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The cause, the rose, the bonnie prince – debunking the -45

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Today, I am happy to introduce you to Kimberley Jordan Reeman, author of Coronach, a book set in the late 18th century and dealing with the fallout from that clash of clashes, the Battle of Culloden.  In today’s post, Kimberley digs into the myths and legends surrounding the last Jacobite Rebellion, and so, with no more ado, I turn you over into her capable hands.

A prince returning from exile to claim his rightful inheritance, rallying gallant clansmen to his standard: heady, immediate, unexpected victories and a final, crushing defeat. A dream and a culture destroyed: a wound on the soul of a nation that remains unhealed to the present day. How much of the cherished, burnished legend of the Jacobite rebellion of 1745 is true?

It was all about the Stuarts, deposed from the thrones of Scotland and England and usurped by the House of Hanover.
It was all about Catholics and Protestants.
It was all about the Scots, particularly the Highlanders, hopelessly outnumbered, outgunned, outmanoeuvred, and decimated by a professional and unspeakably brutal English army.
It was all about passion and idealism and hope and yearning and high courage and unwavering loyalty to a royal fugitive with a price of £30,000 on his head, whom nobody ever thought of betraying to the sadistic English soldiers hunting him.

The truths of history are more complex, and much less convenient.

First of all, who was Charles Edward Louis John Casimir Sylvester Severino Maria Stuart, and what was his claim to the disputed throne?

It’s a long story. Suffice to say that Mary, Queen of Scots was Charles’s great, great, great grandmother, and he traced his lineage through Mary’s son James VI of Scotland. In 1603 the dying, childless Elizabeth I designated James her heir, and thereafter James, already king of Scots, also reigned as James I of England. Anna has written an excellent account of what happened next on this blog in “Religious Persecution and Glorious Revolution”, so we can pick up the story with the deposed James II living in exile in France with his wife, Mary of Modena, and his infant son James Francis Edward, the baby rumoured to have been smuggled into the royal birth chamber in a warming pan as a substitute for a stillborn royal child.

James and Mary lived at Saint-Germain-en-Laye as guests of the sympathetic and ever opportunistic Louis XIV of France, who supported James and the endless machinations to restore him to the British throne which would come to be known as the ‘Jacobite’ cause (from the Latin form of James: Jacobus.)

Upon James’s death from a cerebral haemorrhage in 1701, the young James Francis Edward, with his mother Mary of Modena as his regent, was declared by his adherents James III of England and VIII of Scotland. And in the best Stuart tradition, after years of preliminary espionage, intrigue, and assurances of military and financial aid from France, the young James launched three abortive attempts in 1708, 1715 and 1719, to wrest back power and proclaim himself king in Scotland. They failed, most notably and bloodily in 1715.

The ‘uncrowned king of Scotland’ married Maria Clementina Sobieska, granddaughter of John III of Poland, on September 3, 1719, in Italy. The marriage produced two sons, Charles Edward, ‘the young Pretender’, and Henry Benedict, who became a cardinal in the Roman Catholic church.

kimberley Bonnie_Prince_Charlie_by_John_PettieCharles Edward Louis John Casimir Sylvester Severino Maria Stuart was born in Rome on December 31, 1720. He was a winsome, charismatic child, raised, like so many of the Stuarts, in a heady atmosphere of political intrigue, fluent in French and Italian and, as was later noted, speaking ‘the English or broad Scots very well’. Even as a small boy he was happy to pose for portraits in royal regalia or juvenile versions of military uniform, usually displaying the white rose which had become the symbol of the Jacobite cause. He believed very early in life that he had a mission, and when, in 1743, the disillusioned James proclaimed him Prince Regent, empowered to act in his name, Charles was certain of his destiny.

kimberley Alba-Maxima-Alba-Rose (2)The white rose, a reference to James II’s former substantive title of Duke of York, had been appropriated by Jacobites as yet another covert means by which supporters of the cause identified themselves. ‘The Jacobite rose’ , Rosa alba maxima, is a rose of great antiquity and longevity, thriving in adverse conditions (rather like the cause it represents). The full, dishevelled white blooms are heavily perfumed, and the soft petals fall quickly: any Jacobite who chose it as corsage or cockade would have found it fragile and ephemeral.

As for tartan, in which popular imagination sees entire clans identically dressed in tribal solidarity, it was neither reliably consistent in appearance nor uniquely Scottish. ‘Parti-coloured cloth’ had been woven and worn for three thousand years in central Asia and by Celts across Europe.

Anecdotal evidence of distinctive clan tartans in the 18th century is inconclusive, even contradictory, as are portraits. The variations resulting from local plants, dyes, patterns, weavers’ idiosyncrasies, and the weathering and aging of the garments, which were in any case intended as camouflage, produced a fabric far from uniform. Clansmen themselves were not always able to identify each other by the colours of their plaids, and even if the figures looming out of the mist on a dreich day in the Highlands were recognizable by tartan or badge, that did not guarantee them a warm reception, either during the ’45 or before it.

