The Story Of Prince Charles Edward Stuart
( Originally Published 1909 )
THE royal families of Europe are widely known, yet not all of them are equally renowned. Thus, the house of Romanoff, although comparatively young, stands out to the mind with a sort of barbaric power, more vividly than the Austrian house of Hapsburg, which is the oldest reigning family in Europe, tracing its beginnings backward until they are lost in the Dark Ages. The Hohenzollerns of Prussia are comparatively modern, so far as concerns their royalty. The offshoots of the Bourbons carry on a very proud tradition in the person of the King of Spain, although France, which has been been ruled by so many members of the family, will probably never again behold a Bourbon king. The deposed Braganzas bear a name which is ancient, but which has a somewhat tinsel sound.
The Bonapartes, of course, are merely parvenus, and they have had the good taste to pretend to no antiquity of birth. The first Napoleon, dining at a table full of monarchs, when he heard one of them deferentially alluding to the Bonaparte family as being very old and noble, exclaimed :
"Pish! My nobility dates from the day of Marengo!"
And the third Napoleon, in announcing his coming marriage with Mlle. de Montijo, used the very word "parvenu" in speaking of him-self and of his family. His frankness won the hearts of the French people and helped to reconcile them to a marriage in which the bride was barely noble.
In English history there are two great names to conjure by, at least to the imaginative. One is Plantagenet, which seems to contain within itself the very essence of all that is patrician, magnificent, and royal. It calls to memory at once the lion-hearted Richard, whose short reign was replete with romance in England and France and Austria and the Holy Land.
But perhaps a name of greater influence is that which links the royal family of Britain today with the traditions of the past, and which summons up legend and story and great deeds of history. This is the name of Stuart, about which a whole volume might be written to recall its suggestions and its reminiscences.
The first Stuart (then Stewart) of whom anything is known got his name from the title of Steward of Scotland," which remained in the family for generations, until the, sixth of the line, by marriage with Princess Marjory Bruce, acquired the Scottish crown. That was in the early years of the fourteenth century ; and finally, after the death of Elizabeth of England, her rival's son, James VI. of Scotland and I. of England, united under one crown two kingdoms that had so long been at almost constant war.
It is almost characteristic of the Scot that, having small territory, little wealth, and a seat among his peers that is almost ostentatiously humble, he should bit by bit absorb the possessions of all the rest and become their master. Surely, the proud Tudors, whose line ended with Elizabeth, must have despised the "Stewards," whose kingdom was small and bleak and cold, 'and who could not control their own vassals.
One can imagine also, with Sir Walter Scott, the haughty nobles of the English court sneering covertly at the awkward, shambling James, pedant and bookworm. Nevertheless, his diplomacy was almost as good as that of Elizabeth herself; and, though he did some foolish things, he was very far from being a fool.
In his appearance James was not unlike Abraham Lincoln—an unkingly figure; and yet, like Lincoln, when occasion required it he could rise to the dignity which makes one feel the presence of a king. He was the only Stuart who lacked anything in form or feature or external grace. His son, Charles I., was perhaps one of the worst rulers that England has ever had ; yet his uprightness of life, his melancholy yet hand-some face, his graceful bearing, and the strong religious element in his character, together with the fact that he was put to death after being treacherously surrendered to his enemies—all these have combined to make almost a saint of him. There are Englishmen today who speak of him as "the martyr king," and who, on certain days of the year, say prayers that beg the Lord's forgiveness because of Charles's execution.
The members of the so-called League of the White Rose, founded to perpetuate English allegiance to the direct line of Stuarts, do many things that are quite absurd. They refuse to pray for the present King of England and profess to think that the Princess Mary of Bavaria is the true ruler of Great Britain. All this rep-resents that trace of sentiment which lingers among the English today. They feel that the Stuarts were the last kings of England to rule by the grace of God rather than by the grace of Parliament. As a matter of fact, the present reigning family in England is glad to derive its ancient strain of royal blood through a Stuart—descended on the distaff side from James I., and winding its way through Hanover.
