Over the sea to Skye and The Flower of Scotland

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By Evelyn Tidman and Janet Macleod Trotter respectively.   As is probably rather obvious from the first title, these are both novels about Flora MacDonald, although the first book is set almost entirely in 1746, when she helped Bonnie Prince Charlie/the Young Pretender to escape to Skye, dressed as her maid, and the second book follows her life from birth up to her marriage in 1750.

They both tell fairly similar versions of events – that Flora never wanted to be seen as a heroine, that she was pretty much pushed into helping Charles Edward by male friends and relatives, but that she felt sympathy for his plight and said that she would have done the same for anyone in trouble.   Her story was romanticised initially at the time and then even more so by the Victorians, but she wasn’t really a romantic heroine, and certainly never wanted to be a romantic heroine.

There is plenty of romance though, as we learn about Flora’s relationships with her future husband Allan MacDonald of Kingsburgh, Charles Edward’s aide and Flora’s childhood friend Neil MacEachen and, in the first book, another of Charles Edward’s aides, Felix O’Neill.    We also learn a lot about Highland life and culture, and the terrible consequences of the ‘Forty Five for the Highlands.

The whole episode’s been very much romanticised over the years, by Sir Walter Scott and even to some extent by our own William Harrison Ainsworth, and to some extent both books go along with that, suggesting that there was far more widespread support for the Jacobites than there actually was, and showing women wanting locks of Charles Edward’s hair and so on.  However, they also adopt a fairly realistic approach in that they show how Highlanders were split over the invasion, how many were afraid of the consequences of supporting the Jacobites, how memories of the failure of the ‘Fifteen ran deep … and how, ultimately, the ‘Forty Five brought tragedy in its wake.  But not for Flora, who was feted by aristocratic admirers and went on to make a happy marriage, although neither book shows her later life in America and Canada,

Both books depict Flora very well, without overly romanticising either her nature or her role in events, and I’d recommend both of them.   It’s a strange episode in history, and an interesting one.

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