On the contrary. Beyond the Highland line lay another world, utterly alien in language and culture, a feudal society bound by fierce, hereditary loyalties, and riven by ancient blood feuds. The clans who supported the Jacobite cause, and Charles Edward Stuart when he raised his standard at Glenfinnan on August 19, 1745, were not all Catholic; the clans whose allegiance remained with the Hanoverians were not all Protestant. Some chieftains came out openly for Charles, or sent their sons and tacksmen and tenants to him; some sent one son to the Prince and another to command loyalist militia; some, scarred by the failure of the rising of 1715, never declared their politics, and either did nothing and hoped the entire dangerous affair would blow over, or did nothing while making it possible for others close to them to follow their consciences. Many men, ordinary farmers, cottars, tenants of tacksmen, lairds or chieftains, did not go willingly but were coerced, threatened with fire and sword, and conscripted. Men deserted from the Jacobite army regularly, not out of disillusionment or fear but drifting away like shadows to return to their homes, their families, their crops. Sometimes they went back to Charles. Often, with prescience, they foresaw their deaths, buried their weapons if they had any, and waited, praying that the storm would pass.

It ended eventually, after a bitter winter throughout which troops, horses, supply wagons and heavy ordnance had manoeuvred over some of the roughest terrain in Britain, through waist-deep snow and icy rain, over mountain passes, drovers’ paths, and the garbage-strewn cobbled streets of hostile towns, living off the land, feeding off the contempt and derision and fear of the local populace, according to its political stripe. It is no wonder that when these two armies faced one another in the sleet on Wednesday, April 16, 1746, it was with a savage hatred born of months of privation and frustration. No quarter was given or expected by either side.

The Jacobite army on this April morning was not entirely Scottish. As well as Gaelic-speaking clansmen, there were Lowland Scots, many conscripted; volunteers; deserters from the Scottish militia regiments of the British army or enlisted from among the prisoners after Charles’s victory at Prestonpans. Two infantry battalions and a squadron of cavalry were French, as well as artillerymen, engineers and volunteers: these were ‘the Wild Geese’, the Irish Brigade of the French army, and the Royal Écossais, a Scottish unit of the French army raised in 1744.

On the other side of the moor, with the sleet beating on their backs, the British army waited for the opening fire, memories of defeat and humiliation and the stripping and plundering of their dead by the enemy at Prestonpans and Falkirk foremost in their minds. Many of these men were English, many Scots or Anglo-Irish: the 1st, 21st and 25th Foot were Scots regiments, as were the Gaelic-speaking Argyllshire Militia, the Duke of Kingston’s Light Horse, and the regulars of Loudon’s 64th Highlanders. Many soldiers wore Highland dress, and there were many for whom the ranting slogans and skirling pipes of the rebels were echoes of a culture shared.

kimberley culloden (2)

It ended, as wars end, in a welter of blood and slaughter. No British regiment ever bore Culloden among its battle honours, and its name remains a byword for infamy.

And, in the haunting tragedy of the aftermath, legends were born.

Charles took to the heather for many weeks, with the staggering sum of £30,000 on his head and vigorously pursued across the Highlands and islands by, among others, two of the most notorious perpetrators of atrocities in the course of the ‘pacification’: Captain Caroline
Scott of the British army and Captain John Ferguson, Royal Navy. Both were Scots.

Flora Macdonald, by Allan Ramsay
Flora Macdonald

Finally Charles was brought to bay in South Uist, and all seemed lost until a new heroine emerged in the person of Flora MacDonald, stepdaughter of ‘One-Eyed Hugh’ MacDonald, who is credited with organizing Charles’s escape with Flora by boat ‘over the sea to Skye’. On paper this escapade seems just another exercise in futility and disorganization, typical of the ’45, as it was necessary for Charles to leave Skye and skulk again for several weeks on the mainland until, on September 20th, he boarded a French warship which had entered Loch nan Uamh. He reached Brittany nine days later.

It was claimed that no one ever considered betraying the prince, although Flora confessed, offering a tissue of lies and half-truths that incriminated many islanders when she was arrested. Remarkably, after several months of increasing celebrity as a political prisoner in London, she was pardoned in the general amnesty of 1747, married her kinsman Allan MacDonald of Kingsburgh on November 6th, 1750, and left Skye with him in 1774 for North Carolina, one of thousands of emigrants who, decades before the Highland Clearances, conceded to chronic poverty and disease, and the relentlessly hostile climate that engendered crop failure and famine.

The American revolution destroyed any hope of peace or refuge from political turbulence, and Allan MacDonald, who had commanded loyalist militia in 1745, accepted a commission in a battalion of the newly formed Royal Highland Emigrants and gave his allegiance to George III. He suffered grievously for his loyalty as a prisoner of war of the Americans before he was released on parole eighteen months later and left to walk to New York to negotiate his own exchange. Flora, meanwhile, alone with her youngest son on a hundred-acre plantation, faced her own dangers. Forced to flee, she was reunited with Allan in New York after two and a half years.

