Bonnie Prince Charlie, ‘The Young Pretender’, and his father James, ‘The Old Pretender’, were the subjects of songs, poems and stories praising and reviling them during their lifetimes, and pretty much ever since.
I’ve been researching a new poetry walk, linked to the exhibition Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobites at the National Museum of Scotland. The walks run 13–16 July 2017 – for tickets click here.
The walks begin at the Palace of Holyroodhouse, and end at the Museum on Chambers Street, taking in various sites associated with Jacobites on the way.
Charles, or the Chevalier as he was sometimes known, entered Edinburgh via Holyrood in September 1745, and he stayed at the palace until the Jacobite army moved south at the end of October. Walter Scott, in Waverley (1814), imagines his titular hero arriving at the palace, his fate in the Prince’s hands.
A long, low, and ill-proportioned gallery, hung with pictures, affirmed to be the portraits of kings, who, if they ever flourished at all, lived several hundred years before the invention of painting in oil colours, served as a sort of guard chamber or vestibule to the apartments which the adventurous Charles Edward now occupied in the palace of his ancestors. Officers, both in the Highland and Lowland garb, passed and repassed in haste, or loitered in the hall as if waiting for orders. Secretaries were engaged in making out passes, musters, and returns. All seemed busy, and earnestly intent upou something of importance ; but Waverley was suffered to remain seated in the recess of a window, unnoticed by any one, in anxious reflection upon the crisis of his fate, which seemed now rapidly approaching.
Panmure House, off the Canongate, is named for the Jacobite Earl of Panmure. He fought in the 1715 rebellion, and was later name-checked by Burns in ‘The Battle Of Sherramuir’:
They’ve lost some gallant gentlemen,
Amang the Highland clans, man!
I fear my Lord Panmure is slain,
Or fallen in Whiggish hands, man…
He survived the battle, was captured but escaped, and went into exile.
A Jacobite who fought at the Battle of Falkirk, John, Lord Macleod, was buried in the Canongate Kirkyard. One soldier on the government side that day was Duncan Ban MacIntyre, one of the great Gaelic poets of the 18th century, who described how his side were routed:
We, the total force the Whigs possessed,
were one day in the Scottish Lowlands
when the rebels fell in with us—
and cheerless to us was the company
when they compelled us to retreat
and chased us with intent to slay us—
unless we used our legs to good purpose:
we fired never a shot with our muskets.
(Translation: Angus Macleod)
Tobias Smollett is remembered for his novels, but his first published work was a poem, ‘The Tears of Scotland’, bemoaning the Duke of Cumberland’s brutality after the Battle of Culloden.
Thy hospitable roofs no more
Invite the stranger to the door:
In smoky ruins sunk they lie,
The monuments of cruelty.
On 14th August 1773, Samuel Johnson arrived in Edinburgh from London, ready to embark for the Hebrides with his friend James Boswell. They made a point of visiting Flora Macdonald on Skye, who had helped the Prince or, as Boswell called him, The Wanderer, to escape. Charles disguised himself as Flora’s maid, an incident which Boswell describes in his journal with relish:
He was very awkward in his female dress. His size was so large, and his strides so great, that some women whom they met reported that they had seen a very big woman, who looked like a man in woman’s clothes, and that perhaps it was (as they expressed themselves) the PRINCE, after whom so much search was making.
Robert Burns was capable of writing pro- and anti-Jacobite songs. Just weeks before the Chevalier’s death, he wrote and recited to a pro-Jacobite gathering in Edinburgh a ‘Birthday Ode For 31st December, 1787’:
Beasts of the forest have their savage homes,
But He, who should imperial purple wear,
Owns not the lap of earth where rests his royal head…
But he was capable of direct criticism too:
Ye Jacobites by name, give an ear, give an ear,
Ye Jacobites by name, give an ear,
Ye Jacobites by name,
Your fautes I will proclaim,
Your doctrines I maun blame, you shall hear.
George IV Bridge recalls the king who visited Edinburgh in 1822 amid much pageantry, the first reigning monarch to do so for nearly 200 years. By then Jacobitism was no longer a political threat, and three years earlier James Hogg, a friend of Walter Scott, had published The Jacobite Relics of Scotland. His ‘Dedication’ includes these lines:
These Songs I consign, as memorials that tell
Of the poets that sung, and the heroes that fell,
Whom interest ne’er moved their true king to betray,
Whom threat’ning ne’er daunted, nor power could dismay.
Later poets were able to take a longer and sometimes more critical view of Charlie and the consequences of his ambition. Iain Crichton Smith, who is remembered in Makars Court, wrote
The silly Prince
hits the wall of fact, the steel fence
of Culloden flashing fire, and discipline
clicking clearly its rehearsed routine.
Drunken sot, I hope you endlessly suffer
for the sufferings your boyish game caused…
And yet the Prince, the Pretender, the Chevalier, the Wanderer, continues to fascinate.