ONE of the great problems for Prince Charles Edward Stuart before and during the Jacobite Rising of 1745-46 was that he and his father – known to Jacobites as King James VIII and III but to history as the Old Pretender – were both Roman Catholics.

I have written before about how this United Kingdom is an institutionally sectarian state as decreed by the Act of Union of 1707 with its infamous Article II: “That all Papists and persons marrying Papists shall be excluded from and for ever incapable to inherit possess or enjoy the Imperial Crown of Great Britain and the Dominions thereunto belonging or any part thereof.”

The disqualification of a person from the throne or succession to the monarchy because they marry a Catholic was removed from statute by the Succession to the Crown Act 2013. That was a new rule which was much less remarked at the time than the legislation confirming that absolute primogeniture would govern succession rather than male primogeniture, ie females woudn’t be automatically flung behind their younger brothers in line to the throne. The Act of Union was not written in stone and has been altered when it suits the Crown and whichever powers-that-were in Westminster – the 2013 Succession Act proves that point. And if bits of the Act can be torn up, why not the whole thing?

Meanwhile, if Prince Charles doesn’t want to succeed his mother, he can pop along to the local Catholic Church and get himself baptised, as Catholics are still banned from the throne.

The 45 is sometimes portrayed as Catholic Charles versus Protestant Hanoverians, but the fact is that the great majority of the Jacobites who took part in the Rising were Protestants, with a goodly number of them Episcopalians from the north-east of Scotland.

Charles himself proclaimed religious tolerance. Acting in his capacity as regent for his father, in May 1745, he made the Declaration of Paris. It contains this section.

“His Majesty being fully resolved to maintain the Church of England, as by law established, and likewise the Protestant churches of Scotland and Ireland, conformable to the laws of each respective Kingdom; together with a toleration to all Protestant Dissenters; he being utterly averse to all persecution and oppression whatsoever, particularly on account of conscience and religion. And we ourselves being perfectly convinced of the reasonableness and equity of the same principles; do, in consequence hereof, further promise and declare, that all His Majesty’s subjects, shall be by him and us maintained in the full Enjoyment and Possession of all their rights, privileges, and immunities, and especially of all churches, universities, colleges and schools.”

It was bold stuff, effectively declaring that the United Kingdom would no longer be a Protestant supremacy but a unique place of religious tolerance if the Old Pretender could be restored to the throne.

Charles showed his own tolerance, too, when the principal church service he attended before the march to Edinburgh later in 1745 was held in an Episcopalian church according to that church’s rites.

READ MORE: How Bonnie Prince Charlie escaped to France after Culloden

There is no doubt that fear of a Roman Catholic monarchy was a driving force for the Hanoverian government and its Whig politicians. They had long memories and knew what James VII and II had done – promoting his Catholic family and friends at the expense of Protestants. The obvious conclusion to them was that James VIII and III and his son the Bonnie Prince would do exactly the same.

Charles in particular has come down to us as something of a Catholic martyr. He was born in Rome and died there, his family were aided by the Pope, and his brother was a Catholic Cardinal, Henry Benedict, who had Charles interred in his own cathedral in Frascati, south of Rome, when the far-from Bonnie Prince – he had taken to drink which ravaged his looks – died in 1788 at the age of 68. Both brothers and their father were later re-interred in St Peter’s Basilica in Rome.

Yet there is one episode in the life of Charles Edward Stuart that a lot of Jacobites wish had never happened, and which I believe shows his real intention was to grab power at any price – even that of his supposed faith.

As we saw last week, Prince Charles escaped from Scotland to France in September 1746, landing in Brittany and going to Paris to be met as a “hero and philosopher” by the French King Louis XV. But the Rising having failed, and with peace being sought with the British, France no longer had any need of Charles and the military diversions he could provide.

IT was another kind of diversion that Charles got involved in, becoming the darling of Parisian society and taking mistresses, but all the time manoeuvring for another assault on the Hanoverian government of George II.

When his brother Henry took his Cardinal’s hat in Rome in 1747, Charles was furious, because part of his plan for another Rising was to play down his family’s Catholicism to encourage Sottish Episcopalians and Anglicans to declare their Jacobitism and rise against the Government.

The 1748 Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle ended the war of the Austrian Succession, made peace between Britain and France, and left James Stuart and his son in limbo. Charles issued a ringing declaration: “We regard, and will always regard, as null, void and of no effect everything that maybe statuted or stipulated which may tend to the acknowledgement of any other person whatsoever as Sovereign of the Kingdom of Great Britain besides the person of the most high and most excellent Prince James the Third, our most honoured Lord and father, and in default of him the person of the nearest heir agreeably to the fundamental laws of Great Britain.”

