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The True Story of 'Bonnie' Prince Charlie: Charles Edward Stuart

(1720 -1788)

Bonnie Prince Charlie

The Stuart Dynasty

There is certain romanticism about Bonnie Prince Charlie, compounded through the years by myth and song. The reality is far from the idealistic view portrayed through the mists of time.

The Stuart family had ruled in Scotland for many years before James VI became James I of England, uniting the nations of England and Scotland that had fought each other over centuries, for the very first time. James I passed his crown upon his death in 1625 to his son Charles I. Charles believed strongly in the “divine right of Kings” to the detriment of his relationship with the English Parliament. This ultimately led to a Civil War which Charles I lost, and in 1649 he was beheaded.

Charles had two sons who were eventually to accede the throne under very different circumstances. Charles II was restored as monarch in 1660 after the death of Richard Cromwell, the son of Oliver. Charles, despite fathering many children out of wedlock, died heirless in 1685. The throne was taken by James II, or VII of Scotland.

There were major issues with James II becoming King. He was a catholic who was acceding to a protestant throne, and whilst he was tolerant to a degree his reforms became very unpopular. James was deposed in 1689 and replaced not by his son, James Francis Edward – a catholic, but by his protestant daughter Mary and her husband William of Orange.

James II led a rebellion in Ireland in 1689 against the new monarchs but was soundly defeated at the Battle of the Boyne. He retreated to France under the protection of Louis XIV and there he lived with his son, James Francis Edward Stuart. His grandson Charles Edward Stuart was born in 1720, 19 years after his death.

Jacobitism

The very term Jacobite arises from “Jacobus", Latin for James. The followers of the deposed James II believed him the rightful heir of the thrones of England, Scotland and Ireland, and rightfully so. The followers in Scotland became known as Jacobites.


Bonnie Prince Charlie’s Childhood

Charles was born in 1720 in Rome, the privileged son of a catholic family who were desperate to seize back the thrones of England and Scotland. The young Charles was educated in the ways of the military and earmarked to reclaim the combined thrones.

His first action came in 1734 in the French and Spanish siege of Gaeta. The young Charles became known as The Young Pretender, with his father James being the Old Pretender. Charles was to spearhead an invasion in 1745 with a French fleet as support, but weather conditions led to the fleet not being able to continue.

Charles landed with 7 followers on the Isle of Eriskay and set about rousing the support of the Highland Clan leaders.

The Invasion

Bonnie Prince Charlie raised a small army at first, 300 McDonalds, 700 Camerons and others. However, the courage of the Scots came to the fore as they took Edinburgh and defeated the English at Prestonpans. After several victories their army numbered up to 6,000 as they reached as far south as Derby.


Culloden 1746

With a lack of catholic France’s support and English Catholics being content with their situation, the army of Highlanders had to retreat north. On 16th April 1746, a date synonymous with Scottish history, the Jacobite army met the English forces of the Duke of Cumberland just outside Inverness. The heart of the Scots was not enough on this occasion to defeat the well prepared English forces.

In a battle that lasted less than an hour, thousands of Highlanders were slaughtered by the English which ended the Jacobite Rebellion that was to become known as the Glorious ’45. A huge £30,000 ransom was put on the head of Charles Edward Stuart. Charles himself fled northwards to the islands of Scotland. It was the last land battle to take place in England.

Scotland After 1746

The fate of Scotland after the battle of Culloden was hard to say the least. Many laws were introduced that prevented the Scots from many old traditions, and worse was to come in the form of the “Highland clearances”. The laws virtually ended the ancient Clan system forever.

And What Of “Bonnie Prince Charlie”?

Charles fled to the Isle of Benbecula where, it is reported, he met Flora Macdonald. She was not a Jacobite but held enough feelings for the young Prince that she helped him escape to the Isle of Skye, with him disguised as a maid! He escaped to France and never returned to Scotland. It is said he became an alcoholic and took several lovers, but he never gave up hope of recovering the throne of Scotland. The Highland leaders stopped supporting Charles as the new English constrictions on them were blamed squarely on his invasion.

Charles Edward Stuart died in Rome on 31st January 1788, ending the claim of the Stuarts to the throne.

Hero or Not?

How many people around the globe, other than us of Scottish descent, know the true story of Charles? And how many know the haunting tune of the Skye Boat Song?

For those who remember that song from their childhood in a sentimental way…. It was written almost a century later by an Englishman, and was for a Scot who spent a year of his life in Scotland. And yet the memory of the “Glorious 45” will live on.

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