Charles Edward Stuart, better known as Bonnie Prince Charlie, the man who in life was hailed by his Jacobite followers as the Young Pretender and disguised himself as an Irish maid to escape the clutches of his foes is the victim of mistaken identity.
The painting, by Maurice Quentin de La Tour, has hung in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery since it was bought for £22,000 in 1994.
Now a leading expert believes the pastel might be Prince Henry Benedict instead of Charles Edward Stuart.
Though Charles Stuart has a special place in the pantheon of Scottish heroes he was in fact born in Italy. As the grandson of James II and VII he was considered the Catholic dynasty’s best shot at retaking the throne after being routed by the Protestant forces of William Orange in 1688. Charles landed in Scotland in 1745 where he enjoyed quick victories before marching on England – an adventure that suddenly stalled at Derby. Charles led his forces to slaughter at Cullodon before making the much celebrated escape across the sea to Skye (dressed as the Irish maid) and from there to a continental exile marked by heavy drinking and numerous affairs.
Following a two-year wrangle over the armour-clad subject of the portrait by French artist Maurice Quentin la Tour, the Edinburgh gallery conceded that it was most likely not the romantic hero of the Tudor claim after all.
Instead, it is believed the pastel is in fact of Charles’ younger brother Henry Benedict who was a Duke and Cardinal of York.
The mix-up is particularly embarrassing because the image has become something of an icon of Scottish romantic sentiment, gracing the cover and pages of a number of important books on the prince as well as the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.
A scent bottle, 1753, showing the lost portrait of Prince Charles Stuart