This week in 1745: the Prince sets foot on Scottish soil for the first time

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Last week, we left Bonnie Prince Charlie aboard the Du Teillay, being battered by storms on his way to the western Highlands.

The 24-year-old Prince’s travelling companions on board the Du Teillay were a motley crew of seven much older and rather infirm gentlemen – later called The Seven Men of Moidart – who must have found this rough passage quite trying.

No doubt they would have been greatly relieved when they saw the small isles, which form the tail bone of the Outer Hebrides, come into view.

The Seven Men consisted of four Irishmen, two Scots and an Englishman. Most were ages with the Prince’s father, rather than the Prince, and had variously been involved with the Court in Exile, the 1715 rising or the French army.

The 1745 portrait of Prince Charles Edward Stuart by the artist Allan Ramsay. Photograph courtesy of the Scottish National Portrait Gallery. NO F35 CE Stuart without frame
The 1745 portrait of Prince Charles Edward Stuart by the artist Allan Ramsay. Photograph courtesy of the Scottish National Portrait Gallery.

The quartet of Irishmen were Sir Thomas Sheridan, who had been the Prince’s tutor and was a veteran cavalry officer; Sir John MacDonald, a former cavalry officer; Sir John William O’Sullivan, who had served in the French army, and the Irish Episcopalian clergyman, the Reverend Kelly, who was in charge of propaganda for the Prince.

William Murray, Marquis of Tullibardine, who had been out in 1715 but suffered badly from gout, was one of the Scots. Aeneas MacDonald, a banker who had spent his life in Paris, and was responsible for securing much of the Prince’s initial funding, was the other Scot in the party.

The Englishman, Francis Strickland, came from a long line of Stuart loyalists but was disliked by the Prince’s father. On hearing he was with the Prince, James attempted to have him dismissed.

  • July 23 – the Du Teillay arrives at the isle of Eriskay. The Prince and his retinue are now in Scotland. They pass the night on Eriskay after a lukewarm reception.
  • July 24 – The Prince and his companions return to the Du Teillay to wait for MacDonald of Boisdale to appear. Boisdale meets the Prince and refuses to join him in his endeavour and accompany him to the mainland.
  • July 25 – The Du Teillay sails on to reach the mainland and weighs anchor at Loch nan Uamh, between Lochailort and Arisaig – just down the road from Glenfinnan, where the standard will be raised the following month and the ’45 begin.

The Prince disembarks, and sets foot on Scottish mainland soil for the first time. The Du Teillay sets sail for the return journey to Brittany. The Rising will begin in a matter of weeks.

Eriskay: A sign of things to come?

As Bonnie Prince Charlie arrives on Eriskay, at Coilleag a’Phrionnsa (The Prince’s Cockle Strand), he pulls a handkerchief from his pocket and accidentally scatters seeds of morning glory (shore bindweed). The plant is not native to the Hebrides, and becomes known as ‘The Prince’s Flower’.

He is immediately taken to the house of the tacksman, Angus MacDonald, and learns that Macdonald of Clanranald and Macdonald of Boisdale are in South Uist, so a messenger is despatched.

Word is put about that the Prince is a visiting Irish priest, so as not to arouse suspicion. The party pass the night at the tacksman’s house, which is uncomfortable as there aren’t enough beds for all the guests. The Prince declines to take one.

The next day the Prince meets with MacDonald of Boisdale, who tells him that he will receive no support from the MacDonalds of Clanranald, the MacDonalds of Sleat on Skye, and the MacLeods of Skye, and would be better off going home. The Prince reportedly replies: ‘I am come home, Sir.’ Undeterred, he plans to push on and find support elsewhere.

The Du Teillay sets sail the next day for the mainland and drops anchor at Loch nan Uamh. An eagle is spotted hovering above the boat, and Tullibardine is said to have told the Prince: ‘Sir, I hope this is an excellent omen, and promises good things to us.

‘The king of birds is come to welcome your royal highness upon your arrival in Scotland.’

A boat is sent with a message to young Clanranald, who is Boisdale’s nephew, asking for a meeting. A tent on the deck is filled with wines and spirits ready to entertain guests. Aeneas MacDonald also goes ashore to bring his brother, Kinlochmoidart, to meet the Prince. After a short interview, Kinlochmoidart is despatched with letters to Lochiel at nearby Fassfern, and others.

The Prince’s Cairn

Close to the Loch nan Uamh viaduct, an old-fashioned metal sign points across the road to The Prince’s Cairn. It is a quietly unassuming signpost to a place of great significance in the story of the ‘45.

A walk down to the lochside from the layby opposite brings you to a small promontory and the cairn making the spot where the Prince stepped from the Du Teillay onto Scottish mainland soil.

That first step began a chain of historic events, and 14 months later, it would be the spot where the Prince, a hunted fugitive, would leave the Scottish mainland on board another French vessel. He would eventually make his escape abroad to safety, and would never return to Scotland.

The cairn was erected in 1956 by the 1745 Association, a historical society, and bears a plaque in both English and Gaelic. Oddly, the plaque describes it as the spot where the Prince departed on September 20, 1746 and fails to mention his arrival there in 1745.