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Rare artefacts on show in the UK for the first time for major new Jacobites exhibition at the National Museum of Scotland

Thursday 22 June, 2017

Rare treasures from Rome and the Vatican will go on display in the United Kingdom for the first time as a key part of a major new exhibition at the National Museum of Scotland opening tomorrow.

Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobites

23 - 12 November 2017

National Museum of Scotland, Chambers Street, Edinburgh

Rare treasures from Rome and the Vatican will go on display in the United Kingdom for the first time as a key part of a major new exhibition at the National Museum of Scotland opening tomorrow.

These outstanding artefacts form part of the largest exhibition about the Jacobites to be held in over 70 years. Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobites presents more than 300 spectacular treasures, drawn from National Museums Scotland’s own collections and those of 44 lenders including other major institutions across Scotland, the UK and Europe. These include Royal Collection, the Royal Armouries, the Musée de Louvre, the National Galleries, National Records and National Library of Scotland as well as a number of private collections.

Three marble grave markers, formerly in St Peter’s Basilica, for Charles Edward Stuart, his younger brother, Henry Benedict and their father, James VIII and III will leave Rome for the very first time, as loans from the Scots Pontifical College. James, Henry and Charles are interred in St Peter’s Basilica, with James being the only king ever to be afforded the honour of burial in the Vatican.

On loan from the Sacristy Museum is the stunning York Chalice and Paten. The elaborately decorated gold Communion set, inlaid with 130 diamonds, belonged to Charles’ younger brother Henry Benedict Stuart (Cardinal York), who gifted it to the Church. It has never been on display in the UK.

These artefacts illustrate the high standing of the Stuarts in Roman society, where they held their exiled courts as Charles grew up.

Paintings, tartan costume, jewellery, books, weapons, rare documents and personal objects owned by the Jacobite kings shed new light on a period which has long captured the popular imagination.

Highlight objects in the exhibition associated with Charles Edward Stuart himself include the ‘lost’ Ramsay portrait of Charles, the only image of him taken during his time in Scotland, his elaborate silver travelling canteen and a letter from an eight-year-old Charles to his father, apologising for startling his mother.

Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobites presents a detailed and dynamic re-examination of this familiar yet much-contested story, showing how the Jacobite challenge for the three kingdoms of Scotland, England and Ireland was a complex civil war, and revealing the wider European power politics at play during this famed period of history.

David Forsyth, Principal Curator, Medieval and Early Modern Collections at National Museums Scotland, said:

“The story of Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobites holds an enduring and at times romantic fascination. Charles Edward Stuart is actually the final chapter in a story which starts in 1688 with the deposing of his grandfather, James VII and II of England and Scotland, sending the Stuarts into courtly exile. And so, as the exhibition shows, whilst Scotland is the battleground, it is in Europe - first France and latterly in Rome - where the Stuart story unfolds over this period, with courts held, honours dispensed, tributes accepted and campaigns planned. 
“The 1745 rising led by Bonnie Prince Charlie is the last of five Jacobite challenges for the thrones of Scotland, England and Ireland. The Battle of Culloden in 1746 came to mark the end of any serious prospect of the Stuarts reclaiming their kingdoms, but it is not the end of Charles’ story. His father, James VIII and III, lived another 20 years after Culloden, Charles died in 1788, followed by his younger brother Henry in 1807. So, as well as being wonderful objects in their own right, these loans enable us to take our visitors to the end of the Stuart story, whilst emphasising the European connections which are central to understanding Jacobitism.”

Fiona Hyslop, Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Tourism and External Affairs, said:

“For hundreds of years the story of Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobites has captivated the interest and imagination of people around the world.
 “This exhibition brings to the fore the complexity of the Jacobites’ story, Scotland’s strong links with Europe and the broader British and European context at the time. It is an excellent example of collaboration between National Museums Scotland and partners across Europe, which will enable rare objects to be seen by the public for the first time.
 “Taking place during Scotland’s Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology, this exhibition will showcase this integral part of our history. I urge everyone with the opportunity to go and see it.”

About Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobites

The exhibition brings to the forefront the lives of the Jacobites in exile at the courts they established in France and later in Rome, where they were joined by many of their followers. A selection of remarkable and symbolic objects were produced to promote the Jacobites’ dynastic claims to the throne both at the exiled courts and back home, where supporters paid tribute to the ‘kings over the water’.

Through objects drawn from National Museums Scotland’s own rich collections and loans from 44 different public and private lenders across Scotland, the UK and Europe, the exhibition reveals the depth and complexity of a story clouded by Victorian romanticism. The period and the movement are often wrongly reduced to ‘Scotland vs England’, ‘Lowland v Highland’ or ‘Protestant v Catholic’, none of which accurately characterise the layers of conflict and intrigue.

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. 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.

The exhibition will explore the full story of the Jacobites, which spans two centuries, and encompasses Britain, Ireland and continental Europe. Bonnie Prince Charlie has a place in popular consciousness as the romantic personification and figurehead of the movement.

James VII & II had ascended 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 caused widespread concern and, when he announced the birth of a male heir which heralded the prospect of a Catholic succession, he was deposed and 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, where his son, James Francis Stuart, grew up.

Three further challenges to the throne were mounted in 1708, 1715 and 1719. Charles Edward Stuart was born in Rome in 1720, and was raised there as a prince. He only spent 14 months of his life in Britain as he led the ultimately doomed 1745 challenge, advancing as far as Derby before retreating, pursued by Government forces to eventual catastrophic defeat at Culloden.

The denouement to the story and to the exhibition is the remaining years in exile of James, Charles and his brother Henry who joined the priesthood of the Catholic Church, being ordained as a priest in 1748. Charles’ his ambitions were thereby effectively thwarted once and for all, and he dwindled towards a dissolute end. Henry, Charles and their father James are all buried in the Vatican, the latter being the only king interred there.

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. 

Further information and images from:

Sophie von Hahn, 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
  4. Royal Collection Trust, a department of the Royal Household, is responsible for the care of the Royal Collection and manages the public opening of the official residences of The Queen.  Income generated from admissions and from associated commercial activities contributes directly to The Royal Collection Trust, a registered charity. The aims of The Trust are the care and conservation of the Royal Collection, and the promotion of access and enjoyment through exhibitions, publications, loans and educational programmes. Royal Collection Trust’s work is undertaken without public funding of any kind. The Royal Collection is among the largest and most important art collections in the world, and one of the last great European royal collections to remain intact.  It comprises almost all aspects of the fine and decorative arts, and is spread among some 15 royal residences and former residences across the UK, most of which are regularly open to the public.  The Royal Collection is held in trust by the Sovereign for her successors and the nation, and is not owned by The Queen as a private individual. At The Queen’s Galleries in London and Edinburgh aspects of the Collection are displayed in a programme of temporary exhibitions.  Many works from the Collection are on long-term loan to institutions throughout the UK, and short-term loans are frequently made to exhibitions around the world as part of a commitment to public access and to show the Collection in new contexts. Explore the Royal Collection at

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