The world as seen through the clarifying lens of the 9th Edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica (1875-1889).

Sunday, 29 November 2009

52. Strange contentment under his misfortunes

Saturday evening in the gloomily elegant dining room of Penrith's venerable George Hotel. As a coal fire, which may have been real or else a clever gas-fuelled contrivance, blazed, an elderly Scots widow maintained her dignity in the face of the insufficiently hushed over-familiarity of a retired carpet showroom manager from the Wirral ; glasses of chilled white wine chinked perfunctorily between a man old and wealthy enough to have the taste not to wear a baseball cap at table and yet persist in doing so, and a wife glamorous and witty and bored enough not to care ; and the tall stooped waiter served slowly and unhurriedly without provoking impatience ; and requests for more hot water for the silver service of tea were fulfilled with the same ceremony as a call for champagne ; and the early evening special was very reasonably priced, and the portions heroic, even if the full menu was more splendid yet ; and Mrs Barleycorn left me the shortbread that accompanied her creme brulee ; and three full English pounds felt princely and deserved as a tip.

Perhaps the George Hotel survives the modern indignities of what passes for good society in much the same manner it survived playing host to one of history's most tragic bufoons, for, as an enameled bronze plaque informs us, The Young Pretender "Bonnie Prince Charlie" is believed to have stayed there whilst leading the last invasion of England, in 1746.

Although fondly remembered in melancholic Scots folk song, Charles Edward Louis Philip Casmir (1720 - 1788), does not appear to be awarded the same level of excuse for his actions and ambitions as Britannica gives to the bloody father of Serbian nationalism, Black George. Where did the grandson of James II go wrong? We must look to his biography in volume 5 (CANON-CLEEVES) for the clews.
"The young prince was educated at Rome, his mother, by blood a Sobieski, superintending his studies for some years. On the whole his education was good ; he became conversant with the French, Italian, and Latin languages, and his religious training was watched with interest by the Pope."

(Clew #1 : unwholesome influences, i.e. mother, the continent, the Pope.)
[...]"In 1734, the duke of Liria, afterwards duke of Berwick, who was proceeding to join Don Carlos in his struggle for the crown of Naples, passed through Rome. He offered to the Pretender to take charge of his son, should Charles be willing to accompany him in his expedition. This offer was accepted, and the youth of fourteen, having been appointed general of artillery by Don Carlos, shared with credit the dangers of the successful siege of Gaeta."

(Clew #2 (ignoring the probable unwholesome influence of the adventurous duke) : early promise.)
"The handsome and accomplished youth, whose doings were eagerly reported by the English ambassador, was now introduced by his father and the Pope to the highest Italian society, which he fascinated by the frankness of his manner and the grace and dignity of his bearing. To these, more than any power of his mind or heroism of his career, are to be attributed the successes of his early life"

(Clew #3 : superficiality and easily-impressed continentals and diplomats.)
[...]"The [Old] Pretender himself calculated upon foreign aid in his attempts to restore the monarchy of the Stuarts ; and the idea of rebellion unassisted by invasion or by support of any kind from abroad was one which it was left for Charles Edward to endeavour to realize."

(Clew #4 : subjection to the ruthless and cowardly ambitions of dad.)
"Of all the European nations France was the one on which Jacobite hopes mainly rested, and the keen sympathy which Cardinal Tenein, who had succeeded Fleury as French minister of war, felt for the [Old] Pretender resulted in a definite scheme for an invasion of England to be timed simultaneously with a prearranged Scottish rebellion. Charles was secretly dispatched to Paris. [...]"

(Clew #5 : the French.)

Happily, this diabolical plan was confounded, as has happened to many of history's naval invasions against stalwart island nations, by a severe storm, and the invasion did not take place. Young Charles returned to France to nurse his wounded pride.
"He had at Rome already made the acquaintance of Lord Elcho and of John Murray of Broughton ; at Paris he had seen many supporters of the Stuart cause ; he was aware that in every European court the Jacobites were represented in earnest intrigue ; and he had now taken a considerable share in correspondence and other actual work connected with the promotion of his own and his father's interests."

(Clew #6 : political understanding distorted by the proximity of his own supporters.)
"Although dissuaded by every friend he had, he, on the 13th of July 1745, sailed for Scotland on board the small brig "La Doutelle," which was accompanied by a French man-of-war, the "Elizabeth," laden with arms and ammunition. [...]

(Clew #7, the big one : hubris.)

