20/01/2014
Share this story Share on Facebook icon Share on Twitter icon Share on Pinterest icon Share on Google Plus icon Share on Linked In icon Share via Email icon

Bonnie Prince Charlie - exploring the myths

a635422c-cd3c-4a2c-9707-24d621775c30

Bonnie Prince Charlie lived a life that was a heady mixture of adventure and legend. We catch up with Roderick Graham, author of the book Bonnie Prince Charlie - Truth or Lies to discover the myths surrounding the 'bonnie' Prince Charles Edward Stuart.

The most charismatic man in Scottish history was Charles Edward Louis Casimir Silvester Severino Maria Stuart or ‘Bonnie Prince Charlie’. Some stories of his life are merely legends which have gained credence by repetition - and some of the most fanciful events are true occurrences.

Bonnie Prince Charlie - The Early Years

For most people, the prince first appears fully grown in 1745 and lands on an obscure Scottish island with seven men. He intends to claim Britain as his own Roman Catholic kingdom and leads an army of screaming sword-waving Catholic Highlanders to the town of Derby. But, out of cowardice, he retreats to Culloden where his brave Scots are butchered by the English army of the Duke of Cumberland. He is then spirited away by his mistress Flora MacDonald to disappear from history.

This book will show that most of this is total bunkum. But, bunkum grows from legend and legends must start somewhere. Napoleon defined history as ‘fable agreed upon’ and most fables have a basis in remembered reality.

Charles Edward did land on an obscure Scottish island but he was a young adult of only twenty five years old and his background had shaped his ambition which was not altogether sharply focussed.

The Highlands were in a state of political and religious flux and there was no overall ambition among the chiefs. The retreat from Derby did happen but legend ignores the John le Carre like events the night before it began. The march to Inverness produces the most comic/heroic event of the whole Jacobite campaign and lets us meet the most charismatic of the many women in Charles’s life although it is often ignored by the romanticisers

Culloden has been misrepresented many times as has Cumberland’s behaviour. The days before the battle are often ignored so that an oversimplified black versus white version can be given. The truth is much more savage and it is possible that it was at Culloden that General Wolfe learnt the strategy that let him capture Quebec.

Bonnie Prince Charlie and Flora MacDonald

After Culloden, Charles became less and less ‘Bonnie’ and was befriended by Flora MacDonald (pictured). Once she managed to save him from capture in the nick of time, as she prevented his walking into two Hanoverian officers while dressed as a woman. His beard would have probably given him away.

Flora MacDonaldFor the latter half of the eighteenth century, Charles was in Europe, supposedly incognito although he insisted on attending the opera wearing the full paraphernalia of a royal prince and we meet him hiding in a Parisian convent while involved in a catalogue of adventures that resemble a mixture of comic opera and the memoirs of Casanova. Mistress followed mistress and he renewed an acquaintanceship from before Culloden.

His numerous liaisons let us see the gaudy life of the great salonaires, the haughty hostesses that dominated Parisian society and he hovered on the fringes of the great intellectuals such as Montesquieu and Diderot.

 His religious belief now wavered as much as his sadly abandoned virtue and he broke off relations with his cardinal brother. He  endorsed totally lunatic plots for his restoration in clandestine visits to London and would endorse anything if it brought him nearer to  the next case of sweet and powerful Commanderia wine from Cyprus.

 There was no longer any purpose to his life and it was a downhill stumble to drunken disaster. The days of the legendary ‘prince in the heather; were well and truly over and there has been no need for the romantics to create legends over his final years since they have all the drama of an eighteenth century opera bouffe.

I have written more about the man than the politics, although I could not keep them altogether in the wings no matter how ludicrous they were. Did the papacy really fear that if they befriended Charles, then Nelson’s Mediterranean fleet would bombard the port of Rome? Fact is more outlandish than the legend that he had the papal blessing to convert Britain. This book will allow the muddy waters to clear and let us see Charles Edward unadorned and then, perhaps to have some sympathy for the misguided pretender.



 

Back to "Features" Category

20/01/2014 Share this story   Share on Facebook icon Share on Twitter icon Share on Pinterest icon Share on Google Plus icon Share on Linked In icon Share via Email icon

Recent Updates

Scottish astronomer Williamina Fleming died - On this day in history

Pioneering Scottish female astronomer Williamina Fleming died on 21 May 1911.


The Battle of Nechtansmere was fought - On this day in history

The Battle of Nechtansmere (or Blar Dhun Neachdain) was fought on 20 May 685AD. ...


Spotlight on Moidart History Group

The Moidart History Group is a research group that exists to preserve and explore the history of the area, ...


Author and diarist James Boswell died - On this day in history

Author and diarist James Boswell died on 19 May 1795, at the age of 54. ...


Other Articles

Photographer David Octavius Hill died - On this day in history

Pioneering photographer David Octavius Hill died on 17 May 1870.


Scottish explorer Sir Alexander Burnes was born - On this day in history

Scottish explorer Sir Alexander Burnes was born on 16 May 1805.


Mary Queen of Scots married her third husband - On this day in history

Mary Queen of Scots married her third husband, James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell on 15 May 1567. ...


St Andrews Society of Golfers was founded - On this day in history

The St Andrews Society of Golfers was founded on 14 May 1754.