In June 1745, Charles Edward Stuart, aka 'Bonnie Prince Charlie', had one key aim: regaining the thrones his grandfather, the Roman Catholic convert James VII of Scotland and II of England and Ireland, had lost in 1688–90 to his nephew and son-in-law William of Orange (who reigned as William III).


This 'glorious’ revolution' had confirmed a Protestant succession, in a predominantly Protestant Great Britain, which, from 1714, was embodied in the Hanoverian dynasty.

Following George I’s accession, several risings in support of the exiled Stuarts occurred, most notably in the years 1715 and 1719. By this stage, on the death of James VII and II in 1701, the chief claimant (or ‘old pretender’) was his only legitimate son James Francis Edward (b1688), who was the father of 'Bonnie Prince Charlie' (b1720).

What did the Jacobites want to achieve?

“The Stuarts had reigned in Scotland for centuries, and the Jacobites craved the reinstatement of the Stuart male line,” says Christopher Whatley, professor of Scottish history at the University of Dundee. “They championed the claim of the exiled James Francis Edward Stuart, son of the deposed James II and VII, the man after whom the movement was named [Jacobus being derived from the Latin form of James].

“What’s more, many Scots had been antagonised by King William’s imposition of Presbyterianism – a more austere form of Protestantism – as the Church of Scotland. Making James Francis Edward Stuart (the ‘Old Pretender’) king would herald changes to the practice of religion in Scotland.”

The Jacobite rebellions were also, says Whatley, a reaction to the union of Scotland and England in 1707. “The later Stuarts were not especially well loved, but the union was even less so,” he says. “Anti-unionism – and Scottish independence – was a strong component of support for Jacobitism in Scotland in the early 18th century.”

Did Bonnie Prince Charlie lead the Jacobites?

A French invasion of Britain in support of the Stuarts in early 1744 had been abandoned, mainly due to severe weather, leaving Charles, who had arrived in France to lead the invasion, kicking his heels in Paris.

Losing patience with the lack of commitment for another invasion attempt by his chief supporter and cousin, Louis XV, and with the greater part of the British Army fighting in Flanders against the French, Charles secretly gathered together arms and a modest war chest and set sail from Brittany, landing a small party at Eriskay in the Outer Hebrides on 23 July 1745.

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His audacious – or reckless – plan was to gain a foothold in the western Highlands, rally support en route south, meet up with a French invasion force at London and remove the Hanoverian ‘usurper’ George II (reigned 1727–60). And with luck and the element of surprise on his side, for a time it proved almost as straightforward as that.

King George II
A portrait of King George II. (Photo by Bettmann/Contributor via Getty Images)

What happened during the Jacobite Rebellion called the '45?

After raising the Stuart standard at Glenfinnan on 19 August – the official beginning of the rebellion – the small Jacobite army marched south-east towards the Scottish capital. Edinburgh surrendered on 17 September and four days later Charles achieved an unexpected and resounding victory against Sir John Cope and his British army troops at Prestonpans. The key to their success was the Highland charge: a fast and furious manoeuvre that regular troops had little or no experience of.

At the beginning of November the Jacobite army entered England, taking Carlisle after a short, bloodless siege. Having marched through Lancashire gathering further support, by 4 December the Jacobite army, now numbering around 6,000 men and boys, entered Derby, some 120 miles from London. But rather than push on to his ultimate prize, at a council of war the prince was completely outnumbered by his predominantly Scottish commanders and, to his utter dismay, the Jacobite army returned to Scotland.

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However, the rebellion was far from over. Between January and March 1746, with his army almost doubled in size, Charles and his men secured another victory against the British Army at Falkirk, this time led by General Henry Hawley, and then seized Inverness – the capital of the Highlands. But Charles was in desperate need of money to feed and maintain his troops.

The British government's uncompromising ruthlessness swiftly turned the joy at the rebellion’s termination into sympathy for the rebels

On 24 March the Royal Navy captured a French ship carrying the money destined for the Jacobite army. Its loss was a disaster. With dwindling funds and a British army hard on his heels – a well-fed and now tactically prepared force commanded by George II’s son, William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland – Charles resolved to fight sooner rather than later, once again against the advice of his Scottish commanders.

