The Amazing Courage Of Flora MacDonald - 'Preserver of Prince Charles Edward Stuart’

Flora MacDonald

Flora MacDonald (Gaelic: Fionnghal nic Dhòmhnaill; 1722 – 4 March 1790) was born in South Uist (Scottish Gaelic: Uibhist a Deas) in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland. She was the daughter of Ranald MacDonald and Marion MacDonald, but was brought up under the care of the chief of the Clan MacDonald of Clanranald her father's cousin.

She is remembered for the help she gave to Bonnie Prince Charlie after he had been defeated at the Battle of Culloden (Scottish Gaelic: Blàr Chùil Lodair) in 1746. Putting herself at awful risk she helped the Prince at a time when he was being hunted across the Highlands and Islands by the forces of the Duke of Cumberland. Cumberland was the third and youngest son of George II of Great Britain known for his brutality after the Battle of Culloden when he ordered his troops to show no quarter against any remaining Jacobite supporters and where his forces roamed the battlefield and stabbed any of the defeated soldiers who were still alive.

Prince Charles Edward Stuart, (31 December 1720 – 31 January 1788) The Young Pretender, affectionately known as Bonnie Prince Charlie was the grandson of James VII of Scotland and had led the second Jacobite Uprising of 1745 to overthrow King George II. The Jacobite cause was supported by many Highland clans, both Catholic and Protestant. Forced to flee for his life after his defeat at the battle of Culloden Moor in 1746, Bonnie Prince Charlie eventually arrived at the island of Benbecula (Scottish Gaelic: Beinn nam Fadhla or Beinn na Faoghla) an island in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland. Here he met 24-year-old Flora MacDonald and it is this young Presbyterian woman's heroic efforts to save the young Catholic Prince's life that has resulted in her name being remembered with great respect in Scottish history.

Culloden Memorial

The Prince's companion Captain O'Neill sought her assistance to help the Prince escape capture. Flora MacDonald with the Prince disguised as Betty Burke, an Irish maid, they set sail in a small boat with a crew of six from Benbecula on 27th June 1746, to Skye: (Scottish Gaelic: An t-Eilean Sgitheanach or Eilean a' Cheò). Flora MacDonald found help for him and it was arranged for him to go to Portree (Scottish Gaelic: Port Rìgh) and from there he was taken to the island of Raasay (Scottish Gaelic: Ratharsair). Prince Charles Edward Stuart finally embarked for France from Scotland on 20 September 1746. The Prince’s Cairn is a monument  that commemorates the final departure of Bonnie Prince Charlie from the shores of Loch nan Uamh in Lochaber.

There were terrible repercussions for the Scottish Gaelic Clans who supported the Jacobite Rising. There should also be no doubt of the danger into which Fora MacDonald placed herself by helping Bonnie Prince Charlie’s escape. She could have been hanged for helping the Prince to escape to France. When her role was discovered Flora was arrested and thrown into jail in the Tower of London. She was released from imprisonment after a year and in 1750 she married  Allan MacDonald. The couple had five sons and two daughters and moved to America. She returned to Scotland in 1789 and died at Kingsburgh, Skye (Gaelic: Cinnseaborgh, An t-Eilean Sgitheanach) the following year aged 68. She is now laid to rest in the cemetery of  Kilmuir (Scottish Gaelic: Cille Mhoire). Here her memorial stands with the inscription: ‘Flora Macdonald. Preserver of Prince Charles Edward Stuart. Her name that will be mentioned in history, and if courage and fidelity be virtues, mentioned with honour’.

Flora MacDonald’s story lives on in literature and the arts. Not least in the words of “The Skye Boat Song”:

Speed bonnie boat, like a bird on the wing
Onwards the sailors cry
Carry the lad that was born to be king
Over the sea to Skye.

Loud the winds howl, 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 did wield
When the night came, silently lain
Dead on Culloden field

Though the waves heave, soft will ye sleep
Ocean's a royal bed
Rocked in the deep, Flora will keep
Watch by your weary head

Burned are our homes,
Exile and death
Scatter the loyal men
Yet e'er the sword cool in the sheath
Charlie will come again.