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Flora MacDonald: 18th Century Rebel

Posted by Laura Hart on

Flora MacDonald: 18th Century Rebel

On June 28th , 1746, a 24 year old lady stood on Portree harbour and parted ways with the man she had just helped escape from government forces. The lady was Flora MacDonald and the escapee was Bonnie Prince Charlie.

Their meeting in Benbecula and subsequent journey over to Skye has often been over romanticised, in reality Flora was at first hesitant to help the Prince.  She wasn’t of the same Catholic religion of the Prince (she was Presbyterian) and her husband and step-father were part of the Hanoverian Army. She eventually changed her mind, apparently saying later that she went through with it  because she felt sorry for the situation he was in and did it as an act of charity.

On 16th April , 1746, The Jacobite Army had just suffered a crushing defeat at Culloden, at the hands of the Duke of Cumberland. Prince Charles and a loyal band of supporters made their getaway, managing to get to Benbecula, in the Outer Hebrides. It was here that he met Flora, and after obtaining the necessary passes and permissions to travel, set sail for Skye in a small boat of 6 crewmen and two personal servants, one of which was the Prince, disguised as an Irish maid called Betty Burke.

Statue of Flora MacDonald located outside Inverness Caste

Image by Warren via Flickr

After hiding overnight in Portree, Charles and his party were then able to travel to the Isle of Raasay and then onto Loch nan Uamh, where a ship  then took him back to France. The pair never met again, but if Flora thought that was the end of that, she was very much mistaken. Just a few weeks later the escape plot was uncovered and Flora was sent to the Tower of London - she was however, allowed to live outside the Tower under supervision, so thankfully she wasn’t being kept in some dark,  grim cell awaiting torture! 

She was released the following year in 1747, a few years later she married Allan MacDonald, started a family and in 1774, she and Alan, with some of the younger children, decided to emigrate to North Carolina. As they stepped off the boats, the American Revolution was  starting to pick up pace, Flora and her husband took the side of the British, he joined the Royal Highland Emigrant Regiment but was captured in battle. The American rebels destroyed their home and plantation and forced the family into hiding.

As the years passed, Flora was eventually persuaded to return to her homeland. In 1779, accompanied by her daughter, she made the journey back to Scotland. The boat that she was travelling on was said to have been attacked by French privateers and that she refused to go below decks as the fighting ensued, even being wounded in the arm.

Flora died on the 5th March, 1790, aged 68. She is buried in Kilmuir cemetery on Skye, the inscription on her tombstone by Samuel Johnson, reads:

 ‘Flora MacDonald. Preserver of Prince Charles Edward Stuart. Her name will be mentioned in history and if courage and fidelity be virtues, mentioned with honour.’

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