Flora MacDonald – revolutionary, state prisoner and mother of ten

The grave of Flora MacDonald

If you think Claire Fraser’s invented  life is exiting – try and imagine Flora MacDonald’s; hers were more than just romantic adventures, they were real and where better to think about this extraordinary woman, than the side of her grave on Kilmuir graveyard on the Trotternish peninsula on the Isle of Skye.

Usually, the heroine of most stories is beautiful and beguiling, Flora MacDonald was certainly compelling, not because of her looks, she was of medium stature and pretty but it was her spirit and her kindness that endeared her to so many.

As most stories sporting a female heroine, this one starts with a prince. In Flora’s case, Bonnie Prince Charlie or Charles Edward Stuart, the man who had a right to the Scottish throne but needed to fight government and its supporters to get it.

When he landed in Scotland, he was young and amiable but had few resources, a star ready to shine with support throughout the Highlands. Ultimately, he failed though and was forced to give up any hope of reigning this country after the bloody and devastating defeat of Culloden in 1746.

The Prince was on the run and government put a price on his head, the vast sum of  £30,000. No one ever betrayed him, even though money was scarce in the Highlands and life was grim after Culloden. Charles Edward Stuart was hiding in all sorts of places, a few houses, many caves, barns and hovels of all sorts all over the Highlands while he was trying to evade government forces and make his way into safety to France. Cumberland’s troops were alerted and ready to strike whenever they got a sign of the Prince’s whereabouts. Anyone giving the fugitive shelter was risking his life. Little did Charles know, that it would take a woman to successfully make his way out of the country. And not just any woman: it took Flora MacDonald!

Flora MacDonald was born in South Uist in 1722. Her father, a clergyman known for his extraordinary muscular strength, died when Flora was but two years old. Her mother married again but instead of moving with her to Armadale on the Isle of Skye, Flora decided to stay with her older brother Milton in the Western Isles. She travelled a lot as she grew up, and just like the unfortunate prince later, stayed with many friends in the early stages of her life.

She grew up to be a person of strong faith and a firm believe in right or wrong and she strongly supported the Prince. His need for help was her obligation. Even though she had not really met him until everything was decided and arranged. He would disguise as Irish maid Betty Burke and accompany Flora and another servant in a boat across the Minch to Skye, a distance of about 40 miles.

Of course there was a thunderstorm that night and they barely made it, but they did, undetected. It was 27th June, 1746. The Isle of Skye was not a likely place for the Prince to hide, the clans were not amongst his supporters. Hope was, none would suspect them to chose this of all places.

They landed safely in Kilbride in the parish of Kilmuir and the Prince was further taken to the Isle of Raasay and later sucessfully to France while Flora spent a few days with her mother in the south of Skye before she returned to South Uist where she was arrested and taken to England. There she remained as a state prisoner for almost a year.

Meanwhile, her fame grew and she received a lot of admiration for her kindness and bravery. She married Allan MacDonald in 1750, a large wedding where the bride wore Stuart Tartan. Allan was a powerful and handsome Highlander and the couple had 10 children, two died early, four daughters and four sons survived infancy.

Allan’s estate suffered from heavy losses after Culloden and he was forced to desparate measures to prevent bacrupcy. So the family emigrated to America and searched for fortune in North Carolina only to lose two children to typhus fever and end up in another war. Her husband joined the army, the royalists were defeated and he ended up in prison in Halifax, Virginia.

Her daughter Fanny was ill and with the consent of her husband, Flora took on the journey back to Scotland. The ship was attacked by pirates on the way but she survived. Flora was now in her sixties. Her husband followed after a while and they lived on Skye for the rest of their lives until she died after a short illness in 1790.

For nearly a week her body lay in state for people to visit and take leave. The funeral itself was a big affair, about a dozen pipers played.

“At length, the funeral day arrived. The procession started at an early hour, as the distance between Kingsburgh and the place of burial was about sixteen miles. The body was interred in the churchyard of Kilmuir, in the north end of Skye, within a square piece of coarse wall, erected in 1776, to enclose the tombs of the Kingsburgh family. The spot is about a mile and a half from the rock called Gailico, near Monkstadt, on which the prince landed in Skye from the Long Island. The funeral cortege was immense — more than a mile in length — consisting of several thousands of every rank in Skye and the adjacent Isles.”

Alexander Macgregor: The Two Lives of Flora MacDonald (Illustrated). Oakpast; 2016

Her remains were shrouded in the very sheets the prince had slept in at Kingsburgh. Flora MacDonald had kept them all these years and throughout all her adventurous life.

An extraordinary woman, indeed.

Liked the read? Scotland for Quiet Moments is available on Amazon!

Scotland for Quiet Moments

Scotland is a country full of history, stories and secrets. Often, the three cannot be separated. That is what makes this country so wonderful and unique. The stories of this book have been discovered and gathered for Erkenbach’s blog, Graveyards of Scotland, over many years. 

Her main sources were historical travel guides from the 18th and 19th centuries, where the finds were scary, beautiful, funny, and sometimes, cruel.This unusual approach to a country’s history has produced amazing results. You don’t have to share the author’s passion for cemeteries to enjoy this book; only a small number of the stories in this collection take place in graveyards, though they do all end in them, so perhaps it helps.

The fairy hill in Inverness, a nitrate murder on Shetland, a family of left-handers, wolves, Robert the Bruce and William Wallace shown in a new light, the secret bay of the writer Gavin Maxwell, a murdering poet and so many things you didn’t know about Scotland, its clans and its history.

Scotland for Quiet Moments is available as ebook and paperback on Amazon. 

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