ATHOLL, EARLS AND DUKES OF. The Stewart line of the Scottish earls of Atholl, which ended with the 5th Stewart earl in 1595, the earldom reverting to the crown, had originated with Sir John Stewart of Balveny (d. 1512), who was created earl of Atholl about 1457 (new charter 1481). The 5th earl’s daughter, Dorothea, married William Murray, earl of Tullibardine (cr. 1606), who in 1626 resigned his earldom in favour of Sir Patrick Murray, on condition of the revival of the earldom of Atholl in his wife and her descendants. The earldom thus passed to the Murray line, and John Murray, their only son (d. 1642), was accordingly acknowledged as earl of Atholl (the 1st of the Murrays) in 1629.
John Stewart, 4th earl of Atholl, in the Stewart line (d. 1579), son of John, 3rd earl, and of Grizel, daughter of Sir John Rattray, succeeded his father in 1542. He supported the government of the queen dowager, and in 1560 was one of the three nobles who voted in parliament against the Reformation and the Confession of Faith, and declared their adherence to Roman Catholicism. Subsequently, however, he joined the league against Huntly, whom with Murray and Morton he defeated at Corrichie in October 1562, and he supported the projected marriage of Elizabeth with Arran. On the arrival of Mary from France in 1561 he was appointed one of the twelve privy councillors, and on account of his religion obtained a greater share of the queen’s favour than either Murray or Maitland. He was one of the principal supporters of the marriage with Darnley, became the leader of the Roman Catholic nobles, and with Lennox obtained the chief power in the government, successfully protecting Mary and Darnley from Murray’s attempts to regain his ascendancy by force of arms. According to Knox he openly attended mass in the queen’s chapel, and was especially trusted by Mary in her project of reinstating Roman Catholicism. The fortress of Tantallon was placed in his keeping, and in 1565 he was made lieutenant of the north of Scotland. He is described the same year by the French ambassador as “très grand catholique hardi et vaillant et remuant, comme l’on dict, mais de nul 850 jugement et expérience.” He had no share in the murders of Rizzio or Darnley, and after the latter crime in 1567, he joined the Protestant lords against Mary, appeared as one of the leaders against her at Carberry Hill, and afterwards approved of her imprisonment at Lochleven Castle. In July he was present at the coronation of James, and was included in the council of regency on Mary’s abdication. He, however, was not present at Langside in May 1568, and in July became once more a supporter of Mary, voting for her divorce from Bothwell (1569). In March 1570 he signed with other lords the joint letter to Elizabeth asking for the queen’s intercession and supporting Mary’s claims, and was present at the convention held at Linlithgow in April in opposition to the assembly of the king’s party at Edinburgh. In 1574 he was proceeded against as a Roman Catholic and threatened with excommunication, subsequently holding a conference with the ministers and being allowed till midsummer to overcome his scruples. He had failed in 1572 to prevent Morton’s appointment to the regency, but in 1578 he succeeded with the earl of Argyll in driving him from office. On the 24th of March James took the government into his own hands and dissolved the regency, and Atholl and Argyll, to the exclusion of Morton, were made members of the council, while on the 29th Atholl was appointed lord chancellor. Subsequently, on the 24th of May, Morton succeeded in getting into Stirling Castle and in regaining his guardianship of James. Atholl and Argyll, who were now corresponding with Spain in hopes of assistance from that quarter, then advanced to Stirling with a force of 7000 men, when a compromise was arranged, the three earls being all included in the government. While on his way from a banquet held on the 20th of April 1579 on the occasion of the reconciliation, Atholl was seized with sudden illness, and died on the 25th, not without strong suspicions of poison. He was buried at St. Giles’s cathedral in Edinburgh. He married (1) Elizabeth, daughter of George Gordon, 4th earl of Huntly, by whom he had two daughters, and (2) Margaret, daughter of Malcolm Fleming, 3rd Lord Fleming, by whom, besides three daughters, he had John, 5th earl of Atholl, at whose death in 1595 the earldom in default of male heirs reverted to the crown.
John Murray, 1st earl of Atholl in the Murray line (see above), died in 1642. On the outbreak of the civil war he called out the men of Atholl for the king, and was imprisoned by the marquess of Argyll in Stirling Castle in 1640.
