This blog has been written by Julia Brannan and I am posting it here with her permission. To read more of her blogs, visit her website http://www.juliabrannan.com
Throughout history there have been a number of people whose fame, long after their deaths, have not been merely consigned to the pages of dusty seldom-read history books, but have instead remained fresh in the public’s minds, their posthumous reputations, for good or ill, usually far outstripping anything they may have achieved in their lifetime.
Numerous examples come to mind, from all echelons of society: Henry VIII, Elizabeth I, Richard III, Robert the Bruce, William Wallace, Dick Turpin, Abraham Lincoln, Sitting Bull, Cleopatra, to name just a very few.
Many of these figures owe their everlasting fame to the scribblings of authors, who have taken the real deeds of these people and elaborated on them in the cause of creating a good read, sometimes fictionalising them to the point that if the personages written about returned from the dead and read their ‘biographies’ they would be unlikely to recognise more than a few basic facts about themselves.
Often, even in their lifetimes, opinions about renowned people were polarised, depending on whether you were a beneficiary or a victim of the renowned person’s actions, and this polarisation is later reflected in both historical non-fiction and fiction.
Prince Charles Edward Stuart, who features in my series The Jacobite Chronicles, is such a person.
The Hanoverian propaganda of the day portrayed him as an effeminate Italian fop unable to speak English, a fanatical Roman Catholic in thrall to the Pope who wanted nothing more than to force his idolatrous primitive religion on a righteous Protestant country. Anyone who refused to convert would be burnt at the stake as the Stuarts recreated Bloody Mary’s reign, and Britain would be plunged back into civil war. Added to this was the fact that he was a renowned drunkard and debaucher of women, and that as he marched through the country at the head of his army of half-naked illiterate savages, women would be raped, babies spitted, roasted and eaten, and men ruthlessly cut down in the fields.
Normally history is written by the victors, in which case the above description should be the current view of the Bonnie Prince, but due to a combination of the shocking brutality of Cumberland’s forces after Culloden, the incredible loyalty of the clansmen who sheltered the prince for five months after the battle, eschewing the £30,000 reward on offer to anyone who betrayed him, the fact that the Jacobites wrote much more catchy tunes than the opposition, and Sir Walter Scott’s romanticising not only of the Jacobites, but of Highlanders in general, means that another image has proliferated, of a tragic romantic hero, handsome, charismatic and courageous, heroic in battle and relentlessly optimistic in defeat, the wronged prince at the head of his band of loyal and noble kilted warriors, whose just cause and way of life was ruthlessly crushed by the pompous and unutterably dull Hanoverian usurpers.
Neither of these versions of the prince can possibly be true; had he been the derisory person the Hanoverians portrayed him to be, far from persuading the clan chiefs (reluctant to a man) to rise for him, having been confronted by a simpering, Italian-speaking, drunken religious maniac, they’d have been more likely to drown him in the loch and have done with it than risk everything to follow his cause. Similarly, had he been the paragon of perfection who now adorns a million shortbread tins, incapable of any wrong, then every clan in Scotland and most of England and Wales would have swept him cheering to victory, and the House of Hanover would be a distant blip in the history of the British monarchy.
My version of the Bonnie Prince, along with the Duke of Cumberland are, unashamedly, written from a mainly Jacobite viewpoint (More on Cumberland in a future blog). But I have done an enormous amount of painstaking research in an attempt to get beneath the fiction and portray something of the real person, in as far as we can ever really know a person through the writings of others.
So, here is my take on the life of Prince Charles Edward Stuart.
Prince Charles Edward Stuart. By William Mosman
Charles Edward Louis John Casimir Silvester Severino Maria Stuart was born on the evening of 31st December 1720 in the residence of his exiled father in the Palazzo Muti, in Rome. The timing of his birth, at the end of an old year, was deemed by Jacobites to be very propitious, and there was great celebration. After a few minor hiccups, the baby thrived and by the time he was three, his adoring father James turned his attention to the prince’s education, which in those days meant weaning him away from the exclusively female care of his equally adoring mother, nurse and governess and placing him the hands of male tutors, to ensure he would learn to be a real man.
At the same time that male tutors were being engaged, Charles’ mother Clementina was giving birth to her second son, Henry. James couldn’t have chosen a worse time to separate his eldest son from his mother. The upshot of this was an enormous and very public marital dispute, as Clementina refused to relinquish Charles, and James tactlessly dismissed one of her closest servants and insisted on removing Charles from her care. Clementina left him, repairing to a convent in an extremely public separation which was the sensation of Europe at the time, and caused untold damage to the Stuart cause, making James the laughing stock of Europe.
