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  John Murray (1660–1724), by Thomas Murray, 1705 John Murray (1660–1724), by Thomas Murray, 1705
Murray, John, first duke of Atholl (1660–1724), army officer and politician, was the eldest son of , and Lady Amelia Sophia Stanley (1633–1703), fourth daughter of . He was born at Knowsley, Lancashire, on 24 February 1660. On 24 May 1683 he married his first wife, Lady Katherine Hamilton (bap. 1662, d. 1707), eldest daughter of William Douglas (later Hamilton), third duke of Hamilton; they had six sons and one daughter who survived childhood. Katherine died on 17 January 1707, and three years later Murray married (on 26 June 1710) Lady Mary Ross (1687–1767), second daughter of William, twelfth Lord Ross. This marriage produced three sons who survived childhood, including .

Early military career, 1678–1690

Lord John Murray, as he was first known, was born into an Episcopalian family, but he had professed Presbyterianism by the mid-1690s. George Lockhart of Carnwath, the contemporary Jacobite commentator, observed that by the early eighteenth century Murray ‘courted, and preserved his interest with, the Presbyterian ministers, professing always to be firm to their Kirk government, hearing them in the churches, and patronizing them much more than those of the episcopal perswasion’ (Scotland's Ruine, 41). Lockhart also observed that Murray ‘made no great figure in the first part of his life. And the first mention I find of him was his conveening as many of his friends, followers and vassals as he could to oppose my Lord Dundee [1689]’ (ibid., 40). However, as early as 1678 Murray had accompanied his father and the notorious ‘highland host’ as part of the suppression of covenanting activities in south-west Scotland. In 1682 he was a captain of both the infantry and horse militia in Perthshire. As the son-in-law of William, third duke of Hamilton, the man who had defeated Murray's father for the presidency of the 1689 convention, John is reputed to have influenced his father in acknowledging William of Orange. The house of Atholl was notoriously (and perhaps pragmatically) divided over the revolution, but Murray has been described as ‘the Williamite arm of the Atholl interest’ (Riley, King William, 108).

His father's departure for Bath before the meeting of the 1689 parliament left Murray in charge of the Atholl estate and men, whom he was anxious to prevent joining the rising of John Graham of Claverhouse, Viscount Dundee. Dundee wrote to Murray urging him to hold Blair Castle for King James, but when no reply was received, Dundee instructed Stewart of Ballechin, Atholl's bailie, to seize the castle. Murray assembled 1500 of the clan, with a view to blockading the castle and forcing Ballechin out. However, many of Murray's followers withdrew to protect their livestock against Dundee's advancing army. Others withdrew when they learned that Murray was determined to support William of Orange. Murray attempted to dissuade General Hugh Mackay from marching into Atholl, but his request was rejected. In a dispatch from Dunkeld on 26 July (prior to the battle of Killiecrankie on the following day), Mackay declared that if Blair Castle was not in Murray's hands by the time he arrived, then he would hang Ballechin over the highest wall, and that if Murray supported Ballechin's actions he would burn Blair Castle from end to end. In a second dispatch of 26 July, Mackay instructed Murray to post himself at the entry of the pass on the side of Blair Castle. Murray obeyed this order, but he was unable to muster more than 200 men. Fifty Atholl men are reputed to have fought with Viscount Dundee at Killiecrankie, while large numbers of the clan afterwards joined the Jacobite rebels under the command of Murray's brother Lord James of Dowally. Atholl men also joined in the pursuit of the routed government forces in the aftermath of Killiecrankie. Murray received scathing criticism from General Mackay on account of the clan's behaviour, for which he held Murray responsible. However, Murray was opposed to his brother's stand, and appears to have been embarrassed by such conduct. On 7 June 1690 he was appointed as a commissioner of supply for both Perthshire and Fife.

