The Romance of Jacobitism

The history of Jacobitism is long and complex and is debated over in many different ways. Today we thought we’d take a little look into how the Jacobites have been romanticised over the years since Culloden.

Culloden Battlefield


One of the most obvious examples of this is ‘Bonnie Prince Charlie’. In his lifetime he was Prince Charles Edward Stuart, the man who attempted to lead the Jacobites to victory against the British Government and reclaim the throne for his father. Following his defeat however, he became an alcoholic and a wife beater but many do not know of this side of him, they only know the ‘Bonnie Prince’ which did not come about until after the end of the ’45.

So how did he become such a ‘hero’? The Jacobites capture peoples attention for many reasons. They could be portrayed as the underdogs fighting for what they believed in. Their defeat in 1746 led to the pacification of the Highlands and the destruction of a way of life. It is not hard to see how the main characters can form a good vs evil with Bonnie Prince Charlie and ‘The Butcher’ Cumberland.

Culloden Memorial Cairn


In the Victorian era we saw the publication of ‘Waverley’ by Sir Walter Scott. This book helped popularise a relatively new notion of the romance of the Jacobites in the age of Scottish Enlightenment. After this we then have King George IV visiting Scotland, the first visit by a reigning monarch in nearly two centuries. His visit was orchestrated in part by Sir Walter Scott who used the occasion to bring old traditions back to life. Clan chieftains were celebrated, tartan worn proudly and Scotland was swept up in a new wave of popularity.

It is in the Victorian age where we see clan tartans born. In Jacobite times there were no specific clan tartans, patterns were often regional based on available materials. But in the 1800’s each clan could have their own design and wear it with pride. So in Victorian times as the Scottish Highlands become more accessible and the idea of clans and tartans become popular it is not too hard to see how the Jacobites become another symbol of Scotland and are morphed into characters that might not quite match the reality.

25613 Culloden 259.jpg
Culloden Grave Stones


The Jacobites have become to some an image of a brave and loyal Scottish warrior even though the truth can be much more bitter. Firstly, Jacobites were not all Scottish, there were men from England, Wales, France and more supporting the Jacobite cause. Not only that but many men did not choose to be a Jacobite. Men were forced out of their homes to fight and if they refused they would have faced terrible penalties. Secondly, whilst they could certainly be classed as brave they could be as brutal as any other army in their acts against their enemies. When discussing history today it is important we are not swept up in an idealised situation and recognise the truth of people actions and their outcomes.

Prince Charles Edward Stuart has been viewed as selfish, arrogant and unworthy and it is important we portray these interpretations of the man as well as the image of ‘Bonnie Prince Charlie’ who was brave, heroic and loyal.

We hope you enjoyed our wee insight into the world of romanticised history. There are many stories to tell which we couldn’t possibly cover in one go. As always please like, comment, share, tweet and keep coming back for more.

All the best, K & D


14 thoughts on “The Romance of Jacobitism

  1. Bonnie Prince Charlie, as with all people, had -ve and +ve attributes. Firstly, let us not judge a man of another era by the standards of this one. Secondly, he is not here to explain/defend himself. Thirdly, as with all history, it is written by the victor according to their norms, neutralisation, rationalisation etc. In his case, the victors remain in power and history reflects their perspective for a variety of reasons. Secondly, many historians have simply regurgitated this earlier work. Sir Walter Scott claimed records were removed from the Stuart papers he was employed to research. Sir Horace Mann, the British spy in Italy, was reprimanded by the British Parliament for being so vitriolic in his reports about Prince Charlie ~ reports later used as the basis of much historical research.

    In the 21st century I do not approve of the beating of wives, but in the 18th century it was the norm, so we can’t blame him for that. He was distraught by what “the Butcher” did to the wounded etc and it haunted him for the rest of his life. In this era we would label and treat it as Post Traumatice Stress Disorder, in his era he found solace in the bottle. Yes..there were highlanders, low landers, Irishmen, French and Welsh men who followed him. As for those who had to, again it was the way of the era, not ours. The bottom line is the unelected English parliament did not have the right to choose Scotland’s King ~ the ensuing fight was fought according to the standards of the era ~ except perhaps the butchery, and today no British regiment is allowed to wear the colours of Culloden because of the shame caused by Butcher Cumberland, who also died a broken drunk.

    I believe Bonnie Prince Charlie is one of the most wronged men are in history. Most don’t realise he was offered the Kingdoms of Poland and America, which at the time of the American Revolution was still in favour of monarchy. He was supported by many of the European royal families. Look further than British based records to get a fuller picture of him. He is buried in St Peters Basillica and his casket bore the words “KingCharles III” of Britain. Various Hanoverian royals supported him, bowed to him etc over the years.

    I challenge you to look into his life from a much broader perspective than English controlled sources, somewhere between the broken drunk and hero on biscuit tins lies the real man, who had been very wronged.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I love the information you’ve provided, Trish and thank you for it. One question I have remaining is though Prince Charlie was a man who’d been wronged, I find it curious he is still regarded as a hero when in fact his inappropriate actions to lead the fight at Culloden led to the wiping out of Highland life.
      This is not to say that he was responsible for Cumberland’s actions but he did make a very poor decision in deciding to fight that day, disregarding his advisors and not giving thought to how exhausted and starving the Jacobites were that fateful morning.


  2. Hi Trish you are so right in all you say about Bonnie Prince Charlie I have done considerable research on his life and as a nurse I studied Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I agree completely ! This condition often leads to alcohol abuse and was not officially recognised until 1972! I d line to ask a favour I’m a member of several Jacobite groups including Jacobites . Group to stop development at Culloden and the 1745 Assocation. Please mai I share the post with them as it will include ur comment .


  3. ~Trish, I would agree with most what you said, I can guess you are well-read in newer literature like Frank McLynn. I read this as well. I am Polish and seen lots of old WWII veterans in my youth, often heavily-drinking, sometimes violent, with flashes of PTSD nightmares. So I see the problems of the Prince as something rather common than unusual.A hero in his young age, can be a drunken wife-beating wreck in his old era, two things are not contradictory.
    I would say that he was infantilised in the Victorian era. See, how often articles about Culloden are illustrated with the image of a 14 years old boy. Portraying the losing side by the victorious side as minors, or wild natives, is a very typical colonial propaganda.

    I may have a question to you – where had you find an info as the Prince was offered the Crown of Poland? In fact, it wouldnt be easy, as the crown of the Poland-Lithuania was electionary, and he might need to first, obtain Polish nobility status, then to stand in elections. This opportunity emerged in 1764, I think, and I personally believe he would be a better king as the person who win, as we badly needed a warrior king at that time, but ended up with a philosopher instead 😉 And it did not end well. Anyway, I do not think he was ever a candidate, though perhaps someone asked him if he would wish to become one…


  4. Appreciated the attempt to present a balanced view in a few short paragraphs. Someone might, however, want to correct the beginning of the fourth. Waverley was published in 1814 and George IV visited Edinburgh in 1822. Neither event took place in the ‘Victorian age’. The Georgian era did not end until the death of the last Georgian king, William IV, in 1837.


  5. It is quite difficult not to feel romantic about the reckless attempt by the Young Pretender to restore his father’s Crown. We should be aware that wisdom is seldom associated with narrow-eyed royalty.
    Despite the tragic end and the cruel aftermath of this short ”45 adventure its place in music and story is permanent


    • Lorna, many sources are available in academic libraries that have access to the Gale State Papers Online, Secretaries of State: State Papers Scotland (3 or 4 sub-sections). Other sources – in Stuart Papers, Windsor, copies may be available in some other libraries but I am based in Poland and have no good knowledge of it.


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