Bonnie Prince Charlie and the passions of fine Edinburgh ladies

It wasn't just a wave of public support for Jacobitism that Bonnie Prince Charlie managed to stir up after arriving in Edinburgh in 1745.

Bonnie Prince Charlie

With his blue eyes, fair face and charming ways, accounts of the day suggest the women of the capital were left simply entranced by the Young Pretender as the second Jacobite uprising got underway.

Public opinion swelled in his favour following his victory at the Battle of Prestonpans in September, with it claimed his appeal among women drove his popularity as the Jacobites lay siege to Edinburgh.

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Following Prestonpans, the Prince threw a series of balls and entertainment nights at the Palace of Holyroodhouse where he had set up court amid his campaign to restore his father to the throne.

A Jacobite-style cockade similar to the ones worn by supporters of Charles Edward Stuart. PIC Contributed.

His grandfather, James VII, had lived there less than 60 years earlier.

Designed to attract “all the persons of rank and fashion” in Edinburgh, the balls were elaborate affairs - with Bonnie Prince Charlie the natural star of the show.

Arriving in fine tartan silks, crimson velvet breeks and military boots, the Young Pretender made no hesitation in working the room, bestowing “unwearied attention” on his female guests.

Advocate James Browne, in his 1852 account A History of The Highlands, suggests the effects were palpable.

The Palace of Holyroodhouse, where Bonnie Prince Charlie hosted a number of balls and entertainment nights after his victory at the Battle of Prestonpans in 1745. PIC Wikicommons

Browne said: “His politeness, affability and condescension were the theme of universal conversation.

“Captivated by the charms of his conversation, the graces of his person, and the unwearied attentions which he bestowed on them, the ladies entered warmly into the prince’s views.

“Indeed, so strong was the hold which the spirit of Jacobitism had taken of the hearts of the ladies of Edinburgh, that when afterwards overawed by the Presence of an English army, they, nevertheless, continued to wear the Jacobite badge, and treat the approaches of the Duke of Cumberland’s officers with supercilious indifference.

“As Charles was almost wholly destitute of every household requisite, his female friends sent plates, china, linen and other articles of domestic use to the palace.”

A Jacobite-style cockade similar to the ones worn by supporters of Charles Edward Stuart. PIC Contributed.

The Prince loved a grand gesture himself, and played admirably to his crowd of fanciers.

During a stop off in the Doune area before arriving in Edinburgh, Browne notes an encounter with the “ladies of Menteith” who had gathered in the house of Mr Edmonstone of Cambuswallace, where Charles had been expected to rest and refresh himself.

Instead, the prince stayed on horseback outside, drank from a glass of wine offered by the hosts and toasted their health.

The daughters of Mr Edmonstone stepped forward to kiss the Prince’s hand - “a favour which he readily granted” - but a Miss Robina Edmonstone, a cousin of the daughters, went a step further.

The Palace of Holyroodhouse, where Bonnie Prince Charlie hosted a number of balls and entertainment nights after his victory at the Battle of Prestonpans in 1745. PIC Wikicommons

She stepped forward and asked to “pree his royal highness’s mou” - or kiss him on the mouth.

Browne notes: “Charles, not being sufficiently acquainted with broad Scotch, was at a loss to comprehend the nature of the request; but on it being explained to him, he instantly caught her in his arms, and instead of allowing her to perform the operation, he himself imprinted a thousands kisses on her fair and blushing face, to the great amusement of the spectators.”

Tall and handsome, he was described by one eye witness as having a perfect oval face, a Roman-style nose and a small mouth which gave him a “rather effeminate appearance.”

“But on the whole, his exterior was extremely prepossessing and his deportment was so graceful and winning, that a few persons could resist his attractions,” the eyewitness, as recorded by Browne, said.

Browne argued it was “the fairer sex” who “contributed not a little” to bring about the change in public feeling towards Charles and the Jacobite cause.

Shortly after first arriving in Edinburgh, a proclamation was made to his father, King James VIII, at Edinburgh’s Mercat Cross.

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Few men could be seen on the street but the windows of the adjoining houses were “filled with ladies” who

“testified the intensity of their feelings by straining their voices to the utmost pitch, and with outstretched arms waving white handkerchiefs in the honour.”

Browne noted the presence of Mrs Murray of Broughton, a “lady of great beauty” who “greatly heightened the effect of the ceremony.”

He said: “To show her devoted attachment to the cause of the Stuarts, (she) appeared decorated with a profusion of white ribbons, sat on horseback near the cross with a drawn sword in her hand, during all the time the ceremony lasted.”

Bonnie Prince Charlie’s effect on the women of Edinburgh was noticed at the highest levels of society, including Duncan Forbes, President of the Court of Session .

He described the shift in public attitudes towards the Jacobites following the Prestonpans victory.

He said: “All Jacobites, how prudent soever, became mad; all doubtful people became Jacobites; and all bankrupts became heroes, and talked of nothing but hereditary rights and victory, and what was more grievous to men of gallantry, and if you will believe me, much more mischievous to the public, all the fine ladies, if you will accept one or two, became passionately fond of the young Adventurer, and used all their arts and industry for him in the most intemperate manner.”

Bonnie Prince Charlie left Edinburgh for England, arriving in Carlisle less than two months after Prestonpans. His military campaign - and his charm offensive - continued.