The Rise and Fall of a Jacobite Prince

The following article appears in the current December 2010/January 2011 issue of History Magazine.

Laura Grande chronicles Bonnie Prince Charlie’s 1745 Jacobite Rising and the Battle of Culloden.

“No blacker, bloodier page will be found in the history of any country than that which records the atrocities against a brave but vanquished enemy, perpetrated at the command and under the eyes of a British monarch’s son”.

~Liberal Prime Minister, Lord Rosebery, 1894~

When it comes to the discussion of the Battle of Culloden, many are drawn into the romanticized image of a tartan-clad prince leading an army of fierce rebel Highlanders against the tyranny of England.

In reality, the nature behind the famous 1745 Jacobite Rising, and its bloody conclusion in April of 1746, is far too complex to be summed up with a single, heroic image. Contrary to popular belief, the Rising had little to do with national pride or fighting for a noble cause. It was not a war that pitted the Scots against the English. It was, instead, a brief rebellion attempting to restore both Catholicism and the Stuart line to the English throne.

Historians and Scottish locals continue, to this day, to debate the merits and disappointments of Bonnie Prince Charlie’s failed campaign and the violent aftermath of Culloden.

Jacobite Origins

Jacobites were loyal supporters of King James II of England (also known as King James VII of Scotland). The devoutly Catholic monarch was deposed and fled into exile in 1689, after only four short years on the throne. It had all come about one year earlier, in 1688, when James II fathered a son, James Francis Edward Stuart. Now that the king had a male heir, the throne would no longer pass to his Protestant daughter, Mary, as the English population desired. A Catholic dynasty was now inevitable and England, as a Protestant nation, feared the repercussions.

Later known as the Glorious Revolution, the parliaments of the Whigs and Tories put on a united front and rose up against James II, fearing that he would implement Catholicism as the national religion. Once the king had been unseated, Parliament invited Mary, his daughter, to rule over the kingdom with her husband, William of Orange, who would later lead a decisive final battle against James II in 1690 at the Battle of the Boyne in Ireland.

The humiliated James II was forced to set up court in France, where he remained until his death in 1701. The Stuart claim to the throne was to be upheld by his son, James Francis. Since early childhood, James Francis was pressured to do his duty and reclaim the English throne, in the name of his father. However, the young man endured malicious rumors about his parentage, as the majority of the English population questioned the coincidence of James II having had a son when he so desperately needed one in order to build a Catholic dynasty. James Francis’ legitimacy would remain under suspicion for the rest of his life. As a result, when he attempted two uprisings in 1708 and 1715, James Francis was referred to as the Pretender. Both attempts failed in their early stages and he eventually retreated to Italy.

It wouldn’t be until James Francis’ own son, Charles Edward Stuart, started his own campaign in 1745 that the Stuart claim to the throne would have a genuine, albeit fleeting, chance of regaining its former glory.

The actions that started in 1688, with the disposal of a Catholic king, had far-reaching consequences, as the outcome of the Glorious Revolution would continue to be played out on the battlefield more than 50 years later.

Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Early Skirmishes

James Francis’ son, Charles Edward Stuart, was born in Rome on 31 December 1720. Raised Catholic and protected by the sanctions of the Pope, Charles was faced, at an early age, with the expectation that he would run a successful campaign to reclaim the throne of England for the Stuart line.

Mary and William of Orange had since died childless, as did their successor, Queen Anne. Therefore, in 1714, six years before Charlie’s birth, the British parliament asked George, the German Elector of Hanover, to inherit the throne of England. Although there were other blood relations of Queen Anne’s with closer ties to the crown, the 1701 Act of Settlement banned Catholics from ascending to the throne. Since George of the House of Hanover was a self-professed Protestant and the great-grandson of James VI, King of Scots, he was deemed an appropriate alternative, becoming King George I of Great Britain until his death in 1727.

As a result, when Charlie began his preparations for an uprising in 1744, it would be George II, son of George I, he would challenge. By this time, James Francis, the Old Pretender, tried to deter his son from heading up another uprising. His two previous failed attempts likely discouraged the would-be monarch and, naturally, he wanted to protect his son from a similar fate, as word of Charlie’s rebellion spread through Europe quickly, earning him the nicknames, Young Pretender or Young Italian, by his Stuart enemies. James Francis was also aware that the Hanoverian line had been accepted as legitimate by both England and Scotland, who were thriving under the new monarchy. Many also considered the Jacobite threat to be long over. However, Charlie would not be dissuaded. He departed for Paris in early 1744 to ask King Louis XV for reinforcements, yet he was turned down.

