Flora MacDonald's Lament
DESCRIPTION: "Over hill and lofty mountains Where the valleys were covered with snow... There poor Flora sat lamenting... Crying, 'Charlie, constant Charlie, My kind, constant Charlie, dear.'" She hopes to meet him again, and repeats her refrain
EARLIEST DATE: 1779 (_The True Loyalist; or, Chevalier's Favourite_, according to GreigDuncan1)
KEYWORDS: Jacobites love separation beauty royalty
1720-1788 - Life of Charles Edward Stuart, "Bonnie Prince Charlie"
1722-1790 - Life of Flora MacDonald
1745-1746 - '45 Jacobite rebellion led by Bonnie Prince Charlie
Apr 16, 1746 - Battle of Culloden. The Jacobite rebellion is crushed, most of the Highlanders slain, and Charlie forced to flee for his life.
Jun 28-29, 1746 - Aided by Flora MacDonald, and dressed as her maidservant, Charles flees from North Uist to Skye in the Hebrides.
1774-1779 - period of Flora MacDonald's residence in North America
FOUND IN: US(SE) Britain(Scotland(Aber))
REFERENCES (2 citations):
GreigDuncan1 132, "Flora MacDonald" (1 text, 1 tune)
BrownIII 368, "Flora MacDonald's Lament" (1 text)
cf. "Twa Bonnie Maidens" (subject)
cf. "Skye Boat Song (Over the Sea to Skye)" (subject)
cf. "Flora's Lament for her Charlie" (theme)
cf. "So Dear Is My Charlie to Me (Prince Charlie)" (theme)
NOTES [834 words]: This is one of those ironic little songs because it's so false-to-life. It is apparently not the same as James Hogg's poem of the same title, and the editors of Brown seem to think it was inspired by Flora MacDonald's brief and unhappy visit to what was in the process of becoming the United States.
The problems with this song include the fact that Bonnie Prince Charlie never showed any actual evidence of involvement with Flora MacDonald (1722-1790). The love of his life, if he had one, was Clementina Walkinshaw, who bore him his only child, Charlotte the shadow Duchess of Albany. Charles and Clementina had met in early 1746, before Charles met Flora (Wilkinson, p. 157) His later marriage (in 1772) was a political match, and produced no children -- indeed, Charles apparently beat his wife as much as he slept with her. Charles also ended up having a brutal quarrel with Clementina, so Flora was probably lucky that there was no relationship. "The charges against both Jenny [Cameron] and Flora were so preposterous that they could not have been believed by the most gullible enemy, but nonetheless the country was polluted by them during the '45 and after" (Douglas, p. 4).
By the time Charles and Flora met, the Battle of Culloden had been lost and the Forty-Five was over. (For background on the whole Forty-Five, see the notes to "Culloden Moor.") Culloden had taken place on April 16. It was on June 21, while on the island of South Uist, that Charles and a handful of companions arrived at the home of 24-year-old Flora MacDonald.
According to Kybett, p. 227, she was unusually accomplished for a herdsgirl, having studied Latin and French as well as Gaelic and English. (But then, she was the stepdaughter of Clanranald; Brumwell/Speck, p. 233.) Her residence in South Uist was temporary, and she wished to return to Skye.
McLynn, p. 280, reports that "Miss MacDonald was at first taken aback by the audacity of the scheme and declined to be involved. The prince won her around. Though the best efforts of romantic novelists have not been able to work up anything remotely sexual between Charles and Flora, it is clear that the famous magnetism once again did its work.... Flora already had a passport to go to Skye and she was known to be returning within days. The authorities would certainly become suspicious if she asked for a passport for a manservant to accompany her, but would not jib at a female attendant."
Charles would, for a brief time would become "Betty Burke," and with the help of Flora -- and a lot of luck, for the first patrol to stop them was headed by Flora's stepfather (McLynn, p. 280) -- he managed to stay out of British hands. Charles and Flora were together for ten days "although she had barely spent that many hours in his company" (Kybett, p. 236).
"Flora MacDonald was arrested ten days later.... Flora was transported by ship to London and imprisoned.... As it happened, her fortitude and calm demeanor under questioning in London won her much respect and admiration, so that by the time she was released under the general amnesty a year later, Flora MacDonald had become a heroine" (Kybett, p. 237). Nonetheless she had spent six months in custody (Magnusson, p. 626)
When they parted, "[Charles] bade a courtly farewell to his savior Flora, 'For all that has happened, I hope, Madam, we shall meet in St James's yet.' But they were not destined to meet again, in London or any other place" (McLynn, p. 287).
Flora certainly did not spend her whole life mourning; in 1750 married another MacDonald (the son of MacDonald of Kingsburgh; Magnusson, p. 626); they went to America in 1774. During the Revolutionary War, her husband was (ahem) a British loyalist, and was commissioned a brigadier. He was captured by the rebels in 1776. Flora, reduced to poverty and reportedly with two of her children dead, sold most of her valuables and returned to England in 1779, where she died in 1790; her husband was released and followed in 1781. Her son Hugh died in North Carolina in 1780 (Kybett, p. 137).
The song also reports that "Flora's beauty is surprising, like bright Venus in the morning"; this too seems to be a bit of romanticism. There is a portrait in Jacobite costume by Allan Ramsay the son of the author of the Tea Table Miscellany which is now in the Bodleian Library (reproduced, e.g., facing page 216 of Wilkinson, in the photo insert in Kybett, and on p. 180 of MacLean -- though that copy is too small and dark to be useful), and another by Richard Wilson (Brumwell/Speck, p. 233) -- which, not being in Jacobite attire, seems never to get reproduced. While she was not ugly, I doubt she would win a beauty contest. I do have to note the irony of Ramsay, who became King's Painter in 1760 (Brumwell/Speck, p. 320), having painted the Jacobite heroine.
Nonetheless Flora's memory came to be venerated. Magnusson, p. 626, reports that every bit of her burial stone in Skye was taken off by pilgrims; a new stone had to be put up in 1955. - RBW
Last updated in version 3.7
- Brumwell/Speck: Stephen Brumwell and W. A. Speck, Cassell's Companion to Eighteenth-Century Britain, Cassell & Co., 2001
- Douglas: Hugh Douglas, Bonnie Prince Charlie in Love, Alan Sutton, 1995
- Kybett: Susan Maclean Kybett, Bonnie Prince Charlie: A Biography of Charles Edward Stuart, Dodd, Mead & Company, 1988
- Magnusson: Magnus Magnusson, Scotland: The Story of a Nation, Atlantic Monthly Press, 2000
- MacLean: Fitzroy Maclean, A Concise History of Scotland, Beekman House, 1970
- McLynn: Frank McLynn, Bonnie Prince Charlie: Charles Edward Stuart, 1988 (I use the 1991 Oxford paperback edition)
- Wilkinson: Clennell Wilkinson Bonnie Prince Charlie, Lippincott, no copyright listed but after 1932
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