Flora MacDonald

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Flora MacDonald
Portrait of Flora MacDonald by the artist Allan Ramsay
Portrait of Flora MacDonald by Allan Ramsay
Born 1722 (1722)
Milton, South Uist, Scotland
Died 4 March 1790(1790-03-04) (aged 67–68)
Kingsburgh, Isle of Skye
Nationality Scottish
Known for assisting in the escape of Charles Edward Stuart after his defeat at the Battle of Culloden
Appletons' McDonald Flora signature.png

Flora MacDonald (Gaelic: Fionnghal nic Dhòmhnaill; 1722 – 5 March 1790) was a Scottish Jacobite heroine famous for her part in Charles Edward Stuart, pretender to the throne, escape after his defeat at the Battle of Culloden.

Early life

She was born in Milton on the island of South Uist, Outer Hebrides, Scotland. She was third and last child of Ranald MacDonald (d. 1723) and his second wife Marion, the daughter of Flora and Reverend Angus MacDonald. Her father was a tacksman and leaseholder of Milton and Balivanich.[1]

Her father died when she was a baby, and her mother was abducted and married by Hugh MacDonald of Armadale, Skye. She was brought up under the care of the chief of her clan, the Macdonalds of Clanranald her father's cousin, and was partly educated in Edinburgh. Throughout her life she was a practising Presbyterian.[1]

The escape of Charles Edward Stuart

Loch Langabhat on Benbecula

During the 1745 Jacobite Rising, in June 1746, at the age of 24, she was living on the island of Benbecula in the Outer Hebrides when Prince Charles took refuge there after the Battle of Culloden. A companion, Captain Conn O'Neill of The Feeva, County Antrim, son of Captain Conn Modera of the O'Neills of Clandeboye, sought her assistance to help the Prince escape capture. They were distant relatives and had met at the home of their mutual relative, Ambrose O'Neill of Ballybollen.

Sir Alexander MacDonald, head of the Macdonalds of Sleat, had not joined the rebellion and Benbecula was controlled by a pro-government militia commanded by Flora's step-father, Hugh MacDonald. This connection allowed Flora to obtain the necessary permits but she hesitated, fearing the consequences for Sir Alexander if they were caught. She may have been taking less of a risk than it appears, since witnesses later claimed Hugh advised the Prince on where to hide from his search parties and organised their passage to Skye.[2] Passes were provided allowing passage to the mainland for Flora, a manservant, Prince Charles disguised as an Irish maid, Betty Burke and a boat's crew of six men.

They left Benbecula on 27 June and landed at on Skye at Kilbride, near Sir Alexander's house at Monkstadt. While he was absent, his wife Lady Margaret arranged lodging for them with her steward, MacDonald of Kingsburgh, who told Charles to remove his Betty Burke disguise, as it simply made him more conspicuous.[3] The next day, they went to Portree, Skye, where Flora remained while Charles was taken to Glam on the island of Raasay. Two weeks later, the boatmen were detained and confessed, resulting in the arrest of Flora and Kingsburgh who were taken to the Tower of London.

Portree, Skye where Flora parted company with Prince Charles

After Lady Margaret interceded on her behalf with the chief Scottish legal officer, Duncan Forbes of Culloden, she was allowed to live outside the Tower under the guard of a "messenger" or gaoler and released after the 1747 Act of Indemnity.[4] She later told Frederick, Prince of Wales and son of George II that she acted from charity and would have helped him in the same way had he been defeated and in distress.[5]

On 6 November 1750, at the age of 28, she married Allan MacDonald, a captain in the army and Kingsburgh's eldest son.[6] The couple lived at Flodigarry, Skye where they had five sons and two daughters and they inherited the family estate after Kingsburgh died in 1772.

Her bravery and loyalty gained her general sympathy, increased by her good manners and gentle character. Samuel Johnson, who met her in 1773, the year before she moved to America, described her as a woman of soft features, gentle manners, kind soul and elegant presence. He also paid the tribute engraved on her memorial at Kilmuir: ...a name that will be mentioned in history, and if courage and fidelity be virtues, mentioned with honour.

American Revolution

In 1774, she and her husband emigrated to North Carolina.[6] They brought with them the family McBryde who were their servants. During the American War of Independence Captain MacDonald served the British government in the 84th Regiment of Foot (Royal Highland Emigrants). Legend has it that she exhorted the Loyalist force at Cross Creek, North Carolina (present-day Fayetteville) that included her husband, Allan, as it headed off to its eventual defeat at the Battle of Moore's Creek Bridge in February, 1776.

He was captured after the battle and was held prisoner for two years until a prisoner exchange occurred in 1777. He was then sent to Fort Edward in Windsor, Nova Scotia where he took command of the 84th Regiment of Foot (Royal Highland Emigrants), Second Battalion. After her husband was taken prisoner, MacDonald remained in hiding while the American Patriots ravaged her family plantation and took all her possessions. When her husband was released from prison during the fall of 1778, she reunited with him at Fort Edward.

Return to the Isle of Skye

Monument in Kilmuir Cemetery
Statue in front of Inverness Castle

In 1779 MacDonald returned to Scotland in a merchant ship. During the passage, the ship was attacked by a privateer. She refused to leave the deck during the attack and was wounded in the arm.

