lass Flora MacDonald helped to smuggle the fugitive Bonnie
Prince Charlie to Skye under the noses of government soldiers
"Speed, bonnie boat, like a bird on the wing "Onward",
the sailors cry: Carry the lad that's born to be king Over
the sea to Skye."
Prince Charles Edward Stewart had been
dressed as an Irish maid, Betty Burke, in a specially made
frock of white calico with a pattern of lilac sprigs. Once
on Skye, he managed to cross the island and make his way
to Raasay and eventually to France. Flora, of course, was
swiftly arrested and taken by sea to Edinburgh and onwards
to London, a political prisoner. And quite apart from the
perilous situation she was in, the 24-year-old Flora's life
had changed for ever. She had become a celebrity.
Even while she waited for two months
aboard HMS Bridgewater in the Firth of Forth, she was the
focus of much excitement among the Jacobites of Leith. Tea-table
Jacobites, they have been called. The indulgent ship's captain
allowed Flora as many visitors as she wished, and the local
women of society couldn't get enough of her. Sometimes,
they danced together in her cabin, although Flora declined
to join in. Their visits became the stuff of drawing room
chat and the visitors were also able to feed Flora's reminiscences
to an Episcopalian priest, Rev Robert Forbes, who was busily
collecting stories about the Jacobite uprisings.
In this circus-like atmosphere, with
the possibility of a death sentence hanging over her, the
young woman managed to maintain her dignity. Fame was something
she could do without. Yet when she reached London, the seat
of a government with a reputation for taking revenge, things
would get even worse. Other Scots implicated in Bonnie Prince
Charlie's failed adventure were being put on trial and sentenced
to death by decapitation. Their severed heads were being
displayed in London, Carlisle and Manchester. Yet while
Flora waited anxiously for her own fate, as the year turned
to 1747, her celebrity even increased. Despite the death
sentences, or may be even because of them, Jacobite sympathies
were being expressed again.
Then, incredibly, she was commanded
to meet Frederick, the Prince of Wales. It's thought the
prince did this just to annoy his father, George II. But
the prince was so taken with Flora's open manner that he
made sure 'to procure her every comfort'.
Part of the reason for all this alarming
fame was a spoof novelette called Alexis, or The Young Adventurer.
Published anonymously, it was a thinly disguised account
of Prince Charlie's campaign with the names changed. This
witty piece was the talk of fashionable London.
Nearly a year after her capture,
an amnesty was declared and Flora Mac Donald was freed.
Back on Skye, Flora was married in 1750 to Allan MacDonald
of' Kingsburgh, and they emigrated to America. When her
husband was made a prisoner durinq the War of Independence,
Flora returned to the Hebridies to await his release. In
1790, she died in the bed at Kingsburgh, which had been
slept in by Bonnie Prince Charlie during his last night