This sentiment for the Stuarts is a thing entirely apart from reason and belongs to the realm of poetry and romance; yet so strong is it that it has shown itself in the most inconsistent fashion. For instance, Sir Walter Scott was a devoted adherent of the house of Hanover. When George IV. visited Edinburgh, Scott was completely carried away by his loyal enthusiasm. He could not see that the man before him was a drunkard and braggart. He viewed him as an incarnation of all the noble traits that ought to hedge about a king. He snatched up a wine-glass from which George had just been drinking and carried it away to be an object of reverence for ever after. Nevertheless, in his heart, and often in his speech, Scott seemed to be a high Tory, and even a Jacobite.
There are precedents for this. The Empress Eugénie used often to say with a laugh that she was the only true royalist at the imperial court of France. That was well enough for her in her days of flightiness and frivolity. No one, however, accused Queen Victoria of being frivolous, and she was not supposed to have a strong sense of humor. None the less, after listening to the skirling of the bagpipes and to the romantic ballads which were sung in Scotland she is said to have remarked with a sort of sigh :
"Whenever I hear those ballads I feel that England belongs really to the Stuarts!"
Before Queen Victoria was born, when all the sons of George III. were childless, the Duke of Kent was urged to marry, so that he might have a family to continue the succession. In resenting the suggestion he said many things, and among them this was the most striking :
"Why don't you call the Stuarts back to England? They couldn't possibly make a worse mess of it than our fellows have !"
But he yielded to persuasion and married. From this marriage came Victoria, who had the sacred drop of Stuart blood which gave England to the Hanoverians; and she was to re-deem the blunders and tyrannies of both houses.
The fascination of the Stuarts, which has been carried overseas to America and the British dominions, probably began with the striking history of Mary Queen of Scots. Her brilliancy and boldness and beauty, and especially the pathos of her end, have made us see only her intense womanliness, which in her own day was the first thing that any one observed in her. So, too, with Charles I., romantic figure and knightly gentleman. One regrets his death upon the scaffold, even though his execution was necessary to the growth of freedom.
Many people are no less fascinated by Charles II., that very different type, with his gaiety, his good-fellowship, and his easy-going ways. It is not surprising that his people, most of whom never saw him, were very fond of him, and did not know that he was selfish, a loose liver, and almost a vassal of the king of France.
So it is not strange that the Stuarts, with all their arts and graces, were very hard to displace. James II., with the aid of the French, fought hard before the British troops in Ireland broke the backs of both his armies and sent him into exile. Again in 1715—an episode perpetuated in Thackeray's dramatic story of Henry Esmond—came the son of James to take advantage of the vacancy caused by the death of Queen Anne. But it is perhaps to this claim-ant's son, the last of the militant Stuarts, that more chivalrous feeling has been given than to any other.
To his followers he was the Young Chevalier, the true Prince of Wales; to his enemies, the Whigs and the Hanoverians, he was "the Pre-tender." One of the most romantic, chapters of history is the one which tells of that last brilliant dash which he made upon the coast of Scotland, landing with but a few attendants and rejecting the support of a French army.
"It is not with foreigners," he said, "but with my own loyal subjects, that I wish to regain the kingdom for my father."
It was a daring deed, and the spectacular side of it has been often commemorated, especially in Sir Walter Scott's Waverley. There we see the gallant prince moving through a sort of military panorama. Most of the British troops were absent in Flanders, and the few regiments that could be mustered to meet him were appalled by the ferocity and reckless courage' of the Highlanders, who leaped down like wildcats from their hills and flung themselves with dirk and sword upon the British cannon.
We see Sir John Cope retiring at Falkirk, and the astonishing victory of Prestonpans, where disciplined British troops fled in dismay through the morning mist, leaving artillery and supplies behind them. It is Scott again who shows us the prince, master of Edinburgh for a time,, while the white rose of Stuart royalty held once more the ancient keep above the Scottish capital. Then we see the Chevalier pressing southward into England, where he hoped to raise an English army to support his own. But his Highlanders cared nothing for England, and the English—even the Catholic gentry—would not rise to support his cause.
Personally, he had every gift that could win allegiance. Handsome, high-tempered, and brave, he could also control his fiery spirit and listen to advice, however unpalatable it might be.
The time was favorable. The British troops had been defeated on the Continent by Marshal Saxe, of whom I have already written, and by Marshal d'Estrées. George II. was a king whom few respected. He could scarcely speak anything but German. He grossly ill-treated his wife. It is said that on one occasion, in a fit of temper, he actually kicked the prime minister. ' Not many felt any personal loyalty to him, and he spent most of his time away from England in his other domain of Hanover.
