Charles Edward Stuart

1720-1788

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Bonnie Prince Charlie

Charles Edward Stuart was called The Young Pretender and The Young Chevalier, but he was best known as “Bonnie Prince Charlie.” Even though he is one of the best-known historical Scottish heroes he was not Scottish, but was born into the Stuart Dynasty on December 31, 1720, while the family was in Rome, Italy. He was the son of James Francis Edward Stuart, known as the Old Pretender,” and Maria Clementina Sobieski of Poland, and was christened Charles Edward Louis Philip Casimir Stuart.

Charles’ grandfather, a Catholic, was King James II of England as well as James VII of Scotland, and had ruled both countries from 1685 to 1689. At the time, however, the population of both favored Protestantism over Catholicism, but James II was determined to reinstate the Roman Catholic Church as the national church. He went about it with cruel determination and a reign of terror, and in the process irritated and alarmed the powerful statesmen of the day. The Protestant Bishop of London, and six English Lords, sent a message to William III of Orange, a Dutch Protestant and the husband of James’ daughter Mary, proposing that he succeed James by force. William accepted their invitation, and his small army landed in England November 5, 1688. Over the next two weeks most of the major cities declared their allegiance to William, and the majority of James’ important supporters, as well as his other daughter Ann, also defected. Following the exile of James II and his family the  so-called Jacobite Cause” came into being; the  sole purpose being to return the Stuarts to the English and Scottish thrones, and to reinstate Catholicism as the national religion.  Bonnie Prince Charlie was destined to play a major part in this ultimate goal.

Charles Edward’s childhood in Rome was one of privilege. He was brought up as a Catholic, and the talk of seizing back the thrones of England and Scotland for the Stuarts was a constant topic of conversation in the Stuart household during his childhood. The young Prince was trained in the military, and from an early age was a pawn in the Jacobite Cause. His father managed to obtain the support of the French government in 1744, and Charlie traveled to France with the sole purpose of commanding a French army,  invade  England, and eventually restore the Stuarts to the throne.

The invasion never materialized, however, because of poor weather that prevented the French ships from sailing, but probably primarily because the French were reluctant to face off with the strong British army. Nevertheless, Charlie was determined. In early 1745 he traveled to Scotland with a few supporters (possibly less than a dozen). After landing on the Isle of Eriskay he began the task of gaining the support of the Highland Clans.

Many Scots believed in the divine right of Kings, which was understood to be the unquestioned right of the Stuarts, chosen by God, to regain the thrones that they had lost. William III's successors were from the German House of Hanover, and the current King, George II, was regarded by many as a foreigner. The fact that Charles Edward Stuart was born in Italy, and that his mother was Polish, and was therefore also technically a foreigner,” was ignored. In short order though, Bonnie Prince Charlie gained the support of most of the Scottish Clans.

Charlie raised the Stuart standard at Glenfinnan in Scotland on August 19, 1745, and thus initiated what has become known as the 45,” which was effectively the last Jacobite Uprising. Among his initial supporters were three hundred from the Macdonald Clan and seven hundred from Clan Cameron. The rebels quickly took control of Edinburgh, and by September 1745 had defeated the King’s army at Prestonpans. Several victories followed, and Bonnie Prince Charlie’s army grew in number, at one point numbering over six thousand. Spurred on by their victories, they crossed the border into England and got as far as Derby, a mere one hundred and thirty miles from London.

Unfortunately for Charlie and his followers though, most of the English Catholics were content with the stable and placid rule of George II, and did not rise up and support the Jacobite rebellion. This apathy, and the expected French support that did not materialize, began to demoralize the Scottish forces. They were not getting the new followers that they had hoped for, and in fact desertions had reduced their number to about three thousand. At this point the dash and courage which had inspired the Scottish Clans deserted Bonnie Prince Charlie. Faced with the gathering might of the King’s army, and on the advice of Lord Murray, his trusted advisor, the Jacobites turned back north towards Scotland.

But the Scots were by no means beaten. Once over the border recruits poured in again; raising the number of their force to over ten thousand. It appeared that Charlie was secure in Scotland, even though he had to forget about his visit to Westminster. His optimism was again reinforced at the Battle of Falkirk, where on January 17, 1846—as the direct result of a Highland charge—his Scots defeated a much larger English army.

Soon, however, the tide began to turn against Charlie and his followers. After the crushing defeat at Falkirk the English got serious, and moved an army of about thirty thousand north. Charlie could not hope to match such a force, especially since his army was prone to dwindle whenever there were periods of inactivity. His only real hope was intervention by the French. If they created a diversion on the southern coast of England, or sent a substantial number of troops to Scotland, his campaign could still survive. He was in the unusual position of losing the war even though he had won most of the battles. 

The Battle of Culloden Moor, near Inverness, followed on April 16, 1746. Charlie and his Scottish troops suffered a crushing defeat at the hands of  William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland and son of King George I, also known as the Butcher of Cumberland.” Initial English cannon fire killed many clansmen, and when the Highlanders eventually charged they ere mowed down by redcoat rifle fire. "Butcher" Cumberland had given the order of “no quarter,” and thus any wounded Jacobites were later systematically killed where they had fallen. It is estimated that Jacobite losses amounted to over two thousand, while the English lost only about three hundred.

