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Bonnie Prince Charlie


Bonnie Prince Charlie in Perth

In July 25, 1745, Prince Charles landed in Moidart, with seven companions, afterwards known as “the Seven Men of Moidart.” They were: The Duke of Atholl, exiled since 1716; Aeneas Macdonald an Irishman; George Kelly, an Irishman; Captain O’Sullivan, an Irishman; Sir John Macdonald; Sir Thomas Sheridan; Colonel Strickland, an Irishman. A strangely unsuitable party of men for the task in hand. Apart from the Duke of Atholl, they had neither status nor political value. The Prince’s favourite, O’Sullivan, was later appointed Quartermaster-General in the Jacobite army, says one historian, “A task for which his ignorance of the duties involved was only matched by
his conceit.” The Highland chieftains at first were slow to rally round the Prince. The first to meet him, Macdonald of Boisdale, urged him to go back to France.

One writer comments, “Had it not been for the powerful support of Clan Cameron, led by Lochiel the Younger, the rising would have made little headway.” But presently the fiery cross was sent round for the Prince, and Jacobite sympathisers began to assemble round him. On August 16, the crimson and white banner of the Prince was
raised at Glenfinnan before some 1000 men—Camerons, Macdonalds and Stuarts. At the ceremony the Prince was gay and excited. He began to wear Highland dress and to learn a little Gaelic. Meantime, the Government had set a price of £30,000 on his head, but not then, nor at any time later, did the Scottish people seek to betray the Prince. On August 31 the Jacobite army had swollen to 4000 men. By that time it had reached Blair Castle, the home of the Duke of Atholl, on its march southward.
Ahead of the Prince, on September 3, a body of men commanded by Cameron of Locheil had taken possession of the Fair City of Perth, meeting with no resistance.
Cameron at once pressed the town drummer and the town piper into his service, taking them with him when he went to the Town Cross to proclaim King James II and his son Charles as Prince Regent. Alarmed by these high-handed proceedings most of the town magistrates, headed by Provost Crie, fled southwards.

The Perth of those days that thus lay under the feet of the Jacobites has been described as “a neat little city pleasantly situated between two greens which they call Inches, and which serve for bleaching their linen, of which they have great manufacture here. “The town has three long streets and many cross ones, with an old
outer wall in ruins surrounding every side except that which is bounded by the River Tay. There was no bridge, the river being crossed by ferries. The population was roughly one-third of the present population.”

On the evening of September 4, while the setting sun shed its red gleams across the gables and tall chimneys of the city, glittering on the weather-cock of St. John’s Church, the Jacobite army entered Perth by the North Port and Skinnergate led by the Prince—”Amid the almighty din of bagpipes they made a brave show.”
The citizens cheered a welcome and the bells of St. John’s rang out gaily. Charles made an imposing figure, dressed as he was in Highland garb laced with gold and with the green ribbon of the Thistle order. One writer comments, “He rode a white horse, heedless that a
white horse was the cognizance of the House of Hanover.”

Comments of others who witnessed the scene describe the Prince as “a well made man” and “taller than any in his company.” Prince Charles excelled in more than mere appearance. Compton MacKenzie says, “Charles was a match in powers of endurance for any of his men. He could run faster, jump higher and out-wrestle them, he was even a better man with the claymore in mock
combats.”

In Perth the Prince was met by the Duke of Perth, Mercer of Aldie, Oliphant of Gask, Lord Strathallan and Lord George Murray, among others. The most important of these to the Prince was Lord George Murray. Well aware of his experience as a military leader, the Prince lost no time in appointing him Lieutenant-General—a post he had to share with the Duke of Perth. Afterwards, to keep the peace between his two commanders Charles alloted to them the same number of men in battle. Also they were given alternate command of the army right wing, and supreme command on alternate days.

