With a name like Charles Edward Louis John Casimir Sylvester Severino Mario Stuart, it is little wonder that this legendary Scottish figure is best known by his nickname: Bonnie Prince Charlie.

He was born in Palazzo Muti, Rome, Italy, on 20 December 1720 where his father had been given a residence by Pope Clement XI. He spent almost all his childhood in Rome and Bologna. He was the son of the Old Pretender, James Francis Edward Stuart, son of the exiled Stuart King James II and VII, and Maria Clementina Sobieska, the granddaughter of John III Sobieski.  Charles Edward had a privileged childhood in Rome, where he was brought up Catholic in a loving but argumentative family. As the legitimate heirs to the thrones of England, Scotland, and Ireland—according to the Jacobite succession—his family lived with a sense of pride, and staunchly believed in the divine right of kings.] Charles Edward’s governor was James Murray, Jacobite Earl of Dunbar, with Murray and others helping  he quickly became conversant in English, French and Italian. Charles Edward’s grandfather, James II of England and Ireland and VII of Scotland, ruled the countries from 1685 to 1688 He was deposed when the English Parliament invited the Dutch Protestant William III and his wife, Princess Mary, King James’s eldest daughter, to replace him in 1668. Many Protestants, including a number of prominent parliamentarians, had been worried that King James aimed to return England to the Catholic fold. Since the exile of James, the “Jacobite Cause” had striven to return the Stuarts to the thrones of England and Scotland, which had been united in 1603 under James VI and I, with the parliaments joined by the Acts of Union in 1707 as the United Kingdom of Great Britain. Charles Edward played a major part in the pursuit of this goal. In 1734 his cousin, the Duke of Liria, who was proceeding to join Don Carlos in his struggle for the crown of Naples, passed through Rome. He offered to take Charles on his expedition, and the boy of thirteen, believing many Highland clans, both Catholic and Protestant, still supported the Jacobite cause, he hoped for a warm welcome from these clans and to start an insurgency by Jacobites throughout Britain. Although many clan chiefs initially discouraged him, he gained the support of Donald Cameron of Lochiel and thereafter enough support for a serious rebellion. Back in Rome, Charles Edward was introduced by his father and the pope to Italian society. In 1737 James sent his son on a tour through the main Italian cities, to complete his education as a prince and man of the world. The distinction with which he was received on his journey showed how respected the exiled house was by the Catholic powers of Europe, as well as explaining Britain’s concerns in regard to its fortunes. His father planned to rely on foreign aid in his attempts to restore himself to the British and Irish thrones, and the idea of rebellion unassisted by invasion or by support of any kind from abroad was one which was pursued by Charles Edward. In December 1743, Charles’s father named him Prince Regent, giving him authority to act in his name. In Rome and Paris he had seen many supporters of the Stuart cause, and he was aware that in every European court the Jacobites were represented. He had now taken a considerable share in correspondence and other actual work connected with the promotion of his own and his father’s interests. Eighteen months later, he led a French-backed rebellion intending to place his father on the thrones of Great Britain and Ireland. He raised enough funds to fit out the Elisabeth, a very old man-of-war of 66 guns, and also the equally old Du Teillay (sometimes called Doutelle), a 16-gun privateer which successfully landed him and seven companions at Eriskay on 23 July 1745.  Charles mustered his troops on 19 August near Glenfinnan, where his hastily made standard was raised. The Jacobite Rebellion had officially begun.

