Who were the Jacobites? And who was Bonny Prince Charlie? National Museum Scotland’s summer exhibition explains all with an array of stunning objects
When National Museum Scotland opens its ground-breaking summer exhibition about the Jacobites, visitors will be greeted by the Jacobites’ romantic personification and figurehead, Bonnie Prince Charlie, as he arrives at a ball at the Palace of Holyroodhouse.
The monumental work, by John Pettie, depicts the enigmatic young pretender in all of his tartan finery, emerging from the shadows to make a regal entrance to the palace where he briefly set up his court.
Painted more than a century after Charles’ death, it actually depicts a scene from Sir Walter Scott’s historical novel Waverley, but it encapsulates the way Charles Edward Stuart still fires the imagination and helps define Scotland’s relationship with England.
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But the story of the Jacobites is one which spans two centuries, encompasses Britain, Ireland and continental Europe and, although the main muscle of the Jacobite army was provided by Scots, saw supporters rally to the cause from as far afield as France, Ireland and Cornwall.
More than 300 paintings, costumes, documents, weapons, books and many unique objects owned by the exiled Jacobite kings and their ancestors will help tell the wider story of the way the Jacobites endured from the Glorious Revolution of 1688 to Charles’ defeat at Battle of Culloden in 1745 – and how the embers of the Jacobite movement flickered on into the early 19th century.
Their most charismatic leader, Charles Edward Louis John Casimir Sylvester Maria Stuart, better known as Bonnie Prince Charlie (1720 – 1788), was born and died in Rome as an exiled Stuart pretender to the throne who spent less than 14 months in Scotland during his lifetime.
Charles’ family, the Stuarts, were one of Europe’s most enduring dynasties, with a claim to unite three kingdoms: Scotland, England and Ireland. The Jacobites (from Jacobus – the Latin for James) were supporters of the movement to reinstate Charles’ grandfather, the Roman Catholic Stuart king, James VII & II and his heirs to the throne after his exile to France in 1688.
James’ Catholic faith caused widespread concern and, when he announced the birth of a male heir which heralded the prospect of a Catholic succession, he was deposed in the Glorious Revolution, replaced by his daughter Mary and her husband, William of Orange, while her baby half-brother was smuggled out the country for his own safety.
There were five Jacobite challenges to the English throne.
The baby was Charles’ father, James Francis Stuart. To supporters loyal to the exiled Stuarts, he became James VIII & III and was formally recognised as such by Louis XIV of France. He later married a Polish Princess, Clementina Sobieski and their first son was named Charles Edward Stuart.
Throughout this period there were five Jacobite challenges to the English throne and the House of Hanover, in 1689-90, 1708, 1715, culminating in Bonnie Prince Charlie’s campaign of 1745-6.
After initial advances followed by a long retreat, the last great Jacobite campaign came to an abrupt and bloody end in little more than an hour at Culloden. Retribution across the Highlands was swift and brutal and Charles spent five months evading government forces before eventually sailing for France, leaving the Jacobite cause in tatters.
The remaining years in exile of James, Charles and his brother Henry who, after Culloden, joined the priesthood of the Catholic Church, saw the Royal House of Stuart dwindle towards a dissolute end. Henry, Charles and their father James are all buried in the Vatican, the latter being the only monarch interred there.
The exhibition that tells this complex story of civil war and the Jacobite’s attempt to unite three kingdoms calls upon an unprecedented collection of objects and collections that David Forsyth, the exhibition’s lead curator, describes as “the best material there is – real objects and contemporary accounts and depictions”
From this material emerges the truth of a story more layered, complex and dramatic than the many fictional imaginings that have grown out of the history.
Objects range from the possessions of the last English Stuart kings and those of the Hanoverian Royals who ousted them, to the fine objects recovered from Prince Charles’ baggage train at Culloden.
Symbolic objects include the targe (shield), broadsword and travelling canteen, commissioned by supporters of Bonnie Prince Charlie at home, shown in the context of the exiled Stuart court in Rome and how they were used to promote the Jacobites’ dynastic claims and affirm their royal status and show their connections with their distant supporters while in exile.
Spectacular costumes including items associated with Charles himself
Secret signs and insignias marked out those loyal to the ‘kings over the water’, ranging from a subtle white rose to a seditious full tartan suit, made for leading English Jacobite Sir John Hyde Cotton.
Weapons, plans, paintings and commemorative objects show the earlier campaigns of the Jacobites while Charles’ short but tumultuous time in Scotland is explored via spectacular costumes including items associated with Charles himself, and dresses of the time thought to have been worn at the Court he briefly held at the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh.
Alongside these, the ‘lost’ Ramsay portrait of Charles in the guise of a European prince, recently acquired by the National Galleries of Scotland, will be shown.
The violent end of the Jacobite campaign, at the Battle of Culloden, is explored via a plan of the battle, a portrait of the Duke of Cumberland and numerous weapons and effects of those who fell.
In conjunction with the exhibition a series of activities and resources are being developed and an activity trail will encourage visitors to experience the story through Scotland’s historic locations at www.jacobitetrail.co.uk
Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobites runs from June 23 to November 12 2017. Admission is £10 for adults, £8 concessions, £7 children, with free admission for under 12s and National Museums Scotland members. For full ticketing information, visit www.nms.ac.uk/jacobites
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