Dame Mary Dacre or Clark, The White Rose of Scotland by W.A.J. Prevost.

Reprinted from the Transactions of the Cumberland and Westmoreland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society by kind permission of the author and the society.

There were few parts of England and Scotland which were not disturbed or affected in some way by the Jacobite rebellion of 1745. The Prince on board the Du Teillay had arrived in Scottish waters from France on 25 July, and as time went on and he had assembled an army, both Cumberland and Northumberland were daily awaiting an invasion into England. The authorities were aware of the Prince’s preparations from intelligence reports which were circulated throughout the country, and they were not surprised when news was received that the rebels had left Dalkeith for the south on 3 November. They marched southward in three columns, one division by way of Peebles and Moffat, the middle column by Lauder, Selkirk and Hawick and the eastern division by way of Kelso. The Kelso column reached Canonbie on the 8th when the van of the Highland army crossed the Esk and was quartered that night at a place in Cumberland called Riddings, just across the border. Next day, at about three o’clock in the afternoon, 50 or 60 of the rebels, well mounted and thought to be officers, appeared on Stanwix bank. They were fired upon by guns from Carlisle Castle and were forced to retreat. At about the same time, according to a report in the London Gazette, the eastern division were marching to “Rowclift”, or Rockliff, where they crossed the Eden within 4 miles of Carlisle, “and thence to Murray’s on Brough Side where they lay that night, about 4 miles south of Carlisle. That afternoon, part of the Moffat division, with the artillery, joined them and all the rest next day”. This partly confirms the story that Highlanders were seen marching through Dalston on a Sunday, possibly Sunday, 10 November. However, the Highland army withdrew eastwards to Brampton on receiving a false report that Wade was on the march from Newcastle, and by 12 November not a Highlander remained in sight of Carlisle. Next day part of the army returned to begin the siege of the city and the Jacobites were then in full control of all that part of the countryside. Dalston is 2 miles north of Rose Castle so that Highlanders were once more swarming in the district at the time when a “Highland Gentleman” was the hero of a pleasing incident which is said to have taken place at the castle on 15 November. The circumstances are as follows:

Squire Dacre of Kirklinton in Cumberland had, like many others taken what precautions he could to safeguard his family. He had sent his wife Catherine, the daughter of Sir George Fleming, Bishop of Carlisle, to be under the care of her mother at Rose Castle, the home of the bishops of Carlisle. While there she gave birth to a daughter, on an uncertain date but which one can assume was on or before 3 November when the parish register of Kirklinton records that Mary, daughter of Joseph Dacre, Esq., was baptised at Rose Castle, as certified by the Rev. Gustavus Thompson, the bishop’s chaplain. What happened next is first recorded in 1817 by Mary Dacre, herself then the widow of Sir John Clerk of Penicuik, and communicated by “Mary Lady Clerk” to the publisher of Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine. She signed her letter “Rosemary Clerk”, the Christian name Rosemary being apparently a name assumed by her in her old age, for Mary she was christened, Mary she was named in her father’s will, and Mary she called herself in her own will. Her story, which she must have inherited from her parents, is as follows:


According to your request this morning, I sent you some account of the particulars that attended my birth, which I do with infinite pleasure, as it reflects great honour on the Highlanders (to whom I always feel the greatest gratitude) that at the time when their hearts were set on plunder, the fear of hurting a sick lady and child instantly stopped their intentions.

This incident occurred 15 November 1745. My father, Mr D’Acre, then an officer of his majesty’s militia, was a prisoner in the Castle of Carlisle, at that time in the hands of Prince Charles. My mother (daughter of Sir George le Fleming, Bart., bishop of Carlisle) was living at Rose Castle, six miles from Carlisle, where she was delivered of me. She had given orders that I should be privately baptized by the bishop’s chaplain (his lordship not being at home), by the name of Rosemary D’Acre. At that moment a company of Highlanders appeared, headed by a Captain Macdonald who, having heard there was much plate and valuables in the castle, came to plunder it. Upon the approach of the Highlanders, an old gray-headed servant ran out, and entreated Captain Macdonald not to proceed; as any noise or alarm might occasion the death of both lady and child. The Captain inquired when the lady had been confined. “Within this hour,” the servant answered. Captain Macdonald stopped. The servant added “They are just going to christen the infant”. Macdonald, taking off his cockade, said “let her be christened with this cockade in her cap; it will be protection now, and after, if any of our stragglers should come this way: we will await the ceremony in silence”, which they accordingly did, and then went into the coach-yard, and were regaled with beef, cheese, ale &c. They then went off without the smallest disturbance. My white cockade was safely preserved, and shown to me from time to time, always reminding me to respect the Scotch, and the Highlanders in particular. I think I have obeyed the injunction, by spending my life in Scotland, and also hoping to die there.