Then on the 19 August he raised his father’s standard at Glenfinnan and gathered a force from various supporters large enough to enable him to march towards Edinburgh. His progress was helped by the action of the British leader, General Sir John Cope, who had marched to Inverness, leaving the south country undefended. Lord Provost Archibald Stewart controlled the city, which quickly surrendered. Allan Ramsay painted a portrait of Charles while he was in Edinburgh, which survived in the collection of the Earl of Wemyss at Gosford House and, as of 2016, was on display at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery. His father had managed to obtain the renewed support of the French government in 1744, whereupon Charles Edward travelled to France with the sole purpose of commanding a French army that he would lead in an invasion of England. The invasion never materialised, as the invasion fleet was scattered by a storm. By the time the fleet regrouped, the British fleet realised the diversion that had deceived them and resumed their position in the Channel. A statue of a lone highlander now stands tall over the magnificent Loch Sheil in Glenfinnan village to commemorate this fateful day.  He had hoped for support from a French fleet, but it was badly damaged by storms and he was left to raise an army in Scotland.News of Bonnie Prince Charlie’s arrival in Scotland soon spread to London and he found himself with a bounty of £30000 on his head (over £10 million in today’s value). Bonnie Prince Charlie was unfazed and he began his campaign by marching south, arriving in Edinburgh on the morning of 11 September. He captured the city without any resistance and was welcomed by huge cheering crowds. Edinburgh Castle was held by the government troops stationed there, so he took over Holyrood Palace as his headquarters. It was during his time in Edinburgh that his nickname “Bonnie Prince Charlie” was coined, due to the reaction of Edinburgh’s female population, who had gathered to admire him. Meanwhile, Sir John Cope had brought his forces by sea to Dunbar. The Jacobite army would face their first test in battle on 21 September in Prestonpans some 12 miles east of Edinburgh. Government forces were around double that of the Jacobites, but they were poorly trained, inexperienced troops. This was due to a majority of the British army being engaged in battles abroad. Their inexperience showed when they were easily scattered by the infamous highland charge. This was a tactical move during which the Scots would run at full speed towards the enemy, causing them to disperse through a combination of brute force and sword work. The government troops were terrified and easily overcome. The battle lasted less than an hour and was a great boost to the Jacobite cause. Their disastrous defence against the Jacobites is immortalised in the song “Johnnie Cope”  Bonnie Prince Charlie returned to Edinburgh in triumph to plan his next move. Charles and his council soon disagreed over their next stage. He wanted to invade England to secure the British throne for his family whereas his council believed they should consolidate their campaign in Scotland, allow the English forces to come to them, and await French aid. It shows the force of Bonnie Prince Charlie’s personality that his council agreed with his plans regardless of their overwhelming objections. This reluctance to follow his scheme of invasion would soon cause major problems for Bonnie Prince Charlie’s ambitions. The 6 weeks of indecision after Prestonpans exposed divisions within the Jacobites over their plans and it allowed the government forces to prepare. Undeterred, Charles began his march south with an army of around 5000. He crossed the border, triumphantly entering England on 8 November. His army quickly secured the city of Carlisle but his commanders were still worried. They tried to persuade Charles to wait in Carlisle for the English Jacobites to rise. Bonnie Prince Charlie believed they should continue; his desire to reach London overruled all other opinions. The Jacobites hoped to recruit more supporters as they marched south towards London, but found they were not as popular as they had hoped. They looted supplies from the towns unfortunate enough to be in their path, which did not help their recruitment drive. The Jacobites made it all the way to Derby, just over 100 miles from London. This proved to be the crucial turning point of the whole adventure Charles’ war council had never truly supported the march to London and continued to advise retreat. The decision was secured in Derby when an English spy reported that the road to London was blocked by a large army. This was actually not true Bonnie Prince Charlie’s repeated claims that French support would come if they invaded England suddenly came crashing down. Not one member of his council would support marching any further and the prince, mortified and humiliated, was forced to order a retreat to Scotland, Relations between the Prince and his council never fully recovered with both sides becoming mistrustful and secretive, leading to much speculation among historians that if the Jacobites had marched on, the whole outcome may have been very different. The Jacobite army retreated with government forces in hot pursuit. The army marched with dwindling supplies through an extremely cold winter. In January 1746, the retreating army joined forces with more Scots, recruited in the prince’s absence, and headed for Stirling. The Jacobites managed to defeat the government army at the Battle of Falkirk but it was to be their last success

