COULD the Stuart monarchy return to the throne of Scotland? There are some for whom this is not an unthinkable question.
The main gates to Flora Maxwell Stuart's house in the Scottish Borders have been kept shut for 250 years since her ancestor, the Earl of Traquair, closed them and threw away the keys during a past royal "annus horribilis". The year 1745 was not a good one for the Stuarts.
But Mrs Maxwell Stuart, like other Jacobites (supporters of the deposed Stuart dynasty), will this week begin official celebrations marking the "Forty Five" rising, the last failed attempt to put a Stuart back on the throne of Scotland and England. Then the Roman Catholic Charles Edward Stuart, Bonnie Prince Charlie, passed through the Bear Gates at Traquair in Peeblesshire on his march south to regain the crown from the Protestant Guelphs of Brunswick-Luneberg, better known as the House of Hanover.
The old earl promised that his gates would remain closed "till a Stuart was back on the throne". The long and once stylish avenue leading to the gates is now overgrown, but regardless of Scottish independence being attainable or a political fantasy, the gateless Mrs Maxwell Stuart has not lost her commitment to the cause. "The current queen I regard as a parliamentary monarch, not a hereditary monarch."
The recent victory of the Scottish National Party at Perth and Kinross and the sight of its new MP, Roseanna Cunningham, victoriously carrying a bunch of white roses, may have mistakenly raised the heart-beat of the Jacobites. In fact the roses were not the Jacobite symbol of Alba (Scotland) but rather a disguised reference to a poem by the arch-nationalist Hugh Macdairmid The Little White Rose. Yet the SNP's policy that "the Windsor monarchy will stay unless the people decide otherwise" would seem to indicate that a door is ajar for the Stuarts.
So who is the rightful heir? That, as the Independent on Sunday has uncovered, is a complex matter stretching from a Bavarian palace to a pounds 110-a-month bed-sit in Edinburgh with a "His Royal Highness" nameplate on the door.
An exhibition entitled "Bonnie Prince Charlie - Fact and Fiction" which opened in Glasgow yesterday avoids the thorny question of who is the legitimate pretender. But for Mrs Maxwell Stuart, for the Royal Stuart Society (based curiously in London), for the 1745 Association, and for David Williamson, co-editor of Debrett's Peerage, the Jacobite King and Prince of Wales are both alive and well and living in Munich.
The Jacobite claim of King Albert of Bavaria, 90, and Prince Franz, 60, can be traced through the will of Charles Edward Stuart's younger brother, Henry, or "Henry IX" as he became when the Young Pretender died in Rome in 1788.
The Bonnie Prince discarded his mistress, Clementina Walkinshaw, and entered a failed marriage to Princess Louise of Stolberg in 1772. But there were no children. Henry, a Roman Catholic cardinal, died in 1807.
The cardinal, ironically awarded a pension by the Hanoverian George III in his later penurious years, passed the Stuart claim in his will to the former king of Sardinia, Charles Emmanuel IV, said by the Jacobites to be Charles IV. The right derives from Charles's great-great grandfather who married Henrietta Stuart, James II's sister.
From Charles Emmanuel, a member of the Italian House of Savoy, the Stuart claim then passed to his brother Victor, and then through Victor's daughter Mary Beatrice to the House of Habsburg-Lorraine. Mary Beatrice's grand- daughter married a prince of the Wittelsbach family, then rulers of Bavaria.
Any power the Wittelsbach lineage had ended when the Wittelsbachs ceased to have royal authority, when Bavaria became a republic at the end of the First World War. However the royal title is still used by the Wittlesbach's senior family member, King Albert, and his bachelor son, Prince Franz.
Count Christophe Preysing, president of the Administration of the Dukes of Bavaria, told the Independent on Sunday: "Prince Franz does not like talking about this matter of the Jacobite title. He really doesn't want to mix himself into British royal problems."
The prince, who studied economics and business, is an international trade diplomat who frequently travels abroad. "But most of the time he is in Munich at his home, the Nymphenberg Palace," said Count Preysing. Keen on the arts, like his Scottish ancestor, the Jacobite Prince of Wales is a former president of the International Council of the Museum of Modern Art in New York. King Albert lives at Berg Castle in Munich, the family's other royal home.
So who is there in line after Prince Franz? "Well," said the count, "there is is his younger brother Max; after that I wouldn't like to speculate." However those historians who have taken the time to investigate point to the House of Liechtenstein as the next international port of call for tracing the Jacobite would-be pretender.
Mrs Maxwell Stuart has met Prince Franz. "He keeps it all quite quiet. He's really not that interested. But I've heard that Prince Charles [the Prince Charles] once said in public that if it wasn't for the Act of Settlement in 1688 then Franz would be the Prince of Wales." Another "pretender" is mentioned to Mrs Maxwell Stuart. Arriving in Scotland in 1976 from Brussels in Belgium, Roger Lafosse, an arts administrator now aged 37, began to approach several organisations, such as the Patriots (a Scottish cultural society) handing them papers claiming he is the direct descendant of Charles Edward Stewart.
Papers from the Vatican, a Swiss Bank, and others from alleged senior political sources in Belgium have been declared obvious forgeries by those who have had the time to examine them. The "pretender" however insists that his ancestry goes back to a secret marriage of Charles Edward Stuart and the subsequentbirth of a son and heir which was kept secret.
Mrs Maxwell Stuart says of Prince Michael James Stewart of Albany, as Mr Lafosse calls himself: "He's an absolute phoney." The Patriots, who once thought they had found their man, investigated and in 1980 pronounced him a "fraud and a forger". Nevertheless, the self-styled Prince from the bed-sit is still seen at smart tartan gatherings.
Robert Savage, curator at the Glasgow Museum and Art Galleries, who organised the 1745 exhibition (and who was historical adviser on the film Rob Roy), said in the diplomatic tones of Michael Dobbs's fictional Prime Minister: "No we didn't invite him to the opening here. You may say he's a fraud, but I couldn't possibly comment."
Prince Michael's bed-sitter may be a far cry from Nymphenberg Palace. But one of his neighbours said: "Michael is very sweet to us all." Another said: "There are a few, well, strange people, living in these flats. We know he says he's the Scottish king, but he's very nice."
The "very nice" Prince Michael was on holiday when the Independent on Sunday tried to contact him.
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