Thursday, 7 August 2014

'A Desparate Undertaking,' 'A Very Mad Design.'

From around 1650, the Stuarts either lost hold of the British Crown or held on to it very tentatively. For Charles Edward Stuart it would be the last throw of the die for the Stuart Cause. Almost all of the Jacobite supporters in France, barring a significant few, and the clan chiefs back in Scotland advised him that his quest to regain the Three Crowns for his father could only end in failure, if indeed an invasion of Britain was actually possible. The news that Charles intended to come to Scotland seems to have filled almost all of the Jacobite leaders in Scotland with dismay. Lochiel said it was a 'desperate undertaking', Macleod of Macleod considered the 'Design a vey mad one'. The Duke of Perth thought otherwise, as did the Prince's French based advisors, George Keith, the 10th Earl Marischal of Scotland, who had fought at the Battle of Sherrifmuir during the 1715 Rising, Aeneas Macdonald from Kinlochmoidart, now a banker in Paris, and John Murray of Broughton (Peebleshire) whose brief seems to have been courier of messages between Jacobites in Scotland and Charles in France. On his first meeting with Murray in Paris, the Prince said that 'with great keenness' he was determined to land in Scotland the following summer, 'if he only brought a single footman'. Was this keenness or naivite' ? In a letter to his father, James III, in February 1745, he said that 'it would be of great comfort to me to have real business on my hands'. Charles was looking for an adventure, a successful one which would see his name written into the annals of history. The Jacobite leaders in Scotland were now extremely concerned that their plotting was beginning to draw attention in the wrong quarters, and in a letter despatched to the Prince through Murray of Broughton, they strongly urged him most strongly not to come. That advice was very clear. Many of Charles' companions were Irish, as many of them had found employ in the Irish Regiments of the French Army. Their Irish Catholicism was a big plus for Prince Charles and he came to place a lot of faith in them. Sir Thomas Sheridan, his former tutor, now seventy, had travelled from Rome to be with him in France. Another favourite with Charles was the Irishman John William O'Sullivan, fat and well-fed, 45 year old, who left the priesthood to become a soldier of fortune. O'Sullivan seemed to keep the Prince in a good humour, not an easy task, it seemed. The next Irishman was the the exiled Protestant clergyman, the Reverend George Kelly, once secretary to a Jacobite bishop, who spent many years in the Tower of London before escaping to France. Another Irish companion of Charles was another Kelly, Father Kelly who had been Charles confessor in France. These close Irish companions of the Prince were either old or unfit or both, and the sum of their military experience amounted to little or nothing. The Irish had little to lose and argued constantly with the Scots close to the Prince. These Irishmen were full of enthusiasm for the idea of an expedition. The Scots banker, Aeneas Macdonald, said that the 'expedition to Scotland was entirely an Irish project'. I believe that without this coterie of Irishmen, the Prince might not have embarked on this 'adventure'. The French got word in November 1743 that a group of notable English Jacobites had made a request for armed intervention, and in the following month, December 1743, 38 transports were assembled at Dunkirk, ready to transport 12,000 men under the command of Marischal Saxe. An escorting force of 22 warships were gathered at Brest. In early March 1744 the French expeditionary force with the escorting convoy of warships set sail into the English Channel / La Manche but were picked up by 20 British warships. The French ships changed course and avoided action with the British, but on the 6 March, a very violent and long lasting storm destroyed most of the transports with the loss of all hands. The ship carrying both Marischal Saxe and Prince Charles somehow escaped. A few days later Saxe decided to abandon the whole venture. Charles was left in utter despair, the best hopes of an invasion destroyed and unlikely to be repeated. Had this invasion landed, the course of history might have been different. Fortune eluded Charles Stuart.

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