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Vestiarium Scoticum

John Sobieski Stuart and Charles Edward Stuart.

In the late 1700s it's said that rumours were rife in Scotland regarding the exiled Young Pretender, Bonnie Prince Charlie - now no longer so young! It was alleged that in 1773 a son was born to him and his wife Princess Louisa of Stolberg Guedern.* It was feared that the baby might suffer harm at the hands of the Hanoverian government in Britain that was still apprehensive about another possible Jacobite uprising and to avoid such persecution the baby was immediately spirited out of Italy and brought up in England by a naval officer identified as John Carter Allen, later to become an Admiral.

His supposedly 'Royal' foster son "Lieutenant Thomas Allen of His Majesty's Navy" married in Egham in 1792. That union produced two sons, John Hay Allen and Charles Stuart Hay Allen who settled in Scotland around 1820 and changed the spelling of their surnames to 'Allan,' the accepted Scottish version of the name.

Whilst neither of these stylish and charming young men ever openly made claims to their royal lineage, neither did they deny the excited rumours in Scottish society. Indeed, poetry by the elder brother John, tended to give even greater credibility to the whispers that they were the legitimate grandsons of Bonnie Prince Charlie. The thought that they might still have a Jacobite 'king' amongst them, opened many influential hearts, doors and no doubt purses.

In 1822 they also let it be known that in their possession they had some ancient manuscripts giving details of many old Clan tartans, not just for the Highlanders but also for those in the Lowlands and Scottish Borders - hitherto regarded as tartan deserts! One was the Cromarty MS, another the Douay MS (from the Scots College in Douay, France) and the third was from the Monastery of St. Augustine in Cadiz, Spain. The only one that was ever seen by outsiders was the Cromarty and photographs were taken of that around 1894. Modern inspection of that throws up countless clumsy alterations and inconsistencies that tend to confirm its highly dubious provenance.

The Vestiarium Scoticum

After the enthusiasm for tartan that was rekindled and fanned by George IV's 1822 visit to Edinburgh, the brothers' claims fell on even more receptive ears and in 1842 they published a compilation of the relevant tartans called the Vestiarium Scoticum, a magnificent leather-bound tome measuring 15 inches by 11 and made available then at 10 guineas. Its editor was John Sobieski Stuart - the newly adopted 'Sobieski' being a Polish family name of the brothers' alleged grandmother, Princess Louisa. Another unspoken but unmistakable confirmation of their supposed royal lineage! He also styled himself Count d'Albanie, a title that had belonged to his alleged grandfather. He used that until his death in 1872 when it was then assumed by brother Charles.

The book's illustrator was Charles and the publication was the first to effectively illustrate tartans by using an ingenious pantograph system developed by the Smith brothers of Mauchline. That used ranks of pens to scribe coloured parallel lines onto black paper and the Smiths went on in later years to use their invention to illustrate their own much-valued book 'The Authenticated Tartans of the Clans and Families of Scotland.'

The Vestiarium was seized upon by Clan Chiefs and the weaving industry with equal fervour. Very few thought seriously to question the claims and it wasn't until almost 140 years later that an analytical study of the book was undertaken. The conclusion was that talented and ingenious though they were, the Sobieskis had perpetrated a fascinating and monumental hoax upon a gullible society and the vast majority of 'old' clan tartans came only from the fertile imagination of Charles the illustrator. The book jacket for that analytical study by D C Stewart and J C Thompson entitled Scotland's Forged Tartans says: "Despite the misgivings of a few, but potent, authorities, these tartans were eagerly accepted by a public desperate to wear its "authentic" clan tartans and a trade equally desperate to sell them and they have remained with us, highly respected and totally unauthenticated. . . . beyond all doubt, the Vestiarium and its background material are complete forgeries."

"Complete forgeries" may be a little strong because it's possible that some of the 75 tartans may have been based on historical samples that the Sobieskis came across. Modern historians tend not to judge them too harshly; they didn't seem to embark on the project for financial gain; perhaps it was to further their social position but was there any need? The rumours of their birthright had already attracted that in abundance. Another theory suggests that they themselves were the unwitting dupes of a shadowy puppet master . . .but who?

