The Bonnie Prince and the King who ultimately refused to bow to his cause
It was 275 years ago today that Prince Charles Edward Stuart arrived in Roscoff in Brittany aboard the French ship L’Heureux.
The crews of L’Heureux and his companion ship Le Prince de Conti echoed the Prince as he was taken ashore in a rowing boat, with a roaring 21 cannon salute from each ship.
In the New Style dating, it was October 10, 1746, and Charles had somehow survived more than six months in Scotland after the disastrous Battle of Culloden. He was never betrayed despite the £ 30,000 reward offered by the Hanoverian government, and with the help of people like Flora MacDonald, he escaped the huge army of red tunics that sought him out.
He did not know it at the time, but his arrival in France ended all hope of a new Jacobite campaign, for, as we shall see, the Stuart cause was no longer allied with the machinations of France.
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I recently received a most fascinating note from Michael Nevin, president of the 1745 Association and author of Reminiscences Of A Jacobite who reminded me that later this month will also see the 275th anniversary of the only meeting between two of the most enigmatic and charismatic personalities of the 18th century, Madame de Pompadour, mistress of the King of France Louis XV and of Prince Charles Edouard Stuart.
Niven said to me: “On Sunday October 23, 1746, the Marquise de Pompadour invited the prince and his suite to an evening at his residence in Fontainebleau. At the time of their meeting, Madame de Pompadour was only 24, while Prince Charles was a year older at 25.
“Their meeting was more than a pleasant social engagement between a young man and a young woman. Two weeks earlier, the prince had landed in Brittany after his flight from Scotland after Culloden, and was keen to win the support of the Marquise, the closest and most trusted advisor to the King of France, to continue his campaign to conquer the British throne.
“Their reunion was to have deep meaning for them personally, for their nations, and indeed for the history of Europe, and turned out to be the final act of the Auld Alliance.”
Niven tells the story in a 24-minute video marking the anniversary of their meeting, When Madame De Pompadour Met Bonnie Prince Charlie: A Tragedy In Three Acts, which is on YouTube (www.youtube.com/watch?v=L9fzkyMZKRg ). It is worth it because it tells a fascinating story.
Equally fascinating is a document I saw seven years ago when it went on sale in Edinburgh. It was sold at the Lyon & Turnbull auction house in Edinburgh. If memory serves, he brought in £ 25,000, more than double the estimate of £ 12,000.
The experts of Lyon & Turnbull explained how important this letter written by Charles in French was: “He addresses the letter to His Majesty [‘Monsieur Mon Frere et Cousin’], stating that he drafted a memorandum of his affairs [‘un petit memoire de mes affaires’] for His Majesty, whom he strongly hopes to hand over to the king himself, and offering to come incognito to a secret rendezvous chosen by the king.
“The ‘Memoir’, also entirely written by the Prince, gives the Prince’s assessment of the political situation in Britain and asserts that the oppression of the English government increasingly favors support for his cause.
“He tries to explain the failure of the Uprising and the defeat of Culloden, saying that he never ran out of Scottish subjects ready to fight for him, but that he lacked money, equipment and a regular army. If he had only had one, he says, he would have been ruler of Scotland again and probably of England as well.
Translated from French, he says: “There was no shortage of armed men in Scotland. Instead, I ran out of both money, provisions, and a handful of regular troops – with just one of these three, I would be ruler of Scotland today, and probably all of it. England too.
According to Lyon & Turnbull, Charles goes on to say that “if he had only had provisions he could have pursued General Hawley at the Battle of Falkirk and destroyed his entire army which included the flower of the English army. [‘qui etoit la fleur des troupes Angloises’]. And if he had received half the money Louis sent him earlier, he would have fought the Duke of Cumberland in equal numbers. With just 1,200 additional regular troops, he would have won the Battle of Culloden.
“He concludes by arguing that the reverse can still be reversed if His Majesty can provide him with a battalion of 18 or 20,000 men, and assures His Majesty that their interests remain inseparable.”
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The letter was an indication that Charles had not given up. The problem for Bonnie Prince was that the French under Louis XV had defeated the British-led forces at Fontenoy in May of the previous year during the War of the Austrian Succession and now Louis wanted peace.
The commander of the forces known as the Pragmatic Army at Fontenoy was none other than the Duke of Cumberland, the butcher of Culloden, who brought the British contingent home to deal with the Jacobites.
In October 1746, Louis XV desperately sought peace as the French economy collapsed. The French had promised to support Charles only as a diversion from their war on the Continent, and now the Jacobites had run out of surplus for need.
Louis gave Charles a pension and he enjoyed himself among the ladies of Paris. Louis was firm, however, and 275 years ago, the next month, the cause of the Jacobites was lost forever.