Battle of Falkirk 1746

The failed attempt to take Stirling Castle from the government wasted several months and allowed the bulk of the government forces led by the fearsome Duke of Cumberland to make their way north. The Jacobites retreated further into the highlands, taking Inverness, but sickness, desertion, and dwindling supplies meant they were running out of ideas. The government army was closing in on Inverness, the day of reckoning was approaching. Bonnie Prince Charlie revealed his inexperience while planning his military campaign during the events at Culloden. He ordered his army to lead a surprise attack on government troops the night before the battle. But there were delays during the march and they did not make it before daylight. This left the Jacobites exhausted, starved, and ill-equipped against opposing forces. Several hundred Jacobites got lost in the dark and missed the battle as they were unable to find their way back in time the battle was fought on 16 April 1746 and was a complete disaster for the Jacobite army. The government army outnumbered and outgunned the Jacobites. Snow fell that morning, leaving the battlefield wet and boggy and Charles had ignored the advice of General Lord George Murray and chose to fight on flat, open, marshy ground where his forces would be exposed to superior government firepower. He commanded his army from a position behind his lines, where he could not see what was happening. He hoped that Cumberland’s army would attack first, and he had his men stand exposed to the British artillery. Seeing the error in this, he quickly ordered an attack, but his messenger was killed before the order could be delivered. The Jacobite attack was uncoordinated, charging into withering musket fire and grapeshot fired from the cannons, and it met with little success.

The Jacobites broke through the bayonets of the redcoats in one place, but they were shot down by a second line of soldiers, and the survivors fled. Cumberland’s troops allegedly committed a number of atrocities as they hunted for the defeated Jacobite soldiers, earning him the title “the Butcher” from the Highlanders. Murray managed to lead a group of Jacobites to Ruthven, intending to continue the fight. Charles thought that he was betrayed, however, and decided to abandon the Jacobite cause. Charles’s subsequent flight is commemorated in “The Skye Boat Song” by the English author Sir Harold Edwin Boulton, Charles hid in the moors of Scotland, always barely ahead of the government forces. Many Highlanders aided him, and none of them betrayed him for the £30,000 reward. Charles was assisted by supporters such as pilot Donald Macleod of Galtrigill, Captain Con O’Neill who took him despite the risks to Benbecula, and Flora MacDonald who helped him escape to the Isle of Skye by taking him in a boat disguised as her maid “Betty Burke”. He ultimately evaded capture and left the country aboard the French frigate L’Heureux, arriving in France late in September.

