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23 Sep 2021

In his own hand: a unique insight into Bonnie Prince Charlie

Written by Debbie Reid, Visitor Services Manager at Culloden
‘Monsieur mon frère et cousin’ / my brother and cousin: Bonnie Prince Charlie's letters
The letters from ‘Bonnie Prince Charlie’ request a personal meeting with King Louis XV of France, as well as more support to launch another Jacobite rising after the defeat of the Forty-five Rebellion.

Within our museum collection at Culloden Visitor Centre, we are proud to house two letters written by Prince Charles Edward Stuart himself, which allow us a unique insight into his thoughts (and hopes) after the Battle of Culloden.

Prince Charles led the 1745 Jacobite Rising to reclaim the throne of Britain and restore the Stuart line. In order to gain support for the rising he turned to France, who were at war with Britain at the time, and encouraged them to help finance his campaign.

A small, old stone, with moss and lichen growing upon it, sits on a grassy moor. The words Clan Mackintosh are carved into the front side. In the distance behind stands a large stone cairn, with heather and birch trees growing between.
The Mackintosh Clan grave marker on Culloden Battlefield

After defeat at the Battle of Culloden in April 1746, Prince Charles evaded capture and returned to France, where he initially received a warm welcome. However King Louis XV of France was in peace talks with Britain, which left support for Prince Charles unlikely. In November 1746, Prince Charles wrote to the King to explain his situation.

The letters are composed of a cover letter requesting a personal meeting with the King, a memoire detailing why he felt the Jacobite rising had failed, and a request for more support from France to launch another attempt. In the letters, the Prince writes: ‘Armed men were not lacking in Scotland. Instead, I missed at once money, provisions, and a handful of regular troops – with just one of these three resources I would be master of Scotland today, and probably of all England too.’

Ultimately Prince Charles was unsuccessful in his attempt to gain French support for another Jacobite Rising. With France making peace with Britain, Prince Charles was later exiled to Rome, where he spent the rest of his life.

The letters remained in private family archives for nearly 250 years, before being loaned to the University of Poitiers for safekeeping. In 2014 the Trust was able to purchase the letters and place them on display at Culloden in a special Collider Case.

The Collider Case is designed to showcase the letters and translate their contents without damaging the integrity of the object itself. The visitor watches as the original 18th-century-style French text is highlighted and then translated into a range of languages. This means visitors can view and understand the letters without needing to look away from the documents themselves. All the information is projected virtually atop the letters, and allows us to bridge the gap between traditional object display and digital content.

The Collider Case at Culloden Visitor Centre

Inside the case the letters are secure, and it is equipped with all the necessary measures and sensors for conservation and protection. The technology involved is all outside the interior space, which means that there are no changes in temperature or humidity due to computer software, as it is all directed away from the case.

The case also comes with a sensor that allows us to analyse visitor data and determine how effective the messages we are communicating are being received. By taking account of data such as number of visits and engagement time, we are then able to adapt the display to make it more relevant and more impactful for our visitors.

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