SKULKING. There’s a lot of that going on in this rambunctious biography. Furtive dashing from here to there: that was Flora Macdonald’s lot.

Flora Fraser, named after the heroine of the ’45, corrals a driving, fast-flowing story with great skill.

Macdonald’s life offers much to think on, in particular, as Fraser notes in her prologue, Scottish and American nationalism and “the nature of loyalism as a function of emigration”.

American nationalism? We’ll get to that.

First we learn about Macdonald’s life on Skye, Benbecula, and South Uist before the trauma of Culloden.

Her extended family farmed on all three and so she was used to the storm-tossed waters of the Minch.

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We note her Celtic good looks and elegant manners, her skill at singing and embroidery, her good sense and agreeable modesty.

Then she’s told by the men-folk that there’s scheming afoot; Charles Stuart is on the skulk and they need her to accompany him from South Uist over the Minch to Skye.

The bonnie prince made even bonnier in disguise as her “Irish” maid – one Betty Burke.

Macdonald was aware that, in Fraser’s words, “ribaldry and lewd remarks about her relations with the Prince were all too likely to arise should the adventure become known". 

Macdonald was reluctant – she wasn’t really a political animal – but when faced with the Prince and his perilous position simple humanity overcame her self-interest.

She was well aware of the risks she was taking. At one point the hunt on the Long Isle involved a captain, a lieutenant, 22 fusiliers and 14 Argyle militiamen. The barisdale (a rack-like device for torturing) beckoned.

Macdonald tramped over the isle and put up with the rain and the midges then set sail in a shallop with her cousin Neil, a crew of four boatmen, and her charge.

She insisted Charles had no guns. This was Great Escape stuff. Would you cross the Minch in a shallop with a cross-dressing fugitive? Good luck… After reached Skye the risks were far from over.

Macdonald must have been skilled at dissembling, deceptively guileless, quick with “nimble prevarications” when faced with a Hanoverian officer.

Her bravery – as per the tunnel-builders in Stalag Luft III – was close to insanity. Captured Jacobites were being executed, their homes burned to the ground.

Charles made it to France but Flora was captured and sent to London where it was asked if her actions were treasonable or an unlucky scrape. And there her fame and mythos began.

James Hogg and Voltaire would write about her. Once released and back on Skye Samuel Johnson and James Boswell would pay a visit.

Savvy, she serves them turkey and porter. In time Walter Scott would base Waverley, in part, on her story and Allan Ramsay would paint her portrait. Fraser shows Macdonald’s motives were both compassionate and humanitarian.

With fame came a vast dowry courtesy of one Lady Primrose. In 1750 Flora marries aged 28, her assets worth around £400,000 in today’s money.

Husband Allan turns out a poor businessman. His cattle business ends up in debt; seven kids then rent rises and money too tight to mention. America beckons: North Carolina to be exact. They leave a Skye she now calls a “poor, miserable island”. They set up a farm north of Cape Fear.

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Bad timing. Macdonald, like Thomas Paine, was something of a Timelord. See her zapping back and forth across the Atlantic in slower versions of the Tardis.

The American War of Independence begins and Allan is drafted into, irony of ironies, the Hanoverian forces.

Flora is on the wrong side of history yet again – her property is seized – and soon she’s skulking anew, on the run to Manhattan, then Halifax in Nova Scotia.

Stuff just keeps happening to her: like a character in a William Boyd novel her life is just one unseen event after another.

By 1779 – skint again – it’s time for home. By a beautiful circularity her eventful existence ends peacefully on the Trotternish peninsula.

Insurrections, broken arms, wild seas, night robbers, Arctic winters: Flora Macdonald’s life had it all.

Fraser’s account is brilliantly cinematic in its vivacity.

The last words should be Johnson’s: that Macdonald’s was “a name that will be mentioned in history, and if courage and fidelity be virtues, mentioned with honour”.