Left to his own resources, Charlie started his own initiative, sending word to the Highland clan chieftains in Scotland that he would arrive shortly with French troops, weapons and money. True to his word, Charlie finally embarked for Scotland on the Du Teillay, albeit without French support, on 5 July 1745 with 3,500 guns, 2,400 swords and 20 artilleries. The sailing was not a smooth one as the English HMS Lion, alerted to Charlie’s attempts to enter Scotland, violently intercepted the Du Teillay and its partner ship, Elisabeth. With over 200 casualties, Charlie was lucky to have made it to shore on the little Hebridean island of Eriskay on 23 July; however, he had only seven men with him and little money. As result, some Scottish chieftains, who had gathered to meet the prince on the shore, told him to go home.

Charlie allegedly retorted, “I am come home, Sir…I am persuaded my faithful Highlanders will stand by me.” What Charlie lacked in numbers, weaponry and money he more than made up for in youthful arrogance and an infectious optimism. After raising his fathers’ standards at Glenfinnan on 19 August, Charlie welcomed each arriving chieftain and their clansmen in turn, including James Mor MacGregor, son of the legendary Rob Roy. Although some Englishmen and Lowland Scots had fought alongside his father in 1715, Charlie’s men were mostly made up of Highland Scots. Unlike Lowland Scots and their religious and cultural ties with England, the Catholic Highlanders did not have any qualms about assisting another Stuart heir. However, many of the clansmen lacked expertise on the battlefield, as the relative peace under the Hanovers saw the Highlanders put down their weapons in favor of becoming agricultural laborers and weavers.

The blond-haired, blue-eyed Charlie was referred to affectionately by his supporters as the “Bonnie” Prince, for his good looks and charisma. However, according to some sources, the young man was anything but “bonnie”. Yet, despite Charlie’s quick temper, lack of military experience and weakness for alcohol, the Jacobites initially adored their young leader.

Charlie met with success right from the start, capturing Edinburgh on 17 September, setting up residence at Holyroodhouse. The Battle of Prestonpans only days later, on 21 September, would prove to be the finest moment for the Jacobite cause. Led by General George Murray, the Jacobites came upon the Crown’s troops under Sir John Cope by attacking from the rear on a misty morning. The skirmish lasted just under 15 minutes and was a monumental victory for Charlie’s men. However, despite their attempt to be the masters of Scotland, Charlie and his troops had not yet captured a post or garrison, which would have symbolized the threat they posed to the Hanovers.

The prince’s next move would prove fatal to his relationship with the Jacobites. After Prestonpans, there were no battles for five weeks. The Jacobites sat idly in Edinburgh while Charlie schemed to invade England. Despite the fact that he only had 5,500 men, Charlie crossed the English border on 4 December, coming to within 120 meters outside London and the Hanoverian troops lying in wait. Severely outnumbered, Charlie was advised to retreat. As a result, the Jacobites were exhausted from having walked such a great distance in freezing temperatures, only to have to turn back. Charlie’s seeming indifference to the welfare of his troops led to growing discontent amongst his ranks.

The Battle of Falkirk, on 17 January 1746, saw another Jacobite victory, albeit it one that has since gone down in the history books as a draw. Neither side had many casualties while the majority of men on both sides turned and fled. It was reminiscent of the song written about the 1715 Battle of Sheriffmuir, which went, “We ran and they ran, and everybody ran away man.”

It was also around this time Charlie started to notice a decline in his troop’s numbers. Disenchanted with the haughty young prince and the lack of decent meals and warm blankets, many Highlanders decided to return home. The patience of the Jacobites was wearing thin and the chieftains’ relationship with the volatile young prince was irreparably eroded.

By 20 February, when the Jacobites reached Inverness, Charlie was left with fewer than 5,000 men. This did nothing to improve his temperament, as he continued to drown his concerns in alcohol and ignore the advice of his more experienced comrades.