On 2d August, our hero landed on a small island in the Hebrides, where his ambitions were met by "a cool reception" from MacDonald of Boisdale, so the bonnie prince carried on to Inverness-shire.
"The Macdonalds of Clanranald and Kinloch Moidart, along with other chieftains, again attempted to dissuade him from the rashness of an unaided rising, but they yielded at last to the enthusiasm and charm of his manner, and Charles landed on Scottish soil in the company of the "Seven Men of Moidart," who had come with him from France. Everywhere, however, he met with discouragement among the chiefs, whose adherence he wished to secure ; but at last, by enlisting the support of Cameron of Lochiel, he gained a footing for more than a miniature rebellion. With secrecy and speed communications were entered into with the known leaders of the Highland tribes, and on the 19th of August, in the valley of Glenfinnan, the standard of James III. and VIII. was raised in the midst of a motley but increasing crowd."

(Clew #8 : the wrong sort of Scotsman.)
"On the same day Sir John Cope at the head of 1500 men left Edinburgh in search of Charles ; but, fearing an attack in the Pass of Corryarrick, he changed his proposed route to Inverness, and Charles thus had the undefended south country before him. In the beginning of September he entered Perth, having gained numerous accessions to his forces on his march. Passing through Dunbalne, Stirling, Falkirk, and Linlithgow he arrived within a few miles of the astonished metropolis, and on the 16th of September a body of his skirmishers defeated the dragoons of Colonel Gardiner in what was known as the "Canter of Coltbrig." His success was still further augmented by his being enabled to enter the city, a few of Cameron's Highlanders having on the following morning, by a happy ruse, secured the Netherbow Port. On the 18th he occupied Holyrood. "

(Clew #9 : blind luck, excusable in military endeavour, provided, however, that the final result is success.)
"Cope had by this time brought his disappointed forces by sea to Dunbar. On the 10th Charles met and defeated him at Prestonpans, and returned to prosecute the siege of Edinburgh Castle, which, however, he raised on General Guest's threatening to lay the city in ruins."

(Clew #10 : weakness of resolve, for which the citizens of Edinburgh and our Teutonic monarchy may be deeply grateful.)
"In the beginning of November Charles left Edinburgh, never to return. He was at the head of at least 6000 men ; but the ranks were being gradually thinned by the desertion of Highlanders, whose traditions had led them to consider war merely as a raid and an immediate return with plunder."

(Clew #11 : see clew #8.)

Following the successes above, the brevity of the description of the last invasion of England to date is poetically striking. The Sack of Penrith, alas, does not merit mention.
"Having passed through Kelso, on the 9th of November he laid siege to Carlisle, which capitulated in a week. On the 4th of December he had reached Derby and was within two days' march of London, whose inhabitants were terror-struck, and where a commercial panic immediately ensued."

(Clew #12 : terrifying Londoners. Ooh, that must have taken a lot! Pfft.)
"Two armies under English leadership were now in the field against him, - one under Marshal Wade, whom he had evaded by entering England by the west, and the other under the duke of Cumberland, who had returned from the continent. London was not to be supposed helpless in such an emergency ; Manchester, Glasgow, and Dumfries, rid of his presence, had risen against him, and Charles paused."

(Clew #13 : must we call this cowardice? Hesitation, then, in the face of a real challenge.)
"There was division among his advisers and desertion among his men, and on the 6th of December he commenced his retreat."

Clew #14 : if we are not to call this cowardice, then we must refer back to clew's #11 and #8.
"Closely pursued by Cumberland, he marched across the border, and at last stopped to lay siege to Stirling. At Falkirk, on the 17th of January 1746, he defeated General Hawley, who had marched from Edinburgh to intercept his retreat. A fortnight later, however, Charles raised the siege of Stirling, and after a weary though successful march, rested his troops at Inverness. Having taken Forts George and Augustus, and after varying success against the supporters of the Government in the north, he at last prepared to face the duke of Cumberland, who had passed the early spring at Aberdeen. On the 8th of April the duke marched thence to meet Charles, whose little army, exhausted with a futile night march, half-starving, and broken by desertion, he engaged at Culloden on the 16th of April 1746. The decisive and cruel defeat sealed the fate of Charles Edward and the house of Stuart."

