VIDEO: Bonnie Prince Charlie and his lost '˜21st birthday gift'

Crafted in silver and lavishly engraved, it radiates a story of both hope and ambition - as well as treason, failure and loss.

By The Newsroom
Friday, 14th July 2017, 12:02 pm
Updated Tuesday, 12th September 2017, 12:14 pm
Silver travelling canteen of Prince Charles Edward Stuart, by Ebenezer Oliphant, Edinburgh, 174041, abandoned at the Battle of Culloden © National Museums Scotland

There is perhaps no other single item that encapsulates more the attempt of Charles Edward Stuart to reclaim the British throne for his family than his travelling canteen.

Today, it is one of the key pieces at the Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobites exhibition at the National Museum of Scotland.

One of the Prince’s favourite belongings, it was received by him in Rome from a supporter in Scotland, possibly to mark his 21st birthday.

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Silver travelling canteen of Prince Charles Edward Stuart, by Ebenezer Oliphant, Edinburgh, 174041, abandoned at the Battle of Culloden © National Museums Scotland

It was made in 1740 or 1741 by an Edinburgh goldsmith who took great risk in crafting the object.

Rich with chivalric iconography that touted the Stuart return to the throne, the object is likely to have been judged as highly seditious.

The canteen, which Bonnie Prince Charlie brought to Scotland in 1745, was later found on the battlefield at Culloden, abandoned among the bodies as the defeated Prince fled.

David Forsyth, principal curator of Medieval and Early Modern Collections at NMS, said: “It is an incredibly important object because in many ways it sums up elements and aspects of the story, not least that it is personally associated with Charles Edward Stuart.”

Silver travelling canteen of Prince Charles Edward Stuart, by Ebenezer Oliphant, Edinburgh, 174041, abandoned at the Battle of Culloden © National Museums Scotland

An unusual object, the silver canister opens to reveal a cluster of eating tools, from a nutmeg grater to a wine taster and a marrow scoop.

Likely to have been gifted given Charles’ love of hunting, the supporter who commissioned the item remains “gloriously anonymous,” Mr Forsyth said.

But the message delivered by the travelling canteen, made by Ebenezer Oliphant of Edinburgh, one of the capitals’s foremost goldsmiths of the day and an ardent Jacobite supporter, was unequivocal.

Mr Forsyth, who admits the canteen is possibly his favourite item in the show, said: “It is a seditious object given the iconography, particularly on the cartouche, the little badge on the front, which is emblazed with an engraving of the Prince of Wales feathers.

“Ebenezer Oliphant would not have made this object for the Prince of Wales in London. This is intended for the Prince in Rome.

“It would be treasonous to suggest that Charles Edward Stuart was the Prince of Wales at that time.

“It is highly symbolic item. It is for a Stuart Jacobite Prince - a monarch in waiting.”

Elements of the Order of the Thistle, the premier order of chivalry in Scotland, has been “chased” around the lid and the rim.

The title was instituted by James VII, the grandfather of Bonnie Prince Charlie.

Both Charles and his brother, Henry Benedict, were made Knights of the Thistle as infants with leading Jacobite supporters also given the honour.

The canteen also features a figure of St Andrew surrounded by ‘Nemo Me Impune Lacesset’ - the motto of the Order of the Thistle.

Mr Forsyth added: “It is also a sumptuous and beautiful object and shows the standards of craftsmanship in Edinburgh at the time.

“It would have been made for the hunt, Charles was a keen huntsman. And of course, no Prince leaves home without a nutmeg grater and a marrow scoop.”

Charles received the canteen at a time of “material exchange of loyalty” between the Stuarts and their supporters, Mr Forsyth said.

Tokens of support were routinely sent to Rome, including a sword and targue - a shield with stretched leopard skin on the back - that was gifted by the Duke of Perth to Charles and his brother, Henry Benedict, also around 1740.

The symbolic items, which were recovered after Culloden, are also on show at the Edinburgh exhibition.

However, people such as Ebenezer Oliphant and those who commissioned such items were at risk if these gifts were recovered.

Mr Forsyth said: “There would have been a network to get these things out to Rome. You would have been very careful who you would deal with and who you would commission.

He added: “There were laws around supporting the exiled Stuarts. Even the Toast Across the Water which used glasses carrying Stuart iconography was illegal, certainly around the mid 1740s.”

The canteen was retrieved from a baggage train following the Battle of Culloden in April 1746.

Its significance did not go unnoticed by the Hanoverians.

In a major indication of the canteen’s importance, it was given to Earl of Albemarle, George Keppel the aide-de-campe of the Duke of Cumberland.

“Keppel got the canteen but he was also given the really important task of taking news of the defeat of the Jacobites to George II in London.

“The Hanoverians too realised the importance of this stunning and significant object.”

The canteen remained in Keppel’s family until 1963. It was acquired by the Museum in 1984, after a successful public fundraising campaign which stopped it being sold abroad.

For more information on the Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobites trail, and for your chance to win a Jacobite Journey in Scotland, go to: