Charles Edward Stuart


Charles Edward Louis John Casimir Sylvester Mary Stuart, also known as the Young Pretender, The Young Chevalier or Bonnie Prince Charlie (Rome, 31 December 1720 – Rome, 31 January 1788), was the second Jacobite pretender to the thrones of England, Scotland, France and Ireland (as Charles III) since the death of his father in 1766.

This claim was such as he was the eldest son of James Francis Edward Stuart, himself the son of James II and VII. Charles Edward is most famous for leading the unsuccessful Jacobite insurrection of 1745, aimed at restoring his family to the throne of Great Britain, which ended in defeat at the Battle of Culloden that effectively ended the Jacobite cause. In the period 1745-46 Charles Edward was recognized as lord of Scotland and regent of the kingdom by his supporters and the Scottish clans, while James Edward, who remained in exile, was proclaimed King James VIII of Scotland.

Jacobites supported the claims of the Stuarts due to the hope for Catholics of religious tolerance and belief in the divine right of kings. Charles” escape from Scotland after the revolt made him a romantic figure of heroic failure in some later depictions. In 1759 he was involved in a plan to invade Britain that was abandoned after British naval victories….


Carlo Edoardo was born in Palazzo Muti in Rome on December 31, 1720, where his father had been granted a residence by Pope Clement XI. He spent most of his childhood in Rome and Bologna. He was the son of the Old Pretender, Prince James, son of the exiled Stuart king, James II and VII, and his wife Maria Clementina Sobieska, great-granddaughter of John III Sobieski, famous for his victory over the Ottoman Turks at the Battle of Vienna in 1683.

His childhood in Rome was that of a privileged aristocrat, being raised in a loving but controversial Catholic family. Being, in their opinion, the last legitimate heirs of the Stuart lineage, his family lived proudly believing in the divine right of kings. Regaining the thrones of England and Scotland for the Stuarts was a constant topic of conversation at home, reflected primarily in his father”s often somber and combative moods.

His grandfather, James II of England and VII of Scotland, had ruled the country from 1685 to 1688 and was deposed when Parliament invited the Dutch Protestant, William III of Orange and his wife Princess Mary (the eldest of King James” children) to replace him, in the revolution of 1688. Many Protestants, including a number of prominent parliamentarians, were concerned that King James aimed to bring England back into the “Catholic fold.” With James”s exile, the “Jacobite cause” had sought to return the throne of England and Scotland, united as Britain since 1707, to the Stuarts. Charles Edward was to play an important role in the pursuit of this ultimate goal.

In 1734, Charles Edward had the opportunity to observe in the field the French and Spanish siege of Gaeta, his first baptism of fire. His father tried to obtain the renewed support of the French government in 1744 and with this purpose Charles Edward went to France with the sole purpose of gathering and obtaining the command of an army that he would personally lead in an invasion of England. The invasion never materialized because the invasion fleet was dispersed by a storm. When the fleet reunited, the British fleet realized the detour that had deceived them and resumed its position in the Channel. Undaunted, Charles Edward was determined to continue his attempt to restore the Stuarts.


In December 1743, his father appointed Charles Edward as prince regent, giving him authority to act on his behalf. Eighteen months later, he led a French-backed rebellion intended to put his father on the thrones of England and Scotland. Charles Edward raised funds to equip two ships: the Elisabeth, an old warship with 66 guns, and the Doutelle (le Du Teillay) a small 16-gun frigate, which successfully landed him and seven companions at Eriskay on July 23, 1745. Charles Edward had hoped for the support of a French fleet, but it was badly damaged by storms, and so he was left trying to raise an army in Scotland.

The Jacobite cause was still supported by many Highland clans, both Catholic and Protestant. Charles Edward hoped for a warm welcome from these clans to start a Jacobite revolt across all of Britain. Charles Edward raised his father”s banner at Glenfinnan and gathered sufficient force to allow him to march on Edinburgh. The city, under the control of Lord Provost Archibald Stewart, quickly surrendered. While in Edinburgh a portrait of Charles Edward was painted by the artist Allan Ramsay, which survives in the Earl of Wemyss”s collection at Gosford House.

On September 21, 1745, he defeated the only government army in Scotland at the Battle of Prestonpans. The government army was led by General Sir John Cope, and their disastrous defense against the Jacobites is immortalized in the song Johnnie Cope. By November, Charles Edward was marching south at the head of about 6,000 men. Having taken Carlisle, Charles Edward”s army proceeded as far as Swarkestone Bridge in Derbyshire. Here, despite Charles Edward”s objections, the decision was made by his council to return to Scotland, due to the lack of English and French support and rumors that numerous government troops were being gathered. The Jacobites marched north once again, winning the Battle of Falkirk Muir, but were later pursued by King George II”s son, the Duke of Cumberland, who captured them at the Battle of Culloden on April 16, 1746.