One writer comments, drily, “It was hardly an arrangement that made for efficiency.” Handkerchiefs were waved enthusiastically from tenement windows as the Prince was conducted to his lodging at the foot of
the High Street—a wooden-fronted building which belonged to Viscount Stormont, a gentleman of Jacobite sympathies. During his stay in Perth the Prince made his headquarters in the Salutation Hotel where, we are told, he occupied Room 12. For the next day or so Charles busied himself arranging daily drill for his troops on the Inches. The North Inch was smaller then. Opposite Balhousie Castle a wall called the “White Dyke” ran
across the grass to the River Tay, “to keep the Muirton farmers from encroaching on the Inch.” The building of this wall was apparently paid for by the fines imposed on the brewers and bakers for fighting with the weavers!
Charles was able to write to his father from Perth: “I have got their (the Highianders’) affection to a degree not to be easily conceived by those not able to see it. He who observes the discipline that I have established would take my little army to be a body of picked veterans, and to see the love and harmony that reign amongst us you would be apt to look on it as a large well-ordered family. “I keep my health better in these wild mountains than I used to do in the Campagna Felice and sleep sounder on the ground than I used to do in the palaces of Rome.”

The Highlanders on the whole were well behaved with the possible exception of two, who seized a Perth shoemaker and took from him a pair of new shoes that he was wearing. The indignant shopkeeper, who had noted the robbers’ tartan, complained to their chief when he came into the shop to buy snuff. “They are not my men,” said the chief. “How can you be so sure ?“ asked the shopkeeper. “If they had been mine,” explained the chief, “they would have taken your stockings as well !“

It is said that Prince Charles had only one guinea in his pocket when he rode into Perth. The rest of his money had gone to the chiefs in his army for the maintenance of their men. To refill his treasury Charles dispatched detachments to all the towns in Perth and Angus to collect Government taxes. From Perth £500 was collected and more from Edinburgh. While arranging Perth’s financial contribution the Prince, accompanied by a Highlander, had occasion to call upon a Perth bailie. The official greeted them wearing a large well-powdered periwig.
The Prince’s head was bare, and it seemed to the simple Highlander wrong that his master should be not so well attired as a mere bailie. So with all speed he transferred the bailie’s wig to the Prince’s head, exclaiming, “It was a shame to see ta like o’ him, clarty thing, wearing sic a braw hap when the verry Prince himself had naethin’ on
ava!” To keep the peace Charles restored the wig to its rightful owner amid the indignant protests of the Highlander.

The ladies of Perth and the surrounding neighbourhood invited the Prince to a ball, but he fetched their wrath on his head by withdrawing after only one dance—his excuse being that he had to inspect his sentry posts. On Sunday, September 8, he attended a Protestant service in St. John’s Kirk, where he occupied the “King’s Seat,” last used by his father. The preacher was Mr. Armstrong and his text was 14th Isaiah, verses 1 and 2.

A Hanoverian spy sent to keep a watch on the activities of the Jacobites in Perth reported back to London: “The Highlanders are a most desperate crew, resolved to do or die, and headed by an indefatigable young man of the same disposition.” On September lithe Prince led his army out of Perth, making for Edinburgh. Viscount Strathallan was appointed governor of the Fair City and the Laird of Gask vice-governor. The local elections that were due were not held, and the town was left without council or
magistrates. On October 30 a riot broke out in Perth. The occasion was King George’s birthday. A mob of 100 men “seized St. John’s Kirk and proceeded to ring the bells, in spite of the Governor’s orders to desist. Some bonfires were lit in the streets at night, and Hanoverian sympathisers illuminated their windows, the mob braking windows that were not so lit.” Next day 200 Highianders were drafted into the city to restore peace. And thus Perth was kept quiet for the next three months that
the Prince’s ill-fated venture lasted. But the Fair City was only to know Charles in his glad, confident days, for he never came back to Perth, where he left behind him an
unfading memory of a handsome young Prince, who in happier circumstances would have made an illustrious king.

Return To Perthshire History



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