Historical Notes: In bed with Bonnie Prince Charlie

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The Independent Culture
IT SEEMS a mite unfair for a man who left behind him two - possibly three - children, three grandchildren, an ex-wife and a few mistresses to wind up with the reputation of being a cold fish. Yet that was history's verdict on Bonnie Prince Charlie.

He has been labelled and libelled a poor lover, undersexed, and with only four affairs in a sexual career spanning 40 years. Unkindest twist of all, posterity has turned him into a legendary figure of a fake Highland chief on shortbread tins and whisky bottle labels.

Well, Prince Charlie can have the last laugh, for he left heirs. His daughter, the girl Robert Burns called "The Bonie Lass of Albanie", was a chip off the old block. She had a long affair, with the Bishop of Bordeaux no less, and by him had a son and two daughters. The son was killed in a coaching accident at Dunkeld in 1854, but her daughters vanished, to the Antipodes or America it is believed, and their descendants may well be among the coachloads from Oz and the USA who tour Scotland and wonder what kind of man Bonnie Prince Charlie really was.

Charlie was handsome, brave, and charismatic, arrogant too, over-fond of the bottle, and icily cold towards women during his 1745 rising. That didn't stop them from following him, giving him money, and persuading their men to fight for him, but it did enable his enemies to jeer at his frigidity.

He was never in love with Flora Macdonald, who helped him to escape over the sea to Skye, although he admired her, and appreciated the risk she took to save him, but a question mark hangs over Clementine Walkinshaw, who nursed him when he fell ill at Bannockburn House. Did he bed her? Possibly, though it seems unlikely that a sick man, depressed by the way his campaign was going, would think of love or even sex at that moment. But in the churchyard at Finsthwaite, at the southern end of Lake Windermere, they will show you the grave of the Finsthwaite Princess, believed to be the child of Charlie and Clementine.

The truth is Charlie was a late starter. His first affair was a tacky relationship with his cousin, Louise, Duchesse de Montbazon, wife of one of his best friends. Louise's mother-in-law ended it by warning Charles off; but nobody gave Charles Stuart orders, so he finished the relationship with a letter to Louise saying, "Come, woman, you must understand that you are agreeable to us only while you yield to our pleasure." Louise bore him a son who died in infancy.

Future relationships fared no better. With the Princess de Talmont, an older woman who knew her way round every bedroom of note in France, he waged a nightly campaign of love and war in bed. For all her experience, his treatment of her left Talmont humiliated. Clementine Walkinshaw, who followed, was beaten and abandoned after she gave him a daughter.

His last attempt at a relationship was marriage late in life to father a legitimate heir, but his wife, Louise of Stolberg, ended up running off with a poet.

Why did all Charlie's loves go wrong? He was clearly highly sexed and enjoyed bedding women, but he never could run love and sex in harmony. The reason lay in his upbringing: his neurotic mother, Clementina Sobieska, prayed, fought with her husband, and fasted herself to death, while his ineffectual father, the Old Pretender, ruled his non-existent kingdom by divine right. The marriage broke up, leaving Charles unable to trust anyone, and despising both men and women.

Prince Charlie's downfall is an enduring testimony to the fallacy of divine right in palaces or in bed and Scotland is full of shortbread tins to prove it.

Hugh Douglas is the author of `The Private Passions of Bonnie Prince Charlie' (Sutton, pounds 11.99)