'Charlie will come again': Jacqueline Riding examines how a 19th-century painting, created almost 150 years after the Jacobite defeat at Culloden, has come to dominate the iconography of that event.
The second Jacobite Rebellion of 1745-46 is an important turning point in British history. Yet despite decades of re-evaluation and scholarship the event remains, among the wider public, the legend of 'Bonnie Prince Charlie' and his romantic but doomed attempt to regain a stolen crown. The beguiling image of the defeated Scottish prince as hunted fugitive among the heather and mist, evading the bayonets of the English redcoats, lingers still in the collective imagination. Many of us will know the wistful Skye Boat Song and its tale of "the lad that's born to be king' as he is spirited away to Skye from whence, like King Arthur, he 'will come again'. Few, I suspect, will be aware that it is indeed a traditional Gaelic song but set to lyrics by Sir Harord Boulton (1859-1935) of Copped-Hall, Totteridge, Hertfordshire. The reality can sometimes be disappointing, sometimes surprising, but it is always complex.
In 1745 Charles Edward Stuart (1720-88) had two key aims. First, to regain the throne his grandfather, the Catholic James VII of Scotland and II of England had lost in 1688-89. The 'Glorious' Revolution had confirmed a Protestant succession, which from 1714 was embodied in the Hanoverian dynasty. Second, to dismantle the Act of Union of 1707, which had created the United Kingdom of Great Britain under a single Parliament at Westminster. Tiring of the understandably cautious and noncommittal stance of his chief supporter, Louis XV of France, and with the greater part of the British army fighting in Flanders against the French and their allies, Charles Edward landed a tiny advance party at Eriskay in the Outer Hebrides on July 23rd, 1745. His audacious or perhaps reckless plan was to gain a foothold in the Highlands, rally support en route south, meet the expected French invasion force at London and remove the Hanoverian 'usurper' George II. For a time, while luck and an element of surprise were on his side, it proved almost as easy as that. Edinburgh surrendered and then Penrith and Carlisle with barely a shot fired. The Jacobite army won a resounding victory against British regiments commanded by Sir John Cope at Prestonpans on September 21st. Having marched through Lancashire, gathering further support, by December 4th the Jacobite army entered Derby, a mere 120 miles from London. But rather than push onward to his ultimate prize, the prince was dissuaded by his commanders, who were convinced that a major force was now defending the capital. To his utter dismay, the Jacobite army returned to Scotland. But between January and March 1746 it once again routed the British army at Falkirk and walked into Inverness. This was hardly an army and cause in terminal decline. But a small fortune was required to boost the Jacobite chances of success during the spring of 1746. On March 24th the Royal Navy captured a French ship carrying the money destined for the Jacobite army. Its loss was a disaster. With dwindling funds and the British army hard on his heels (reinvigorated by troops recalled from Flanders under the command of George II's son, William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland) Charles Edward resolved against the advice of his commanders to fight sooner rather than later and on marshland.
The Culloden Memorial Cairn erected in 1881 commemorates 'the graves of the gallant Highlanders who fought for Scotland & Prince Charlie'. As the new visitor centre is at pains to explain, the composition of the opposing armies was more complex than this suggests. Scots fought for and against the Stuart cause throughout the nine-month campaign. The Jacobite army contained predominantly Highland Scots but there was also an English company. The British army contained predominantly lowland but some Highland Scots as well as English, Welsh and Hessian troops. Therefore, at Culloden, Highlander killed Highlander.
The defeat of the Jacobite army in the rebellion's bloody conclusion at Culloden on April 16th, 1746, the last battle fought on the British mainland, led to the rolling out of a new and uncompromisingly ruthless British government policy: the extinction of core Stuart support via the systematic dismantling of the ancient social and military order of the Highland clans. The wearing of tartan was banned, the feudal bond of military service of the chiefs over their clan removed. Decades later came the Clearances and mass migration. So the last hurrah of the Stuart cause had been stopped in its tracks and then, just to be certain, categorically and violently stamped out. The Duke of Cumberland's enthusiastic involvement in this process and his encouragement of the atrocities that occurred after Culloden--committed by his Scottish and English troops alike--won him the soubriquet 'The Butcher'. Charles Edward had controversially abandoned the field and, after declaring sauve qui peut, disappeared into the mountains with Cumberland's men in pursuit. He, of course, escaped with the heroic assistance of Flora MacDonald and died in Rome in 1788: by all accounts a drink-befuddled and bitter man. But his legendary alter ego lived on.