Ignoring the advice of his best commander, Lord George Murray, Charles Edward chose to fight on swampy, open, flat terrain where his forces would be exposed to the superior firepower of the government troops. Charles Edward commanded his army from a position behind his lines, where he could not see what was happening. Hoping that Cumberland”s army would attack first, he arranged his men to stand in front of the Hanoverian artillery. Realizing his mistake, he immediately ordered an attack, but the messenger was killed before the order could be delivered.

Last years

While back in France, Charles Edward had several romantic relationships; one with his cousin Marie Louise de La Tour d”Auvergne, wife of Jules, prince of Guéméné, by whom a short-lived son, Charles (1748-1749), was born. In 1748 Charles Edward was expelled from France under the terms of the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle, which brought an end to the war between Britain and France.

Charles Edward lived several years in exile with his Scottish mistress, Clementina Walkinshaw, whom he met during the 1745 rebellion. In 1753, the couple had a daughter, Charlotte. Charles Edward”s inability to cope with the collapse of the cause led him to have problems with alcohol, so mother and daughter abandoned him with James” connivance. Charlotte would later have a son by Ferdinand, a clergyman who was a member of the Rohan family, named Charles Edward Stuart, Earl Roehenstart. Charlotte was suspected by many of Charles Edward”s supporters of being a spy on behalf of the Hanoverian government of Great Britain.

After his defeat, Charles Edward let the remaining supporters of the Jacobite cause in England know that, accepting the impossibility of recovering the English and Scottish crowns by remaining a Roman Catholic, he was willing to commit to reigning as a Protestant.

In 1759, at the height of the Seven Years” War, Charles Edward was summoned to Paris to meet the French foreign minister, the Duke of Choiseul, but he did not make a good impression, coming across as polemical and idealistic in his expectations. Choiseul, who was planning a large-scale invasion of England involving up to 100,000 men to which he hoped to add a number of Jacobites led by Charles, was so negatively impressed by Charles that he gave up on the idea of enlisting the help of the Jacobites. The French invasion, which was Charles” last realistic chance to reclaim the English throne from the Stuart dynasty, was finally foiled by the naval defeats at Quiberon Bay and Lagos.

In 1766, Charles” father Edward died. Pope Clement XIII had recognized James as King of England, Scotland, and Ireland under the name “James III and VIII” but did not give Charles the same recognition.

In 1772 Charles Edward married Princess Louise of Stolberg-Gedern. They lived first in Rome and in 1774 they moved to Florence, where in 1777 they bought the residence of Palazzo di San Clemente, called in his memoirs Palazzo del Pretendente. In Florence he began to use the title “Count of Albany” as a pseudonym. This title is often used in European publications; his wife Louise is almost always called “Countess of Albany”.

In 1780, Louise left Charles Edward. She claimed that Charles Edward had physically abused her; this claim was generally believed to be true by contemporaries.

In 1783, Charles Edward signed a deed of legitimation for his daughter Charlotte. Charles Edward also gave Charlotte the title “Duchess of Albany” among the peers of Scotland and the treatment of “royal highness,” but these honors gave Charlotte no right of succession to the throne. Charlotte lived with her father in Florence and Rome for the next five years.

Like his father, Charles Edward was a member of Freemasonry, although as early as 1777 he denied it, probably under pressure from the Catholic Church.

Death and burial

Charles Edward died in Rome on January 31, 1788, at the age of 68, from a stroke. He was buried first in St. Peter”s Cathedral in Frascati, where his brother Henry Benedict Stuart was bishop. Upon Henry”s death in 1807, Charles Edward”s remains (except for his heart) were moved to the Vatican Grottoes where they were buried alongside those of his brother, father and mother. The heart remained in Frascati Cathedral, where it is contained in a small urn under the floor on which rests a monument.

End of papal support

After the death of James, the successive popes on the Throne of Peter increasingly refused to continue to recognize as legitimate the claims of Charles and the Stuarts to the English and Irish thrones; on January 14, 1766, Charles Edward was finally forced to accept the Hanoverian dynasty as the legitimate ruler in Britain and Ireland. This decision led to a gradual relaxation and substantial reform of the anti-Catholic Penal Laws in Britain and Ireland. In 1792, the papacy referred to the reigning sovereign George III as “King of Great Britain and Ireland”, a fact that raised the protests of James” youngest son, Henry Benedict, the last pretender to the throne of the house.

His long Italian residence was characterized by a certain social, if not political, relevance, so much so that he is remembered in at least three fundamental texts of that late 18th century:


  1. Carlo Edoardo Stuart
  2. Charles Edward Stuart
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