"Bonnie Prince Charlie: A Life" by Peter Pininski is a fascinating book. It is possible to think of it as comprising three distinct but closely related strands which come together to tell a compelling but at times infinitely poignant story within a single volume. The first half of the book forms a biography of Prince Charles Edward Stuart. Better known to history as Bonnie Prince Charlie, this was the man who almost single handedly inspired the Jacobite uprising of 1745, which came so very close to deposing the House of Hanover and returning the Stuarts to the thrones of England, Scotland and Ireland.
This part of the story reaches its climax with the decision, taken against Charles' very strongly expressed wishes by the Jacobite commanders, to turn back from their march south towards London after reaching Derby. It has been said that had the Jacobites pressed on, George II would have fled; that the English and French would have avoided a further 70 years of conflict; that the English would not have had to raise taxes in the colonies to pay for the French wars; and that the Americans would have had no cause to fight a war for their independence. And, arguably, that the French revolution would not have happened. The world might have been a very different place but for a closely argued decision taken in the upstairs room of a pub in Derby one dark winter's evening in December 1745.
Thereafter, Charles' life was one of steady decline into ill health and alcoholism, only eased in his final years by a reconciliation with his legitimised daughter Charlotte Stuart. Charles' death comes half way through the book and the bulk of the second half is an account of the lives of his descendents. The story told here by Peter Pininski, who can trace his own lineage back to the book's central character, is a simplified retelling of the story he first revealed to the world, in much more closely argued and heavily documented form, in "The Stuarts' Last Secret - The Missing Heirs of Bonnie Prince Charlie" published in 2002. Controversial at the time, the core thesis has since achieved widespread acceptance, and what we find in the current volume is the story itself, presented in human terms and a more accessible style.
The final element within the book is, to a degree, "the story of the story". Here we read how Peter Pininski's efforts to trace his mother's Scottish ancestors back to the 1745 uprising unexpectedly crossed with what he knew of his father's lineage in the Polish military aristocracy, and finally revealed the "Stuarts' Last Secret". It's a remarkable story.