Prince Charles’ mother, Maria Sobieska
As the Pope, who had personally baptised the prince, was brought into the dispute by the devoutly Catholic Clementina, this raised questions of the child’s religious instruction, especially as the tutors James had engaged were Protestants, it being believed that if Charles was to grow up to reclaim the throne of Britain, a Protestant country, he needed to have a relevant education. The Pope was afraid that Charles was going to become a Protestant, and declared the tutor James had engaged to be unsuitable. James in response effectively told the Pope to mind his own business, and becoming terrified that his son might be kidnapped by extremists, kept him with him at all times. As a result, his papal pension was halved as the battle between James and Clementina now became a battle between James and all the Catholic countries of Europe. Determined not to submit, James moved from Rome to Bologna.
Charles’ father, James Francis Edward Stuart
So what sort of effect was this having on the five-year-old prince, in his formative years? As well as being forcibly separated from his mother, a traumatic experience for any child, and then being openly used as ammunition in their ongoing dispute, if he hadn’t been aware before that he represented the sole hope of the Stuart dynasty to regain the throne of Great Britain, he certainly was now.
Last year in August I visited the Jacobite exhibition in Edinburgh. One of the featured exhibits was a painting by Antonio David of the five-year-old prince pointing to the Prince of Wales feathers. Nearby is a letter written by the prince to his father two years later, after his parents were reconciled, in which he replies to a letter from his father, stating ‘I will be very dutiful to Mamma, and not jump too near her’. From a personal point of view I found these two artefacts very poignant. In the painting is the hope of the house of Stuart, his infant shoulders already carrying the impossibly heavy burden of the Jacobites’ hopes, while in the letter is a normal, boisterous little boy having to apologise for alarming his emotionally fragile mother. To me it stresses the disparity between what he was, and what he devoted the rest of his childhood and adolescence to becoming.
Prince Henry, Charles’ younger brother as a child. The resemblance to Charles is striking.
In Bologna his education continued apace. He formed a very close bond with his tutor Thomas Sheridan, whose devotion to and indulgence of the prince, for good or ill, led him to become almost a father figure. This fond relationship continued until Sheridan’s death.
Although all the evidence shows the prince to have been intelligent – in spite of his undoubted charisma he would not have been able to achieve what he did had he been a dullard – he does not seem to have been overly academic, preferring outdoor pursuits to the schoolroom. To that end, by the time he was seven he was already riding, learning to shoot (he later became an expert shot, both with the bow and the gun), and had learnt to dance almost as well as an adult. In addition he spoke English very well, and was learning to write it, as well as Italian and French. Everyone who met him spoke highly of his accomplishments and were charmed by his conversation and behaviour. Even taking into account the customary sycophancy employed when speaking of royalty, it’s clear that Prince Charles showed exceptional promise for his years. This carried through to his adulthood, such that later even his enemies, upon meeting him, had to admit that he was very attractive, not just physically but in personality. He was, of course, far from perfect; he could be extremely stubborn and wilful, as was shown in his absolute refusal to kiss the Pope’s feet at the tender age of four, in open defiance of his parents.
In 1727 King George I died and James, not wishing to let this golden opportunity pass, left for the north in an abortive attempt to claim the throne of Great Britain. This coincided with the return of Clementina to the marital home, which prompted the dutiful letter of apology. Charles now had to deal with the return of a mother he hadn’t seen for two years and the sudden absence of his father. In a gesture that was to be repeated many times during his life when put under terrible stress, the prince fell ill.
In looking at the relationship of James and Clementina with each other and their son, coupled with Sheridan’s indulgent devotion, you can clearly see the seeds being sown of Charles’ attitude to most of his later relationships. This is not to blame the parents for what the child became in later life – there comes a point in every adult’s life when they have to take responsibility for their own actions – but it does, for me at least, lead to understanding and sympathy for the choices he made as a man.
Prince Charles Edward Stuart as an adolescent
Although Clementina had returned she was clearly mentally unwell, suffering from depression and religious mania. She had decided that her marriage was a divine punishment, and adopted a regimen of extreme fasting and penance which was to lead to her death in 1735. The relationship between husband and wife was catastrophic, with James, having in fairness tried several tactics that failed to persuade her out of her mindset, keeping as far away as possible from her. We don’t really know much about her relationship with her two sons at this point; she certainly loved them, but she appears to have found their youthful high spirits very taxing.
