Scientists Have Revealed the Real Face of Bonnie Prince Charlie

Bonnie Prince Charlie Wasn’t So “Bonnie” After AllUniversity of Dundee
  • Previous facial reconstructions of historical rulers of the British Isles relied on skulls to create the famous faces.

  • A new facial reconstruction from the University of Dundee in Scotland used a death mask—along with digital sculpting software and contemporary accounts—to recreate the young face of Bonnie Prince Charlie, failed claimant to the British Throne

  • The new face, de-aged to when Charles was only 24, shows that his legendary good looks may be more fiction than fact.

In the middle of the 18th century, a handsome prince—the last Stuart claimant to the British throne after his grandfather James II was kicked out of England during the Glorious Revolution—fueled the Jacobite Uprising in the Scottish Highlands in an attempt to reclaim the kingdom. Although he ultimately failed in recapturing what he believed was his birthright, he garnered a historic reputation as a tragic hero. History calls him many things: Charles Edward Louis Philip Casimir Stuart, Charles Edward, the Young Pretender, and the Young Chevalier, just to name a few.

But by far his most well-known moniker is Bonnie Prince Charlie, a reference to the young prince (who was only 24 years old when he tried to overthrow King George II) and his ravishingly good looks. However, a detailed facial reconstruction by the University of Dundee in Scotland, which captures the historical visage of Bonnie Prince Charlie during the uprising, suggests that the young prince’s legendary good looks may be a historical exaggeration.

Created by master’s student Barbora Veselá and the university’s Centre for Anatomy and Human Identification, the creation captures the prince’s face in extreme detail—acne and all. Veselá, along with other Dundee researchers, took hundreds of photographs of the prince’s death mask (a common funerary practice dating back thousands of years) created moments after his death at the age of 67 in 1788. The team then altered the face using digital sculpting software to both de-age the prince and remove many years of heavy drinking and the stroke that led to his eventual death from his appearance.

“We don’t tend to think about the age of people when we study history, but Prince Charlie was just 24 years-old when he landed in Scotland and to visualize how young he was at this pivotal moment in history is fascinating,” Veselá says in a press statement. “I have looked at previous reconstructions of historical figures and was interested as to how these could be done differently.”

One of those facial reconstructions likely concerns another central figure in Scottish history: Robert the Bruce. In 2016, researchers from Liverpool John Moores University reconstructed the face of the famous 14th century Scottish figure by using a reconstruction of the ruler’s skull. Similarly, the face of Richard III was reconstructed after his remains were found under a parking lot.

Although using a death mask is a departure from these skull-based reconstructions, such an approach did leave out vital facial details about the failed usurper, particularly with regards to his hair. So, Veselá consulted contemporary depictions (including a French bust of the prince) to capture the golden locks recorded in many historical accounts. Some sources also make note of the prince’s facial blemishes, so Veselá included acne to show both his young age during the Uprising and the fact that he was also a “complex person, as we all are,” Veselá told The New York Times.

After all, there is beauty in complexity.

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