Bonnie Prince Charlie

Prince Charles Edward Stuart
“Bonnie Prince Charlie”

Prince Charles Edward Stuart was born in Italy on December 31, 1720. He was the eldest son of James Francis Edward Stuart and grandson to James II of England and Ireland, also titled James VII of Scotland.   

Prince Charles is best remembered for his role in the 1745 rising and his defeat at Culloden in April 1746.

Charles had a privileged childhood, spent mostly in Rome and Bologna. He was athletic, musical and fluent in English, Italian, French, and Latin.

Being the grandson of the exiled Catholic king, James VII, Charles claimed to be the legitimate heir to the thrones of England, Scotland, and Ireland, in accordance with the Jacobite succession. His mission was to restore the Stuart name and his father to the throne. Jacobite hopes rested upon Charles.

The supporters of the exiled James Francis Edward Stuart became known as Jacobites from the Latin term Jacobus for James.

In March of 1744, Charles set sail for England on his first expedition but was met by a British fleet near Torbay that damaged the Jacobite fleet and forced Charles back to France.

Highly disappointed, yet determined, Prince Charles thought the best option to regain the Stuart throne was to sail to Scotland and raise a rebellion himself. He rallied a small troop of followers and borrowed enough money to buy weapons, equipment and acquire two ships, the Elisabeth, the Du Teillay. On his journey to Scotland, the Elisabeth was attacked by the English and had to return to France. The French fleet that was to join Stuart suffered damaged by storms, leaving him left to raise an army in Scotland.

Charles continued on aboard the Du Teillay, and his ship landed alone on the Hebridean Island of Eriskay on July 23, 1745. He sent messages to clan chiefs that he had arrived and requested their support. Seeing what little forces Charles arrived with, Alexander MacDonald told him and his small fleet to go home to which Charles responded, “I am come home.”

Charles then sailed for mainland Scotland, arriving at Loch nan Uamh, near Arisaig on the Scottish mainland. The Jacobite cause was still supported by both Catholics and Protestants in the Highlands and Charles hoped to rally the clans to support him.

Highland chiefs came to meet with Prince Charles but they weren’t very optimistic about their chances for a successful rebellion, however, Charles was able to convince some of them to join him and he also solicited the support of the Cameron of Lochiel, an influential Highland clan.

On August 19, 1745, at Glenfinnan on Loch Shiel, Charles arrived, as planned, at the designated gathering point to raise the standard in his father’s name. Here, he waited for the clansmen to gather that promised to join the rebellion.

Charles waited a despairing three hours before hearing the sound of bagpipes and seeing the tartan-clad clansmen descending from the surrounding hills. He must have been ecstatic at the sight of the support after waiting three hours questioning in his mind if, or how many of the clansmen would show.

Charles and his army pressed south to Edinburgh where they were unopposed as they entered the city of Edinburgh and Charles took up residence at the Palace of Holyrood House.

Moving onward, September 21 proved to be a victorious day for the Jacobites at the Battle of Prestonpans, just east of Edinburgh. Many Jacobite supporters thought that taking Scotland was enough, but confidant Charles chose to lead his army on towards London. They crossed the border near Kelso and took Carlisle, Manchester, and Derby and by December 5th, the Jacobite troops were just a few days march from London.

Charles then received notice from informants that a force of ten-thousand troops was moving towards him. The Council of War recommended the Jacobite troops turn back. Charles was adamant about continuing on to London but lost to the vote. He was furious that he had been overruled.

Unknown to the Jacobites, there was panic in London as people scurried to withdraw their funds from the bank before the wild Highland savages raided their city.

The Jacobite troops marched back to Scotland where Bonnie Prince Charlie sulked for days. He didn’t give up and continued to lead the troops on to battle the government. The Jacobites wasted weeks at a failed attempt to take Stirling Castle but triumphed in Falkirk on January 17, 1746, and then took Inverness. Charles ignored the advice of the experienced chiefs to let the men rest and recuperate over the winter. The men were worn, exhausted and battered but Charles pushed on.

On April 16th, Prince Charles decided to go forward with his troops to meet Cumberland’s forceful army at the field of Culloden. It was here where the Jacobite army would meet their disastrous defeat.

Cumberland was King George III’s son and a distant cousin to Prince Charles.

The Jacobite army arrived at Culloden ragged, worn out and deprived of proper nutrition. The 5000 Jacobites were no match with the government army of 6400 foot-soldiers and 2400 cavalry. The Jacobites were out-numbered and out-gunned.

The bloodshed lasted forty minutes before the Jacobites succumbed to defeat.  

We recently visited the Culloden Battlefield, walking the fields and stopping to honor the clan memorials. There is a presence of the history there that you feel to your core.

Prince Charles was able to escape the battlefield without being captured or injured but became a hunted man for the next five months.  

Hiding and moving around in the moors of Scotland, the government forces were steadily on his trail. He was trailed through the elements of weather, midges, and a shortage of food.

Highlanders aided him along the way and none betrayed him for the £30,000 reward the government announced for his capture. At one point he was said to be disguised as Mr. Sinclair, a ship-wrecked merchant.

Arranged through a mutual acquaintance, Flora MacDonald risked her life to help smuggle Charles in a small boat from South Uist to the Isle of Skye, with Charles being disguised as Flora’s Irish maid, Betty Burke.

Charles evaded capture and was eventually rescued from Scotland by his brother, aboard the  French frigate L’Heureux.

Bonnie Prince Charlie arrived back in France in September and never returning to Scotland again.

You can explore items in the Jacobite and  Bonnie Prince Charlie collections at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh. It was very interesting!

Bonnie Prince Charlie is remembered in the folk song, “The Skye Boat Song” which you can listen to here:

Dr. James Mackay, “Pocket Scottish History”, 2006, Lomond Books

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