Bonnie Prince Charlie

During his life he spent just 14 months on British soil, in 1745-6, and a brief clandestine return visit in 1750. The story of the Jacobites is often reduced to Bonnie Prince Charlie and the 1745 rebellion, with limited consideration of what Charles was actually fighting for. Behind that is the Stuart claim to the three kingdoms.

The Stuart dynasty had ruled Scotland since 1371. With the accession of James VI of Scotland to the throne of England at the Union of the Crowns in 1603, the Stuarts expanded their kingdom. This was still the age of ‘divine right’ monarchy – the Stuarts believed they were answerable only to God. Charles, a firm believer in divine right monarchy, was executed at the end of the English Civil War. The Stuart line was restored with Charles II, who ruled until his death in 1685.

Charles II was succeeded by his younger brother, James VII of Scotland and II of England. James had secretly converted to Catholicism, as the revelation of his faith would jar with an increasingly Protestant Britain. The birth of a male heir raised the prospect of a continuing Catholic succession. His Protestant daughter Mary was no longer his heir.

A Dutch force led by Mary’s husband, William of Orange, was invited to England to restore Mary to her rightful place. The so-called Glorious Revolution, which installed William and Mary on the throne, resulted in James’s flight to exile in France.

James then tried to reclaim his throne, with what was effectively the first Jacobite rising in 1689. It led to violence in Ireland, where James’ (largely Catholic) supporters were finally beaten at the Battle of the Boyne and in Scotland where, despite a victory at Killiecrankie, military conflict proved inconclusive. The Scottish Parliament agreed to adopt William as their king in favour of James.

The Highlands, where the clan chiefs’ old oaths were to the Scottish Stuart line, had been the focal point of rising in Scotland. So the chiefs were ordered to swear fealty to their new king, William. All did this bar the MacDonalds, who missed an arbitrary deadline. Many were killed by a government force billeted with them, an act which appalled many and increased Jacobite support.

The Glencoe Massacre of 1692 is one of the most notorious episodes in Scottish history and the outcry over it alarmed King William. The commission of inquiry, perhaps unsurprisingly, found there was nothing in the king’s instructions to warrant the slaughter.

After being deposed in 1688, James VII and II went into exile for the rest of his days, along with his family, including the infant prince, James Francis Stuart. He was welcomed as a guest of his cousin, King Louis XIV at Saint Germain-en-Laye, which the French king had vacated to move into Versailles. From there, the Stuarts established a court in exile, receiving visitors, conducting international relations and dispensing honours. When James VII and II died in 1701, Louis recognised his son as James VIII and III, King of Scotland, England and Ireland.

This was not a title King William acknowledged. Further challenges to the British throne were mounted in 1708, 1715 and 1719. After the failure of the 1715 rising, the death of Louis XIV and the Treaty of Utrecht between Britain and France, James was obliged to leave France, settling in Rome in 1719. Charles Edward Louis John Casimir Sylvester Maria Stuart was born in Rome the following year. Charles was raised as a king-in-waiting, successor to his father, James. He was installed by his father with the chivalric orders of both Scotland and England the Order of the Thistle and the Order of the Garter. James, who still believed himself to be the king, appointed Charles as his Prince Regent in 1743 and authorised him to act for his father in all things. He was resolved to reclaim the thrones of Scotland, England and Ireland for his father.

The Jacobites, named after the latin for James – Jacobus – are often personified as a Scottish movement. The truth is rather more complex. There was Jacobite support and sympathy in England although, to Charles Stuart’s chagrin, that did not translate into significant military or overt political support in the 1745 rebellion. In addition, promised military aid from France and Sweden failed to materialise.

Nevertheless, the Jacobite army that took the field at Culloden near Inverness – the decisive battle of the ’45 – was not solely Highland. It also had Irish and French units. There was considerable opposition to the Jacobites within Scotland.

Bonnie Prince Charlie held court at Holyrood Palace for six weeks in 1745 but, just the length of the Royal Mile away, Edinburgh Castle remained a fortified government garrison throughout. Glasgow remained loyal to the Hanoverians, who were by now on the thrones of Scotland and England. This division is sometimes simplified to Highlanders and Lowlanders but there was strong Jacobite support in Aberdeen, Perth and Fife, and indeed some Highlanders fought on the government side.

It was also not a matter of Protestant v Catholic in Scotland – many of Charles’ most prominent Scottish supporters were actually Episcopalian. The Duke of Cumberland, who commanded the Hanoverian army at Culloden, was the third son of King George.

He is vilified in the popular historical memory for the brutal crackdowns across the Highlands after Culloden, when the traditional right to bear arms and the wearing of tartan and were suppressed as the British government resolved to wipe out the social, cultural and military infrastructure of clan society, which was perceived as a source of loyalty to the Stuarts. Some Lowlanders welcomed the Duke, and he was granted the freedom of both Glasgow and Edinburgh.

By now, Jacobitism was no longer a threat to the House of Hanover, more almost a gentleman’s club, still toasting the kings-over-the-water but, politically and militarily spent. By this time, after the brutality of the post-Culloden years, efforts were being made to assimilate or rehabilitate (depending on your point of view) the reputation of the Highlander into the emergent British imperial identity, with the revoking of the ban on tartan and the incorporation of the Highland regiments into the British Army. Charles died in 1788, and was almost instantaneously the subject of this romantic memorial tradition in English – it already existed in Gaelic – which grew with Burns, Scott and others.

He lived for another 42 years after the battle of Culloden of 1746 but was never able to muster support for any further attempts to claim the throne. Charles became increasingly frustrated and in time embittered by lack of support and betrayal, as he saw it, by his own father and his younger brother, Henry Benedict. With James’ blessing and support, Henry joined the Catholic Church. This was a grievous blow to Charles, who would wish to distance the Stuarts from the Catholic faith in order to generate support in England.

He even converted to Anglicanism during a clandestine visit to London in 1750. It is certain that he was in London in 1750, and that at this time he declared himself a protestant, under the idea that by so doing he would greatly improve his chance of obtaining the English crown. Evidence has also presented itself that he was in London in 1752 and 1754 to rouse the English Jacobites into action, but without success. Charles never spoke to his father again

James, the Old Pretender, was buried with full state honours in St Peter’s Basilica in Rome in 1766, the only king accorded this honour. Charles died in Rome on 31 January 1788, aged 68, of a stroke, leaving his younger brother, Henry, Cardinal York as the last male heir in the Stuart succession. Despite being in no position to prosecute the claim, he never renounced it

Charles was first buried in the Frascati Cathedral where his brother Henry was bishop. At Henry’s death in 1807, Charles’s remains (except his heart) were moved to the crypt of Saint Peter’s in the Vatican where they were laid to rest next to those of his brother and his father. His mother is also buried in Saint Peter’s Basilica. His heart remained in Frascati Cathedral, where it is contained in a small urn beneath the floor under a monument.

Steve Welsh


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