‘He is in pitiful circumstances, exacerbated no doubt by that creature O’Sullivan. What say you Titus? You have sat there all evening soberly observing him,’ asked Lady Primrose.
‘I witnessed a broken man this evening. It saddened me. He is still capable of permitting us fleeting glimpses of regal charm, albeit flickering embers of his former self and what might have been that only tantalize us as to all that unfulfilled potential. But his spirit is broken nonetheless by conspiring circumstances and he now finds solace from insincere cronies and comfort through consuming ever increasing amounts of alcohol. I saw a young man with so much energy to give only to be brought down by the weight of expectation he has carried for so long and that he is unable to relinquish unless he imbibes himself to the very edge of oblivion. I saw a prince who was once within touching distance of greatness, of inheriting everything he was brought up to believe he had a right to, only to have it maliciously wrested from his grasp. A man without meaning, a man without a role, a man who has become austere and uncaring, kicking his heels in a room where people await without any hope or expectation for a door that will never open again. The frustration he must have felt has long since left him and been replaced if not by abject misery then at the very least by overwhelming melancholy. It’s a downward spiral and it will be a challenge.’
‘A challenge?’ asked Lady Primrose.
‘Yes. I know now the real reason why you wanted me here my Lady. You need my help, is that not so?’
‘Decidedly so Titus. The prince is surrounded by bad counsel and his life is increasingly disparate in nature, altogether transient. His retinue is continually gamboling from one foreign court or salon to another, using up favours, wearing out sympathies and patience by accruing debts as we have seen this evening. He seldom forms attachments that are long lasting or beneficial to him. He has instead withdrawn into himself, becoming harsh, dissolute, profligate, scathing and contemptuous.’
‘I couldn’t help but notice that he showed an innate fondness for you earlier in the evening if you don’t mind my saying so.’ I asked.
‘We share an uncommon friendship. It is no secret to those here present that I tell you I am a close companion of someone for whom the prince has strong residual emotions,’ said Lady Primrose.
‘Then this other woman, could she be a force for good in all this? Might she help us with our reclamation of Charles Edward?’
‘She would require a sea change in the Prince’s recent habits and behaviour to occur before even considering helping us.’
‘So that is perhaps where I can be of assistance? But you need to permit me to know more of the woman who has such a hold over Charles Edward.’
‘I can vouch for the trust and discretion of my good Lord the Duke and my god father, the Earl of Westmorland. What I tell you now will go no further than the confines of this dining room. My friend nursed the prince through a fever he contracted whilst he was on campaign near Bannockburn House back in 1745. Her father was a prominent Jacobite landowner and he followed their colours unfailingly until falling at Culloden. It was as if my friend was fated to meet Charles Edward as she was given the name of the prince’s own mother at birth. Clementina. Clementina Walkinshaw. She sat with him for a week he could scarce remember and then for another he would never forget. She slept holding his hand at the bedside, ate seldom and only if she could feed him a morsel from her plate as well. It was as if she willed the fever out of him as he slowly began to fight back from the sweats and delirium until it finally dissipated.’
Lady Primrose walked over to the double doors of the dining room where we sat and opened one to check if she was being overheard by one of the prince’s contingent. When satisfied that the rest of the house had retired for the night she closed the doors once again and continued in a lower tone than previously.
‘An attachment had been formed, a bond which inspissated through time, deeper than any girlish infatuation, an unspoken devotion that each would carry on their separate journeys into their later lives. She had saved his life and had done so selflessly. He had asked her to wait for him and that one day he would send for her. They had made love in a sacred place from antiquity to seal their pact with one another. The prince’s star was still in its ascendancy and as such he could have had the pick of the affections of all the pretty maids of Scotland and elsewhere, but Clementina had pierced his heart long before he let his father’s kingdom slip from his grasp. We can allow ourselves to imagine the tokens of love they must have exchanged, the lockets of hair, the keepsakes and amulets, portable heirlooms handed down from long dead lovers. Her love stoked his recumbent desires, she had restored his vigour at a propitiously fateful juncture and he took his leave of her full of optimism on the cusp of everything his birthright and lineage entitled him to wish for. He was not to see her again for five years. In that time and in secret he would place about him the keepsakes of their love; those cherished possessions which reminded him of a better world with love at its core and her by his side on the heather clad moor. The obstacles to her, both real and imagined were now subdued and alleviated by a new companion that had usurped and numbed his emotions, subjugating his thoughts to the lowest levels of darkness and decay. Clementina had become emblematic of what might have been and as time passed between them, he convinced himself that she was now treading on the path that had been denied to him by defeat. He had shown a congenital weakness by giving in to self-pity and this demise had sloughed his outlook, dry-stoned his heart, making him bitter and resentful with every sip he took. Clementina was still light in his darkness, an ever constant source of hope when the shadows of doubt closed in around him. He wanted her now more than ever.
