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History ? Bonnie Prince Charlie - courageous and clever patriot or delusional, cowardly royal?

After the Culloden massacre, Bonnie Prince Charlie escaped, dressed as a woman, to either France or Italy. Those who survived Culloden later faced cruelty and death by the English controlled government of Scotland. So, was Bonnie Prince Charlie a great leader of clans or an egotistical fool responsible for so much death?

Posted by
484 posts

After visiting Scotland, I was left wondering about this matter. I am certain there are two sides to this matter. I was thinking this may be a good debate to learn about history. Let's keep things friendly here. It's worth a lively discussion to enhance any travel to the Inverness and Isle of Skye region. I wonder what the Scots think of it.

Posted by
5461 posts

There were so many issues that surrounded the '45 uprising. And you have to always remember that there were Scots on both sides of the issue. Was Prince Charlie wise to slip away? What would have happened if he had stayed? Was he thinking, like Arnold Schwarzenegger, "I'll be back?" or was he running to a plush life in Italy with better weather?

If you look at the history of Scotland through the ages, there were very, very few years of peace. It seems like every time a king got old enough to get out from under a regency, he died, leaving a baby in another regency. Or, they were fighting each other. They break your heart, these Scots. When you look at the '45, it always seems to me that you need to look back to the Union of the Crowns.

When King James I/VI of England and Scotland united the crowns he headed south to London. He took some Scots with him and the lowlanders were involved in this transition. Magnus Magnusson writes that the English, while not necessarily ecstatic to see James I, they were relieved to be done with the Tudors and Spanish wars. But the Highlanders and the Islanders were isolated. Also, remember that religion still played a huge role. The protestantism of the north was not the same as that of England. Magnusson also points out that the Crown itself had done away with the Lordship of the Isles and so had so destabilized the Highlands and Islands. There were numerous uprising. And when James dies, it's not Henry, who had been slated to be King who inherits, but his younger brother who clearly didn't have the wisdom of his father and tried to impose the Book of Common Prayer on the Scots and that unified a lot of Scots against him. The whole time of the English Civil War and the Scots role in it is so complex, but I note one comment from Magnusson again, " He (Earl of Montrose) stilled owned his Covenant, but he could not bring himself to disown his King." And I think that in some ways sums it up.

There was a significant part of Scotland that was totally horrified by the execution of Charles and that the eventual naming William and Mary over the Stuart heirs was disowning their King. King Charles was executed in 1649 and Charles II forced out in '51 and then restored. His brother becomes King James II/VII and was a converted Catholic. That made it a mess for the English and the Scottish Kirk. It was the birth of his son and the specter of an ongoing Catholic Kingship that brought in the call for William and Mary. And Scotland was divided on its opinion of these developments. By 1707 you have the union of the parliaments which isolated Scotland further consolidating power in London. There is a view that the way this Union was enacted fueled the Jacobite cause and led to the ongoing rising and riots of the next 40 plus years. I'll quote Magnusson one more time, "Charles, shocked and in tears, was escorted from the field on horseback." He decided that the rising was over and made his way to France. He told companions as he left, (Magnusson) My lads, be in good sprits. It shall not be long before I shall be with you and shall endeavor to make up for all the loss you have suffered." Scotland: The Story of a Nation. Magnus Magnusson 2000 Atlantic Monthly Press.

Pam

Posted by
10263 posts

Pam, thanks for your detailed and helpful discussion of this subject!

Posted by
484 posts

Thanks Pam. I had no idea religion was such a big factor. I knew the Catholic Church probably backed the Stuarts, as well as any French alliances. I was thinking in terms of those who were left behind after the battle of Culloden and the wrath they suffered as the government sought them out and probably punished them as traitors or rebels. That is, to completely extinguish the Jacobite rebellion. Also, Bonnie Prince Charlie was at first celebrated in France. Then, for some reason, BPC was expelled from France and went to Italy. He was also abandoned by his wife and followers. The poor fellow became an alcoholic (I would have too.). Any details on this?

