But a new biography claims Bonnie Prince Charlie was a bloated, drink-soaked brute who tried to kill his wife and viciously beat his mistresses.
The Italian-born aristocrat, whose Jacobite army invaded England in a vain attempt to restore the Stuart monarchy, has long been regarded as a romantic figure in Scottish history.
But the new account of his life claims the “Young Pretender” went on to become a violent, scarlet-faced boor who regularly consumed six bottles of wine a day and frittered his family fortune on “legions of prostitutes”.
The book, produced by the Church of Scotland’s publishing house, says Charles was a vain, ill-tempered bully who was undeserving of his folk-hero status.
Author Roderick Graham, a former head of drama at BBC Scotland, said: “Few characters in history have been swathed in so much romance and remembered with so much misplaced affection as Charles Edward Stuart.”
The prince rallied many Highland clans to his cause, and he and his army were warmly cheered as they entered Edinburgh before advancing as far south as Derby. However, instead of marching on an ill-defended and panic-stricken London, the decision was taken to retreat to the Highlands where Charles’s starving and exhausted men were slaughtered on Culloden Moor by the Duke of Cumberland’s Hanoverian forces.
Charles fled to France and spent the rest of his days living the life of a drunken, nomadic playboy, never deviating from his demand that he be treated as the rightful king of Great Britain.
In 1772, some 26 years after Culloden, the prince married 20-year-old Princess Louise of Stolberg-Gedern.
Mr Graham, a double Emmy award-winning producer, said the 52-year-old was by then unrecognisable from the attractive hero who inspired the song Charlie is My Darling.
He said: “The prince’s health continued to worsen as his intake increased to six bottles of wine daily – along with the regular bottle or two of brandy.
“His growing bulk meant he had painful sores on both legs and slept only fitfully while snoring loudly.
“He was also highly jealous of his young wife and servants reported beatings and screaming quarrels”.
The marriage ended abruptly on St Andrew’s Night 1780, when an intoxicated Charles became convinced she was having an affair.
Mr Graham said: “He irrationally attacked Louise, attempted unsuccessfully to rape her and then set about strangling her, tearing out chunks of her hair in the process. Servants at last managed to pull him off and Louise took refuge in another room where she started to consider ways to effect a separation from her husband.”
He said the attack was far from an inebriated aberration and that he had also regularly assaulted his mistresses.
On one occasion, Charles had to be physically removed from the lodgings of his lover Marie-Anne-Louise Jablonowska, a cousin of the queen of France, as his beating was “eliciting screams that could be heard in the neighbouring street”.
In July 1760, long-term Scottish mistress Clementina Walkinshaw fled to a convent and left behind a letter saying: “Your Royal Highness cannot be surprised when you consider the repeated bad treatment I met with these eight years past and the daily risk of losing my life.”
Charles’s deterioration from “Bonnie Prince” to embittered and debauched exile was exemplified by his insistence that a full-length bed be added to his box at his favourite Paris theatre so that “he could be seen, acknowledge applause, then lower himself from sight to drink and sleep throughout the performance”.
Contrary to his reputation, Mr Graham contends the prince frequently disappointed his female companions, saying: “It is probable he had little or no desire to satisfy his partner, and his lover, the Duchesse de Montbazon, complained of his frequently falling asleep.”
l Bonnie Prince Charlie: Truth or Lies is published by Saint Andrew Press.