Charles’ relationship with his father seems to be one of the child constantly aiming and failing to please. As he grew older he moulded himself into the consummate warrior; an expert horseman and shot, an accomplished musician, golfer and dancer. He was tall, handsome, extremely athletic, charismatic, with the skill of being able to charm aristocrats and commoners alike; he won the hearts of everyone he met.
In spite of all of this, rather than praising him for his successes, James continuously picked fault with him, making it clear that he preferred his second son, who was far more academic. In response Charles rebelled against his father’s oppressive, critical regime, which resulted in his privileges being withdrawn, and in him subsequently falling ill again. This all came to a head when Charles’ head tutor, Dunbar, attempted to chastise the prince over his lacklustre attention to academic studies. The twelve-year-old prince flew into a rage, kicking Dunbar and threatening to kill him, a threat he refused to retract or apologise for for nearly a week, in spite of being locked in his room.
When Charles was fourteen, he was allowed to get his first taste of military action. Although it was a somewhat orchestrated appearance in the trenches, he did see some action and was commended for his coolness under fire. The whole affair was a great propaganda success for the Stuarts, with the prince winning over the Neapolitan nobility and causing great alarm amongst the Hanoverians. This triumph caused James to send an extremely critical and downright hurtful letter to his son, which seems inexplicable unless you conclude that James was jealous of his son’s success, when he himself had failed to win the hearts of his followers in the past.
Later developments only reinforce this conclusion, as I hope to prove.
The prince had spent the years leading up to his twenty-first birthday building his physical prowess and endurance to Herculean levels, preparing for his destiny, on which he now focussed all his energies. He would spend whole days hunting in the densest part of the woodlands in all weathers, bringing himself to the peak of physical perfection. The only accomplishment he failed to master was swimming, probably because unlike in Britain, swimming was not popular in Italy. He was extremely robust, any illnesses invariably caused by stress.
On a more social level, he loved dancing, opera and the theatre. As for any romantic dalliances, in spite of his looks, personality and desirability, there is no evidence at all of the prince forming any attachments at all to the opposite sex at this time. He appears to have been so focussed on his life’s purpose that he would allow nothing, not even romance, to turn him from it. Indeed, later, when in Edinburgh, he is said to have announced to the infatuated throng of ladies, “I have now another Air to dance, and until that be finished I’ll dance no other”. He held to this until 1746.
In the meantime James continued to find fault with everything Charles did or said. His letters were littered with criticism, including attacks on Charles’ spelling and grammar. Quite understandably, Charles wrote to his father less frequently, whereupon he was chastised for not keeping up correspondence!
Prince Charles as a young man. By Allan Ramsey
As a result of this, Charles seems to have developed an antipathy to figures of authority, and took criticism badly – both traits which were to have catastrophic consequences later. As Frank McLynn says in his excellent biography of the prince, Charles was unable to find a middle path between rage and submission when faced with a crisis. This is a shame, because his powers of persuasion and diplomacy, when he chose to use them, were formidable. We all like to hear favourable reports of ourselves, and the prince was no exception to this. The problem was that he found it difficult to distinguish the truth from lies, especially when that truth was something he fervently wished to believe, such as Balhaldy’s assertions that the whole of Scotland and most of England merely required his presence in order to rise up against the usurper. He would not be the first royal prince to believe flattery, but in his case, his inability to distinguish between sycophancy and a hard truth caused him to make ill-advised decisions.
So, was the decision to invade Britain with only a handful of men ill-advised? With hindsight, yes, it was, but neither the prince nor his followers had the benefit of that, so his decisions must be looked at through what was happening at the time he made them.
In 1743 developments in France caused King Louis XV to finally consider an invasion of England to restore the Stuarts. Louis sent his master of horse on a fact-finding mission and the resulting information suggested that Jacobitism was still a powerful force in Britain. Louis began to assemble a force. As he intended to invade England without warning, the plans were kept very secret, but there was a problem; in order for it to be clear that Louis was invading purely to restore the Stuarts, Prince Charles would have to take part – but if he came to France, the British would be alerted. Louis sent Balhaldy to James with a letter, but carefully arranged it so that Charles would only arrive in Paris after the French had captured London. Charles would then be sent to England to claim the throne for his father.
