A portrait of Flora MacDonald, a heroine of the Jacobite risings, who helped Bonnie Prince Charlie escape after the Battle of Culloden is to be sold at Bonhams Scottish pictures sale in Edinburgh on Thursday 5 December. It is estimated at £7,000-10,000.
Following his defeat at Culloden on 16 April 1746, Charles Edward Stuart – Bonnie Prince Charlie – fled the field and went into hiding. Pursued by the army of George II, whose claim to the British throne he had challenged, the Prince took refuge on the Hebridean island of Benbecula, which was under the control of the government. The MacDonalds – secretly sympathetic to the Jacobite cause – agreed to help Prince Charles escape. Flora was given official permission to leave the island accompanied by a manservant, an Irish spinning maid – actually the Prince in disguise – and six oarsmen. After landing on the Isle of Skye, the Prince made good his escape. Flora however had aroused suspicion and was arrested. She was taken to London, initially imprisoned in the Tower, and later kept under house arrest.
Though Flora is celebrated in song, on screen, in paintings and even on shortbread tins, portraits of her drawn from life are rare. This depiction by the respected English artist Thomas Hudson is likely to have been painted after she was completely freed under the Act of Indemnity in 1747 when she became something of a celebrity.
Flora is depicted wearing a satin dress and tartan bow and holding a rose which is how she usually appears in portraits. Despite the romantic story attached to her name she claimed to have been motivated more by charity than politics, telling George II’s son, the Duke of Cumberland and merciless victor at Culloden, that she would have been equally ready to help him had he been in distress.