Bonnie King Charlie: An Alternate History Speculation
[I haven’t done one of these for a while. I hope you like it.]
Historians disagree, savagely, over Charles Edward Stuart’s chances of taking the British Throne in 1745. Militarily speaking, the odds were massively against him. The Hanoverian Government commanded vastly greater resources, still controlled most of the forts in Scotland, and most of the pro-Jacobite families in England had been thoroughly cowed by the failure of the earlier attempt at a rising. To add to these woes, the Highlanders who made up the bulk of the Jacobite army were reluctant to march too far into England and, in any case, had significant shortfalls of everything from heavy guns to ammunition. Worst of all, there was no real prospect of French intervention.
Charles had, as I see it, only two realistic hopes of pulling anything from the Rising, apart from a great many dead Highlanders. First, he could concentrate his efforts on securing Scotland, creating an independent kingdom next to England. If he successfully crushed the loyalists and secured the forts, England would be looking at a long campaign to regain control, while the French would see their chance to ship troops into Scotland to tip the balance against England. However, this strategy would run into a number of problems. King George was not particularly popular in the Highlands, but he had his followers and supporters in the lowlands (while not all the Highlanders were prepared to follow Charlie in any case.) And besides, the Jacobite shortage of heavy guns, as mentioned above, would make it very difficult for them to take the forts and thus control over the interior lines of communication.
The second option was to push as hard as he could at London and hope, basically, for King George to lose his nerve and flee. That might not have been as improbable as it seems; if Charles had looked the certain victor, it is quite possible that many of the greater families and other powerful personages would switch sides, trying to preserve what they could in the event of a Jacobite restoration. On the other hand, London was heavily defended and trying to attack the capital could have proven a bloody disaster. But it was, I feel, Charles’s best chance for actual victory.
So Charles attacks London and wins. King George flees. Parliament, under the pressure of Jacobite guns, proclaims Charles King of Britain. (This is actually quite awkward, technically; James II is still alive. On the other hand, James was a known Catholic and Charles showed his willingness to convert at a later date in OTL, so he might have made the conversion for expediency’s sake.) Charles seems to have achieved all he wanted.
One of the problems with Charles, perhaps relating to his upbringing and treatment by the French, was that he was stubborn and as headstrong as a mule. His was a fundamentally autocratic personality. Given real power, what would he do with it? I rather doubt he would see the wisdom of compromise – he never did, unless he had no cards to play at all – and there would likely be a great many changes, score-settlings and suchlike in London. Parliament would soon come to regret, I think, that they had ever hailed him as King.
Furthermore, Charles would be torn between wanting to work with the French and hating them as thoroughly as any of his new subjects. The French had treated him poorly, after all; he might have reason to work with them, but he hated them. I suspect he would start planning to double-cross King Louis as soon as possible, given a chance. His fumbling on the continent would rival Mary Tudor for sheer incompetence, mixed with stupidity.
And then he would react badly to any hint that Parliament had power over him. His fondness for intrigue would come to life and he would start attempting to undermine parliamentarians who resisted them, or perhaps start clapping them in the tower. This would almost certainly provoke rebellion. Parliament had a huge measure of independence after the Restoration. Charles might find himself forced to rely on French troops or Highlanders to maintain order and control.
And who would he marry? Historically, Charles was no ladies man (he is supposed to have been a virgin until the Rising failed, then he had a series of affairs which all ended badly. I suspect he would have pressed for a royal marriage from the continent, which would almost certainly have meant a Catholic Princess. (No one else would fit his dignity, as he saw it.) It would only have made fears of popery stronger, although if he tried his wife in ATL like he did his OTL wife, she might get a great deal of public sympathy.
I cannot help, but feel that a Stuart Restoration would have ended badly. Charles was simply even more headstrong and unpleasant than his processor, Charles I. Even if he managed to avoid provoking a rebellion – it wasn't that long since the Glorious Revolution – and the Hanoverians didn't mount a Rising of their own, Britain would suffer badly under his rule. The greatest long-term victors might be the French, as Britain would be less intent on spreading into the New World. Or, perhaps, an America that grasped its independence earlier, from a far less kind Britain.
Charles was a romantic hero of myth. It’s probably best for us he stayed that way.