The Rescue of Prince Charles Edward Stuart (1746) by Isa McRury.

1974 Prize winning essay under the auspices of the Flora MacDonald Memorial Fund – awarded annually to schools in North and South Uist and Benbecula, won by Isa MacRury, aged 16 of Iochdar School.

If you ever visit the town of Inverness, you see there beside the castle a beautiful monument in honour of one of Scotland’s brave heroines – Flora MacDonald. The inscription is as follows: “Fhad’s a dh’fhasas flur air machair, Mairidh cliu na h-ainnir chaoimh”. Flora MacDonald would have lived and died unknown had not circumstances forced her into the glare of history; what she did was no more than any other young Scotswoman would gladly have undertaken for “Bonnie Prince Charlie” – a women of more than ordinary virtue.

 Flora MacDonald was born and brought up in Milton in South Uist. She was related to Lady Clan Ranald, who was very fond of her. She gave her schooling along with her own children and Flora made good use of her opportunity to learn. When she grew up Flora went to Edinburgh for three years where she attended the best school in the place at that time.

Edinburgh itself was an exciting place to be living in at this time for it was little less than a hotbed of Jacobite intrigue, with citizens of all classes eagerly passing on the latest rumours. These of course, all centred around Bonnie Prince Charles. His grandfather had been forced to give up the crown, and his father had failed dismally to regain it. Prince Charles, however had dreamed from his boyhood of being King, and now in the flush of youth he was the Jacobites inspiration.

A year later however Flora decided to leave Edinburgh and return to her home on South Uist. After the bloody battle of Culloden and the defeat of the brave Highlanders by the far better equipped English forces, Bonnie Prince Charlie himself, knowing that the English were determined to capture him, dead or alive, and that there was a reward of £30,000 on his head, decided to make with all possible speed to Inverness. He knew the English were hard on his heels, however and in desperation decided to try to make for the Hebrides.

After numerous adventures he was back near Benbecula. Within a week he heard the army had almost caught up with him, If he were to avoid capture there was only one thing to do. By some means or other he had to leave Uist.

This was the critical situation to which Flora MacDonald bravely came to his assistance. She was a Jacobite and a woman of great compassion eager to do all in her power to help the Prince. In this she was not alone, for the Islanders had been anxiously discussing how best to assist the royal fugitive. Matters had now come to a crisis, however and there was to be no time lost if the Prince was to be saved. Several plans were proposed. Until at length Lady Clan Ranald approached Flora with a proposition. This was that the Prince should be disguised as Flora’s maid, and that he should travel with Flora to her mother’s home in Skye. It was indeed an emergency for every pass was patrolled, and every ferry watched and every loch studded with enemy ships.

Having agreed to this plan, Flora decided that her first move must be to go to Milton to tell her brother of the scheme. Flora stayed the night in Milton, but on the following evening she set off with a manservant, Neil MacEachen for the Clan Ranald’s house at Ormiclate. It was fortunate for Flora that her step-father was commanding officer in the militia. He therefore issued her with the necessary passports for herself, her manservant and her “Irish spinning maid” – “Betty Burke”, to cross to Skye to visit her mother. Needless to say, the “Irish spinning maid” was Prince Charles Edward Stuart.

Flora eventually reached Ormiclate without further mishap, and found her friends gathered to give her advice and assistance. They had already obtained a boat manned by six strong seamen and put on board suitable provisions. Now it only remained to choose suitable clothes for “Betty Burke” and all the preparations would be completed.

When the clothes were ready they were brought to the Prince who was at Rossinish. He was gone twenty minutes. Then from out of the cleft came a tall, ungainly spinning maid – “Betty Burke”.

The following day about ten o’clock in the evening, Flora, Neil and the Prince made their way to the beach and after spending an hour in the pouring rain, the three fugitives at last saw their boat. They embarked with all possible speed and began their perilous voyage across the Minch to Skye. Within a few hours a summer storm had arisen and it seemed as if the boat would be engulfed at any moment.

With daybreak the storm moderated, and a short time afterwards they made out the headlands of Skye and made speedily towards them. It seemed for a moment as if alt their troubles were over, but just as they approached the land they saw a large party of soldiers on the beach. They quickly pulled back out to sea again beyond the Redcoats reach and later that afternoon landed safely at Kilbride. The Prince thanked the crew who set out to return to Uist and made himself comfortable in a cave on the shore. Flora herself left immediately for Monkstadt, where she was warmly welcomed by old friends. In the meantime Flora’s servant Neil, on the pretence of going fowling, brought the fugitive food, drink and blankets.

In the early hours of the next morning it was decided that “Betty Burke” should come to Kingsburgh house. At Monkstadt Flora was anxious to get to Kingsburgh to join the nest and so made an excuse that her mother was sick and that she was going to see her.

Flora had another worry and was afraid that someone would be suspicious of “Betty Burke’s” unwormanlike behaviour. After an uncomfortable day the party at last reached Kingsburgh and over supper Flora recounted her many adventures. About three o’clock next day the Prince set off for Portree along with Flora and Neil, wearing the dress of a highland farmer.

On arrival at Portree they met captain Donald MacDonald and everything had been prepared as Flora had instructed. It was here that the Prince with tears in his eyes took Flora’s hand in his and so parted Flora MacDonald and Bonnie Prince Charlie for ever.

As might be expected, it was not long before the various movements of the Prince during his three days with Flora became common knowledge. Flora spent some days with her mother at Armadale and then went to stay with her brother at Milton. She had been there only a few days however when she received a summons to appear before the captain of the militia on the Isle of Skye. Her friends becoming alarmed, implored her to ignore the summons, and to go into hiding in the mountains for a time. This she indignantly refused to do, saying she had done nothing of which she either repented or felt ashamed, and that she would willingly answer any charges.

Flora therefore appeared before the tribunal at Talisker, and after writing various statements was permitted to go to Armadale. On her way she was seized by a party of soldiers under the dreaded captain Ferguson and taken to a ship called the Furnace. Fortunately, a General Campbell happened to be on board at the time, and he ordered that the prisoner was to be treated with consideration. He allowed her to land at Armadale, under escort, to bid farewell to her mother, collect some clothes and procure a lady’s maid.

Flora was then taken to the ancient castle at Dunstaffnage, in Argyllshire, where she was confined for about ten days. Flora was well treated during her stay at the castle. When orders came that Flora was to leave the castle, the Governor’s lady accompanied her to the boat with tears in her eyes. The sails were immediately set, and the frail craft disappeared in a stiff breeze towards the Sound of Mull.

What happened in the next few days is unknown, but less than a week afterwards Flora was put on board the “Bridgewater”, which was anchored in Leith Harbour. The boat did not sail and for nearly three months remained in port, while Flora became more and more celebrated. People of every rank and every political opinion came from the capital to see her.

At last the Bridgewater weighed anchor from a flag-bedecked quay, amid the cheers of thousands of Flora’s friends and well-wishers. It sailed to London, where its arrival caused such an uprush of sympathy for Flora among the citizens that the Government Officials became alarmed. They decided it would be imprudent to commit her to a common prison, and sent her instead to the tower, where she met a number of other Scottish Jacobites. Flora was never brought to trial for some twelve months after she had gone to stay at Dunnipace, the Act of Indemnity finally gave her her freedom.