Allan was posted to Nova Scotia where a singularly severe winter destroyed their health. Ill, homesick and suffering from arthritis in two previously broken arms, Flora returned to Skye in the spring of 1780. She died on March 4th, 1790, preceded in death by Charles Edward Stuart, who died in Rome in 1788, an alcoholic depressive thrown into the depths of melancholy by the mere mention of his failed rebellion. He never returned to the country to which he had brought such misery and disaster.

KimberleyGeorge_IV_in_kilt,_by_WilkieBut the rose-ringed legend lingered, burnished by time, and given new life by the publication in 1814 of Sir Walter Scott’s Jacobite novel Waverley. The rehabilitation of the Highlands had begun. It reached new heights when George IV visited Edinburgh in 1822 and wore at a levée at Holyrood to celebrate his birthday a variation of Highland dress that was both incongruous and magnificent; and its apogee in 1842 with the first visit to Scotland by a royal fan of Scott’s novels, Queen Victoria, and her consort Albert. The love affair between the House of Hanover and the Highlands endures even to this day.

As the Scots dispersed throughout the world, driven from their homeland by the death blow to a moribund clan system delivered at Culloden, they carried with them grief, bitterness, anguish and nostalgia; and from this potent combination arises legend. But the truth is more compelling. It is the truth that chills the blood and stirs the soul. It is the truth that Coronach tells.


Thank you, Kimberley for this excellent post.

kimberley author photo 2About Kimberley: Kimberley Jordan Reeman was born in Toronto, graduating from the University of Toronto with a Bachelor of Arts (hons.) in English literature in 1976. She worked in Canadian radio and publishing before marrying the author Douglas Reeman in 1985, and until his death in 2017 was his editor, muse and literary partner, while pursuing her own career as a novelist.

She has always been a spinner of tales, telling stories before she could write, reading voraciously from childhood, and citing Shakespeare, Hardy, Winston Graham and the novels of Douglas Reeman and Alexander Kent as her most profound influences. Find out more about Kimberley on her blog!

kimberley CoronachAbout Coronach: Scotland, July 1746: an army of occupation ravages the Highlands, committing atrocities with consequences that will reverberate across generations. From this bloody cataclysm, the battle-hardened English soldier Mordaunt saves an infant who will become his heiress and his obsession, and on his shattered estate a traumatised Franco-Scottish laird, Ewen Stirling, offers refuge to a boy damaged by unspeakable horror.

These lives, bound by fate, unfold against the turbulence of the eighteenth century in a magnificent, uncompromising saga of love and the human cost of war.

Buy it here!

8 thoughts on “The cause, the rose, the bonnie prince – debunking the -45”

  1. And of course when the Old Pretender, who was universally respected, passed away, the Pope formally recognised George III as King of England.

    1. Was he really universally respected? I’d say that would depend on who you asked – and those who suffered in the rebellion of 1715 were probably not all that admiring. Thank you for stopping by – and if you want to expand on your comment, I’d be delighted!

      1. In old age he was respected as an individual for the way he had behaved in adversity. His personal integrity was never questioned. Politically he had no influence at all.
        His younger son, the Cardinal of York chose to follow that example. He ended his days as a pensioner of the British Crown (funded from monies that were legally his – even then British Governments were cheap) and I believe he returned the jewels James II had taken with him into exile to the Prince Regent.

  2. Another very interesting post Kimberley, the ‘Romance’ of the past is often told (and passed on and remembered) because it evokes exactly that – ‘romance’ – whereas the truth behind these enormous battles and events bring the opposite: bloodshed, death and violence (on the battlefield and in the aftermath against survivors and civilians.) Romance, unfortunately, does not include brutal killing, torture, rape and starvation. It’s odd, but many historical fiction readers cry ‘shame’ if an author dares to write a novel that does not conform to the known facts; include one inaccuracy and a wild cry of condemnation goes up on social media. Yet a novel that portrays the brutal facts can arouse just as much indignation! Romance is good for ‘comfortable’ reading. But the facts, without the rose-tinted glasses (be it a white or red rose!) must also be told.
    Thank you Anna for hosting such a thought-provoking article.

  3. Good prelude and recap of historical happenings that are at the crux of Coronach. Kimberley Jordan Reeman has written a powerful novel. Thanks Anna, for hosting on your always informative blog.

  4. Derek Richer’s impression:
    It is refreshing to read accurate depictions of history which are based on objective, careful research. Life is a complex pageant of varied hues and moods which often eludes explanation through convenient summaries or romantic ideals. “Coronach”, which I have read twice, and will surely read again, is a classic work since it sticks to the unvarnished truth and conveys the full complexity of humanity (and inhumanity) and the social circumstances in Scotland – and beyond. Prospective readers of “Coronach” can be assured of a mind-broadening experience which helps to explain the mysteries and aftermath of the 45, and certainly the words of the great tome, like any great literary work, evince the tragedies and triumph of the human condition in any era.

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