The Woman Who Saved Bonnie Prince Charlie

“…a name that will be mentioned in history, and if courage and fidelity be virtues, mentioned with honour.”

Engraved on Flora MacDonald’s memorial at Kilmuir

Bonnie Prince Charlie Monument, Glenfinnan, Scotland
Bonnie Prince Charlie Monument, Glenfinnan, Scotland 

Fionnghal NicDhòmhnaill was her Gaelic name, but most will know her as Flora MacDonald. She lost her father, Ranald MacDonald, at a young age and saw her mother abducted by and married to Hugh MacDonald of Armadale, Skye.  From that moment on she was under the care of the chief of her clan, The MacDonalds of Clanranald.

June 1746, Flora was 24 years old and living on the island of Benbecula in the Outer Hebrides.  As fate would decree, she was in the right place, at the right time for the right reason.  Bonnie Prince Charlie took refuge on that very island after the disastrous Battle of Culloden.  The Hanoverian government had a firm control of the local militia, but the MacDonalds were secret supporters of the Jacobite cause. Captain O’Neill, the prince’s companion, asked for Flora’s assistance.

The escape was simple, yet brilliant.  Flora’s stepfather, Hugh MacDonald provided a pass to the mainland for Flora,  a manservant, an Irish maid, Betty Burke, and six men to crew a boat.  Bonnie Prince Charlie was Betty Burke.  They managed to reach Kilbride, on the Isle of Skye where Flora arranged for help in the neighbourhood.  The prince escaped, but Flora was arrested and imprisoned for a short time in the Tower of London.

Flora MacDonald lived to see many adventure on both sides of the Atlantic.  Yet, she will always be known, first and foremost, as the woman who saved Bonnie Prince Charlie.

 

The Skye Boat Song recounts the daring escape of Bonnie Prince Charlie, disguised as an Irish women.

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.

***

Loud the winds cry, loud the waves roar,

Thunderclaps rend the air.

Baffled our foes stand by the shore.

Follow they will not dare

***

Many’s the lad fought on that day

Well the claymore could wield,

When the night came silently lay

Dead on Culloden’s field.

***

Burned are our homes, exile and death

Scatter the loyal men.

Yet ere the sword cool in the sheath

Scotland will rise again!

***

29 Comments

  1. friendlytm says:

    Thank you for another interesting story. I’ve learned something new today!

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    1. Clanmother says:

      Flora MacDonald was an amazing women! This was only the beginning of her life. She even lived for a time in Canada. So we Canadians have claimed her for our own!!! Thank you so much for your comments.

      Like

  2. I knew the name but not the story so thanks for the sharing. The Scots are such a proud people. If you get a chance to see a Scottish Rugby International they sing their national anthem “The Flower of Scotland”, guaranteed to bring a tear to the eye. You can check it out on Youtube if you can’t wait. For someone who obviously loves Scotland I am sure you will love it.

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    1. Clanmother says:

      Thank you for reminding me! Here is a rendition that I found played by a lone bagpiper! You’re right – it does bring a tear to the eye!

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  3. It’s just such a fabulous story, isn’t it – better than any fiction

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    1. Clanmother says:

      I couldn’t agree more!! The stories of history are page turners!!! Much better than fiction…

      Like

  4. Dina says:

    A very interesting post, Clanmother! I’ve learned something new now. 🙂 Going to the Outer Hebrides is on my bucket list, so that’s appropriate. And I l♥ve female heroes and female pirates…
    Enjoy your weekend.
    L♥ve with a big hug from the the Rhine Valley
    Dina

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    1. Clanmother says:

      You have just given me my next series of posts! Women pirates!! Arrgh!

      Let’s see where there adventure will take us….
      Hugs coming back to you from the Vancouver Lower Mainland of British Columbia.

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  5. Gallivanta says:

    An amazing woman. It always astonishes me how many people adventured outside their home territories in times when travel was not easy. Even today I would think twice about travelling from here to Canada or the UK and that is with the comfort of modern transport. Flora was made of sterner stuff than I.

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    1. Clanmother says:

      I have no idea where their courage came from. Maybe it was there when they needed it! Gail Collin’s book about the history of America’s women was a real eye-opening for me. I think that you would like it immensely.

      http://ontheroadbookclub.com/2013/03/08/otr-celebrates-international-womens-day/

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      1. Gallivanta says:

        I think I would like it IMMENSELY.

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      2. Clanmother says:

        I have read it 3 times – it is our kind of book. I especially appreciated, Sojourner Truth.

        “If women want rights more than they got, why don’t they just take them, and not be talking about it.”
        ― Sojourner Truth

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  6. Do hope you’re going to give us the rest of her story….
    Pity Bonnie Prince Charles never lived up to the hopes and ideals of his followers… I suppose there wasn’t much alternative to the drink… and intrigue !!!

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    1. Clanmother says:

      Valerie – she is your kind of woman!!! She ended up being in the middle of the American Revolution. She married a Captain MacDonald who served the British government in the 84th Regiment of Foot (Royal Highland Emigrants). Her husband was captured and she had to go into hiding. She did return to Scotland in 1779 and is buried in her beloved Isle of Skye. She had a large family of sons, and two daughters. They even named a Scottish highland dance after her “Flora MacDonald’s Fancy.” Legend has it that this was the dance that she performed for Bonnie Prince Charlie, however I have no idea when she would have had time to do this dancing when she was busy rescuing him. But who knows…. 🙂

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  7. gmajoe says:

    I enjoyed the “Bagpipe Video” much!! Thank You

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    1. Clanmother says:

      I am so very glad! I think that you will like this video of a lone bagpiper playing “The Skye Boat Song”

      Like

  8. ladysighs says:

    Loved hearing the bag pipes on the video. What beautiful country.

    Sir Walter Scott was/is one of my favorites. Haven’t reread for years.

    Like

    1. Clanmother says:

      Scotland has a way of going deep into our love for legends. And our dear Sir Walter Scott gave us many to enjoy. One of my favourite quotes is:

      “Is death the last sleep? No, it is the last and final awakening.”
      ― Walter Scott

      Like

  9. I love it when women challenge the status quo. Is it true that Scottish women hold a more equal position with men?

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    1. Clanmother says:

      That is a very good question and one that I would be interested in researching. One thing is certain – Bonnie Prince Charlie’s friend, asked for Flora’s help, a woman. So it would seem that they trusted her judgement and courage, as did her step-father. Mutual respect brought about a daring escape!

      Like

  10. 67paintings says:

    How did the Highland Games go? Did Haggis make an appearance?

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    1. Clanmother says:

      It did! And they had a Haggis throwing contest that I was sorry to miss. But I was with the bagpipers!!! Now, I want to go back to Scotland. I understand that 2014 is the year to come “home.”

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      1. 67paintings says:

        🙂 Haggis throwing sounds just the contest for me. Whiskey in one hand of course

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      2. Clanmother says:

        Actually the whisky tasting tent was full with a waiting line…they were having a great time! The stories were flowing!

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  11. 67paintings says:

    And rediscovered a recent Dougie performance of Caledonia http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-skrVk5TYWU

    Like

    1. Clanmother says:

      Another Scottish treasure – Dougie MacLean! Thanks for sharing!!!

      Like

  12. Ms Frances says:

    An amazing post. I enjoyed both YouTube offerings.

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    1. Clanmother says:

      I’m so glad that you enjoyed them!!!

      Like

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