John Murray, 2nd earl and 1st marquess of Atholl (1631-1703), son of the 1st earl and of Jean, daughter of Sir Duncan Campbell of Glenorchy, was born on the 2nd of May 1631. In 1650 he joined in the unsuccessful attempt to liberate Charles II. from the Covenanters, and in 1653 was the chief supporter of Glencairn’s rising, but was obliged to surrender with his two regiments to Monk on the 2nd of September 1654. At the restoration Atholl was made a privy councillor for Scotland and sheriff of Fife, in 1661 lord justice-general of Scotland, in 1667 a commissioner for keeping the peace in the western Highlands, in 1670 colonel of the king’s horseguards, in 1671 a commissioner of the exchequer, and in 1672 keeper of the privy seal in Scotland and an extraordinary lord of session. In 1670 he became earl of Tullibardine by the death of his cousin James, 4th earl, and on the 7th of February 1676 he was created marquess of Atholl, earl of Tullibardine, viscount of Balquhidder, Lord Murray, Balvenie and Cask. He at first zealously supported Lauderdale’s tyrannical policy, but after the raid of 1678, called the “Highland Host,” in which Atholl was one of the chief leaders, he joined in the remonstrance to the king concerning the severities inflicted upon the Covenanters, and was deprived of his office of justice-general and passed over for the chancellorship in 1681. In 1679, however, he was present at the battle of Bothwell Brig; in July 1680 he was made vice-admiral of Scotland, and in 1681 president of parliament. In 1684 he was appointed lord-lieutenant of Argyll, and invaded the country, capturing the earl of Argyll after his return from abroad in June 1685 at Inchinnan. The excessive severities with which he was charged in this campaign were repudiated with some success by him after the Revolution.1 The same year he was reappointed lord privy seal, and in 1687 was made a knight of the Thistle on the revival of the order. At the Revolution he wavered from one side to the other, showing no settled purpose but waiting upon the event, but finally in April 1689 wrote to William to declare his allegiance, and in May took part in the proclamation of William and Mary as king and queen at Edinburgh. But on the occasion of Dundee’s insurrection he retired to Bath to drink the waters, while the bulk of his followers joined Dundee and brought about in great measure the defeat of the government troops at Killiecrankie. He was then summoned from Bath to London and imprisoned during August. In 1690 he was implicated in the Montgomery plot and subsequently in further Jacobite intrigues. In June 1691 he received a pardon, and acted later for the government in the pacification of the Highlands. He died on the 6th of May 1703. He married Amelia, daughter of James Stanley, 7th earl of Derby (through whom the later dukes of Atholl acquired the sovereignty of the Isle of Man), and had, besides one daughter, six sons, of whom John became 2nd marquess and 1st duke of Atholl; Charles was made 1st earl of Dunmore, and William married Margaret, daughter of Sir Robert Nairne, 1st Lord Nairne, becoming in her right 2nd Lord Nairne.
John Murray, 2nd marquess and 1st duke of Atholl (1660-1724), was born on the 24th of February 1660, and was styled during his father’s lifetime Lord Murray, till 1696, when he was created earl of Tullibardine. He was a supporter of William and the Revolution in 1688, taking the oaths in September 1689, but was unable to prevent the majority of his clan, during his father’s absence, from joining Dundee under the command of his brother James. In 1693 as one of the commissioners he showed great energy in the examination into the massacre of Glencoe and in bringing the crime home to its authors. In 1694 he obtained a regiment, in 1695 was made sheriff of Perth, in 1696 secretary of state, and from 1696 to 1698 was high commissioner. In the latter year, however, he threw up office and went into opposition. At the accession of Anne he was made a privy councillor, and in 1703 lord privy seal for Scotland. The same year he succeeded his father as 2nd marquess of Atholl, and on the 30th of June he was created duke of Atholl, marquess of Tullibardine, earl of Strathtay and Strathardle, Viscount Balquhidder, Glenalmond and Glenlyon, and Lord Murray, Balvenie and Gask. In 1704 he was made a knight of the Thistle. In 1703-1704 an unsuccessful attempt was made by Simon, Lord Lovat, who used the duke of Queensberry as a tool, to implicate him in a Jacobite plot against Queen Anne; but the intrigue was disclosed by Robert Ferguson, and Atholl sent a memorial to the queen on the subject, which resulted in Queensberry’s downfall. But he fell nevertheless into suspicion, and was deprived of office in October 1705, subsequently becoming a strong antagonist of the government, and of the Hanoverian succession. He vehemently opposed the Union during the years 1705-1707, and entered into a project for resisting by force and for holding Stirling Castle with the aid of the Cameronians, but nevertheless did not refuse a compensation of £1000. According to Lockhart, he could raise 6000 of the best men in the kingdom for the Jacobites. On the occasion, however, of the invasion of 1708 he took no part, on the score of illness, and was placed under arrest at Blair Castle. On the downfall of the Whigs and the advent of the Tories to power, Atholl returned to office, was chosen a representative peer in the Lords in 1710 and 1713, in 1712 was an extraordinary lord of session, from 1713 to 1714 was once more keeper of the privy seal, and from 1712 to 1714 was high commissioner. On the accession of George I. he was again dismissed from office, but at the rebellion of 1715, while three of his sons joined the Jacobites, he remained faithful to the government, whom he assisted in various ways, on the 4th of June 1717 apprehending Robert Macgregor (Rob Roy), who, however, succeeded in escaping. He died on the 14th of November 1724. He married (1) Catherine, daughter of William Douglas, 3rd duke of Hamilton, by whom, besides one daughter, he had six sons, of whom John was killed at Malplaquet in 1709, William was marquess of Tullibardine, and James succeeded his father as 2nd duke on 851 account of the share taken by his elder brother in the rebellion; and (2) Mary, daughter of William, Lord Ross, by whom he had three sons and several daughters.
The Atholl Chronicles have been privately printed by the 7th duke of Atholl (b. 1840). See also S. Cowan, Three Celtic Earldoms (1909).
1 A. Lang, Hist. of Scotland, iii. 407.
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