Saturday, December 18, 2010

Jacobite Spy Wars

I loved reading Jacobite Spy Wars by Hugh Douglas, a copy of which I came upon while vacationing in  the enchanted village of Lewes, DE last autumn. It made me enthusiastic to continue my research on Bonnie Prince Charlie, an enthusiasm which wanes and waxes according to the vicissitudes of life rather than lack of interest in the subject. Bonnie Prince Charlie, or Prince Charles Edward Stuart, is perhaps one of the most enigmatic and frustrating royal personages in British history. He had the finest traits of the Stuart clan as well as all the lamentable ones. Charles possessed courage, wit, charm, an ability to inspire unwavering devotion, all of which had been passed through his family from Mary Stuart. He was likewise impulsive, imprudent, prone to tantrums, a womanizer and a severe alcoholic, which reminds us that the Stuarts were also descended from Henry Lord Darnley.

Jacobite Spy Wars is an utterly fascinating read especially if you like spy stories. According to the author:
Spying in the 18th century was motivated by money rather than political conviction. Under Sir Robert Walpole during the 1720s the post was able to intercept practically every letter arriving from Europe. His "secret man" who ran this operation was so skilled that his staff could open a letter, read it, reseal it, and pass it on without the recipient realising it had been tampered with.

Over the Jacobite century the Hanoverian government gathered together a colourful portfolio of spies and double agents. They may not have had an 007, but Agent 101, a Frenchman named Francois de Bussy, blew apart France's planned invasion in 1744 when he handed over every detail of the operation, and it was called off. Its failure led to the angry young Bonnie Prince Charlie's sailing for Scotland - and the disaster of the '45 rising - the following year.

Dudley Bradstreet was many things before he turned to intelligence work - adventurer, pimp and card-sharper. His big chance came when Prince Charlie marched into England. Bradstreet was sent north, dressed as a gentleman, to insinuate himself into the Jacobites' war council at Derby, and there he sowed the seeds of a non-existent army marching towards them, which proved a key factor in persuading the rebels to return to Scotland.

Money drove young Alasdair Macdonnell of Glengarry to act as a double agent and betray the last serious attempt to overthrow King George II. Glengarry, who signed himself "Pickle the Spy", caused much more harm to Prince Charlie's cause than wrecking the Elibank Plot to capture the Hanoverian royal family: he lost the Prince much of his following by casting the blame on someone else.

Charles had just brought Clementine Walkinshaw to live with him as his mistress, and, by sheer bad luck, she had a sister who was on the staff of the dowager Princess of Wales in London. As a result every Jacobite was convinced that Clementine was the "mole" who leaked the Elibank secrets to London. They demanded that Charles should get rid of her, but he refused, and followers began to desert the cause in droves.
Douglas' book focuses on the intrigues of the various spies throughout the on-going debacle of Charles' attempt to reclaim the throne of his fathers. Charles himself was a master of disguise and participated in the game of espionage with alacrity, sometimes to his peril. He had, at least, the gift of disappearing so that at times his enemies had no idea where in Europe he was.The tragedy was that the spy game backfired when false information was passed on by Charles' enemies and believed. It led to some devastating setbacks, but only Charles and his behavior can be blamed for the total failure of his cause.

Bonnie Prince Charlie

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