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Sunday 18 August 2013

Bonnie Prince Charlie – A Case of Mistaken Identity

Many if not the vast majority of Jacobites were fiercely loyal to Bonnie Prince Charlie even when a reward of £30,000 – an astronomical sum in those days – was set upon his head by the Hanoverian Government. The following is a short historical anecdote recorded by Calum Maclean on the 8th of September 1952 from the recitation of James Warren, then aged sixty who was a farmer from Dalcreichart, Glenmoriston, about a merchant named MacKenzie who was mistaken for the Prince.
Bha e ’na oidhichear ann an arm a’ Phrionns’ agus bha e a’ dul mu’n cuairst ’na cheanniche mus faigheadh iad greim air. Ach co dhiubh fhuair iad greim air faisg air Ceanna Chroc(hc). Agus bha e uamhasach colta’ ris a’ Phrionns’, dìreach anabharrach colt’ ris a’ Phrionns’. Agus chuir iad as dà, ach dìreach dar a bha e a’ dul as an t-saoghal thuirt e, “A shlaoightearan,” ors’ eis’, “mhara si’ am Prionns’. Mhara si’ am Prionns’.”
Well, an t-am sin cha robh tréinichean, cha robh nicheann eile ann. Mus d’ ràinig e, chaidh an ceann a chur a Dhùn Èideann. Bha iad an dùil gun robh am Prionns’ ac(hc)a agus thug sin cothrom dha’n a’ Phrionns’ teicheadh(g). Bha am Prionns’, bha iad ann an uamhaidh shuas an seo ann an Ceanna Chroc(hc). Bha e a’ fuireach ann an sin is bha seachd dhaoine o Gleanna Moireasdainn còmhla ris. Agus thog iad taigh air agus bha iad ’ga bhiadhadh is a chuile nì eile fad na h-ùine an sin. Is dar a ghabh iad beannachd leis bha fear dhiubh nach tug e a làimh sin dha duine tuillidh an deaghaidh sin. Cha tug e dha duine tuillidh an deaghaidh sin an deaghaidh a toir dha’n a’ Phrionns’. Well, bha poit aige ann an sin. A’ phoit a bh’ aca bha i ann an Achadh na Conbhairean – seo àit’ beag am bràigh Inbhir Mhoireasdainn beagan bhliadhnaichean air ais chaidh i dha’na’ Mhuseum a dh’Inbhir Nis agus am a’ chogaidh chaidh a tiligeil a-mach airson scrap. Cha deach i ach a lendadh, cha deach i ach a toir’ dhai’ airson uìne, dìreach air son uìne. Chaill iad a’ phoit mar sin. Well, thug sin cothrom dha teicheadh(g) as an àit. Tha cuimhneachan ann am sin, monument aig tao’ urad an rathaid ag innse airson a’ Phrionns’ agus tha an uaigh aige a-rithist fo’n rathad. Agus a chionn gràinne bhliadhnaichean air ais fhuair iad gunna an sin, seann-mhusgaid. C’iu ’s e a’ mhusguid aige-se a bh’ ann as nach robh. Bidh e colt’ nach robh musguid aige dar a bha e ’na cheannaiche. Ach fhuair iad a’ mhusgaid anns an allt dìreach, alltan beag a’ dul seachad far a bheil e air a thìodhlacadh.
And the translation goes something like this:
He was an officer in the Prince’s army and he was wandering around as a merchant before they arrested him. But, at any rate, the arrested him near Ceannacnoc. He had a close resemblance to the Prince, he was very like the Prince in appearance. And the executed him and just as he was dying he exclaimed, “You scoundrels,” he said, “you’ve killed the Prince. You’ve killed the Prince.”
Well, at that time there were no trains or anything like that. Before it came, his head was taken to Edinburgh. They thought that they had the Prince and this gave the [real] Prince an opportunity to escape. The Prince along with others stayed up in a cave at Ceannacroc. He stayed there along with seven men from Glenmoriston. They build a shelter there and they fed him along with everything else for a while there. And when they bade farewell to him there was one of them who never offered a handshake to anyone else after that. He never gave his hand to anyone else after offering it to the Prince. Well, he had a pot there; they had a pot in Achadh na Conbhairean – that is a wee place in the Braes of Invermoriston and a few years ago it was taken to the Museum in Inverness and during the war it was thrown out for scrap. It was only lent out and it was only given to them for a short spell. That’s the way they lost the pot. Well, that gave him an opportunity to escape from the place. There is a monument by the roadside saying that he was [in support] of the Prince and his grave is below the road. And a few years ago, they found a gun there, an old musket; whether it belonged to him or not. It appears that he did not own a musket when he was a merchant. But they found the musket just in a wee burn that goes by the place in which he is buried.
Roderick MacKenzie was the son of an Edinburgh goldsmith who fought as an officer in Bonnie Prince Charlie’s army. It was often commented that MacKenzie bore an uncanny likeness to the Prince. In the summer of 1746, after the defeat at Culloden, government soldiers cornered a group of Jacobites, including the Prince and MacKenzie, in Glenmoriston. A local historian and author, William Mackay, continues the story:
But the most tragic event that happened in Glenmoriston was the death of Roderick Mackenzie. This young man was a native of Edinburgh, and probably a son of Colin Mackenzie, jeweller in that city, who interested himself in the cause of the Stewarts in The Fifteen. Roderick, who followed Colin’s politics as well as his trade, joined Prince Charles, to whom he bore some personal resemblance, and became one of his body-guard. After Culloden, he wandered through the Highlands, and happened to be in our Parish when it became known that Charles had escaped from the Western Isles, and was lurking among the mountains of the mainland of Inverness-shire. Unfortunately, a party of the King’s soldiers, who were eager to win the £30,000 placed on the Prince's head, came upon him in Glenmoriston, and, taking him for the royal fugitive, endeavoured to seize him. He made no attempt to undeceive them, but, drawing his sword, refused to be taken alive. They thereupon riddled him with bullets, and he expired with the words on his lips—“You have murdered your Prince."
