Bonnie Prince Charlie after Culloden

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Bonnie Prince Charlie - After Culloden

The Incredible rise and fall of Bonnie Prince Charlie is one of the most remarkable and romantic stories in Scottish history.

But the truth is that the Prince was an arrogant and badly advised loser whose attempt to seize the British throne brought more than a century of misery and poverty to the Highlands.

After Charles's defeat at Culloden, the British authorities were determined to clamp down on the trouble the Highland clans had caused. They embarked on a policy of repression so brutal and vengeful that it is remembered with anger and bitterness in Scotland to this day.

One of their first acts after the battle was to try and catch the Prince himself, who had eluded them by slipping away from the battlefield while the fighting was still going on.

However, he remained too clever for them. Charles fled the mainland and made for the Hebrides, outwitting both a massive military cordon and a reward of £30,000 which had been offered to anyone prepared to betray him.

One of the most romantic stories surrounding the Prince was his journey from South Uist to Skye in June 1746. With the islands full of troops looking for him, a plot was hatched to smuggle him from the Hebrides under the noses of the Hanoverian forces.

A local, Edinburgh-educated woman called Flora MacDonald was persuaded to help provide the decoy. The Prince was dressed in a blue and white frock and given the name of Betty Burke, with the cover story that he was Flora's Irish serving maid.

The plot worked - the pair were very nearly seized by troops during their journey, but managed to escape without further incident. After landing in Skye, Charles said goodbye to Flora and made his way to the nearby island of Raasay.

Charles then made his way back to the mainland, moving from Moidart to the even more remote Knoydart and living rough in the outdoors and in bothies. As the summer wore on, the authorities realised they had been outwitted and the hunt for him was gradually scaled down.

The French had sent various rescue missions to try and find Charles and get him out of Scotland. Finally, on September 19, they were successful. Charles emerged from hiding and boarded the frigate L'Heureux at Arisaig. It was the end of his adventure and of the Stewart threat to the British throne.

While Charles was on his way back to France and then on the exile in Rome, the British forces in the Highlands were busy. Immediately after the Hanoverian victory at Culloden, the Duke of Cumberland - by now bearing the nickname Butcher for his indiscriminate slaughter of the wounded and the innocent after the battle - was determined to capitalise on his success and teach the unruly Highlanders a lesson they would never forget.

Cumberland quickly consolidated his position by bringing thousands of British soldiers north. They were allowed to pillage the Highland glens, raping the women and putting houses to the torch.

The clan chiefs who had backed the Jacobite cause had their castles burned to the ground and their estates seized. Cattle were plundered and taken south, many of them bought up by traders from Yorkshire. The plan was clear - to strip as much wealth as possible from the Highlands, in the hope that the residents would starve and freeze to death.

Even this, however, was not enough for some supporters of the Hanoverian cause. In London, parliament debated sterilising all women who had supported the Jacobites. Another suggestion offered was to clear the clans out totally and replace them with immigrants from the south.

These suggestions were not acted on, but the law was deliberately changed to suppress the Highland way of life. Highland dress was banned except that worn by regiments of the British army serving abroad, and anyone found wearing tartan illegally could be slaughtered.

The Hanoverians also consolidated their grip on the north by extending their military presence. Field Marshal Wade's road system, originally built to open up the Highlands, was extended and military barracks constructed at places like Fort George near Inverness.

Back in France, Charles received anything but a hero's welcome. He was banished to Italy two years after his return, and in 1750 secretly made his way back to London, where he is said to have proclaimed himself a Protestant and had a relationship with a woman he had first met in Scotland called Clementina Walkenshaw, whose sister was housekeeper to the Dowager Princess of Wales. She bore him a daughter, Charlotte.

By this time, however, the Prince had lost his charm and become a violent, brutish oaf. He beat Clementina so much that she eventually fled from him, and in 1772 he married the teenage Princess Louise of Stolberg.

It was an ill fated match, since by this time Charles was over 50 and had degenerated into a complete drunkard. He beat her, too, and eight years after marrying him, she ran off with a poet.

After this, Charles invited his daughter Charlotte to share his home and made her the Duchess of Albany. He finally died in Rome in 1788, with the last rites performed by his brother Henry, the Cardinal Duke of York. In his will, he left most of his money to Charlotte - the Scots who had laid their lives on the line for him and the cause he represented didn't receive a penny.

The Young Pretender's later life may have been wretched and unworthy, but at least he had money and status. The Highlanders he had used for his futile Jacobite campaign and then abandoned to their fate faced only hostility and utter misery from a merciless Hanoverian regime.

With their old bonds to the land and the clan system of rule broken, many opted to leave Scotland and Britain altogether. They sailed for the New World, settling in places such as North Carolina and working the land in order to make a living.

As more and more Highlanders learned about the opportunities available to them in America, so the numbers crossing the Atlantic swelled. It was the start of a mass emigration which was eventually to lead to Scots becoming a powerful force in the establishment and development of the USA.

Those who decided to take to the seas for a new life in the colonies included Flora MacDonald, who went with her husband Allan and two of their sons.

Flora had been arrested for her part in helping Charles and taken to London, but she had been freed under the terms of a general amnesty and returned to Skye three years later.

She went to America in 1774, where ironically her family helped to fight for the Hanoverian King, George III, against rebels who were staging the first battles in what would ultimately become the successful American struggle against the British Crown for independence.

After this, Flora returned to her native Skye, where she finally died in March 1790. During her lifetime, her fame had spread, and thousands of people attended her funeral. She was buried in a sheet which Charles Edward Stewart had slept in during that fateful Jacobite campaign years before.

Flora MacDonald had played only a small part in a campaign which changed the face of Scotland forever. But in death, she maintained her reputation and her dignity - which is more than can be said for the man she risked everything to save, and whose vanity and desire for the throne almost destroyed the Highlands.

Meanwhile...

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