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Jun 27

the day Prince Charlie & Flora MacDonald set sail

Flora MacDonald (portrait)
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Flora MacDonald
portrait by Allan Ramsay (1713 - 1784)
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Speed bonny boat like a bird on a wing, Onward the sailors cry. Carry the lad that’s born to be King, Over the sea to Skye.” ~ The Skye Boat Song, Sir Harold Boulton, 1884 lyrics to an existing air

Flora MacDonald (1722 – 1790) was a member of the Macdonalds of Sleat, who helped Charles Edward Stuart (Bonnie Prince Charlie) evade government troops after the Battle of Culloden. Though her family supported the government during the 1745 Rising, Flora later claimed to have assisted Charles out of sympathy for his situation. She managed to get permission from her step-father, the commander of the local militia, to travel from Uist to the mainland, accompanied by two servants and a crew of six boatmen. The Prince was disguised as Betty Burke, an Irish spinning maid. They set sail in a small boat from Benbecula on 27th June 1746, not to the mainland but to Skye, landing in Kilmuir at what is today called Rudha Phrionnsa (Prince’s Point). After hiding overnight in a cottage, they made their way overland to Portree where the Prince was able to get a boat to the island of Raasay and from there, passage back to France. Charles is said to have presented Flora with a locket containing his portrait. She was later arrested and sent to London where it was recorded "all admired the dauntless part she had acted, and she had the honour of a visit from Frederick, Prince of Wales". Released under a general amnesty in June 1747, she subsequently married Allan MacDonald and emigrated to North Carolina in 1773. Their support for the British government during the American War of Independence meant the loss of their American estates and they returned to Scotland. In 1884, Sir Harold Boulton produced 'The Skye Boat Song,' followed shortly after by the first performance of the Scottish highland dance "Flora MacDonald's Fancy"!

On June 27, 1746, Flora MacDonald set sail with Bonnie Prince Charlie (the prince in disguise) to aid his escape from Scotland after the defeat of the Jacobites at the Battle of Culloden in 1746.
 

After his defeat at the battle of Culloden Moor in 1746, Prince Charles Edward Stuart was forced to flee for his life. After two months on the run he arrived at the island of South Uist where he met 24-year-old Flora. As both her step-father and her fiancée Allan MacDonald were in the Hanovarian army of King George II, she would have seemed an unlikely ally. However after some initial hesitation, she agreed to help the Prince escape.
 

She managed to get permission from her step-father, the commander of the local militia, to travel from Uist to the mainland, accompanied by two servants and a crew of six boatmen. The Prince was disguised as Betty Burke, an Irish spinning maid. They set sail in a small boat from Benbecula on 27th June 1746, not to the mainland but to Skye, landing in Kilmuir at what is today called Rudha Phrionnsa (Prince's Point).
 

After hiding overnight in a cottage, they made their way overland to Portree where the Prince was able to get a boat to the island of Raasay and from there, passage back to France. Charles is said to have presented Flora with a locket containing his portrait, supposedly saying, "I hope, madam, that we may meet in St James's yet." They never met again.
 

The part that Flora played in the escape of Bonnie Prince Charlie 'over the sea to Skye' is immortalised in the 'Skye Boat Song', 
published in 1884:
 

“Speed bonny boat like a bird on a wing,
Onward the sailors cry.
Carry the lad that's born to be King,
Over the sea to Skye.”

Fictional portrayals of Flora MacDonald include:

  • Sir Walter Scott, Waverley (1814); an early historical novel of the Jacobite rebellion in which the hero must choose between two women, one of whom, Flora MacIvor, seems modeled on Flora MacDonald. This impression is strengthened by the use of Allan Ramsay's portrait of Flora Macdonald for the cover of the Penguin (2007) edition of the book.

  • Inglis Fletcher, The Scotswoman (1954) – a novel based on Flora MacDonald's life in North Carolina, during the American war of Independence.

  • Highlander: The Series – in the 3rd-season episode, "Take Back the Night", Ceirdwyn, an Immortal, is living under the name of "Flora MacDonald" when Bonnie Prince Charlie and his party stop there on their way to the coast, and the boat to take him from Scotland.

  • The Outlander series – the 6th book of Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series, "A Breath of Snow and Ashes", features an account of Flora MacDonald's arrival in the American colonies.

Interestingly, a newly discovered portrait of Flora MacDonald was found in 2015 in Florida, believed to be painted by the same portrait artist, Allan Ramsay. To learn more about this art find, click the better known painting by the same artist.