A newly released letter from Bonnie Prince Charlie reveals something about their family life

The Royal Archives at Windsor are putting on an exhibition which will showcase a few items of Jacobite interest, as the Daily Telegraph reports. Among the things on display is a letter from Prince Charles Edward to his father, King James III and VIII, written when the Prince was seven years old in 1728.

The letter, in a big childish hand, but correctly written and spelled, seems to be some sort of apology for a childish prank. It runs as follows:

Dear Papa, I thank you mightily for your kind letter. I shall strive to obey you in all things. I will be very Dutifull to Mamma, and not jump too near her. I shall be much obliged to the Cardinal for his animals. I long to see you soon and in good health. I am your most dutifull and affecionate son, Charles P.

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One would love to know who the zoo-keeping Cardinal was, and what animals were shown by the said ecclesiastic to the young Prince. It is noteworthy that Charles Edward, like any little boy, was an animal lover. It is also noteworthy that his father must have been away from home; and though the letter is very brief, it does give an insight into the character of Charles’ mother, Queen Clementina. She was the granddaughter of the great and good King John III Sobieski of Poland, who had saved Vienna from the Turks in 1683; her marriage was not a happy one, and she lived apart from her husband in a Roman convent for some two years, and though reconciled to him, died young. It is thought that Queen Clementina was a depressive type, and so may well have been unduly alarmed and upset by the boy jumping too near her.

It is interesting that Charles, though he signs himself “P” for Prince, calls his parents Papa and Mamma, and does not use their titles. This strikes me as unusual informality for the age. In France everyone called even their nearest relatives Monsieur and Madame, and the English used the equivalents. That Charles Edward called his parents Mamma and Papa, is perhaps a sign of a happy childhood. The Hanoverians, by contrast, were blighted by intergenerational quarrels.

Though the letter is a happy thing in itself, the shades of tragedy still hang about it. Charles Edward spent his childhood in Rome, living in the Palazzo Muti, which is a rather unprepossessing building quite near to the modern Gregorian University. He left the city on a supposed hunting trip to the Alban Hills, in order to avoid Hanoverian spies, and made his way to Scotland in 1745, but only returned to Rome many years later as a disappointed alcoholic, cared for by his daughter, the Duchess of Albany, whose mother had been Clementina Walkinshaw, with whom Charles had had a desperately unhappy and often violent relationship. Clementina Walkinshaw, of a Glaswegian and Jacobite family, had been named after Charles’ late mother.

Being royal is no guarantee of happiness, and even a royal family without a throne were no exception. The life of the Bonnie Prince was an unhappy one, but at least there were some bright moments: a little boy’s delight in the Cardinal’s animals being one.

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