Henry's Songbook

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Skye Boat Song

  • (MacLeod / Harold Boulton)

    Speed bonnie boat like a bird on the wing
    Onward, the sailors cry
    Carry the lad that's born to be king
    Over the sea to Skye

    Loud the winds howl, loud the waves roar
    Thunderclaps rend the air
    Baffled, our foes stand on the shore
    Follow they will not dare

    Though the waves leap soft shall you sleep
    The ocean's a royal bed
    Rocked on the deep Flora will keep
    Watch by your weary head

    Many's the lad fought on that day
    Well the claymore could wield
    When the night came, silently lay
    Dead on Culloden's field

    Burnt are our homes, exile and death
    Scatter the loyal men
    Yet ere the sword is cool in its sheath
    Charlie will come again

    (as sung by The Spinners)

    Sing me a song of a lad that is gone
    Say, could that lad be l
    Merry of soul, he sailed on a day
    Over the sea to Skye

    Mull was astern, Rhum to the port
    Eigg on the starboard bow
    Glory of youth glowed in his soul
    Where is that glory now

    Speed bonny boat, like a bird on a wing
    Onward, the sailors cry
    Carry the lad that's born to be King
    Over the sea to Skye

    (as sung by The McCalmans - first two verses by Robert Louis Stevenson)

Susannes Folksong-Notizen

  • [1786:] From what [Miss Flora Macdonald] told us, and from what I was told by others personally concerned, and from a paper of information which Rasay was so good as to send me, at my desire, I have compiled the following abstract, which, as it contains some curious anecdotes, will, I imagine not be uninteresting to my readers, and even, perhaps, be of some use to future historians.

    Prince Charles Edward, after the battle of Culloden, was conveyed to what is called the Long Island, where he lay for some time concealed. But intelligence having been obtained where he was, and a number of troops having come in to quest him, it became absolutely necessary for him to quit that country without delay. Miss Flora Macdonald, then a young lady, animated by what she thought the sacred principle of loyalty, offered, with the magnanimity of a heroine, to accompany him in an open boat to Sky, though the coast they were to quit was guarded by ships. He dressed himself in women's clothes, and passed as her supposed maid, by the name of Betty Bourke, an Irish girl. They got off undiscovered, though several shots were fired to bring them to, and landed at Mugstot, the seat of Sir Alexander Macdonald. Sir Alexander was then at Fort Augustus, with the Duke of Cumberland; but his lady was at home. Prince Charles took his post upon a hill near the house. Flora Macdonald waited on Lady Margaret, and acquainted her of the enterprise in which she was engaged. Her ladyship, whose active benevolence was ever seconded by superior talents, shewed a perfect presence of mind, and readiness of invention, and at once settled that Prince Charles should be conducted to old Rasay, who was himself concealed with some select friends. The plan was instantly communicated to Kingsburgh, who was dispatched to the hill to inform the Wanderer, and carry him refreshments. When Kingsburgh approached, he started up, and advanced, holding a large knotted stick, and in appearance ready to knock him down, till he said, 'I am Macdonald of Kingsburgh, come to serve your highness.' The Wanderer answered, 'It is well,' and was satisfied with the plan.

    Flora Macdonald dined with Lady Margaret, at whose table there sat an officer of the army, stationed here with a party of soldiers, to watch for Prince Charles in case of his flying to the island of Sky. She afterwards often laughed in good humour with this gentleman, on her having so well deceived him.

    After dinner, Flora Macdonald on horseback, and her supposed maid, and Kingsburgh, with a servant carrying some linen, all on foot, proceeded towards that gentleman's house. Upon the road was a small rivulet which they were obliged to cross. The Wanderer, forgetting his assumed sex, that his clothes might not be wet, held them up a great deal too high. Kingsburgh mentioned this to him, observing, it might make a discovery. He said he would be more careful for the future. He was as good as his word; for the next brook they crossed, he did not hold up his clothes at all, but let them float upon the water. He was very awkward in his female dress. His size was so large, and his strides so great, that some women whom they met reported that they had seen a very big woman, who looked like a man in woman's clothes, and that perhaps it was (as they expressed themselves) the Prince, after whom so much search was making.