Her family had paid dearly for sheltering and supporting the prince. Her father and brother both lay dead and their lands and property were confiscated by the government. Clementina chose to withdraw to a convent in Flanders. She had no intention of taking religious orders, choosing instead to withdraw to a place of confinement near her prince should he have need of her. She was aware that Charles Edward was leading a perilously fugacious existence. The nunnery offered sanctuary and a respite from the steady trickle of suitors who invariably came calling back in Scotland to take advantage of her reduced circumstances. As tiresome as it must have been to fend herself off from their advances, it paled in significance when compared to the dark intents of that ogre O’Sullivan. I had in my possession the encoded letters for the prince which I safely conveyed to Clementina at Dunkirk. It was imperative that I used her as my stratagem to cloak my real design in contacting Charles Edward Stuart.
Clementina’s sister, Emelia, though estranged from her late father, was no less close to her. She had embraced the new ruling elite by way of an advantageous marriage and had risen rapidly in favour, becoming a lady-in-waiting for the Hanoverian Princess of Wales. Frederick, the Prince of Wales, was openly contemptuous of his father George II and had established an alternative court at Whitehall. This he filled with liberal free thinkers, libertines and those with Jacobite tendencies. Frederick saw an opportunity to further ignite his father’s existing antipathy for him by taking soundings and opening lines of communication with Jacobites on the continent by way of Emelia. Frederick proposed the unthinkable and he would certainly have been carted off to bedlam if his father had got wind of his ludicrous intentions. He wanted to renege his succession in favour of the restoration of the Stuarts. Emelia did contact me, knowing of my Jacobite sympathies and furnished me with a purse full of gold coins, letters of transit as well as coded dispatches from the Prince of Wales for Charles’s attention via Clementina.
I found her in good spirits at the nunnery near Dunkirk. Her mood having been lifted on hearing that Charles Edward was presently residing nearby at Liège. After an interval of two days we were visited by his courier. I took an instant dislike to O’Sullivan, sensing him to have a Janus-faced predisposition. He had an overweening opinion of himself, an arrogance that belied his position in life. Furthermore he had an unhealthy disrespect for those he knew to be his betters and wore arrogance as if it were a badge of office. I was resentful when he tore open the secret dispatches and proved to be proficient at deciphering their codes of content within before resealing them with his own embossed sealing wax. His master must trust him without qualification to allow him such freedom of scope. He was privy to matters that were of national importance and of no concern to a mere message bearer. Furthermore he was insistent that we should dine with him that evening after helping Clementina compose a letter to the prince. I could read his designs through the folly of concern for how Clementina should construct her writings. Drink loosened his tongue over dinner and much later he was incapable of much else which compelled the mother superior to permit him a bed for the night.
I thought his behaviour reprehensible at best given the sensitive nature of the documents he was instructed to deliver. I noticed that he paid Clementina more compliments and attention than was healthy to expect in polite company. More than once I had to remonstrate with her for allowing herself to get carried away in discussions that loosely involved the prince, but in reality were O’Sullivans entrée into her affections. I could see that she was impressionable and vulnerable to his rough charm so I made it my purpose to keep O’Sullivan’s arrogant inroads to her person as remote as possible were applicable. I stayed with Clementina for five days, during which time O’Sullivan had numerous occasions to call upon her delivering letters from the prince. It was pleasing to see her spirits lifted by his writing to her, but it was vexatious to watch O’Sullivan try to take advantage of her joy. I collected the response from Charles Edward that was written for the attention of Prince Frederick and took my leave of the nunnery on the morning of the sixth day. I cautioned Clementina to resist the advances of this courier, reminding her that she was promised to his master. She assured me that it was just a flirtation and Charles’s name was etched on her heart. I left her happier than she had been at any time since 1745, but I knew O’Sullivan to be the type of creature who would not desist with his attempts to woo her at the expense of his unassuming backer. I reached Dover two days later and when practicable I conveyed my communications from Charles Edward to Prince Frederick by way of Emelia. As flattered as he was, even the Stuart Prince was not deceived by Frederick’s incredulous plan and urged great caution to George’s wayward son to give up such an idea as he was certain that it would only lead to further acrimony and worse with his own father. Charles Edward’s pride would not entertain the idea of recovering his father’s kingdom by such methods which were dishonourable and full of family betrayal. In His opinion it was ‘Using the servants entrance to gain access to the house when only the front door would suffice’ My journey wasn’t wasted as it gave me the opportunity to confront the malevolent miscreant who has subsequently cast such a dark spell over Charles Stuart. It is as if O’Sullivan is unable to permit others happiness without him first getting a taste of it himself. He seeks to control and manipulate situations to secure his advantage and exploit the weaknesses in others. It is under protest that am loathe to have this scoundrel under my roof. He makes my stomach churn with all his conceit and arrogance. Gentlemen I have tried to paint this picture for you of the dark forces now combining to corrupt and destroy our rightful prince of his health and inheritance. Titus what remedy if any do you proffer to prevent his further descent into utter desperation?’