The defeat of the Jacobite army at Culloden on 16 April 1746, the last battle fought on the British mainland, led to the rolling out of a new British government policy: the attempted extinction of core Stuart support in the Highlands via the systematic dismantling of the ancient social and military culture of the Highland clans, regardless of whether they had joined the rebellion.

The wearing of Highland garb, particularly tartan plaid, was banned, and the semi-feudal bond of military service, coupled with the power of the chiefs over their clans, removed.

William Augustus, the Duke of Cumberland, leading the British army across the River Spey
An 18th-century engraving shows William Augustus, the Duke of Cumberland, leading the British army across the River Spey before the battle of Culloden in Scotland, 16 April 1746. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

What happened in the aftermath of the Jacobite rebellion?

Understandably the British government wanted to stamp out any potential of another rebellion occurring, but the uncompromisingly ruthless and often violent manner in which this was achieved, including the destruction of property and livelihood, executions and transportation, swiftly turned the joy at the rebellion’s termination into sympathy for the rebels and, soon after, disaffection towards the government.

The Duke of Cumberland’s enthusiastic leadership in this process won him the soubriquet ‘the butcher’. However, the pacification of the Highlands and the channelling of Highland military prowess into the British Army largely removed any potential for a future rising in the area.

Did Bonnie Prince Charlie escape after Culloden?

Charles had left the field at Culloden, believing his swift return to France would hurry the long-promised French battalions he needed to resurrect the campaign. Others, however, believed he had abandoned his troops to their terrible fate and even abandoned the Stuart cause in order to save his own skin.

In the event, Charles spent five months as a fugitive in the western Highlands and islands with Cumberland’s men in relentless pursuit.

He eventually escaped to France, with the selfless assistance of the heroic Flora MacDonald, and died in Rome in 1788 by all accounts a drink-befuddled and bitter man. But his legendary alter ego, the ‘Highland laddie’, lived on.

Here are 10 facts you might not know about Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobites…

The term Jacobite comes from the Latin for James (ie James VII and II) ‘Jacobus’

‘Jacobite’ is not to be confused with ‘Jacobean’, which refers to James Stuart’s rule in England as James I. (Jacobean is also often used to describe a style of art, architecture and theatre.) Nor is Jacobite to be mistaken for ‘Jacobin’, the radical political group formed during the French Revolution.

As it was treason even to make contact with the exiled Stuarts, let alone visit them, Jacobites established an intricate set of symbols, coded phrases and rituals. For example, the white rose was a symbol of James Francis Edward (his birthday, 10 June, was ‘white rose day’) and after the birth of his sons, Charles (1720) and Henry (1725), the single rose is often represented with two buds. Such symbols were used on items including fans, glassware and snuff boxes, and can also be seen in Jacobite portraiture.

The toast to “The little gentleman in the black velvet waistcoat” was a reference to William III’s death from injuries sustained during a riding accident. It is said his horse stumbled on a molehill. Perhaps the most famous toast, though, is to “The king over the water”, by raising your glass and then passing it over a bowl of water.

A portrait of Prince James Francis Edward Stuart
A portrait of Prince James Francis Edward Stuart, after a painting attributed to the school of Alexis Simon Belle. (Photo by Print Collector/Getty Images)

Jacobites weren’t all Roman Catholics

The ‘senior’ Stuart branch – the male heirs of James VII and II – were Roman Catholic, but many Jacobites were Protestant, whether ‘high church’ Anglican, Episcopalian, nonjuring or dissenting.

Whatever their religion, Jacobites considered the exiled Stuarts the true British and Irish monarchs – most believed by divine right – and therefore they could not be removed, as they would see it, at the ‘whim’ of parliaments. Among the Scottish Jacobite army commanders of the 1745 rebellion, James Drummond, Duke of Perth, and his brother Lord John Drummond, were both Scottish Catholics raised in France. But other commanders, such as Lieutenant-General Lord George Murray and the Life Guards commander David Wemyss, Lord Elcho, were Protestant.

