Royal Stuart or Royal Style?

It was perhaps a two-edged sword that I chose upon the occasion of writing to Fribourg to obtain any copies of paperwork their archives had on Clementina  Walkinshaw that I should use my ancestral surname of Stuart; in this case the Stuarts of Granichen, the full surname of my heritage until I was kicked up to just von Granichen by the convenient and intervening deaths of several male relations.

It is the surname of the family of which I write here, and naturally there was no identity if I was kin or not. I merely asked for the paperwork. The archivist, Marie Claire L’Homme, dutifully responded and sent me copies of what they had. Apparently, however, there was soon to be a royal pretender/stalker of the archives. They too inquired of Fribourg, desperately seeking some link that they, that is she, was the direct line of Bonnie Prince Charlie. It was so rare that anyone should inquire that the archivist sent her my address, thinking I could help. Panorama_Fribourg_107

What I received was a registered letter from an utter crank wondering, with such consternation, why I should have any such documents of the Stuart family. She, of course, was sure she was the direct and only heir. Her unknown ancestor (James, I think) had gadded about so much, from America and Europe, that he gave her by her estimation quite a lot of reflected glory. She was, among other things, also a daughter of the Revolution! She was searching for the documents to prove her case, and she told me even Scottish Parliament was awaiting her revelation as a genuine living descendant of Charles Edward Stuart. A couple of emails followed. In one she sent me pictures of herself at some Scottish fair. She was draped from head to foot in Royal Stuart tartan. She wore the blue sash of the Knights of the Garter, symbol of the sovereign of the realm. It was captioned as the typical 17th century highland woman’s dress. International lawsuit could follow if I didn’t cough up the documents.


There was, of course, no indication of pride of birth, pedigree, or anything noble. It all smacked of something as superficial as wanting to be “better than the Jones.”

One does not have to be around this sort for long to develop a keen sense about them. No one pretends to be second best. To believe that is the result of absolute psychological naiveté. No one pretends to be an obscure princeling’s decedent who is 100th in line from the throne. Every pretender is sole and primogeniture heir, either of a throne, title or fortune. It’s a way for unaccomplished people to feel prestige or privilege without having the necessary accomplishments to merit that distinction. Royal Pretenders are a little more practical than the reincarnation crowd, but that’s about it. No one is a 17th century tinker with the crabs reincarnated. No one pretends to be the mule herder’s grandson. Everybody is Rudolf Valentino.

But though I shall come across more of these on my quest, the main focus here is on Clementina’s life and pretensions. What I received from Fribourg was interesting. It wasn’t much, but it gave some particulars little known in the history books. There was even the registry in Latin of Clementina’s death.

Poor Clementina passed over poor at the end of an era now passing to the likes of Napoleon and the darker 19th century. Her manner I cannot vouch for, but certainly the title she bore must have been acknowledged only as a courtesy, for she passed over “Clementina Valkinshau sub titilo comitesse d’Alberstoff cognita.” Not exactly the grand entry.


Historians later made a ta-do that somehow Clementina, the disfavored ex mistress, of no political consequence, somehow got this title from an Austrian emperor. What for?

Back then probably the question wasn’t even asked. It was a time of rough and ready titling. Much was passed over in the grand ostentation of the era. Who was truly a Count and who was not?  Lesser titles like Baron and even Prince (not very grand on the Continent) were usurped by rogues and charlatans. Chevaliers were all over.

Not much ta-do was made if there was some connection like Clementina actually had. Her ex-lover, Bonnie Prince Charlie, had been a powerful political figure; well, a potentially powerful political figure. When the map of Europe could potentially change, a king might wish to consider trotting him out of mothballs and threaten England with backing him in a rebellion again to take back his rightful throne. Boston royalists had even decided America should be a monarchy. They offered the crown to him. He got out maps, couldn’t find America or at least Massachusetts, and certainly couldn’t pronounce it, and declined the offer to be the first king in America. An interesting irony, since so many of the Scot rebels had fled to America after the disastrous ’45 and were determined to take it out of German Gordy’s hands.

Bonnie Prince Charlie, old and disillusioned.
Bonnie Prince Charlie, old and disillusioned.