    At Kingsburgh he met with a most cordial reception; seemed gay at supper, and after it indulged himself in a cheerful glass with his worthy host. As he had not had his clothes off for a long time, the comfort of a good bed was highly relished by him, and he slept soundly till next day at one o'clock.

    The mistress of Corrichatachain told me, that in the forenoon she went into her father's room, who was also in bed, and suggested to him her apprehensions that a party of the military might come up, and that his guest had better not remain here too long. Her father said, 'Let the poor man repose himself after his fatigues; and as for me, I care not, though they take off this old grey head ten or eleven years sooner than I should die in the course of nature.' He then wrapped himself in the bed-clothes,and again fell fast asleep.

    On the afternoon of that day, the Wanderer, still in the same dress, set out for Portree, with Flora Macdonald and a man servant. His shoes being very bad, Kingsburgh provided him with a new pair, and taking up the old ones, said, 'I will faithfully keep them till you are safely settled at St James's. I will then introduce myself by shaking them at you, to put you in mind of your night's entertainment and protection under my roof.' He smiled, and said, 'Be as good as your word!' Kingsburgh kept the shoes as long as he lived. After his death, a zealous Jacobite gentleman gave twenty guineas for them.

    Old Mrs Macdonald, after her guest had left the house, took the sheets in which he had lain, folded them carefully, and charged her daughter that they should be kept unwashed, and that, when she died, her body should be wrapped in them as a winding sheet. Her will was religiously observed.

    Upon the road to Portree, Prince Charles changed his dress, and put on man's clothes again; a tartan short coat and a waistcoat, with philibeg and short hose, and a wig and bonnet.

    Mr Donald M'Donald, called Donald Roy, had been sent express to the present Rasay, then the young laird, who was at that time at his sister's house, about three miles from Portree, attending his brother, Dr Macleod, who was recovering of a wound he had received at the battle of Culloden. Mr M'Donald communicated to young Rasay the plan of conveying the Wanderer to where old Rasay was; but was told that old Rasay had fled to Knoidart, a part of Glengary's estate. There was then a dilemma what should be done. Donald Roy proposed that he should conduct the Wanderer to the main land; but young Rasay thought it too dangerous at that time, and said it would be better to conceal him in the island of Rasay, till old Rasay could be informed where he was, and give his advice what was best. But the difficulty was, how to get him to Rasay. They could not trust a Portree crew, and all the Rasay boats had been destroyed, or carried off by the military except two belonging to Malcolm M'Leod, which he had concealed somewhere.

    Dr Macleod being informed of this difficulty, said he would risk his life once more for Prince Charles; and it having occurred, that there was a little boat upon a fresh water lake in the neighbourhood, young Rasay and Dr Macleod, with the help of some women, brought it to the sea, by extraordinary exertion, across a Highland mile of land, one half of which was bog, and the other a steep precipice.

    These gallant brothers, with the assistance of one little boy, rowed the small boat to Rasay, where they were to endeavour to find Captain M'Leod, as Malcolm was then called, and get one of his good boats, with which they might return to Portree, and receive the Wanderer; or, in case of not finding him, were to make the small boat serve, though the danger was considerable.

    Fortunately, on their first landing, they found their cousin Malcolm, who, with the utmost alacrity, got ready one of his boats, with two strong men, John M'Kenzie and Donald M'Friar. Malcolm, being the oldest man, and most cautious, said, that as young Rasay had not hitherto appeared in the unfortunate business, he ought not to run any risk; but that Dr Macleod and himself, who were already publickly engaged, should go on this expedition. Young Rasay answered, with an oath, that he would go, at the risk of his life and fortune. 'In God's name then,' said Malcolm, 'let us proceed.' The two boatmen, however, now stopped short, till they should be informed of their destination; and M'Kenzie declared he would not move an oar till he knew where they were going. Upon which they were both sworn to secrecy; and the business being imparted to them, they were eager to put off to sea without loss of time. The boat soon landed about half a mile from the inn at Portree.

