Burned are their homes, exile and death
Scatter the loyal men;
Yet ere the sword cool in the sheath
Charlie will come again.
Charles Edward Louis John Casimir Silvester Severino Maria Stuart has a lot to answer for. Throughout history, that pestilent albatross they call the Auld Alliance has always been a one way ticket to certain disaster for the Scots. He came as Teàrlach Eideard Stiùbhairt; he lost as The Young Pretender; and he left as Betty Burke.
What makes a nation take up the sword and follow a stranger blindly to the death?
The answer is three-fold: desperation, repression and nationalism. The 18th century Jacobites were in dire need of a cause. Harried and butchered by the Hanoverians who were desperate to hold onto their fragile throne through the violent quelling of all dissidence, Charlie saw a way of claiming his regal birthright through the strength of the White Rose Highland clans. He almost made it. After the success of Prestonpans he led his victorious armies as far south as Derbyshire and, when the news reached London, the Of Oranges were already packing their bags (or at least getting their servants to do it for them).
Whatever happened after that time to the mighty Jacobite armies can be put down to a chain of misfortune: the long trudge northwards, the faint hearts of the French allies and the multiple skewering on the fields of Culloden should have taught the Bravehearts of the Highlands that Charlie was an indefensible cause. The prince’s hasty retreat attired from head to toe in Flora MacDonald’s skirts should really have been the last straw for a hot-blooded Highlander charged with dangerous levels of testosterone.
But the pith o' sense, an' pride o' worth, are higher rank than a' that — and there’s the rub. Standing in front of the Glenfinnan monument, the stone effigy of an unnamed Highlander keeps an eternal watch over Glen Sheil and the place where a young royal general once raised his standard and called the Jacobites to arms. His sword, almost cool in the sheath, could easily be a staff. He comes in peace, but readied for action in case he is once again summoned to defend his lands.
The fact that Charles Edward Stuart is not standing there is a poignant reminder that the ’45 was possibly not actually about him. The exiled Young Pretender was simply a mascot. It didn’t matter whether he fought beside his followers or preferred to flee the battle for fear of laddering his tights, Bonnie Prince Charlie was the physical embodiment of the pride and passion of a nation and the Glenfinnan monument is an eternal reminder that the Scots never really did lose Scotland. These lands will always remain in the hearts and minds of its people, the true flower of Scotland, and Charlie’s ghost will never leave the glens so long as there remains the stomach for a fight.