Blair Castle, Blair Atholl – Clan Murray
Known as the ancestral home of Clan Murray and the historical seat of their chief, the Duke of Atholl, Blair Castle has been open to the public since 1936 and is a worthwhile place to visit for anyone with an interest in Scottish history.
Dating from as early as the 13th century, the castle has undergone many rebuilds and renovations over the years and the oldest recorded part of the structure is Comyn’s Tower, which dates from around 1269 when it was built by John Comyn, Lord of Badenoch.
Surprisingly, it is thought that Comyn constructed the original tower on land that did not belong to him and after returning from a crusade, David I of Strathbogie, the rightful landowner, would complain to King Alexander II and successfully regain control of his land and the tower which sat upon it.
Strathbogie’s son, David II, would forfeit his lands in 1308 after rebelling against King Robert the Bruce and the castle would pass to the Campbells until 1457 when it would come under the control of its next significant owner, the Stewarts. The Stewarts would then pass control of the building to the Murrays after marrying into the family and the castle has remained with the clan ever since.
After transferring to its traditional owners, Blair Castle would then enter a tumultuous period as it was taken by Oliver Cromwell’s forces during the Wars of the Three Kingdoms in the mid 17th century after the Murray family supported the opposing Royalist cause before it was returned to its rightful owners following the reformation.
This would not be the end of the castle’s involvement in conflict, however, as the first Jacobite Rising in 1689 would lead to a further siege of the stronghold after a disagreement between Lord John Murray (the heir to the castle) and his father, Patrick Stewart of Ballechin, led to a full blown battle between the Jacobites and the Williamites. The Jacobites would win this battle but would also lose their influential leader, Viscount Dundee, and would eventually lose the British throne.
The owners of the castle would continue to have Jacobite sympathies though and would allow Bonnie Prince Charlie to stay there twice during the uprising of 1745. The Jacobites would unwisely abandon the castle after their second visit in February 1746 and government forces would then occupy it despite the best efforts of Charles’ troops.
This would be the end of the castle’s stormy history and from there its history would be a calm one with a highpoint in 1844 when Queen Victoria before giving the Murray family permission to establish the only remaining private army in Europe, the Atholl Highlanders.
The castle would then remain under the control of the Murray Dukes of Atholl until 1996 when Iain Murray, 10th Duke, placed it in a charitable trust upon his death as his heir John Murray, the 11th Duke, had no intention of returning from his home in South Africa to live there.
Today, the castle is no more than a visitor attraction, although it does still remain the garrison point for the Atholl Highlanders. The present clan chief, Bruce George Ronald Murray, 12th Duke of Atholl, still retains the castle as a residence although it is not his main home as, like his father, he still prefers to spend the majority of his time in his native South Africa.