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Prince Charles Edward Stuart — Bonny Prince Charlie (1720-1788)

This article was written by Alexander Charles Ewald and was published in 1887

Bonny Prince CharlieCharles Edward Louis Philip Casimir, commonly called the Young Pretender, eldest son of the Chevalier de St. George, or, as his adherents styled him, James III, and of the Princess Clementine, a daughter of Prince James Sobieski, was born at Rome on 31 December 1720.

Owing to the differences between the chevalier and his wife the education of the lad was desultory. Jesuit priests were exchanged for protestant tutors, and when these were dismissed Jacobite soldiers took up the work of instruction, until the mind of the young prince became rather hazy. Yet Charles was not deficient in ordinary acquirements, and spoke French and Italian well at an early age; he had a taste for music and the fine arts, and his conversation exhibited marked intelligence.

Charles served with much credit at the siege of Gaeta (1734) under the Duke of Liria. ‘I wish to God,’ writes Liria to his brother, the Duke of Fitz-James, ‘that some of the greatest sticklers in England against the family of the Stuarts had been eyewitnesses of this prince's resolution during that siege, and I am firmly persuaded that they would soon change their way of thinking.’

As he grew up the hopes of the Jacobites became more and more centred in the prince. The Old Pretender by his miserable conduct to his wife had completely alienated his adherents. The birth of Charles and the favourable impression made by his courage, dignity, and intelligence restored the waning energies of the Jacobites.

The year 1740 saw England supporting the cause of Maria Theresa and at variance with France. The Jacobites, through their English and Scotch committees, proceeded to put the machinery of conspiracy into motion. Scotland, it was said, could raise twenty thousand men. English Jacobite leaders predicted that Charles had only to appear to make all England embrace his cause. France also was lavish in her offers of assistance. On the faith of these promises the young prince resolved to head an expedition. ‘I go, sire,’ said he to his father, ‘in search of three crowns, which I doubt not but to have the honour and happiness of laying at your majesty's feet. If I fail in the attempt, your next sight of me shall be in my coffin.’

The departure of Charles from Rome was secret, but the English government was at once informed of the fact. As the prince passed through Florence, Sir Horace Mann drew his portrait and sent it to the Duke of Newcastle: ‘The young man is above the middle height and very thin. He wears a light bag wig; his face is rather long, the complexion clear, but borders on paleness; the forehead very broad, the eyes fairly large; blue but without sparkle; the mouth large, with the lips slightly curled, and the chin more sharp than rounded.’

On the arrival of the prince in France war had not as yet broken out between England and France, but the remonstrances of the English cabinet led to a speedy rupture. It soon became evident to Charles that the zeal of France on his behalf was by no means commensurate with her promises of aid. The Dunkirk expedition, which had set out for the invasion of England with seven thousand troops on board under Marshal Saxe, had to beat a retreat before the vigilance of the English channel fleet, while, a storm springing up, the expedition only succeeded in regaining the French coast at a severe loss. This disaster damped French enthusiasm, and the prince was informed that at present further assistance could not be expected from Versailles.

Charles vowed that he would cross over to Scotland and raise his standard, even ‘if he took only a single footman with him.’ All his adherents, excepting the Duke of Perth, deemed this a mad resolve, but the prince was not to be deterred. He borrowed 180,000 livres, ordered his jewels to be pawned, and, without the knowledge either of his father or the French ministry, embarked at Belleisle in the Doutelle, one of two ships lent to a private individual to cruise on the Scottish coast. The little squadron set sail on 13 July 1745, and four days afterwards fell in with an English man-of-war, the Lion, which immediately engaged the Elizabeth, the consort of the Doutelle. After a contest of six hours each vessel was so shattered that the enemies parted and the Elizabeth, with all the arms and ammunition of the expedition on board, had to bear up for Brest, while the Doutelle held on for Scotland, where on 2 August, Charles landed at an islet in the Hebrides, a part of the possessions of Macdonald of Clanranald. He was advised to return to France by those who now welcomed him. ‘I am come home,’ said Charles, ‘and I will not return to France, for I am persuaded that my faithful highlanders will stand by me.’

