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Bonnie Prince Charlie - his dramatic story, plus a gazetteer

Bonnie Prince Charlie wanted the restoration of the Stuart monarchy. The result was civil war and his defeat in 1746. Here's all you need to know about his dramatic time in Scotland  - plus a gazetteer of places to visit. (Culloden is a must see.) 

Bonnie Prince Charlie

Prince Charles Edward Stuart, aka Bonnie Prince Charlie, 1720-1788, was born and died in Italy. He landed in Scotland on the 23rd July 1745, stepping ashore on the island of Eriskay, Outer Hebrides, at the subsequently named Prince's Beach. He left Scotland for ever on the 20th September 1746. This escapade, the final Jacobite uprising, is sometimes called 'the '45'.

As a consequence of this failed rebellion against the Hanoverian crown, the Highland way of life, particularly the clan system, though already changing because of economic factors, was dismantled on government orders. A series of Disarming Acts took effect. Wearing of tartan was even banned.

The culture of the Gaels was seen as a danger to the nation’s stability and had to be broken up and absorbed by the Lowlanders. This policy to subdue the Highlands was carried out regardless of the politics of individual clans – not all of whom (in fact, far from it) were Jacobite sympathisers.

Prince's Beach, Isle of Eriskay

Prince's Beach, Isle of Eriskay

(Pictured) The Prince’s Beach, on Eriskay, where Bonnie Prince Charlie first set foot in Scotland. He was told to go home. Some of these Highlanders must have known he was a heap of trouble.

In fact, in the tide of sentimentality over the escapade, which gradually arose when the brutal events of the rebellion had long passed, it is easily overlooked that Charles’s cause was never overwhelmingly supported.

He probably managed to raise much less than even half the fighting force in the Highlands – and many of these clansmen were coerced by their chiefs to turn up, follow and fight.

What was Bonnie Prince Charlie trying to do?

Bonnie Prince Charlie, as a young man, was handsome, athletic, musical and fluent in Italian, German and Spanish. As a grandson of the last Catholic Stuart king, James VII, he believed that he must regain the British throne from the Protestant Hanoverians. He was therefore the focus of the Jacobite cause. (Lat. Jacobus = James.)

The Jacobites had wide support on the Continent, in Catholic Spain, Italy and, notably, France. The government in London was extremely worried by the activities of the Jacobites and the threat which they represented to the British throne.

Whatever the truth, the hot-headed young man left from St Nazaire in France with only two vessels, one of which was later engaged by the navy. The solitary ‘Du Teillay’ thus arrived in Eriskay, Outer Hebrides where the local Macdonald chieftain told him to go home. In true romantic fashion, Bonnie Prince Charlie said that he had come home – and hence the campaign got under way which was to change forever the Gaelic nation.

Some writers argue that Bonnie Prince Charlie was encouraged by the French to invade Scotland as this was a time of poor relationships between Britain and France, linked to their rivalry over New World colonies. The French hoped Charles’s expedition would create a diversion and tie up the British navy in Scottish waters.

This would leave unescorted British merchant ships in the southern North Sea an easier prey for French-sponsored privateers as well as making possible invasion easier. This view is decidedly ‘bigger picture’ – but a reminder that there were significances far beyond Scotland.

Bonnie Prince Charlie figure on shortbread tin.

Bonnie Prince Charlie figure on shortbread tin.

(Pictured) One of the later results of Jacobite myth-making and subsequent sentimentality was to make Charlie into an iconic and romantic Scottish figure, ideal for, say, decorating shortbread tins.

After the shortbread was eaten, these had very little storage space, which was measured in ‘Jacobytes’ – a very small unit. Click the image to read about shortbread, if you’re bored with Bonnie Prince Charlie. I know I am.

I mean, really, who is that effeminate looking creature in a skirt? I bet if he looked like that in real life he’d never have survived a summer hiding in the Highlands of Scotland. The midges would have killed him.

Where Bonnie Prince Charlie and his supporters went before Culloden

Loch nan Uamh, near Arisaig – the arrival and departure point for the Prince on the Scottish mainland.

Glenfinnan, west of Fort William – the rallying point for supporters (19th August 1745). The ‘Raising of the Standard’ round which the clans gathered took place on the low ground at the head of the loch. The tall lighthouse-like monument that marks the spot today was erected in 1815 and it isn’t the prince on top. It’s just a kilted Highlander. Visitor Centre nearby (National Trust for Scotland) tells the story of the ’45.

The Glenfinnan Monument (pictured here) is a very popular stop on the Fort William to Mallaig road. However, these days probably more people visit the locality to view the Glenfinnan Railway Viaduct, associated with a Harry Potter film. You can see the relative position of the two locations in this picture, taken while afloat on Loch Shiel.

