Charles Edward Stuart’s travelling canteen

About the object

© National Museums Scotland
© National Museums Scotland

A royal picnic set

This silver travelling canteen is a very fine example of eighteenth-century craftsmanship. Like a modern picnic set, the portable canteen consists of multiple pieces of cutlery, a corkscrew, a nutmeg grater, a pair of salt and pepper shakers, a quaich (two-handled drinking bowl) and two wine beakers, all stored inside a silver-gilt case covered in rococo swirls. It is an object of high prestige and few people in this period would have been able to afford such high-quality utensils. The exterior of the case bears important details that hint at the identity of its owner: the three-feathered badge of the Prince of Wales and the collar and badge of the Order of the Thistle, the highest honour in Scotland. The canteen is believed to have been a twenty-first birthday present for the grandson of the deposed king James II, Charles Edward Stuart, who had been appointed Knight of the Thistle and was – in the eyes of his supporters – the rightful heir to the throne.

Charles, known as the Young Pretender, was born and raised in Rome, where his family had been living in exile. When he took his portable canteen with him to Scotland in July, 1745, it was for an occasion that could not have been more different from a sociable picnic: he was on a mission to rally the highland clans in an uprising against the Hanoverian government and to capture the throne for his father, James Francis Edward, known as the Old Pretender.

The 1707 Act of Union

The Act of Union in 1707 had led to the creation of the United Kingdom of Great Britain, with a single parliament at Westminster. Scotland, or North Britain as it was officially known in this period, did not adapt easily to this new relationship. Many resented the policies introduced by unification, such as the new taxes in Scotland on basic commodities, supposedly imposed to bring them into line with those levied in England, but which in reality only led to an increase in smuggling and subversion. For the majority of the Scottish population, the union failed to deliver any economic advantages and it seemed that ministers in London could not maintain internal order in Scotland either, as the nation became increasingly divided between those who continued to believe in the Union and those who wanted to return to the days when Scotland was governed by the Stuarts.

Supporters and opponents of the Jacobite cause

The Jacobites, so-called from the Latin version of James, were the original opponents of the Glorious Revolution of 1688. Their main strongholds remained in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, but in the early AD 1700s they found themselves joined in their wish to overthrow the British government by those on both sides of the border who were unhappy with the Union. These included Irish Catholics who had been under continual persecution and English Tories. Furthermore, in an age of imperial rivalry and economic competition, the Jacobite cause received support from France, Spain, Sweden, the Papacy and Russia, all of whom saw the various Jacobite risings as opportunities to embarrass and weaken the British government.

However, not all Scots supported the Jacobites. For those whose wealth had increased as a result of access to a new British trading empire, the union was considered a success, and they saw no reason for an uprising. The Presbyterians too, still fearful of the return of popery, did not want to see another Stuart back on the throne.

The rebellion and its aftermath

Initially, the few clan chiefs Charles contacted showed little enthusiasm for rebellion, but soon his army had increased in size and included the father and brother of Ebenezer Oliphant, the goldsmith who made the travelling canteen. After the capture of Edinburgh and assuring his forces that support was on its way from France, Charles marched south, reaching as far as Derby. Once it became clear that no help was coming from France, he retreated back to Scotland. Following several more battles, a final encounter took place on 16 April at Culloden Moor, four miles east of Inverness. The Duke of Cumberland’s 9,000-strong force destroyed the Jacobite army of 5,000 Highlanders in just 25 minutes.

The travelling canteen that Charles had brought with him to Scotland was captured by Cumberland who then gave it to one his aides, George Kepple, later the Earl of Albemarle, in whose family it remained until 1963.

In the aftermath of the Rebellion, the Hanoverian government decided to end the Jacobite threat once and for all. Many Jacobites were imprisoned or executed; estates were forfeited, the clan system dismantled; weaponry, traditional dress, even the bagpipes were outlawed. The relationships and rights that had underpinned the power and authority of clan chiefs over their clansmen were abolished. Charles survived Culloden but became a fugitive for the next five months, and the legend of ‘Bonnie Prince Charlie’ was born. He eventually escaped to France and never set foot in Scotland again, but died in Rome in 1788.

More information

Information from National Museum of Scotland about the travelling canteen


Brief biography of Charles Edward Stuart


Information from the BBC on the Jacobites and the Union of 1707


Information and resources from the National Archives on the 1745 Rebellion


Information on the history and consequences of the Darien scheme


Scotland's history
BBC videos about the role of Scots in the Enlightenment and growth of the British Empire in the AD 1700s

Information about the history and influence of Scottish emigrants in the 19th century


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Charles Edward Stuart’s travelling canteen