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Dunkeld Cathedral is one of the most impressive ruins in Scotland. Behind it frown dark, tree-shrouded crags. In front, a verdant meadow wends down to the River Tay. The County of Perthshire is an outstandingly beautiful part of Scotland ever so gently to the south of an imaginary line which separates Lowland and Highland Scotland.
Dunkeld's ancient Cathedral Kirk of St. Columba adds its own special atmosphere, like a jewel in a rich setting. Dunkeld is among the great religious shrines of Scotland. For a time, its Abbot was head of the Pictish Church and guardian of the sacred relics of St. Columba. These comprised the venerated saint's bones, his books, staff and stone pillow.
During the Reformation, the Catholic clergy spirited away what remained of the relics to Ireland, to save them from destruction. On top of an elaborate stone sarcophagus lies the effigy of a knight in armour, his feet resting on a lion. This is the tomb of Alexander, Earl of Buchan, younger brother of King Robert III, better known as 'The Wolf of Badenoch'. Among his terrible deeds was the destruction of Elgin Cathedral, but, although excommunicated by the Church, he received absolution before his death in 1394 and was given Christian burial at Dunkeld. Reposing within the Cathedral nave is Colonel Cleland, late Chieftain of the Cameronians, killed defending Dunkeld against the Jacobites after the Battle of Killiecrankie in 1689. The Jacobites were repulsed, but the town was burned in the struggle, only three houses survived.
Most visitors pause to examine these two very different tombs; but few spare so much as a glance for a third gravestone nearby which, despite its modest appearance conceals a stranger, yet more enigmatically poignant story. It is a flat stone of pink marble, under the most westerly arch bounding the ruined nave from its south able, a mysterious inscription, rather faded, reads thus - SACRED TO THE MEMORY OF CHARLES EDWARD STUART, General, The Count Roehenstart. WHO DIED AT DUNKELD ON THE 28 TH OCTOBER 1854 AGED 73 YEARS SIC TRANSIT GLORIA MUNDI Occasionally a stranger, more observant than most, will stop and wrinkle his brow over this chiselled legend. Who was Charles Edward Stuart. General, the Count Roehenstart? Was he some distinguished Scottish Lairdie?
Why did he bear the most famous name in Scotland, a name garnering loyal support even into the present day? Was this soul in repose simply some adventurer or eccentric who proclaimed from the grave kinship tae The Bonnie Moorhen, Prince Charlie? The true explanation is more curious than any speculation. At the ides of October 1854, the weekly stagecoach from Inverness to Edinburgh met with a serious accident just outside the Clachan of Inver, about a mile south-west of Dunkeld.
A wheel came off and the coach overturned, so that a party of gentlemen travelling as outside passengers on the roof were thrown off, receiving various degrees of injury. The accident caused a stir in the Clachan of Inver, so that the people rushed from their cottages to see what had happened. The women of the village did what they could to tend to the injured passengers. The most seriously injured was a man aged about seventy, small in stature, with grey hair, blue eyes and of ruddy complexion to his oval-shaped face. He was carried to the Atholl Arms Hotel at Dunkeld and even in his distressed and much pained condition everyone was struck by his charm and beautiful manners. This air of distinction was explained when the local people learned that the injured traveller was a nobleman named The Count Roehenstart, who had been returning from Inverness with some friends, after visiting His Grace, the Duke of Atholl at Blair Castle.
The satisfaction that the good folk of Inver felt at having the dullness of their routine interrupted not only by a stagecoach accident, but by the dramatic appearance in their midst of a noble stranger, was soon increased by an act of generosity on the part of the invalid. Over the next few days, Count Roehenstart showed signs of recovery and one of his first acts was to send, from his sick-bed in the Atholl Arms Hotel, a present of some money to the kindly women of Inver who had cared for him and his fellow wayfarers. It was warmly appreciated that he should have taken the trouble to show his gratitude so promptly while still seriously ill. But soon the whole neighbourhood was agog with more exciting gossip about the Count, a rumour that defied belief and yet seemed to be well-founded. Whether through a remark made by the sick man, or something said by his travelling companions, a whisper spread abroad that Count Roehenstart was none other than the grandson of Bonnie Prince Charlie - Prince Charles Edward Stuart, the Young pretender to the British throne and for whom the men of Atholl had raised to arms a century before. Even while the rumour was being hotly debated, fate gave a more tragic turn to events.
The Count, who had seemed for several days to be on the road to full recovery, collapsed and died on Saturday, 28 th October 1854. He was laid to rest in the ruined nave of Dunkeld Cathedral, close to the Wolf of Badenoch, who had disgraced the Stuart dynasty, and Colonel Cleland, who had helped to bring it down. His friends had a gravestone inscribed with his name and title. But the poor women of Inver paid him a more moving tribute; with the money he had sent them, they bought ribbons made from Royal Stuart tartan which they wore for long afterwards, in proud testimony that they had done some small service to the last of the Stuarts at the end of his life.
Were they right to believe so? It seems that they were. The history of Roehenstart's life, though obscure and incomplete, supports the claim that he was indeed Bonnie Prince Charlie's grandson, even if doubly illegitimate. As may be recalled, Prince Charles had a natural daughter by Clementina Walkinshaw, called Charlotte, whom he later created Duchess of Albany, remembered sae fondly by poet Burns in his epistle, 'Bonnie Lass of Albanie'.
Charlotte, in turn, had an illicit love affair with a dissolute French aristocrat who was also nominally a churchman, Prince Ferdinand de Rohan, Archbishop of Cambrai. By him she had three children: two daughters called Age and Zemire, then finally a son, Charles Edward, born around 1784 and named after his illustrious grandfather. The name Roehenstart was a crude combination of Rohan and Stuart. What happened to Count Roehenstart's sisters is uncertain.
He himself led a wandering existence all his life, travelling to many parts of the world, including Russia and America. The obscurity surrounding his origins was due partly to the upheaval caused throughout Europe by the French Revolution, partly by the scandal of his illegitimate birth. Prince Charlie's brother, Cardinal York, lived until 1807, and the existence of a great-nephew who was the natural son of an archbishop would have been very painful to him. A certain secrecy surrounded Roehenstart. He was married twice. Firstly to an Italian lady of noble birth, and after her death to an Englishwoman of no societal consequence.
Both marriages were without issue. Lady Bute, who knew him, noted his resemblance to Clementina Walkinshaw, his grandmother. Although he probably saw some military service, he was not a general, despite the misleading use of the military title on his tombstone. So, Charles Edward Stuart, The Count Roehenstart, was truly the last of his race. Little more than a century before, his grandfather, Bonnie Prince Charlie, had marched triumphantly through Dunkeld at the head of the conquerors of Johnny Copes army at Prestonpans. Now, on the road, as he thought, to a throne.
He passed through again a few months later, on his way to brutal ignominious defeat at Culloden. Charles Edward Stuart. General, the Count Roehenstart was not destined to take part in such great events and the only public demonstration he ever inspired were the Royal tartan ribbons worn by the kindly women of Inver. Yet, this was a memorial befitting in its way, for the mouldering bones beneath the gravestone in the nave of Dunkeld is the last Royal Stuart, Scotland will ever know. As the Latin inscription on that pink marble stone proclaims Sic Transit Gloria Mundi Thus passes away earthly glory.
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