History Hoydens


Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

16 December 2008

The King O'er the Water

It is a well-known fact that the grass on the other side is always greener. Perhaps it’s equally true that the prince on the other side of the water—or the throne—is invariably more dashing. I write, of course, of Bonnie Prince Charlie, onetime Pretender to the English throne and the ongoing epicenter of enough adulation to make even a modern rock star jealous. (Although, to be fair, it didn’t take much to be more dashing than George II. Those Hanoverians weren’t exactly known for their looks.)

Known as Bonnie Prince Charlie or the Young Pretender, Charles Edward Stuart was the grandson of James II of England, who had been drummed off the throne after a three year reign by his own daughter, Mary, and her husband, William of Orange, in a little event we all know as the Glorious Revolution of 1688. Raised in exile in Italy, the young prince sailed to Scotland in 1745, at the age of twenty-five, to raise the clans against the Hanoverian King, George II. The rebellion was brutally squished and the Bonnie Prince spent some time skulking about the Highlands before making it back to safety on the Continent. He died in 1788, a broken and disappointed man, who reputedly said of his erstwhile supporters, “I will do for them what they did for me, I shall drink their health”.

What is it about Bonnie Prince Charlie that has elicited such adulation across the centuries? His father, the Old Pretender, led a failed rebellion, too: the ’15 to Bonnie Prince Charlie’s ‘45. Yet one never sees Bonnie Prince Jimmy novelty candy boxes being sold along Princes Street in Edinburgh. It’s always that rascal of a Charlie, sometimes paired with Flora MacDonald (it depends on the size of the candy box).

When you look closely at Charles Edward’s life, it doesn’t bear up with romantic legend. Fond of the bottle, he deteriorated into alcoholism after the collapse of his cause, ruining both his temperament and the profile so beloved of his early portraitists. The drinking proved too much for his common law wife, Clementina Walkinshaw, who left him, taking their daughter with her. In 1772, Charles contracted a formal marriage with a German princess, Louise of Stolberg-Gedern. She left him, too, citing physical cruelty. Not exactly the picture of a prieux chevalier, eh?

Amanda wrote last week about historical saints and sinners, the reputations that have followed various characters through the ages, deserved or not. In Bonnie Prince Charlie’s case, it is the legend of that charming twenty-five year old that has survived, not the reality of the man he became. Wrapped about in myth and legend, he came to encapsulate all the romance of the Lost Cause, wrapped in a kilt and tied in a tartan bow.

Are you a Bonnie Prince Charlie partisan or a Charlie skeptic? Which historical icons leave you cold?


Blogger Louisa Cornell said...

I'm a little partial to Charlie for sentimental reasons if nothing else. A recent book about Andrew Jackson has opened my old wounds about this historical icon. I just can't get past what he did to my ancestors. The Trail of Tears is an unforgivable chapter in the life of this country. In spite of all the good Jackson may have done, I can't get past the bigoted man who tried to destroy an entire race.

7:14 AM  
Blogger Amanda Elyot said...

I read a bit about BPC when I was researching George II for ROYAL AFFAIRS and always thought he was more style than substance, which is often the case with cult figures. My recent revisiting of some of the usual suspects found in ROYAL AFFAIRS for my wip on notorious royal marriages (thanks for the mention of my post here last week, Lauren!) has led to a few burst bubbles, such as the truth vs. reputation of the 2 wives of George IV, which I blogged about last week. I just finished a second look at Mary Queen of Scots and started losing the sympathy for her that I had built up during my ROYAL AFFAIRS research. Evidently, Darnley's true colors came to the fore long before they wed, so she went into the marriage with eyes wide open. Ditto for her relationship with Bothwell, who attempted a treasonous rebellion against her early in her reign and publicly referred to her as "the Cardinal's whore" for her reliance on her uncle's counsel. He was the powerful Guise Cardinal of Lorraine. During her long years of incarceration in England, her willingness to marry the Duke of Norfolk and plot with him against Elizabeth, the Ridolfi and Babington plots, all began to smack of sheer stupidity rather than utter desperation. And of course MQS has become a "more sinned against than sinning" cult figure over the centuries. A deeper look into what she knew and when she knew it illuminates how much she may have contributed to her own downfall by spectacularly bad judgment, owing a good deal to royal stubbornness and a refusal to allow Elizabeth I to affect her decision-making.

By the way, Lauren, I so love your "voice." I always find myself giggling even as I learn from your posts!

7:53 AM  
Blogger Pam Rosenthal said...

Ditto for me re the "voice." Well said, Amanda.

As for BPC -- I'm too ignorant of the facts to weigh in. But I am a skeptic by nature, and what I've learned from my own historical research is that the arts of hype, publicity, and image construction were remarkably well developed, certainly by the Georgian era.

8:48 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you, Pam and Amanda! That's so sweet of you both.

Amanda, I've always been a Mary Queen of Scots skeptic, too. I admire her mother greatly-- Marie de Guise managed to hold Scotland together for years in very trying times-- but the younger Mary? She just seemed to drift along from man to man. I've never understood the cult of admiration around her.

