Sixteen members joined Beni and Stefano at Bettoja
Nuova Nord Hotel.
When I first encountered Jacobitism during the post war years of the 1950’s, it was to a comic book, “The Beano,” that I owe my lifelong passion for Jacobite history. Further enhanced by a remarkable history master, George Douglas, who put the “meat on the bones,” my love of all things Jacobite has grown.
Following those halcyon days, I have read and researched views on all sides of the great debate of whether the Rising of 1745/6 was just a rash adventure or a genuine attempt by Charles Edward Stuart to secure the three crowns for his father James VIII/III. I have even begun a small glossary of Gaelic words and phrases, as well as collecting songs, music and numerous works of literature.
Joining The 1745 Association in 2010, I have with
many members, visited castles, houses, battlefields and other monuments to “the cause.” The great and the good of Jacobite families have regaled us with further tales of the time, the Carnegie-Arbuthnotts, Lord and Lady Airlie, Alexander Forbes, Viscount Strathallan, to name just a few. However, despite all these wonderful Gatherings, I always felt that deep down something was missing, I didn’t feel I was close to the Prince. All that changed, on May 17 2015, when 18 members gathered at The Bettoja Nuova Nord hotel in the centre of Rome that “missing link” was discovered and I felt that I had completed a full circle by arriving in that wonderful city, home of the exiled Stuart family for nearly 100 years.
The diversity of the group could not have been better illustrated when we met in the lobby prior to our first dinner together on that Sunday evening. Ranging from a Roman Catholic priest, a pathologist and all occupations in between, we had all had that unbreakable bond of being Jacobites.
The journey to Frascati was of considerable interest.
Observing the contrasting styles of architecture through the coach window certainly brought home to me the history of the city of Rome. From ancient and majestic edifices of the old Roman city, elegant 18th century buildings, contrasting sharply with ugly tenements of the last century.
As I had been fore-warned of the notorious Rome traffic its intensity came as no great surprise. I certainly would not wish to drive in the city as it was something of a free-for-all between cars, buses and an amazing number of scooters. As something of a contrast, the Italians apparently love their dogs, and breeds of all shapes and sizes could be seen walking out with their proud owners, with elegant disinterest of the chaos around them.
Frascati, of course, has many sites that are connected with the Stuarts in exile and we visited several of Jacobite interest. St. Peter’s Basilica is where Charles Edward’s heart is preserved, although the inscription on the wall reads, “entrails.” Apparently, rather a lot of the internal organs were removed and preserved separately from the rest of the body. This was all routine stuff to our pathologist. The funeral of Charles took place here in 1788, the ceremony being conducted by Charles’ brother, Cardinal Henry.
As with all the churches and cathedrals we visited during our
Gathering, it was wonderfully ornate, from both an architectural and artistic point of view, and with sufficient religious symbolism for organiser David McNaughton, himself a member of the clergy of the Church of Scotland to remark, “You certainly knew what you were here for.” On a personal level I did find it difficult to equate the opulence of these buildings with the conditions the people of the time lived in. But it is much the same in all Catholic/Orthodox religions of the Mediterranean.
Onward to the Bishop’s Palace (La Rocca) where Prince Henry resided during his time as bishop. Indeed, he made many improvements to the building, leaving his considerable influence on the palace. We were guided around by the
current Bishop of Frascati, which was an honour. Beni translated for the bishop as he showed us the various state rooms, again magnificently ornate.
Strolling from La Rocca, it was clear that the then Bishop Henry was much loved and respected by the local populace with several landmarks attributed to him, including the Church of St. Maria and the Seminary.
Boarding the coach we continued to Albano Laziale, the lakeside town where the Stuart Court
spent the hot summer months, during their exile in Rome. However, before making ensuing visits,
we had lunch in a delightful restaurant in the pretty town square.
