The Prince after Culloden


Charles Edward Stuart as an old man.

In forcing the British government to recognise that they could no longer hold on to the North American colonies, the American Patriots achieved what the Jacobites had failed to do – inflict a decisive defeat on the authority of the British Crown. With the support of the French they had won independence for the newly formed United States of America, and following the second Treaty of Paris of 1783 they were free of British rule. The new nation’s first president was George Washington; he was elected to the post on 30 April 1789, thirty-five years after receiving his first military commission from the British in the fighting that would lead to the expulsion of the French from North America.

By then the Jacobite cause had passed into history and many of its leading lights had gone into exile in Europe. Amongst them was Lord George Murray, perhaps the ablest soldier in the Jacobite army, who spent the next few years restlessly on the move. Having been punished by the forfeiture of his estates, his family was turned out of the family home at Tullibardine Castle in Perthshire; to add to his sense of betrayal, Murray was permanently estranged from Prince Charles Edward Stuart, a result of their disagreements over strategy during the campaign. He died in Medemblik in the Netherlands in 1760, aged sixty-six.

Other Jacobite supporters went into the service of the French army, thereby continuing a long tradition. Both Cameron of Lochiel and Lord Ogilvy took this route, becoming in time the commanding officers of, respectively, Le Regiment d’Albanie and Le Regiment d’Ogilvie, both of which were formed largely ‘from the debris of units that had fought at Culloden and managed to escape’. Ogilvy is also interesting in that he represented his family’s interests while his father, the Earl of Airlie, remained at home. He was not alone in taking that course; so too did other heads of families.

If any family name sums up the mass of social contradictions which encompass the Battle of Culloden, it is Chisholm of Strathglass whose clan chief Maclain had not joined the Jacobite revolt, either because he was too old or, more likely, too canny to commit his people. As a result, during the charge of Clan Chattan some one hundred Chisholms were led into battle by MacIain’s youngest son, Roderick Og Chisholm, who was killed during the last desperate Jacobite onslaught. On the opposing side less than 600 yards away were two of Roderick Og’s brothers, James and John, who wore the red-coated uniform of the Duke of Cumberland’s government army. Both survived the battle. Elsewhere on the field, when the fighting died down, William Boyd, 4th Earl of Kilmarnock and commander of a troop of Prince Charles’s Horse Guards, had been surrounded and offered his surrender to a fusilier officer in Campbell’s regiment. That officer was his eldest son, James Boyd, who eventually succeeded to the earldom following his father’s execution for treason. Like every other internecine war, the Jacobite rebellion had pitted family against family, brother against brother and father against son, proving the adage that in civil war the winners usually gain their victories at dreadful personal cost.

As for the Bonnie Prince, after returning to France in September 1746 he had been upbeat about his position and tried to use his popularity within the country to encourage Louis XV to support a new military expedition aimed at fomenting another Jacobite uprising in Britain. It was not to be: despite the prince’s blandishments and his fading personal charm, the French king proved evasive. Not only had he come to view Charles and his father as a lost cause, but senior commanders such as Saxe argued against any further cross-Channel adventuring on the grounds that it would remove vital military assets from his campaigning in Flanders. After peace in Europe had been settled by the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle, French impatience and British demands led to Charles’s exile to the papal enclave at Avignon at the end of 1748. France had also been able to obfuscate by claiming that any future contact with the Jacobites had to be restricted to the Old Pretender’s court in exile in Rome, and that requisite lasted for a further twenty years – James was not to die until New Year’s Day 1766.

Even so, the flame was not quite extinguished. In the following decade Charles was constantly on the move trying to drum up support, even travelling to London in disguise in 1750 on a vain mission to encourage a fresh uprising amongst English Jacobites. Nothing came of these meetings, and the last realisable effort to mount a coup came in early 1753 with the so-called Elibank Plot. In common with so many Jacobite initiatives, this was strong on optimism and weak on planning and execution. It was also absurd. Dreamed up by Alexander Murray of Elibank, a member of Charles’s inner circle and brother of the James Murray who had served in Wolfe’s army, it involved a convoluted plot to kidnap King George II and his family, who would be held by several hundred Jacobites and taken to France prior to the king’s abdication. Plans were put in place, but so many people became involved in them that confidentiality was impossible and the details became widely known. Thanks to Alastair Ruadh Macdonnell, chief of Glengarry, a former Jacobite supporter who turned coat, the details of the plot were revealed to the authorities; when Charles sent an emissary to Scotland in the shape of Andrew Cameron, Lochiel’s younger brother, he was promptly arrested, tried and executed. Some idea of the quixotic nature of the ill-fated scheme can be seen in Glengarry’s nom de guerre – ‘Pickle the Spy’.