    All this was negotiated before the Wanderer got forward to Portree. Malcolm M'Leod, and M'Friar, were dispatched to look for him. In a short time he appeared, and went into the publick house. Here Donald Roy, whom he had seen at Mugstot, received him, and informed him of what had been concerted. He wanted silver for a guinea, but the landlord had only thirteen shillings. He was going to accept of this for his guinea; but Donald Roy very judiciously observed, that it would discover him to be some great man; so he desisted. He slipped out of the house, leaving his fair protectress, whom he never again saw; and Malcolm Macleod was presented to him by Donald Roy, as a captain in the army. Young Rasay and Dr Macleod had waited, in impatient anxiety, in the boat. When he came, their names were announced to him. He would not permit the usual ceremonies of respect, but saluted them as his equals.

    Donald Roy staid in Sky, to be in readiness to get intelligence, and give an alarm in case the troops should discover the retreat to Rasay; and Prince Charles was then conveyed in a boat to that island in the night. He slept a little upon the passage, and they landed about day- break. There was some difficulty in accommodating him with a lodging, as almost all the houses in the island had been burnt by soldiery. They repaired to a little hut, which some shepherds had lately built, and having prepared as well as they could, and made a bed of heath for the stranger, they kindled a fire, and partook of some provisions which had been sent with him from Kingsburgh. It was observed, that he would not taste wheat- bread, or brandy, while oat- bread and whisky lasted; 'for these', said he, 'are my own country's bread and drink'. This was very engaging to the Highlanders.

    Young Rasay being the only person of the company that durst appear with safety, he went in quest of something fresh for them to eat; but though he was amidst his own cows, sheep, and goats, he could not venture to take any of them for fear of discovery, but was obliged to supply himself by stealth. He therefore caught a kid [sic!], and brought it to the hut in his plaid, and it was killed and drest, and furnished them a meal which they relished much. The distressed Wanderer, whose health was now a good deal impaired by hunger, fatigue, and watching, slept a long time, but seemed to be frequently disturbed. Malcolm told me he would start from broken slumbers, and speak to himself in different languages, French, Italian, and English. I must however acknowledge, that it is highly probable that my worthy friend Malcolm did not know precisely the difference between French and Italian. One of his expressions in English was, 'O God! Poor Scotland!'

    While they were in the hut, M'Kenzie and M'Friar, the two boatmen, were placed as sentinels upon different eminences; and one day an incident happened, which must not be omitted. There was a man wandering about the island, selling tobacco. Nobody knew him, and he was suspected to be a spy. M'Kenzie came running to the hut, and told that this suspected person was approaching. Upon which the three gentlemen, young Rasay, Dr Macleod, and Malcolm, held a council of war upon him, and were unanimously of opinion that he should instantly be put to death. Prince Charles, at once assuming a grave and even severe countenance, said, 'God forbid that we should take away a man's life, who may be innocent, while we can preserve our own.' The gentlemen however persisted in their resolution, while he as strenuously continued to take the merciful side. John M'Kenzie, who sat watching at the door of the hut, and overheard the debate, said in Erse, 'Well, well; he must be shot. You are the king, but we are the parliament, and will do what we choose.' Prince Charles, seeing the gentlemen smile, asked what the man had said, and being told it in English, he observed that he was a clever fellow, and, notwithstanding the perilous situation in which he was, laughed loud and heartily. Luckily the unknown person did not perceive that there were people in the hut, at least did not come to it, but walked on past it, unknowing of his risk. It was afterwards found out that he was one of the Highland army, who was himself in danger. Had he come to them, they were resolved to dispatch him; for, as Malcolm said to me, 'We could not keep him with us, and we durst not let him go. In such a situation, I would have shot my brother, if I had not been sure of him.' John M'Kenzie was at Rasay's house, when we were there. (Footnote: This old Scottish Member of Parliament, I am informed, is still living. (1785)) About eighteen years before, he hurt one of his legs when dancing, and being obliged to have it cut off, he now was going about with a wooden leg. The story of his being a Member of Parliament is not yet forgotten. I took him out a little way from the house, gave him a shilling to drink Rasay's health, and led him into a detail of the particulars which I have just related. With less foundation, some writers have traced the idea of a parliament, and of the British constitution, in rude and early times. I was curious to know, if he had really heard, or understood, anything of that subject, which, had he been a greater man, would probably have been eagerly maintained. 'Why, John', said I, 'did you think the king should be controuled by a parliament?' He answered, 'I thought, sir, there were many voices against one.'