The head of the hero was carried in triumph to Fort- Augustus, where Macdonald of Kingsburgh was questioned as to its identity. His evidence was unsatisfactory, and when Cumberland left for England, he took the head with him to be submitted to other witnesses. Richard Morison, who had been the Prince’s valet, and now lay under sentence of death at Carlisle, was summoned to London to identify the head; but he was delayed through illness, and before he arrived it was beyond recognition. The Government were, however, soon satisfied that Charles was still alive; but Mackenzie's self-sacrifice slackened for a time the exertions of the troops, and probably saved the Prince. It certainly saved his valet, who was granted a pardon and allowed to cross to France.
In a footnote, Mackay also subjoins a piece of poetry composed by Dugald Graham, the rhyming historian of The Forty-Five:
Rod’rick Mackenzie, a merchant-man.
At Ed’nburgh town had join’d the Clan,
Had in the expedition been.
And at this time durst not be seen.
Being skulking in Glen-Morriston,
Him the soldiers lighted on.
Near about the Prince’s age and size,
Genteely drest, in no disguise.
In ev’ry feature, for’s very face
Might well be taken in any case.
And lest he’d like a dog be hang’d.
He chose to die with sword in hand.
And round him like a madman struck.
Vowing alive he’d ne’er be took.
Deep wounds he got, and wounds he gave;
At last a shot he did receive.
And as he fell, them to convince,
Cry’d, Ah! Alas! You’ve killed your Prince;
Ye murderers and bloody crew,
You had no orders thus to do.
Writing in The Highlands (1959), Calum Maclean himself gives his own rendition of the story:
The saddest and noblest figure in the history of Glenmoriston during the ‘Forty-five was the travelling merchant Roderick MacKenzie. He had been out and wandered over the Highlands after Culloden. He was a very handsome man and bore a very close resemblance to Prince Charles. According to the tradition of Glenmoriston and Lochaber, the merchant’s resemblance to the Prince was used to set the Hanoverians on the wrong trail and while they pursued MacKenzie in one direction the Prince went off in the other. Roderick MacKenzie was in Glenmoriston when it was heard that Prince Charles had made his escape from Benbecula and was among the mountains of the western mainland. A party of Hanoverian soldiers came upon MacKenzie on the highway at Ceannacroc in the glen, and, thinking he was the Prince, they tried to capture him. MacKenzie drew his sword and defended himself. The soldiers then riddled his body with bullets. MacKenzie fell and in his dying breath exclaimed:
“You have killed your Prince at last!”
The head was severed from the dead body and brought to Cumberland at Fort Augustus. The Duke brought the head to London but it was beyond recognition before reliable witnesses arrived on the spot to identify it. In the meantime the Prince was safe and sound, but the self-sacrifice of Roderick MacKenzie had saved his life quite as truly as the efforts of Flora MacDonald and others. MacKenzie’s headless body was buried near the roadway beside a little stream that to this day bears the name of Caochan a’ Cheannaich—the Merchant’s Stream. A cairn marked the spot where he fell.
The memorial cairn to Roderick MacKenzie can be found by the side of the A887 that goes through Glenmoriston. His grave, on the other side of the road, on the banks of the Moriston, has been made accessible by the work of local historic societies and the Clan MacKenzie. The inscription on the plaque reads as follows:
At this spot in 1746 died Roderick Mackenzie an Officer in the Army of Prince Charles Edward Stuart of the same size and similar resemblance to his Royal Prince when surrounded and overpowered by the troops of the Duke of Cumberland gallantly died in attempting to save his fugitive leader from further pursuit.
SSS NB 18, pp. 1555–57
William MacKay, Urquhart and Glenmoriston: Olden Times in a Highland Parish (Inverness: Northern Counties Publishing Co., 1893)
Calum Maclean, The Highlands (London: Batsford, 1959)
Memorial Cairn to Roderick MacKenzie, Glenmoriston


  1. Great Story, but is it true, I suppose so, But remember the Stewart's are originally French the same as the Bruce's so where are the descendants of Kenneth MacAlpin, the Gaelic King of the Pics and Scots.

  2. Bruces mother was a Gaidhlig princess from Ayrshire. The Stewarts, Walter Fitzalan becoming the Steward (stewart), do you know the genealogy of the maternal side of the Fitzalans or since they changed their name to the Stewarts? Originally French, how long do they have to stay in Scotland before you you'd consider them Scots? One surname does not tell the full story, even within just 3 generations of a family there are 8 surnames with their own genealogical background.

  3. Did the Prince ever learn of Roderick Mackenzie's sacrifice?