Despite the setback, Charles continued his efforts to find backing. Towards the end of the Seven Years War there was one more attempt to gain French support when the new foreign minister, Étienne François, Duc de Choiseul, proposed a twin-pronged plan for the summer of 1759 which was designed to redress the setbacks in North America. The first part of the plan involved the French in the attack towards Hanover which was to be thwarted by the defeat at Minden in August 1759, while the second part envisaged a projected invasion of Britain later in the year which would involve support from the Jacobites.

Recently ennobled, Choiseul had already served his country as a soldier in the Low Countries, where he reached the rank of lieutenant-general, and had also served as a diplomat in Rome and Vienna. Crucially, he enjoyed the patronage of the king’s mistress and confidante Madame de Pompadour (Jeanne Antoinette Poisson, 1721–64, wife of Charles Guillaume Le Normant d’Étiolles), but he was not without personal merit himself, being highly intelligent, utterly ruthless and remarkably quick witted. He was also a compulsive womaniser and philanderer, who overcame an unexceptional physical appearance with exceptional personal charm which he used to good effect. On a darker note, he was indiscreet and had a reputation for being frivolous and cynical; as one recent commentator put it, ‘all in all he was a seductive but slightly disturbing person’.

In short, Choiseul was probably the right man to oversee France’s diplomatic affairs at a juncture when the Seven Years War was in serious danger of draining France’s exchequer. On the positive side he brought new thinking to the problem and was sufficiently motivated and self-confident to turn ideas into action, but on the negative side he could be a menace in his personal dealings. Although his virtues made him exceptionally sure of himself and therefore an ideal public servant, they also encouraged him to be reckless and frequently vainglorious.

That was the case when he met Charles Edward Stuart in Paris on the evening of 5 February 1759 with a view to resurrecting the invasion plans. It was not an auspicious meeting: not only was the prince hopelessly inebriated – by then a common occurrence — but he was accompanied by Murray of Elibank, whom Choiseul despised. Even so, the meeting did have an agenda, although few notes were taken, and on the surface it should have been to the prince’s liking: Choiseul made it clear that there was no problem finding the money and the forces to mount an invasion of England under the command of Prince Charles de Soubise, who was anxious to regain his military reputation following his crushing defeat by Prussian forces at the Battle of Rossbach in November 1757. There was only one stipulation: that the Jacobites would have to join the enterprise by mounting a diversion on the periphery, in Scotland or Ireland or both.

Unsurprisingly, Charles rejected this plan, not because it failed to give him what he wanted but because he was only interested in acting directly to bring about the defeat of England and the destruction of the house of Hanover. Scotland and Ireland held little interest for him; indeed he continued to fulminate that the failure at Derby had been the fault of his Scottish supporters. For his part, Choiseul made it clear that if the prince’s counterproposal were to be accepted, he would need firm guarantees about military support from sufficient English Jacobites to act in support of the French invasion. Of course Charles could not provide any such assurance, and with some inevitability the evening came to an inconclusive end.

However, that did not put an end to Choiseul’s scheming. Ultimately he was not particularly interested in helping the Jacobites, while Charles’s bibulous behaviour must have repelled him; there was the added frisson that both men were of similar age, but while Choiseul’s star was in the ascendant Charles was going in the opposite direction. Even so, the French foreign minister did not lose sight of the possibility of mounting a cross-Channel invasion in 1759, its main impetus being not so much the restitution of the Stuart dynasty but the defeat of Britain and the crushing of the Hanoverian throne. France had effectively lost control of North America, but if the territory could not be recovered on the other side of the Atlantic it might be won in the English Channel by way of a large-scale invasion of Britain. In other words, French possession of North America could be wrested back in the fields of southern England.

The problem was finding the necessary forces at a time when France was becoming increasingly exhausted by the war and was not in a position to produce the men to mount an invasion. Having decided that the prince was a broken reed and that support from the English Jacobites would not be forthcoming, Choiseul turned his attention to mounting a diplomatic offensive across Europe to gain the necessary military and financial support. But he could find no takers. Sweden, Denmark and the Dutch Republic had the necessary land and naval forces, but were alarmed by the thought of the Stuarts being restored to the British throne and could see no advantages in accepting the French proposal. Not even Spain, no friend of Britain, took up the challenge.

Undeterred, Choiseul pushed ahead with his plans. In August an army of 100,000 began mustering at Vannes in Brittany, and with some difficulty a fleet of transport ships (including flat-bottomed barges) from Nantes and Bordeaux began assembling in the nearby gulf of Morbihan. The plan was that the invasion fleet would be protected by twenty-one warships from Brest under the command of the Marquis de Conflans, who would be joined from Toulon by a smaller fleet of twelve led by Admiral Jean-François de la Clue-Sabran. Unfortunately for the latter commander, when the Toulon fleet left port it was intercepted near Gibraltar by fourteen British ships of the line under the command of Admiral Edward Boscawen, who gave chase off the coast of Cadiz. The resultant battle took place in Portuguese waters near Lagos over two days, 18 and 19 August. During that time Océan (de la Clue-Sabran’s flagship) and Redoutable were driven ashore and destroyed, while Téméraire and Modeste were captured.

