Flora MacDonald is surely one of Scotland's most enduring and romantic heroines. By helping Bonnie Prince Charlie "Over the Sea to Skye", she rowed the "Young Pretender" to safety and herself into the history books.

She was born in the Western Isle village of Milton, South Uist, but moved to Skye on the death of her father and her mother's re-marriage to Hugh MacDonald of Sleat. She was sent to school in Edinburgh and returned to Uist in 1746 to visit her brother. It proved to be a dangerous and exciting summer.

Bonnie Prince Charlie had been on the run since the defeat of the Jacobite uprising at Culloden. He zigzagged the Highlands with a bounty of £30,000 on his head – an enormous sum at the time - trying to outrun his pursuers and escape back to France. As he landed on Uist he heard that General Campbell had caught his scent and was on the island searching for him.

The prince needed to leave quickly if he were to survive. A plan was formed to help him escape east to the Isle of Skye. The person chosen to help carry out the plan was Flora MacDonald.

She refused to help initially, and only changed her mind when both her fiancé Allan MacDonald and her stepfather convinced her to help. She agreed, and on 20 June the young prince and Flora met for the first time.

They remained in hiding as they planned the escape. The prince was to be smuggled off the island in colourful fashion - disguised as "Betty Burke", Flora's Irish serving-maid. Flora,

"Betty" and her "Servant" Neil MacEachain were to cross the approximate 45 miles by sea to Skye in a rowing boat. They had to do this under the watchful eyes of the Hanoverian soldiers and the probing of bounty hunters eager for the prince’s capture.

They left shore on 27 June without attracting attention. As the trio made for open water they were buffeted and thrown by high winds and tempestuous seas. They battled for days until catching sight of the isle, where they landed between the west-coast towns of Uig and Mogstad at a point now known as Rudha Phrionnsa (Prince's Point). Once safe they hid overnight in a cottage and then slowly, and in secret, travelled overland to Portree on the opposite side of the isle.

When they reached Portree, the prince and Flora MacDonald had to part. Bonnie Prince Charlie continued on to Raasay, a narrow island between Skye and the mainland, where a ship was waiting to take him to France. Flora returned home. As they left, the prince gave Flora a locket with his portrait, and he was believed to have said, "I hope, madam, that we may meet in St James's yet." She never saw him again.

The loose tongue of the ferryman brought the tale to the ears of the prince's enemies and Flora was arrested as a traitor. She was imprisoned first in Dunstaffnage Castle, near Oban, and then briefly in the Tower of London before being released in 1747 under a general amnesty.

She married Allan MacDonald in 1750 and 24 years later they emigrated to North Carolina. Her husband fought with the Hanoverians in the American War of Independence and initially lived a reasonably prosperous life. However, after Allan MacDonald’s capture, they were expelled to Nova Scotia with little belongings and no real prospects.

Flora returned home to Skye with her family, and her husband joined them on his release. She was living in Kingsburgh when literary great Samuel Johnson met her during his tour of the Highlands and Islands. He said of her that she "will be mentioned in history, and if courage and fidelity be virtues, mentioned with honour."

Flora MacDonald died on 4 March, 1790 in the same bed in which Bonnie Prince Charlie had slept. Her death was deeply mourned and many people turned out for the funeral. She was buried at Kilmuir, near the isle's north-west coast, with a sheet used by the prince wrapped round her for a shroud.


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