Posted by
10263 posts

Barb,
Re your last post, I just returned from 10 days in London, where I was again reminded that religion, Catholic or Protestant, played a large role in UK history during the historical periods discussed in this topic.

Posted by
5461 posts

Oh yes, the religion issue is much more complicated than simply Catholic vs Protestant! The whole Covenanters period was extremely important. There's a whole section in the National Museum of Scotland on this. It was called the killing time.

The whole vote for Independence in September is fascinating. I tend to lean toward the no vote, and so do my Scottish friends so far. But as someone put it, the vote is pitting heart against head and that's a difficult place to be.

Pam

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5461 posts

And, BTW I will be interested to see what MC from Glasgow has to say. :) The friends I have in Scotland don't tend to think about Prince Charlie too much. They are more focused on today. Can anyone think of an American equivalent? All I can come up with is Benedict Arnold. He was a loyal Patriot until he decided to go with England at which point we declared him traitor. In England, perhaps, a man who came to his senses.....Can't say that I think about Benedict Arnold very much these days......

Pam

Posted by
10263 posts

Yes. One of the joys of traveling in Europe is, you get to take time out from your regular life to think intensively about things like history and art.

Posted by
484 posts

Were the Covenanters those who followed Cromwell? John Knox was Presbyterian I believe and this group had issues with the Catholic Church under Mary Queen of Scots.

Upon returning from a vacation in Scotland a couple of years ago, I realized how American democracy was born out of European politics. The USA democratic society is truly an evolution in government and law. In some ways, it has similarities with some of the Italian Republics that existed after the Roman Empire. We of course have heavy UK influence in our government systems. Our American Indian History is somewhat lost because Indians didn't have much of a written language.

History can be fun. The whole human race is simply mixed up together.

Posted by
10263 posts

It may be that our form of government was a model for France in the 1790's, since we had dispensed with royalty and aristocracy and established a form of government based on a written constitution establishing a strong executive branch separate from the legislative branch.

Posted by
5461 posts

John Knox did indeed battle with Mary Queen of Scots over religion. And out of all that the Kirk became very powerful. As I said this was a very different Protestantism than England's. Presbyterians have a different from a church government. They are governed by groups of elders, not by a bishop. I recently joined a NYC Presbyterian church and the whole business of Elders, the Session, and Deacons is one that has been very new to me, as one who grew up Congregational and then Unitarian! This is a nice quick history of the church in Scotland.

The Covenanters came about because Charles I and II tried to control the church. It was signed in 1638 in Greyfriars Church in Edinburgh. (Right by the National Museum and known for its graveyard and Greyfriars Bobby.) It was signed by just about everyone and as this article shows it was an appeal to a legal resolution of their differences with the King. I love the Internet. You can read the actual Covenant here. The Scottish civil wars and uprising surrounding the Covenanters certainly contributed to the Puritans and Cromwell and they fought on their side against the King in the first civil war. That caused war in Scotland as well as this was too much for they Royalist and they started fighting the Covenanter who had been the government in Scotland. The Covenanters persisted in trying to get Charles I to come to agreement. Ultimately, the English beheaded him and that and other things split Cromwell and the Covenanters and Cromwell invaded Scotland and once again life was bad in Scotland. When Charles II was restored it got worse for them and that's when the "Killing Time" happened. Go here for more. The National Museum of Scotland has some good exhibits on this. The wig and mask of the outlawed preacher are a bit eerie.

  • There's a BBC program that might be worth watching.
  • And if you want the perspective from The Royal Mile read here.
  • And I like this article, because it too takes you back to James I and VI.

Pam

Posted by
484 posts

It really doesn't take long to get my head spinning with history. There are so many groups involved and interconnections. I'm a bit surprised by the treaty of Aachen. I thought the French would be more protective of a Stuart. I always saw France and England at odds with each other. Plus, the French wanted to get rid of their royalty while the English basically side-lined theirs with a prime minister and parliament.

Posted by
5461 posts

in 1748 you weren't that far away from Louis X!V one of the great Kings of France. The revolution is still 30 years away....Louis XV succeeded his grandfather and it was after his death the chickens came home to roost.

