A sea battle took place off the Lizard Peninsula on the coast of Cornwall on the 9th of July, 1745.
After the Glorious Revolution, in 1689, which deposed King James II in favour of his Protestant daughter, Mary, and her husband, William of Orange, the supporters of the Catholic Stuart Dynasty made several attempts at recovering the throne. When Queen Anne, another Protestant daughter of James II, died in 1714, the House of Stuart, as the Royal line of Kings of Scotland and England, came to an end. The potential dynastic crisis was forestalled by the establishment of the House of Hanover, when the Elector George of Hanover became George I. George died in 1727 and his son became George II. Jacobite Risings or Rebellions took place in the years of 1709, during Anne’s reign, 1715 and 1719, when George I was on the throne, and famously, in 1745, in the days of George II.
The name ‘Jacobite’ comes from the Latin form of James – Jacobus – referring to King James II, who was deposed and, more particularly, his son and ‘heir’, the man who would be King, the ‘Old Pretender’ to the throne, James Francis Edward Stuart or James III as he wished to have been.
It remains a curiosity that a predominantly Presbyterian Scotland retained sufficient Catholic sympathies to support at least four ‘Risings’ against the legitimate rule of two Protestant Kings and a Queen. There were several factors behind the Rebellions. Of course, the male line of Stuart Kings, through to James who would’ve been III, were keen to have their power, prestige and privileges restored. Of course, the supporters of the Catholic Stuarts wanted the power derived from influence and ‘being on the inside’. Then there was the French (and the Spanish to some extent); Catholics to be sure and not beyond meddling in the affairs of others for their own benefit. Also in the mix was the bitter opposition to the Union, which still drags on to this very day and affected many in Scotland, despite their religious leanings. And, last but not least, was the Pope of the day, whose sympathies we need not question.
By the time we get to 1745, the ‘Old Pretender’ was still pretending and his sons had taken on the mantle of warrior for the non-King. James Stuart had married the Polish Princess, Clementine Sobieska, who bore him two sons, Charles and Henry. The elder of these two, Prince Charles Edward Louis John Casimir Silvester Severino Maria Stuart, better known as ‘Bonnie Prince Charlie’ or ‘the Young Pretender’, became the figurehead of the last ever Jacobite rising. With political unrest having broken out in Europe, in 1744, due to the War of the Austrian Succession, the ingenious French decided that supporting an invasion of Scotland would annoy the hell out of ‘les Anglais’ and result in a pro-French, pro-Catholic on the throne. Whether or not the idea of yet another ‘Rising’ stemmed from French intrigue, the ‘Bonnie Prince’ was game for the trying, but the French were cautious about their support, both political and practical, and in terms of money, men and arms.
The Irish Lord Clare, afterwards Marshal Thomond, but then a Lieutenant-General in the French service, introduced Prince Charles to the Irish ship owners, Ruttledge and Walsh. These men had Jacobite sympathies and were prepared or persuaded to offer their ships for the invasion in Scotland. Indeed, Antoine Walsh was the son of Philip Walsh whose ship had taken James II to France after his defeat at the Battle of the Boyne. The ‘Elisabeth’, an old ‘man-o-war’ of sixty-four guns, and a small frigate of sixteen guns named the ‘la Doutelle’ (‘le du Teillay’), were appropriated. On the 20th of June, 1745, Charles, in disguise, descended the Loire in a fishing boat from Nantes to St. Nazaire, where he embarked on the 21st of June aboard the ‘du Teillay’. The following day, he proceeded to Belle Isle, where he was joined on the 4th of July by the other ship, which had 100 French marines on board and about 2,000 muskets, plus five or six hundred broadswords.
The two ships sailed from Belle Isle on the 5th of July and with a fair wind, continued for three days before becoming becalmed. The next day, the 9th of July, 1745, when off the coast of the Lizard at around 4 o’clock in the afternoon, they were accosted by a heavily armed, British man-o-war, commanded by a Captain Brett. That ship was H.M.S. ‘Lion’, which bore down on the ‘Elisabeth’ and promptly returned her defensive broadside. Before its Captain D'Eau could bring his French-Irish ship about, the ‘Lion’ beat him to the tack and poured in another broadside. That raked the ‘Elisabeth’ fore and aft and killed a great number of the men. However, notwithstanding that poor start to the hostilities, the ‘Elisabeth’ maintained the fight for several hours before seizing the opportunity of a shift in the wind's direction to escape. H.M.S. ‘Lion’, herself much damaged and powerless to pursue, fired a last raking volley and left the scene.
Throughout the battle, Prince Charlie wanted Antoine Walsh, the Irish captain of ‘la Doutelle’, to assist its sister ship, but Walsh refused and even threatened to order Charlie to his cabin. The ‘Elisabeth’ had fought alone and was forced to retreat to France on her own, carrying with her most of the invading force's munitions and stores. That was a severe blow to the Prince’s ambitions, nevertheless, he and the ‘la Doutelle’ continued on to Scotland. Eighteen days after leaving France, on the 23rd of July, Charlie went ashore on Eriskay at what is still known as ‘Cladach a'Phrionnsa’ (the Prince's beach). He didn’t quite get the rapturous welcome he’d been expecting as Angus MacDonald of Boisdale advised him to go home. Charles reputedly retorted, "I am come home, sir."
Next morning, the ‘du Teillay’ cast anchor in the bay of Lochnanuagh (‘Loch nan Uamh’), which partly divides the countries of Moidart and Arisaig. The day after, on the 25th of July, 1745, Charles and his companions, the ‘Seven Men of Moidart’ stepped ashore on the mainland. A more unlikely invasion force was ne’er to be seen. There he was, Charlie Stuart, come to recover the throne upon which his grandfather, James II, had sat and from which he had been so rudely removed fifty-six years earlier. With equal measure of charm, luck, sarcasm, persuasion and bribery, Charlie was able to secure the support of Cameron of Lochiel and other Clan Chiefs. Within a month, the call to arms had gone out and the Jacobite standard was raised at Glenfinnan. Of the 1200 or so men who gathered, about 700 were Lochiel's Camerons. The MacDonalds, Stewarts, MacLeods and other Clans also rallied, whilst the British Government placed a price of £30,000 on Charlie’s heid.
Legend has it that seeds of a pink convolvulus (bindweed) carried on Charlie’s shoes all the way from France fell and germinated where he walked. True or not, that flower still grows on Eriskay and nowhere else in the Hebrides.