If you know anything about the ’45 you will have heard of Bonnie Prince Charlie, of Flora MacDonald and the dramatic escape over the sea to Skye, immortalised in the Skye Boat Song. You will probably heard of the Duke of Cumberland too, the Butcher of Culloden.
But unless you’re a Cameron, you may not know about Donald Cameron of Lochiel, who played a crucial role in the rising, risking and losing all in the process in his support for Prince Charles Edward Stuart. He features in the Jacobite Chronicles as a minor character, but he was certainly not a minor character in the rising, nor in the affairs of his clan.
He was born circa 1695, the eldest son of John Cameron. The chief of the clan at that time was Donald’s grandfather, the formidable Sir Ewen Cameron, who will feature in my next series of books. The Camerons were supporters of the Stuarts, and Sir Ewen came out for James II/VII, fighting at the Battle of Killiecrankie in 1689. After this battle, Sir Ewen returned home and in 1692, now an elderly man, he handed most of his estate over to his son John.
As is often the case with a great man, however, the son did not live up to expectations, and although courageous, and certainly of some ability, John was not a good leader, with the result that after the Jacobite rising of 1715 John fled to France, where he remained in exile for the rest of his life, and his eldest son Donald became de facto chief of the clan in 1716, at the age of 21. When Sir Ewen died in 1719 John inherited the title, becoming XVIII chief of the clan, but never exercised his powers.
Donald, who came to be known as ‘The Gentle Lochiel’, was the chief in all but title. He was an enlightened and educated man, and dedicated his time to improving his estates and the standard of life of his clanspeople.
His father John had previously sold part of the forest along the north of Loch Arkaig, and in 1722-3 Donald (known from now as Lochiel) sold a good deal more of his woodland. This was a common practice in the day, but may also have been a necessity: he had a rent roll of only £700 a year, out of which he had to support his father in exile, his family, and also perform the chiefly duties of ‘father of the clan’, sustaining his people in bad times, a duty which he took very seriously.
In 1723 and again in 1729 he visited his father in France, and also enrolled in ‘ane academie’ to further his education. Whilst away he left the affairs of his estate in the hands of his cousin, William Drummond of Balhaldie. Drummond was in fact a name adopted after the proscription of his clan made the use of Balhaldie’s real name, MacGregor, illegal. The MacGregors and Camerons were thus linked by familial bonds and also by their unswerving loyalty to the exiled Stuarts and the Jacobite cause.
On his return from France in 1729, Lochiel married Anne, daughter of the Campbell laird of Auchinbreck. As part of the marriage contract, Lochiel had to improve on the house made of fir planks his grandfather had built in 1723, and a summer house along with other buildings, gardens and an orchard were all added. The couple went on to have six children.
Lochiel and his three younger brothers had a close relationship. The Camerons were Episcopalian by religion, but one of the brothers, Alexander, converted to Roman Catholicism, later becoming a priest.
Of the others, John of Fassifern turned away from Jacobitism in the direction of commerce, and took no part in the ’45, unlike another brother, Dr Archie, a devout Jacobite who was very active in the service of Prince Charles, and who had the dubious honour of being the last Jacobite to be executed, in 1753. The youngest brother, Ewen, emigrated to Jamaica in 1735 along with a few hundred of Clan Cameron’s surplus population.
The Cameron lands were chronically overpopulated, and possibly in view of this, Lochiel built water mills on his estate and attempted to drain the Corpach Moss, presumably to help his clansfolk sustain themselves without having to resort to cattle theft, a traditional Highland method of keeping the wolf from the door.
In 1738 an association was formed whose members vowed to do everything they could to restore the Stuarts to their rightful place. There were seven members, of which Lochiel was one. It’s sad to note that of the seven only two of the members proved their commitment and loyalty by actually coming out for Prince Charles in the ’45; Lochiel himself, and the Duke of Perth, although a third member, Lochiel’s father-in-law James Campbell of Auchinbreck was imprisoned. The association’s secretary was none other than Lochiel’s cousin Drummond of Balhaldie, who also played a crucial part in the ’45 by his over-optimistic and, it has to be said, unhelpful reporting to Prince Charles of the support he could expect were he to sail to Scotland.
Partly as a result of this, following the failure of the attempted French invasion in 1743, Charles finally arrived in Scotland, accompanied only by his ‘seven men of Moidart’ in July 1745. If he expected the Highlanders to flock to him in droves, he was to be sorely disappointed. The clan chiefs, in particular Lochiel had made it extremely clear that they would not fight for the prince unless he were to arrive with a significant French fleet in tow. The response he got was lukewarm at the very best, and the two great Skye chiefs, whose support would be crucial, both refused point-blank to come out for him. Those Highlanders who did come to see him only did so to advise him to go home.
Charles, knowing that he desperately needed the support of a significant chief, sent a message to Lochiel summoning him to a meeting immediately. Having heard the circumstances in which Charles had landed, Lochiel was determined not to commit either himself or his clansmen, but thought himself honour-bound to explain his reasons to the prince in person, and to persuade him to return to France.
It has to be remembered that the Cameron clan had enjoyed relative peace for over 20 years – Lochiel had even discouraged the customary practise of cattle reiving (with limited success), which often gave an opportunity to practise fighting skills. The Highlanders considered themselves honest men, and theft of any sort was deeply frowned on, except for the lifting of your neighbours’ cattle, which was so much a part of Highland culture that it was not considered to be theft at all. It’s true that Lochiel had taken some steps to prepare his clan for a possible rising, and had ordered a considerable amount of tartan to clothe them for such an eventuality. But he was in no way willing to risk himself and his men for such a risky venture as this. Nor, in all likelihood, were the clansmen eager to attempt such a risky attempt. The fact that they later did, and apparently without the sort of violent persuasion employed by some of the other chiefs, says much for their loyalty to their chief.
Lochiel visited his brother John on his way to Prince Charles, who pleaded with him not to go to the prince himself, saying ‘if you set eyes on him he will persuade you’. He was aware of the depth of Donald’s commitment to the Jacobite cause, and presumably of the Stuart prince’s charisma, and was afraid that his brother would be persuaded into rising, even though his judgement and sense told him not to.
And so it proved to be.
It’s often reported that on Lochiel meeting the prince and stating his refusal to bring out his clan without the promised French support, that Prince Charles uttered the words; “in a few days, with the friends that I have, I will erect the royal standard, and proclaim to the people of Britain that Charles Stuart is come over to claim the crown of his ancestors, to win it or perish in the attempt; Lochiel, who my father has often told me was our firmest friend, may stay at home and learn from the newspapers of the fate of his Prince”.
Upon hearing this, Lochiel then exclaimed; “No! I’ll share the fate of my Prince, and so shall every man over whom nature or fortune has given me any power”.
It is very possible that these words were uttered; but in Lochiel’s own Mémoire d’un ecossais, written in exile in 1747, he states himself that three weeks passed in argument before he finally agreed to bring his men out. He was no easy pushover.
In Charles’ eyes, it was certainly worth the effort to persuade the recalcitrant Cameron chief; not only did he have over 900 men at his command, but he was widely respected throughout the highlands and beyond. Charles knew that if Lochiel came out, then others would follow.
Once Lochiel had agreed, he returned to Achnacarry, agreeing to rendezvous with Prince Charles at Glenfinnan on 19th August, when the prince intended to raise his standard.
In my next blog I’ll examine Lochiel’s involvement in the campaign, and the aftermath.