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Jacobite propaganda: fans at court

Watch as Professor Viccy Coltman unfolds the visual symbolism of a Jacobite fan, possibly used at the Prince's Court at the Palace of Holyroodhous
So here we are with a fan in the National Museum Scotland. And this is a really interesting and evocative object for Jacobite material culture because this is what we would call a gendered object. We know in the 18th century that fans were worn and sported by women, often on social occasions. And so holding a fan gave a woman an opportunity to participate in the political field from which she was otherwise excluded. And what we have on a number of Jacobite fans is this opportunity for there being a message on both sides or on one side only. And as with coins, we call this the obverse and the reverse of the fan.
So what we’re looking at here is an image of Prince Charles Edward Stuart surrounded by gods and goddesses from the classical pantheon, and also accompanied at the far edges of the fan by his enemies, members of the Hanoverian dynasty. And Prince Charles Edward Stuart is shown in armour being crowned by laurel, by one of the classical gods. And this foretells his successful restoration to the British throne, and it also suggests that his restoration is divinely supported by these ancient deities. So we have Prince Charles Edward Stuart accompanied by Mars, the god of war, and Minerva or Athena, the goddess of war.
And up in the skies is an image of Zeus with an eagle who is his familiar, and he’s shown throwing a thunderbolt down at these two crouching figures who are supposed to be envy and discord. And then in the far right of the image, a group of figures identified as members of the Hanoverian court and family are shown running away or withdrawing from the scene in front of them. So obviously as we see this fan, we only see one side of it. And we also see it open, so that the picture plane is highly visible. In many instances, there is another image on the obverse or the reverse of the fan.
So the fan was a really dynamic weapon for women to use in their support of Jacobite material culture, because when they used it at these social events, when it was open on one side, it might have a really prosaic message like a bunch of flowers. And then on the other side, it might have a Jacobite message, which could then be revealed or concealed to a like-minded sympathiser. These sorts of Jacobite objects, like fans, are what we might think of as metamorphic because they shift from being open and revealing to closed and concealing. And this fan and other fans are associated with a ball that was held at Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh.
And this was after the Battle of Prestonpans when there was great celebration and support for the Jacobite cause here in Edinburgh.
What is it?
This fan may have been used by a woman attending court at the Palace of Holyroodhouse. In the 18th century, fans were elite accessories – often ‘worn’ or used by women on notable social occasions.
Why is it important?
The fan leaf depicts Prince Charles Edward Stuart in the company of classical gods and goddesses. These types of objects allowed women to display their political allegiances within the social strictures of the period.
This and other fans and Margaret of Oliphant’s dress were associated with a Ball thought to have been held at the Palace of Holyroodhouse after the battle of Prestonpans, in September 1745.
There is some debate as to whether there was any celebratory ball after Prestonpans – we find out why in the next step.
For now, though, let’s enjoy this politicised, gendered object with Viccy Coltman.
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Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobites

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