Saturday, August 30, 2014

Flora MacDonald: Scottish Heroine and Staunch British Loyalist

by Lauren Gilbert


Flora MacDonald 1747
Wikimedia Commons

Thanks to her dramatic rescue of Prince Charles Edward Stuart (Bonnie Prince Charlie) after the Rising of 1745, Flora MacDonald is frozen in time. Their names are almost inseparable, and the first thing mentioned about her is this romanticized event. Her life before and afterwards has almost become postscripts to this single event. The story of the rescue is told as drama, sometimes with an implication of romance between the prince and his rescuer. Victorian-era accounts are almost overwrought with their praise and idealization of Flora. But who was she? What happened afterwards?

Flora MacDonald was born in 1722 to Ranald MacDonald and his wife Marion at Milton on the island of South Uist in the Outer Hebrides. Her father was a farmer, and her mother had been the daughter of a clergyman. Ranald MacDonald died when Flora was very small, and her mother married Hugh MacDonald of Armadale on the island of Skye when Flora was about 6 years old. Flora stayed at Uist with her older brother Angus until she was 13 years old at which time she was sent to stay with the Clanranalds to pursue her education. Lady Margaret MacDonald (Clanranald) brought Flora into her home and later had Flora accompany the family to Edinburgh where Flora continued her education, attending boarding school. Flora lived with them in Edinburgh and elsewhere. Lady MacDonald and many of the MacDonalds were Jacobite sympathizers.

Accounts vary, but the rescue consisted of Flora and Niel MacEachainn in June of 1746 taking the prince, who was disguised as a female Irish servant, to the Island of Raasay. Once there, the prince was directed to find shelter in a cave until he could complete his escape. (After Flora and Niel left him, the prince made his way through Skye to the mainland. He had been living rough prior to this, and continued so, in caves and wherever he could find shelter. The prince ultimately escaped after about 3 months on a French vessel to France.) Flora’s part in the physical rescue was approximately 3 days. It would seem she was involved with the planning as her stepfather Hugh MacDonald, a captain in the militia, provided the passports for her, her manservant, and Irish spinning-maid, ostensibly to visit her mother.

The prince’s movements became known, and Flora’s participation became known. Once it was clear that the prince had succeeded in escaping to France, the search for those who had aided him intensified, and Flora was arrested on Skye after a brief visit with her mother. I was unable to find formal accounts of a trial. She was held at Dunstaffnage Castle in August of 1746 for about 10 days, where she was allowed to entertain visitors. Subsequently, she was taken by boat to Glasgow, where she was placed aboard “HMS Furnace” (or possibly the “Bridgewater”), where she stayed on board for 3 months. Again, Flora was allowed to receive visitors and gifts. On November 7, 1746, the ship departed for London.

Flora was held in the Tower of London for a short time, then released into house arrest with friends. Flora was apparently quite popular and entertained frequent visitors. At one point, she met one of George II’s sons (one account said it was Fredrick, the Prince of Wales; another indicated it was the Duke of Cumberland). Supposedly, the prince in question asked her why she aided Prince Charles, and she told him that she would have helped anyone in similar circumstances. It seems she assisted him as a humanitarian, rather than political, obligation. Finally, in June of 1747, George II passed a general free pardon, allowing those who had been convicted of treasonous acts before June 15, 1747 to be released.

Upon her release, she became a guest of a leading Jacobite lady (possibly Lady Primrose of Dunnipace). Flora remained in London for a time, trying to aid other state prisoners, receiving gifts, donations of funds, and many more visitors. After leaving London, her travels took her through England to York and on to Scotland. Apparently Flora travelled for about 12 months, visiting Jacobites on her journey. She finally settled in Skye, after visiting her mother, Lady Clanranald and her brother.

Flora married Allan MacDonald of Kingsburgh, whom she had known since childhood, on November 6, 1750, at the age of 28. She brought with her into the marriage several hundred pounds, and received more money from Jacobite supporters. The couple farmed at Flodigarry, and had seven children, but things did not go well. Whether the result of debts incurred by his father, difficulty in farming, increases in rents, or a combination of all of these factors, the couple experienced increasing difficulties. In 1774, they immigrated to North Carolina in America with their children.