King Louis XV. By Maurice Quentin de la Tour
The plan backfired, as Charles wheedled the information out of Balhaldy and rode secretly hell-for-leather to Paris (see The Mask Revealed), arriving exhausted on 8th February 1744. In March he rode on to Gravelines, where the invasion fleet was assembled, awaiting news from the English pilots (for the farcical situation there, see The Gathering Storm, Chapter One). In the meantime the invasion plans had been leaked to the British, and George II issued a call to arms on 25th February.
Just as the British and French naval forces were about to engage in battle on 7th March, a great storm came, causing huge damage to the French fleet. The invasion was abandoned and it soon became clear that Louis had no intention of launching a further one, although, being Louis, he did not say this. Instead he played a duplicitous game with the frustrated prince, leading him on and then letting him down for the whole of 1744, while his followers Balhaldy and Sempill assured him that 20,000 Highlanders were ready and waiting to rise for him if he landed in Scotland.
Once more having been thwarted by an older man, Charles began to pin all his hopes on a Scottish expedition, and in spite of Murray of Broughton’s far more realistic reports of the situation in Scotland, he started to plan in earnest.
His reasoning was sound; the Jacobite cause had been dormant for twenty-six years, and all James’ attempts at diplomacy had failed – yet there was still considerable support for the Stuarts in Britain. Either the Stuarts had to give up their claim to the British throne, or take decisive action. Charles knew that he needed to make an attempt soon, but also that he needed French support to succeed, which Louis was prevaricating about. There were a reasonable number of Jacobite clans willing to rise for Charles, not least because they wished to break the hated Union with England. Therefore if he were to mount an expedition to Scotland, raise the clans and show Louis that he meant business, the French king would be bound to send an army, it being to his advantage to have a sympathetic king on the British throne. Once this happened the English Jacobites and Scottish waverers would rise too.
There seemed little to lose, and a lot to gain by making this gesture. King George II was not a popular monarch on a personal level, and if Charles could allay the fears of the British regarding a return to popery (Charles was relatively indifferent to religion) he had a good chance of swaying a large portion of the population in his favour. It was the perfect task for a man of his birth and abilities to attempt.
Prince Charles is often accused of having sacrificed the lives of thousands of men and destroyed the whole way of life of the Highlanders on an insane impulse. This is grossly unfair. After the failure of the previous Jacobite risings in ’15 and ’19, in the main the defeated warriors had been allowed to go home and continue their lives. Neither Charles nor his followers could possibly have known what would happen after Culloden. It seemed to be a campaign that could be won without much bloodshed, and in fact the ease with which Scotland was subsequently taken bore that out.
Eriskay, where Prince Charles landed in 1745. (Attribution; By Richard Webb, CC BY-SA 2.0,)
Accordingly, he set sail for Scotland on the Du Teillay but he did not sail with only seven men, as is popularly believed – in fact he brought with him another ship, the Elisabeth which in addition to arms, carried 700 soldiers. Unfortunately the ships were seen by a British ship, HMS Lion, and a fight ensued in which the Elisabeth was badly crippled and had to return to France, leaving the Du Teillay to carry on to Eriskay, where the prince and his much diminished band landed on 23rd July 1745.
When he landed on Eriskay, the reception he received was not what he had hoped for. Having spent the night in a poor crofter’s cottage, which Charles endured cheerfully, he was brought the bad news that the two great Skye chiefs would not rise for him, as he had not brought French troops. The messenger advised him to go home, on which the prince then uttered the memorable lines, “I am come home”.
Over the next days he was visited by a number of chieftains, all of them repeating roughly the same message – go home. Refusing to accept defeat at this early stage, the prince employed all his charisma, making an impassioned plea to the Clanranald chief that resulted in him agreeing to defend the prince, even if no one else came out. This prompted Glencoe and Keppoch to join him, but he still needed one of the larger clans to come out, and wrote to Donald Cameron of Lochiel, asking him to meet.
Lochiel, chief of Clan Cameron, a Jacobite, and an astute businessman, also had no wish to rise for the prince under the circumstances, but honour dictated that he tell him to his face. It says a good deal for the persuasive ability of Charles that he was able (although with much difficulty) to persuade Lochiel to bring his clan out. It was with that promise that the rising really began, and on 19th August 1745 he raised his standard at Glenfinnan. This was the moment he had been working towards for all of his twenty-four years, and he was exuberant.
Glenfinnan, where Prince Charles raised his standard on 19th August 1745.
Eager to win a battle and thereby not only increase the confidence of his army, but attract more men, he decided to head south and engage the Hanoverian General Cope in battle. The morale of the fledgling army was greatly enhanced when Cope fled without a fight, leaving them to march south and declare James King of Scotland in Perth on 4th September. Up to now, in spite of his lack of martial experience, all Charles’ decisions had been sound. But he recognised himself that he was in need of an able commander.
