Descended from Freskin, a Flemish nobleman who lived during the time of David I in the 12th century, the Murrays would originally settle in West Lothian.
However, it would be another piece of land given to them, the ancient Pictish kingdom of Moray, which would give the clan their distinctive name as Freskin and his sons would intermarry with a family in the region to consolidate their power.
Therefore, while Freskin is known as the progenitor of the clan, there is little doubt that royal Pictish blood flows through the veins of his descendants, some of which would take the surname, de Moravia, which would become Murray.
The first well-known member of the family would be Sir Walter Murray, who would become the Lord of Bothwell and one of the regents of Scotland in 1255. Sir Walter would also start the construction of Bothwell Castle, the stronghold which would become the first major seat of the clan and one of the most powerful castles in Scotland.
The family would then become entangled in the complex Scottish Wars of Independence as the third Lord Bothwell was taken prisoner in the Tower of London before his son, Sir Andrew Murray, became one of the most prominent men leading the Scottish retaliation against the English. Alongside Sir William Wallace, Murray would help to defeat Edward I at the Battle of Stirling Bridge in 1297, however, he would, unfortunately, pass away from injuries sustained during the battle. It is likely that if Murray had survived, the Scots would have stood a better chance of defeating the English in subsequent battles such as at Falkirk in 1298 and had he not died, it is likely he would be held in the same esteem as Wallace, who is often remembered from this period while Murray is forgotten.
Sir Andrew’s heir, the fourth lord, would fall at the Battle of Haddington in 1333 and after this, the Lordship of Bothwell would pass to the Douglas family along with Bothwell Castle in 1360. Following this, it would take almost 200 years for a single family to regain control of the Murray chiefship. This family would be the Murrays of Tullibardine who could trace their claim back to 1270 and Sir Malcolm, Sheriff of Perth, who was a younger brother of the First Lord of Bothwell.
The Murrays of Tullibardine wouls increase their standing within Scotland in 1606 when Sir John Murray of Tullibardine was created first Earl of Tullibardine in 1606. His son and heir would marry Dorothea Stewart, heiress to the Earls of Atholl and with this marriage, the Stewart Earldom of Atholl became a Murray earldom in 1629 and a marquessate in 1676. The clan would then reach the pinnacle of their peerage in 1703 when they were created Dukes of Atholl.
After rising so sharply to the top of Scottish nobility, the Murrays would gain other prominent positions of power such as Lord George Murray, who would become a great Jacobite general and the architect of early successes in the 1745 Jacobite Uprising. In fact, his ability to command his forces was so good that it is often argued by historians that Bonnie Prince Charlie may well have taken the throne had Murray been allowed sole command of his forces. He would later lead a successful charge against the Hannoverian Forces at Culloden in 1746 but this would not be enough to turn the tide of the battle and he would die in exile in 1760.
Despite this defeat, the Duke of Atholl’s men, known as the Atholl Highlanders, would gain a reputation as some of the best fighters in the world and today have the honour of being the only private army left in Europe after they were given the blessing of Queen Victoria in 1985.
Away from the military side of the clan, another interesting possession to come under their control would be the Isle of Man in 1736. As Lords of Man, the Dukes were able to hold their own parliament on the island and issue their own coinage. The third Duke would transfer sovereignty to the British Crown in 1765 but the Atholl arms still display the Trinacria, the symbol of the island.
In more recent times, the Murray chiefship is currently held by Bruce Murray, twelfth Duke of Atholl. Born in South Africa, the Duke’s family would gain the chiefship after the tenth Duke died unmarried in 1996. Despite being raised on the other side of the world, the twelfth Duke is very active in clan affairs and commands the Atholl Highlanders at ceremonial events.
However, it is at Bothwell Castle in South Lanarkshire that the chief family of the clan would make their seat, a large medieval castle that was constructed in the 13th century that still partially stands today.
The Murrays now sit at Blair Castle in Perthshire, near Blair Atholl. Their current clan chief is Bruce Murray, 12th Duke of Atholl – who lives in South Africa.