Yep, all this history can really make your head spin! I am so glad to have books and the Internet to remind me of the details! The time of the Covenanters is one of my least favorite times in Scottish history. I guess I'm unhappy any time there are wars over religion.

Pam

Posted by
1239 posts

Pam, you lured me in!

To start with it is very difficult to separate dynasty, religion and state in Europe until the 19th Century. Indeed this is one of the reasons behind the strong anti-clerical/militant secular states most Europeans live in. Even those where there is a state religion tend to be secular in practice, we've been ruled by religion and would rather not have that again, if that is not too much of a problem.

In a Scottish context this becomes complicated. The Highlands were largely Catholic, the southern end of the Western Isles is still Catholic to this day. The North East is the heartland of the Scottish Episcopal Church, with large pockets of Catholicism that survived, with the central belt and the south Presbyterian. From the reign of Mary I through the remaining years f the Stuart dynasty this tension continued to bubble under the surface. When the dynasty was deposed the central belt, mainly the capital crowd, had won. But the act of Union had to cement the Church of Scotland in place otherwise when Queen Anne died it might have been called off. The Act of Union only just passed the Scottish Parliament at the time and then with much effusion of money. There was a rebellion almost immediately in 1715 that was put down by government troops.

Move forward thirty years to 1745. The claimant was BPC's father, who in different circumstances had the making of a decent constitutional monarch. The Hanoverians were not popular, and BPC was the right age for adventure. The clans were his army, reclaiming the Stuart ancestral kingdom, but he never united Scotland. It tends to be forgotten in Scotland where misheard history and folk myth make it 'England v Scotland', that much of the government side was Scottish, it was a Scottish civil war, and the English troops at Culloden wrote home in disgust at the brutality government troops from Scotland were showing to the Highlanders. The repression after the battle was enforced by Scots against other Scots, a way of ending the tribal state in the north once and for all.

To the original question, BPC did not act differently to any other leader of his day. The people existed to serve him not the other way around. In reality he was probably both, a charismatic leader and a coward, blown about by the whims of dynastic politics representing a dynasty without a kingdom. In Scotland if he is thought of at all is as a tragic hero, but as in all things, reality was more complex.

Posted by
5461 posts

MC, and you say it all so much more succinctly! I was going to work in the highlands, lowlands, central belt bit, but got overwhelmed. Something that happens to me frequently when I delve into Scottish history. :)

Posted by
1239 posts

Pam, if you get overwhelmed by Scottish history, don't worry. Historians get overwhelmed by history, even their specialist areas ;-) My degree is in history and I can safely say that every day I realise I do not understand history! Apart from when politicians use it for their own ends, then you can usually tell they are wrong. The best way in is look for the odd bits, realise it is a soap opera and take if the 'hi' which leaves what history is, a story.

The Bruce-Stuart dynasty was the result of a kidnap. By Marjorie, Countess of Carrick, of Robert Bruce the old claimant, father of King Robert I. At least they said that to King Alexander III to get away with it, probably a wee bit more complicated.

Charles I was the first member of the dynasty since Robert III to succeed as an adult, Robert III was father to James I of Scotland, Charles was son to James VI!

The United Kingdom is the result of the biggest reverse take over, when the Scottish Crown subsumed that of England.

And that is part of the back story of BPC!

So if your head is spinning over Scottish history, so if they think about it are the heads of a lot of people. And about English history, Irish history, French history, American history. And just when you think that its gone quiet, in the words of Flower of Scotland 'those days are past now, and in the past they must remain', they have a tendency of rearing their heads. Above religion has been mentioned and the Wee Frees, the ones who used to padlock children's swings on Sundays, have come out for a 'no' in the referendum incase, I kid you not, an independent Scotland might become Catholic.

Posted by
484 posts

It"s nice to read I am not the only one who has difficulty piecing together history. I try to find a story thread and figure that out first. From there, I try to add info. to the basic framework and expand my knowledge. Also, bias can easily creep in. I was raised by a strict Catholic dad. So, I tend to look through the Catholic lens. Then, I briefly joined the Episcopal Church before becoming a full fledged atheist. So, now I see a few things differently. I think it's good to get multiple view points on history. For example, I attended an Indian pow-wow and saw t-shirts that said in 1492 - the Indians discovered Columbus lost at sea. Probably a more accurate version of history. Someone once said - the past is a foreign place. They lived differently then.

