1720-1788

Charles Edward Louis Philip Casimir Stuart was born on December 31, 1720 in Rome.  Throughout his lifetime he would be known by many names, The Young Pretender, Tearlach, Carluso by his mother, Carluccio by his father, but for the many who tell his story, he is Bonnie Prince Charlie.

Charles’ birth was surrounded by much pomp and circumstance.  Immediately he was created the Prince of Wales while nobles waited in line to kiss his tiny hand and cardinals said blessings over his wee head. The death of Queen Anne in 1714 resulted in the crown being passed to the Elector of Hanover, George I.  Thus, from the early beginnings of Charles’ life his father James Stuart (Known as ‘The Pretender’ due to the suspicions surrounding his true parentage.) prepared Charles for his future role of reclaiming the Scottish and English thrones for the Stuarts.

Charles spent his teen years preparing his mind and body for the inevitable campaigning to remove George I from the throne. Upon reading this, I picture him running up and down the steps of his home, the Rocky theme music floating in the air, I know it’s farfetched but one of his middle names was Sylvester.  He was tireless, sometimes neglecting to retire to bed.  Instead he would stay up until well into the morning hours playing his cello. At age 14, Charles was able to put his hard work to use when he joined the Spanish Army, besieging Gaeta in southern Italy.

Charles secretly embarked on a journey to France (Charles Edward Stuart 007?) in order to command French troops on an invasion of England.  Unfortunately the invasion never came to fruition as a turbulent storm caused severe damage. Furious that King Louis of France decided to declare war on England alone and was in fact blaming Charles for the debacle during the storm, Charles decided to take matters into his own hands and set sail for Scotland. He was certain the Highlanders would stand behind him in his rebellion. Just don’t tell the Highlanders they were second fiddle to the French!  Charles string of bad luck continued. Maybe he broke a mirror a few years back?  A British warship attacked his vessel, damaging it badly and forcing it to turn back.  This left Charles with only one ship by the time he arrived in Scotland.

Charles arrived to a disappointing response.  He remained determined however; surely his father’s steadfast training was still pulling on Charles’ conscience. Charles chose to raise the Stuart standard at Glenfinnan on Aug. 19.  He arrived with many uncertainties as to what kind of army would be waiting there to back him.  A small army of clansman awaited him. As the elderly Duke of Atholl raised the standard, Charles gave a short speech followed by a rousing cheer from the Highlanders.  Ironically, the Highlanders were most likely clueless as to the content of the speech as they spoke only Gaelic and the speech was delivered in English.

In September, Charles’ army took the British army at Prestonpans and restored the Stuarts to Scotland. This victory led the Highlanders to a feeling of invincibility.  Bonnie Prince Charlie was becoming a legend. He began holding court at the Palace of Holyroodhouse.  During this time Charles and his court decided to invade England.  Unfortunately, the Jacobite leaders and the commoners of Scotland were ill prepared to fight the Prince’s battle.  Charles would have to wait for assistance from France before he could continue on his mission.  The armies retreated and Prince Charles began to sulk. Charles army won a victory at Falkirk in 1746 yet still he retreated farther into the Highlands.

In February of 1746, Prince Charlie had a close call. While staying at the home of Colonel Anne Mackintosh he barely eluded capture. A trap had been set, but luckily for Charles he had been warned and managed to narrowly escape. At this time he caught a sever chill that turned into what may have been Scarlet fever, putting him out of commission for some time.

While Charles was laid up, poor, sulky baby! King George’s son the Duke of Cumberland was closing in on him. Setting fire to whatever was in his path. Cumberland set up camp in Aberdeen and waited.  Only a few counties separated the two opposing armies and the final battle was imminent. Slowly Charles recovered from his illness but his money was running low.  He began to pay his army with meals, but eventually the food ran out as well and he was forced to have copper plates prepared in order to print paper money. The plates were made but never used. (Footnote: the plates were found in a bog near the battlefield nearly 100 years later.)

Prince Charlie had begun to lose interest in his crusade and so he was caught off guard when he learned that Cumberland’s army was 9,000 strong and were well-equipped for battle. Due to the absence of real leadership, Charles army was decidedly lacking. On April 14, after learning one of his armies had retreated at Perth without a shot fired, Charles set up his headquarters at Culloden House.  Sadly, the original battleground that had been selected was passed over in favor of Drummossie Moor.  This bit of land was possibly the worst site for a battle -- it was wide open and gave the English soldier’s full use of their cannons. On the morn the battle was to commence a strong wind blew in gusts of sleet and rain.  Although the Jacobite armies stood in wait, the attack never came.  Cumberland’s men stayed in camp celebrating his birthday while Charles’ men stood chilled to the bone.  Angered, Charles ordered a night march on the camp, which proved futile.  It was called off at dawn.