    The conversation then turning on the times, the Wanderer said, that to be sure, the life he had led of late was a very hard one; but he would rather live in the way he now did, for ten years, than fall into the hands of his enemies. The gentlemen asked him, what he thought his enemies would do with him, should he have the misfortune to fall into their hands. He said, he did not believe they would dare to take his life publickly, but he dreaded being privately destroyed by poison or assassination. He was very particular in his inquiries about the wound which Dr Macleod had received at the battle of Culloden, from a ball which entered at one shoulder, and went cross [sic!] to the other. The doctor happened still to have on the coat which he wore on that occasion. He mentioned, that he himself had his horse shot under him at Culloden; that the ball hit the horse about two inches from his knee, and made him so unruly that he was obliged to change him for another. He threw out some reflections on the conduct of the disastrous affair at Culloden, saying, however, that perhaps it was rash in him to do so. I am now convinced that his suspicions were groundless; for I have had a good deal of conversation upon the subject with my very worthy and ingenious friend, Mr Andrew Lumisden, who was under secretary to Prince Charles, and afterwards principal secretary to his father at Rome, who, he assured me, was perfectly satisfied both of the abilities and honour of the generals who commanded the Highland army on that occasion. Mr Lumisden has written an account of the three battles in 1745-6, at once accurate and classical. Talking of the different Highland corps, the gentlemen who were present wished to have his opinion which were the best soldiers. He said, he did not like comparisons among those corps: they were all best.

    He told his conductors, he did not think it advisable to remain long in any one place; and that he expected a French ship to come for him in Lochbroom, among the Mackenzies. It then was proposed to carry him in one of Malcolm's boats to Lochbroom, though the distance was fifteen leagues coastwise. But he thought this would be too dangerous, and desired that at any rate, they might first endeavour to obtain intelligence. Upon which young Rasay wrote to his friend, Mr M'Kenzie of Applecross, but received an answer, that there was no appearance of any French ship.

    It was therefore resolved that they should return to Sky, which they did, and landed in Strath, where they reposed in a cow- house belonging to Mr Niccolson of Scorbreck. The sea was very rough, and the boat took in a good deal of water. The Wanderer asked if there was danger, as he was not used to such a vessel. Upon being told there was not, he sung an Erse song with much vivacity. He had by this time acquired a good deal of the Erse language.

    Young Rasay was now dispatched to where Donald Roy was, that they might get all the intelligence they could; and the Wanderer, with much earnestness, charged Dr Macleod to have a boat ready, at a certain place about seven miles off, as he said he intended it should carry him in a matter of great consequence; and gave the doctor a case, containing a silver spoon, knife, and fork, saying, 'keep you that till I see you', which the doctor understood to be two days from that time. But all these orders were only blinds; for he had another plan in his head, but wisely thought it safest to trust his secrets to no more persons than was absolutely necessary. Having then desired Malcolm to walk with him a little way from the house, he soon opened his mind, saying, 'I deliver myself to you. Conduct me to the Laird of M'Kinnon's country.' Malcolm objected that it was very dangerous, as so many parties of soldiers were in motion. He answered, 'There is nothing now to be done without danger.' He then said, that Malcolm must be the master, and he the servant; so he took the bag, in which his linen was put up, and carried it on his shoulder; and observing that his waistcoat, which was of scarlet tartan, with a gold twist button, was finer than Malcolm's, which was of a plain ordinary tartan, he put on Malcolm's waistcoat, and gave him his; remarking at the same time, that it did not look well that the servant should be better dressed than the master.

