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Charles Edward Stuart

Speed, bonnie boat, like a bird on the wing,
'Onward!' the sailors cry.
Carry the lad that is born to be King
Over the sea to Skye

'The lad that is born to be King' refers to Prince Charles Edward Stuart, 'Bonnie Prince Charlie'. Charles was the son of James Francis Edward Stuart and the grandson of King James VII of Scotland and James II of England. James had been deposed in 1688 when the British Parliament, fearing that James would impose Catholic laws, asked William of Orange to intervene on their behalf. This was known as the ‘Glorious Revolution’. James was defeated and allowed to escape to France.

Charles Edward Stuart was born in Rome on 31st December 1720. In 1744, his father, with the support of the French government, was planning an invasion of England and Charles was appointed as commander of the French expeditionary force. However, the invasion never took place due to a combination of bad weather and the superior British navy.

In 1745, Charles set out from France with two ships heading for the West coast of Scotland. His aim was to rally the clans who had remained loyal to the House of Stuart, the so called Jacobite Movement after the Latin for James – Jacobus. One of his ships was lost in a skirmish with a British man o’ war but he escaped and landed on the shore of Loch Nan Uamh in July of that year. On 19th August, he raised his father’s standard at Glenfinnan and, after a poor initial response, raised an army of 1,200 men and marched on Edinburgh. On 17th September he captured Edinburgh and proclaimed his father King. On 21st September, at the Battle of Prestonpans, he defeated the government forces and continued south to Carlisle, which surrendered on 15th November.

By 5th December Charles’ army had reached Derby, only 130 miles from the capital but when they were surrounded by British troops, and the French reinforcements promised by Charles had not appeared, his generals decided to retreat to Carlisle. The Jacobite forces last victory was the Battle of Falkirk on 17th January, 1746. Pursued by the Duke of Cumberland’s army, the Jacobites continued to retreat toward Inverness and were finally caught and routed at the Battle of Culloden – the last battle to be fought on British soil.

Charles became a fugitive, hidden by clans who remained loyal to his cause despite a £30,000 price on his head. With a small group of men he rowed to Benbecula seeking passage to France. Flora McDonald dressed him in women’s clothes and smuggled him to Skye as her maid ‘Betty’. In September 1746, two French ships arrived in Loch Nan Uamh and Charles, with 100 followers escaped to France, leaving Flora to spend a year in prison. The next few years were spent wandering Europe trying in vain to rally support until finally, with the death of his father in 1766, he returned to Italy. He spent his last days as a drunk in Rome and died on 30th January 1788. He is buried in St Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican City.