Last year when visiting Scotland I ended up quite by chance visiting Blair Castle, which was the ancestral home of one of the most pivotal characters in the 1745 Jacobite Rising, Lord George Murray.
Lord George Murray was one of the Atholl Murray (and Stewart) family. His ancestor Sir John Stewart of Balvenie was a loyal half-brother to King James II of Scotland, and was rewarded for his services with the Earldom of Atholl in 1457. The family then lived as quietly as it was possible for Scottish nobles to live, until the 5th Earl died without a son in 1595.
In 1629 the title was given to the fifth Earl’s grandson by his daughter, who had married a Murray, so the earldom passed into the Murray family, and is still with them.
The family were traditionally, as might be expected, Royalists, and fought against Cromwell in the Civil War, being rewarded by King Charles II with a marquisate in 1676, and then by Queen Anne with a dukedom in 1703. Queen Anne was the last Stuart monarch, and after her death the crown passed to the Hanoverians, bypassing over fifty more direct heirs, including the immediate rightful heir James, now in exile.
Probably because of this, the Murray family loyalties now fractured, with some members remaining loyal to the Stuarts, and others to the Hanoverian monarchs. This was the situation when Lord George entered into the picture.
Lord George, born 4th October 1694, was the ninth of the first Duke’s twenty-one children, and he, his eldest brother William, and another brother Charles, all supported the Jacobite cause, whilst their father had a colourful career, being in and out of royal favour a few times. The duke sent his three rebellious sons to live with their grandmother, hoping she would sort them out, but she was clearly unsuccessful, as all three brothers subsequently joined the Earl of Mar and Jacobite cause, commanding a regiment of Atholl men in the rising of 1715.
After the failure of this rising, William and George escaped to France, while their brother Charles was captured near Preston, and was saved from a traitor’s death by his father, who at the time had remained loyal to the government. Charles was released.
Lord George was also involved in the 1719 rising in the Highlands, and was in command of the Jacobite right wing on the final day of fighting, on which he was wounded. After that he spent some time hiding in the Highlands, before escaping to Rotterdam, arriving there in May 1720, by now a seasoned military commander.
In the meantime, William was disinherited by his father, and when the first duke died in 1724, another brother James became second Duke of Atholl. William never accepted being disinherited, but remained at the exiled Stuart court for thirty years, becoming close to Prince Charles Edward Stuart and returning to Scotland with him in 1745.
Lord George however, was pardoned in 1725 and returned from the continent to live on the family’s estates in Scotland, which he did peacefully until 1745.
In 1728 he married Amelia Murray, an heiress, and they went on to have five children, three sons and two daughters. Lord George had been very fiercely opposed to the 1707 political union between England and Scotland, but in 1739 he took the oath of allegiance, and when in July 1745 Prince Charles landed in Scotland with his ‘seven men’ Lord George was sceptical enough of this new Stuart attempt to go with his brother the duke in August to pay his respects to Sir John Cope, who was commanding the Hanoverian government forces.
This action led some people to believe that Lord George was the Prince’s worst enemy, and would in time betray him to the government, whilst others said that he only visited Sir John in the hopes of gaining useful information for the Jacobites.
We will never know for certain why he visited the Hanoverian commander, but after this incident, Lord George committed himself wholeheartedly to the Jacobite cause, as he had in the past risings, writing to his brother to explain that he was joining the Stuart prince because of his conscience, and was fully aware that he risked utter ruin in doing so.
In view of the fact that he had been pardoned for his previous actions, and was living a peaceful and reasonable affluent life in an old family property in Tullibardine, he potentially had a lot more to lose than to gain by joining the Rising, so it seems his allegiance was based purely on honourable, rather than mercenary motives, and there is no doubt that from this moment on he committed himself fully to the Jacobite cause.
In my next blog I’ll look at the part he played in the actual ’45 itself.