National Museum’s Jacobite exhibition shows Vatican treasures

Bonnie Prince Charlie's silver travelling canteen is part of the National Museum's Jacobites exhibition.
Bonnie Prince Charlie's silver travelling canteen is part of the National Museum's Jacobites exhibition.
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Historic treasures from the Vatican and Rome have gone on loan to the National Museum of Scotland the first major exhibition dedicated to Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobites for 70 years.

Precious artefacts linked to the Stuart family, including marble grave markers for Prince Charles Edward Stuart, his brother and father, will be on show for the first time in the UK after curators reached agreement for them to be transported from Italy.

A "lost" portrait of Bonnie Prince Charlie by the artist Allan Ramsay is part of the exhibition.

A "lost" portrait of Bonnie Prince Charlie by the artist Allan Ramsay is part of the exhibition.

A gold communion set, encrusted with 120 diamonds, which belonged to Charles’s younger brother Henry will also be on display along with more than 350 other objects spanning two centuries.

National Museum chiefs say the exhibition, which has been several years in the planning will show “how the Jacobite challenge for the three kingdoms of Scotland, England and Ireland was a complex civil war, and reveal the wider European power politics at play during this famed period of history.”

Paintings, costumes, jewellery, documents, weapons and glassware drawn from collections across Europe, including the Louvre in Paris and the Queen’s Royal Collection, feature in the five-month show at the Edinburgh attraction.

It explores the events which unfolded following the widespread religious upheaval in the late 17th century and attempts by the Jacobites to reinstate the deposed Roman Catholic Stuart king, James VI and II, and his heirs to the throne after his exile to France.

The exhibition recalls the five Jacobite challenges to the throne, culminating in Bonnie Prince Charlie’s doomed 1745 campaign, which came to a swift and bloody end at Culloden, and his famous escape to the Isle of Skye.

Bonnie Prince Charlie’s travelling canteen, a recently discovered lost portrait of the prince by the artist Allan Ramsay, a waistcoat and tartan coat he is thought to have worn, and a letter of apology to his father written when he was eight are all in the exhibition.

It also features a number of weapons and shields used in the Battle of Culloden, the official order for the massacre of the MacDonalds at Glencoe, a Gaelic bible and an execution block.

Dr Gordon Rintoul, director of the museum, said: “The exhibition is looking at a period of Scottish history which we felt was pretty much an untold story - from the Union of the Crowns all the way to the death of Bonnie Prince Charlie’s brother in 1807 in Rome, when he died as a cardinal and was second in command to the Pope.

“I think people will be quite surprised that the attempts to restore the Stuart monarch had supporters across Europe.

“The figure of Bonnie Prince Charlie was very much romanticised in the 19th century by various writers. That broader story of royal claims to the throne perhaps seemed much less interesting.

“I don’t think there is an exhibition we’ve done before which has had quite so much UK-wide and European collaboration. We’re particularly pleased that we’re fortunate enough to have material which is coming on loan, including the Vatican itself. It’s not an organisation we’re borrowed from previously.”

David Forsyth, principal curator of the exhibition, said: “This really is a sequel to our Mary, Queen of Scots exhibition in 2013, which was really successful.

“We want to do a dynastic appraisal of the Stuarts and we already had a body of material to draw on from our own collections. Two thirds is our own material and a good proportion of that has not been on display before, but we were clearly also depending on loans.

“There have been other exhibitions, but there has been nothing of this magnitude to look at the whole story of the Stuart dynasty.”