When Prince Charles Edward Stuart departed from Loch-nan-Uamh in Lochaber for France on 20 September 1746, Alasdair MacMhaighstir Alasdair (Alexander MacDonald) from Ardnamurchan, the leading Gaelic poet in eighteenth-century Scotland, was bereft: 

       •   Chaill sinn ar stiùir 's ar buill-bheairte

       •   Dh'fhalbh uainn ar n-acair-bàis,

       •   Chaill sinn ar compass us ar cairean,

       •   Ar reul-iùil, 's ar beachd ga là.1

[We've lost our tiller and our rigging, our Sheet-anchor's torn away, we've lost our charts, our compass with them, our pole-star, our daily guide.]

Charles was clearly a man who inspired strong emotions. He was charismatic, multi-lingual and purposeful. In his own mind and that of his many followers in the Forty-Five, he was born to be king. His march south from Edinburgh to Derby took him to within striking distance of London, shook the British establishment to its foundations and jeopardised the continuation of the Hanoverian dynasty which had replaced the Stuarts in 1714. But Charles was never more than an impressive Jacobite contender, at times fêted but more often shunned by his diplomatic backers, who included the papacy as well as the monarchs of France and Sweden. He remained an uncrowned contender.

Prince Charles was born in Rome on 9/20 December 1720, the eldest son of the uncrowned James 'III and VIII' and his queen, Clementina Sobieska, Princess of Poland. His parent's marriage was strained and remained so up to Clementina's death in January 1735. Charles, and his younger brother Henry (born in 1724), were tutored by Scottish and Irish governors. Charles, in contrast to Henry, was given more to socialising than to study. A strong-willed character, he formed a closer relationship with his Irish Catholic tutor, Thomas Sheridan than with the Scottish Episcopalian, James Murray, Jacobite Earl of Dunbar, whom he assaulted when aged 12. In 1734 he got his first taste of military engagement. He attended the siege of Gaeta near Naples as an observer. Thereafter, he held no military command nor gained any active experience in the field until he instigated and led the Forty-Five.

As a member of his father's council in Rome from 1740, Charles was in contact with Jacobite agents despatched from Scotland hoping to capitalise on the outbreak of the War of the Austrian Succession.2 In the wake of the Fifteen, Jacobitism in Scotland had adopted the cellular structure associated with resistance movements.3 With the formation of the Scottish Jacobite Association in 1739, the enhanced influence accorded to clan chiefs reflected the military realities of campaigning which were not always reported to Rome. Unreliable agents, such as William Drummond (alias MacGregor) of Balhaldy, acted as freelance informants.4 Charles accepted a summons to the French Court at the outset of 1744. Although Louis XV of France pulled back from a planned invasion of England in March, the prince was not deterred. Nor was he put off by the arrival in Paris of John Murray of Broughton that August. The secretary of the Jacobite Association was adamant that Scottish support for another rising was conditional on Charles bringing not only ample supplies of arms and munitions but significant French support in men and money.

Although French backing was far from assured, there was the prospect of naval assistance from Sweden where there were strong Scottish émigré networks in Gothenburg and Stockholm. His father, who eventually commissioned Charles as regent for the three kingdoms5, had underwritten lines of credit by pawning jewels in Rome, a practice followed with better terms by Henry in Genoa. Aeneas MacDonald from Lochaber, then a Jacobite banker in Paris, provided sufficient funds to equip a small expeditionary force, with shipping and arms being secured through Irish émigré connections in Nantes. The French victory at Fontenoy on 11 May, with the Irish brigades to the fore, tied up British troops in Flanders. However, these favourable prospects were undercut when the major ship chartered by Charles, the Elisabeth, which was carrying soldiers from the Irish brigades, arms, munitions and money, was intercepted by the Royal Navy off the Lizard in Cornwall on 9 July. The smaller ship, the Du Teillay, which conveyed the prince and a few close associates, including Thomas Sheridan and Aeneas MacDonald, pressed on to the Western Isles. Charles landed at Eriskay on 23 July, ill-equipped in all military essentials except optimism.

