Over the Sea to Skye
We follow the trail of Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobites through the Highlands
In the summer of 1745, Bonnie Prince Charlie sailed from France aboard the Du Teillay, landing on the island of Eriskay in the Outer Hebrides on 2 August. It was the start of the “Forty-Five” or the second Jacobite rising, which ended not in the restoration of a Stuart monarch, but in bloody ruin on the fields of Culloden, the last full-scale battle fought on British soil.
The dramatic tale has received a recent boost in popularity thanks to American author Diana Gabaldon’s bestselling historic fiction series Outlander and the popular television adaptation – although Gabaldon takes a severely critical view of the oft-romanticised Prince Charles, characterising him as egomaniacal, out of touch and a disastrous tactician. Yet this last hope for the Jacobite Stuart dynasty remains a fascinating symbol of a turbulent quest for identity, faith and nationhood that still has resonance today.
The origins of the risings lie in the 17th century. The restoration of the Catholic King Charles II to the throne ended the Commonwealth era that followed the English Civil War, but not the accompanying religious turmoil Charles’s brother and successor, King James II and VII, introduced promoting religious tolerance, but that alarmed the Anglican establishment, who interpreted it as a propping up of the Catholic minority.
When James’s second wife gave birth to a son, heralding the continuation of a Catholic dynasty, the king’s son-in-law, William of Orange – a staunch champion of Protestantism – began to assemble an expeditionary force. A group of seven English noblemen (the “Immortal Seven”) sent William a formal invitation in 1688 to come to England and overthrow the monarch, promising that the people would rise up and support him. The invitation was a key political strategy, making palatable the invasion of a foreign power.
William landed with a Dutch army at Brixham in Torbay, Devon, that November and James’s support quickly dissolved, with major defections from the English army; James fled to Catholic France. William’s victory, known as the Glorious Revolution, made him and wife Mary, the oldest daughter of James II and VII, joint monarchs and was a relatively peaceful transition.
However, James still had staunch supporters in the Scottish Highlands – the term “Jacobite” is derived from “James” – who saw this as a coup by force and refused to pledge loyalty to the new monarch.
Led by the Viscount Dundee, and supported by troops from Ireland as well as Roman Catholic and Church of Scotland clans and members of many Scottish noble families, the rebels defeated William’s superior army at the Battle of Killiecrankie in 1689.
An English soldier is said to have escaped by making a death-defying jump across the wooded gorge –you can still visit the spot, now known as Soldier’s Leap. But the Jacobite forces went on to suffer heavy defeats, and when William offered the Highland clans a pardon in exchange for taking the oath of allegiance, they accepted.