It is true that religious minorities like British Catholics could expect greater tolerance under a Catholic monarch, but few displayed any interest in joining Charles’s campaign. The most eminent English Catholics, the Duke and Duchess of Norfolk, attended court at St James’s Palace at the height of the threatened advance to London in November 1745, in order to publicly demonstrate their support for King George.

Jacobites weren’t all Scottish

It is true that many members of the Stuart court in exile were Scottish – certainly by 1745 – but there were Irish and English exiles too. It is also true that Scottish Jacobites, whether in exile or not, felt an inherent loyalty to the ancient Stuart – prior to Mary, Queen of Scots ‘Stewart’ – kings of Scotland. The dynasty was founded in Scotland in 1371, inheriting the English crown via James I in 1603.

In addition, many Scottish Jacobites saw the return of the Stuarts as the welcome catalyst for the dismantling of the Acts of Union between Scotland and England (creating the Kingdom of Great Britain in 1707). Yet the one thing that united all Jacobites was not their nationality or the breaking up of the Union, but, as previously stated, their desire to see the return of the Stuarts to the British and Irish thrones.

The articles of the union of the parliaments of England and Scotland are presented to Queen Anne at court
The articles of the union of the parliaments of England and Scotland are presented to Queen Anne at court on behalf of Scotland, 1707. Engraving after original work by Sir Geoffrey Kneller. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Jacobites came from all parts of the British Isles and Ireland, and in exile formed a very international network. During the 1745 uprising, Charles’s small inner circle of chief confidants included two Irishmen, his former tutor in Rome, Sir Thomas Sheridan, and the Jacobite army’s adjutant general (senior administrative officer) and quarter-master general (senior supplies officer), Colonel John William O’Sullivan. Their influence over the prince rankled with some of the Scottish commanders, such as Lords George and Elcho, as the Scotsmen believed they, the Irish, had little to lose but their lives.

The expectation of a rising of the English and Welsh Jacobites was one of the key reasons why Charles ventured so far into England, believing he could reach London on a wave of residual pro-Stuart feeling and with the armed support of thousands of local recruits. Indeed, supported by a French invasion, the only hope of success in regaining all the Stuarts’ former territories lay in a significant local English rising.

Charles Edward Stuart spoke English with a British accent

Charles was born and raised in Rome to a Polish mother and a father of mixed European heritage, including Italian and French as well as British, which has led to the assumption that the prince spoke English with some form of foreign accent.

In Peter Watkins’ BBC docudrama Culloden (1964), for example, the prince, played by Olivier Espitalier-Noel, speaks with a sort of French/trans-European accent. Lord Elcho’s oft-quoted jibe as the prince left the field at Culloden – “There you go for a damned cowardly Italian”– has fuelled this particular interpretation, although this jibe was likely a later embellishment.

Although Charles’s father, James Francis Edward, left Britain when he was six-months-old and spent his youth in exile in France (in St Germain-en-Laye, near Paris) he was surrounded by British and Irish courtiers. Indeed, his main role model, his father James VII and II, born at St James’s Palace, London and a mature 55-year-old in 1688, would have obviously spoken English with an English accent.

Eyewitnesses during the 1745 uprising described Charles as speaking “the English or broad Scots very well”. One observer, the Edinburgh schoolmaster Andrew Henderson, stated that Charles’s “speech was sly, but very intelligible; his Dialect was more upon the English than the Scottish Accent, seem’d to me pretty like that of the Irish, some of whom I had known”. “Sly” here means soft or low.

The Jacobite troops at Culloden were not all Highlanders

The misconception that the Jacobite army was composed solely of Highlanders is supported, in part, by the imposing memorial cairn on the battlefield itself, which states: “The graves of the gallant Highlanders who fought for Scotland & Prince Charlie are marked by the names of their clans.”

Lowlanders and English alike spoke of the ‘Highlanders’ and the ‘Highland army’, and certainly focused their attention on the sizable Highland element within the Jacobite army as Charles and his men marched through their towns and countryside. Furthermore, in the early stages of the campaign the Jacobite army could have been described as ‘Highland’, as the thousand or so men gathered around the Stuart standard at Glenfinnan came predominantly from the Cameron and MacDonald clans.

