cover image Flora Macdonald: “Pretty Young Rebel”: Her Life and Story

Flora Macdonald: “Pretty Young Rebel”: Her Life and Story

Flora Fraser. Knopf, $30 (288p) ISBN 978-0-451-49438-2

Historian Fraser (The Washingtons) explores themes of national identity and cultural mythmaking in this colorful biography of her namesake, 18th-century Scottish heroine Flora Macdonald. In 1746, Prince Charles Edward Stuart, the “Pretender” to the British throne and leader of the Jacobite Rebellion, fled to the Isle of Skye disguised as Macdonald’s Irish maid. Fraser details how Macdonald’s “quiet life” as a 24-year-old “Highland gentlewoman” was “disrupted and endangered by her week’s adventure with the prince,” but spends the bulk of the narrative on the aftermath. Drawing on contemporaneous newspaper reports and eyewitness testimonies, Fraser debunks numerous myths about the incident, noting, for instance, that the popular 19th-century folk song “Flora Macdonald’s Lament” spread Flora’s fame beyond Scotland along with false rumors that she had a romantic relationship with the prince. More profoundly, Fraser documents her subject’s precarious existence in Revolutionary-era North Carolina and reveals that Macdonald retained her “vivacity of character” and “amiableness of disposition” despite losing her health and wealth. Along the way, literary representations of the events of 1746, including Walter Scott’s Waverley, are expertly analyzed. This affecting history gives due credit to the real woman at the center of a captivating legend. (Jan.)