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Issue 31 - The Young Pretender (Bonnie Prince Charlie)

History & Heritage

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Scotland Magazine Issue 31
February 2007


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The Young Pretender (Bonnie Prince Charlie)

In the latest part of our series looking at Scottish characters, Mark Nicholls sets off to find out more about Bonnie Prince Charlie

Charles Edward Stuart, aka Bonnie Prince Charlie, is one of the most famous figures in Scottish history.c Yet out of the 67 years he lived, only a mere 14 months of that time was spent in Scotland and parts of England – with much of that short period on the run with a massive reward offered for his capture.

However, the impact his attempts to seize the crown of England and Scotland changed Scottish life forever – the momentous Battle of Culloden being the critical turning point.

The son of James Stuart (known as “The Old Pretender”) and the Polish-born Maria Clementina Sobieska, he was the grandson of James II of England and VII of Scotland, who was deposed in 1688 in favour of his daughter Mary and her husband, the Protestant William of Orange, because of his support for the Catholic faith.

Born on New Year’s Eve 1720 in Rome, a city where his father had been given residence by Pope Clement XI, Charles Edward Louis John Casimir Silvester Maria Stuart was more commonly known as Bonnie Prince Charlie and became a focus of the Jacobite movement that aimed to restore his father to the thrones of England and Scotland. His supporters recognised him as Charles III, while his opponents knew him as “The Young Pretender.” It was in 1745 that Charles led a rising to reclaim the throne of England and Scotland, landing on the Outer Hebridean island of Eriskay on July 23 of that year on what is now known as the Prince’s Beach.

He famously raised his father’s standard at Glenfinnan, 17 miles west of Fort William at the head of Loch Shiel on August 19, marking the start of “the ‘45 Jacobite Uprising.” At that location, Bonnie Prince Charlie met with Donald Cameron of Lochiel and his Cameron clansmen and persuaded them to help him restore the exiled Stuarts to the throne.

The Glenfinnan Monument on the shore of Loch Shiel marks the spot. Designed by the Scottish architect James Gillespie Graham and erected in 1815, it is a tribute to the many Highland clansmen who fought and died in the cause of the Stuarts.

The National Trust for Scotland visitor centre at Glenfinnan tells the story of the event and has several items on display.

There is also a shop and café.

With the support of the Camerons, the MacDonalds and the MacGregors, the Prince raised a force big enough to march on Perth and take the city. He stayed at Salutation Hotel, which dates from 1699 and is still in use today.

Duty manager at the hotel, Robin Lunghi, said: “The room is now known as the Stuart Room and is used for meetings.

We often get people who are interested in Bonnie Prince Charlie, and they come in and ask to have a look at the room. There are a few pictures in it, a nice fireplace and a map showing the trail he followed around England and Scotland.” Perth, on the River Tay, has recently been designated a City. The Abbey at Scone Palace, once the centre of the Pictish Kingdom, was the original home of the Stone of Destiny where Scotland’s kings were crowned. While passing through, Bonnie Prince Charlie made a visit to this site.

The Jacobite army then moved on to Edinburgh, which surrendered, with Bonnie Prince Charlie taking up residence in the Palace of Holyrood. They easily defeated a Hanovarian Government army in Scotland on September 21 at the Battle of Prestonpans, where a stone monument now marks the site.

Other museums to see items associated with the Prince include the Clan Cameron Museum at Achnacarry, north west of Spean Bridge in Inverness-shire, artefacts including his waistcoat and a ring; the West Highland Museum in Fort William, which has his sash from Culloden as well as a map of the battle; and the National War Museum of Scotland at Edinburgh Castle.

By November, Bonnie Prince Charlie’s Jacobite army numbered 6,000 and headed south, first taking Carlisle before moving into the Midlands of England as far as Derby, some 120 miles from London.

(Derby Museum has a permanent display on Bonnie Prince Charlie and there is a statue of him behind the city’s cathedral, while the National Army Museum in London also has a wealth of material relating to Culloden).

Yet with seemingly little support from the English Jacobites, his advisors urged him to return to Scotland. The decision to head back north was taken in oblivion of the fact that the Royal household was in turmoil at the threat of the Jacobite advance, with the Hanoverian King George II having packed his valuables onto a boat on the River Thames, ready to flee.

But this was unknown to Bonnie Prince Charlie and his followers, who returned north of the Border, only to be tracked by the King’s son, the Duke of Cumberland.

