“The Skye Boat Song” by Rod Stewart
“The Skye Boat Song” recounts the plight of a historical figure known as Charles Edward Stuart, aka Bonnie Prince Charles, with that moniker logically explaining the presence of the word “bonnie” in the lyrics.
You can view the lyrics, alternate interprations and sheet music for Rod Stewart's The Skye Boat Song at Lyrics.org.
Back in the days of old, even more so than today, the royal family of England dealt with enough internal drama to, figuratively speaking, flesh out quite a few reality TV series. So as fate would have it, Bonnie Prince Charles held the distinction of being the oldest son of James Francis Edward Stuart. And James Francis was the son of King James II, who was sacked from the throne in 1688 (by, to note, his very own son-in-law and daughter).
So basically, if James II had remained in power, then James Francis (and subsequently Bonnie Prince Charles) would have gone on to rule England, Scotland and Ireland after him. Of course being King of England, even back in the those days, was a very powerful position. Thus for some years to follow, James Francis and his supporters, including Bonnie Prince Charles, fought to reclaim the throne in his name.
The most notable of such attempts culminated in what may be defined as an actual war, an event which history refers to as the Jacobite rising of 1745. James Francis’s supporters, with Bonnie Prince Charles being a leader amongst them, were promptly defeated.
This resulted in Charles spending some time on the run. He ultimately made his escape to France from a part of Scotland known as the Isle of Skye, where in the process he had to disguise himself as a female maid even. Yet despite suffering what some may define a humiliating loss, he has come to be regarded, as a hero in some eyes.
“The Skye Boat Song”
So that then brings us to “The Skye Boat Song”. What the lyrics are meant to represent are when Charles made his way to the Isle of Skye, prior to setting off for France, which was a dangerous trek across Scotland itself since, for instance, there was a very hefty price on his head.
That is to say that he actually had plenty of help along the way, i.e. being aided by people who could have turned him in but opted not to do so. So apparently, many of the Scottish countrymen were under the impression that the throne did rightfully belong to James Francis and by extension Bonnie Prince Charles.
But all of that noted, this is not one of the folk songs which features detailed lyrics which read like a full story in and of themselves. Instead, the wording here is pretty terse or, more amply put, repetitive. So for example, there aren’t any actual historical facts being relayed. Instead, what’s being put forth is more akin to a sentiment.
Furthermore, it’s clear that the vocalist himself would be someone who also feels that Bonnie Prince Charles was the rightful heir to Scotland. And in line with what was stated earlier, his flight to the Isle of Skye is depicted as a heroic journey, one which was intrinsically dangerous itself. That is to say that the lyrics read as if the weather was very much against sailing at the time.
Indeed as relayed the weather was so dangerous that the “foes” who were pursuing the protagonist were compelled to resultantly give up their pursuit. However, Charles forged ahead anyway. So it’s as if, reading in between the lines, that Bonnie Prince Charles’s escape was a miraculous one, as if fate itself had decreed that he should not be captured.
Who wrote “The Skye Boat Song”?
This song was lyrically written by Sir Harold Boulton (1859-1935). It was musically composed by Anne Campbelle MacLeod (1855-1921). As such, “The Skye Boat Song” actually dates back to the late 19th century, being originally published in 1884 (even though the events depicted therein transpired over a century prior).
Rod Stewart’s Version
By the looks of things the tune remained popular, particularly in Scotland, throughout the decades, up until the advent of the modern music industry, where a number of musicians, including a couple of prominent ones, went on to record it.
That list includes the likes of Paul Robeson, who did so during the late 1950s, as well as Rod Stewart, whose rendition came out on 15 August 1975 as part of his album “Atlantic Crossing”, a project that was backed by Warner Bros. and Riva Records.
Stewart’s take on the song was produced by the late Tom Dowd (1925-2002).
To note, “The Skye Boat Song” maintains a notable pop media presence even into the 21st century.
The Escape of Bonnie Prince Charlie
Bonnie Prince Charlie was born Prince Edward Charles Louis John Casimir Severino Maria Stuart in December 1720 in Palazzo Muti in Italy. Prince Charles Edward led a French-backed army, under the Second Jacobite Uprising that had a vision of invading England.
The mission officially took off on the 23rd of July 1745 when Prince Charles Edward arrived on the west coast of Scotland.
He began the war against England, defeating the sole government army in Scotland in September 1745. After some victories, Prince Charles and the Jacobites, during the battle of the Culloden, fell into a fatal array of traps. The army was attacked and shot down by the opposing army. Prince Charles fled the battleground, feeling a sense of betrayal by his people.
Two months after his escape, the prince met Flora MacDonald. The 24-year-old Scottish lady agreed to help the prince despite the unlikely alliance.
On June 27, 1746, she disguised the prince as an Irish Spinning maid, Betty Burke, and together with two servants and six boatmen sailed in a small boat from Benbecula to Kilmuir. They later passed on to Portree where Prince Edward Charles got a boat to the Island of Raasay, where it was safe and easy to return to France.