Although many tried to dissuade Charles from continuing the battle it was out of his hands.  Cumberland’s army stood across from the Jacobite’s nearly twice their number. By the time it was over, 1,200 of Charles’ men lay dead and many more were dying around them. The Jacobite army began to flee. As the Jacobite’s had won every challenge up until Culloden, a good plan of escape had not been laid out for Prince Charlie in the event of defeat.  The men were informed to stand up and fight any of Cumberland’s men who threatened the Prince’s safety so he could escape.  And thus began the 5 month flight of Bonnie Prince Charlie.

Charles escaped with only a few of his men at his side; he had an increasing fear that the Scots would betray him.  Charles life was truly in danger as he attempted to keep himself well hidden. A highlander by the name of Roderick Mackenzie posed as the Prince allowing himself to be captured and was subsequently murdered.  His head was brought forth but it could not be proved that it was indeed the Prince.

Assisted by Donald McLeod, Charles prepared to sail to the Outer Hebrides.  The weather was atrocious but Charles could not be persuaded to wait.  He perilously began his way across the Sea of the Hebrides on April 26.  As the weather became increasingly worse, Charles begged to return to shore but Donald held firm. They sailed for 8 hours before hitting the shore. He was brought fresh clothing and it appears that this was the first time Bonnie Prince Charlie wore the Highland Dress.  Charles would spend the next few months in hiding, employing several disguises. He lived like a commoner and ate drammach, a type of oatmeal mixed raw with seawater, with minimum complaint.  Although the Prince maintained a facade of good spirits, in actuality he was  low and depressed, often leading to illness. It was alleged during the summer of 1746 Charles’ downward spiral into alcoholism began. Eventually the drink would destroy him.

In spite of this, the Prince was able to escape every trap laid out for him.  In June that same year a plan was devised to disguise Prince Charles as a maid in order to ensure his safe escape to the Isle of Skye.  It was then as well that Flora MacDonald, a young woman who would be a vital component in his escape, aided Prince Charles. The plan was thus:  Flora would escort Prince Charlie to the Isle of Skye dressed as her maidservant The Prince in drag!.  And so on June 28, Flora Macdonald and her maid ‘Betty Burke’ set out on their journey to the Isle of Skye together.  Charles adapted easily to his disguise, as he had been known to conceal his identity in the past, much to his own amusement.  The voyage to the Isle of Skye was met with only a few small squalls and soon they arrived at what they thought was their planned destination. They had missed their mark however and not in a beneficial way. Instead they had landed on the shore of Dunvegan Head in MacLeod territory. Quickly they re-routed their vessel and traveled north to their original destination spot of Waternish. Prince Charlie had safely reached the Isle of Skye.

Soon after his arrival, Prince Charles departed Flora Macdonald’s company.  He would never see her again.  Their time together had been a mere 11 days. Prince Charlie and his men continued their journey, along the way encountering several hang-ups yet still coming out unscathed.

The elusive Charles Edward Stuart was increasingly irritating Cumberland, an order for the Prince to be returned to him dead or alive was issued. Prince Charlie spent the next several days rambling through the hills and sleeping in caves.  Rarely did he stop for meals or rest.  The Highland men the Prince came across were men of honor, they shielded the Prince and never thought to turn him in for the handsome reward.  The Scots he had been so afraid would betray him turned out to be one of his greatest assets.

On the fifth of September the Prince reached his final hiding place, a home-like cave built into a slope in Lettermillichk.  He remained here until September 13 at which time he was informed that  two ships had anchored in the loch.  He would at last be returning to France.  On his trek to the awaiting ships, Charles finally saw the devastation his battle had caused.  As he boarded his ship he regaled those left behind with an uplifting speech, promising them he would return soon and with sufficient forces. Prince Charles Edward Stuart's journey away from Scotland was a peaceful one, unmarred by squalls and storms, but the unrest in Scotland was far from over.

Charles left Scotland in a far worse state than when he had come.  And it has been alleged that he never expressed remorse or regret for the tragedy he had been a party to.  Charles failed to rally any more support from France, Spain or any of his other allies and the failure and disappointment took a toll on the Young Pretender.  After becoming a cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church for a time,  he spent the remainder of his life in an alcoholic stupor. He never regained the throne for the Stuarts. Charles had one daughter whom he loved dearly but the child’s mother left him taking her daughter with her.  His bitterness increased and he plied his sorrow with more alcohol.  After his father died, Charles returned to his birthplace, Rome , and proclaimed he was King Charles III and eventually he married, never producing an heir other than the daughter who had been taken away.

Charles Edward Stuart died on January 31, 1788, a drunken old man. Although it can be said that he was the cause of much death and destruction, he is still remembered as the brave adventurer who became the legendary Bonnie Prince Charlie.

Rally in the name of God. Pray, gentleman, return. Pray, stand with me, your Prince, but a moment- otherwise you ruin me, your country and yourselves; and God forgive you.

-Prince Charles Edward Stuart at the Battle of Culloden, 16 April 1746

Prince Charles' Genealogy

Biography and musings by Lisa Munoz

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