But precisely here was a reason why English-men were willing to put up with him. As between him and the brilliant Stuart there would have been no hesitation had the choice been merely one of men ; but it was believed that the return of the Stuarts meant the return of some-thing like absolute government, of taxation without sanction of law, and of religious persecution. Under the Hanoverian George the English people had begun to exercise a considerable measure of self-government. Sharp opposition in Parliament compelled him time and again to yield; and when he was in Hanover the English were left to' work out the problem of free government.
Hence, although Prince Charles Edward fascinated all who met him, and although a small army was raised for his support, still the unromantic, common-sense Englishmen felt that things were better than in the days gone by, and most of them refused to take up arms for the cause which sentimentally they favored. There-fore, although the Chevalier stirred all England and sent a thrill through the officers of state in London, his soldiers gradually deserted, and the Scots insisted on returning to their own country. Although the Stuart troops reached a point as far south as Derby, they were soon pushed backward into Scotland, pursued by an army of about nine thousand men under the Duke of Cumberland, son of George II.
Cumberland was no soldier; he had been soundly beaten by the French on the famous field of Fontenoy. Yet he had firmness and a sort of overmastering brutality, which, with disciplined troops and abundant artillery, were sufficient to win a victory over the untrained Highlanders.
When the battle came five thousand of these mountaineers went roaring along the English lines, with the Chevalier himself at their head. For a moment there was surprise. The Duke of Cumberland had been drinking so heavily that he could give no verbal orders. One of his officers, however, is said to have come to him in his tent, where he was trying to play cards.
"What disposition shall we make of the prisoners?" asked the officer.
The duke tried to reply, but his utterance was very thick.
"No quarter!" he was believed to say.
The officer objected and begged that such an order as that should be given in writing. The duke rolled over and seized a sheaf of playing-cards. Pulling one out, he scrawled the necessary order, and that was taken to the commanders in the field.
The Highlanders could not stand the cannon fire, and the English won. Then the fury of the common soldiery broke loose upon the country.
There was a reign of fantastic and fiendish brutality. One provost of the town was violently kicked for a mild remonstrance about the destruction of the Episcopalian meeting-house ; another was condemned to clean out dirty stables. Men and women were whipped and tortured on slight suspicion or to ex-tract information. Cumberland frankly professed his contempt and hatred of the people among whom he found himself, but he savagely punished robberies committed by private soldiers for their own profit.
"Mild measures will not do," he wrote to Newcastle.
When leaving the North in July, he said :
"All the good we have done is but a little blood-letting, which has only weakened the madness, but not at all cured it ; and I tremble to fear that this vile spot may still be the ruin of this island and of our family."
Such was the famous battle of Culloden, fought in 1746, and putting a final end to the hopes of all the Stuarts. As to Cumberland's order for "No quarter," if any apology can be made for such brutality, it must be found in the fact that the Highland chiefs had on their side agreed to spare no captured enemy.
The battle has also left a name commonly given to the nine of diamonds, which is called "the curse of Scotland," because it is said that on that card Cumberland wrote his bloodthirsty order.
Such, in brief, was the story of Prince Charlie's gallant attempt to restore the kingdom of his ancestors. Even when defeated, he would not at once leave Scotland. A French squadron appeared off the coast near Edinburgh. It had been sent to bring him troops and a large supply of money, but he turned his back upon it and made his way into the High-lands on foot, closely pursued by English soldiers and Lowland spies.
This part of his career is in reality the most romantic of all. He was hunted closely, almost as by hounds. For weeks he had only such sleep as he could snatch during short periods of safety, and there were times when his pursuers came within an inch of capturing him. But never in his life were his spirits so high.
It was a sort of life that he had never seen before, climbing the mighty rocks, and listening to the thunder of the cataracts, among which he often slept, with only one faithful follower to guard him. The story of his escape is almost incredible, but he laughed and drank and rolled upon the grass when he was free from care. He hobnobbed with the most suspicious-looking caterans, with whom he drank the smoky brew of the North, and lived as he might on fish and onions and bacon and wild fowl, with an appetite such as he had never known at the luxurious court of Versailles or St: Germain.
