ScotWars - Scottish Military History and Re-enactment
Flora MacDonald
Highland 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 on Skye.

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