Kenneth Hite (princeofcairo) wrote,
Kenneth Hite

[Alternate Mondays] Bonnie King Charlie

Originally, I was going to post something here today along the lines of "No, I meant alternate Mondays. Come back next Monday." And we would have all shared a good laugh.

But over the weekend, I talked mollpeartree into a walk down to Salonica, like we used to do when we were young and free and wild and so forth. Which is located conveniently across from Powell's (the original) Used Books. Where I found a copy of Prince Charlie's Bluff in the Free Book Box, which kind of implies that Our Benevolent Lord, Thoth-Dionysos, wants me to write one of these this week. Because it's an alternate history novel.

And what an alternate history it is! Montcalm wins the Battle of the Plains of Abraham in 1759 when the cavalry under Bougainville arrives three hours earlier than in our history. The perfidious Wolfe sails off and leaves his Scots Highlanders in French prison, on the grounds that keeping Scots Highlanders under arms a dozen years after the Rising of '45 is just asking for it. The French go on the rampage in North America, and the Scots give their parole and march out ... to take over Virginia for Bonnie Prince Charlie, who arrives to rule it as Regent for King James III Stuart! ZOMG! The military part of it is plausible, if not quite reasonable -- add the 78th Fraser Highlanders to the 1,000 Highland soldiers transported to Virginia after the '45, to the Irish Brigade of the French Army (for no good reason, but I learned about Sir John O'Sullivan from the book, so the research looks solid) and you have a credible force in being capable of seizing and holding Virginia in 1760, presuming the French are distracting Lord Amherst. The politics are a little less plausible, although "Colonel Washington" gets all the good lines.

The AH cleverly leaves you wanting more, ending with the coronation of King Charles III in Williamsburg, Virginia and the announcement of his queen's pregnancy. (A timeline given in the back scarily adds a death date of 1868 for King Richard IV, his queen and two heirs, implying they were killed by the Yankees -- the northern colonies become independent after the English Revolution of 1820 -- invading them after a war of atrocities perpetrated by the vile Prince Casimir, regent for said Richard.) Said queen being (set down your drinks) Madame de Pompadour, who is no fooling, described as "virginal." One can certainly feel that La Pompadour is hard done by historically without calling a woman who had a minimum of two children (and two miscarriages) "virginal." I shall not spoiler anything by saying just who tries to kill Prince Charlie on the Ides of March, 1761, but the reader will respond with a hearty "Really." (Don't worry. Colonel Washington saves his life. There is a vastly interesting monograph -- interesting to me, at least -- to be written by someone about the way George Washington is portrayed in alternate histories.)

No, this is fanfic, wish-fulfillment, lost-cause moonery. The real AH here is "what if Bonnie Prince Charlie had been worth the powder it would take to blow him out of a cannon barrel." During the '45 he had no real problems prince-wise; sure, he was an overconfident cloth-head, but that doesn't disqualify one from kinging it. (Rather the opposite.) But by 1759, he was (to put it plainly) a drunken, vainglorious, depressive. We know this not from Hanoverian propaganda (boo hiss) but because the French refused to associate their planned invasion of Scotland and England with him, after meeting the no-longer-bonnie quondam Prince. As romantic lost causes go, the Stuarts beat the heck out of the Confederacy, to be sure. But Prince Charlie's Bluff is a romantic lost cause book first, and an AH second.

That said, it's a pretty good book; the conceit of casting it as the lost diary of a Scottish officer of the 78th is pretty great, and makes the Stuart hero-worshiping seem less auctorial and more "historical." The militaria, as I mentioned, is sound and exciting. There are plenty of in-jokes for fans of the Georgian era. But the best "Stuart victory" is still Joan Aiken's Wolves of Willoughby Chase sequence, which wisely keeps the Stuarts off-stage like good fanfic should with the so-dreamy Edward Cullen. I mean, Charles Edward Stuart.
Tags: alternate history, america
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