In 1977 Oliver Millar, Surveyor of the Queen's Pictures, referred to a recently acquired portrait of Charles Edward by Louis-Gabriel Blanchet as a much--needed corrective to Bonnie Prince Charlie Entering the Ballroom at Holyroodhouse by the Scottish artist John Pettie, dated 1891-92, 'which might be chosen in an unguarded moment as a jacket for a novel by D.K. Broster, but would be more at home on a tin of Edinburgh rock in Prince's Street'. The unfortunate object of Millar's wit had been presented to George V in 1916 and probably arrived at the Palace of Holyroodhouse, Edinburgh soon after. Since the 1920s it has been displayed above the fireplace in the 'Page of the Back Stairs Room; part of the original first floor State Rooms, currently closed to the public. As a painting it displays the skill and aplomb expected of a successful and well-regarded Royal Academician. But nowhere else could this painting have such resonance--the ballroom itself is a mere stroll away.
What seems to have disturbed Millar is a perceived lack of authenticity in direct contrast to Blanchet's portrait of the teenage Charles Edward, dated 1739. This is not only a contemporary image of the historical figure, but is obviously intended as a recognisable, if idealised, physical likeness. It represents, in bearing and symbolism, an appropriate image for a virile royal prince in the formal 'baroque' tradition: the rich swathes of ermine, gold and silver armour and the badges of the two Orders of the Garter and the Thistle, all worn with ease and entitlement and, as a backdrop, the 'Stuart sun' at last rising.
Millar's response to Petrie's late 19th-century imagining is unsurprising for an expert in the 17th-century Stuart court paintings of Van Dyck and Lely. He is no fan of the type of mawkish sentimentalism that the Victorian painting appears to represent. By placing Petrie's Charles Edward alongside popular historical fiction and a tourist memento Millar effectively and efficiently dismissed it from serious critical appreciation. Yet Petrie's Bonnie Prince Charlie is not a straightforward attempt at historical recreation and was never intended as such. History may be the starting point, and it is not completely absent from the finished product. As the historian and curator Robin Nicholson states, Petrie's painting is one 'of the most enduring expressions of its subject's iconography. In many ways the apotheosis'. Ultimately the work owes more to literature, mythology and even to theatre than to history or antiquarianism. Its potency and therefore popularity lie in its blurring of fact and fiction. It consciously connects with the prince's own carefully constructed self-imagery, the appropriation of Highland tartan plaid as a Jacobite symbol and the melding of Highland culture with Scottish identity after the destruction of the Jacobite cause at Culloden. To a greater degree it plays with the opposing identities of Charles Edward himself: on the one side the charismatic but deeply flawed man and challenger for the British crown of history, on the other the messianic youth and Scottish freedom fighter of mythology.
Pettie's image has graced the covers of serious histories as well as the packaging of Walker's Bonnie Prince Charlie Shortbread, which claims to be 'elegant fingers of shortbread presented in a tin adorned with a painting of Bonnie Prince Charlie. Scottish through and through'. Sir Oliver must have smiled. What is clear is that Petrie's painting symbolises what Charles Edward had become by the late 19th century, rather than what he may have been in 1745. In turn, it is Petrie's Bonnie Prince Charlie rather than Blanchet's Charles Edward Stuart that in the popular imagination is the recognisable Jacobite icon today.
The title of Petrie's painting places his lead character within a specific moment in his personal history and within the progress of the '45. The scene occurs during the prince's six-week residency at Holyroodhouse in the autumn of that year. Charles Edward, as regent on his father's behalf, self-consciously and openly established a court at this ancient seat of the monarchs of Scotland sitting 'in council', holding levees and hosting evening entertainments in the Great Gallery or ballroom. This was deemed by some to be highly appropriate, to others highly provocative. At this precise moment in the dramatic events of the '45 Charles Edward had taken the Scottish capital city and proclaimed his father King lames VIII and III. In retrospect his presence at Holyroodhouse was one of the high points, if not the apogee, of the entire campaign what his biographer Andrew Lang poignantly described in 1900 as 'his little hour of royalty'.
