Exhibition shows Bonnie Prince Charlie was not so bonnie after all


A NEW exhibition promises to bust myths about Bonnie Prince Charlie – including showing he may not have been so bonnie after all.

The Young Pretender is usually presented as very handsome and healthy but paintings and sketches in the display at the National Musuem of Scotland will show him looking “haggard” and “disappointed”.

One sketch in particular shows “Bonnie” Prince Charlie – real name Charles Edward Stuart – looking portly, with a swollen neck and a drooping chin.

The image comes in contrast to commonly distributed paintings, which present him as slight, with chiseled features.

The exhibition as a whole aims to challenge “historical illiteracy” surrounding the Jacobites, who supported James II of Scotland and wanted him restored to the throne.

David Forsyth, the exhibition’s principal curator said: “It’s comforting to put things in black-and-white terms, but it’s just not accurate. That’s why myth-busting is important.

Not so Bonnie in 1776 portrait. National Galleries of Scotland
Prince Charlie looking at his best. National Galleries of Scotland

“What we are trying to do is to challenge historical illiteracy.”

Speaking about Bonnie Prince Charlie specifically, Mr Forsyth added: “One sketch in particular shows him looking haggard, tired and disappointed.

“He was certainly, at times, a heavy drinker and wasn’t always the most pleasant of people when he was in his cups.”


Mr Forsyth also discussed other pieces of historical inaccuracy that the exhibition hopes to dispel, such as that Culloden was a battle between the Scots and the English.

James II, a Roman Catholic, was King from 1685-88 until he was deposed in the Glorious Revolution. Jacobites, from the Latin Jacobus, for James wanted to restore him.

Mr Forsyth explained: “The Jacobite challenge for the three kingdoms of Scotland, England and Ireland was a complex civil war, which pitched Scot against Scot.

“There were Highlanders fighting on the government side and lowlanders fighting on the Jacobite side.

“On the way down to Derby Charles raised a small regiment in Manchester, so there were English Jacobites. There were also Irish soldiers involved.”

The Battle of Culloden was the final confrontation of the Jacobite rising of 1745, and pitted the Jacobites against an army led by the Duke of Cumberland, the youngest son of George II of Great Britain.

It resulted in a decisive government victory and ended the Jacobite Rising.

Bonnie Prince Charlie then abandoned the Jacobite cause and escaped Scotland, living the rest of his life on the continent.

The exhibition, which runs from June 23 to November 12, at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh, will stress that Bonnie Prince Charlie spent little over a year in Scotland and was born and died in Rome.

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