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Timeline of Scottish History

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Flora MacDonald

  • Name  : MacDonald
  • Born  : 1722
  • Died  : 1790
  • Category  : Famous Historical Figures
  • Finest Moment : Passing the Young Pretender off as an Irish maid

Born the daughter of a tacksman at Milton, South Uist in the Outer Hebrides, in 1722, her father died soon after she was born. Her mother remarried, to a MacDonald of Armadale. She was brought up by the Clanranald family, then by Lady Margaret MacDonald of Skye. She completed her schooling in Edinburgh.

Flora is now immortalised in Jacobite songs and stories, for her part in the escape of the defeated Charles Edward Stewart, the Young Pretender. She was visiting her brother in South Uist in 1746, when she was approached about helping in a 'fantastical' plan to aid the Prince to reach the Isle of Skye. At that time he was hiding in the Outer Hebrides. She was persuaded and the Prince joined her boat to Skye in Benbecula. He was dressed as an Irish spinning maid called 'Betty Burke' (in a blue and white frock, if you really must know).

They were almost captured by English troops the next morning, but managed to reach the safety of Kilbride, near the home of Lady MacDonald. She helped Flora and the 'Irish maid' to cross the island to Portree. The Prince then left for Raasay, but not before presenting Flora with a gold locket containing his portrait.

The English learned of her role in the escape and she was resident for a spell in the Tower of London, to be released in 1747 by the Act of Indemnity. She returned to Skye where three years later she married Allan MacDonald of Kingsburgh. Johnson and Boswell looked her up on their tour of the Highlands and Islands. Dr Johnson described her as 'A woman of middle stature, soft features, gentle manners and elegant presence.' Her adventures were not quite over however.

In 1774 Flora and Allan MacDonald emigrated to North Caroline. Allan served in the British Army, fighting in the American Revolutionary War until he was captured. Flora returned alone to Scotland in 1779, and lived with her brother in South Uist until her husband was able to rejoin her when they moved back to Kingsburgh.

There she lived to a ripe old age, dying in the very bed that has been occupied by the Prince en route to Portree, and also by Dr Johnson en route to Dunvegan, on 5 March 1790.

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