The King O'er the Water
It is a well-known fact that the grass on the other side is always greener. Perhaps it’s equally true that the prince on the other side of the water—or the throne—is invariably more dashing. I write, of course, of Bonnie Prince Charlie, onetime Pretender to the English throne and the ongoing epicenter of enough adulation to make even a modern rock star jealous. (Although, to be fair, it didn’t take much to be more dashing than George II. Those Hanoverians weren’t exactly known for their looks.)
Known as Bonnie Prince Charlie or the Young Pretender, Charles Edward Stuart was the grandson of James II of England, who had been drummed off the throne after a three year reign by his own daughter, Mary, and her husband, William of Orange, in a little event we all know as the Glorious Revolution of 1688. Raised in exile in Italy, the young prince sailed to Scotland in 1745, at the age of twenty-five, to raise the clans against the Hanoverian King, George II. The rebellion was brutally squished and the Bonnie Prince spent some time skulking about the Highlands before making it back to safety on the Continent. He died in 1788, a broken and disappointed man, who reputedly said of his erstwhile supporters, “I will do for them what they did for me, I shall drink their health”.
What is it about Bonnie Prince Charlie that has elicited such adulation across the centuries? His father, the Old Pretender, led a failed rebellion, too: the ’15 to Bonnie Prince Charlie’s ‘45. Yet one never sees Bonnie Prince Jimmy novelty candy boxes being sold along Princes Street in Edinburgh. It’s always that rascal of a Charlie, sometimes paired with Flora MacDonald (it depends on the size of the candy box).
When you look closely at Charles Edward’s life, it doesn’t bear up with romantic legend. Fond of the bottle, he deteriorated into alcoholism after the collapse of his cause, ruining both his temperament and the profile so beloved of his early portraitists. The drinking proved too much for his common law wife, Clementina Walkinshaw, who left him, taking their daughter with her. In 1772, Charles contracted a formal marriage with a German princess, Louise of Stolberg-Gedern. She left him, too, citing physical cruelty. Not exactly the picture of a prieux chevalier, eh?
Amanda wrote last week about historical saints and sinners, the reputations that have followed various characters through the ages, deserved or not. In Bonnie Prince Charlie’s case, it is the legend of that charming twenty-five year old that has survived, not the reality of the man he became. Wrapped about in myth and legend, he came to encapsulate all the romance of the Lost Cause, wrapped in a kilt and tied in a tartan bow.
Are you a Bonnie Prince Charlie partisan or a Charlie skeptic? Which historical icons leave you cold?