On January 17, 1746, the Jacobite army clashed with the Hanoverian redcoats again, at Falkirk, and again emerged victorious, though it continued to head north eventually reaching Inverness.

Later, on April 15, Charles led his men to Drumossie Moor, east of Inverness and established his quarters at Culloden House, which is today a luxury hotel.

With a depleted army, and suffering from a heavy head cold, Bonnie Prince Charlie was forced to face the Duke of Cumberland’s men on Culloden Moor on April 16, 1746. The Jacobite forces were heavily defeated by the Duke, who ordered that no quarter was to be spared. Estimates put the Jacobite losses at 2,000 on that day.

In addition, acts of retribution were committed: houses and castles were burned, the kilt and wearing of tartan was banned, Highlanders were forbidden to carry weapons, and many were imprisoned or sold as slaves. The rout accelerated the demise of the historic clan system north of the Border.

Life in the Scottish Highlands then changed forever.

The story is told in the National Trust for Scotland Visitor Centre at Culloden, where there are displays, a memorial cairn, Leanach Cottage around which the battle was fought, the clan grave marker and other artefacts commemorating what was the last battle fought on British soil.

The centre attracts 90,000 visitors annually, although more than 200,000 people visit the battlefield every year. Later this year a new, improved NTS visitor centre is set to open at the Culloden site.

Centre manager Deirdre Smyth explained: “We have a visitor centre which tells the story of the Jacobite rising of ’45 and a museum with artefacts and weapons from that period, along with a 15- minute film.

“But the visitor centre, which has been open for more than 20 years, is now too small to cope with the numbers of people we get from all over the world and from the summer there will be a new world-class centre which will tell the story in a much more engaging and modern way.

“We have also carried out a great deal of work on the battlefield itself to turn it back, as near as possible, to the way it was in 1746.” After the defeat of Culloden, Bonnie Prince Charlie fled for his life, albeit with a £30,000 reward for his capture offered. It was possibly the most romantic chapter in his story. The Highlanders never betrayed him, although they suffered greatly for their loyalty.

At the end of April, he sailed to the Outer Hebrides and later took refuge on Uist, only escaping disguised as the maid of Flora MacDonald, who was visiting her brother in South Uist and agreed to help him make his way from Benbecula to Skye.

On September 20, he left Scotland on a French ship that had called to collect him from Arisaig. On the banks of Loch nan Uamh can be found The Prince’s Cairn, marking the spot where Bonnie Prince Charlie finally embarked for France.

Bonnie Prince Charlie vowed to mount another campaign to reclaim his rightful throne, but never did. He spent the rest of his life in Europe, apart from returning to England briefly in 1750 under heavy disguise to attempt to raise funds for a new venture.

Charles had a number of mistresses during his life, some of whom bore him children, but in 1772, when he was 52, he married Princess Louise of Stolberg, who was 20.

The marriage failed when he began drinking heavily and Charles spent the last few years of his life in exile, looked after by Charlotte, his daughter by Clementina Walkinshaw.

He died in Rome, the city of his birth, on January 31, 1788. He was initially buried in the Cathedral of Frascati, where his brother Henry was a Cardinal, but later his remains were moved to the crypt of Saint Peter’s Basilica and laid next to his brother and father.

Glenfinnan Visitor Centre and Monument
NTS Information Centre, Glenfinnan, PG37 4LT
Tel: +44 (0)1397 722 250

Clan Cameron Museum
Achnacarry, Perth & Kinross, PH34 4EJ
Tel: +44 (0)1397 712 090

West Highland Museum
Cameron Square, Fort William, PH33 6AJ
Tel: +44 (0)1397 702 169

Culloden Visitor Centre and Monument
Culloden Moor, Inverness, IV2 5EU
Tel: +44 (0)1463 790 607 or visit

The Battle of Culloden


VisitScotland Perthshire

Salutation Hotel South Street, Perth
Tel: +44 (0)1738 630 066

Edinburgh and Lothians Tourist Board

Highlands tourism

The Stewart Society
Tel: +44 (0)131 220 4512

The Hebrides

National War Museum of Scotland
Edinburgh Castle,
Tel: +44 (0)131 225 7534

Derby Museum & Art Gallery
The Strand, Derby,
Tel: +44 (0)1332 716 659

National Army Museum Royal Hospital Road,
Tel: +44 (0)207 730 0717