Stewarts on the dole

Rosalind Mitchison

  • Bonnie Prince Charlie by Rosalind Marshall
    HMSO, 208 pp, £8.50, April 1988, ISBN 0 11 493420 7
  • Bonnie Prince Charlie: A Biography by Susan Maclean Kybett
    Unwin Hyman, 343 pp, £12.95, April 1988, ISBN 0 04 440213 9
  • Charles Edward Stuart: A Tragedy in Many Acts by Frank McLynn
    Routledge, 640 pp, £24.95, September 1988, ISBN 0 415 00272 9
  • Mary Queen of Scots: A Study in Failure by Jenny Wormald
    George Philip, 206 pp, £14.95, March 1988, ISBN 0 540 01131 2
  • Mary Stewart: Queen in Three Kingdoms edited by Michael Lynch
    Blackwell, 238 pp, £25.00, July 1988, ISBN 0 631 15263 6
  • The Shadow of a Crown: The Life Story of James II of England and VII of Scotland by Meriol Trevor
    Constable, 320 pp, £15.00, June 1988, ISBN 0 09 467850 2
  • The Scottish Tory Party: A History by Gerald Warner
    Weidenfeld, 247 pp, £12.95, May 1988, ISBN 0 297 79101 X
  • The Elgins, 1766-1917: A Tale of Aristocrats, Proconsuls and their Wives by Sydney Checkland
    Aberdeen University Press, 303 pp, £25.00, April 1988, ISBN 0 08 036395 4

Recent anniversaries for Scotland have been encouraging the simplified version of its history that obtains in most English minds. Two topics are sufficiently dramatic to break through cultural isolationism: the reign of Mary Queen of Scots and the Jacobite risings. The more sophisticated English absorbers of history may also entertain an uneasy recollection that the Scots had something to do with the English Civil Wars, and may even have an impression of outbreaks of Presbyterian intransigence in the 19th century: but for most people in England Scottish history means Mary and Prince Charles Edward, whose deaths, one of which was directly caused by England, are associated with ’87 and ’88. This setting in time is unfair on those of us who try to show that Scottish society had its own interesting line of development, a topic which neither of these known figures paid any attention to. A theme which unites the central figures of these anniversaries is their marked lack of interest in Scotland.

Still, there is a contemporary ground for sympathy with the problems of Prince Charles Edward, the Young Pretender, in our current recognition of the personal and social problems produced by unemployment. Psychiatrists, doctors and social workers are all today faced with the human inability to adjust to the absence of a function in the economy and with the likelihood that the unemployed will take to drink and wife-beating, as did Charles Edward. Indeed, who can be more unemployed than members of a royal family in exile? There may be work for a claimant to a throne, in organising a court and intrigue, but there is very little for the rest of the family to do. Dr Marshall suggests that Charles Edward’s mother’s anorexia and his own alcoholism had a common root, and both may have been the result of unwillingness to admit to uselessness. A royal claimant or his heir cannot settle to alternative work: their significance lies wholly in who they are by birth. They cannot even, as contemporaries sometimes urged, drop part of the claim. Elizabeth of England tried to make Mary give up her claim to the English throne – understandably, since it was a better one than her own – and many of Charles Edward’s Scottish supporters urged him to settle for Scotland only. But a dynasty’s claims, if real, cannot be split up or abandoned. Royalty has to base its position on the totality of hereditary right: only God can make an heir.

Given the assured position of leader, monarchs or pseudo-monarchs can reduce their state, but they are usually not allowed to by their supporters. Both Charles Edward and Mary could rough it when required: the Prince’s cheerful stamina is one of his few really attractive features. Susan Kybett appears to grudge the fact that the Prince would be better supplied than other people whenever possible, but this preferential treatment was an essential part of the recognition of monarchy. It was truly shocking when, for a time, Mary was in neglect and danger on Loch Leven, and as a refugee her indignation against Elizabeth for being mean in sending clothes to her was justified. Monarchy was always to be seen as different from common humanity, even if it chose, as did the later Stewarts, to play the difference down. Monarchy was a necessary feature of legitimate government, though by the 18th century the dynastic claims on which foreign war was pursued were simply cover. The unwillingness of some writers in a more egalitarian world to recognise the sense of superiority by birth is a handicap to their historical understanding, though it is also a reminder of how little we wish to return to that earlier world.

A striking feature of the historiography of Charles Edward is how different are the firsthand accounts of him. This point sustained a learned work by A.J. Youngson, The Prince and the Pretender a few years ago, which built up opposing narratives. Those who felt that legitimate expectations had been frustrated attempted to put the blame on the leading figure, while those who had regarded the hopes as fairly remote would continue to feel gratification at having known the Prince. Different modern evaluations are shown in the three books on Charles. Dr Marshall is to some degree writing an establishment history, and where possible taking the Prince’s side, but she does so cautiously, for she has a scholar’s good judgment. Her book will be particularly valued by the tourist industry, for it is enriched with splendid and relevant illustrations. Though the scholarly equipment does not run to an index, there is a useful account of the main sources.

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[*] Edited by Gordon Donaldson. Archie Duncan and Dorothy Dunnett. £1 each part.