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This week, 275 years ago, Loch nam Uamh would have been a strange mix of heady anticipation and covert operations.
Letters were being sent out with trusted supporters prompting figures to arrive on the shore to be quietly rowed out to the Du Teillay, presumably in great expectation of a long-awaited meeting.
The prince’s travelling companions, the ‘Seven Men of Moidart’, were still introducing the stranger on board as a man of the cloth – this time as an English clergyman ‘who had long been possess’d of a desire to see and converse with Highlanders’.
One of these figures being rowed out to the ship was the summoned Clanranald, who stepped on board and almost immediately disappeared into a cabin for a three-hour discussion with the Prince.
About half an hour after Clanranald emerged, a young man appeared. According to one account, he was ‘a tall youth of a most agreeable aspect, in a plain black coat, with a plain shirt, not very clean, and a cambrick stock fixed with a plain silver buckle… at his first appearance I found my heart swell to my very throat.’
This effect which the Prince had on loyal Jacobites was also seen in the exchange he had with the reluctant Lochiel, who was concerned the Prince had arrived without the arms, men and weapons Lochiel believed would be necessary for a successful rising and advised him to return to France.
One account quotes the Prince as saying: ‘In a few days, with the few friends that I have, I will erect the royal standard and proclaim to the people of Britain that Charles Stuart is come over to claim the crown of his ancestors, to win it, or to perish in the attempt; Lochiel, who my father has often told me was our firmest friend, may stay at home and learn from the newspapers the fate of his prince.’
This was a key moment for the Rising. Without Lochiel’s support – and the hundreds of men his support would bring – the other chiefs would not have rallied to the standard and the spark of rebellion would have been snuffed out.
The account gives Lochiel’s history-changing reply: ‘No, I’ll share the fate of my prince and so shall every man over whom nature or fortune hath given me any power.’
On July 29, some of Clanranald’s best men were chosen to be the Prince’s guard. Others were tasked with unloading the ship of arms and ammunition.
In the following days, MacDonald of Keppoch and MacDonald of Glencoe, who had also met with the Prince, returned home to gather their followers, each taking arms and ammunition for the use of their own men. The Prince’s conversation with Lochiel was bearing fruit.
‘The Gentle Lochiel’
Donald Cameron of Lochiel was the hereditary chief of Clan Cameron, which was traditionally loyal to the Stuarts. His father John was exiled after the 1715 rising and his grandfather, Sir Ewen, assumed his duties as ‘Lochiel’. When Sir Ewan died in 1719, Donald became the 19th clan chief.
There had been heavy fines after the ’15 and government garrisons kept an eye on the Highlands. No wonder Lochiel was initially reluctant to support the Prince and indeed wrote to him to dissuade him from coming – unless he brought 6,000 troops, weapons and money with him.
He refused to meet the Prince at Eriskay and sent his brother to urge him to return to France. But he was eventually persuaded to meet the Prince who used a combination of charm and clan loyalty to persuade Lochiel to join him. If this had not happened, perhaps the Rising would have failed before it had even started. Lochiel provided the Prince with between 800 and 900 men.
Once Lochiel had pledged to support the Prince, his loyalty was unswerving.
Badly wounded by musket fire in both legs at Culloden, Lochiel went on the run in Lochaber, spending time hiding out in Sunart and on Loch Shiel and at the foot of Ben Alder, where he met up with the Prince.
They both left from Loch nan Uamh for France in September 1746 where Lochiel remained in exile, dying just two years after Culloden at Bergues in 1748.
He is often referred to as ‘The Gentle Lochiel’, however, this is an attribution which first appeared in a poem written after his death.
Hidden secrets and symbols
Fort William’s West Highland Museum boasts a highly-impressive collection of Jacobite relics once owned by staunch Jacobites to show their loyalty to the cause.
There are items of the Prince’s clothing, from tartan fragments to shoe buckles, a bonnet, jacket and a silk waistcoat. More personal ‘souvenirs’ include locks of the Prince’s hair and the only known example of one of his teeth.
More usual memorabilia is glassware engraved with secret symbols of support for the Prince – white roses, oak leaves and acorns and the thistle. The words ‘fiat’ meaning ‘let it be’ or ‘let it come to pass’ and ‘redeat’ (Go back/return) ‘redi’ (return) or ‘revirescit’ (revive) suggest hope of a Stuart restoration. Toasts were made over a bowl of water, symbolising the king ‘over the water’ in exile.
In 2018 the museum was delighted to receive the famous Drambuie Collection on long-term loan, which includes many items of Jacobite glassware.
One very rare piece is an 18th Century glass depicting a five-coloured, enamelled portrait of the Prince, thought to be one of only three made.
Whilst the museum is currently closed as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, it hopes to open again on September 1.
The rare portrait of ‘The Gentle Lochiel’ by the artist George Chalmers, which hangs in the West Highland Museum in Fort William. Photograph courtesy of Art UK.
NO F31 Gentle Lochiel
EXTRA PiCS: NO F35 Jacobite snuff box 02
NO F12 Bonnie Prince Glass