Outlander is a ridiculously entertaining fantasy-adventure that masquerades as a period drama. But is the show Outlander historically accurate? Though this time-traveling romance that bounces between the 20th and 18th centuries does get the broad outlines right, its portrayal of Charles Edward Stuart is incomplete.
Known as “the Young Pretender,” “Bonnie Prince Charlie,” and “the Young Chevalier,” Charles Edward Stuart is a romanticized historical figure. Born in 1720, he was the eldest son and heir of James Francis Edward Stuart, the so-called “Old Pretender” whose own father had been kicked off the British throne in 1688 on account of his Catholicism. The exiled Stuarts lived in continental Europe and never gave up their claim to the throne. Their supporters were known as Jacobites, and they rose up several times in the hopes of winning the throne back for the exiled Stuarts. The final uprising was led by Charles and climaxed in 1746 at the disastrous Battle of Culloden, an event that plays a major role in Outlander. Culloden dealt a major blow to Jacobitism and Charles himself.
To be fair, the television show doesn’t portray him positively - he’s a weak, stubborn leader who waxes poetic instead of acting practically. But the show does not go far enough in depicting Charles as he really was: an alcoholic, a callous human being who was a user and - quite literally - an abuser. Though there are many other Outlander historical errors, Bonnie Prince Charlie in particular doesn’t get the nasty portrayal that he deserves. In short, as a real-life figure, he just wasn’t worth fighting for.
Though celebrated for his charm as a young man, Prince Charles Edward Stuart had darker sides to his personality. He was physically abusive to many of the women in his life. In 1772, the 51-year-old "Young Pretender" married 19-year-old Princess Louise of Stolberg-Gedern. It was a disaster, and Louise soon took a lover. Charles repeatedly assaulted his wife to the point that she actually turned to the Pope for help. He was also obsessively controlling and, according to biographer Peter Pininski, went so far as to set up "a mad system of alarm bells around her bed at night" to warn him if she was sneaking off to see her lover. Charles and Louise separated in 1784.
Like it or not, alcohol was part of the Jacobite movement. Jacobites had special glasses and even made toasts to their pretender king and his heir. But Charles took this to the extreme, and, especially in the years after the disastrous battle of Culloden, sunk deeper into alcoholism. However, as long as Prince Charles lived and he had support from France, Jacobite hope survived. So Charles pressed the French for continued aid. Though France intended to invade Great Britain in 1759, the plan failed and the prince's drunkenness and general bad behavior played a part in their refusal to do business with him anymore. Apparently, he just wasn't the jovial drinking companion he believed himself to be.
In 1753, Prince Charles became a father when his mistress Clementina gave birth to Charlotte. Charlotte quickly became the apple of her father's eye, even though Charles wasn't married to her mother. But after Clementina and Charlotte fled his abuse in 1760, he refused contact with them and even ignored letters from Charlotte. Penniless and without support from Charles, Clementina resorted to living off a modest income that Charles's father, and later his brother, provided. It would be decades before Charles would see or acknowledge his daughter. Though she kept petitioning Charles to recognize her, Charlotte wouldn't be legitimized as an heir until 1783.
One of the secondary story lines in season 2 of Outlander was Charles's affair with Marie Louise, Claire's gregarious, adulterous friend who represents the debauchery and decadence of pre-Revolution France. It is indeed true that Charles hooked up with Marie Louise de la Tour d'Auvergne in France - though it happened when he returned to Paris, licking his wounds after the failure of Culloden, not before. But Louise wasn't the seductive flirt that the show makes her out to be - instead, she was young and innocent, and her affair with Prince Charles appears to have been her first taste of love. Though Outlander portrays him as a man who loved brothels, Prince Charles may have been a virgin who had taken a vow of chastity when he pursued Louise. She soon became pregnant with Charles's child. Instead of supporting her, Charles abandoned her for another mistress, thus breaking the young woman' heart. When Charles finally ended things with Louise, she actually threatened to kill herself. Charles and Marie Louise's illegitimate baby, a son, died before the age of two.