‘Pretty Young Rebel’: The Life of Flora Macdonald by Flora Fraser - review by Allan Massie

Allan Massie

Over the Sea to Skye

‘Pretty Young Rebel’: The Life of Flora Macdonald


Bloomsbury 320pp £25

There are many people remembered, indeed famous, because of a single episode in their lives. One such was Flora Macdonald. In truth, her entire life story is interesting, as Flora Fraser shows in this thoroughly researched biography, but her life would hardly be remembered if it weren’t for what happened in the last nine or ten days of June 1746, when she was perhaps twenty-four.

In the ten weeks following his defeat at Culloden, which had extinguished the 1745 Jacobite Rising, Prince Charles Edward Stuart (better known as the Young Pretender) had been in hiding in the Highlands, moved by supporters from place to place. There was a reward of £30,000 for his capture. By June, he was in the Western Isles – Uist and Benbecula – hoping to find a French ship. There were government troops there in numbers. The net seemed to be closing. Perhaps he should be moved to Skye. But how? Flora’s stepfather, Hugh Macdonald of Armadale, proposed a daring plan. If she could obtain a passport permitting her to cross to Skye, the prince might travel with her, disguised as an Irish maidservant. Flora, a prudent young woman, was at first hesitant. She doubted it could be done and the risk was great. But she was persuaded that no other plan had a chance of success. Fraser suggests that her father feared things would go ill for the family if the prince was captured on Macdonald land. There may have been another reason. One of Flora’s cousins, Neil MacEachen, was already with the prince.

The young man Flora met was far from looking like the elegant prince who now features on countless shortbread tins. He was ‘black weather-beaten’, dressed as a rough Highlander and suffering from midges and the itch. He greeted her in courtly style but there would be no romance between

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