Portrait of a Jacobite Lady

Portrait of a Jacobite Lady, 1740-1750, Cosmo Alexander (1724-1772)

Edinburgh, The Drambuie Collection

It’s the weekend which means I’m in the mood for a bit of fun and what, I ask you, is more fun than a Jacobite lady donning both tartan and military garb?  It’s a winsome look because it’s absolutely steeped in pride: for country, cause, and cheek.  The unidentified lady–who based on careful examination of the tartan is possibly Jenny Cameron, alleged mistress of Bonnie Prince Charlie–wears a riding jacket.  The front of the jacket resembles a waistcoat with gold braiding, but on close study appears to be a vest-shaped piece of ornamentation pinned on top of the riding jacket (or perhaps is part of the jacket itself?)  Either way, women didn’t wear military uniforms so the margins for creative license were rather wide.   As a very abbreviated frame of reference, 18th century regimental dress consisted of standard civilian dress, i.e. a tricorne hat, long-skirted coat, waistcoat, and breeches.  Distinctions between regiments and hierarchy were made with colors and facings.

Back to the portrait . . .

Given the lady’s anonymous nature, how do we know she’s a Jacobite?  The most obvious indication comes from what she holds in her right hand: the white rose of York.  This symbol first gained political relevance in the War of the Roses where it distinguished the York supporters from the Lancasters who flaunted their red rose.  The white cockade, as shown below on Bonnie Prince Charles, was worn by Jacobite supporters along with their ubiquitous blue bonnet.  The British, on the other hand, sported black cockades.

Besides the not-so-secret white rose, the Jacobite lady includes another symbol in her portrait, that of the rose and rose bud paired together.  The rose is said to have symbolized the exiled King James with the buds being his heirs, Charles and Henry.  I only see one bud here.  Maybe a bit of favoritism on the lady’s part?

Jacobite symbols were often nested in a badge or crest–usually a sprig of a plant that identifies allegiance to a clan.  As such, the Scots were supposedly able to distinguish frenemies from fellow brothers in arms.  The question is, how does one acquire heather or whatnot during the middle of winter?  Tartans, I assume, were easier to come by and would fairly shout the clan name whoever beheld it.  That niggling little notion aside, the Jacobites, being part of a renegade cause, had plenty of ways to show their true colors. Telling symbols included the butterfly, oak leaf and acorns, the sunflower, scraps of rue and thyme, and Medusa’s head.   For a short explanation concerning some of these, see here.

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