But by the time the army had occupied Edinburgh for almost six weeks, the composition had changed. It now included many Lowland gentlemen, such as Lord Elcho, and Lowland tradesmen. A month later, by the time the Jacobite troops had crossed into England and reached Derby, it was compositionally a very different army to that at Glenfinnan. It now included, along with Lowlanders, an English regiment of about 300 men, known as the Manchester regiment. Fast-forward less than six months, at the battle of Culloden (16 April 1746) about two-thirds of Charles’s troops could be termed Highland Gaels, but there were also Lowlanders, Irishmen, Frenchmen and some Englishmen.

The ‘Skye Boat Song’ isn’t entirely Gaelic

One of the most famous stories concerning the prince’s five months as a fugitive is his escape by sea, dressed as a maid ‘Betty Burke’, accompanied by Flora MacDonald. Many of us will know the wistful ‘Skye Boat Song’ and its promise of “the lad that’s born to be king” as he is rowed away to Skye from whence, like King Arthur before him, he “will come again”.

Its form is a traditional Gaelic rowing song or iorram and the tune is believed to derive from the Gaelic song Cuachan nan Craobh or ‘The Cuckoo in the Grove’. But the lyrics, establishing the association with Bonnie Prince Charlie and the 1745 rebellion, were actually written by an Englishman named Sir Harold Edwin Boulton (1859–1935) of Copped Hall, Totteridge, Hertfordshire, and first published in 1884. Sir Harold, a keen collector and publisher of traditional British songs, also wrote the English words to a well-known traditional Welsh lullaby, ‘All Through the Night’.

In 1892, Robert Louis Stevenson, author of the post-Culloden adventure, Kidnapped (1886), wrote his own version of the ‘Skye Boat Song’ with the first line “Sing me a song of a lad that is gone”. In recent years Stevenson’s version (with modifications) has been made famous by the TV series Outlander.

Scottish novelist and poet Robert Louis Balfour Stevenson
Scottish novelist and poet Robert Louis Balfour Stevenson, c1890. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

The battle of Culloden did not end the Jacobite cause

Yes, Culloden was a devastating defeat – the Jacobite army’s first of the entire nine-month campaign – but several thousand men, some of whom had not been present at the battle, gathered at Ruthven 30 miles to the south, and many were willing to continue the fight. But a lack of supplies and, in the short-term, a failure of leadership from both Lord George Murray and Charles, put paid to any thought of a final stand, or a ‘guerrilla’-type campaign.

Certainly, the Duke of Cumberland believed that another battle could occur in the months following Culloden. The various acts introduced after the battle, in particular the Heritable Jurisdictions (Scotland) Act of 1746, in concert with the pacification of the Highlands, made another rising in this region extremely unlikely [the act abolished the traditional judicial rights afforded to a Scottish clan chief]. But the British government and army commanders alike believed that with Charles in France agitating for troops and money to renew his campaign, and while France was still at war with Britain (in Flanders), the Jacobite threat was very much alive.

It was the peace between Great Britain and France in 1748 that ended the 1745 rebellion, by the terms of which Charles was forcibly removed from French territory. But it is not widely known that the prince, still in his twenties, made a secret visit to London in 1750 to stimulate another rising in England, which later became known as the Elibank plot, during which, it is believed, he converted to the Church of England.

In reality, what completely put to bed any hope of a Stuart restoration was the removal of support by France. France had continued to toy with the idea of an invasion of Britain – as ever, a means of destabilising the British state, her trade and her colonial interests – during the Seven Years’ War (1756–63), until major defeats in 1759, including the battle of Quiberon Bay, meant abandoning any such attempt. Charles’s behaviour in the face of yet another crushing disappointment, in particular his drunkenness, disgusted the French and eventually he and his cause were abandoned for good.

This was followed, in turn, by the papacy. On the death of his father in 1766, Pope Clement XIII did not recognise Charles as the Jacobite king Charles III, de jure king of England, Scotland and Ireland. Indeed, the peaceful accession of a third king George, in 1760, suggested that as an active, political cause, Jacobitism, along with its fundamental aim of a Stuart restoration, was effectively dead.