The Battle of Culloden

Prince William, the Duke of Cumberland, was the son of King George II. The young man was sent in to replace Sir John Cope as commander of the Crown’s army stationed in Scotland, fighting against the Jacobites. His military expertise and enthusiasm was exactly what the Hanoverian troops needed. The Battle of Culloden would become Cumberland’s greatest claim to fame and would later earn him the nickname, “Butcher”.

On 15 April 1746, Cumberland opted to rest his troops on a stretch of land on Culloden Moor so he could properly celebrate his 25th birthday.  Although Cumberland was aware that Charlie was losing men by the dozens and was poorly equipped, he likely chose to wait until all the Jacobite stragglers, exhausted from marching over great distances, had caught up the core of Charlie’s troops before dealing a decisive final blow.

In the Jacobite camp, General George Murray suggested to Charlie that the men prepare for a surprise night attack on the Crown’s troops. The prince was allegedly eager to implement the suggestion, despite the fact that the majority of his men were equipped with little more than axes and pitchforks, while only one if five carried swords. The initial plan had been to cross the Water of Nairn and attack Cumberland’s camp from the southeast with one column, while the rest were assigned to a frontal assault. However, while Murray’s intentions were good, the plan was flawed from the start. The Jacobites hadn’t eaten in nearly two days, other than a small biscuit supplied to each man. They were on unfamiliar terrain and suffering through sleet storms. Nevertheless, Charlie’s army was divided into three columns and they set out around 9:00 PM, leaving their campfires burning so as to disguise their advances. By 2:00 AM, the men had made little progress, having covered only 6 KM. Due to sleep deprivation, hunger and chills, men started to fall behind, resulting in gaps and disorganization in the columns. At the sign of first light, Murray told the men to retreat, although they were within sight of the enemies’ camp. Murray said their surprise attack would be discovered with the light of dawn.

Some of the Jacobites wearily wandered off in search of food, while others collapsed in ditches from exhaustion. And so it happened, that on the disorganized morning of 16 April, Cumberland’s troops were spotted advancing on the Jacobite camp.

Of the 5,000 men remaining in Charlie’s command, only 1,000 answered the initial call to arms at 11:00 AM. Murray sent one of his men into the rain to round up the rest of the men who had wandered off, seeking food and shelter. In some cases, whole companies of men had gone missing; therefore, Charlie was forced to wait until the rest of his troops were located before giving the order to attack. Even once the rest of the troops were found, they outnumbered the Jacobites by 3,000 men.

At noon, Charlie’s men fired first. The battle lasted under an hour. Jacobite officers fought front and center with their men, a grave error that saw them get killed first, leaving companies of men without instruction on how to proceed. Those who had lagged behind suddenly surged forward, clogging Charlie’s columns and causing a jumbled mass of confusion in front of the Hanoverian guns. Once the dust had settled, Cumberland’s troops came out victorious. In a short span of time, between 1,500 and 2,000 Jacobites were killed or wounded compared to the 50 dead and 200 wounded on the Crown’s side.

Bonnie Prince Charlie was reportedly seen crying, sitting atop his horse, looking over the battlefield. Without saying a word, the Young Pretender turned and fled. History has recorded that his bodyguard, Lord Elcho, called out after the prince, “Run, you damned cowardly Italian!” The 1745 Jacobite Rising was over.

The Highland Clearances and the Fate of Bonnie Prince Charlie

The Battle of Culloden was one of the bloodiest in Scottish history. With one fell swoop on the battlefield, Cumberland was free to set out and destroy all remnants of the culture of the Highland Scots. It was, in effect, mass genocide.

The Jacobites who survived Culloden the immediate aftermath of the battle were hunted down by Cumberland’s troops, stripped naked, and left to die where they lay. The road from Culloden to Inverness was littered with slaughtered clansmen as well as innocent people who were in the wrong place at the wrong time. The surrounding glens were laid to waste, as men were hanged on the spot, women raped, families burned alive in barns and 20,000 cattle driven off lands to be sold. Cumberland’s reign of terror on the Highlands went on without consequence, as no one in London or Edinburgh complained. Aberdeen University even went so far as to name Cumberland as chancellor. He was given a Caesar-like triumph upon his return to London. His victory was even embraced by Lowland Scots who disliked the Gaels in the Highlands and despised their strange language and culture.