MacDonald resided at the homes of various family members, including Dunvegan, her daughter Anne having married Major General Alexander Macleod.[7] After the war, in 1784, her husband returned from the United States and the family regained possession of the estate in Kingsburgh.[6][8]

MacDonald had two daughters and five sons who mostly entered the army or navy.[1] She died at Kingsburgh on the Isle of Skye in 1790, at the age of 68. She is buried in Kilmuir Cemetery.


In art

MacDonald is honored by a bronze statue at Inverness Castle (on Castle Hill, also known as Castle Wynd), designed by Andrew Davidson, erected in 1896.[9]

The "Flora MacDonald's Fancy" is a Scottish highland dance choreographed in her honour, supposedly based on a dance she performed for Bonnie Prince Charlie. It is known for its balletic steps and graceful movements.

In fiction

  • Sir Walter Scott, Waverley (1814) – an early historical novel of the Jacobite rebellion in which the hero must choose between two women, one of whom, Flora MacIvor, seems modeled on Flora MacDonald. This impression is strengthened by the use of Allan Ramsay's portrait of Flora Macdonald for the cover of the Penguin (2007) edition of the book.
  • Inglis Fletcher, The Scotswoman (1954) – a novel on Flora MacDonald's life in North Carolina, during the American war of Independence.
  • Highlander: The Series – in the 3rd-season episode, "Take Back the Night", Ceirdwyn, an Immortal, is living under the name of "Flora MacDonald" when Bonnie Prince Charlie and his party stop there on their way to the coast, and the boat to take him from Scotland.
  • The Outlander series – the 6th book of Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series, "A Breath of Snow and Ashes", features an account of Flora MacDonald's arrival in the American colonies.

In film

In the 1948 British historical film Bonnie Prince Charlie, Flora MacDonald is portrayed by Margaret Leighton, with David Niven as the Prince. He later recalled the movie as follows:

'Bonnie Prince Charlie' was one of those huge, florid extravaganzas that reek of disaster from the start. We never had a completed screenplay...and suffered three changes of directors, with Korda himself finally taking over in desperation.

At one point I cabled Sam Goldwyn: "I have worked on this picture every day for five months and nobody can tell me how the story ends. Advise." He didn't even bother to answer. I loved Alex Korda, a brilliant, generous creature, but with this film he was wallowing in confusion. I felt sorry for him, but sorrier for myself as the Bonnie Prince who would assuredly bear the blame for the impending debacle.'

See also



  1. ^ a b c "MacDonald, Flora (1722–1790)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/17432.  (Subscription or UK public library membership required.) Retrieved 8 September 2008.
  2. ^ Riding, Jacqueline (2016). Jacobites; A New History of the 45 Rebellion. Bloomsbury. pp. 465–467. ISBN 1408819120. 
  3. ^ Riding, Jacqueline (2016). Jacobites; A New History of the 45 Rebellion. Bloomsbury. p. 467. ISBN 1408819120. 
  4. ^ Riding, Jacqueline (2016). Jacobites; A New History of the 45 Rebellion. Bloomsbury. pp. 468–469. ISBN 1408819120. 
  5. ^ MacLeod, Ruairidh H. (1995). Flora MacDonald: The Jacobite Heroine in Scotland and North America. London: Shepheard-Walwyn Publishers. p. 90. ISBN 0-85683-147-6. Alexander MacGregor wrote that, 'All admired the dauntless part she had acted, and her case excited so much interest, that she had the honour of a visit from Frederick, Prince of Wales, father of King George III. His Royal Highness asked her how she had dared to assist a rebel against his father's throne? when she replied, with great simplicity but firmness, that she would have done the same thing for him had she found him in like distress. '  
  6. ^ a b c MacInnes, John (December 2009). The Brave Sons of Skye; Containing the Military Records (compiled From Authentic Sources) of the Leading Officers, Non-Commissioned Officers, and private soldiers whom "Eilean a' Cheo" has produced (Print On Demand ed.). General Books. pp. 15–24. 
  7. ^ MacGregor, Alexander (December 2009). The life of Flora Macdonald, and her adventures with prince Charles (Print On Demand ed.). Nabu Press. p. 134. 
  8. ^ Duncanson, Two Loyalist Townships: Rawdon and Douglas.
  9. ^ Historic Environment Scotland. "Inverness, Castle Wynd, Statue Of Flora Macdonald (13434)". Canmore. Retrieved 26 January 2015. 


  • Alexander Charles Ewald, Life and Times of Prince Charles Edward (1886).
  • F. F. Walde, Autobiography of Flora MacDonald (1870).
  • Inglis Fletcher, The Scotswoman (1954) – a novel on Flora MacDonald's later life in North Carolina, during the American War of Independence.
  • Rev. William Henry Foote, "Sketches of North Carolina" (1846) Links to: Cover, Contents xix, 80, 126, 134, Chapter XII pg148, 155 (return to NC in 1775)
  •  Henderson, Thomas Finlayson (1893). "Macdonald, Flora". In Lee, Sidney. Dictionary of National Biography. 35. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 
  • Wikisource-logo.svg "McDonald, Flora". Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography. 1900. 

External links

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