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Charles Edward Stuart

(1720—1788) Jacobite claimant to the English, Scottish, and Irish thrones

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B. 31 Dec. 1720, s. of James Stuart (‘the Old Pretender’) and Clementina, da. of James Sobiewski; m. Louise, da. of Gustav Adolf of Stolberg-Gedern and Elizabeth, da. of Maximilian de Hornes, 28 Mar. 1772; d. 31 Jan. 1788; bur. Frascati, Italy.

In ‘Bonnie Prince Charlie’, ‘the Young Pretender’, the Jacobite cause at last found a man who had some qualities of leadership. Unfortunately for him, his enterprise in 1745 came thirty years too late. The Hanoverians had been allowed to establish themselves in England, the critical arena, where the response to the Jacobite appeal was derisory.

Fair-haired, blue-eyed, and slim, Charles was twenty-four when he landed with seven followers on Eriskay on 2 August 1745. Highland support enabled him to take Perth and Edinburgh, and to defeat Cope's scratch army at Prestonpans on 21 September. Charles crossed the English border near Carlisle on 8 November with an army of some four thousand men. They reached Derby without gaining many English recruits and on 5 December, at a council of war, resolved to retreat. Only Charles argued for the advance to continue. Both sides were right. A further advance was extremely hazardous, yet it probably represented the only chance of success remaining. The retreat ended at Culloden in April 1746, when Charles's disposition of his men was not good, and his troops were slaughtered. After a daring escape, with the help of Flora Macdonald, he made his way back to France by September 1746.

The rest of his life in exile was a sad anti-climax. He took to drink and became sleepy and corpulent. In 1766 he succeeded his father, taking the title Charles III, but was recognized by few courts. His marriage in 1772 was a disaster and his wife left him for the poet, Alfieri. Horace Mann reported in 1773 that he was ‘seldom quite sober’. His funeral service was conducted by his brother, Cardinal York, who succeeded him as the titular Henry IX.

Charles Edward Stuart. Copy of a pastel drawing of Bonnie Prince Charlie done in France in 1748, soon after Charles's return from the heroic Scottish adventure. Many copies and engravings were made for Jacobite sympathisers. Source: Unknown; after Maurice Quentin de la Tour, Prince Charles Edward Stewart, 1720–1788. Eldest son of Prince James Francis Edward Stewart, Scottish National Portrait Gallery

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