Charles Edward Stuart- "Bonnie Prince Charlie"

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Charles as a child
Charles as a child



Charles Edward Louis Philip Casimir Stuart was born on December 31 of 1720 at Palazzo Muti in Rome, in the Papal States. He was the son of James Francis Edward Stuart, the “Old Pretender” and Maria Clementina Sobieska, granddaughter of the King of Poland. Charles’ father, James, attempted to regain the English, Scottish and Irish throne in the Jacobite Rising of 1715. This attempt failed, and he was sent into exile. After escaping his home territory, he lived in Avignon, a papal territory in France, until he was offered a place of residence in Rome. Pope Clement XI offered the exiled James a place at the Palazzo del Re in Rome, which he accepted. Charles grew up between Rome and Bologna, both in modern day Italy, however he was surrounded by British and Irish aristocrats, thus growing up in the Catholic, British influence of his family. As a child, he and his parents lived lavishly and with pride. The pope recognised them as the rightful heirs to the British succession, despite the Succession Act (banning Catholics from being monarch) so they were treated as such in Rome.


Stuart Family Tree
Stuart Family Tree

Charles’ ancestry was rooted in the Stuart dynasty, beginning with the reign of King James VI of Scotland/ I of England. King James reigned as King of Scotland until the union of England and Scotland in 1603, making him the king of the two united nations. The Stuart succession was then passed to Charles I, Charles II and ending with James VII of Scotland/ II of England. James II was Catholic and pro-French, something the Protestant English did not
support. After producing an heir that was indeed Catholic, a revolt was staged
by the nobles, pushing for James’ son in law/ nephew, William of Orange (Hanoverian succession), to become the king. This is known as the “Glorious Revolution” of 1688. James made an attempt to regain the throne at the Battle of Boyne in Ireland in
1690, however his Jacobite (Stuart supporting) army was defeated by the Williamites.
James I of England/ VI of Scotland
James I of England/ VI of Scotland

After the defeat,the exiled James fled to France. He was given a place of residence at the Château de Saint-Germaine-en-Laye by his cousin and supporter Louis XIV of France. His final residence here included a small court, where he lived his final days as a pretender (a person who claims to be the rightful heir) to the English and Scottish thrones. Supporters of the Stuart succession were called “Jacobites”, and would make multiple attempts to reinstate the Stuart dynasty.















Explanation of how James I was overthrown by a German noble, here

Charles in military uniform
Charles in military uniform
Charles grew up with a sense of pride for being a Stuart, as his family believed in the divine right of kings, (the monarchs are chosen by God). The topic of regaining the thrones of England and Scotland were constant in his home. As a young man, he was given the title “Prince Regent” by his father, meaning he could act in his father’s name and be recognised as symbolic royalty. In 1745, Charles assembled an army and intended to lead a rebellion, supported by the French, to put his father back on the throne. He landed in Scotland, assembled a force and marched to Edinburgh. The city surrendered, and at the Battle of Prestonpans, on the 21st of September 1745, Charles’ army defeated the only government (Royal) army in Scotland. The army also won the Battle of Falkirk Muir in January of 1746, after they turned back from their march south to Derby, and returned to Scotland. The army finally met their match at the famous bloody battle, the Battle of Culloden Moor.



Battle of Culloden
Battle of Culloden

On April 17th 1746, the Jacobite army under command of Prince Charles came face to face with the British army, under command of the Duke of Cumberland. That morning, 7 000 Jacobite soldiers, from various Highland clans, went up against over 8 000 English soldiers. The Jacobites used their strategy of charging on the opposition, running with swords and shields, while chanting war cries to instill fear in the enemy. They assumed their vengeful and violent charge against the English was enough for them to win, it had been at both Prestonpans and Falkirk Muir. However, as the first line of men charged at the English, muskets were fired and as a result, there were many casualties. In the end, the Royal army was much too strong and better prepared than Charles’. Charles rode away, and the rest of the Jacobite army retreated back. The Jacobites were defeated by the Royal army for the last time, the battle was over in less than an hour. After the battle, Scottish Highlanders went through a period of great oppression, and the Jacobite cause was essentially over- the Stuarts would never have rule over England and Scotland again.
Jacobite rose
Jacobite rose


For a detailed explanation of the Battle of Culloden, click here

Charles as Betty Burke
Charles as Betty Burke


After escaping the battlefield at Culloden, Charles went to the western isles of Northern Scotland, where he figured he would not be found. He was wanted with a reward of £30 000, but even though he was seen and helped by many Highlanders- they never betrayed him. The most well known helper to Prince Charles was a Highland woman named Flora MacDonald. Roughly two months after fleeing Culloden, Charles ended up on the island of South Uist, where he met the young woman. Although members of her family were part of the Hanoverian army, she was persuaded to help the prince.
Flora MacDonald
Flora MacDonald

Flora received permission from her step-father to travel to Uist. Before this journey she disguised the prince as an Irish maid, “Betty Burke”. The two travelled together to the Isle of Skye, where Flora saw Charles for the last time. Legendary and romanticised stories say Charles gave Flora a locket with a painting of him in it. After arriving on Skye, Charles fled to France in a French ship, L'Heureux, and he arrived back in France in September.




An elderly Charles, c. 1775
An elderly Charles, c. 1775
Charles spent the rest of his life on the continent, aside from a small and secret trip to London (where he attempted to become protestant to become king, this plan failed and he returned to the continent). He lived in France until 1748, after he was expelled as a result of the Treaty Aix-la-Chapelle, which ended the war between England and France. Eventually, he moved to modern day Italy, first living in Rome and then Florence. Charles died from a stroke at the age of 68 in Rome, on the 31st of January in 1788. He was buried at the Frascati Cathedral in Rome but moved to St. Peter’s Basilica when his brother Henry died in 1807. He was laid to rest with his brother and parents in the crypt. Charles will forever be known as the “Young Pretender”, after his father’s title of the “Old Pretender”, and more commonly Bonnie Prince Charlie, supposedly for being a handsome young man.

The Bonnie Prince is widely recognised throughout both Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom, as the second pretender king. Many pop culture references have been made to his life and actions from multiple sources. Sir Walter Scott, a Scottish Lowlands writer included references to Charles and his ‘45 rebellion in his novel, Waverley. He is an important figure in the television and novel series “Outlander” by Diana Gabaldon. His most well known popular culture reference however comes in the form of a song, the “Skye Boat Song”, where his journey from Uist to Skye is encapsulated in a Scottish folk song. Although highly romanticised, his story won’t ever escape the minds of the Scottish. Love him or hate him, he was the Bonnie Prince.