(Clew #15 : failure. This is as much mention, incidentally, as I can find of the notorious massacre at the last battle to be fought on British soil. That it was still a sensitive issue in 1876 is perhaps hardly surprising in light of the fact that in 2009 Queen Elizabeth II has become the first British monarch to visit the site.)
"Charles fled. Accompanied by the faithful Ned Burke, and a few other followers, he gained the western coast. Hunted hither and thither, the prince wandered on foot or cruised restlessly in open boats among the many islands of the west. The barren Benbecula sheltered him for a month. In lack of food, unsightly in appearance, having a strange contentment under his misfortunes, and already betraying his weakness for liquor, Charles, upon whose head a price of £30,000 had a year before been set, was relentlessly pursued by the spies of the government."

(Clew #16 : cracking under pressure, and a weakening moral character. Curiously, this whole "Skye Boat Song" passage is considerably altered in the 1911 edition, and in place of the remarks about his 'strange contentment,' unsightly appearance and boozing, we read of the BPC "enduring the greatest hardships with marvellous courage and cheerfulness." Hm.)
"Disguised in women's clothes, and aided by a passport obtained by the devoted Flora MacDonald, he passed through Skye, and parted from his conductress at Portree."

(Clew #17 is rather easy : transvestism, and being saved by a girl.)
"[...][H]e at last heard that two French ships were in waiting for him at the place of his first arrival in Scotland - Lochnahuagh. He embarked with speed, and sailed for France."

(Clew #18 : historical irony, and also see clew #5.)
"Ere long he was again intriguing in Paris, and even in Madrid. So far as political assistance went his efforts were in vain ; and he plunged eagerly into the gaieties of Parisian society, of which he was the hero for some years."

(Clew #19 : Fashionable dissipation, and yet more of clew #5.)

Unfortunately for the still young prince, peace between England and France in 1748 ended his Parisian diversions.
"Charles had forestalled the proclamation of the treaty by an indignant protest against its injustice, and a declaration that he would not be bound by its provisions. But his indignation and persistent refusal to comply with the request that he should voluntarily leave France had to be met at last with force ; he was apprehended, imprisoned for a week at Vincennes, and on the 17th of December conducted to the French border. He lingered at Avignon ; but the French, compelled to hard measures by the English, refused to be satisfied ; and Pope Benedict XIV., alarmed by the threat of a bombardment of Civita Vecchia, advised the prince to withdraw."

(Clew #20 : becoming a political embarassment to the French, a fate spared convicted Czech paedophiles in the 21st century.)
"Charles simply and quietly disappeared ; and for years Europe watched for him in vain. It is now established, almost with certainty, that he returned to the neighbourhood of Paris ; and it is supposed that his residence was known to the French ministers, who, however, firmly proclaimed their ignorance. In 1750, in 1752 and again, it is thought, in 1754, he was in London, hatching futile plots and risking his safety for his hopeless cause."

(Clew #21 : obscurity, and supposed outlandish schemes befitting a penny opera.)
"During the next ten years of his life Charles Edward had become a confirmed profligate. His illicit connection with a Miss Walkinshaw, whom he had first met at Bannockburn House while conducting the siege of Stirling, his imperious fretful temper, his drunken habits and debauched life, could no longer be concealed. He wandered over Europe in disguise, alienating the friends and crushing the hopes of his party ; and in 1766, on the death of his father, he was treated even by the pope with coldness, and his title as heir to the British throne was openly repudiated by the great powers."

(Clew #22 : oh, dear. Being deeply embarassing in pretty much any company, even the pope's. Wearing disguises, and more pantomime villain behaviour. May well have still been rather a fun chap to sink a few pints with, but best to part company with before getting to the taxi stand.)

The end is sorrier still.
"It was in 1772 that France, still intriguing against England, arranged that Louise, Princess of Stolberg, should marry the besotted prince (now passing himself under the title of Count Albany) who twelve years before had so cruelly maltreated his paramour that she had left him forever. Six years afterwards, however, the countess had to take refuge in a convent. Her husband's conduct was brutal, and her own life was in danger at his hands. Her suspected attachment to Alfieri the poet, and the persistant complaints of the prince at last brought about a formal separation, and Charles Edward, lonely, ill, and evidently near death, remained at Florence. In remorse he wrote for his daughter, the child of Miss Walkenshaw, and she remained with him, under the name of duchess of Albany, during the last two years of his life. He died at Rome on the 31st of January 1788, and was buried in the Grotte Vaticane of St Peter's."

(Clew #23, if it be needed : caddishness, thorough and complete disgrace.)

A sad story, in all. I hope he enjoyed his stay at The George.

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