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Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobites

Friday 24 February, 2017

This summer National Museums Scotland will present the largest exhibition about the Jacobites to be held in over 70 years.

Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobites

Friday 23 June to Sunday 12 November 2017
National Museum of Scotland, Chambers Street, Edinburgh

This summer National Museums Scotland will present the largest exhibition about the Jacobites to be held in over 70 years.

As well as drawing on National Museums Scotland’s own collections, the exhibition will feature spectacular loans from the United Kingdom and Europe. More than 300 paintings, costumes, documents, weapons, books and many unique objects owned by the exiled Jacobite kings will help tell the wider story of Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobites.

David Forsyth, the exhibition’s lead curator, said:

“The story of Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobites has had an enduring and generally romantic fascination for subsequent generations, from Sir Walter Scott to the current Outlander TV programme, along with many other representations in literature, TV and film. This exhibition will enable us to use the best material there is – real objects and contemporary accounts and depictions – to present the truth of a story more layered, complex and dramatic than even these fictional imaginings”

The Jacobites (from Jacobus - the Latin for James) were supporters of a movement to reinstate the Roman Catholic Stuart king, James VII & II and his heirs to the throne after his exile to France in 1688. Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobites presents a detailed and dynamic, multi-faceted re-examination of this familiar yet much-contested story, showing how the Jacobite challenge for the three kingdoms was a complex civil war, which even pitched Scot against Scot. Support for the cause was drawn from Scotland, England, Ireland and Continental Europe; it was part of the broader dynastic and political rivalries of Europe’s great powers.

Bonnie Prince Charlie

Bonnie Prince Charlie has a place in popular consciousness as the romantic personification and figurehead of the movement. This is at least in part due to the Victorian fascination with the period, illustrated by the portrait which opens the exhibition of the Prince arriving at a ball at the Palace of Holyroodhouse. The work, by John Pettie, was painted over a century after Charles’ death and actually depicts a scene from Sir Walter Scott’s novel Waverley.

In fact, Charles Edward Louis John Casimir Sylvester Maria Stuart was born and died in Rome, spending less than fourteen months in Scotland during his lifetime. The exhibition will explore the full story of the Jacobites, which spans two centuries, and encompasses Britain, Ireland and continental Europe.

Stuart dynasty: divided by faith

At the heart of the story lies one family - The Royal House of Stuart - one of Europe’s most enduring dynasties; a dynasty with a claim to unite three kingdoms: Scotland, England and Ireland.

James VII & II had taken the throne in 1685 after the death of his brother, Charles II. By 1688 political and religious pressures drove a wedge through the family. James’ Catholic faith, shown in spectacular altar pieces bought in 1686 for his chapel at Holyrood, caused widespread concern and, when he announced the birth of a male heir which heralded the prospect of a Catholic succession, he was deposed in the Glorious Revolution, replaced by his daughter Mary and her husband, William of Orange, while her baby half-brother was smuggled out the country for his own safety.

These events led to James VII & II, Bonnie Prince Charlie’s grandfather, spending the rest of his days in exile in France, while the house of Hanover succeeded to the throne in 1714. The Hanoverian line is shown through the basin and ewer of the Winter Queen, Elizabeth of Bohemia, daughter of James VI & I, whose grandson George became King after the death of Queen Anne in 1714.

Courtly exile in Europe

The baby smuggled to safety was Charles’ father, James Francis Stuart: to supporters loyal to the exiled Stuarts, he became James VIII & III and was formally recognised as such by Louis XIV of France. The exhibition will bring to the forefront the lives of the Jacobites in exile at the courts they established in Saint Germain, France and later in Rome, where they were joined by many of their followers. A display of remarkable and symbolic objects including the targe (shield), broadsword and travelling canteen, commissioned by supporters at home, will be shown in the context of the exiled Stuart court in Rome. These objects, all later recovered from the baggage train at Culloden, were produced to promote the Jacobites’ dynastic claims, affirming their royal status and showing their connections with their distant supporters while in exile. Secret signs and insignias marked out those loyal to the ‘kings over the water’, ranging from a subtle white rose to a seditious full tartan suit, made for leading English Jacobite Sir John Hyde Cotton.

