On July 25 1745, Charles Edward Stuart landed on the Scottish mainland at Borrodale. Despite bearing the title Prince of Wales, it was the first time he had been in Britain, having lived all his life in Rome. His mission was to restore his father, James III, to the throne, and in so doing make Scotland an independent kingdom once more. But one of the first people he met, unimpressed with Charles’s invasion force of 12 (one of whom was a priest), said simply, “Go home”.
Charles was undaunted. “Home?” he said. “I am come home.” Charles knew that his chances of reaching and seizing London were low. But a new exhibition at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh, titled Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobites, shows how Charles used his underdog status to his advantage. A central exhibit is the shield, or “targe”, Charles carried on to Borrodale beach. It is flamboyantly decorated with a snarling Medusa’s head; Charles, it tells us, was a modern Perseus, sent to rescue the people of Britain from oppression. Other exhibits, a number of them from private collections, include Charles’s elaborate silver travelling cutlery, swords, portraits, miniatures and the kind of “memorabilia”, such as a wine glass engraved with the prince’s face, beloved of his loyal followers.
The Jacobite cause — as James’s supporters were called — began in 1688, when the Catholic James II was deposed by the Protestant William III. James was a brave soldier (his suit of armour here was the last to be made for a British monarch), but he failed to regain the crown. He left that challenge to his son, James Francis Edward Stuart, or James III.
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