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 thoughts on “The Woman Who Saved Bonnie Prince Charlie

    • 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.

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  1. 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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  2. 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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    • 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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  3. 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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  4. 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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    • 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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    • 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

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    • 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!

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