The battle itself lasted for only about an hour, but a widespread massacre of Scottish citizens—many of whom were not even involved in the Jacobite uprising—followed. Thousands were killed, and the Battle of Culloden Moor, including the aftermath, went down as one of the bloodiest in Scottish history. The English hunted down anyone who was thought to have participated in the "Jacobite Rebellion" and many houses and castles were torched. Hundreds were executed (after brief trials in England), and seven hundred Scots died in the prison ships in the River Thames in London, and a thousand others were sold as indentured prisoners to American plantations. 

The defeat effectively put an end to the Jacobite movement, and Bonnie Prince Charlie was now a fugitive. He spent the next five months in hiding in the Highlands and on some of the offshore islands. A price of 30,000 pounds (equivalent to one million dollars today) was put on his head, but despite this no one betrayed him to the authorities.

Although active in the Jacobite movement, James N. Irvine (Erwin), our immigrant ancestor, was not involved in any of Prince Charlie’s military efforts.  He left Scotland for Northern Ireland just ahead of the authorities about 1737, and arrived in William Penn’s Colony in 1739 with his wife and first-born child . Alexander Irvine, however, his next younger sibling (who became the seventeenth Laird of Drum when their father passed in 1744) served at Edinburgh, Derby and Falkirk. He was wounded in the leg at Falkirk, but recovered in time to rejoin Charlie’s army at the Battle of Culloden, but managed to escape the later massacre.

The defeat at Culloden had wide-reaching implications for the Scots. The English government imposed strict laws, especially targeting the Clans. These included making it illegal for Highlanders to carry instruments of War (e.g. swords, daggers  and bagpipes) or to wear the tartan and the kilt. Jacobite supporters were either executed or forced to emigrate, and their land was turned over to George II who distributed it amongst his English supporters.

The English hunted down anyone who was thought to have participated in the "Jacobite Rebellion" and many houses and castles were torched. The only unit to show any compassion was the Campbell militia from Argyll who had sided with the forces of George II. Hundreds of Scots were executed (after brief trials in England), seven hundred died in the prison ships in the River Thames in London, and a thousand or so poor souls were sold as indentured prisoners to the American plantations.

Alexander Irvine, 17th Laird of Drum

In October 1748, the Court of Judiciary met to consider bills of indictment against several persons who had not already been convicted, and who had been exempted from the Act of Indemnity. One of those targeted for high treason was Alexander Irvine of Drum. On the 14th of October, however, the grand jury chose to ignore the charge. It is said that the indictment failed because it was in the name of Alexander Irvine of Drum, whereas witnesses called to testify denied having any knowledge of Alexander Irvine of Drum, stating that they only knew the defendant as the Laird of Drum. The court used this legal technicality to allow Alexander to escape indictment, most likely because the English occupiers deemed it prudent to allow the persecution of the Jacobites to wind down.

The Scottish defeat at the Battle of Culloden Moor changed the ancient Clan system forever. Emigration resulted in Scots being scattered all over the world, and intermarriages with other cultures and races became inevitable. Thus, Charlie’s failure to regain the throne for the Stuarts had a wide-reaching and long-lasting impact on Scottish culture, as well as even more suppression of the Scots by the English.

Prince Charlie had to flee the battlefield. A huge reward  was offered for his capture, but over the next five months he was able to elude the English. Around the end of April he and a few followers sailed to the Outer Hebrides. Towards the end of June, however, government forces were closing in on him, but at the last minute members of Clan MacDonald helped him escape to Skye, where he was picked up by a French ship.

When Charlie left Scotland he fully intended to raise more money and return with French soldiers to mount another campaign, but it never happened. He spent the next few years trying to rally the Jacobite Cause, even returning to London in disguise in 1750 and 1754, but never again found any substantial support in his goal to be King. Even the Highland Clans deserted him in the end,  irritated with his temper; his poor leadership, and his lack of political expertise. The harsh laws that the English had imposed on them were also blamed on Charlie. He was a charismatic man, but he was also an extremely selfish individual, and this trait tended to alienate even his closest supporters in the end.

While campaigning in Scotland Charlie had met twenty-five-year-old Clementine Walkinshaw. She became his mistress, and later followed him to Europe. They had a daughter, Charlotte, born in 1753. Clementine died shortly afterward, many say as a result of his cruelty. Following her death he gradually lost his spirit and self respect, and sank into drunkenness. He had many affairs after Clementine died, but in his almost constant alcoholic stupor  he was given to violent rages, and was said to beat his female lovers, and none of these brief relationships with women lasted.

Bonnie Prince Charlie

In 1772 Charles married Princess Louise of Stolberg who was twenty. In 1780 she fled from his excessive drinking and the beatings which he inflicted on her, and was later welcomed at the court of King George III in London.

Charles Edward Stuart was a sad and tragic figure. He was haunted throughout his life by the passion for Stuart kingship, but when he died he was a pathetic drunk. Charlotte Wilkinshaw, his daughter by Clementina—whose birth was later legitimized—was his only companion in his final, sad years. He died where he was born, in Rome, on January 31, 1788,  and was buried at a church in Frascatti. It is said that he often regretted that he had not died at Culloden with his supporters.

So ended the chapter on the Stuarts quest to regain the Crown. Bonnie Prince Charlie is remembered, however, as a Scottish hero. His legend is a reminder of the era when the Clans roamed the Highlands, and his life is portrayed in many stories and folk songs which are recounted and sung across Scotland. A monument erected by Alexander Macdonald at Glenfinnan commemorates the Prince, and myths and romanticism surround his life and early exploits to this day.                                                            »»»

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