Charles Edward Stuart was not the last of the Stuart claimants

On Charles’s death in 1788, his brother, Henry Benedict, became the Jacobite Henry IX of England and I of Scotland. But, as a Roman Catholic cardinal, it was with him that the direct, legitimate line ended on his death in 1807. By this time the beleaguered cardinal, who had witnessed the French Revolution (and lost the financial support of his Bourbon cousin in the process) had begun receiving an annual pension of £4,000 from George III – yes, from the very Hanoverian monarch or, in Jacobite terminology ‘usurper’, that his father and brother had fought so hard, and at such great cost, to remove from the British throne. Henry, unlike his father and brother, did not press his claim.

King Ludwig III of Bavaria
King Ludwig III of Bavaria, c1910. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images).

However, the current official Jacobite claimant, according to the Royal Stuart Society, is Franz von Bayern (b1933) of the House of Wittelsbach, a prince of Bavaria, as his name suggests, and the great-grandson of the last king of Bavaria, Ludwig III. Franz von Bayern – or, as Jacobites would call him, Francis II – became the Jacobite de jure king in 1996, and is descended from the youngest daughter of Charles I (Princess Henrietta-Anne) via the House of Savoy and the House of Este. He has no intention of pressing his claim.

It’s claimed that Bonnie Prince Charlie has a direct descendant alive today

It is claimed that there are direct descendants of Charles Edward Stuart alive today. Therefore, potentially, in the 21st century there are at least two ‘pretenders’ (from the French ‘prétendant’ or claimant) to choose from. It is well known that Charles had an illegitimate daughter, Charlotte Stuart, Duchess of Albany (b1753), by his mistress Clementina Walkinshaw. After many desperate years with an increasingly drunken and abusive partner, Clementina left Charles, accompanied by their young daughter. Charles initially refused to recognise Charlotte, who spent years in convents in France, and, it is believed, produced, in turn, three illegitimate children via her relationship with Ferdinand de Rohan, archbishop of Bordeaux.

In the meantime, Charles had married (in 1772) Princess Louise of Stolberg-Gedern, but the marriage was a disaster and was childless. In 1784, a lonely Charles legitimised his daughter Charlotte, who left her children (or so the story goes) with her mother in order to nurse Charles through his final years. Charles eventually died of a stroke in 1788 and his daughter died less than two years later.

Charlotte’s children remained unknown to history until the mid-20th century, when research undertaken by the Jacobite historians and siblings Alasdair and Henrietta Tayler apparently revealed the existence of Bonnie Prince Charlie’s grandchildren: Marie Victoire Adelaide (b1779), Charlotte Maximilienne Amélie (b1780) and Charles Edward (b1784).

A biography of the self-styled Count Roehanstart (Rohan Stuart, aka Roehenstart) by George Sherburn (published in 1960), based on the subject’s private papers, sets out the extraordinary life of Charles’s secret grandson, who is buried at Dunkeld Cathedral. As Roehanstart had no children, nor, it was believed, did his sisters, there the Stuart direct (albeit illegitimate) line may have ended. But a new claimant, in the guise of Peter Pininski, has recently emerged. He claims to be the descendant of Charlotte’s eldest daughter (see the 2002 book The Stuarts’ Last Secret: The Missing Heirs of Bonnie Prince Charlie). The mystery continues.

Bonnie Prince Charlie is buried in Rome

Charles died at the Palazzo del Re, located on the Piazza dei Santi Apostoli in Rome, the building where he had been born. The palazzo still exists on the north side of the square and just to the north-east of the forum. Sadly Charles’s birth and death in this building is not acknowledged.

Charles was originally buried at Frascati Cathedral (his brother was cardinal-bishop of Frascati) but was eventually reburied (excepting his heart, which is still at Frascati) in the crypt of St Peter’s Basilica in Rome, alongside his brother and father. A modest but elegant marble monument by Antonio Canova, funded, in part, by George IV and unveiled in the south aisle of the main church in 1819, marks the final resting place of the ‘old pretender’ and his sons.


Dr Jacqueline Riding is an associate research fellow in the School of Arts, Birkbeck College, University of London, who specialises in 18th- and early 19th-century British history and art. She is the author of Jacobites: A New History of the ’45 Rebellion (Bloomsbury, 2016)