Leanda de Lisle is entertained by the biography of an aristocratic Catholic heroine
Lady Nithsdale and the Jacobites, by Flora Maxwell Stuart,Traquair Books £12.95 FLORA MAXWELL STUART is mistress of the impossibly romantic Traquair House in Peebleshire, the oldest inhabited house in Scotland and one steeped in Jacobite history. Popular tradition has it that Bonnie Prince Charlie, grandson of James H, the last Catholic King of England, visited Traquair in the Scottish borders in 1745 during his abortive attempt to claim the throne.
The Stuart pretender exhorted his kinsman the fifth Earl of Traquair, Charles Stuart, to come out on his side with more vigour. The Earl remained calm, the
story goes, threw the keys to Traquair into the River Tweed and then pointed to Traquair's famous Bear Gates. He promised they would not be opened until the Stuarts were restored to their kingdom.
The gates have remained closed to this day, a haunting legacy of the Jacobite period which provided the inspiration for Flora Maxwell Stuart's biography of Lady Nithsdale.
Born Winifred Herbert, the daughter of the second Marquis of Powis, Lady Nithsdale lived through a turbulent time for British Catholics.
Her father spent four years in the Tower of London as a result of the anti-Catholic smears of Titus Oates during the reign of Charles II.
The family later followed James II into exile at St Germain en Laye. There Winifred met her husband William Maxwell, fourth Earl of Nithsdale, and brother in law of the fourth Earl of Traquair.
Flora Maxwell Stuart paints a vivid portrait of the Jacobite court in exile and of the difficult life the Jacobite nobility faced when they returned home, where they endured fines, harassment and even death.
Lady Nithsdale's husband was involved in the first Jacobite revolt against the Protestant Hanoverians. He was eventually captured and put in the tower like Winifred's father before him. It looked as though he faced certain death, but in a story as dramatic as any connected with Traquair, he was sprung by Winifred who risked her life to smuggle him out dressed in women's clothes. Two Jacobite peers went to the scaffold the following day.
Lady Nithsdale and the Jacobites makes an invaluable addition to any Catholic library. It brings the period to life by telling the story of the Jacobites through the life of onc remarkable woman.
Leanda de Lisle and Peter Stanford's book "The Catholics and Their Houses" which features Traquair is to be published by Harper Collins this October, and will be featured in the Catholic Herald later this month.