Prisons throughout Great Britain overflowed with Highlanders, regardless of whether or not they were Jacobites sympathizers. Of the 3,471 prisoners, 120 were hanged, drawn and quartered or beheaded, 600 died in prison, 936 were sent to the West Indies as slaves, 121 were banished, while the remaining 1,287 were released on various conditions.

The Disarming Acts were put into effect, banning all Highland Scots from carrying weapons, playing bagpipes, wearing kilts and speaking Gaelic. Any remaining Jacobite supporters were forced to turn their land over to King George II and emigrate. These actions, later to be referred to as the Highland Clearances, scattered Highland Scots around the world, effectively destroying ancient Highland traditions and culture in their own land.

Cumberland justified all of his actions, and gathered public support, through the discovery of a general order he claims was written by Jacobite General, George Murray. In the order, Cumberland alleged that Murray ordered that no mercy was to be spared on any captured men of the Crown’s troops. It wasn’t until years later that the document was discovered to have been doctored, likely by Cumberland himself in order to maintain support.

Deemed a vicious stain on the record of the British military, Lord Rosebery, the Liberal Prime Minister in 1894, over 150 years after Culloden, announced, “No blacker, bloodier page will be found in the history of any country than that which records the atrocities against a brave but vanquished enemy, perpetrated at the command and under the eyes of a British monarch’s son.”

As for Bonnie Prince Charlie, he went on the lam for five months, jumping from location to location throughout the Highlands and Hebridean Islands each time the Crown’s troops drew near. Fortunately for the fallen Jacobite leader, he still had loyal supporters left. Most notable among them was 24-year-old Flora MacDonald, who found him safe passage to France, by way of Skye, by disguising him up as her maid. On 19 September 1746, Charlie bid farewell to a small group of supporters who came to see him off. He reportedly told those assembled before him, “My lads, be in good spirits. It shall not be long before I shall be with you and shall endeavor to make up for all the loss you have suffered.” However, Bonnie Prince Charlie never returned to Scotland again.

The Young Pretender, who would go on to live another 42 years, received a heroes reception in France before overstaying his welcome by impregnating his married cousin, Louise de Montbazon, and publicly drinking himself into drunken stupors. His son by Louise died in infancy and Charlie cut off ties with his cousin. After daring to travel to London in disguise, he reunited with Clementina Wilkinshaw, embarking on a nine year love affair. Despite not being married, the couple had a daughter, Charlotte, in 1753. Clementina eventually fled to France with her young daughter when Charlie became abusive. Charlotte would later spend much of her youth in French convents, neglected by her father who refused to acknowledge her as his legitimate child.

Charlie eventually left for Italy in 1760, living off the charity of his younger brother, Henry, who was a cardinal. In 1766, his father, James Francis the Old Pretender, died in Rome, having not seen his son for over 20 years, after their dispute over Charlie’s raising another Stuart rebellion.

In 1772, at the age of 51, Charlie married 19-year-old German princess, Louise of Stolberg. Their relationship was violent from the start, as Charlie would often beat her in a drunken rage. After only two years of marriage, Louise separated from her husband and Charlie made no objection. The aging would-be monarch was eventually reunited with his estranged daughter, Charlotte, in Rome in 1784 after altering his will to make her his sole heir. After awarding her the title of Duchess of Albany, acknowledging her as his legitimate daughter, the two were inseparable. They were both sickly and provided comfort to one another. Charlie was unable to walk without assistance and his fading memory required him to be constantly looked after.

On 30 January 1788, Charlie died with his daughter by his side at the age of 67, followed by his beloved Charlotte only months later at the age of 36. Despite the fact that Charlotte had a husband and three children back home in France, she never left her father’s side again after traveling to Rome to visit him four years earlier.

Bonnie Prince Charlie was interred next to his father, James Francis, in a crypt in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. And, with the death of the last Stuart prince, the Jacobite cause and, consequently, the Stuart dynasty died with him.

Caption: An oil painting by David Morier depicting the Battle of Culloden on 16 April, 1746.


Reid, Stuart. Culloden 1746: Battlefield Guide.

Scott, Walter. From Montrose to Culloden: Bonnie Prince Charlie’s and Scotland’s Romantic Age. London: Routledge, 1828.

BBC History:

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