His optimism, however, was not entirely misplaced. Clans began to rally once Charles travelled to the mainland and raised his royal standard on 19 August, at Glenfinnan on Loch Shiel. Some chiefs were reluctant to engage and others, in receipt of patronage to raise companies for the British government, were hostile. Nevertheless, clansmen went out in defiance of their chiefs after Ranald MacDonald, younger of Clanranald and Donald Cameron of Locheil committed their respective clans.6 The Prince gave an early hint of his military capacity when he outmanoeuvred the British forces of Sir John Cope to take Perth unopposed on 4 September.7 Here he was joined by leading Jacobite families from north of the Tay. Among their number was Lord George Murray, a former British Army officer who had been out for the Jacobite cause in the Fifteen. By 15 September, Charles was at the gates of Edinburgh. The city was then taken by subterfuge. Entering the Scottish capital to a rapturous welcome on 17 September, the Regent was acclaimed as Bonnie Prince Charlie. The Prince's hold on the capital was consolidated by his troops crushing the forces of the hapless General Cope at Prestonpans on 21 September8. Charles, who had not shunned personal military engagement, was magnanimous in victory; a significant number of prisoners defected to join his cause. After he re-entered Edinburgh, he re-established the court at Holyroodhouse last used by his grandfather, James II and VII in the 1680s. The prince's portrait in the guise of a Highland chief was painted by the foremost Scottish artist, Allan Ramsay Jr.9

During the five weeks Charles remained in Edinburgh, his Jacobite forces acted as the army of a provisional government. Taxes, loans and provisions were raised in the hinterland of the capital and anticipated elsewhere in the central Lowlands and the Borders10. The provisional government was co- ordinated by Murray of Broughton acting as chancellor. However, the prince's dynastic objective, to reclaim Scotland, England and Ireland for the Stuarts, did not always chime with the emphatic linking of the liberty of Scotland to the Jacobite cause in the aftermath of the Anglo-Scottish Treaty of Union in 1707. Proclamations issued at the commencement of both the Fifteen and the Forty-Five promised the revocation of the Union and the summoning of the Scottish Estates to settle civil and religious affairs. However, James 'III and VIII' arrived too late in Scotland to affect the anticipated summoning of a parliament at the outset of 1716. His son Charles singularly failed to call a parliament after he seized control of Edinburgh in September 1745.11 Thereby, no formal toleration was conceded to the Catholic minority of his followers, while the Episcopalian majority were not restored as the established Kirk.

Charles was determined to press on to London. He preferred a west coast route, confident he could attract support from the north of England and Wales. In doing so, he disregarded a Jacobite blueprint for an east coast route as far as Newcastle that had been in place since 1707. Although Newcastle was defended, the cutting off of coal supplies to London would have occasioned a financial crisis. This would have impaired the capacity of the British government to pay its continental allies, especially the Dutch and Hessian troops contracted to return to England along with the British forces recalled with the Hanoverian prince, William, Duke of Cumberland. The Jacobite council of war in Edinburgh split along dynastic and patriotic lines. Charles carried his planned invasion by one vote.12

The Jacobites avoided any pitched battles in taking Carlisle, Manchester and Preston. A feint towards Wales by Lord George Murray was misread by Cumberland and the Jacobites gained Derby by 4 December. However, English recruits were in short supply, though a battalion was raised in Manchester. Welsh forces never materialised. The lack of foreign support undermined the confidence of the English Jacobites. The wholesale adoption of Highland garb led to their complete failure to identify with the prince's forces although Charles can be credited with the Highland Army's highly mobile incursion into the English Midlands remaining orderly, civilised and restrained.13

A council of war at Derby on 5 December again pitched the dynasts against the patriots, but on this occasion the latter won. Charles was unable to produce letters of commitment for French aid and English support. Moreover, the recent arrival of a French force in Montrose under the command of Lord John Drummond reaffirmed the resolve of the patriots to return and consolidate their hold over Scotland. The sundering of the Union would be more attractive to France than replacing one rival imperial dynasty with another. The forces defending London, though not as powerful as claimed by an Irish spy within the Jacobite camp, were formidable. The route south lay through counties ravaged by a virulent cattle distemper that had arrived from the continent in February and spread to such an extent that the Scottish press was warning of its dangers before Charles left Edinburgh. The droving trade in black cattle from the Highlands, the main revenue earner for the clans, was now imperilled.14

