How Bonnie Prince Charlie looked in his prime: Death masks reveal the face of the Jacobite hero


The face of Bonnie Prince Charlie, the leader of the Jacobite uprising in 1745, has been recreated using death masks that show how he would have looked in his prime. The prince, who was known for his good looks and charisma, has fascinated generations of history lovers and inspired the popular TV show Outlander. A team of researchers at the University of Dundee’s Centre for Anatomy and Human Identification have produced what is said to be the most lifelike replica of the prince’s face, using state-of-the-art software and 3D models.

The death masks of the prince

Death masks are casts taken from the face of a deceased person, usually a notable figure, to preserve their likeness for posterity. They were often used as references for portraits or sculptures, or as mementos for family and friends. The death masks of Bonnie Prince Charlie were made after he died at the age of 67 in Rome in 1788, following a stroke. He had spent most of his life in exile after his failed attempt to restore his father, James Francis Edward Stuart, to the British throne.

How Bonnie Prince Charlie looked in his prime: Death masks reveal the face of the Jacobite hero
How Bonnie Prince Charlie looked in his prime: Death masks reveal the face of the Jacobite hero

The researchers examined copies of the masks, which are kept at Inverness Museum and Art Gallery and The Hunterian at the University of Glasgow. They took hundreds of photographs from different angles and used photogrammetry software to create a 3D model of the prince’s face. They then used another software to de-age the prince and remove the effects of his stroke, which had caused facial asymmetry and drooping.

The face of the young prince

The result is a stunning image of how Bonnie Prince Charlie may have looked when he was 24 years old, at the time of the Jacobite rising. The image shows him with blond ringlets, blue eyes, fair skin, and a prominent nose. He is wearing a white shirt with lace cuffs and collar, typical of the fashion of the 18th century. The image also reveals some details that are not visible in the death masks, such as his eyebrows, eyelashes, and lips.

Barbora Veselá, a master’s student who initiated the project, said: “I wanted to create an image of what he would have looked like during the Jacobite rising. There are death masks of Bonnie Prince Charlie that are accessible, while some are in private collections. We also know that he suffered a stroke before he died, so that made the process of age regression even more interesting to me.”

The legacy of the prince

Bonnie Prince Charlie is one of the most romanticised figures in Scottish history. He was born in Rome in 1720, as the grandson of King James II of England and Scotland, who had been deposed in 1688 by William of Orange. He grew up with the hope of restoring his father to the throne, which was then occupied by George II of Hanover.

In 1745, he landed in Scotland with a small force of supporters and raised an army of Highlanders loyal to his cause. He won several battles against the British government forces and marched as far as Derby in England, hoping to spark a general uprising. However, he faced opposition from many Scots who preferred the Hanoverian dynasty or feared reprisals from London. He was also outnumbered and outgunned by the British army, led by his cousin, William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland.

His campaign ended in defeat at the Battle of Culloden in April 1746, where more than a thousand Jacobites were killed or wounded. He escaped capture with the help of loyal followers, including Flora MacDonald, who disguised him as her maid and helped him cross to Skye. He spent five months on the run before fleeing to France and later to Italy. He never gave up his claim to the throne, but he became increasingly disillusioned and bitter. He married Princess Louise of Stolberg-Gedern in 1772, but they separated after he accused her of infidelity. He died without legitimate children and was buried next to his father and brother in St Peter’s Basilica in Rome.

His story has been immortalised in many books, songs, poems, paintings, and films. He is also a popular character in Outlander, a historical drama series based on the novels by Diana Gabaldon. In the show, he is portrayed by Scottish actor Andrew Gower.

The new image of Bonnie Prince Charlie is part of a wider project by Veselá and her supervisor Dr Caroline Wilkinson, who is an expert in facial reconstruction and forensic art. They aim to create more images of historical figures using death masks and other sources.


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