Rosemary Clerk.

P.S. If the above anecdote can be of any interest to you or the public, it is very much at your service. I have mentioned all the names of the persons concerned, which you may retain, or leave out as you think fit. Miss Law, Prince’s Street, hearing of the above anecdote sent me a present of the prince’s picture, and that of his lady, the Princess Stollberg.

Edinburgh, April 21st 1817.

It is sometimes said that this incident occurred on 8 November. This is most unlikely, as the Highlanders did not cross the Eden till 9 November. Nor was the infant baptised on 15 November, the date given by Lady Clerk in her letter, which was the subject of Miss Goodwin’s paper, Rosemary Dacre and the White Cockade (CWI viii). Nevertheless, the gist of the story is true and accepted by the Dacres as a “family tradition”, and this is confirmed by Mrs “Ellen” Maclean of Lazonby Hall in Cumberland, a descendant of the Dacre family and a cousin of Lady Clerk, when she wrote on 19 January 1854 to William Frederick Robertson IX, of Kinlochmoidart, a letter on this very subject. She stated that Captain Macdonald, the hero of the story, was “Kinloch Moidart” of whom more hereafter; “Nor was the Cockade heard of for many years afterwards when Lady Clerk showed it to me …”

The White Cockade, which was treasured by the Dacre family, was the emblem worn by the Jacobite followers of the Prince. The wearing of it proved that the wearer was a rebel, a fact which was produced as convincing evidence of guilt of prisoners in the Jacobite trials in 1746. The cockade was chosen as a badge after the Prince had stayed the night of 23 August 1745 with John Cameron, brother of Donald, the Gentle Lochiel, at Fassifern House near Fort William. While there the Prince picked a flower from a white rose which was growing against the wall of the house just below his bedroom window, and this rose seemed to him to be a suitable object for a badge and so it was afterwards adopted. “Prince Charlie’s Rose” is still alive and blooming, and is now being carefully tended by Lady Dulverton, the wife of the present owner of Fassifern.

Mrs Dacre’s baby grew up into a most beautiful girl and an amusing story is told how Molly, as she then liked to be called, was canvassing for one of the candidates at an election for the County of Cumberland. The freeholder whom she had canvassed was so captivated by her charm and personality that he insisted on voting for Molly Dacre, and no one at the poll could persuade him to do otherwise. A woman of such attraction did not lack suitors and it is said that she and a near neighbour of hers, William Scott, were very attached to each other. Scott was a desirable young man, the same age as Molly and with a promising career ahead of him, for he was in due course called to the Bar, knighted in 1788, and created a baron with the title of Stowell of Stowell Park in Gloucestershire in 1821. However, circumstances and lack of means precluded all hope of marriage and it was not until his father’s death in 1776 that he inherited property said to have been worth £24,000. Scott was now in a position to make an offer of marriage and this in due course he did, only to be grievously disappointed when he received the following reply which left him under no misapprehension whatsoever:

Dear Willie Scott, I should have been glad to be your wife but on Tuesday next I am to be married to Captain John Clerk and am your affectionate Molly Dacre.

The marriage announcement in the Cumberland Pacquet of 30 December 1777 records: “Last week at Kirklinton, Capt. Clarke to Miss Molly Dacre, dau. of Joseph Dacre Esq of that place.”

Captain Clerk RN was the son of Sir George Clerk of Penicuik. On the death of his father in 1784 he became the fifth baronet when he retired to live at Penicuik House. It is said that he was a good landlord and did much towards improving the amenities of his estate. “He was no doubt much indebted to the wise help and council of his wife, who was a woman of excellent abilities and great shrewdness and force of character.” It was at Penicuik that Lady Clerk made the acquaintance of Sir Walter Scott whose first visit to the house was in 1792 when he was introduced by William Clerk, Sir John’s uncle, with whom Scott was closely acquainted.