    Malcolm, though an excellent walker, found himself excelled by Prince Charles, who told him, he should not much mind the parties that were looking for him, were he once but a musquet shot from them; but that he was somewhat afraid of the highlanders who were against him. He was well used to walking in Italy, in pursuit of game; and he was even now so keen a sportsman, that, having observed some partridges, he was going to take a shot; but Malcolm cautioned him against it, observing that the firing might be heard by the tenders who were hovering upon the coast.

    As they proceeded through the mountains, taking many a circuit to avoid any houses, Malcolm, to try his resolution, asked him what they should do, should they fall in with a party of soldiers: he answered. 'Fight to be sure!' Having asked Malcolm if he should be known in his present dress, and Malcolm having replied he would, he said, 'Then I'll blacken my face with powder.' 'That,' said Malcolm, 'would discover you at once.'

    'Then,' said he, 'I must be put in the greatest dishabille possible.' So he pulled off his wig, tied a handkerchief round his head, and put his night- cap over it, tore the ruffles from his shirt, took the buckles out of his shoes, and made Malcolm fasten them with strings; but still Malcolm thought he would be known. 'I have so odd a face,' said he, 'that no man ever saw me but he would know me again.'

    He seemed unwilling to give credit to the horrid narrative of men being massacred in cold blood, after victory had declared for the army commanded by the Duke of Cumberland. He could not allow himself to think that a general could be so barbarous.

    When they came within two miles of M'Kinnon's house, Malcolm asked if he chose to see the laird. 'No,' said he, 'by no means. I know M'Kinnon to be as good and as honest a man as any in the world, but he is not fit for my purpose at present. You must conduct me to some other house; but let it be a gentleman's house.' Malcolm then determined that they should go to the house of his brother- in- law, Mr John M'Kinnon, and from thence be conveyed to the main land of Scotland, and claim the assistance of Macdonald of Scothouse. The Wanderer at first objected to this, because Scothouse was cousin to a person of whom he had suspicions. But he acquiesced in Malcolm's opinion.

    When they were near Mr John M'Kinnon's house, they met a man of the name of Ross, who had been a private soldier in the Highland army. He fixed his eyes steadily on the Wanderer in his disguise, and having at once recognized him, he clapped his hands, and exclaimed, 'Alas! is this the case?' Finding that there was now a discovery, Malcolm asked, 'What's to be done?' 'Swear him to secrecy,' answered Prince Charles. Upon which Malcolm drew his dirk, and on the naked blade, made him take a solemn oath, that he would say nothing of having seen the Wanderer, till his escape should be made publick.

    Malcolm's sister, whose house they reached pretty early in the morning, asked him who the person was that was along with him. He said it was one Lewis Caw, from Crieff, who being a fugitive like himself, for the same reason, he had engaged him as his servant, but that he had fallen sick. 'Poor man!' said she, 'I pity him. At the same time my heart warms to a man of his appearance.' Her husband was gone a little way from home; but was expected every minute to return. She set down to her brother a plentiful Highland breakfast. Prince Charles acted the servant very well, sitting at a respectful distance, with his bonnet off. Malcolm then said to him, 'Mr Caw, you have as much need of this as I have; there is enough for us both: you had better draw nearer and share with me.' Upon which he rose, made a profound bow, sat down at table with his supposed master, and eat [sic!] very heartily. After this there came in an old woman, who, after the mode of ancient hospitality, brought warm water, and washed Malcolm's feet. He desired her to wash the feet of the poor man who attended him. She at first seemed averse to this, from pride, as thinking him beneath her, and in the periphrastick language of the highlanders and the Irish, said warmly, 'Though I wash your father's son's feet, why should I wash his father's son's feet?' She was however persuaded to do it.