Likewise the particular resonance of the scene depicted by Petrie, tinged with retrospective tragedy, would not have been lost on the knowledgeable observer. The painting was first exhibited at the Royal Academy in London in spring 1892, a time when exhibitors were conscious of how hard their paintings needed to work within a densely hung and crowded gallery. Subject, composition and effect were vital in attracting the attention of the public and art critics alike. To a great extent Pettie's choice of subject and his response to it was selected and modified to compete within this challenging arena. Charles Edward is caught in the process of stepping forward apparently bathed in the light of a thousand candles. Behind him in the shadows stand two broad-shouldered Highlanders, beyond which the interior detail is obscured by darkness. The focus is the figure of the prince himself and here there is a wealth of luxury, texture and colour, from the ivory flowered silk beneath his pale blue velvet coat, the red tartan plaid and the flashes of lace at the neck and wrists. The warm auburn curls of the prince's natural hair are arranged over his shoulders and contrast with the luminous white gold of his halo-like wig. The expanse of the ballroom's plain wooden floor between the prince and his audience is littered with ribbons and flowers, evoking an operatic curtain call. But in this instance the recipient of the silent applause and adulation barely acknowledges it. His is an inscrutable expression--one slightly raised eyebrow alone animating the elegant, almost feminine face.
Pettie has created an image that sits between the traditional genres of history painting and portraiture, a style reflected in the work of fellow academician John Everett Millais, in particular in his famous canvas The Princes in the Tower of 1878. Millais' painting relates to Petrie's later work in many respects: its small scale, the essential elements of the 'stripped-down' composition and as a poignant reference to doomed youth and doomed dynastic aspiration. Millais' painting cannot be described as a likeness of Edward V or the Duke of York, but its composition, like Petrie's, creates the illusion of a portrait. Similarly Petrie's prince is a dignified yet apparently passive recipient of his audience's scrutiny and here the audience is both the contemporary visitor to the Royal Academy and the mid-18th century Jacobite courtier. The response of the courtier is evident from the tokens lying at the prince's feet. The prince now awaits the judgement of the visitor.
In resisting any hint of triumphalism in his central character Pettie appears to echo the reported observations of opposition Whigs who witnessed Charles Edward's arrival in Edinburgh, rather than the prince's supporters. As paraphrased by Robert Chambers' History of the Rebellion in 1745 (1869):
The Jacobites, delighted beyond measure by the gallant aspect of their idol ... fondly compared Charles to King Robert the Bruce, whom they said he resembled in figure, as they fondly anticipated he would also do in his fortunes. The Whigs ... acknowledged he was a goodly person, but observed that, even in that triumphant hour, when about to enter the palace of his fathers, the air of his countenance was languid and melancholy; that he looked like a gentleman and man of fashion, but not like a hero or a conqueror.
This absence of the 'conquering hero' irritated one prominent art critic in 1892 who wrote: 'It is difficult to imagine a rendering of a popular theme at once more melodramatic and more dispiriting in its absence of true fire than Mr John Petrie's Bonnie Prince Charlie.' What disappointed Claude Philips, in particular the absence of 'true fire', is an intriguing observation and cannot refer to the lively handling of the painted surface but to the apparent restraint in its emotional effect. Clearly Philips would have preferred Pettie's prince to display more passion at a moment of great personal triumph and crucial national importance. Echoing Philips, Andrew Lang observed:
Mr Pettie's picture of Bonnie Prince Charlie, in the Royal Academy, is no doubt a learned work, and the Prince is 'bonnie' enough. But he is rather pretty than beautiful, a petit-maitre, with a weak, foolish, fair face, and beautiful hair under his wig. This is not he who would fain have led the charge at Gladsmuir [Prestonpans], whose heart broke at Derby, who, by little fault of his own, did not fall at Culloden.
Lang's particular use of the term petit-maitre is revealing. In the 1892 Concise Dictionary of the French and English Languages the phrase variously means 'fop, coxcomb; exquisite, beau: In short, Petrie's prince was more bonnie than manly, more the effete foreign chevalier than the heir to William Wallace and the Bruce.