It is almost a certainty that at that first visit and on future occasions Sir Walter and Lady Clerk talked about the “Forty-Five” and the Highlanders in particular. It is presumed that by then she had made contact with the Kinlochmoidart family, and that she was on friendly terms with one of them is certain, for Donald VII gave her a dress in the old Macdonald tartan of Kinlochmoidart, a gracious act by a young man whose career was afterwards so distinguished. This he did “not later than 1795” and it may have been before 22 August 1794 on which date he was gazetted captain in The First or The Royal Regiment of Foot. He was to see much active service abroad and was a “prisoner of war to the Spaniards, released on parole” in 1797, severely wounded at St Lucia in 1803, gazetted 2nd Lt. Col. at the age of 33 and made Lieutenant-Governor of Tobago in that same year. He died there on 6 June 1804 as a result of his wounds, on the night before his ship was due to take him home on leave to Scotland.

After Sir John’s death in 1794 his widow left Penicuik and retired to a house in Edinburgh. This was No 100 Princes Street, which is now a comparatively modern building occupied by the Royal Overseas League. Lady Clerk had no intention of spending the rest of her life anywhere else but in Scotland, and one can imagine that she entered into the social life of Edinburgh with enthusiasm. Dean Ramsay, to whom she was well known, said that her figure, as she used to walk about, was as familiar to the inhabitants as the steeple of St. Giles. She has been described as having an erect and alert carriage, together with some old-fashioned peculiarities of costume, which made her one of the most noted personalities of her time.

The tartan dress which had been given to her by Donald Macdonald, was very much to the fore on the occasion of the return of the 42nd, The Black Watch, to Edinburgh after Waterloo. The regiment had landed at Ramsgate from France on 19 December 1815, and after a month in barracks in the south proceeled northwards to Scotland by easy stages. It was after four o’clock on the afternoon of Tuesday, 19 March next year when the first division of the 42nd, under the command of Lt. Col. Robert Dick, marched into the Castle. Major-General Hope, commander of the district, and Colonel David Stewart of Garth, who had been wounded while serving with the regiment in Egypt, accompanied Lt. Col. Dick at the head of the column. Not only were the streets of the city crowded as never before with spectators to welcome The Black Watch but the windows and even the house-tops were occupied, while over their heads “from a thousand windows, waved as many banners, plaided scarfs or other symbols of courtly greetings”.

Lady Clerk was there to cheer the troops and, having nothing better to hang from her balcony, stripped off her tartan dress and hung it out as a flag. It caught the eye of Colonel Stewart when he lifted his hat in passing. He called at 100 Princes Street the next day to enquire the history of the flag and presented Lady Clerk with the plaid worn by him at the Battle of Maida in Italy when the British troops defeated the French in 1806.

It is safe to say that she was one of the guests at the Assembly on the night of 21 March, which the Courant reported was one of the most brilliant of the season. “The whole of the officers of the gallant 42nd Regiment were present. On their entering the room, Mr Gow played the ‘Black Watch’, after which the dancing commenced to the favourite of the ‘Ranting Highlandmen’ and the ‘Waterloo Reel’, which continued with great spirit to a late hour.” A piece of the tartan dress was given by Mrs Wedderburn, Lady Clerk’s niece, to William James, the eldest son of William Robertson IX of Kinlochmoidart, whose widow passed it on to the family and it is now in the possession of Commander David Robertson-Macdonald XIII.

If there had been any doubts about Lady Clerk’s feelings towards the Highlanders and her interest in anything to do with the ’45, these were dispelled when her letter appeared in Blackwood’s Magazine with her story of the White Cockade. This badge, as Sir George Clerk, the 8th Baronet, told Miss Goodwin, was always worn upon her birthday, with the addition, according to Sir Walter Scott, of “a white rose as a kindred decoration”. This yearly ritual earned Lady Clerk the pet name of The White Rose of Scotland, and Scott’s story is no doubt correct for he was a frequent visitor to 100 Princes Street. He knew the lady well and this is confirmed by R.W. Chambers in his account of an incident of which he was a witness, together with Sir Walter’s own assertion.

Chambers, then a young man, recalled “a walk he had one day with Sir Walter, ending in Constable’s shop, No.10 Princes Street. When Lady Clerk was purchasing some books at a side counter, Sir Walter, passing through to the stairs by which Mr Constable’s room was reached, did not recognise her ladyship, who, catching sight of as he was about to ascend, called out, “Oh, Sir Walter! Are you really going to pass me?” He immediately turned to make his usual cordial greetings, and apologised with demurely waggish reference to her old dress “I’m sure, my lady, by this time I might know your back as well as your face.”