That commander arrived in the person of Lord George Murray. He was fifty-one, had fought in the ’15 and the ’19 and was an exceptional military commander. He was also cold, blunt and forthright, and completely immune to the prince’s charisma. The two did not get on at all, but Charles recognised that Murray was invaluable to the cause, and he was appointed lieutenant-general of the Jacobite army. However, the tense relationship between the two was later to have disastrous consequences, leading to a split in the Jacobite command.
Lord George Murray
At this point though, the two agreed that the aim must be to win Scottish support, and that meant enforcing strict discipline and paying for everything. They carried on to Edinburgh, taking the capital (except for the Castle) with relative ease. If the clansmen were impressed by the prince’s fitness and ability to cheerfully withstand the arduous marches and basic diet (the notoriously hardy clansmen once complained that he marched too quickly!), the residents of Edinburgh were won over by his looks and personal magnetism. He gave them exactly what they wanted; a fairy-tale prince combined with a martial hero, and he played his part to perfection. His reception in Edinburgh was riotous, and he settled into Holyrood Palace, the master of the capital city of Scotland.
He had already achieved more, in just a month, than all the other risings had, and was about to consolidate that with a resounding victory at Prestonpans, which resulted in the rout of Cope’s troops. With the exception of a few castles and barracks, the prince was now in possession of the whole of Scotland. It was an astounding success, although the prince was genuinely upset by the slaughter of those he considered to be his misguided subjects.
The prince returned to Edinburgh and set up a council, to which he appointed his own favourites and the regiment chiefs. They met each day to discuss strategy. Almost immediately there started to be tensions, and the ‘two party’ system of the prince’s followers and Murray’s that was to dog the rest of the campaign was formed.
Charles, rejoicing in finally being free of his father’s autocratic, critical influence, now found himself challenged by another. For him it was like having his father back, and unfortunately Murray’s enemies fanned the flames, accusing Lord George of all kinds of ridiculous things behind his back. Lord George ignored this pettiness, but his haughtiness just reinforced to the prince that Murray wanted to humiliate him. This antipathy simmered throughout the rest of the campaign.
On the positive side, Charles showed himself to be genuinely compassionate, often releasing prisoners upon them agreeing not to fight for the Hanoverians again (a promise they invariably failed to keep), and treating enemy wounded when possible. This was a trait not displayed by the Hanoverians in general; even at this stage they rarely gave quarter, treating the Scots as an inferior race and the Highlanders as barbarians. There are countless instances of the prince’s compassion, to the occasional frustration of Murray, who thought he was too soft.
Prince Charles as the Jacobite leader. By Louis Toque
Having said that, all his sights were now set on invading England. He politely declined the invitations of his admiring female supporters, remaining single-minded. It was at this point that King Louis, hearing of Charles’ success, sent an envoy from France to Scotland to assess the Jacobite strength. This seemed to confirm French support, not only to the Jacobites, but also the Hanoverians, who were thoroughly alarmed. Success had never seemed closer. And if Louis had actually sent troops to Scotland instead of an envoy, history might well be very different – but by the time he received information in Paris, Charles was already entering England, necessitating a far more complicated French invasion of England. Nevertheless, Louis began to plan for one.
The council met. Murray wanted to consolidate the victory in Scotland, doubting that the English Jacobites would put their money where their mouth was; Charles argued to carry on, believing that the English Jacobites would join him, and not wanting to give the Hanoverians time to mount a massive invasion of Scotland, which they almost certainly would. Charles won – but by only one vote.
The clash of the titans now came to the fore: Charles wanted to march straight into England, attack General Wade’s force before it could be reinforced and then head straight for London. It was a daring and courageous plan, and in fairness, probably would have succeeded. Lord George, the tactician, advised caution, and this time he won the vote.
Prince Charles inspiring his troops
As a result the Jacobite army moved down through England in a series of feints designed to confuse the Hanoverians as to their real intentions, and in this they were successful. Where they were not successful, however, was in recruiting the English. Apart from raising a regiment in pro-Jacobite Manchester, the Jacobites failed to gain significant recruits. Lord George called a meeting at Preston, wanting to retreat, but Charles persuaded him to carry on, and they reached Derby on 5th December, where another council meeting was called.