The Prince’s Cairn marks the traditional spot on the shores of Loch nan Uamh in Lochaber from which he made his final departure from Scotland. This part of Jacobite cause ended in disaster, led by an inexperienced yet power-hungry young man, against the might of the British government. His many errors in judgment made throughout the campaign were due to his desire to do too much at once. He did not help his own cause by coming with no arms or military back up, perhaps if he had focused on securing Scotland he may have been more successful. But his legacy as a doomed romantic figure has lived on, becoming as famous as Robert the Bruce or our hero William Wallace. Bonnie Prince Charlie will forever remain a prince, but he was the man who would never be a real king With the Jacobite cause lost, Charles spent the remainder of his life on the continent, except for one secret visit to London. He was warmly welcomed by king Louis XV of France. So far as political assistance was concerned, his efforts proved fruitless, but he became at once the popular hero and idol of the people of Paris. So enraged was he with his brother Henry’s acceptance of a cardinal’s hat in July 1747, that he deliberately broke off communication with his father in Rome (who had approved the step), nor did he ever see him again. While back in France, Charles had numerous affairs; the one with his first cousin resulted in a short-lived son Charles (1748–1749). In 1748, he was expelled from France under the terms of the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle that ended the War of the Austrian Succession Charles lived for several years in exile with his Scottish mistress, Clementina Walkinshaw, whom he met, and may have begun a relationship with, during the 1745 rebellion. In 1753, the couple had a daughter, Charlotte. Charles’s inability to cope with the collapse of the cause led to his problem with alcohol, and mother and daughter left Charles with his father James’s connivance. Charlotte went on to have three illegitimate children with Ferdinand, an ecclesiastical member of the family. Their only son was Charles Edward Stuart, Count Roehenstart. Clementina was suspected by very many of Charles’s supporters and his friends of being a spy planted by supporters of the Hanoverian government of Great Britain. After his defeat, Charles indicated to the remaining supporters of the Jacobite cause in England that, accepting the impossibility of his recovering the English and Scots crowns while he remained a Roman Catholic, he was willing to commit himself to reigning as a Protestant. Accordingly, he visited London incognito in 1750 and conformed to the Protestant faith by receiving Anglican communion, likely at one of the remaining non-juring chapels. Bishop Robert Gordon, a staunch Jacobite whose house in Theobald’s Row was one of Charles’s safe-houses for the visit, is the most likely to have celebrated the communion, and a chapel in Gray’s Inn was suggested as the venue as early as 1788. This rebutted David Hume’s suggestion that it was a church in the Strand In 1759, at the height of the Seven Years’ War, Charles was summoned to a meeting in Paris with the French foreign minister, the Duc De Choiseul. Charles failed to make a good impression, being argumentative and idealistic in his expectations. Choiseul was planning a full-scale invasion of England, involving upwards of 100,000 mento which he hoped to add a number of Jacobites led by Charles. However, he was so little impressed with Charles, he dismissed the prospect of Jacobite assistance. The French invasion, which was Charles’s last realistic chance to recover the British throne for the Stuart dynasty, was ultimately thwarted by naval defeats at Quiberon Bay and Lagos. In 1766, Charles’s father died. Pope Clement XIII had recognised James as King of England, Scotland, and Ireland as “James III and VIII” but did not give Charles the same recognition. However on 23 January, Charles moved into the Palazzo Muti which his father had lived in for over 40 years. In 1772 Charles married Princess Louise of Stolberg-Gedern. They lived first in Rome and in 1774 moved to Florence, where in 1777 he purchased for his residence the Palazzo di San Clemente, now known also in his memory as the Palazzo del Pretendente. In Florence he began to use the title “Count of Albany” as an alias. This title is frequently used for him in European publications; his wife Louise is almost always called “Countess of Albany”. In 1780, Louise left Charles. She claimed that Charles had physically abused her; this claim was generally believed by contemporaries. At the time Louise was already involved in an adulterous relationship with an Italian poet. In 1783, Charles signed an act oflegitimation for his illegitimate daughter Charlotte, born in 1753 to Clementina Walkinshaw (later known as Countess von Alberstrof). Charles also gave Charlotte the title “Duchess of Albany” in the peerage of Scotland and the style “Her Royal Highness”, but these honours did not give Charlotte any right of succession to the throne. Charlotte lived with her father in Florence and Rome for the next five years. Eventually she survived her father by less than two years, dying unmarried at Bologna in November 1789. Charles by now a hopeless alcoholic died in Rome of a stroke on 30 January 1788, aged 67. The cardinals stated that he died on the morning of 31 January, as it was deemed unlucky to have him declared dead on the same date as his great-grandfather, King Charles I, met his end on the scaffold at Whitehall Palace He was first buried in Frascati Cathedral near Rome, where his brother Henry Benedict Stuart was bishop. At Henry’s death in 1807, Charles’s remains (except his heart) were moved to the crypt of St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican, where they were laid to rest next to those of his brother and his father and below the spot where the monument to the Royal Stuarts would later be erected. His mother is also buried in St. Peter’s Basilica. His heart remained in Frascati Cathedral, where it is contained in a small urn beneath the floor under a monument

Fact or Fiction

During his life Charlie spent just 14 months on British soil, in 1745-6, and a brief clandestine return visit in 1750.

After Charles’s death in 1788, his brother, Henry Benedict, became the Jacobite Henry IX of England and I of Scotland. But, unlike his brother and father, Henry did not press his claim. With him the direct, legitimate line ended upon his death in 1807.