James Francis Stuart married a Polish Princess, Clementina Sobieski. His marriage certificate will be shown, as will her the baptismal certificate of their first son, Charles Edward Stuart.

Five Jacobite challenges for the throne

Meanwhile, in Scotland, this tumultuous period was characterized by five Jacobite challenges to the throne, in 1689-90, 1708, 1715, culminating in Bonnie Prince Charlie’s campaign of 1745-6. Weapons, plans, paintings and commemorative objects show the earlier campaigns. Charles’ time in Scotland, while short, forms one of largest sections of the exhibition, including spectacular costume including items associated with Charles himself, and dresses of the time thought to have been worn at the Court he briefly held at the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh. Alongside this, the ‘lost’ Ramsay portrait of Charles in the guise of a European prince, recently acquired by the National Galleries of Scotland, will be shown.

Bonnie Prince Charlie and the last Jacobite challenge

After further advances followed by a long retreat, the campaign came to an abrupt and bloody end in little more than an hour at Culloden. The plan of the battle, a portrait of the Duke of Cumberland and numerous weapons and effects of those who fell will form a reflective backdrop as a Gaelic lament plays in the background.

Retribution across the Highlands was swift and brutal. Charles spent five months evading government forces eventually sailing for France, leaving the Jacobite cause in tatters. Portraits of Anne MacKintosh and Flora MacDonald introduce two of the key figures in Charles’ eventful escape.

Kings over the water

The denouement to the story and to the exhibition is the remaining years in exile of James, Charles and his brother Henry who, after Culloden, joined the priesthood of the Catholic Church while Charles, his ambitions thereby thwarted once and for all, dwindled towards a dissolute end. A pair of portraits of Henry and Charles in their later years serves to illustrate their contrasting fates. Henry, Charles and their father James are all buried in the Vatican, the latter being the only monarch interred there.

A closing selection of Jacobite memorial treasures, including the ‘Spottiswoode’ Amen glass, c.1775. On loan from William Grant and Sons, owners of Drambuie, this is one of the finest 'Amen' glasses in existence, so called due to its engraving with the Jacobite anthem of James VIII, and dedicatory inscriptions to his sons - Prince Charles and Prince Henry.

The exhibition is supported by Baillie Gifford Investment Managers and will be accompanied by a programme of public events and by two publications.

Sarah Witney, Partner at Baillie Gifford Investment Managers said:

“We are delighted to continue our successful association with National Museums Scotland by supporting this exhibition, which promises a unique opportunity to see such a fine assembly of fantastic material associated with one of the most fascinating periods in Scottish and British history.”

Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobites, supported by Baillie Gifford Investment Managers, runs from 23 June to 12 November 2017. Admission is £10 for adults, £8 concessions, £7 children, with free admission for under 12s and National Museums Scotland members. For full ticketing information, visit       

Further information and images from:

Louise Collins, Sutton, on +44 207 183 3577 or

Bruce Blacklaw, National Museums Scotland Press Office, on +44 300 123 6789 or

Notes to editors

  1. National Museums Scotland is one of the leading museum groups in the UK and Europe and it looks after collections of national and international importance. The organisation provides loans, partnerships, research and training in Scotland and internationally. Our individual museums are the National Museum of Scotland, the National Museum of Flight, the National Museum of Rural Life and the National War Museum. The National Museums Collection Centre in Edinburgh houses conservation and research facilities as well as collections not currently on display. 
  2. The National Museum of Scotland is the most popular museum in the country outside of London (source: Association of Leading Visitor Attractions). The National Museum of Scotland was awarded ‘Gold’ Level Green Tourism Visitor Attraction status in 2016. 
  3. National Museum of Scotland is working with the National Trust for Scotland, Historic Environment Scotland and the Royal Collections Trust as part of Scotland’s Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology. In conjunction with Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobites there will be activities, resources and a trail to follow around the country, encouraging visitors to experience the story through Scotland’s historic locations. These resources will be published and updated throughout the year at


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