In spite of his demonstrable leadership qualities and personal allure the historical Charles Edward was neither in appearance nor in character a true heir to the Scottish warrior-heroes of the past. Pettie's interpretation reflects this historical fact and in general terms the artist has followed the physical traits of his subject as recounted in 18th-century sources. Engraved images were certainly available to him yet it is likely that an extraordinary art world event a few years previously was not only a visual resource, but potentially the stimulus for the entire project. The 1889 Exhibition of the Royal House of Stuart at The New Gallery, London, whose patron and major lender was Queen Victoria, offered an unprecedented opportunity to view a wealth of paintings, portraits and Stuart/Jacobite 'relics' from private and institutional collections covering several hundred years of Stuart history. Among them was the 1739 portrait by Blanchet. Petrie has perhaps made reference to this work in the gesture of the prince's left hand resting on the hilt of the sword. The Royal Collection exhibits of 1889 included a small painting catalogued as Charles II at a Ball Given at the Hague on the Eve of the Restoration by Hieronymus Janseens, c. 1660. It is tempting to suggest that the context of Janseens' painting, a court entertainment--the graceful 'suspended' posture of the king-in-waiting and the resonance of the subject, a Stuart in exile--may have inspired Pettie's own 'Charles Stuart'. At the very least the exhibition would have reminded the artist of the dramatic possibilities inherent in the turbulent history of the Stuart dynasty.
However, the key to Pettie's interpretation of the person and history of Charles Edward is an author who would have been crucial to the public's recognition of both subject and meaning: Sir Walter Scott. Pettie's nephew and biographer Martin Hardie wrote of the artist in 1909, that 'he was powerfully affected by the novels of Scott, his richness of romance and stirring incident, his masterly portrayal of character, his glow of life and colour'. The subject of Scott's first novel Waverley; or 'tis Sixty Years (first published in 1814) is, of course, the '45. It is confirmed as Pettie's inspiration by Hardie who says 'another Scott scene, chosen from Waverley, was painted in 1892, and shows "Bonnie Prince Charlie" at the moment when the young chevalier is entering the ballroom at Holyrood, with flowers strewn at his feet'. In Waverley, the reader and the eponymous hero first encounter Charles Edward almost by accident:
A young man, wearing his own fair hair, distinguished by the dignity of his mien and the noble expression of his well-formed and regular features, advanced out of a circle of military gentlemen and Highland chiefs, by whom he was surrounded.
Here, too, Pettie offers an impression of his subject, as if we have stepped into the shoes of Edward Waverley himself. Any elaboration is supplied by the pre-knowledge and imagination of the viewer--surely deriving from the seductive pages of Waverley. In fact Pettie has assimilated the description of Charles Edward quoted with a later event in the novel. In the chapter entitled 'The Ball' Scott uses the context of the prince's 'little hour of royalty' to present a figure of such dignity, courtesy and humility that the reader at that moment can be left in no doubt as to why this man is capable of stimulating an ardent loyalty in his followers. The ball at Holyroodhouse is therefore a stunning example of Scott's facility to define the 'stirring incident' and Pettie has followed Scott's lead. It is fitting then that Petrie's image was included in the Border Edition of Scott's complete novels published in 1892.
Yet Scott was no besotted admirer of the historical Charles Edward or his cause--this was after all the man who orchestrated the Highland fantasia that was George IV's Edinburgh visit in 1822. In Tales of a Grandfather (first published in 1828) Scott argues that the prince's adherence to 'perverse ... antiquated doctrines of divine hereditary right and passive obedience' and his Roman Catholicism meant 'he was presented to the British nation without any alteration or modification of those false tenets in church and state so obnoxious to those whom he called his subjects, and which had cost his ancestor a throne.' Such adherence to regal prerogative coupled with a 'temper naturally haughty and cold' led, in Scott's opinion, to a profound indifference to the suffering of his followers for it 'was the duty of every subject to sacrifice everything for his Prince, and if this duty was discharged, what results could be imagined too difficult for their efforts?'
A comment by Pettie's nephew may offer a hint as to the artist's own opinion: 'The contrast between the prince with his fair, but rather weak, sensual face, and his two stalwart Highland supporters, is cleverly enforced.' It suggests that Pettie's sympathies lay--like Scott's--with the brave and loyal Highland clans, not with a self-indulgent and ultimately uncaring prince who, when the time came, would abandon them to their fate.
The late 19th century was an intriguing moment to present a new vision of Charles Edward Stuart to the British public. In the same month as the Royal Academy exhibition opened an article by the Marquis de Ruvigny and Raineval in The Albermarle declared the arrival of 'The New Jacobitism', the manifesto of the Legitimist Jacobite League of Great Britain and Ireland whose purpose was
... to let the nation know that the present occupant of the throne reigns only by Act of Parliament and by no right of descent; that the House of Hanover rules over these realms solely by virtue of an unconstitutional and arbitrary act, passed by an illegal Convention without receiving the sanction of the people. To let them know that there is a princess who worthily represents the elder branch of the Royal House of Stuart: a princess [Maria Theresa of Austria-Este, 1849-1919] descended from the daughter of our Royal Martyr, Charles L, and, therefore, but for the iniquitous Act of Settlement, Queen of these realms.
