BLAIR CASTLE, PH18 5TL
Postcode: PH18 5TL
Lat/Long: 56.773591N 3.857393W
Notes: The castle is found in Blair Atholl off the A9 north west of Pitlochery. It is a major tourist attraction, is very well sign-posted and has a dedicated car park for visitors.
WHAT IS THERE TO SEE?
Blair Castle was extensively damaged during the Jacobite Wars and in 1860 was rebuilt into a Victorian Mansion. That is what is visible today although the structure includes earlier components.
1. The eighteenth century transformation of Blair Castle was funded when James Murray, Duke of Atholl inherited the title of King of the Isle of Man.
2. Blair Castle is the home of Europe's only private army - the Atholl Highlanders - who were awarded the Queen's Colours in 1844 by Queen Victoria. This army was the personal bodyguard of the Duke of Atholl but today their role is ceremonial.
Although Victorian modifications have converted the structure into a stately home with little resemblance to a fortification, Blair Castle started life as a thirteenth century Tower House. Expanded over the subsequent centuries it was besieged by Oliver Cromwell in 1650 and was embroiled in the fighting associated with the Jacobite rebellions.
HISTORY OF BLAIR CASTLE
Blair Castle started life as a thirteenth century Tower House illegally built by John Comyn on lands owned by David Strathbogie, Earl of Atholl during the latter's absence on Crusade. Known as Cummings Tower (this being a corruption on Comyn), it was seized by the Earl on his return and converted into his own residence. His son, another David, forfeited the castle when he rebelled against Robert the Bruce in 1322 and it was then given to Sir Neil Campbell whose son, John, was granted the title Earl of Atholl in 1320.
For the next 137 years the title, castle and estates passed through numerous owners before being resurrected by James II in 1457. He granted it to his half brother, Sir John Stewart of Balvenie whose descendants held it until 1595. His son - John Stewart, Second Earl of Atholl - was killed at the Battle of Flodden (1513) and his grandson in the campaign that ended in the Battle of Solway Moss (1542). During their tenure numerous upgrades were made to Blair Castle with the addition of a Great Hall in 1530 and a substantial rebuilding of the Tower.
The death of John Stewart, Fifth Earl of Atholl in 1595 resulted in Blair Castle and its estates reverting to the Crown. It remained in Royal possession under 1629 when it was granted, along with the title, to John Murray. During the Wars of Three Kingdoms the Murrays remained loyal to the Crown but avoided becoming embroiled in the early hostilities. However in 1650, after Oliver Cromwell's defeat of the Scottish Covenanter force at the Battle of Dunbar, the castle was seized by the English forces. The estate was restored to the family after the Restoration in 1660 and their loyalty to the Crown recognised by raising the Earl to the Marquis of Atholl in 1676.
Blair Castle was closely involved in the Jacobite rebellions. When John Graham, Viscount Dundee launched the first Jacobite rebellion in April 1689, the castle was held for the Jacobites despite the absent Murrays being supporters of the Government. Lord John Murray, son of then owner, besieged Blair hoping to retake it for both his father and the Government but was driven off by Graham. However, as further pro-Government forces arrived under General Hugh Mackay, the two forces clashed at the Battle of Killiecrankie (1689). The outcome was a Jacobite victory but Graham was killed and the entire rebellion lost momentum. Whilst a number of further battles were fought - and a Jacobite garrison retained at Blair Castle - the uprising was ultimately defused when, on 27 August 1691, the Government offered a general amnesty to any clans who had participated in the uprising provided they took an oath of allegiance.
In 1703 the then owner, John Murray, was elevated to the Duke of Atholl by Queen Anne although this didn't stop his vocal opposition to the Act of Union (1707). Although John took no part his eldest son, William Murray, supported the 1715 rebellion and later fled to France when that was suppressed. He was disinherited with his brother, James Murray, acquiring the castle upon his father's death in 1724.
Around 1740 James commenced major changes to the castle re-modelling it into a Georgian mansion including removal of many of the medieval defences. Nevertheless the castle still played a part in the 1745/6 Jacobite Rising. Although James Murray remained loyal to the Government, many of his relatives supported the Jacobite cause, and the castle was taken by the forces of Prince Charles Stuart (Bonnie Prince Charlie) in September 1745. A Government force retook it shortly after but in February 1746 Lord George Murray, brother to James and a Jacobite, besieged the castle causing extensive damage from artillery. The siege failed as Lord Murray was called north to muster with the Jacobite army for their fateful engagement with the Government army at the Battle of Culloden. After the war James Murray resumed his restoration (and now repair) of the castle.
The castle underwent a final transformation in the 1860s when it was remodelled once more this time under the auspices of Edinburgh architects David Bryce and William Burne. This Victorian "restoration" saw new turrets built along with a ballroom and modern services. Used as an auxiliary hospital during World War I, it was opened to the public in 1936 but remains owned by the Murrays.