With the conspicuous exceptions of Macdonald of Sleat and Macleod of Macleod, all the neighbouring chiefs flocked in, though boding no good from the undertaking. His followers soon swelled into a formidable gathering, and on 19 August the royal standard was unfurled at Glenfinnan, and Charles began his march south. As soon as the committee of six, which had then the control of the affairs of the government in Scotland, began to recognise the danger, prompt measures were adopted. A price of £30,000 was put upon the head of the prince, troops were levied, and Sir John Cope was ordered to take up the dragoon horses from grass and to secure the forts and garrisons in the highlands. Cope was, however, easily outwitted by the tactics of the rebels, and Charles pressed on to Perth, where he was joined by Lord George Murray.

Halting at Perth a week to discipline his forces, the prince marched to Edinburgh, where he was received with the utmost enthusiasm. And now the severe defeat of Cope, who had at last come up with the enemy at Prestonpans, caused matters for the first time to look serious for the government. Their best officer, Marshal Wade, declared that Scotland was lost, and that England would fall a prey to the first comer. Horace Walpole wrote that he should have to leave Arlington Street for some wretched attic in Herrenhausen, and perhaps be reduced to give lessons in Latin to the young princes at Copenhagen. Three battalions of the guards and seven regiments of infantry were recalled from Flanders, under the Duke of Cumberland; Wade was to march north with a large force, including six thousand Dutch auxiliaries; while Cope was ordered to throw himself into Newcastle. The militia was also called out. The prince marched south, resolved upon swiftly reaching London and following up his advantage. By way of Kelso he crossed the border into Cumberland, and laid siege to Carlisle (8 November), which after a few days, disappointed at not receiving relief from Wade, was forced to capitulate. At this time Wade, who had expected the rebels by the east coast, was making his way with much difficulty to Newcastle; but he was now completely outgeneralled by Lord George Murray, who gave him the slip at Carlisle, so that the highlanders were soon between him and the metropolis. Marching by Penrith, Shap, Kendal, and Lancaster, the rebels reached Preston (27 November), while Wade was toiling after them through Yorkshire.

The Duke of Cumberland had landed from Flanders, and was at Lichfield the same day that the highlanders entered Preston, and on their reaching Manchester he was under the impression that they intended passing through Cheshire into Wales. And now he was deluded by Lord George Murray as completely as Marshal Wade had been. By a false attack on Congleton, the duke was induced to leave the route to Derby by Ashbourne open, and thus to their great delight the clans entered Derby two or three days in advance of their antagonists.

The news of this fresh move of the prince fell on London like a thunderbolt. The shops were shut up and all business was suspended; there was a run on the bank; the guards were marched to Finchley, and the Duke of Cumberland was requested to hasten up to London. Yet at this very time the question of retreat was seriously discussed by the Jacobites. On 5 December Lord George Murray and other officers high in command waited on the prince to express their conviction that the cause was hopeless, and that their only safety lay in beating an immediate retreat. The French, they said, had not landed, the English had not risen, they were between the duke's and Wade's armies, either of which was equal to their own. The prince remonstrated, but was forced to yield; he had no alternative, and contented himself with declaring that in future he should act on his own discretion.

Shortly after dawn on 6 December the highland army began its retreat northwards. The duke was outmarched, Wade was outwitted, and Hawley, who had succeeded Wade, was defeated at Falkirk. The clans marched rapidly, but the Duke of Cumberland followed them slowly and surely. At last the rebels were brought to bay on Culloden Moor, 16 April 1746.

Charles, though his forces were diminished by desertion and weakened by fatigue, resolved to offer battle. The clans, outnumbered and outgeneralled, suffered a severe and complete defeat, and the cause of the prince lost its last and only hope. After the action the highlanders were found lying in layers three and four deep. Horrorstruck and overwhelmed by the sight of the slaughter of his brave followers, the unhappy prince left the battle-field of Culloden with a few members of his staff. A vain attempt to rally his scattered forces at Ruthven was the last struggle of Charles to maintain an organised opposition to the advance of the royal troops.