Posted by
9 posts

I just want to let you all know how much I've enjoyed reading your discussion of Scottish history. I'm getting ready to visit Scotland for the first time (leaving in 10 days!), and this has inspired me to read up on it more thoroughly. After all, I can't rely entirely on Monty Python for my background information, otherwise I'll be searching in vain for a giant blancmange.
I think I'll start with Pam's suggestions and go on from there.

Posted by
102 posts

Thank you, Barb, for starting this fascinating thread! It's been very hard for me to get any work done since I found it. Pam, MC, Kent and Keith, your insights and comments will keep me busy with my research until I get to Scotland next month. And Pat, I've crossed the blancmange search off my to-do list since the Scots finally did win Wimbledon! Now I hear Doune castle may be closed due to filming a mini-series?

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5461 posts

Historic Scotland doesn't have any indication that Doune is closed. It's the Outlander Series that is being filmed. It looks like they planned all the closures for the off season.

BTW if you want to get your Scottish History on the easy side, explore the Nigel Tranter books. Here's a nice list of them. And here's an amazon link where you can buy them.

Pam

Posted by
484 posts

Pam, thanks for the history links. Wow, I had no idea the Presbyterians were so persecuted. Also, I learned about the Covenanters. Edinburgh must have been absolutely horrible in the 1600's - not just for filth, but for the royal mile displays of executed Presbyterians. Culloden is making a lot more sense to me now. Thanks to everyone else for their history facts as well.

Posted by
9 posts

Pam, thanks for the recommendation on the Tranter books. I've already ordered the history by Mangussen, and one by Neil Oliver. A novel might be just the thing for some light reading while traversing the Atlantic.

Posted by
1239 posts

Barb, 17th century Britain, like most places would not have been a pleasant place to visit. The 17th century is also one of the most turbulent in British history, with civil wars, a coup, and several rebellions. I was asked by a family member when in history I'd like to live and the answer is simple, 'now'. If you were not in the ruling classes it was bad, even in the ruling classes it was bad enough. No, give me modern medicine, safe drinking water, a police service meaning I can go out at night, knowing my female relatives are not facing a lottery giving birth, and male relatives are not going to be dragged away to fight a war with someone whose country they cannot spell the name of. That is if they reach adulthood.

But at the same time, try and judge the past by the standards of the past. Religious oppression was the 'default setting' across western civilization until the 19th century, but in Britain few were executed for being the wrong religion. Most were executed for civil crimes, by refusing too much to obey the religious laws of the day they were refusing to obey the king, and therefore committing treason, which in the 17th Century had to be crushed. If you were not viewed a threat, you were left alone. Both James VI and Charles II had 'previous' with the kirk, specially James VI hence the crown really disliked the presbyterian nature of the Church of Scotland, and it should be noted the Church of Scotland has been presbyterian since 1690, and only under Charles I and Charles II was there a serious attempt to change this.

Having said my first line however, there are plenty of places I'd like to visit in history providing I do not have to come into contact with the era.

Posted by
484 posts

MC I really appreciate your posts. I took a second look at the horrible Glencoe Massacre. I see it in a different light despite its horror. Everything seems to have a back story. The past can really bear down on current society - "cultural baggage" in a sense.
I agree with you about living in our current time. I am all for flushable toilets, toilet paper, antibiotics, and birth control health. Most of us are still alive thanks to antibiotics.

Posted by
12103 posts

Dynastic warfare is one of the themes of 18th century warfare as it was waged in the Age of Reason. In 1745-46 the British Army suffered a major defeat on the continent and won a dramatic victory in the British Isles, ie, the defeat at the hands of the French led by Marshal de Saxe (the hotel in Dresden in front of the Frauenkirche is named after him) at Fontenoy in 1745 and the victory at Culloden in 1746.