    They then went to bed, and slept for some time; and when Malcolm awaked, he was told that Mr John M'Kinnon, his brother- in- law, was in sight. He sprang out to talk to him before he should see Prince Charles. After saluting him, Malcolm, pointing to the sea, said, 'What, John, if the prince should be prisoner on board one of those tenders?' 'God forbid!' replied John. 'What if we had him here?' said Malcolm. 'I wish we had,' answered John; 'we should take care of him.' 'Well, John,' said Malcolm, 'he is in your house.' John, in a transport of joy, wanted to run directly in, and pay his obeisance; but Malcolm stopped him, saying, 'Now is your time to behave well, and do nothing that can discover him.' John composed himself, and having sent away all his servants upon different errands, he was introduced into the presence of his guest, and was then desired to go and get ready a boat lying near his house, which, though but a small leaky one, they resolved to take, rather than go to the Laird of M'Kinnon. John M'Kinnon, however, thought otherwise; and upon his return told them, that his chief and Lady M'Kinnon were coming in the laird's boat. Prince Charles said to his trusty Malcolm. 'I am sorry for this, but must make the best of it.' M'Kinnon then walked up from the shore, and did homage to the Wanderer. His lady waited in a cave, to which they all repaired, and were entertained with cold meat and wine. Mr Malcolm M'Leod being now superseded by the Laird of M'Kinnon, desired leave to return, which was granted him, and Prince Charles wrote a short note, which he subscribed 'James Thompson', informing his friends that he had got away from Sky, and thanking them for their kindness; and he desired this might be speedily conveyed to young Rasay and Dr Macleod, that they might not wait longer in expectation of seeing him again. He bade a cordial adieu to Malcolm, and insisted on his accepting of a silver stock- buckle, and ten guineas from his purse, though, as Malcolm told me, it did not appear to contain above forty. Malcolm at first begged to be excused, saying, that he had a few guineas at his service; but Prince Charles answered, 'You will have need of money. I shall get enough when I come upon the main land.'

    The Laird of M'Kinnon then conveyed him to the opposite coast of Knoidart. Old Rasay, to whom intelligence had been sent, was crossing at the same time to Sky; but as they did not know of each other, and each had apprehensions, the two boats kept aloof. [...] Here I stop, having received no farther authentic information of his fatigues and perils before he escaped to France. (James Boswell, The Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides with Samuel Johnson LL.D., Penguin ed., p 267ff. )

  • [1970:] Passed off by countless music teachers to their small charges as a folk song. It never was [...] until the folk clubs took it over. (Notes 'Spotlight On The Spinners')

  • [1972:] [Charles Edward Stuart's] flight was a desperate business; he was an embarrassment to the chiefs into whose land he came; only reluctantly did Flora Macdonald, whose father was with the government forces, convey him to Skye [...]. (Mackie 275)

  • [1978:] After his defeat at Culloden, Prince Charles Edward Stuart, 'Bonnie Prince Charlie', was a hunted fugitive in the highlands of Scotland for several months. In spite of fabulous rewards offered, and the danger to their own lives the poor people of the highlands kept him hidden till he could be smuggled to the Isle of Skye and onto a French ship, and safety.
    (Notes Iain MacKintosh & Hamish Imlach, 'A Man's A Man')

  • [1987:] Half of the tune is an old Highland sea-shanty noted down in 1879 by Miss A. MacLeod [...] who added the other half of the tune. The words were written in 1884 by Sir Harold Boulton. (R. L. Stevenson wrote alternative words.) (Walker, Uprisings 40)

  • [1991:] We discovered the song was written by an Englishman less than a hundred years ago, while on holiday in the Schwarzwald. The melody is Scottish, however. (Intro Hamish Imlach)

  • [1995:] Two hundred [and fifty] years ago this summer, Charles Edward Stuart landed at Loch nan Uamh, a wild and beautiful sealoch on the Arisaig coast, to launch his doomed bid to reclaim his grandfather's throne. [...] Why does the last Jacobite Rising still fascinate us? Even by 1745, the Jacobite cause was an anachronism [...], a reckless cause. Most Highland chiefs declined to become involved. Most Scots received the Young Pretender with hostility or indifference. More, in fact, would fight for the Hanoverian status quo than for the half-Polish, half-Italian prince. With the collapse of the enterprise in April 1746, Scotland suffered great hardships, and in the glens of the west Government forces committed atrocities that fell, in many districts, only a little short of genocide.

