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The Other King Charles III & the Jacobites

15th Sep 2022
The Other King Charles III & the Jacobites

By Mark, Mercat Storyteller

The recent passing of Queen Elizabeth has seen her son proclaimed as Charles III - with Edinburgh, St. Giles' and the Mercat Cross very much centre stage. But did you know that if history had played out slightly differently, we’d have had a Charles III much earlier?

In 1688, James VII of Scotland and II of England was deposed and forced into exile because of his Catholic faith. For propaganda reasons, this became known to history as the “Glorious Revolution”. But many people, particularly in Scotland, felt it wasn’t glorious at all. For a variety of reasons – religious, political or sentimental – they remained loyal to the exiled dynasty. They became known as “Jacobites” – Latin for “followers of James”.

In the following years there were several Jacobite uprisings, but all ultimately failed to restore the exiled Stuarts to power. James and his descendants remained kings without a kingdom, dreaming and scheming for the day they would make a triumphant return.

The grandson of James VII and II, Charles Edward Stuart, was born in Rome in 1720. Today he is romanticised as “Bonnie Prince Charlie”, and is one of the most iconic and recognisable figures of Scottish history.

In 1745, Charles landed in the Highlands and raised an army among the clans who were loyal to his cause. The commander of the British Army in Scotland, General Sir John Cope, immediately marched into the Highlands to try to intercept the Jacobites. But unfamiliar with the terrain and with only rumour to go on, he never made contact with them.

The route to Edinburgh now lay open to the Jacobites, and on 17th September 1745 the city easily fell to them. In scenes reminiscent of recent events, Charles’ father, would-be James VIII and III, was proclaimed king at the Mercat Cross.

The Jacobites would go on to win a stunning victory at the Battle of Prestonpans, before invading England. They penetrated as far as Derby before being forced to turn back. Ultimately they suffered a crushing defeat at the Battle of Culloden. The British Army committed many atrocities in the aftermath of the battle, and Charles himself was forced to flee Scotland dressed as a maid. This is commemorated in the popular “Skye Boat Song”.

It was an ignominious departure for a man who, if he had succeeded, would have become Charles III upon the death of father in 1766. As we know, we had to wait until 2022 to see a Charles III proclaimed king. But it’s interesting to think that if events had taken a different course, it could have happened 256 years ealier.

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