a monument in a London park and a huge statue of Cumberland was erected in the center of the Irish town of Birr. Some in England thought he might become king or even a new Oliver Cromwell, the sovereign regicide of the short-lived English republic of the 1650s.

“Cumberland, because of his suppression of the 1945 rebellion, was associated with being a champion of English, British and Protestant things,” says Geoffrey Plank, professor of modern history at the University of East Anglia at Norwich, England. “For Maine it was amplified, because there had been all these conspiratorial ideas that if he became king Charles Stuart would return parts of the colonies to France and begin a period of Catholic rule where the rights of Protestants would be restricted throughout the empire.

The French had claimed and, along with their Wabanaki allies, controlled the eastern half of what is now Maine until just a few months before authorities created the counties of Cumberland and Lincoln (the latter stretching across the conquered territories). When the Massachusetts Assembly created the new entities, Quebec City had only been in British hands for nine months and sweeping operations were still underway around Montreal.

“The British had just completed their conquest of Canada, and that’s a big reason there’s that sense of triumphalism,” says Plank, who notes the parallels with Scotland in what happened next: the ethnic cleansing of the Acadian French of what is now New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, many of whom ended up in another French colony, Louisiana, to become the “Cajuns”.

Cumberland himself suffered a stroke and died in 1665, aged just 44. Over the decades that followed, the truth about the Battle of Culloden and its aftermath slowly surfaced. It wasn’t a pretty story.

The battle itself was a rout and ended in half an hour, leaving 1,500 Highland soldiers – and less than 100 of Cumberland’s forces – dead on the ground. Cumberland ordered his forces not to quarter and “pursue and hunt these vermin among their hidden hills”. They obliged by bayoneting and clubbing the wounded on the battlefield, then marching to kill civilians, hang suspected Stuart sympathizers, burn villages, seize farmers’ cattle, and execute Highlanders captured by a firing squad.

This was followed by the Outlaw Act, which prohibited the wearing of kilts, Highland clothing or weapons as well as playing the bagpipe or speaking Gaelic in public. When Cumberland heard of children praising Bonnie Prince Charlie, he ordered that “these boys, whoever they want, be whipped across town, with their parents or guardians helping, and the town crier. the city proclaiming in the appropriate places, what it is for. . “

At the beginning of the 19th century, Cumberland’s reputation had collapsed. Sir Walter Scott’s romantic novel ‘Waverley’, set during the events, transformed the view of the British establishment in Scotland. George IV read it as a child and after becoming king knighted Scott and traveled to Scotland, where Scott celebrated him and persuaded him to adopt the attributes of a Highland chieftain . His daughter, Queen Victoria, was also fascinated by Scott’s novels and purchased Balmoral Castle, which has been since the royal Scottish retirement of the monarch.

It all made “the butcher” Cumberland something embarrassing. A statue erected in London shortly after his death was taken down in 1868 and has still not been replaced. Birr’s was removed for repairs in 1915, never to return. The bases of these two are empty today. A campground owner in the Inverness area became the object of anger when he named his business after Cumberland, as did a real estate developer who in 2019 attempted to name a street a new one Culloden subdivision after the Duke. Local authorities vetoed the latter plan, leading The Scotsmen to claim that “one of the most ruthless figures in Scottish history has finally found her equal”.

However, there is none of this controversy in Maine and other parts of North America, where Cumberland’s identity and heritage are almost entirely unknown and Scottish national-historical pathos is slim. in the field. Few Mainers have probably ever wondered where Cumberland got its name from and, if they did, probably assume that it is a tribute to the historic northern English county of the same name.

This is certainly true in the town of Cumberland, which split from North Yarmouth in 1821 and received its name from the town’s esteemed treasurer, Ephraim Sturdivant (1782-1868), best known for bringing the Merino sheep into Maine.

“It is not known whether Sturdivant simply took the name of the county or referred to the (county) in England when he chose it,” says local historian Thomas Bennett, director of the Prince Memorial Library in Cumberland. “I think it’s more the first one, but people seem to like the idea that it’s connected to the city in England.”

Bennett himself was unaware that Cumberland County was named after the Duke of Cumberland, or of the latter’s reputation, and expected most of the townspeople to do so, including probably Sturdivant himself, a descendant of Mayflower passengers, had fought the British in the War of 1812 and had no obvious connection to northern England. “I would say if I asked all in historical society where Ephraim got the name, no one would bring up Prince William Augustus,” he says.

And that’s probably for the best, advises Houston of the University of Saint Andrews, when asked what Mainers should do with the association. “Live with it,” he says. “Most people will not have heard of the Duke.”


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