After lunch, in what was a very convivial atmosphere, the next item on our itinerary was a visit to St. Peter’s Church where the Stuart family worshipped. Apparently, one of the most ancient churches in the region of Lazio, dating from medieval times, it is a beautiful building. A short distance away is the Palazzo Savelli,
the palace where the king and his family spent their summers. Now the Town Hall, it still retains the courtyard and staircase of Stuart times. Having received prior permission to visit the building, it is after all the seat of local government, we were allowed to explore the two floors of the palace. On the first floor there is the great hall, wonderfully preserved called Sala del Consiglio. It was noted by several members, while exiting the palace, that on one wall there was a list of political parties currently forming the council. There are 31 of them, quite a contrast to the U.K. This is also the way the national government is formed, so no small wonder then Italy has difficulty creating coalitions. But I digress.
As with most towns in Italy there are some wonderful archaeological sites. Having the expertise of a guide from the Albano Laziale museum, we viewed the remarkable almost 2000 year old Roman “fontani” (water tanks) which supplied the town. A further delight awaited us when our guide took us to the Rotunda Church which had been originally Roman baths. If you used your imagination, you could almost see the Roman citizens bathing, such was the atmosphere. Our guide’s knowledge was remarkable, as she was able to answer all our questions with alacrity, Beni again translating.
On the way back to Rome we had wonderful panoramic views of the countryside, including Lake Albano which, looking remarkably like a Scottish loch, was where the young Prince Charles went hunting, shooting, and exercising in what was to prove to be a precursor to his great adventure.
Returning to the hotel after a most fulfilling and stimulating day, we proceeded to dinner. It was at this point I had the utmost pleasure of being introduced to Professor Edward Corp and his delightful wife Elizabeth. Edward is something of a hero of mine, and I have several of his works on my bookshelves. To meet the gentleman in person was an honour. Professor Corp had not been with us at the beginning of the Gathering as he was still receiving treatment for a health problem, but would be with us the next day, giving a guided tour of further Jacobite sites in Rome and had kindly agreed to give a lecture the following night. Also introduced was Mary-Jane Cryan who was giving a lecture in the conference suite. Based on her book “Travels to Northern Tuscany and Lazio,” Mary-Jane detailed the journeys of Cardinal Henry throughout Italy,
as documented in his valet’s diary. It gave us an insight into the life of the Stuarts in exile while in Italy. I was asked to take the chair for this lecture and introduce Mary-Jane to the Gathering. A most interesting lady she left the United States and settled in Italy in 1965. On reflection I felt her lecture lacked a little “sparkle” and appeared to be somewhat rushed. My own personal view of course and many may disagree.
To complete our first full day, I feel that I must relate an anecdote of an incident that happened later. Several of us were in the Roof Top bar of the hotel, imbibing the result of the local grape, when we were informed rather brusquely by the barman, that it was now 11pm. and asked to leave. I confess, perverse as it may seem, I had a childish sense of pleasure at being thrown out of a pub at nearly 70!
The penultimate day of our trip, promised to be one of great significance, both for myself and other members who had not visited Rome previously. Boarding the bus with the summer sunshine again smiling down upon us, the atmosphere of eager anticipation prevailed.
The areas of Piazza dei Santi Apostoli and Piazza Pilotta surrounded by various streets and alleys, is where the Pallazzo del Re
(from 1719, the Stuart court occupied Palazzo del Re at the end of the Piazza di Santi Apostoli, while an Italian nobleman, marchese Muti, occupied the other building called Palazzo del Muti, on the west side of the adjacent Piazza della Pilotta…..Professor Edward Corp) is situated. The whole area is much the same as it was in the 17th century and is now a UNESCO protected site.
Following a visit to the beautiful church of Basilica dei Santi Apostoli, where the Stuart family worshipped on a daily basis and the heart of Queen Clementina is preserved, we made our way towards the Palazzo del Re
where Professor Corp joined us, he gave us great insight into the running of the palace and events that took place there, during the Stuart’s occupation of the building.
With most of the building now housing private residences, we were unfortunately unable to view the apartment of James VIII/III, however the apartment used by Queen Clementina, was up for sale. Pretending to be prospective buyers, as advised by Beni, we were shown up the grand staircase by an Estate Agent and into the vacant apartments. Unfortunately now in something of a dilapidated condition (which was most disappointing to us all) there was little of the original floors and ceiling decoration to be seen. There still remained, however, the room where Queen Clementina had given birth to Charles Edward. While the room is now divided by a central wall, this was an emotional moment for me, for I felt something of a connection with the Stuart family that had been missing previously. The hair stood up on the back of my neck as the significance of the dirty and unkempt room came home to me, a wonderful moment.
