This summer marks many things not least of all strawberry season and the return of peep-toe sandals – but did you know that it also heralds the 330th anniversary of the Battle of Killiecrankie? Don’t worry, I didn’t either.
In fact, Killiecrankie hasn’t featured on my radar since being dragged to the iconic Soldier’s Leap – daredevil historical escape scene - as a child in matching orange outfits with my brother and sister. Those were the days.
Thank goodness then for the talented folks at Perth Museum and Art Gallery who this year are presenting ‘Jacobite Clans’ to coincide with the anniversary. It’s a major exhibition exploring the stories of the Jacobites in Perthshire with plenty of tales of warring kinsmen and of treachery, trickery and bravery alongside artefacts, paintings and some seriously swoon-worthy glassware.
If you’re in need of a recap on Jacobite history like I did, don’t panic. This elegant exhibition features beautiful boards which trace the early Jacobite uprisings in 1689 through to the legacy left by it over 60 years later.
The conflicts which raged over that time had on one side the supporters of the new king William III and his successors and on the other, those supporters of the deposed Stuart dynasty who had ruled Scotland since the 14th century.
Of course we’ve all heard of Bonnie Prince Charlie (even if we might need reminded of what it was he actually did…) and the Skye Boat Song’s as well-kent as any karaoke classic but this exhibition seeks to dig a little deeper and to unearth those lesser-known stories.
There are tales aplenty of warring kinsmen and of treachery, trickery and bravery alongside artefacts, stunning paintings and some seriously swoon-worthy glassware.
The team behind it want visitors to see the role Perthshire and its communities played in the Jacobite Wars which spilled out across the UK and they’ve accrued a fascinating selection of materials from local organisations and private individuals across the county including family heirlooms which help better tell these local stories and how they connected to a country-wide uprising.
“For a conflict that played out across the length of Scotland, England and Ireland, many of the bloodiest episodes of the Jacobite Wars took place in Perthshire,” explains Nicola Small, exhibition curator.
“A great number of local sites have Jacobite associations whether they hosted Bonnie Prince Charlie (Castle Menzies in Aberfeldy) or were besieged by Jacobites (Blair Castle).”
And what’s this curator’s favourite part of the exhibition? It’s clearly hard to choose as she whisks me from one spot to another.
There’s the Culloden Letters, 19 pieces of correspondence the contents of which will be available to read on an iPad, which chart the local story of a son heading to war without his father’s knowledge, joining Bonnie Prince Charlie on the march to Culloden and the later sad confirmation that he died in battle.
Then there’s the beautifully preserved parchment featuring signatures of dozens of Perthshire people seeking compensation following the burning of their homes and land as retreating Jacobites furious from their defeat at Sheriffmuir in 1715 torched communities across Strathearn, scorching towns like Auchterarder and Crieff to the ground.
Many of those who lost their homes were Jacobite supporters who’d chosen not to fight at Sheriffmuir and it was their comrades – those same defeated battle-weary fighters - who sought to teach them a lesson on their retreat. Which unsurprisingly, did little to shore up support for the now flagging Jacobite cause!
Alongside these gems and on loan from Edinburgh’s National Galleries Scotland for the first time ever are arguably the exhibition’s jewels in the crown – portraits of Prince Charles Edward Stuart (Bonnie Prince Charlie) and Flora Macdonald – the heroine who helped him escape “over the sea to Skye.”
What floated my boat in particular was a new installation by playwright, theatre-maker and poet Belle Jones which will accompany the exhibition – ICONS – Flora: Mother, Migrant, Survivor which seeks to tell Flora’s story over and above her encounter with Bonnie Prince Charlie.
Following creative sessions with local women, ICONS hopes to show Flora not as she was represented in history - largely through the words of men - but from a female perspective considering how she might have expressed herself in her own words.
“I’m always drawn to the stories of women, particularly those who are unheard of or underrepresented. I was aware of Flora Macdonald as the romantic heroine but it was only in more recent years that I researched her story and discovered there was so much more to her life than this," explains Belle.
"I hope to highlight themes from her life which are still relevant to today’s women such as family, migration and why we choose the sides we do during conflict,” she adds.
From those new to Jacobite history to those more seasoned historical tourists, there's something for everyone to unearth at this fascinating – and free – Jacobite Exhibition which runs until October 26.
Culture Perth and Kinross are also running a programme of Jacobite themed events, talks and workshops. Information about all events and tickets will be announced through the Culture Perth and Kinross website and organisers are sharing social media content using the hashtag #CPKjacobites.
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