Scott was certainly in touch with Lady Clerk when preparations were being made in Edinburgh for the visit of King George IV to Scotland in 1822. She had heard that the King was a collector of Jacobite relics and that His Majesty had wished to obtain a dirk that had belonged to the Prince, but the chieftain in whose possession it was, refused to part with it. Amongst her “no small number” of such relics was a travelling case containing a knife, fork and spoon of the finest silver which had also belonged to Prince Charles Stuart. The letters “C.S” were marked on them, and the handles were richly embossed with the thistle and the ends of them were adorned with the rose. Her decision to hand these to Scott for presentation to the King showed great generosity on her part.

The King on board the Royal George arrived in Leith Roads on 14 August when Sir Walter went out to the yacht and presented the Saint Andrew’s Cross badge prepared for His Majesty by the Sisters of the Silver Cross, and at the same time gave him Lady Clerk’s Jacobite relic which was received most graciously. The King landed the following day and proceeded by way of Holyrood Palace to Dalkeith House where he was lodged for most of his stay. At Dalkeith he was conveniently placed to attend the various functions arranged for him in Edinburgh and elsewhere in the Lothians. He drove to Holyrood Palace on Tuesday 20 August, where he arrived at 2.20 in the afternoon for the Drawing-room when about 500 ladies of the most distinguished rank were presented. At the Drawing-room and at the Caledonian Hunt Ball held six days later in the Assembly Rooms the King “took particular notice” of Lady Clerk who also received the distinction of being one of the 74 ladies whose dresses were described in the Courant.

She wore “a white satin dress, tastefully ornamented with van-dyke satin at the bottom and surmounted with rows of rich gold trimming, the bust richly trimmed with fine point lace and gold; train of purple satin, richly trimmed with tulle and gold. Head-dress, an elegant gold embroidered turban and gold band, with black and white feathers”. She was then in her 77th year and was still a remarkable woman who surely remained an outstanding personality for the remainder of her days, though her memory for past events may not have been always very reliable.

Her trust deed and settlement was signed on 11 December 1827 and two codicils were added not long before her death. In the first codicil, dated 11 July 1834, made when she realised how soon and sudden her death might be, she wished her funeral to be private and her burying place to be in the churchyard of Penicuik. This was in the burial enclosure of the Clerks where there was a place left for her between Sir James, the third baronet, and Sir John, her husband. She directed that her servants were to be given decent mourning and certain of them were to be provided with annuities. “The Ring of Jupiter and his two sons, Caracalla and Geta, I leave to Mr Dacre or whoever of the family is in possession of the Kirklinton Estate, as it was found in that church yard in a Roman urn …” She left to Sir George Clerk the Penicuik diamonds, and to Sir George and Lady Clerk “Two suits of table linen, napkins, etc., that have ‘Free for a blast’ wrought on them”. “Free for a blast” is one of the mottoes of the Clerk family, together with Amat victoria curam, and it originates from the reddendo for the barony of penicuik which is the service of blowing a horn whenever the king comes hunting.

In the second codicil, dated 13 September 1834, she left to Sir George Clerk the pictures of Prince Charles and the Princess of Stolberg which she had originally directed to be returned to Miss Margaret Craigie, who had given them to her but who had died after the first codicil was signed. Two similar portraits, according to her letter to Blackwood’s Magazine in 1817, had been presented to her by Miss Law of Princess Street.

“Dame Mary Dacre, otherwise Clerk”, died at her house in Princes Street on 1 November 1834. Amongst the various items listed in the inventory of her effects it is noted that she left her plate specially bequeathed to Mrs Charles Dacre, widow of Major Charles Dacre of the Honourable East India Company’s Service. Her bed and table linen were also left to Mrs Dacre, and her books to the Rev. Mr [Edward] Anderson, her nephew. She possessed £6,400 stock in 3% Government Consolidated Annuities, and the value of her estate in Scotland amounted to £1,860 1s 11d. She was also in receipt of a pension from His Majesty, doubtless on account of her late husband’s service in the Royal Navy, for there was due to her from 30 September to 1 November the sum of £8 8s 8d to which her estate was entitled.

Her house is described as having four floors and garrets and containing 14 fire rooms, including the kitchen and garrets, besides closets, wine and beer cellars, pantry and other conveniences, 3 cellars in front and one under the stair leading down from the pavement of Princes Street to the sunk area …, and having a passage by a stair and door to the mouse lane with the pump, well and ashes pit and whole other privileges.