Leaving the palace, the architectural complexity of the building was exposed. Surrounded by other buildings it felt somewhat claustrophobic, with none of the open spaces one usually expects. One wing of the palace overlooks the Piazza Pilotta, which houses the Pontifical Biblical Institute. Having obtained special permission, we were allowed through the library, to view ancient frescos in the Galleria.
Boarding the bus following another good lunch, we were taken to St. Peter’s itself.
As with most buildings of significance, we had to endure a queue to get through a security section. Once inside, the magnificence of the Basilica was breath-taking. It seemed to me that that all our previous church visits were just a prelude to this moment. The Stuart monument by Canova is located down the left aisle. Visiting the crypt was for me the culmination of a life-long ambition. The Stuart Sarcophagus, containing the last mortal remains of James, Charles and Henry was visible only from a distance, as it was fenced off by railings, which was a great disappointment to us all. But it appeared that the spirit of the Stuarts was with us today, for Italian member Stefano Baccolo (Stefano also acted as guide) explained to one of the security guards who we were and that we had come over from the U.K. and asked if we could get closer to the tomb. The gentleman could not have been more accommodating and unlocked the gates and allowed us access to the area close to the sarcophagus, a rare honour indeed. It is difficult to describe my feelings at that moment, when I placed my hand on the marble tomb. Member Father Robert Murray was asked to say a prayer, and for the second time that day emotion got the better of me. Standing in the subdued light with fellow Jacobites is an experience not to be forgotten. Having seen the place of Charles’ birth and now his sarcophagus, the life of one of the most misunderstood princes had been covered in a few short hours. I now felt complete connection with the man who had held me in sway for most of my life.
While I am sure other rarities were to be seen in the Basilica, I confess my mind was not engaged, still in awe of what I had seen that day.
In the evening following dinner, the second of our lectures was held. Given by Professor Edward Corp, it was entitled “Prince Charles Edward Stuart and Scotland before the ’45.” (For a full appraisal of this fascinating lecture please read Steve Lord’s piece that will appear in the next issue of The Jacobite.)
Following the previous frantic but exciting two days, the final day of our Gathering was going to be a little more slowly paced.
We left the hotel for the ancient Roman quarter known as Trastevere, where the
convent of Santa Cecilia can be found. It was here that Queen Clementina spent several years in seclusion following a family argument regarding her status in the increasingly dysfunctional royal household. The convent itself is surrounded by large gardens and looks more like a palace than a place of sanctuary. Once inside the choir, it was very easy to imagine Queen Clementina, kneeling beside the balustrade, looking down through a screen at the church below, to take her devotions. Everything is as it was then, which makes it even more poignant. Beautiful frescos of the twelve disciples are painted on the wall on the left hand side as you enter the choir, which we greatly admired.
On leaving the convent, our next destination was the Botanical Gardens (Orto Botanico).
These gardens were much favoured by King James and Prince Charles, so that they could discuss the affairs of state, without prying eyes watching their every move. The area made an ideal location to discuss the invasion of Scotland. The gardens themselves are vast with numerous plants and flowers in bloom making a colourful spectacle.
Our final destination was to visit the oldest church in Rome the Basilica di Santa Maria. Cardinal Henry was priest of this particular church for most of his ecclesiastical life. Ironically, we were delayed by a funeral mass, which appeared to be very dignified to our mostly non-Catholic eyes.
Dinner was taken later in great conviviality, we had bonded as a group over the previous days and while many retired early, several of us paid the Roof Top bar one final visit and a few Jacobite songs were sung. I should point out, none of us were “asked to leave” at 11pm as there was a football match on the big screen!
Going our separate ways the following day, we all had abiding memories of warm sunshine, a great sense of history as well as making new friends. A truly wonderful Gathering that will live long in the memory.
Brian A. Whiting (Editor)
Our sincere thanks are due to the following people who made this venture happen; David and Muriel McNaughton for dealing with the U.K. end of things.
Benedicta Cagnone and Stefano Baccolo for doing a sterling job as guides as well as organising everything in Rome and finally to our Treasurer Steve Lord
who had the onerous task of dealing with all things financial.