Here, Charles was at fault. He knew the clan leaders were concerned by the lack of English support, but believed he could win them round by force of personality alone. He could not; to his absolute horror and dismay the council voted overwhelmingly to retreat, and the march north began on 6th December. I won’t go into speculation as to the outcome had they continued in this blog, (but may in another!) but the effect on Charles was catastrophic. Almost overnight he changed from the optimistic, exuberant leader, always at the head of his forces, marching on foot with them and encouraging them all the way, to someone who rode at the rear of the army, sullen and depressed. In fairness, he was not alone; the clansmen, eager to take London, were equally devastated when they realised they were to retreat.
The prince now began to show signs of what would later become a steep decline. Despairing and depressed, he slept late, started drinking heavily and often delayed the march of the army as a result. To an extent this is understandable, when you realise how close he had come to achieving his life’s work, only to have it snatched away at the last second. It’s difficult to imagine just how devastated he must have been. In addition to this, on their return, the citizens, believing them to be fleeing, now showed hostility, hampering them in any way they could, while the Duke of Cumberland pursued them up the country and back into Scotland.
Between January and April 1746 the prince, formerly in rude health, suffered from three bouts of illness, which we must assume were brought on by stress. He also started an affair with Clementina Walkinshaw (more of her in part 4), thus demonstrating that he really did consider that he’d failed. Unfortunately he also effectively abdicated from the army during this period, just when it needed an upbeat optimistic leader to revive the flagging morale of the troops. This left Lord George to cope with everything alone, a Herculean task even for someone of his undoubted ability. Unwisely he embarked on a siege of Stirling Castle, although the Highlanders detested siege warfare. Desertions inevitably followed.
When Charles then received advice from Murray that the army should retreat to the Highlands, where they could regroup, attract more followers and mount a new campaign in the spring, Charles was beside himself with rage. Quite rightly, he argued that a further retreat would only reduce morale further, end all hopes of French assistance, and that Cumberland would hardly leave them alone to reinforce their numbers.
But Murray and the chiefs were adamant for retreat, and it is at this point Charles announced that “I wash my hands of the fatal consequences which I foresee but cannot help”. He was right. The relationship between Prince Charles and Lord George, fragile at best, broke down irrevocably at this point, which probably played a large part in Lord George’s excellent suggestion for a battlefield location at Culloden being turned down by Charles.
An incident in the battle of Culloden. By David Maurier, 1746
The battle of Culloden is so famous that I don’t need to detail it here. What I do want to say is that following the abortive night march on Nairn, Charles, although he hadn’t slept for two nights with characteristic compassion for his hungry troops, personally rode to Inverness in an attempt to obtain food for his men. When he returned, however, he insisted against all advice either to retreat or to adopt Lord George’s advice as to a battlefield, believing that any retreat before Cumberland at this point would be an unacceptable loss to his prestige.
In this he was clearly in error, and his unwillingness to see what was staring him in the face really cannot be excused. It seemed at this point that he was incapable of seeing the truth that was staring him in the face. It resulted in the carnage of Drumossie Moor, and the final and utter defeat of the Jacobite cause forever.
Over the next five months as a fugitive, Charles showed himself at his very best once again. Sheltered by loyal Highlanders, he had to keep on the move constantly to elude the troops that were searching for him. He endured long walks in horrendous weather, stayed in caves, ruined bothies, and even out in the open, sleeping in the heather in torrential rain while being eaten alive by the dreaded midges. He stated happily that he preferred oatbread and whisky to the finest fare, stayed wet and often cold for days on end and was in constant danger of being apprehended. Yet throughout it all he remained optimistic and cheerful, raising the spirits of those who hid him at considerable risk to themselves. This behaviour, along with his renowned compassion and consideration for his men during the rising itself did much to endear him to the Highlanders eternally and helped lionise him, not only in the eyes of his followers, but of many of his adversaries too. From this time more than any other, the legend of Bonnie Prince Charlie was born.
On his return to France in October 1746 he was greeted as a hero and for a time was the most famous man in Europe. Up to this point in his career he had mainly shown only his positive side to his followers (with the exception of Lord George Murray), but soon his darker side would come to the fore, leading to his eventual destruction.
At first all went well. However an attempt to use his huge popularity to influence King Louis to support another expedition to Britain backfired, and led finally to a complete estrangement between Charles and the duplicitous French monarch. It was at this time when, given a choice between the loyal and sensible Lochiel, and the downright evil George Kelly to act as adviser, he disastrously chose Kelly. As well as promoting hostility between Charles and his brother, Kelly encouraged the prince to defy Louis openly, and to refuse anything but an invasion of England.
