Alexander Hay Abstract, July 2017 Conference

‘Breaking of the Targe’ – Scottish martial arts and the cultural history of Culloden.

– An Abstract by Alexander Hay PhD (Southampton Solent University)


The 1746 Battle of Culloden looms large in British history. Here the Jacobite pretender, Charles Stuart, saw the final defeat of his forces, and the securing of the Hanoverian dynasty that continues to this day. From a martial arts history perspective, it also raises intriguing questions in regards to the fighting arts of the time. According to popular depictions of the battle, well-equipped and drilled British soldiers, and a small number of foreign mercenaries, outclassed and outfought the Jacobite forces, their bayonet drills easily overcoming a targe and sword armed rabble. Yet was the situation so simple? Was Culloden the twilight of traditional Scottish martial arts, or was a far more complicated state of affairs at play? To address this question, the paper will examine press coverage and other primary sources of not only Culloden but the broader context of the third, and final, Jacobite Uprising of 1745, in addition to a broader multi-disciplinary approach including archaeology, geography and anthropology. Main areas of interest will also include the role played in the broader conflict by the Scottish and English press, as well as depictions of these events in popular culture of the time as well as later in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. Finally, the paper will ask what Culloden tells us about martial arts in periods of social conflict and notions of national identity, in particular, Scottish nationalism and the development of a modern sense of ‘Britishness’.



Dr Alexander Hay is Lecturer of Digital Journalism at Southampton Solent University, and comes from an eclectic humanities background, his research covering everything from sea monsters to music journalism and reader response theory. His martial arts experience is similarly varied, encompassing Tae Kwon Do, Wing Chun, Judo and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, and he is presently studying Boxing, while retaining an on-going interest in Historical European Martial Arts. His research interests include the history of journalism and online media, and how they intersect with a wide range of other topics and disciplines, such as the martial arts themselves.