Flora MacDonald

There were three ways of regarding Charles Edward Stuart (Bonnie Prince Charlie, the Young Pretender), Prince of Scotland. Loyalists, who believed implicitly in his father's and grandfather's divine right to be king, were prepared to die for him. There were those who after 30 years of Hanover rule, regardless of which side they supported in their hearts, were unsettled by the whole affair and rule by ‘German royals’ and finally those who despite having family members serving in the army or the government would not for all the ransom money offered have sent to death the Stuart Prince. (move sentence) Flora MacDonald belonged to the last group.

Flora was deeply in love with her husband to be, Allan MacDonald, who was an officer in King George's army and her foster-father, Clanranald, was in command of the King’s troops on Benbecula. Following the defeat of the Jacobites at Culloden the Prince needed to get out of Scotland and the path of least resistance was clearly through the Isle of Skye. Flora was approached by Captain of the Troop, but refused her help. In spite of her refusal she seemed to be the most likely young woman on the island for the task - young, full of spirit and practical and it seems that her foster-father had actually devised the plan himself. Fate was not to be denied.

At the time of their introduction on 20 June 1746 Prince Charles had been on the run for two months in the Outer Hebrides. They remained in hiding for a week during which time the Prince was transformed into Flora's Irish maid 'Betty Burke' duly outfitted in gowns, petticoats, snood, cloak and white cap. News reached Flora and the Prince that General Campbell had landed with orders to search, find and bring down the escaping Prince. In a small boat, encountering a storm in crossing The Minch, Flora, along with another support named Neil MacDonald, smuggled the disguised Charles Stuart off the Isle of North Uist to Isle of Skye successfully, eventually allowing Charles Edward Stuart to gain freedom in France.

After Stuart's escape, Flora was labelled a traitor. Tracked down, arrested and imprisoned briefly in the Tower of London she was widely admired for her courage and soon enough money had been raised to secure her release. She returned to Edinburgh and then to Skye where she married her intended, Allan MacDonald of Kingsburgh, and she mothered seven children. The family immigrated to North Carolina in the 1770s, but in supporting the British in the War of Independence they lost everything and moved to Nova Scotia. She returned home to Britain where she lived until her death at Peinduin on 3 March 1790, a sheet in which Prince Charles had slept served as her shroud. It is said that over 3000 mourners attended her funeral at which 300 gallons of whisky were drunk. Her grave site/memorial is located at Kilmuir, 20 miles from Portree.


Storm clouds crossing The Minch, Isle of Skye.
Photograph by Gordon Harrison