So even two years after the disaster at Culloden, Charles was still in denial, and two years after that came one of the most extraordinary episodes in the life of the Bonnie Prince. Having been expelled from Paris in late 1748, he went to Avignon but it was not long before the British Government were demanding that he be forced into exile alongside his father in Rome – the Papal states being the only place in Europe that could accept him.

Charles was having none of that, however, and in a daring and possibly quite mad adventure, the Bonnie Prince decided in September 1750 to visit the one place where he could possibly be incognito yet also intrigue for another Jacobite Rising – the vast city of London.

Remember this was a personally courageous man who had always stayed one step ahead of his pursuers in the flight after Culloden, and who was a master of disguise – though “nurse” Betty Burke was possibly a step too far – and who was not known facially to all but a very small minority of the aristocracy who largely controlled life in England in 1750. It may seem implausible in our age of CCTV, but Charles really did visit London and investigated whether a new Jacobite rising was possible.

WE know this fantastic feat happened because Charles himself and several other witnesses gave their accounts of his visit to the enemy’s heartland. According to the best biography of the prince, Charles Edward Stuart, The Life and Times of Bonnie Prince Charlie, by the masterful David Daiches, no less a personage than King Gustavus III of Sweden was given a first-person account of the visit by Charles himself.

Daiches writes that he told the Swedish king: “He perambulated London with one Colonel Brett and actually inspected the defences of the Tower, deciding that a gate might be blown in with a petard.”

Charles had meetings with such Jacobite luminaries as the Duke of Beaufort and the Earl of Westmorland, but after five days his friends encouraged him to leave for the Continent, so fearful were they of his arrest. He offered to lead a Rising of 4000 men, though how that was to happen remained undeveloped.

In a show of how committed he still was to regaining the throne for his family, Charles also went to a church in the Strand and was formally admitted to the Church of England. He wrote several years later of his “conversion” to Protestantism: “In order to make my renunciation of the Church of Rome the most authentic and less liable afterwards to malicious interpretations, I went to London in the year 1750; and in that capital did then make a solemn abjuration of the Romish religion and did embrace that of the Church of England as by law established and the 39 articles in which I hope to live and die.”

All that seems to have done was to annoy his Catholic Jacobite supporters and his family, and we can be pretty certain that no gathering of English Jacobites to discuss a rising took place in that year, apart from the few that met Charles in London. The prince returned to the Continent and a strange existence, going from city to city sustained by money from the French king designed to keep Charles from causing trouble.

What followed, however, was very intriguing. Did Charles inspire in London the so-called Elibank Plot which was the last serious attempt to put a Stuart back on the throne?

In 1751, an obscure member of Charles’s inner circle of Jacobite friends and acquaintances, Alexander Murray of Elibank, became famous overnight when he supported a candidate opposed to the Government in a Parliamentary election. He was accused of inspiring mob violence and was sent to prison by the House of Commons for refusing to kneel to receive his sentence, famously saying “Sir, I beg to be excused; I never kneel but to God”.

Murray was released a few months later and was greeted by a large crowd carrying a banner which said “Murray and Liberty.” Unbeknown to that crowd and his political opponents, Murray was in touch with Prince Charles and was already plotting with fellow Jacobites to bring down the House of Hanover. How much of it Charles knew about it is not recorded, but the Elibank Plot, as it became known, was simple and, quite frankly, completely unworkable. The idea was that a group of heavily armed men – anywhere between 60 and 300 – would storm whichever royal residence George II was then living in and kidnap the royal family, swiftly transferring them to a boat moored on the Thames from where they would be taken to France. The problem with that scenario was that the French didn’t want any kidnapped royals on their territory, so Murray suggested that the royal family simply be assassinated. It was Prince Charles himself who allegedly made it clear that no royal was to be harmed, and the Elibank Plot began to disintegrate. The few remaining senior Jacobites were unaware that their ranks had been penetrated by a spy, probably Alastair Ruadh Macdonell of Glengarry, and on March 23, 1753, the whole plot fell apart when one of its main arrangers, Dr Archibald Cameron, was arrested. He was tried for treason and George II gave him clemency – the last Jacobite to be executed was allowed to be simply hanged and not drawn or quartered.

So ended the last real attempt to threaten the House of Hanover by the Jacobites, but yet again the Union had been shown to be anything but robust.