Assuming a title was not so big a deal on the Continent. Assuming a great family association was. On the Continent nobility was determined by their family blood lines, not by titles. When Louis XIVth’s new confessor, Pere du Tellier, boasted within the halls of Versailles that he was from the peasantry and proud of it, his point fell short with the king. Louis Le Grand just sat there it is said and stared about blankly. He didn’t know what it was about. He didn’t know there was a difference between the aristocracy and peasantry. He was the king. All subjects were the same. Truly the first gentleman of Europe. But Louis knew who was who from what family.

Great families of sovereign background were not to be impersonated. Those were the actual nobles. Not toadies given titles. The dynasties. Sovereign nobles in their own land.

Such were the De Rohan, the family of Clementina’s supposed and unofficial son-in-law, Prince Ferdinand Maximillien Meriodec de Rohan. He was the necklace cardinal’s younger brother. His eldest brother Prince Jules had escaped France. The other, Grand Admiral Louis, had bit the dust beneath the national razor.

De Rohan were proud. They were ancient seigneur in France, before it was even a single country. The English Plantagenets had a huge slice of France, Burgundy another. As was the fashion in the 16th Century, the seigneurs assumed the title prince. The de Rohan, de Tingry, de Talmond, the Grimaldi, and others. Since prince is not an actual title of the peerage, they obtained Royal License and were recognized by this license as foreign princes in France despite being Frenchmen.

George Stuart's model of the
George Stuart’s model of the “Necklace Cardinal,” Prince Louis Rene de Rohan, whose acquittal brought about the revolution in France. He was Ferdinand’s older brother.

To imitate a grand family was serious business. For de Rohan it would be disasterous. No one could imitate their arrogance, so it is said. Their motto said it all “Roi ne suis, prince ne daigne, Rohan suis.” My, my. Mon Dieu.

But the Napoleonic time wiped all this out. Ferdinand sold out to Napoleon, becoming his Grand Aumonier, and Clementina lived on a small pittance from a distant relative, Thomas Coutts, the banker. She kept her title, whatever excuse she made of it, and was known in Fribourg as she was buried: “Clementina Valkinshau, comtesse d’Alberstoff.”

The title, of course, was more than simply contrived. It symbolized to Clementina a legal bond between her and her late Charles Edward Stuart. There is no Austrian to it. Never was. Charlotte, her now dead daughter and Charles’ heir, received money in Paris from the Royal Fund, at least that is what she called it in her memorial to Louis XV in 1774, when asking for money. Her memorial was reproduced in toto in a 1791 book, St. Simons Ouevres Completes (XII 191-211), incredibly rare even for scholars to access. Fortunately, Lady Tweedmuir (Susan Buchan) was able to read it, copy it, and reproduce it in her Funeral March of a Marionette (1935).

Astounding, astounding what Charlotte writes of her financial situation.

The exact words:

“A la mors de ce Prince M. le Cardinal D’Yorck reduisie leur pension a 5000 a la faveur de . . . elles vivent dans le Couvent de la Misericorde a Paris.”

That nasty Henry! It continues:

“Mlle Stuart jouit encore depuis 1769 sous le nom Duc D’Albertstroff d’une gratification annuelle de 1200 sus le fond des Ecossois . . .”

Charlotte received this money in an account bearing the title Duc d’Aberstroff. Dear me. Apparently it was an alias Bonnie Prince Charlie used for the account so that it would not be suspected as his. Spies everywhere, you know. No need to invite curious eyes about these ladies of his in Paris.

Thus it becomes quite significant that Clementina, la ex mistress, used as her gadding about handle the title Comtesse d’Alberstoff. By the standards of the time, and even today, this signified a morganatic status. She was not of dynastic background. Therefore she could not be an equal in marriage. She could not use Duchess d’Alberstroff. She used the lesser “Countess”.

The peerage is, starting at the top:


Duke (the biggie); Marquess (a Count with troops); Count or Earl (has the nicest coronet); Viscount (like owning a house without furniture) and Baron (like spawn they were all over).

On the Continent there are many variations to grandeur, but no need to go into that here. The fact is, Clementina had claimed a status of marriage, albeit an inferior morganatic one.

The first time the Royal household would hear of this was when a letter came in with that name at the bottom. Henry, the Royal brother, never fond of this affair, would start the berserking.