His popularity in France waning, Charles turned increasingly to drink. It has to be remembered that in the 18th Century even children drank alcohol, as water was usually contaminated; and a man was expected to be able to hold his drink. Even so, during his five months in hiding Charles had astonished the clansmen with his consumption of alcohol, and now back in France he began to show signs of the dependence on liquor that would contribute hugely to his decline.
A trip to Spain to drum up support for a rising having failed, Charles returned to France, and later that year was faced with a fait accompli which dealt the death blow to all hopes for a Stuart restoration, when Prince Henry, encouraged by his father, was made a Cardinal of Rome.
Henry Benedict Stuart as a Cardinal of Rome
It is impossible to imagine what this utter betrayal of everything Charles had lived for must have done to him. He had been brought up from birth to believe he was the sole hope of a Stuart restoration, had devoted mind, soul and body to achieving that, in spite of his father’s constant criticisms, had achieved more than either his father or grandfather, had almost succeeded, and now was betrayed by the very man he had dedicated his life to restoring!
He sank into a deep depression, drinking even more than normal, and his friends, deeply concerned, arranged for him to stay at St Ouen. It was here he fell deeply in love for the first time, with his married cousin Louise. A tempestuous affair ensued, during which Louise became pregnant with Charles’ child. Once it started to become a public scandal, Louise’s father and mother-in-law forced her to write a letter to Charles ending the affair. Once he found out the story behind the letter, he was disgusted by her weakness in capitulating to her elders, and the relationship disintegrated. The child, a son, died at five months of age, by which time the affair was over.
Louise has been painted by many as a complete innocent who was seduced then abandoned by the heartless prince. Seduced she was, and his later abandonment of her and the total indifference he showed towards her was certainly cruel. But at the same time she was no innocent virgin, and was as headstrong as her lover. She certainly remained besotted with Charles long after he had forgotten all about her and moved on though, and the whole episode does not show him in a good light.
Presumed portrait of the Princesse de Guemenee, Prince Charles’ cousin Louise
He then embarked on another affair, with the much older and more worldly Princess de Talmont, another stormy liaison, during which she encouraged him in all his worst excesses, in drinking and in his defiance of King Louis, who was on the brink of signing a peace treaty with Hanoverian Britain. For his part Charles was now becoming impossibly authoritarian, allowing no one to question him. The one exception to this may have been Lochiel, and the Cameron chief was in fact elected by his fellow exiled Jacobites to try to persuade the prince to abandon this suicidal clash of wills with Louis. Unfortunately, before Lochiel could do this he died, probably of meningitis.
The relationship between Charles and King Louis continued to deteriorate until, in December 1748 Louis finally had the prince arrested, imprisoned and thrown out of the country, to the horror not only of the Jacobites, but of the whole of Europe. This cavalier treatment of a still very popular prince of the blood royal backfired on Louis, attracting universal condemnation, and improving Charles’ reputation in England hugely, to the detriment of King George.
The prince, however, now seemed hell-bent on insulting all those who he judged to be responsible for his situation. He settled in Avignon, a papal state and one which he had agreed not to enter after his arrest. He demanded a festival be held in his honour, which would of course have to be paid for by the Pope, who Charles considered partly responsible for Henry becoming a cardinal. As Charles was still very popular with the people, the Pope had no choice but to acquiesce to this, which nearly bankrupted the Apostolic Chamber. After succeeding in insulting both the Pope and the French king, Charles then disappeared.
Prince Charles in middle age
For the next nine years he travelled all over Europe, through a mixture of expert disguises and subterfuge managing to avoid detection, although rumours abounded as to his whereabouts (most of them false). Nevertheless he also continued his fiery relationship with the Princesse de Talmont. Unable to accept his failure to restore his family and descending into alcoholism, he became increasingly violent when thwarted in even the slightest way, and his mistress bore the brunt of this until he ended the affair in 1751.
The following year came Charles’ final attempt to take the throne, which became known as the Elibank Plot. Its failure was partly due to a spy named ‘Pickle’ who betrayed the whole plot to the Hanoverian authorities, resulting in the arrest and execution of Lochiel’s brother Archibald Cameron in 1753 – the last Jacobite to be executed.
He now sent for the woman he had had a brief fling with in 1746, Clementina Walkinshaw. Their long-term relationship had two main consequences; the birth of Charles’ only child to survive infancy, Charlotte; and his reputation as a violent and increasingly paranoid alcoholic. In 1760, fearful that the prince would kill her in one of his drunken rages, Clementina left him, taking their daughter with her and entering a convent. Charles ordered an intensive search to be made for them, to no avail. When he found out that his father James had colluded in their disappearance, Charles had a complete breakdown.
