Over the Sea to Skye


Charles Edward Stuart (left), known as the Young Pretender; his father (right), James Edward Stuart, the Old Pretender

The Old Pretender

Yet the Jacobite cause survived, nurtured by resentment of taxation and the English-dominated Westminster parliament. Following an aborted effort to invade in 1708, James IL’s son, known as the Old Pretender, corresponded with the Earl of Mar and encouraged him to raise the clans. In 1715, Mar called clan leaders to a hunting match in Braemar in Aberdeenshire, where he raised the old Scottish standard and hailed James as their lawful sovereign. That instigated the first rising, with Mar’s forces making significant gains before succumbing to the Hanoverian army.

The Jacobites found new Spanish allies in 1719. George Keith, 10th Earl Marischal, led an invading advance party, arriving in Loch Duich and occupying Eilean Donan Castle which stands on a tidal island. However, they were left stranded when neither Highlanders nor the main Spanish force arrived, and in May the Royal Navy dispatched a trio of heavily armed frigates.

After three days of bombardment – which had limited effect due to the castle’s enormous walls, in some places 14ft thick – a detachment went ashore and overwhelmed the Spanish occupiers. The naval force discovered their stores of gunpowder and systematically demolished the castle, which was left in ruins until John MacRae-Gilstrap restored it to its former glory in the early 20th century.

The Young Pretender

Undaunted, James’s son, Charles Stuart, inherited and championed his exiled father’s cause, underlined by the belief that it was God’s will they should reclaim the throne. In July 1745, Charles sailed from France to Scotland, but the mission immediately met with misfortune: British warship the HMS Lion attacked their vessels, the Du Teillay and Elisabeth, the latter nearly sunk and was forced back – along with its precious cargo of men, weapons and supplies. Charles’s ship, successfully landed on Eriskay; local lore has it that the pink flowers which bloom there grew from seeds he dropped from his handkerchief on arrival.

To the dismay of his Scottish allies, Charles had come without French troops and with very little money, only a burning self-belief. However, he gathered support from Clan Cameron, meeting the chief at Glenfinnan, where there now stands a monument to fallen Jacobite clansmen at the head of Loch Shiel. The Lord Justices put out a £30,000 bounty on Charles’s capture; undaunted, Charles offered the same amount for the capture of the English King George II.

The first clash came at Highbridge – known as the Highbridge Skirmish – on 16 August, and was the first of several victories for the Stuart cause. The Jacobites captured Perth and Edinburgh, with Charles entering Holyrood Palace in triumph; 60,000 people lined the Royal Mile to welcome him. Lord George Murray’s surprise attack at nearby Prestonpans routed government forces.

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