Politics, 1691–1704

Murray was one of the commissioners appointed to inquire into the Glencoe massacre. He was active in securing evidence to bring the perpetrators to justice, affirming that it concerned ‘the whole nation to have that barbarous action … laied on to the true author and contriver of it’ (Atholl MSS, 45). On 12 February 1694 Murray was given the command of a regiment to be raised in Scotland, and on 17 December of the following year he was made sheriff of Perthshire for life. As a result of changes in William III's ministry, on 14 January 1696 he was appointed as one of the secretaries of state, along with Sir James Ogilvy, the future earl of Seafield. He was created earl of Tullibardine, Viscount Glenalmond, and Lord Murray on 27 July 1696, without prejudice to his succession to the titles of his father. As earl of Tullibardine he was the high commissioner to the parliamentary session which met from 8 September to 12 October 1696, his ennoblement coming about because custom dictated that only a peer could represent the king in parliament. Tullibardine's appointment as high commissioner had the direct approval of William III, who wrote from Loo on 28 August that ‘the knowledge we have of his capacity, as well as his zealous affection and firm fidelity to our person and government will certainly render him acceptable’ (Scots peerage, 1.479). However, he resigned the secretaryship in 1698 having faced intense political and factional pressure from the Queensberry and Argyll interests in Scottish politics, and having failed to secure the presidency of the court of session for Sir William Hamilton of Whitelaw (despite royal assurance), the post going instead to Sir Hugh Dalrymple of Stair, indicating Queensberry's triumph. His replacement during the parliamentary session of 1698 (19 July – 1 September), which Tullibardine attended, was Patrick Hume, first earl of Marchmont. The patent creating him earl of Tullibardine was recorded on 19 July, and on the same day he took the oath of allegiance and subscribed the assurance and association in favour of William III. He also attended the parliamentary sessions of 21–30 May 1700 and 29 October 1700–1 February 1701, when the Darien crisis was the leading political issue. He was a strong supporter of the project, and his anger at its perceived sabotage was reflected in his voting, albeit in a minority, in favour of a full parliamentary act, as opposed to an address, to the king, outlining the house's outrage. On 28 January he was one of seventy-eight members who voted against the continuation of the armed forces until December 1702; on 31 January he also voted against a resolve for the continuation of 1100 men for four months over and above the quota of 3000 men already decided upon. He did not attend the final session of the Williamite parliament which sat from 9 to 30 June 1702.

On the accession of Queen Anne, Tullibardine was made a privy councillor and then lord privy seal in April 1703. On the death of his father, he was created marquess of Tullibardine and first duke of Atholl; in February 1704 he was also made a knight of the Thistle. During the 1703 parliament Lockhart of Carnwath argued that Atholl ‘trimmed betwixt Court and Cavaliers’ and that he would probably have continued to do so, ‘had not been the Duke of Queensberry trumped up the plot upon him’ (Scotland's Ruine, 41). The proposed Jacobite plot in which Queensberry, on the evidence of Simon Fraser (later Lord Lovat), implicated Atholl did ‘so exasperate him [Atholl] against the Court’ that he ‘joyned entirely with the Cavaliers’. Atholl's revolution principles were dropped and ‘he became all of a sudden a violent Jacobite, and took all methods to gain the favour and confidence of the Cavaliers’ (ibid.). Lockhart stated that this was ‘in some measure obtained’, particularly in Fife, Forfarshire, Perth, and other northern areas. Thus, Atholl ‘affected extreamly to be the head of that party and outrival the Duke of Hamilton’ (ibid.).

Opposing the Act of Union

It was as lord privy seal that Atholl attended the 1704 parliamentary session (6 July–28 August). On 17 July he proposed that the Queensberry plot should be examined by parliament, though this never came to fruition. On 5 August he was appointed as a commissioner of supply for the separate areas of Perthshire, Fife, and Forfarshire. His prominent opposition stance during the 1705 parliamentary session (28 June–21 September) prompted his proposal on 1 September to add a clause to the draft act for a treaty of union with England, stating that negotiating commissioners were not to leave Scotland or enter into any treaty negotiations until the English parliament had repealed the Alien Act. His request was defeated, but prior to voting on the clause he declined a formal protestation concerning this issue adhered to by an additional seventy-nine members. Parliament then proceeded to consider the means to nominate the Scottish commissioners to negotiate a treaty. This resulted in the volte-face of James Douglas, fourth duke of Hamilton, who proposed that the commissioners should be chosen by the queen and not parliament. Hamilton's motion was carried late in the day, with many members absent. Prior to voting on the act for a treaty (with the right of nomination invested in the queen), Atholl submitted another formal protestation, adhered to by seventy-three members, against the act. In July 1706 Atholl was offered payment of arrears of salary if he would absent himself from the forthcoming parliamentary session to vote on the treaty negotiated during the summer. An indirect approach was also made through Atholl's brother , now aligned to Queensberry, but the offer was rejected by Atholl's wife on her husband's instructions.