From Royal Stuart to Royal SNAFU

On June 25, 1791, Louis XVIth was brought back into Paris under armed guard. It must have been a solemn moment at the Tuileries Palace when the carriage drew up. A tense moment. No doubt there to greet Louis and Marie Antoinette were the loyal palace guards. Among them possibly was my own ancestor’s cousin, the young viscomte de Salis-Seewis. I am told he was quite a favorite of Marie Antoinette.

But much more than a remote relative connects me to this era and to the events this moment in history set in motion. Due to the fact that I had many documents and was collecting more, I was soon pulled into the world of royal imposters and threatened with international lawsuit if I didn’t cough up documents that would prove one crank was the rightful heir. The house of which I speak is Royal Stuart.

Viscomte de Salis Seewis
Viscomte de Salis Seewis

It is amazing that such a famous house as that of Royal Stuart should perish in such obscurity and leave behind the improbability that its lineage cannot be definitely determined as existing or extinct. It is the upheaval in France and the Napoleonic Wars to follow which so antiquated the 18th century and its events and attitudes. It plunged many ruling houses into ruin, and for an exiled house it plunged it into obscurity. By the dawn of the 19th century the visible Stuart claimant to the throne was an old and obviously childless cardinal. No Stuart had held the throne for 100 years.

Let’s transpose back into time again.

Louis’ failure to escape to the Austrian lines would mark the beginning of the chaos that would overtake France. The aristocracy would begin its flight from Paris now, sure that the radicals could no longer be kept in line. Louis and his family were basically prisoners in their own palace, protected by a loyal guard the revolution did not want to take on at present. If his own were faltering, he had his Swiss Guards. The Swiss do not surrender. The Swiss do not retreat. But the time would come. . .

Quite at a contrast to the momentous return of the King was the departure from Paris of a small lady, a native Scott named Clementina Walkinshaw. She was little and old, about 70 years old, a relic of a more adventurous era. She left Paris on the 2nd of August 1791 and went south to Chambery.

Clementina Walkinshaw
Clementina Walkinshaw

There was no royal court for her to go to. No klatch of nobles plotting the demise of the radicals. Though Clementina used the title Comtesse d’Alberstroff, she was hardly a grand noble lady. She was the estranged and out-of-favor mistress of Charles Edward Stuart– “Bonnie Prince Charlie”– the once glamorous and swashbuckling prince who had led the Scots in rebellion in 1745 to depose the usurping George I of Hanover from the British throne and replace James III, his own father, back on the rightful throne of the Stuarts.

Clementina was tough. She was a native Scot. Many of the gentry had been leaving Paris since the revolution officially began in 1789. But in Spring of 1788 Clemetina had renewed a 3 year lease on the humble apartments she rented in Paris on the Rue St. Jacques. Nothing was going to removed this Scot from her pre-paid dwellings until the lease was expired. So it was now. She made due for a few months and she finally departed.

Bonnie Prince Charlie, when young.
Bonnie Prince Charlie, when young.

Clementina had been out of favor for a long time and Charles Edward himself had died a gouty old man in 1788 in far away Florence, Italy. Clementina’s only chance at future security died the next year– her daughter by Charles, Charlotte. That left only one Stuart alive, Charles’ brother Cardinal Henry. He didn’t care for Clementina and all the problems she was viewed as having caused “back when.”

Clementina was now in 1791 a poor Scot using a questionable title without any future prospects. She was headed ultimately to Fribourg, a little alpine town in Switzerland. There was no chance of a Stuart restoration. Henry was politically insignificant and without heirs. It was over for Clementina.

Clementina had come so close to success, too, even in disfavor. Charlotte was Bonnie Prince Charlie’s only child. He legitimated her late in life when he saw he would have no heir. He created her Duchess of Albany, made her a knight of the thistle, and prepared his will. He struck up a coat of arms for her and gave it a revealing motto: “Pendet Salus Spe ExiGua et Extrema.” Charlotte was in good stead, at least to lead a respectable life for her and her mother. They had been very close and parted only in later life when Charlotte took the advantage to tend to her gouty father in Florence, Italy.

Charlotte of Albany. She was described as tall, robust, charming, but looked too much like her father to be pretty.
Charlotte of Albany. She was described as tall, robust, charming, but looked too much like her father to be pretty.