The decision to retreat north from Derby on 6 December permanently soured the relationship between Charles and Lord George Murray, the recognised leader of the patriots, albeit he was personally lukewarm on dissolving the Union. Charles refused to call further councils of war. The Highland Army was back in Scotland within 12 days, Lord George having pursued a notably successful rear-guard action. Having marched on Glasgow to replenish supplies on 26 December, the defeat of pursuing British government forces at Falkirk on 17 January 1746 surprised the Jacobites as much as the Hanoverians15. On failing to take Stirling Castle, the Highland Army then divided. The guerrilla campaign in the Highlands advocated by Lord George allowed clansmen to drift away to their own localities with imperfect plans for regrouping. The alternative retreat through the north-east ports had the merit of creating a bridgehead for forces from France and Sweden. But the Royal Navy was running an effective, albeit imperfect, blockade of these ports. The Swedish fleet was ice-bound in Gothenburg.

Nevertheless, the Jacobite cause was not hopeless. The clan forces raised for the British government under the command of John Campbell, Earl of Loudon, were defeated at Inverurie in Aberdeenshire and subsequently harried in the north of Scotland once the Gordons, MacKenzies and Frasers belatedly mobilised for Charles. By 17 February, the regrouped Highland Army had taken Inverness. However, the provisioning of the troops and the supplies of munitions had been woefully neglected. No meaningful attempt was made to defend against the advance of Cumberland beyond the River Spey. Underfed troops were unable to complete a night march on Nairn that was aborted by Lord George on 15 April. The next day, mainly at the instigation of Prince Charles, the Jacobite forces were drawn up to fight a pitched battle at Culloden, near Inverness, on flat but boggy ground rather than on the adjacent slopes. Having conceded height advantage, the clans who formed the Jacobite frontline were obliged to charge towards superior forces equipped with workable artillery and well drilled in rapid fire musketry and in using bayonets to maximize casualties. The resulting carnage continued long after the battle at Cumberland's behest.

Within days of the defeat on 16 April, a Jacobite rendezvous was held at Ruthven in Badenoch16. There was no will on the part of either Charles or Lord George to continue the fight or to support the further attempt by Cameron of Locheil to regroup in Lochaber at the outset of May. Charles took to the hills. His four-month flight through the heather was notable for the frequency with which he escaped capture, his recourse to cross-dressing to confound his pursuers and his assistance from Flora MacDonald to transport him across the Minch from North Uist to Skye17. Charles has been treated less kindly by history than Lord George, who has benefited from the later publication of sympathetic contemporaneous accounts in English. However, Charles was staunchly defended by Gaelic poets, not only MacMhaighstir Alasdair, who had been in the prince's entourage, but also John Roy Stewart from Strathspey, who was a prominent military commander in the Forty-Five and accompanied the prince when he escaped on board the French frigate L'Heureux. The reputation of Charles has subsequently suffered from a long catalogue of mistresses, drunken mishaps and domestic violence that marked his personal decline. Particularly after his forced removal from France in late 1748, he can be castigated accurately as a rash adventurer with no meaningful prospect of ever being crowned Charles III.

Charles was appalled when his brother Henry became a cardinal in July 174718. When Charles made a brief journey to England in 1750, in the vain hope of staging a coup d'état, he was received into the Anglican Church; an action that further strained his relationship with his brother, his father and the papacy. He was involved in the failed Elibank Plot of 1753 when he sent Dr Archibald Cameron, his one close Scottish associate since the Forty-Five, to recruit in Lochaber. As the Plot had already been leaked to the British government, Cameron was captured. Taken to London, he became the last Jacobite executed in Britain. When the French proposed another aborted invasion in 1759, during the Seven Years War, the participation of Charles was considered but emphatically rejected.

