Two fascinating Jacobite ‘relics’ from the collection of the Manuscripts & Archives Research Library were recently loaned to the Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobites exhibition at the National Museum of Scotland. The exhibition, the first major display on this theme in over 70 years, traced the ambitions of the Stuarts and their Jacobite supporters from the defeat of James II at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690 to the downfall of Bonnie Prince Charlie at Culloden in 1746. It was a spectacular, ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ gathering of over 350 items: paintings, costumes, jewellery, documents, weapons and glassware loaned from a wide range of private and public collections such as the Musée du Louvre, V&A, Royal Collection, British Museum, as well as the Library of Trinity College Dublin.
The loan of these manuscripts sparked further research into their provenance which forms the subject of an article in the current Jan/Feb 2018 issue of History Ireland magazine by this author.
When the last member of the Stuart dynasty, Henry, Cardinal Duke of York (brother of Bonnie Prince Charlie) died in Rome in 1807, many of the state papers held in his possession were purchased by the English crown. But the more personal family documents were retained by members of the Cardinal’s circle who then sold them off, piecemeal, to eager visitors taking the grand tour. Among these was the Irish collector Blayney Townley Balfour (1799-1882) of Townley Hall near Drogheda. While in Rome in 1842, he purchased, among other miscellaneous Jacobite souvenirs, the two manuscripts loaned by Trinity to the Edinburgh exhibition.
The first of these (TCD MS 3529) is the Book of Private Devotions of James II. This is a small, confessional volume of letters, prayers and memoirs written in James’s own hand and mostly dated 1698-1700. Written around eight years on from his defeat at the Battle of the Boyne, James was then nearing the end of his life, in exile in Saint-Germain-en-Laye, where he was subsidised by Louis XIV of France. The volume provides a window into the deposed King’s psychological state and pious obsessions. At one point he proffers advice on how best to spend one’s leisure time: through prayer, meditation and good books. Also admissible as leisure-time pursuits are matters of business, (moderate) hunting, shooting, and tennis (but only for exercise and the desirable company it could afford). James particularly advises against attending balls, operas and plays but concedes that ‘if obliged at any time to go to any of them, to governe one’s [eyes] with discretion, and to let one’s thoughts be of the vanity of them’. In the Edinburgh exhibition the volume was displayed underneath two wall sconces and alongside a service book (belonging also to James, and his queen, Mary of Modena) loaned from the Royal collection. Also in the case were his spectacles case, along with a pair of contemporary spectacles, loaned by the V&A – in short, the personal effects that the exiled king would have likely kept on his bedside table.
The second manuscript on loan from Trinity (TCD MS 7574) is the marriage certificate of James II’s son, James III (the ‘Old Pretender’) and the 17-year-old Polish princess Maria Clementina Sobieska (1702-1735) – the parents of Charles Edward Stuart (Bonnie Prince Charlie). Its elaborate frontispiece bears the combined Stuart and Sobieski coats of arms above a hilltop village probably intended to represent Montefiascone, near Lake Bolsena, north of Rome – the venue for the wedding, and summer residence of the then Pope, Clement XI. That the union took place at all is nothing short of remarkable given the events that led up to it played out like a Hollywood blockbuster: the couple were pursued across Europe by the agents of King George and the Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI leading to an ambush, an imprisonment, and a jailbreak, with a maid in disguise, lost jewels, false identities, forged passports, broken axles, and the spiking of some hapless pursuers’ drinks all thrown in for good measure.
One advantage in gathering together so many items from different institutions is that manuscripts can be displayed alongside other objects related to the same event. Accordingly, the Edinburgh exhibition also featured a silver medal struck to commemorate the tumultuous rescuing of Maria Clementina Sobieska en route to her wedding, as well as portraits of the bride and groom, and a print of the marriage ceremony itself. The whole affair caused a sensation throughout Europe, but did not furnish its well-deserved fairy tale ending as the couple separated soon after their two sons were born.
International loans of manuscripts are never undertaken lightly; they incur a number of complex arrangements and advance preparation. In this case, work began in the summer of 2016 when Trinity granted the initial loan request. Library staff then liaised with their counterparts at the National Museum of Scotland as well as with exhibition designers, conservators and art handlers in negotiating loan agreements, facilities reports, insurance documentation, export licences, courier itineraries and receipts.
The two manuscripts were also photographed in their entirety by Digital Resources and assessed and treated in Conservation ahead of their Scottish journey. When the day of installation finally dawns, however, a great sense of camaraderie shared between the colleagues from all the contributing institutions makes up for the lengthy practicalities that arise from such an ambitious undertaking. Such high-profile loans to well publicised exhibitions enhance the participating institutions’ international reputation as well as offering wider public access to the display items. Other major, recent loans from the Library include the papyrus fragment PAP.F.18 to the Nero exhibition in Trier and a selection of Oscar Wilde items to an exhibition at the Petit Palais in Paris.
The Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobites exhibition ran at The National Museum of Scotland June-November 2017. https://www.nms.ac.uk/jacobites