John Sobieski Stuart

Sir Walter Scott, an ardent skeptic, apparently suspected that the origin of the Vestiarium Scoticum might be " . . even behind the counter of one of the great clan-tartan warehouses which used to illuminate the principal thoroughfares of Edinburgh. The whole composition betrays a desire to multiply, the utmost, new and splendid patterns. The visible anxiety has even led the author to the singular and original expedient of assigning tartans to the great homes and tribes of the border, as well as to those of the Highlands."


Calculating imposters . . . social poseurs . . . gullible innocents . . . well-meaning dupes . . whatever they were, the impetus they imparted to the clan tartan culture came just as the new Queen and her Consort paid their first visit to Scotland. The enthusiasm of Victoria and Albert, set the Royal seal of approval on everything to do with the Highlands - including all of Scotland's 'forged tartans.'

* A possibly more factual historical note related that the marriage was by proxy on 28th March 1772, Charles was 51, his bride 18 and it is thought that he married her to qualify for a small pension. The childless marriage ended in 1780 when she left him, and Charles recognised his illegitimate daughter Clementina as his heir.

Note: The torn tartan graphic above is actually one of the tartan 'illustrations' in the Vestiarium Scoticum. It shows that the tartan was printed onto a sheet of paper by the Smith brothers' patented pantograph and then coated with a few layersof varnish and then, stuck onto the relevant page.

 

Sir Walter Scott

From www.jacobite.ca

In the 1840's two brothers began to claim publicly to be the legitimate grandsons of King .Charles III. They used the names "John Sobieski Stolberg Stuart" and "Charles Edward Stuart". The elder brother used the title "Count d'Albanie" until his death, when the younger brother adopted it. In 1 847 the brothers wrote a book Tales of the Century in which they provided certain details about their supposed ancestry.

The brothers claimed that in 1773 Queen Louise, wife of King Charles III, gave birth to a son. Out of fear that the baby would be assasinated by agents of the Elector of Hanover, the child was handed over for safe-keeping to the captain of an English frigate. In the first account by the brothers, this English captain is called O'Haleran, but later he is called Admiral Hay and Admiral Allen. The brothers claimed that their father Lieutenant Thomas Allen, R.N., was not in fact the son of Admiral John Carter Allen (as he had always been supposed), but instead was the legitimate son of King Charles III.

The story is absolutely preposterous. It requires that one believe first that King Charles III would have sent his only son away, then that neither of his parents would have had any contact with their son ever again, and finally that even when Charles died that he would not acknowledge this supposed son
The brothers presented no evidence for their claims. In spite of this they received the support of a number of members of society: the tenth Earl of Moray, the fourteenth Lord Lovat, the eighth Earl of Dumfries (called "Marquess of Bute"), Sir Thomas Dick-Lauder, and Dr. Robert Chambers.

The elder brother, John, died in 1872; the younger brother,Charles, died in 1880. John left a widow but no children. Charles left a widow, with one son and three daughters. The son, Charles Edward, married a daughter of the seventeenth Earl of Erroll (and granddaughter of the Elector Wilhelm of Hanover), but died without issue. Only one of Charles' daughters, Louisa, married, to the Austrian Eduard von Platt, by whom she had a son, Alfred Edward Charles von Platt.

Further reading:
Petrie, Charles. "The Sobieski Stuarts", Appendix I to The Jacobite Movement: The Last Phase, 1716-1807. London: Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1950.
Robb, Steven. "The Sobieski Stuart Brothers", Royal Stuart Review 2QQ3: 3-8.
"Stuart, John Sobieski Stolberg (17957-1872), and Stuart, Charles Edward (17997-1880)", Dictionary of National Biography, XIX, 104-107. Includes an extensive bibliography of older works.
Notes and Queries 157: 435-438 and 452-454.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bonnie Prince Charlie 1776


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