Bonnie Prince Charlie made landfall on the Isle of Eriskay in the summer of 1745 from the French ship Le Dutillet. The beach where he set foot on the shore of the island is now named Coilleag a’Prionnsa, meaning The Prince’s Cockle Strand.
Bonnie Prince Charlie, also known as The Young Pretender, is one of Europe’s most romantic figures. Prince Charles Edward Stuart, grandson of the exiled Stuart King James VII of Scotland and II of England, was born in Italy in 1720. He spent most of his childhood in Rome, being brought up in a Catholic household by his father, the Old Pretender, James.
In 1743 Charles was named Prince Regent, giving him authority to act in his father’s name. In 1744 James gained the renewed support of the French government and the young prince travelled to France to command a French army with the intention to invade England, although the invasion never took place.
As tension mounted between the Protestant and Catholic/Jacobite (supporters of King James VII and II) communities in Scotland and France, Charles, believing the British throne to be his birthright and desiring military success, once again planned to invade Great Britain and regain throne his grandfather had lost. The 1745 Jacobite rebellion that ensued was a turning point in British history.
Charles’ plan was to gain a foothold in the Highlands of Scotland, rally support on his way south and meet the French invasion force at London to remove George II from the throne.
The young prince sailed from France and arrived on the Isle of Eriskay with only seven supporters. He was told by the half-brother of the MacDonald clan chief that he would receive no support from the local clans and continued to the mainland.
The rebellion officially began on the 19th of August 1745, when Charles arrived in Glenfinnan and raised the Stuart flag, and the small army marched towards the Scottish capital. Edinburgh surrendered and the Jacobite army entered England, gaining support and steadily growing. By December the army had reached Derby and numbered approximately 6,000 men and boys. Instead of continuing forward, the army were forced back, after receiving news of overwhelming armies prepared to defend London. They retreated to Scotland, securing a victory at Falkirk and taking Inverness, the capital of the highlands.
Funds for food for the troops were dwindling and, in March, the Royal Navy captured a French ship carrying money for the Jacobite army. It was a terrible blow but Charles decided to push forward and fight a well-fed and tactically prepared force, led by the Duke of Cumberland, at the Battle of Culloden. This was the last battle fought on British mainland and was a disastrous, 40 minute defeat for the Jacobites, obliterating what was left of their army.
The British government established a new policy, designed to extinguish the core of support for the Stuarts in the highlands, dismantling the ancient social and military culture of the clans. The wearing of the Highland garb, tartan in particular, was banned and Prince Charlie fled, spending the following months as a hunted man. He lived as a fugitive in the highlands and islands with the Duke of Cumberland’s men in relentless pursuit and a bounty of £30,000 on his head, the equivalent of 1 million pounds today.
The Young Pretender ended up, once again, in the Outer Hebrides, when he arrived in Benbecula on the 27th of April 1746. He spent the next few months on South Uist, Lewis and Benbecula, despite local knowledge of his hiding places and the bounty. The heroic Flora MacDonald eventually helped him escape to Skye by disguising him as an Irish maid named Betty Burke. From Skye Bonnie Prince Charlie eventually left for France and never returned to Great Britain again.
Today, the beach known as the Prince’s Strand, is one of the prettiest and most sheltered in the Uists. On the machair surrounding the beach Sea Bindweed can be found. This flower does not grow anywhere else in the Hebrides and it is believed its seeds fell from the Prince’s pocket when he came ashore. On the edge of the sand is a cairn erected by schoolchildren in 1995, marking the 250th anniversary of the arrival of Bonnie Prince Charlie.
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