Tuesday 11 September 2012

Objects in Focus: Flora MacDonald's Fan

In an upstairs room in the West Highland Museum there is a picture frame keeping together a bronze brooch and a pretty, painted fan. In the earliest list we have of Carmichael's collection, the fan is referred to as 'a French fan' and indeed, even to the untrained eye, it has a continental feel to it.

WHM 1992 13 4 - Flora MacDonald's brooch and fan
WHM 1992 13 4 - Flora MacDonald's brooch and fan
The two labels, written in Alexander Carmichael's hand read:

Brooch which belonged to Flora Macdonald.


A sandalwood fan which belonged to 
Flora Macdonald. 
Presented to her while she was a prisoner on parole in 
the house of Lady Primrose in London, Nov[embe]r 1746 and 
given to me by her grand niece Mrs Maclellan of 
Ormacleit South Uist 
Alexander Carmichael.

Provenance is important in identifying and cataloguing objects, so it is fortunate that Carmichael added this note to what he clearly deemed as precious objects. We know from the notebooks we've transcribed and listed that Carmichael spent time collecting information on the MacDonald family from Mrs Penelope MacLellan, who was also known as 'Bean Ormacleit'. Her father, Donald MacDonald, was a tacksman and the son of Ùisdean Bàn Chillepheadar, a seanachie from Kilpheder in South Uist (ref. Coll-97/CW108/65). But what of Lady Primrose?

Detail of a rich man from Flora MacDonald's fan
Detail of a rich man from Flora MacDonald's fan

Lady Primrose is mentioned throughout Jacobite literature as being a London based Jacobite, who not only gave Flora houseroom when she was on parole but raised money for her. In 1750, when Bonnie Prince Charlie was on his secret visit to London, it was into her house off The Strand, that he walked, under an assumed name, disturbing her game of cards with non-Jacboite nobility. The story goes:

Recognising him at once, she nearly dropped her cards with amazement
'Charles Edward Stuart' by F. McLynn, p. 398

Lady Primrose recovered her surprise and her non-Jacobite companions were, fortunately for her, none the wiser.

Detail of a wealthy woman from Flora MacDonald's fan
Detail of a wealthy woman from Flora MacDonald's fan

Born Anne Drelincourt, Lady Primrose was the widow of Hugh the third Viscount of Primrose, a short-lived Scottish title, which as they had no children became extinct on Hugh's death in 1741. Her parents were Rev. Peter Drelincourt, Dean of Armagh and his wife Mary Maurice, daughter of the Dean of Derry. Peter or Pierre Drelincourt was a Hugenot, one of sixteen children of Charles Drelincourt, a French Reformed church minister. This connection with France indicates that the fan, which Flora MacDonald received was very probably French. We do not know whether this was a personal item, potentially a family piece, or whether it was purchased specially for Flora but it seems indicative of Lady Primrose's admiration for her.

The detail on the fan shows a wealthy couple, opulently dressed, and what is probably their nursemaid tending to their child. Who the couple are meant to be, if indeed they are meant to represent anyone, or their significance has yet to be discovered. A little more research may reveal more about the fan's provenance and then we can turn our attention to the brooch, one of many simple ring bronze brooches which Alexander Carmichael had in his possession.

Detail of a nursemaid and child from Flora MacDonald's fan
Detail of a nursemaid and child from Flora MacDonald's fan

WHM 1992 13 4 Bronze brooch and fan belonging to Flora MacDonald
All images copyright of Carsten Flieger (www.carstenflieger.com).

Coll-97/CW108/65 Notes on the family of Uistean Ban Cillepheadar 
Frank McLynn, 'Charles Edward Stuart - A Tragedy in many Acts' (London, 1988), p 398
Ruth Whelan, ‘Drelincourt, Peter (1644–1722)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2008 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/8045, accessed 11 Sept 2012]

Key figures:
MacDonald | Flora | 1722-1790 | Jacobite
MacLellan | Penelope | 1796-1873 | née MacDonald | 'Bean Ormicleit' | South Uist
Primrose | Anne | Dowager Viscountess | c1706-1775 | née Drelincourt | wife of Hugh Primrose 3rd Viscount of Primrose | The Strand | London | England

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Stone whorls WHM 1992 13 2.4

Stone whorls WHM 1992 13 2.4
Stone whorls collected by Alexander Carmichael, held by West Highland Museum (ref. WHM 1992 13 2.4). [© carstenflieger.com]