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This edited article about Jacobite treasure originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 740 published on 20 March 1976.
The legends around Bonnie Prince Charlie are legion. Some of them have been highly romanticised by time, but nearly all of them are rooted in fact. Certainly this applies to the disappearance of the 35,000 gold louis sent by the French to aid his cause.
The story of the missing gold louis is a typical example of the bad luck which constantly dogged this romantic but ill-fated figure. What is more to the point of the modern treasure hunter, however, is whether or not they are still in existence, buried on the banks of some Scottish loch. The evidence, such as it is, would seem to indicate that some of them are.
The gold louis arrived in this country shortly after the Prince had seen the clans break and run before the troops of the Duke of Cumberland at Culloden Moor. Advised to flee, the Prince and his followers immediately around him broke away from the battle-field and rode off furiously in the direction of the coast.
Reaching the sea on an April morning in 1746, the Prince endeavoured to find a ship willing to take him to France. For some reason which has not been explained, he made no effort to contact any of the French vessels which were reported to be lying off the coast, ready for just such an emergency. A week later, he fled to the Isles.
Most of the other leaders of the uprising either went into hiding, or sought, as the Prince had done, a ship in which to leave the country. The others wanted to make a defiant stand against the Duke of Cumberland who had now advanced into the West Highlands. It was at this point they learned the cheering news that two French privateers had arrived in a sea inlet in the sound of Arisaig, in West Inverness-shire, bringing with them a hold full of ball and powder and a sum of 35,000 gold louis for Prince Charlie.
Unfortunately, it was at this moment that three Hanoverian warships were sighted. The French hurriedly unloaded their cargo and then sailed out to do battle. After severely damaging one of the Hanoverian ships, they chased the others out to sea for some miles before sailing for home.
Meanwhile, the clansmen had reloaded the gold into six small casks for convenience, and were now preparing to join the Prince in the Isles. It was at this point that it was discovered that one of the casks had been stolen. Two clansmen were accused, court-martialled and were about to be executed, when an Irish officer who was with them, confessed to the crime to a priest. This did not prevent him, however, from immediately bolting with some of the gold louis.
After this disaster, it was decided to divide the gold, which was then taken to several places and hidden. Joining forces again, the clansmen held a council and came to the conclusion that they were now ready to go into battle again. Five clans were ready, and they now had plenty of ammunition, thanks to the French. At this point, however, the English militia arrived without any warning, and the clansmen rapidly took to the hills. It was virtually the end of any organised resistance.
Some time later, the Jacobite General, Lord George Murray, who had tried to keep the flames of rebellion going after Culloden, was eventually arrested at his home at Broughton in Peeblesshire. After the information which had been supplied to them by a spy within the ranks of the clansmen, the English had high hopes of finding most of the gold louis in Murray’s possession. But on his arrest, they found only a mere ninety guineas. What then had happened to the golden louis?
It was learned later from the same source that, in actual fact, Murray and three other clan chieftains had buried some of the gold at the lower end of Loch Arkaig, but what happened to it and the rest of the money remains a mystery to this day.
Lord Murray was questioned in Edinburgh Castle, but refused to give his inquisitor any information. Another clansman, Andrew Fletcher, who became a prisoner in the Tower of London, was given the choice of death or of turning King’s Evidence and revealing the hiding-place of the gold. He was finally persuaded to tell them the secret, but upon digging on the spot where he claimed the money was buried, all the English succeeded in unearthing was a freshly buried corpse.
From the unflagging efforts of the English spy, the English learned that some of the gold had been removed from its hiding-place, but it was passed from hand to hand so quickly that each time the English agents arrived on the scene, it had been moved on to another place. It was also noted that some of the Prince’s followers had ample funds at a time when their fortunes were at their lowest ebb, which would seem to indicate they had been dipping their hands into the treasure.
But it is equally certain that much of it remained untouched – if only for the reason that while Bonnie Prince Charlie was in exile, one of his remaining faithful followers made a trip from France to Scotland in a last attempt to dig up the gold. For his pains he was immediately arrested and executed.
It would therefore seem fairly certain that the gold is still buried somewhere around the shores of Arkaig, and possibly elsewhere.