There were those who did and did not recognize Charlotte as the rightful heir to the Stuart claims of Britain. For one, her uncle Henry did not. Cardinal Henry instead grandly proclaimed himself King of Great Britain as Henry IXth. There wasn’t much reason for Charlotte or Clementina to get in too much of an uproar over it. Charlotte would soon die in 1789 of what appeared to be liver cancer. Thus the Stuart cause, which had so lit the heather on fire, was extinguished in that of an old cardinal who could have no legitimate heirs.

The stage had been set. Bonnie Prince Charlie had led a mysterious and often shadowed life on the continent after the failed rebellion in 1745. After Cardinal Henry died in 1807, the past life of Charles Edward, his brother, would foster any number of imposters to make claim to being not only descended of Bonnie Prince Charlie but also of legitimate descent. To this very day the lineage of Royal Stuart is a battleground of charlatans, into which I have been pulled.

When Charlotte died all were sure that Bonnie Prince Charlie’s issue was over. But later it came to be accepted (in the 1950s) that Charlotte had actually had 3 illegitimate children. The historians who pushed for this view (since the 1930s), Henrietta Taylor and George Sherburn, had uncovered comments, really allusions, in Charlotte’s letters to her mother in Paris (while Charlotte lived with her father in Florence), referring to her “petit jardin” and her “flowers” therein back in Paris. It could only be worded in allusions, they assert, because it seemed the father was Ferdinand Maximillien de Rohan, archbishop-duke de Cambrai (later prince-bishop of Liege). Soon names were detected. More than a 150 years afterward, the names of Marie, Algae and apparently a young Charles Edward, named after his grandfather, were deduced (though the boy’s name is never mentioned in the letters).

Ferdinand de Rohan
Ferdinand de Rohan

This opened up a modern glut of charlatans attempting to claim descent. Ironically, it was not from Charlotte. It wasn’t from these three children. There seemed little doubt they were illegitimate. Nothing to be gained by claiming bastard descent. But it showed how shadowy the last days of a once great dynasty were, and this opened the door for others to claim secret marriages, etc.

There was nothing new in this. The Sobieski Stuarts were quite the flourish in Victorian times. They claimed to be legitimate descent from Bonnie Prince Charlie through a secret marriage. That’s the big deal. One must be legal.

The French Revolution was a contributing factor of course, as I said, as to why so much was wiped from the charts of history. But Cardinal Henry survived a lot of that. Most of the de Rohans survived, but there is no indication of Charlotte’s children amongst them, or any children for that matter.

But in this introductory article, however, lets come back to Clementina Walkinshaw. She is without a doubt the mother of Charles’ only child, Charlotte of Albany. By tradition the dukedom of Albany was given the heir of the Scottish throne. It was obvious by this gesture on his part that there were no other children. The motto says it all — “Salvation Depends on One Last Hope.” Henry proclaiming himself King is another testament.

Cardinal Henry, Duke of York.
Cardinal Henry, Duke of York.

The first controversial point, raised then and now– Was Charlotte always legitimate? In other words, was it true that Charles Edward married Clementina Walkinshaw in secret? It had been feared at one point. They had always lived as husband and wife. When Charles went by the alias Count Johnson, she was Countess Johnson. They galloped over Europe for over a decade under aliases. They lived as man and wife and little Charlotte was raised by them both. When this became an issue later, Clementina signed a statement she had not been married to Charles. This allowed the continuance of her royal pension after James III died and Henry took up the duty of organizing the strapped household finances. He reduced it when it became his responsibility to maintain her, but he continued it nonetheless

Clementina would cause the resulting uproar about marriage herself. She would use a name. It had sent the Royal household into a tizzy. It was Comtesse d’Alberstroff.

This set me in motion 2 decades ago to find out the details.

In the next Royal Stuart blog we’ll dig into the origins of this title.


For 25 years Gian J. Quasar has investigated a broad range of mysterious subjects, from strange disappearances to serial murders, earning in that time the unique distinction of being likened to “the real life Kolchak.” However, he is much more at home with being called The Quester. “He’s bloody eccentric, an historian with no qualifications who sticks his nose into affairs and gets results.” He is the author of several books, one of which inspired a Resolution in Congress.