The Glenfinnan Monument (on the right) from Loch Shiel. The figure on top is just a generic Highlander, rather than a statue of Charlie. More interesting for many visitors is the Glenfinnan Railway Viaduct, seen in the background.

The Glenfinnan Monument (on the right) from Loch Shiel. The figure on top is just a generic Highlander, rather than a statue of Charlie. More interesting for many visitors is the Glenfinnan Railway Viaduct, seen in the background.

Corrieyairack Pass, near Fort Augustus – ironically, the Prince’s army went south via the military roads built by General Wade to ensure that government troops could move quickly in the event of rebellion. The highest of these military roads (finished in 1732) crossed the Corrieyairack Pass at 2,500 ft.

Blair Castle, Perthshire – closely associated with the Jacobites as the prominent Murray family who lived in the castle had been split by the rebellion, with brother opposing brother.

Later in the rebellion, with Blair Castle garrisoned by government troops, Lord George Murray, who became the Prince’s very competent Lieutenant General, laid siege to his own home. Blair became the last castle in Britain ever to be besieged. Vistors today can still see the cannonballs used!

Stirling Castle – the Prince and his supporters came via Perth to Stirling on their way south, though it was on their way back north that they tried and failed to capture the stronghold.

Palace of Holyroodhouse, Edinburgh.

Palace of Holyroodhouse, Edinburgh.

Edinburgh – the Jacobites entered unopposed, on the 17th September. Edinburgh Castle was firmly held by government troops. Bonnie Prince Charlie took up residence at the Palace of Holyroodhouse (pictured here) instead.

At the Battle of Prestonpans (21 September) east of Edinburgh, Jacobites routed the government army under General Cope – an event recalled in the popular Scottish song ‘Hey, Johnnie Cope’. They then continued south.

The Jacobite army crossed the border near Kelso and took Carlisle, Manchester and Derby, only 127 miles from London. However, support diminished and, with government armies converging on them, the Jacobites turned back.

Glasgow – the Jacobite army returned to Scotland, passing through Dumfries and Galloway and the Clyde Valley (where the locals were somewhat hostile) to reach Glasgow, already a mercantile city, trading with the Americas.

While here, Charles demanded 12,000 shirts, 6,000 coats and 6,000 pairs of stockings for his ragged army – perhaps finding them in the early shops of what has become the ‘Merchant City’. He also took advantage of its nightlife, attending balls and going out to dinner, as well as reviewing his troops on Glasgow Green.


Falkirk – here they had their last victory, in severe winter wet weather that caused government musketry to misfire. The Jacobite forces defeated another government army under General Hawley, who had his lunch at Callander House interrupted when the Jacobites attacked!

Afterwards, Charles Edward Stuart caught a bad cold and stayed in Bannockburn House, before the Jacobites retreated northwards. The government forces regrouped in Edinburgh.

Things then moved to their conclusion for The Young Pretender on the Battlefield of Culloden Moor. This is what happened on a bleak moor above Inverness on a sleety day in April 1746...

Culloden, 16th April 1746, the final battle

For Bonnie Prince Charlie, the winter of 1745-6 must have been difficult. He still hoped for further support from France and even an invasion in the south of England. His clan chiefs, in an army permanently short of cash and provisions, must have had difficulty keeping their clansmen ‘on side’ – basically, his forces were gradually disintegrating.

Meanwhile, representing the government of the day, the Duke of Cumberland waited for an opportunity to engage the rebels.

Inverness - this was Charles Edward Stuart’s base in the early months of 1746. Some actions took place, the Jacobites capturing Fort Augustus. Cumberland’s forces moved out of Aberdeen in April to finish the rebellion. (Cumberland was King George III’s son and a distant cousin of the Prince.

He earned the name ‘Butcher’ for his later actions, but had widespread support in Scotland and was given the Freedom of Edinburgh on his way north.)

Prince Charles Edward Stuart’s last battle: Culloden, near Inverness. View of Memorial Cairn, looking north.

Prince Charles Edward Stuart’s last battle: Culloden, near Inverness. View of Memorial Cairn, looking north.

(Pictured) On the battlefield of Culloden, looking north, over the narrow (at this point) Moray Firth, to the Black Isle. This pic shows the battlefield memorial cairn. The white-ish dot above the cairn is a plane on its approach to Inverness Airport. Any other dots you see here mean you should clean your screen.


At Culloden Battlefield (east of Inverness) the badly advised, outnumbered and outgunned 5000 Highlanders of the Jacobite army (along with a few Scots and Irish mercenaries from France) were no match for the Government army. It had 6400 foot soldiers and 2400 cavalry. It is often said that more Scots fought for the Hanoverian government than for Charles Edward Stuart.