There is often a misconception that the Jacobite cause was simply a case of the Scots vs the English, but the truth is in fact more complex. In fact, Jacobites came from all parts of the British Isles. It is true that many members of the Stuart court in exile were Scottish – certainly by 1745 – but there were Irish and English exiles too and there were Jacobite sympathisers in England, although unfortunately for Bonnie Prince Charlie this did not translate into significant military or overt political support in the 1745 uprising. And not everyone across Scotland was a supporter of the Stuart cause, there was considerable opposition to the Jacobites within Scotland. Glasgow in particular famously remained loyal to the Hanoverians, who were by now on the thrones of England, Ireland and Scotland, and Edinburgh Castle was held by a government garrison throughout.This division is sometimes also simplified to Highlanders and Lowlanders but there was strong Jacobite support in Lowland Aberdeenshire, Perthshire and Fife, and indeed many Highlanders fought on the government side. It is also true that many Scottish Jacobites saw the return of the Stuarts as the only way to dismantle the Acts of Union

 It is true that the Battle of Culloden in 1746 was a crushing defeat for the Bonnie Prince; after nine successful months of campaigning, the first major defeat hit the Jacobite army hard. But the perception that this was instantly the end of war is false as several thousand men, including some of those who had not even been present at the battle, were willing to continue the fight. They gathered 30 miles south of the battle site at Ruthven, but a lack of supplies and poor leadership from Bonnie Prince Charlie put paid to the thought of making a final stand.

 Probably not widely known, but in 1750 Bonnie Prince Charlie made a secret visit to London to try and stimulate another uprising. This plan became known as the Elibank plot, and this was when Charles converted to the Church of England.

“The Skye Boat Song” is a well-known 19th-century Scottish song, but did you know that it was written to commemorate the journey of Bonnie Prince Charlie from Benbecula to the Isle of Skye, as he evaded capture by Hanoverian troops after his defeat at the Battle of Culloden. The original lyrics were composed by Sir Harold Boulton, in the 1870s, but alternative lyrics were rewritten in 1885 by  Robert Louis Stevenson. Many artists have recorded the song including Paul Robeson, Tom Jones, Rod Stewart, Roger Whittaker, and Tori Amos. The song gives an account of how Bonnie Prince Charlie, disguised as a serving maid, escaped in a small boat after his unsuccessful Jacobite rising of 1745, with the aid of Flora MacDonald

The level of interest in Bonnie Prince Charlie has been boosted by the hit TV series, Outlander, for which The Skye Boat Song, performed by Ella Roberts, is the theme tune.

As a consequence of the 1745 rebellion, The Dress Act 1746 was brought into force on the 1 August 1746, and the law stated “no man or boy within that part of Britain called Scotland, shall wear or put on the clothes commonly called Highland clothes (that is to say) the Plaid, Philabeg, or little Kilt, Trowse, Shoulder-belts, or any part whatever of what peculiarly belongs to the Highland Garb

There is a belief that there are descendants of Charles Edward Stuart alive today. In 1753, Bonnie Prince Charlie had an illegitimate daughter by his mistress Clementina Walkinshaw. The child was called Charlotte Stuart, and although Charles initially refused to acknowledge her after her mother took her away from him when their relationship soured, he did eventually legitimise her in 1784. Prior to this, during their estrangement, Charlotte spent years in convents in France and produced three illegitimate children of her own.Charlotte died only 2 years later than her father in 1790, and her children remained unknown until the mid-twentieth century. This is when historians of Jacobitism carried out research which allowed them to discover the existence of them, and their children, Bonnie Prince Charlie’s grandchildren. Recently a man called Peter Pininski has come forward claiming to be the descendant of Charlotte’s eldest daughter, Marie Victoire Adelaide, and his claim appears to be legitimate

Around 1740 James Drummond, Duke of Perth sent a gift of Highland clothes to Prince Charles Edward Stuart, popularly known today as Bonnie Prince Charlie, in Rome. The set included a sword, targe, pistols and a dirk. Later a similar gift was sent to Charles’s brother, Prince Henry. Drummond’s gift was intended to encourage support from the Highland clans and it was no coincidence that Charles adopted Highland dress when he landed in Scotland five years later.

On the Isle of Skye, just behind the Museum of Island Life, lies a memorial to Flora MacDonald, the Jacobite sympathiser who helped Charles escape At the West Highland Museum in Fort William, you can see the Bonnie Prince’s death mask, sword, and some of his clothing, including his fine silk waistcoat, as well as other Jacobite artefacts