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Charles Edward Stewart: The Young Pretender

FEW figures in Scotland’s long history have led a more daring and colourful life than Charles Edward Stewart. He was the grandson of deposed King James II of England (King James VII of Scotland) and the son of James Stewart, who gained the nickname "Old Pretender" after twice failing to capture the British throne.

Bonnie Prince Charlie was a direct descendent of Robert the Bruce.

In January 1746, Charles claimed victory at Falkirk Muir but was finally defeated at the Battle of Culloden in April of that year.

After months on the run , Charles escaped disguised "Betty Burke", aided by Flora MacDonald, daughter of a Skye landowner.

After the war with France ended in 1748, all members of the House of Stewart were deported from France.James II was deposed by the English parliament, dismayed at his promotion of Catholics to top government jobs. That set the stage for a 57-year-long Jacobite campaign - Jacob is Latin for James - that led to the bloodiest and most significant battles on Scottish soil.

Charles was born in Rome in 1720, a direct descendant of Robert the Bruce. After travelling to France at the age of 18, Prince Charles recruited his own military for plans to attack Britain and regain his family’s honour.

The 25-year-old prince hit shore on the Hebridean island of Eriskay. Charles’ men numbered a mere seven - including five Irish - comprising adventurers, ageing romantics and exiles. From there - without men, money or munitions - he sailed in early August to Arasaig on the western mainland. He was urged by clan chieftains to give up the fight and go home. The prince would not listen.

On 12 August 1745, Charles paddled upstream along the northern edge of Loch Shiel to Glenfinnan. Several hours passed before many hundred clansmen arrived for duty.

The prince led his men through Perth in early September and eventually reached Edinburgh; the army grew in size to more than 2,000 as they marched on. Charles reached the capital with little trouble. Residents cheered the news from the New Pretender himself, that Charles’ father - James VIII of Scotland - was now king and the Bonnie Prince his regent.

Even while many clansmen returned home for winter, a fresh instalment of inexperienced recruits brought the number of troops to 5,500. The army crossed into England on 3 November and one month later they had reached as far south as Derby, only 125 miles from London. Low on supplies and gaining little support from elsewhere, the Jacobite forces decided to return north.

What Prince Charles and his forces did not expect, however, was that the British army out in the field - about 12,000 in total - would trail the rebel troops for weeks. The Jacobites claimed victory in January 1746 at Falkirk Muir, where a 6,000-man army, the largest assemblage of Jacobite soldiers during the Rising, defeated government forces.

Many believe that by now, six months since coming to Scotland, Prince Charles was more interested in other pursuits - namely women and alcohol. In Bannockburn, near Stirling, he met a young lady by the name of Clementina Walkinshaw, one of Charles’ mistresses of whom he later had an illegitimate daughter. Since returning his forces from England, Charles was drinking heavily into the night and awoke so late some mornings that his army had already moved on. There were claims that his decisions were erratic and that he had become a liability to the cause.

It was on 16 April 1746, at Culloden Moor, a bleak area of open land with heather located just south-east of Inverness, that Charles and his army experienced Scotland’s greatest battlefield defeat.

Outnumbered by about 3,000, the hungry and cold Highlander/Jacobite force lost between 1,000 and 2,000 men in the 45 minutes on the field and more were killed - including women and children - while running for cover. Only about 50 government troops were killed in the battle.

While most of his forces were demoralised, desperate or dead, the Bonnie Prince was eluding scores of troops who were sniffing his trail. The government announced a 30,000 reward for his capture, prompting a full-scale search for the defeated Jacobite leader.

It is not clear how Charles spent these months on the run although it appears he disguised himself as a "Mr Sinclair", a ship-wrecked merchant, and later on as a lady, "Betty Burke", the serving maid of Flora MacDonald, a 24-year-old stepdaughter of a minor gentry in Armdale on Skye.

Darting across the Western Isles and portions of the mainland, a costumed Charles was rescued from Scotland by his brother and in September 1746 shipped back to France, who although were still not prepared to support Charles' bid for the throne agreed to protect him - if only to continue their feud with England.

Charles would never return to Scotland and the Jacobite Rising was dead, but he was to live for another 42 years.

By 1748 the war between France and England ended and the British insisted that all members of the House of Stewart be deported. A reticent Prince Charles was escorted out of France and forced to spend the rest of his life moving around Europe in a range of guises. He even secretly visited London twice. He had a daughter by his lover Clementina Walkinshaw in October 1753, but the relationship ended in 1760 amid tales of jealousy and violence.

By the age of 45, Charles had few supporters and was even excluded from his father's will as the two became estranged after the failure of the Rising. The Bonnie Prince married a 19-year-old German princess, Louise of Stolberg, in 1772 but it was to end without producing a child. From 1783 the prince was ill and nursed by his daughter until 1788 when he suffered a stroke and died on 30 January in Rome. He was 68.

Bonnie Prince Charlie’s legend and the image of determined and proud Highlanders/Jacobites continues to this day.

 
 
 

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