This in turn is a further reminder that the last battle fought on Scottish and ‘British’ soil was not an England versus Scotland conflict but instead the culmination of a civil war that damaged the Highlands of Scotland both economically and culturally.

Bonnie Prince Charlie after Culloden

On the slopes of Ladhar Bhein, on the edge of the Rough Bounds of Knoydart

On the slopes of Ladhar Bhein, on the edge of the Rough Bounds of Knoydart

(Pictured) Bonnie Prince Charlie country. This is the sort of terrain through which Charles Edward Stuart was hunted after the defeat at Culloden. A hint of the Rough Bounds of Knoydart, looking north to Kintail.

Charles Edward Stuart escaped uninjured from the field. A reward of £30,000 was offered for his capture. (Charles is said to have offered a similar amount for the capture of Hanoverian King George!)

His months of wanderings took him down Loch Ness and to the Outer Hebrides via Morar in the far west. His loyal supporters still gave him shelter. The soon to be famous Flora MacDonald risked her life smuggling him from South Uist to Skye, disguised as her maid.

Tormented by midges, short of food, always aware of the soldiers on his trail, his route then took in the wild trackless country around Loch Morar again, and also by Loch Arkaig where Jacobite treasure is still said to be hidden. He got as far north as beautiful Glen Affric in Inverness shire, then as far east as remote Loch Ericht, north of Rannoch Moor.

He kept a very low profile and was never betrayed. The scale of his wanderings in the Highlands of Scotland suggest that he was certainly very fit and hardy. Finally, he was taken out of Scotland by a French ship after a rendezvous at Lochan nan Uamh, his starting point, between Fort William and Arisaig.

By the way, don't miss the major exhibition on the Prince, from June to November 2017. Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobites is on at the National Museum of Scotland, in Edinburgh.

Also, for further reading, I recommend just about anything by Bruce Lenman. Here's a selection of Jacobite history books on Amazon.

Charles Edward Stuart / Bonnie Prince Charlie

-a bit more information

Ben Loyal from the Kyle of Tongue, Sutherland.

Ben Loyal from the Kyle of Tongue, Sutherland.

(Above) This mountain was a hiding place of a cache of French gold intended for the Jacobites. Is it still there? See entry below.

Culloden: near Inverness. Today, the battlesite is in the care of the National Trust for Scotland. An important – and really excellent – visitor centre interprets the significance of the site. Cafe and well-stocked shop here too – for books and Scottish gifts!

Fort William: West Highland Museum. Jacobite relics, including a secret portrait of Prince Charles Edward Stuart.

Glenfinnan, west of Fort William: Monument erected in 1815 to commemorate the Raising of the Standard. National Trust for Scotland information and displays in nearby Visitor Centre. Outstanding local scenery here looking down Loch Sheil.

Blair Castle, near Pitlochry: The Prince stayed here. Jacobite relics on show.

Prestonpans, East Lothian: Cairn commemorates the battlesite. Ground much altered by subsequent coal mining, though now landscaped.

Palace of Holyroodhouse, Edinburgh: Prince Charles Edward Stuart held court here while in Edinburgh, in the royal residence built by his ancestors.

Ruthven Barracks, Speyside: Originally built after the 1715 rebellion, the army garrison here held out against the Jacobites in 1745, but in the early months of 1746 had to surrender when the Jacobites returned with artillery. After Culloden, the defeated forces attempted to rally here, but finally blew up the barracks and dispersed.

Fort George: East of Inverness. This extraordinary fortification was built in the aftermath of Culloden – Europe’s best and most intact example of an 18th-century fort – the London, England-based, government’s response to the threat (real or imagined) of rebellion in the Highlands of Scotland.

It has never fired a shot in anger, but has been garrisoned since completion in 1769. Visitors can see round the fortifications, many of the interior buildings and also a major interpretation centre.

Ben Loyal, Sutherland: (See picture above.) The Highlands of Scotland are the setting of a number of ‘Jacobite gold’ stories. Attempts were made by the French to send funds to the Jacobite army. A French treasure-ship ran aground in the north of Scotland and though the crew surrendered their gold, rumours persist that some of it was hidden.

Some say the vicinity of Ben Loyal near Tongue is where to look – but nobody has found the treasure yet!

High Bridge, near Spean Bridge: This is where the '45 rebellion actually began. Great walk - well worth the time...

Finally, if time is really hanging heavy on your hands, you should take a look at a whimsical conversation that might or might not have taken place at Glenfinnan, before the uprising got under way. You know, people actually write to me to say I'm not taking this seriously enough. See the blog called Incident at Glenfinnan.