Heritage and Culture

Over the Sea to Skye

By Sophie

On the 28th of June 1746, Flora Macdonald and her Irish Maid 'Betty Burke' set sail from Benbecula, over the sea, to Skye. Huddled in a tiny boat, a badly disguised Bonnie Prince Charlie posed as MacDonald's spinning maid.

After the Jacobite defeat at Culloden, Bonnie Prince Charlie went on the run. He faced capture, with a bounty of 30,000GBP on his head, and was not about to stick around to be caught. As British government troups scaled the highlands, Prince Charlie hid himself away in the Outer Hebrides, knowing his only refuge would be getting his feet back on French soil.

Seeking refuge in Uist, he still had many loyal supporters, who concocted a plan to smuggle him from Uist to Skye. From here, they planned to have a boat ready to take him back to France. In hearing the plan, Flora MacDonald took to the challenge and offered to help him.

At age 24, Flora MacDonald hadn't had the easiest life. Her father died when she was a child. With Her mother being abducted and married by Hugh MacDonald of Armadale, in Skye, she was brought up under the care of the chief of her Clan, her father's cousin. Partly educated in Edinburgh, she was a lifelong practicing Presbyterian.

When hearing of Prince Charlie's predicament, she was hesitant to help, at first. She was concerned for her safety, as well as the implications this could have for Prince Charlie. After much consideration, she agreed to help him.

The commander of the local militia, Hugh MacDonald, was her stepfather. Giving her a pass to the mainland, the pass included permission for herself, a manservant and an Irish spinning maid, Betty Burke, to make the journey. Also on board the boat, were six crew members.

Disguising the Prince as Betty Burke, they set sail from Benbecula. After being denied initially at Waternish, the party eventually landed at Kilbride, in Skye. From this location, Flora had easy access to Monkstadt, which was the seat of Sir Alexander MacDonald. Hiding in the rocks, the Prince awaited Flora's return from the neighborhood. She had gone in search of help from her fellow Clan members, arranging that the Prince be taken to Portree, Skye. From there he would then be taken to Raasay.

Unaware that they had aided in the smuggling of Prince Charlie to Skye, the boatmen became suspicious at her behavior. This building suspicion resulted in her eventual arrest. She was taken down to London and held captive there for many months.

She later told Frederick, the Prince of Wales, that she had acted out of charity, and that she would have helped the Duke himself, had he been in defeat and distress himself. Flora's bravery and loyalty had gained her general sympathy, increased by her good manners and gentle nature. She was subsequently released in 1747, returning to Scotland to live the rest of her life in peace.

After his escape to Skye, Prince Charlie hid himself away for the summer. Waiting and waiting for a French ship to come to his rescue. A few failed attempts should have shaken his confidence, but his hope never wavered. Finally, in September, the French frigate L'Heureux successfully executed his rescue and brought him back to France. He always remained grateful to Flora, for without her bravery, he would never have escaped capture and returned home.

Jim Oliver 1 years ago at 14:08
you've left out an interesting and important part of the story. In 1774, she and her husband emigrated to North Carolina, where they were involved in the American Revolution. It was in 1779 that she returned to Scotland, dying on the Island of Skye in 1790, where she is buried.