There is no mention in her testament of the White Cockade, which we are told by R. Chambers, “The lady kept to her dying day”. It has been lost, a matter of little import since it is not required as evidence to prove that part of Lady Clerk’s story. However, on reading her letter to Blackwood’s Magazine again it does seem that she may have confused the incident of her birth and the incident of the White Cockade unintentionally. It is quite certain that she was not born before 1 November 1745, for the notice of her death on 1 November 1834 which appeared in the Courant, states that she was then “in her 89th year”. She would have been 89 two days later if the entry in the Kirklinton parish register is correct, and Miss Goodwin has shown in her paper that there is good reason to suppose that it is. Nevertheless, Lady Clerk is not likely to have erred in naming Captain Macdonald as her hero, about whose identity there has been much speculation.

The names of three Macdonalds are on the short leet for the honour of being the Macdonald who was at Rose Castle on 15 November 1745. They are Major Donald of Tirnadris, Major Donald IV of Kinlochmoidart, and Captain Ranald, one of Kinlochmoidart’s brothers.

It is said by “some authorities” that Tirnadris was the man. It is true that he was a chivalrous highland gentleman, that he and his family were well known in Carlisle and that they were befriended by the Warwicks of Warwick Hall at the time of his trial and execution at Carlisle in 1746. He could have been at Rose Castle at the time of the Siege of Carlisle, for he was a major in Keppoch’s regiment in which he served until his capture at the Battle of Falkirk in January 1746. He was not a Kinlochmoidart and there is no evidence to prove his claim.

Major Donald of Kinlochmoidart’s claim is due entirely to Sir Walter Scott who knew the story of the incident at Rose Castle and made use of it in the first edition of The Monastery, which was published in 1820. In the later editions of 1829 and 1830 Scott added a note in which he gave his version of the story and in which he referred to the Captain of the Mountaineers whom he named Donald Macdonald of Kinlochmoidart. This was taken by some writers to refer to Major Donald IV. It is clearly a mistake as the Major never crossed the border into Cumberland. He was captured at lesmahagow on 12 November 1745 by some country people when he was hastening south to join the Prince after an unsuccessful mission to Sir Alexander Macdonald and the Laird of MacLeod to prevail upon them to support the cause. Sir Walter may have intended to write “Ranald” instead of “Donald”, an easy slip to make. Had he done so he would have been correct, for in the absence of Major Donald in the north, Captain Ranald, his brother, had taken over the command of the Kinlochmoidart men who formed part of Macdonald of Clanranald’s regiment. It was “Kinloch Moidart”, wrote Mrs Maclean; ipso facto it was Ranald; and Ranald “it must be” according to the Kinlochmoidart family.

Ranald was the third son of Ranald III of Kinlochmoidart. In 1730 Clanranald gave him a tack of the lands of Daliburgh in South Uist, and in 1745 he was on the mainland when the Du Teillay was anchored in the Bay of Lochnanuagh with the Prince on board. He was then about 40 years of age though always described as a “youth”. Young Clanranald and Kinlochmoidart, Ranald’s brother, were already on hoard when they were joined by Ranald who had come off the mainland to the ship to enquire for news; and it was Ranald whose promise to assist the Prince shamed Clanranald into declaring himself. Ranald received a commission with the rank of Captain in the Clanranald Regiment and accompanied the Jacobite army to England, taking part in all the engagements. It is said that after the defeat of the Prince at Culloden he took refuge in a cave, but he was one of those men who had been out in the ’45 who were fortunate in being included in the General Pardon. In 1748 he married Marcella, the daughter of Angus Beg Macdonald of Dalilea, and in 1749 was given by Clanranald a tack of the lands of Irine by Roshven on Loch Ailort. He was afterwards known in the West Highlands as “Captain Ranald Macdonald of Irine”. By 1754 he was said to have fathered 6 children and according to reports they had 21 children in all. In 1781 he was evicted from Irine by Clanranald and he is afterwards heard of in Langal in 1782. Langal lies 2 miles to the east of Shiel Bridge and about the same distance to the west of Dalilea on the north shore of loch Shiel in Moidart and not far from Glenaladale where he died, so it is said, from drinking a bowl of sour cream. It is almost a certainty that he was laid to rest in true Highland fashion in the burial ground on Eilean Fhianain or Green Isle in the middle of Loch Shiel.

The graves on Green Isle are not generally marked with names and the almost complete non-existence of local records has so far kept the date of Ranald’s death a secret, but it is evident that he lived for some years after Mary Dacre had married a Scotsman. It is said that he was about forty years old when he joined the Prince; so that when Lady Mary came to live at Penicuik he would then be nearly eighty. Nevertheless one may be allowed to put two and two together and believe that Clerk and Macdonald were then no strangers to each other.