    The Stuarts, if glamorous, had proved truly hopeless monarchs [from Charles I to James II]. Most sensible Scots were heartily glad to see the back of the line. So why, today, do we honour their grandson as a Scottish hero, and - in our cups - lament the retreat from Derby, the Culloden catastrophe, the collapse, with the 45 of much, like the Highland clan system, that was never to be rebuilt?

    [...] What would have happened if Charles Edward had carried his army beyond Derby? Would we have won London, and the throne of the Union? And if so, what kind of world would we know today? My personal view - shared by most of the new Jacobite historians, like Dr Frank McLynn - is that the Prince would have taken London, and would have carried the day; little more than a mob stood, shaking in their boots on Finchley Common, between the Prince and the throne, and the serious Hanovarian [sic] forces were too far north to intervene. Charles Edward was let down by his character - too many promises of French support that failed to materialise - and so lost the confidence of his commanders. The key commander, Lord George Murray, was too nervous, too narrow-minded, to appreciate the vital military principle of concentrated force. [The Prince] turned tail and went home in a sulk. And he began, then, the heavy drinking which would destroy him.

    Then there is what we do know. That, after Culloden, death and destruction swept the Highlands. Scotland as a whole was, for many years, marginalised in the Union. The clan chiefs grew distant from their people. There came kelp, sheep, the Clearances and Balmorality. It is hard to believe that what would have befallen us after Charles Edward's success would have been as appalling as the fruits of his failure.

    There is also Charles Edward himself. When the last of the Stuart line was safely dead, and Sir Walter Scott got to work, Jacobitism was rehabilitated, glamourised. [...] For 100 years, bookshelves on the 45 groaned under the volumes of sickly romantic claptrap, their authors as keen to pledge present fealty for the House of Windsor as they were to deify Charles Edward Stuart. Nearer our own time, reaction set in. Gordon Donaldson and others demolished the man and his cause. It has taken such as McLynn, or Bruce Lenman, in recent years to restore perspective to these events.

    Charles Edward, of course, was romantic. He was tall, witty, merry and - by the foppish standards of the day - very handsome. He had a shrewd gift for show and pageant. When, in 1715, his father had landed briefly at Peterhead, the Old Pretender faced the Jacobites in drab guard, unbending pomposity, and rigid formality. Charles Edward swathed himself in tartan, circulated freely, laughed a great deal, and personally tended the wounded after Prestonpans. It must be said of him - unlike his efficient but evil cousin, the Duke of Cumberland - that Charles Edward was an honourable soldier. He eschewed all atrocities, insisted on care for the casualties of both sides, and shrank even from the most necessary extremes of military discipline. He was a good deal more able than we gave him credit for. He could speak the principal European languages; by the time he fled to France, in September 1746, he had actually mastered Gaelic. He was supremely fit. He could swim strongly and was an astonishing shot, able to bring down game on the wing. On a thousand shortbread tins Charles Edward may look like a painted poof. He was actually a tough and interesting guy.

    He lost, at the last, because of a fatal lack of character. Character is known only in adversity, and adversity did not become the Stuarts. Defeated, imprisoned, exiled, all that line tended to lapse into psychopathic religiosity or the charms of poxy mistresses. Charles Edward took to the bottle. He blamed everyone but himself. [...] He had a fatal inability to assess the men about him, and put more and more confidence in various disreputable Irishmen even as he berated and riled the tedious, but gifted, Lord George Murray. It was Charles Edward, personally and pig-headedly, who insisted on the disastrous stance on Drummossie Moor [Culloden], resisting all beseeching to withdraw to a more sensible spot for a Highland army.

    When he left Scotland, he was still only 26 years old. He had another 40 years to live. He spent them in drink and vainglory refusing even to remember what his lost cause had brought to the Highlanders he genuinely loved, and never saw again. (John Macleod, The Herald, June 13)


  • Cf 'Strong Women Rule the World' for the other side of the coin

Quelle: Scotland

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