Despite the best endeavours of his father, the prince's marriage prospects receded rapidly. In June 1752, Charles had resumed his affair with Clementina Walkinshaw which had begun briefly in Scotland in 1746. By October 1753, they had a daughter, Charlotte, but the affair ended in July 1760 after protracted drunken and abusive conduct by Charles. In March 1772, Charles married a minor royal, Louisa, princess of Stolberg-Gedern. Again, the relationship was marred by drunken abuse19. There were no children, but the tables were turned on Charles when his wife left him for a younger lover in 1780. In between these relationships, the prince was denied recognition as Charles III by the papacy after his father died at the outset of January 1766. His only recognition came from the rectors of the Scottish and Irish Colleges in Rome. They were duly expelled by the papacy. In 1775, American revolutionaries, undoubtedly influenced by the international ties of freemasonry in which the prince had found solace since the 1750s, actually floated the proposal that Charles become their king. But there was to be no Charles I of America as there was to be no Charles III of the three kingdoms. Through the mediation of Cardinal Henry, Charles was gradually reconciled to Catholicism and the papacy, eventually returning to Rome prior to his death from a stroke on 20 January 1788.20


1 John L. Campbell (ed.), Highland Songs of the 'Forty-Five (Edinburgh, 1984), pp. 90-1.

2 The War of the Austrian Succession (1740-1748) involved most of Europe in a conflict over the inheritance of Habsburg possessions after the death of Charles VI, Holy Roman Emperor, in 1740. Britain, Austria. the Dutch Republic, Russia, and Savoy-Sardinia supported the claims of Maria Theresa, against the various interests of Prussia, France, Bavaria, Piedmont and Spain. Maria Theresa ultimately upheld her claim and lost only Silesia to Prussia in the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle in 1748.

3 RA SP/Main/41/36, /65, /76, /92.

4 RA SP/Main/48/92, 68/30-9, 100/8-9, RA SP/Box/1/22-3.

5 RA SP/Main/254/94. Charles Edward Stuart, Instructions to Donald Cameron of Lochiel, 2 September 1745.

6 RA SP/Main/263/1. Donald Cameron to Charles Edward Stuart, 22 February 1745.

7 RA CP/Main/5/245.

8 RA CP/Main/5/164. Plan of Prestonpans, 21 September 1745.

9 Jacqueline Riding, '"His Little Hour of Royalty": the Stuart Court at Holyroodhouse in 1745', in D. Forsyth (ed.), Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobites (Edinburgh, 2017), pp. 95-125.

10 RA CP/Main/5/303, Charles Edward Stuart to Colonel Lachlan McLachlan, Laird of McLachlan. 24 September 1745.

11 RA SP/Main/153/134, 161/3, /7, 162/52-3, 254/93, 296/39, RA SP/Box/3/41.

12 Jeffrey Stephen, 'Scottish Nationalism and Stuart Unionism: the Edinburgh Council, 1745', Journal of British Studies, 49 (2010) 47-72.

13 Iain Gordon Brown and Hugh Cheape (eds), Witness to Rebellion: John Maclean's Journal of the 'Forty-Five and the Penicuik Drawings (East Linton, 1996), pp. 21-40.

14 J. Broad, 'Cattle Plague in Eighteenth Century England', Agricultural History Review, 31 (1983) 104-15.

15 RA CP/Main/9/267. Account of Falkirk.

16 RA SP/Main/273/96. Lord George Murray to Charles Edward Stuart, 17 April 1746.

17 RA CP/Main/69/408. Journal of Charles Edward Stuart in Scotland, 1746.

18 RA SP/Main/285/104. Charles Edward Stuart to James Francis Edward Stuart, 10 July 1747.

19 RA SP/Box/3/1/129. 'Louise's Memorandum of complaint to Charles circulated among her friends', 1775.

20 For the most succinct and pertinent biography of Charles III, see Murray Pittock, 'Charles Edward (1720-1788)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Sept 2014 [http://www.oxforddnb.com.manchester.idm.oclc.org/view/article/5145, accessed 7 Aug 2017].

CITATION: Macinnes, Allan I.: "Charles III: the Uncrowned Contender." State Papers Online: The Stuart and Cumberland Papers from the Royal Archives, Windsor Castle, Cengage Learning (EMEA) Ltd, 2018



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