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Issue 19 - Clan at the cutting edge of history (Murray)

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Scotland Magazine Issue 19
March 2005


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Clan at the cutting edge of history (Murray)

James Irvine Robertson looks at the history of the clan Murray

King David I (1084-1155) was sent to the English court when he was 11 (his sister, Princess Matilda of Scotland, had married the English King Henry I in 1100). When David inherited the throne of Scotland from his brother in 1124, he returned north with a remarkable group of men whose fathers and grandfathers had come over from France, Flanders or Normandy when William the Conqueror seized the English throne in 1066.

David gave land to these adherents and in the ensuing centuries, many of them went on to play pivotal roles in Scottish history. Walter Fitz Alan was one. His descendants became Stewards of Scotland and provided 14 monarchs for their country. Another was Freskin, son of William, a Fleming who controlled the Welsh borders.

Freskin married into the ancient Pictish royal family of Moray in northern Scotland, and his grandson William de Moravia became Lord of Bothwell in Lanarkshire. From this line came the Regent of Scotland during the minority of Alexander III.

William de Moravia’s son, Sir Andrew of Moray, was a great hero of the early Wars of Independence and fought with William Wallace. One commentator states that there is “no doubt he was, tactically, socially and politically, the greater of the two.”

Unfortunately, William was struck by an arrow while leading the Scots army at the Battle of Stirling Bridge in September 1297. Both he and William Wallace were knighted and made ‘leaders of the army of the realm of Scotland’ at the Scottish Council held at Perth in October, but by then de Moray was dying from his wound. His son, another Andrew, married a sister of King Robert Bruce and was appointed Regent during the early years of the reign of Bruce’s son, David II. The Morays or Murrays, as they became, were now firmly established as one of the pre-eminent families of Scotland with lands scattered across the country.

In 1466, Andrew’s descendant, Sir William Murray, was the seventh of his line to become laird of the estate of Tullibardine, near Gleneagles, in Perthshire. He was sheriff of the county, and one of the lords named for the administration of justice, who were of the king’s daily council. He married Margaret, daughter of Sir John Colquhoun of Luss, Great Chamberlain of Scotland, and they had 17 sons, from whom many of today’s Murray families descend.

They ‘lived all to be men, and that they waited all one day upon their father at Stirling, to attend the king, with each of them one servant, and their father two. This happening shortly after an Act was made by King James V, discharging any person to travel with great numbers of attendants besides their own family, and having challenged the laird of Tullibardine for breaking the said Act, he answered he brought only his own sons, with their necessary attendants; with which the king was so well pleased that he gave them small lands in heritage.

Sir John Murray, the 12th Baron of Tullibardine in Perthshire, was brought up with King James VI, and he and his descendants were recognised by the clan as the chiefly line. In 1606 he was created Earl of Tullibardine.

His eldest son, William, married the last Stewart heiress of the earldom of Athole, which was granted to him by the king in 1629 and Blair Castle, at Blair Atholl, became their stronghold.

As earls, and later, dukes of Atholl, the Murrays were one of the four great magnates of the Highlands. In Lord President Forbes’ Report to the British Government on the eve of the 1745 Uprising, it was stated that the Duke of Atholl was ‘head of a number of barons and gentlemen of the name of Murray in the Lowlands’. But ‘has an extensive following of about 3,000 Highlanders, a good many out of his own property but most on account of his great superiorities in Athole, Glenalmond and Balquidder.’

The army of the Duke of Argyll was the only comparable force in the Highlands, and it was the Campbells of Argyll who were so often the enemy during the political turmoil of the 17th and 18th centuries.

The 1st Duke of Atholl, who at one time or another held most of the high offices of state, was utterly opposed to the Union with England in 1707 and was briefly imprisoned the following year, suspected of treason. His eldest son was killed fighting for the Duke of Marlborough against the French in 1709. His second son, William, was disinherited for his lifelong support the exiled Stuart kings. He died in the Tower of London awaiting trial for treason after the failure of the 1745 Jacobite Uprising.

William’s younger brother John became the next duke and ensured the family’s hold of their vast estates and power, but a fourth brother, Lord George Murray, was the greatest rebel general of the 1745 Uprising. It was said that if Bonny Prince Charlie had fallen asleep when he landed in Scotland and left the campaign to Lord George Murray, he would have awakened to find himself King of Great Britain.

By the following century, however, the influence of the Atholl family at the British Court had been reinstated. In 1842, Queen Victoria visited their great castle at Blair and was so delighted by the guard of honour provided by the escort of Atholl estate workers, that she granted the Duke the right to bear arms.

The Atholl Highlanders, which had first been raised in 1778, is therefore today the only legitimate private regiment in Europe. The Duke is its colonel and, since its inception, another officer has always been a Drummond Moray of Abercairney, an estate near Crieff owned by the family since 1320.

With the death of Iain, 10th Duke of Atholl in 1996, the dukedom passed to a cousin in South Africa. Although domiciled in Haenertsburg, the 11th Duke returns to Scotland in May to take the Salute at the Regiment’s annual parade.

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