Bonnie Prince Charlie is the Scotch endearment for the drunken imbecile who led the Highlanders to disaster, ruin and Canada. He was the heir and last champion of the House of Stuart or, in his case, the Souse of Stupor. His grandfather was the obnoxious and stupid James II, king of Great Britain. The Stuarts, the rulers of Scotland, always had a poor working relationship with England. James IV was killed in battle with the English. His son James V died in flight after a lost battle with the English. His granddaughter Mary was executed by the English. Ironically, when Elizabeth I died and had no heirs (one of the side effects of being a Virgin Queen) the throne went to her distant cousin James VI of Scotland. Somehow, James avoided being killed by the English. However, his son Charles I didn’t.
Charles I had two sons who managed to avoid infant mortality, childhood diseases and 17th century medicine. Charles II was remarkably charming and bright for a Stuart (actually, he took after his French grandfather Henri IV). The Merry Monarch had 14 children but none were with his wife. Upon his death, the throne went to his legitimate heir: his brother James. James was a typical Stuart, and he managed to further alienate the Protestant Parliament by being a Catholic. However, his daughters and heirs Mary and Anne were Protestant; so Parliament was prepared to tolerate James as an aberration on the Anglican throne. The Protestant succession could end, however, if James’ second wife, a nice Italian girl, gave birth to a son. According to the sexist laws of succession, an infant Catholic son would take precedence over his teenage Protestant half-sisters.
Well, guess what happened in 1688? The announcements in the Times would have read:
“James and Mary Stuart are pleased to announced the birth of their son Junior.”
“Parliament has an opening for a senior executive position in the British civil service. Protestants only.”
William, Prince of the Netherlands, evidently had the most promising resume. His wife was Mary the daughter of James II, and he was impeccably Protestant. Parliament invited him and Mary to take control of the throne. Although James II still had the loyalty of most of the army, the king’s nerves failed him and he fled, with his Catholic family, to France. Having faltered when he had the most advantageous position, James would later incite a slipshod rebellion in Ireland. The Orangemen are still gloating about the results. William and Mary had no children. (His fondness for pugs should have been a hint.) After their deaths Anne succeeded. The Stuarts usually were stupid but attractive: imagine a dynasty cast by Aaron Spelling. Anne, however, was begrudged the good looks and cheated in every other way too. The dull, miserable woman outlived her children, was exploited by politicians and betrayed by every friend but her brandy. When she died of alcohol and dropsy, Parliament had to choose her successor. Her half-brother James was the nearest heir, and he did have supporters in England. The Tory Party was founded by Stuart partisans. The alternative was her second cousin George: an elderly, repulsive German princeling who couldn’t speak English. However, he was a Protestant while James was a Catholic. With the Whig Party in control of Parliament, Britain soon had King George I.
The rejected James attempted a coup in England but, being a Stuart, he managed to doing everything wrong. This was known as the first Jacobite Rebellion. In time, the son of this prince–Bonny Prince Charlie–would incite the Second Jacobite Rebellion. Charles’ chief adviser was his brandy flask. Drambuie still advertises his enthusiastic patronage.
Attempting to restore the Stuarts to the British throne, Charles landed in Northern Scotland in 1745 and incited the Highlanders to rebellion. In some ways, the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745-46 seems like one of those recent British comedies that require subtitles to understand. We could call this saga: “The Full Montebank.” A drunken, aristocratic twit, trying to pose as ‘just a working fella’ runs for president…no that’s the reincarnation…Anyway, this sotted fop rallies the Highland rowdies who–despite their inept leader–manage to conquer Scotland and invade England. The English are caught completely unprepared; London is in a panic. Charlie’s army of Highlanders is only 100 miles away. The rebellion actually has a chance of succeeding; the Tory Party in England is sympathetic. Then, in an untimely moment of sobriety, Charlie gets cold feet and retreats back to Scotland.
Unfortunately, the end is no comedy. The English army has a chance to organize and begins a vengeful pursuit. At the last battle, Culloden in 1746, the Scots are back where they started: in the Highlands. They have swords and an idiot commander; the English have cannons, muskets and a sadistic commander. Actually, Culloden is a massacre rather than a battle. Charlie manages to escapes and gets to France. Most of his soldiers are either killed at the battle or hunted down and slaughtered as they attempt to flee.
The English began a period of brutal repression in the Highlands. Their policy basically gave the Scots three choices: would you like to hang, starve or go to Canada?
However, Bonnie Prince Charlie was not reduced to drinking Molson’s. He managed to escape to France and spent his remaining forty-two years plotting against his liver. On January 31, 1788, he finally succeeded.