Bonnie Prince Charlie
In 1745 England faced its most serious danger in years. A rebel army from Scotland threatened to overthrow King George II and put a rival on the throne. The leader of this invasion was Charles Edward Stuart, known as the Young Pretender or Bonnie Prince Charlie. He was one of the most romantic but doomed figures in British history.
Bonnie Prince Charlie was born in Rome in 1720. His grandfather was James II, who had been deposed as king of England and Scotland in 1688, partly because he was a Catholic. His supporters had campaigned to restore him (and his successors) to the throne ever since. They took their name, the Jacobites, from the Latin word Jacobus, meaning James.
In 1715 Charles’s father, James Edward Stuart, the Old Pretender, led an uprising against the English king, George I, but it had ended in disaster. Charles was determined to succeed where his father had failed.
THE FORTY-FIVE RISING
In July 1745 Charles landed in western Scotland with a handful of men. He had been promised support from France, England’s oldest enemy, but when that support was withdrawn, he decided to continue anyway. He was “determined to come over into this Kingdom if he brought only a single footman”, as one leading Jacobite said.
The leading clans in the Scottish Highlands rallied to his support, and by September Charles had an army of 3,000 men. The Scottish capital, Edinburgh, surrendered without firing a shot, and an English army was defeated at Prestonpans, just outside the city. The route to London now lay open, but Charles stayed in Edinburgh for weeks, and only headed south in November. This delay gave the English time to prepare a large army of 10,000 men under the command of the Duke of Cumberland.
THE FINAL DEFEAT
Once in England, Charles hoped the English would rally to his support, but few were interested. At Derby, he decided to turn back to Scotland. By now his forces were few in number, and in April 1746, Cumberland’s forces massacred his small army at the Battle of Culloden in the Highlands of Scotland. According to one eyewitness, “the Prince, as soon as he saw the left of his army yielding and in retreat lost his head, fled with the utmost speed and without even trying to rally”.
For the next five months, Charles was a fugitive, hiding from the English soldiers sent to capture him. The government offered a reward for his capture, but he was never betrayed. One woman, Flora MacDonald, disguised him as her Irish maid, Betty Burke, and smuggled him to the Isle of Skye. From there he left for France in September 1746. He never returned to Scotland. For the rest of his life, he travelled around Europe and eventually died in Rome in 1788.