Bonnie Prince Charlie

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Biographer Carolly Erickson set herself a difficult task when she undertook to write the story of Bonnie Prince Charlie. This is essentially the story of a loser. Prince Charles Edward Louis John Casimir Silvester Maria Stuart is even perhaps the most celebrated loser of modern Western history. Although he strove all of his life to attain his lofty goals, he accomplished nothing that lasted for any length of time, and by the end of his twenty-sixth year “the great adventure of Charles’s life was behind him.” To add to the threat of potential disappointment at the failure of Charles’s most significant attempt to regain the British throne for his family, there is left the difficulty of filling in the remaining forty years of a life that had already achieved its brief and frustrating high point.

Combining the absolute integrity of a fine historian with the narrative skills and eye for interesting and informative detail of a good novelist, Erickson has managed to produce an interesting book. BONNIE PRINCE CHARLIE even manages to be gripping at times despite the fact that it is general knowledge that the prince’s bid for power in 1745-1746 ended in defeat, hiding, and exile. With the aid of the French king, Louis XV, Prince Charles landed in Scotland in the summer of 1745, and in a series of military victories that astounded all of Europe, stood poised on the brink of invading London before retreat and his celebrated and bloody defeat on Culloden Moor forced him to flee back to France. It is an exciting and frequently dazzling story, and Erickson wisely devotes nearly half of her narrative to its telling.

For the rest, the prince’s biographer employs her energies by explaining her subject’s natural considerable charisma. Because of his heritage, Charles Edward Stuart was famous from birth; his handsome, athletic appearance, his bonhomie and superhuman endurance, and his naturalness of manner combined with his cloak-and-dagger exploits to make him perhaps the greatest celebrity of his age. His fascination survived him and the subsequent two hundred years of European history make his an intriguing biography in 1989.