Upon arrival in North Carolina, Flora and her family were welcomed by the Scots community, many of whom had emigrated before, and a ball was given in Flora’s honour in Wilmington. They purchased a plantation in Anson in January 1776, and two of their children died of typhus. Unfortunately, before they had time to get settled, the American Revolution broke out. Flora and her husband were loyalists, her husband having been commissioned an officer in the Royal Highland Emigrant Regiment in 1775. After the war broke out, Allan and several other family members fought, but Allan was captured after the defeat at Moore’s Creek and made prisoner. Their plantation was damaged and ultimately confiscated when Flora refused to take the oath required by the Act of November 1777.

Allan and Flora reunited briefly in 1778 after his release, and they moved to Nova Scotia. Although Alan remained with his regiment in Canada, Flora went back to Skye in 1779. Her surviving two sons and older daughter returned with her, where they were reunited with the youngest daughter. This voyage was more exciting, as the ship was attacked by a French privateer. Accounts indicate that Flora remained on deck and suffered a broken arm. Upon her return, her brother built a cottage for her where she stayed until her husband’s return five years later. It seems she had a sense of humour as she supposedly said that she had fought in the service of both the House of Stuart and the House of Hanover but had been defeated in both endeavours.*

Flora died March 5, 1790, possibly at Kingsburgh, her husband’s family home (accounts differ). Her body was wrapped in a sheet on which Charles Stuart had slept all those years before, and buried at Kilmuir on the north end of Skye in the churchyard. Her funeral was supposedly well attended, and her grave was covered by a thin marble slab. The slab, however, was chipped away within a short time, and the pieces carried away by tourists. Subsequently, public subscriptions allowed a large granite cross on a pedestal to be erected in her memory.

Numerous accounts of Flora’s rescue of the prince and a few biographies were written about her. Although known for a brief adventure with Prince Charles Edward Stuart, her life was exciting and full of incident. Flora showed herself to be intelligent, faithful, determined, and resilient.

Flora MacDonald’s grave in Kilmuir Cemetery on the Isle of Skye, 6/2007, by Adam Cuerden,
From Wikimedia Commons

Sources include:

Dictionary of Ntional Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 35. “Macdonald, Flora” by Thomas Finlayson Henderson. On line at http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Macdonald,_Flora(DNB00)

Internet Archives. MacGregor, Alexander. THE LIFE OF FLORA MACDONALD and her Adventures with Prince Charles*. Inverness: A & W MacKenzie, 1882. https://archive.org/details/lifeoffloramacdo00macguoft

GoogleBooks. THE SCOTS MAGAZINE Containing A GENERAL VIEW of the Religion, Politicks, Entertainment, etc. In Great Britain: and a Succinct Account of Publick Affairs Foreign and Domestic for the Year MDCCXLVII. Volume IX. June 1747. “Abstract of the act vicesimo George ii R Entitled, An Act for the King’s most gracious , general, and free pardon.” PP 258-261. http://books.google.com/books?id=FVwAAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA259&lpg=PA259&dq=act+of+grace+and+pardon+1747&source=bl&ots=R35BskguE1&sig=d2w5BqLPoKMxUWTkiJtQ1vMoObE&hl=en&sa=X&ei=Oi36U7rGNsqhyAS_tYKwCQ&ved=0CDUQ6AEwBQ#v=onepage&q=act%20of%20grace%20and%20pardon%201747&f=false

Scotland Magazine on-line. “What Flora did next.” By Jackie Cosh. Issue 22, p. 48. Http://www.scotlandmag.com/magazine/issue22/12006639.html

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Lauren Gilbert is author of HEYERWOOD: A Novel, and lives in Florida with her husband. Her second novel, working title A Rational Attachment, is expected to be released later this year.


2 comments:

  1. This is very interesting! I don't know much about 1700s Britain and Scotland, though I am taking a class in Early and Medieval Britain this semester at my college (~1st c. BC to ~11th c. AD). But Flora sounded like an amazing woman all around, and it's a shame she's only remembered for that one event. Thank you for this post!

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  2. Wow never a dull moment on two continents Go Flora!

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