To prove that they were in earnest the League selected parliamentary candidates, revealing the potency of the Stuart cause over a century after Culloden. Indeed it still inspires followers to this day. The Stuart exhibition organisers in 1889 had been at pains to stress the evenhanded, apolitical nature of the exhibition, stating that 'the scope and aim of the Exhibition is purely historical'. Even so, Queen Victoria's enthusiastic support requires some explanation. This was after all the dynasty that her Hanoverian forebears had replaced, a circumstance that the exiled Stuarts had persistently sought to reverse through armed rebellion. However it seems that Victoria was content to ignore or perhaps repackage the history, preferring to view the Stuarts as her tragic kin. Lord Macaulay recalled in 1850:
To dinner at the Palace. The Queen was most gracious to me. She talked much about my book, and owned that she had nothing to say for her poor ancestor James the Second. 'Not your Majesty's ancestor,' said I; 'your Majesty's predecessor'.
In 1884 Victoria published the second volume of her Highland journal covering the years 1862-82, the period following the death of Prince Albert in 1860. During a visit to Edinburgh in the late summer of 1872 she recounts an excursion to Loch Arkaig and a meeting with Cameron of Lochiel:
It was, as General Ponsonby observed afterwards, a striking scene. 'There was Lochiel,' as he said, 'whose great-grand-uncle had been the real moving cause of the rising of 1745--for without him Prince Charles would not have made the attempt- showing your Majesty (whose great-great-grandfather he had striven to dethrone) the scenes made historical by Prince Charlie's wanderings. It was a scene one could not look on unmoved.
Victoria then makes the following impassioned and extraordinary statement:
Yes; and l feel a sort of reverence in going over these scenes in this most beautiful country, which I am proud to call my own, where there was such devoted loyalty to the family of my ancestors--for Stuart blood is in my veins, and I am now their representative, and the people are as devoted and loyal to me as they were to that unhappy race.
The root of Victoria's self-identification with the exiled Stuarts lies in her genuine love of Scotland and in a 'reconciliation' between the dynasties that saw George III award a pension to Charles Edward's brother and heir, Henry Benedict, Cardinal of York, the Jacobite Henry I and IX (1725-1807). In turn the cardinal, on his death in 1807, bequeathed a legacy to the Prince of Wales, later George IV, which included the Stuart Coronation ring. These items remain in the Royal Collection, many poignantly displayed at Holyroodhouse in the apartments formerly occupied by Charles Edward. Such rehabilitation could occur because the Stuarts and the Jacobite cause had been neutralised as a political threat: a process that Scott had assisted. This meant that in 1892 Pettie could produce an image of the 'Young Pretender' that would have been considered unchallenging to the incumbent of the throne, her direct ancestors and heirs. Yet, the contrast between Pettie's lithe, golden youth and the now aged and corpulent matriarch would certainly have been cause for comment. Imperious and flawed he may prove to be, but the boy king had returned, as the Skye Boat Song of 1884 had predicted. Mawkish sentimentalism, literary 'animation', or the arrival of a poster boy for the new Jacobitism? This was, and is, in the eye of the beholder. Whichever way, Pettie's image is undoubtedly iconic.
Further Reading Murray Pittock, The Invention of Scotland: The Stuart Myth and the Scottish Identity, 1638 to the Present (Routledge 1991); Robin Nicholson, Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Making of a Myth (Lewisburg and London, 2002); Bruce Lenman, The Jacobite Risings in Britain, 1689-1746 (Scottish Cultural Press, 1995); Frank McLynn, Bonnie Prince Charlie (Pimlico, 2003); Daniel Szechi, The Jacobites. Britain and Europe 1688-1788 (Manchester University Press, 1994).
For further articles on this subject, visit: www.historytoday.com/stuart
Jacqueline Riding's book on the'45 Rebellion is due to be published by Bloomsbury in 2013.
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|Title Annotation:||Bonnie Prince Charlie|
|Article Type:||Cover story|
|Date:||Apr 1, 2011|
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