Museum of the American Revolution
Revisiting Flora MacDonald’s fame with new research on her family history, memory in popular culture, shifting social status, and Presbyterian values, author Flora Fraser’s new biography, Flora Macdonald: “Pretty Young Rebel”: Her Life and Story, presents what was legendary — and revolutionary — about MacDonald’s everyday life on both sides of the Atlantic. Fraser asks, what did she, a Jacobite heroine, have to do with the American Revolution?
The Wall Street Journal
“In “Flora Mcdonald: ‘Pretty Young Rebel,’ “ the skillful historian Flora Fraser has produced a detailed, dynamic account of her namesake’s colorful cameo role. It will hold surprises for anyone apart from those already utterly enveloped in the heathery Highland mists of this story. How exactly did Flora Macdonald seal her place in history (so much, the author notes, that her parents, the historian Lady Antonia Fraser and the late Hugh Fraser, named her after the 18th-century heroine) beyond the 15 minutes she might have been allotted?
In Ms. Fraser’s hands, myth becomes thrilling reality. The dramatic flight itself, in the boat that flew “over the sea to Skye,” is one moment in an episode that unfolds as an ensemble piece….
Ms. Fraser has done a remarkable job of explaining the glamour of this fascinating figure without diminishing it.”
Review of Pretty Young Rebel – Catherine Ostler, The Wall Street Journal, 20 January 2023
The New York Times
“Last year marked the 300th anniversary of the birth of Flora Macdonald, the highland heroine who in 1746 helped Prince Charles Edward Stuart (“Bonnie Prince Charlie”) to escape British forces in an open boat “over the sea to Skye,” following the tragic defeat of the Jacobite army at Culloden, Scotland — and the end of the exiled House of Stuarts’ efforts to restore the family to the British throne.
For more than two and a half centuries Flora’s story has captured the popular imagination in novels, poems, songs and films, much of the retelling distorted to satisfy the public’s appetite for romance. In the process the real Flora Macdonald has been buried under myths and half-truths that reflect the enduring trope of a tenderhearted young woman who shows mettle in the face of danger. In “Flora Macdonald: ‘Pretty Young Rebel’: Her Life and Story,” her well-researched and enthusiastic biography, Flora Fraser recounts Macdonald’s life based on facts culled from published and archival sources on both sides of the Atlantic.”
Review of Pretty Young Rebel – Julie Flavell, The New York Times, 10 January 2023
“In this well-researched biography of the Scotswoman who helped save the Stuart claimant to the British throne, Fraser (The Washingtons: George and Martha) provides a distinctive portrait that appreciates myths as well as facts. Flora Macdonald (1722–90) is a heroine in Scottish lore for whom there was much romantic conjecture through paintings, song, and literature. Her claim to fame was helping the “Young Pretender” Bonnie Prince Charlie to escape during the 1746 Jacobite uprising. Dressed in women’s clothes and portrayed as her servant, he indeed escaped but lived in exile in France. Macdonald was arrested but avoided long imprisonment and became a mother of seven. In 1774, much of the family moved to North Carolina due to debts. Becoming indigent in the U.S, in part owing to their loyalty to the Crown, she returned to London in 1779 in ill health. Due to a resurgence of her previous fame, the Prince of Wales gave her a pension to live out her days in humble circumstances.
VERDICT Fraser consults primary sources, including the Royal Archives of Windsor, to outline the true course of Macdonald’s life. Her personality shines through, which helps the reader to understand her popularity and the artistic sentiment she inspired across generations. A worthwhile contribution for any historical biography collection.”
Review of Pretty Young Rebel – Library Journal, 1 November 2022
“A distinguished historical biographer tells the “stranger than…Jacobite fiction” story of a Scottish national hero. Named after Flora MacDonald (1722-1790) by her historian mother and politician father, Fraser grew up on a Scottish island once inhabited by brothers claiming descent from Charles, the Stuart prince who tried to regain the British throne from George II. Yet it wasn’t until well into her career as a writer that Fraser realized her namesake had lived a far more complex life than her legend had granted. Most histories focus on the role MacDonald, a “Highland gentlewoman” sympathetic to Charles’ plight, played in saving his life after the attempt to overthrow George II. In disguise, Charles evaded British government troops until he was able to secure a passage to France. Held prisoner for a time on a British ship, MacDonald became a celebrity. Fame brought her into contact with wealthy English nobles like Lady Primrose who were interested in a Stuart restoration; many of them became MacDonald’s patrons. While Fraser examines in detail this period in MacDonald’s life, she also explores the less-discussed years after her marriage to the man who inadvertently brought financial ruin to her family. Seeking a way out of poverty, MacDonald and her husband immigrated to North Carolina. There, her life took an unexpected turn when her husband and all four of their sons became Loyalist soldiers in the Revolutionary War. Fraser’s book, which she intended in part as a study on “the nature of loyalism as a function of emigration,” will appeal primarily to Scottish history buffs and lovers of historical biographies. Despite its limited audience reach, the narrative is an eloquent addition to the scholarship on a much celebrated—but not fully considered—life of a beloved historical figure. A thoughtfully rendered portrait.”
Review of Pretty Young Rebel – Kirkus Reviews, USA, October 2022
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.
Review of Pretty Young Rebel – Publishers Weekly (USA), 7 September 2022