One thing I do wonder, though, with some of these flimsy characters is how much of their appeal is owed to sheer personal charm/charisma and how much to their filling a need in the political landscape of the day. Mary provided a convenient rallying point for certain Catholic/anti-Elizabeth in England, while Bonnie Prince Charlie got to be the focus of discontent with the not altogether popular Hanoverian regime. Because they never do come to power-- and have very little chance of ever doing so-- they make a convenient focus for adulation, all myth with no danger of gritty reality rubbing off on them.

Charles' complaint about his supporters was that all they did for him was drink his health. They also had a great cottage industry going in Jacobite glassware, jewelry and other tokens. I've read some fascinating assessments of the Jacobite underworld in England which opine that, by the mid-18th C, Jacobitism had become less an active cause and more a sort of way of letting off steam. The more elaborate the iconography and toasting became, the less likely anyone was to actually DO anything about restoring the King O'er the Water, hence the failure to raise a corresponding rebellion in England in '45 or '15. They get to make a point by toasting him, voice their discontents with the current regime, but not actually have to undergo any uncomfortable regime change, leaving him always as the "ideal" alternative.

9:08 AM  
Blogger Pam Rosenthal said...

The more elaborate the iconography and toasting became, the less likely anyone was to actually DO anything about restoring the King O'er the Water

That's fascinating, and certainly sounds right. Tom Frank made a similar case about our political culture a few years ago in What's the Matter with Kansas?

Re all that Jacobite iconography, Sir Walter Scott's wildly popular historical novels must come into play here as well. First of my 2009 resolutions: finally read one of those things!

9:28 AM  
Blogger Amanda Elyot said...

Lauren, I'm amused by the notion that the whole cult of Bonnie Prince Charlie became little more than a merchandising tool, even in its day! I'm imagining BPC shotglasses, tea towels and cozies, beer mats, and bookmarks; with his image eventually finding its way onto mouse pads and refrigerator magnets.

Your post must have sublimininally affected me, Lauren, because I just ate a 100-calorie pack of shortbread (okay, Lorna Doones) with my lunch! But I remember the Scottish shortbread tins with BPC on the lid.

9:28 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Cool, Lauren. That last image of PC in tartan from head to toe is downright silly...surely, even several hundred years ago, he knew that????

Okay, I have to ask something I've wondered about for years...was he called "bonnie" because of his good looks or affable personality? Who dubbed him that? The popular press?

10:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting question, Kathrynn! I'm not sure when the "Bonnie" first attached itself to his name, but my guess would be (and I could be very wrong) that it's nineteenth century addition. Prince Charlie certainly had his fair share of ballads and poetry dedicated to him in his lifetime (although, interestingly enough, far fewer than his father, who inspired a veritable Jacobite industry in high and low poetry and song circa 1715), but they don't seem to use the Bonnie. Some popular seditious song titles in the mid-eighteenth century included (and, really, I'm not making these up, I promise) "Charlie's my Darling", "Prince Charlie's Restoration" and (my personal favorite), "Charlie-O".

10:31 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lauren, I was just reading about how badly Bonnie Prince Charlie treated one of his illegitimate daughters, so my sympathy for him is at an all time low. I too have often thought that he was style over substance, and I pity the Jacobites who rallied to his cause, because he was so unworthy of the sacrifices that they made in terms of lives.

I've also been revisiting my post on Lola Montez for my book proposal, and I've had to revise my opinion about her too. Her behavior when she was Ludwig I's mistress was just too horrible for words. It's no wonder the people of Munich wanted her out of the Kingdom.

10:37 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Amanda, it really was just like that with the merchandising! No tea towels, but there were Jacobite shot glasses in various designs. You could get it with a crude picture of good old Charlie himself on it, and mottos like "Micat Inter Omnes" (he shines among all) or "Audentior Ibo". Ladies could purchase Jacobite-themed fans, with coy little paintings of a Jacobite rose and thistle or the Prince himself, or wear Jacobite gloves. There were commemorative medals for every occasion. There were also underground sales of Jacobite poetry, prints, and ballads, all prettily packaged.

What you said about the arts of hype and publicity, Pam, rings true for this era as well. Prince Charlie directed some of his own merchandising. There's a surviving memo from him where he orders that medals of himself (flattering ones, of course) be restruck and sent to England to be handed out to stir popular sentiment in his favor. He very carefully played on his good looks as a propaganda technique. In 1750, he had a bust of himself made that was copied and sold underground in London, so you could have a little bit of Prince Charlie in your own living room. (That was meant to stir up public feeling for a proposed secret visit to London). He had special commemorative medals struck on the occasion of his marriage and later when he legitimated his daughter, Charlotte, in an attempt to set her up as the proper heir to the throne of England after him. Not so very different from today's tea towels!

10:43 AM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

I third the comments about your voice, Lauren. And having been privileged to hear you read from your books, I can hear you speak when I read your posts and your books. I remember visiting some Bonnie Prince Charles sites when I first went to Scotland at the age of six, and even then I was something of a sceptic. Maybe because my mom was, but for whatever reason his story never grabbed me. I did love a young adults historical novel called "Highland Rebel" by Sallie Watson set against the background of the rebellion. And Joan Aiken does a wonderful, alternate history take on the Jacobites in her young adult series (The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, Black Hearts in Battersea, etc...). In her fictional world, the Stewarts are on the throne and the Hanoverians are the pretenders.

4:35 PM  

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