It was a decisive victory for Boscawen and effectively ended French hopes of mounting a successful invasion. Even when Conflans put to sea in November with his Brest fleet, having taken advantage of a heavy gale, it was intercepted by twenty-four British ships of the line under the command of Admiral Sir Edward Hawke and decisively defeated on 20 November at Quiberon Bay. For the French this was a serious blow to their naval pride. Not only had six ships been destroyed with the loss of 2500 lives, but their maritime power had been neutralised. Quiberon Bay sealed the fate of the French garrison in Quebec and made the fall of New France inevitable, thus ensuring that Choiseul’s plans for an invasion of England would never come to fruition.

For the Jacobites it was not the end, but it was the beginning of the end. Choiseul’s failure to mount an invasion finally sidelined Charles Edward Stuart. Shorn of leadership, the Jacobites quickly degenerated into a meaningless lost cause, long on sentiment and short on realisable action. Charles’s last years were pitiful. In July 1760 his long-term companion Clementine Walkinshaw tired of his behaviour and left him, taking with her their daughter Charlotte, and he became increasingly isolated. Already a slave to drink, he became ever more abusive and cantankerous and gradually his old entourage drifted away from him. Attempts at arranging a dynastic marriage came to nothing other than a bizarre proxy marriage in 1772 with Princess Louisa of Stolberg-Gedern (1752–1824), and by the following decade the ‘Young Chevalier’ was but a memory from the distant past. On 30 January 1788, almost half a century after Culloden, he died of a stroke in Rome, mainly forgotten and mostly unloved.

It was a sad and unbecoming end for a romantic and once attractive young man who could have changed the course of British history. In his prime Charles was energetic, forceful and charismatic. Those who knew him well testified to his charm and his gallantry; those who served with him in the Jacobite army did not doubt his hardihood, physical courage and soldierly qualities. There is little question that he fulfilled many of the criteria needed by the successful military leader in the field. He had a forceful personality, possessed a firm grasp of tactical thinking and, more than anything else, he was able to maintain the impression that he would not ask his soldiers to do anything he was not prepared to do himself. This was not about cultivating popularity but an integral aspect of his belief that his soldiers needed to be inspired. Encouraging men to believe that they can rise above themselves and master their doubts and fears is one of the marks of a forceful and successful battlefield commander. Whatever his other faults Prince Charles had those qualities.

But there was a less attractive side. He could be headstrong and dogmatic to the point of becoming paranoid about those who served him and who could have saved him from himself As one of his recent biographers has described him, Charles was ‘the man to create a crisis not to solve it’. His personality existed at two extremes which seldom if ever met. In time those character traits became more accentuated, and it is fair to say that towards the end of his life Charles was a most unstable and most unlovable character. His hour came in the wind and the rain of an April day in 1746, yet even by then he had flunked the opportunity to achieve something approaching greatness. As a result of such dichotomies it is still difficult to provide an accurate and fair assessment of this man-child who would be king.

Because of that, and because a heroic lost cause will always live on in people’s hearts, the prince was captured in aspic; he remained ‘Bonnie Prince Charlie’, the romantic figure who launched a thousand whisky bottles and shortbread tins. In time, heroic portraits such as Antonio David’s study of 1729 became the exemplar of the prince in the springtime of life, while Hugh Douglas Hamilton’s grim-faced visage of the same man in middle age, painted in 1785, was an unforgiving memento mori. For good or for ill, both images have helped to cement Prince Charles into historical memory. He remains the courageous leader whose time in Scotland – Bliadhna Thearlaich, ‘the year of Prince Charlie’ – raised hopes for his supporters that the Stuart dynasty could be restored and that he would come into his own. But the harsh fact is that he died a disappointed man, a paranoid soak who failed to understand that his cause was lost not only because he could not restore his power base in the Scottish Highlands but because his French allies were no longer prepared to invest in him. Choiseul’s plan of 1759 was the last and best French chance to invade Britain, and although there were further opportunities in 1779 during the American War of Independence and in 1803–4 during the Napoleonic War, neither plan was realised; nor would either have involved the presence of an ‘enemy within’, as the Jacobites had been in the middle of the eighteenth century. Seen in that unforgiving light, the attempts to unseat the settled order in Britain could never have succeeded without determined French support, and for all Prince Charles’s wishful thinking that failure meant that the Jacobite cause was doomed in 1745 and 1746. Throughout those years, the French flattered to deceive by doing very little to help the Jacobites, while at the same time benefiting from the British government’s very real fears of imminent invasion.


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