After the battle of Culloden the prince would have been captured had not a Scottish girl named Flora Macdonald met him, caused him to be dressed in the clothes of her waiting-maid, and thus got him off to the Isle of Skye.
There for a time it was impossible. to follow him; and there the two lived almost alone together. Such a proximity could not fail to stir the romantic feeling of one who was both a youth and a prince. On the other hand, no thought of love-making seems to have entered Flora's mind. If, however, we read Campbell's narrative very closely we can see that Prince Charles made every advance consistent with a delicate remembrance of her sex and services.
It seems to have been his thought that if she cared for him, then the two might well love ; and he gave her every chance to show him favor. The youth of twenty-five and the girl of twenty-four roamed together in the long, tufted grass or lay in the sunshine and looked out over the sea. The prince would rest his head in her lap, and she would tumble his golden hair with her slender fingers and sometimes clip off tresses which she preserved to give to friends of hers as love-locks. But to the last he was either too high or too low for her, according to her own modest thought. He was a royal prince, the heir to a throne, or else he was a boy with whom she might play quite fancy-free. A lover he could not be—so pure and beautiful was her thought of him.
These were perhaps the most delightful days of all his life, as they were a beautiful memory in hers. In time he returned to France and resumed his place amid the intrigues that surrounded that other Stuart prince who styled himself James III., and still kept up the appearance of a king in exile. As he watched the artifice and the plotting of these make-believe courtiers he may well have thought of his innocent companion of the Highland wilds.
As for Flora, she was arrested and imprisoned for five months on English vessels of war. After her release she was married, in 1750; and she and her husband sailed for the American colonies just before the Revolution. In that war Macdonald became a British officer and served against his adopted countrymen. Perhaps be-cause of this reason Flora returned alone to Scotland, where she died at the age of sixty-eight.
The royal prince who would have given her his easy love lived a life of far less dignity in the years that followed his return to France. There was no more hope of recovering the English throne. For him there were left only the idle and licentious diversions of such a court as that in which his father lived.
At the death of James III., even this court was disintegrated, and Prince Charles led a roving life under the title of Earl of Albany. In his wanderings he met Louise Marie, the daughter of a German prince, Gustavus Adolphus of Stolberg. She was only nineteen years of age when she first felt the fascination that he still possessed; but it was an unhappy marriage for the girl when she discovered that her husband was a confirmed drunkard.
Not long after, in fact, she found her life with him so utterly intolerable that she persuaded the Pope to allow her a formal separation. The pontiff intrusted her to her husband's brother, Cardinal York, who placed her in a convent and presently removed her to his own residence in Rome.
Here begins another romance. She was often visited by Vittorio Alfieri, the great Italian poet and dramatist. Alfieri was a man of wealth. In early years he divided his time into alternate periods during which he either studied hard in civil and canonical law, or was a constant attendant upon the race-course, or rushed aimlessly all over Europe without any object except to wear out the post-horses which he used in relays over hundreds of miles of road. His life, indeed, was eccentric almost to insanity; but when he had met the beautiful and lonely Countess of Albany there came over him a striking change. She influenced him for all that was good, and he used to say that he owed her all that was best in his dramatic works.
Sixteen years after her marriage her royal husband died, a worn-out, bloated wreck of one who had been as a youth a model of knightliness and manhood. During his final years he had fallen to utter destitution, and there was either a touch of half contempt or a feeling of remote kinship in the act of George III., who bestowed upon the prince an annual pension of four thousand pounds. It showed most plainly that England was now consolidated under Hanoverian rule.
When Cardinal York died, in 1807, there was no Stuart left in the male line; and the countess was the last to bear the royal Scottish name of Albany.
After the prince's death his widow is said to have been married to Alfieri, and for the rest of her life she lived in Florence, though Alfieri died nearly. twenty-one years before her.
Here we have seen a part of the romance which attaches itself to the name of Stuart—in the chivalrous young prince, leading his Highlanders against the bayonets of the British, lolling idly among the Hebrides, or fallen, at the last, to be a drunkard and the husband of an unwilling consort, who in her turn loved a famous poet. But it is this Stuart, after all, of whom we think when we hear the bagpipes skirling "Over the Water to Charlie" or "Wha'll be King but Charlie?"'