It has been said that he cared for neither his mistress or his child – certainly he was happy to let Clementina leave. But at this time he seemed to be genuinely fond of his daughter. He became a recluse, drinking himself into serious illness, and resolving to have nothing to do with the world until his daughter was returned to him. He broke off all contact with his father, although he was reconciled with his brother in 1765, when their father was on his deathbed.
James died early in 1766, and in spite of a strenuous campaign by Cardinal Henry, the Pope refused to acknowledge his brother as de jure King Charles III of Great Britain. Charles travelled to Rome, to a hostile welcome from the Pope and a lacklustre one from the citizens. He moved into the Piazzo Muti. His finances were now in a healthier state, but he was not, suffering from poor health and the effects of alcoholism, often threatening his servants with violence when in a drunken rage.
In 1772 at the age of fifty-one, Charles married the eighteen-year-old Louise of Stolberg. She was an eager bride; her younger sister was already married, and she was hoping to be named de jure Queen of Great Britain (this never happened). At first the prince seemed happier; he gave up drinking and paraded his wife around publicly. However, Louise having failed in her duty to conceive, and Charles having failed in his duty to have her officially declared Queen, the marriage soon foundered. His daughter was now attempting to reconcile with her father, but he would have none of it, treating her overtures with extreme coldness.
Louise of Stolberg, Prince Charles’ wife
By now Charles was suffering from severe dropsy, his legs extremely swollen and painful, worsened by his refusal to give up drinking. In the meantime his wife engaged in a series of flirtations with other men, and finally a full-blown love affair with Count Alfieri. After a violent argument in which the prince tried to strangle her, Louise left him. Life with Charles must have been dreadful, and she cannot be blamed for leaving him, but she was not the innocent abused wife that some make her out to be. She had ruthlessly used the prince as much as he used her, conducted a series of liaisons openly, then, when Cardinal Henry assisted her in leaving Charles, she abused his generous nature appallingly.
Prince Charles’ deterioration continued and in 1783 he almost died. Having recovered, he was then reconciled with his daughter Charlotte, who had kept up a constant barrage of letters and petitions to him. Charles legitimised her, declaring her Duchess of Albany, and she moved in with him, nursing him through his final years of physical and mental decline until his death, following a stroke, in 1788.
Charlotte Stuart, Prince Charles’ daughter by his mistress, Clementina Walkinshaw. Painting by Hugh Douglas Hamilton
To conclude with my personal view of the prince. I think I make it obvious in my portrayal of him in the Jacobite Chronicles that I have a good deal of sympathy for the prince. But I do not paint an unrealistic picture of him. At the time the books are set in he was at the very zenith of his abilities. The decline came later.
As many children are, he was damaged as a child by well-meaning but disastrous parents, inheriting their depressive traits, propensity for guilt and paranoia, which manifested in later life. The responsibilities laid upon his young shoulders were appallingly heavy, but to his credit he did his absolute utmost to live up to them, in spite of James’ constant criticism, only to have the ground cut from under him by the actions of his own father and brother.
His spelling was erratic, and this has often been cited as evidence of lack of intelligence – but in an age of notoriously erratic spelling and grammar this was not unusual, and in every other way the prince proved to have an exceptional intellect. He was kind, compassionate, good-humoured, courageous and daring, and had the capacity to see the bigger picture that many of his peers did not. He came closer to pushing the Hanoverians off the throne than either his father or grandfather had ever done; and he did it with style.
Prince Charles Edward Stuart as an old man. By Douglas Hamilton
However, he was also incapable of dealing diplomatically with authoritarian figures such as Lord George Murray and King Louis XV, and, disastrously, of coming to terms with failure, seeking escape in alcohol, which exacerbated his depressive tendencies, leading to paranoia and fits of uncontrollable rage. In his relationships with women and in later life, he was a very unpleasant person indeed.
And yet, I cannot help but feel sympathy for him. At least he tried to fulfil his potential, which is more than many people do; and he cannot be held responsible for the horrific retribution visited on his followers following Culloden.
For one glorious year of his life he shone, and came within an inch of achieving glory. His fall was catastrophic, but for making the attempt he deserves the title of ‘Bonnie Prince Charlie’. Long may his legend, and that of the brave men who followed him and lost everything, endure.