He fled and remained for months; from April to September 1746; hiding in various islands of the Hebrides and among the crags of the western highlands. He was hunted from place to place by the Hanoverian soldiery; an enormous sum was placed on his head; but, in spite of poverty and ignorance, the loyalty of the highlanders was proof against all temptation. At last Charles was fortunate enough in getting on board a French ship, and arrived safely at Morlaix in Brittany. Thence he proceeded to Paris, where he was cordially received by Louis XV, who renewed his assurances of assistance. Charles, however, was not unreasonably suspicious of a court which had fulfilled none of its promises of aid. He was now informed by Cardinal Tencin that Louis might be induced to grant him help on one condition. ‘And that condition?’ eagerly asked the prince. ‘That Ireland be ceded to France,’ replied the cardinal, ‘as a compensation for the expense the court at Versailles must necessarily be put to.’ The prince rose angrily from his seat and cried out, ‘Non, Monsieur le cardinal, tout ou rien! point de partage! point de partage!’

The king of France continued, however, to accord his visitor ‘moral support’ until 1748, when, in accordance with the treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle, Charles was requested to leave France. The prince resolved to disobey the order. He refused to listen to all expostulations, and was at last expelled by force, removing to Avignon. An objection was raised by the English government to his stay in this city, and Charles departed of his own accord, no one knew whither. For the next few years his movements are wrapped in mystery, which recent investigation has only partially unveiled. For some time he was living secretly in Paris, though not unknown to the French government, with his mistress, Miss Walkenshaw, who had joined him soon after his return from Scotland. 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.

Indeed his friends were disgusted with his conduct. Charles was now an inveterate drunkard; it is said that he acquired his drinking habits when exposed to the cold and wet in Scotland during the anxious months of his fugitive life. His union with Miss Walkenshaw also tended to alienate his followers. The sister of this lady was housekeeper to the Princess Dowager of Wales, and the English Jacobites, suspecting that the prince's mistress was playing false to the cause, tried to induce Charles to send her away. He refused, not, as he admitted himself, because he loved her, but because he declined to be dictated to even by his most trusted friends.

In 1756 we find him making Switzerland his home, and living for the most part at Basle, with occasional visits to Paris. His ill-regulated home was now to be broken up. Miss Walkenshaw, unable to bear the brutality of the prince, left him in 1760 and took refuge with her infant daughter in the abbey of Meaux. In 1766 the Chevalier St. George died, and Charles, now titular king of England, took up his abode at Rome, expecting to be acknowledged by Benedict XIV. He was bitterly disappointed. The counsellors of the pope saw clearly that to incur the hostility of England for the sake of a creature like the present representative of the house of Stuart was not calculated to benefit the interests of the holy see, and the sovereignty of Charles was rigidly ignored by the Vatican.

For some months the prince refused to visit the pope, but at length, moved by the remonstrances of his brother Henry, now created Cardinal York, and whose entry into the Romish hierarchy had given a great blow to the cause, he in 1767 agreed to pay his respects to his holiness, and became once more a member of Roman society. It was not the wish of France to see the Stuart line extinct, and Charles, on promise of a pension from the French court, married in 1772 Louisa, princess of Stolberg, whose beauty and wit won the heart of Alfieri. For a short time Charles lived happily with his wife, but he soon became enslaved again by his love of drink, and commenced that course of ill-usage which eventually compelled the princess to separate herself from her husband.

In 1777 the Countess of Albany met Alfieri. The intrigue between them was as much the effect of Charles's ill-conduct as it was the immediate cause of the final quarrel between him and his wife. The countess fled to Rome in 1780, and was very kindly treated by her brother-in-law the cardinal, who acted in the matter with marked good sense and good feeling. A separation was arranged, and the countess continued to live openly with Alfieri till his death. Neglected and in solitude, Charles now thought of the daughter that had been born to him by Miss Walkenshaw in the days of his wanderings. He heard that she was living with her mother in the convent at Meaux, and he wrote asking her to come and live with him. She acceded to his request, and became a great favourite in Florentine society. Charles created her Duchess of Albany, and until his death regarded her with the greatest affection. He lived now chiefly at Florence, but returned to Rome a few months before his death, 31 January 1788. His brother became the pensioner of George III, who with a graceful generosity placed in 1819 a monument by Canova over the tomb of James III and his two sons in St. Peter's. The Jacobite cause, except as a sentimental reminiscence, had long since been buried by Charles himself.

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