Atholl was a leading opponent of the treaty of Union when its articles were debated and voted on in the final session of the Scottish parliament (3 October 1706–25 March 1707). Prior to the vote on article 1 of the treaty (4 November), Atholl handed in a protestation, adhered to by sixty-five members, against an incorporating union. He thereafter voted against this article and consistently against the majority, but not all, of the treaty provisions. He also adhered to others' protestations, including that on 12 November 1706 from Lord Belhaven which claimed that the future of the Church of Scotland would not be secure in an incorporating union. And prior to voting against article 2 (Hanoverian succession), he supported the Earl Marischal, who stated that the future succession should not be determined until ‘there be such Conditions of Government settled and enacted as may secure the Honour and Sovereignty of this Crown & Kingdom, the freedom, frequency and power of Parliament, the Religion, liberty and trade of the Nation from English or any forreign influence’ (APS, 11.325). On 18 November he voted with Lord Annandale against article 3 of the treaty (that the united kingdom of Great Britain be represented by one and the same parliament entitled the parliament of Great Britain). On 7 January 1707 Atholl also handed in a protestation against article 22 of the treaty and the future Scottish representation of forty-five members in the House of Commons and sixteen peers in the House of Lords. For Atholl such representation was an attack and slur on the rights of the Scottish peers and the rights of the shires and burghs. It was, he stated, ‘plain and evident that this from a Soveraign Independent Monarchie shall dissolve it's Constitution and be at the disposall of England whose Constitution is not in the least to be altered by this Treaty’ (ibid., 387). However, Atholl also extended the scope of his protestation to deal with wider issues relating to the treaty. He referred to the anti-union addresses and petitions being handed in to parliament as indicating that ‘there is a generall dislike and aversion to the incorporating Union as contained in these articles’ (ibid.). Accordingly, Atholl stated that the queen should be informed of the ‘Inclinations of her People’ and that a new parliament should be called by the queen, if she thought fit. Such a parliament, in Atholl's view, could ‘satisfie the minds of the people, and creat a good understanding betwixt the two Kingdoms by an Union upon honourable, just and equall terms which may Unite them in affection and interest the surest foundation of peace and tranquillity’ (ibid.).

Atholl is not recorded in the voting rolls for article 4 of the treaty, concerning the issue of freedom of trade. Therefore, he either abstained from the vote or was absent from parliament. According to official parliamentary voting records he was not present in parliament on 16 January 1707, when the complete treaty was ratified, an absence which might be explained by the death of his first wife on the 17th. Interestingly, and despite his stand against the court, Atholl received a payment of £1000 sterling (£12,000 Scots) out of the £20,000 sterling sent north for the payment of arrears of salary by the court. Atholl had recorded arrears of £1500 sterling (£18,000 Scots), but he was in debt to his brother Lord Dunmore. According to P. W. J. Riley, Atholl ‘offered to transfer his arrears to him leaving him to make the best bargain with the court’ (Riley, Union of England and Scotland, 259). Dunmore received a court payment of £200 sterling (£2400 Scots), though he had no recorded arrears, and, according to Riley, may have received Atholl's payment of £1000 sterling. Dunmore himself voted in favour of the Union, which means that Atholl ‘could have benefited indirectly from it, whilst himself opposing the court though abstaining or absent on the ratification vote’ (ibid.).

Atholl's public objection to union was not restricted to the political sphere. According to Gilbert Burnet, Atholl was ‘believed to be in foreign correspondence and was strongly set on violent methods’ to oppose the treaty (Bishop Burnet's History, ed. Burnet and Burnet, 800). It was a view confirmed by Lockhart of Carnwath, who claimed to know that:
he was very frank and chearful to enter into any, though the most desperate, measures in the years 1706 and 1707, to obstruct the Hanoverian succession, and especially the Union, because, perhaps, he had but a small estate and could not expect to make so great an appearance after the Union as if the kingdom of Scotland remained. But be the reasons what they will, certain it is he would have gone to the field rather than it should have passed, and had others been as forward as himself. (Scotland's Ruine, 41)
On 27 December 1706 Atholl voted against a proclamation discharging ‘Unwarrantable and seditious Convocations and Meetings’ (APS, 11.371–2), which was issued in the context of continued public disorder and fears over a possible armed uprising. Cameronian–Jacobite negotiations were conducted through John Ker of Kersland to attempt to secure pragmatic co-operation between Jacobites and Cameronians to resist the Union by force. Atholl's highlanders were to secure the pass of Stirling, and Lockhart states that Atholl ‘frankly undertook what was demanded and seemed very keen to have the project executed’ (Scotland's Ruine, 182). According to his own account, Ker was persuaded by Queensberry's arguments to dissuade the Cameronians from proceeding any further (J. Ker of Kersland, The Memoirs of John Ker, 3 vols., 1726 [repr. 1727], 30–34).

Later political career, 1708 onwards

In the aftermath of the Union, Atholl was suspected by the privy council of being involved in the projected Jacobite invasion of 1708. Yet in his dealings with Scottish Jacobites, Nathaniel Hooke (1664–1738), found Atholl an elusive character who gave no definite commitment to support a Jacobite rising. Following the expedition's failure Atholl was summoned to appear before the privy council at Edinburgh, but a physician was sent instead to confirm that Atholl was too ill to attend. In response dragoons were ordered to seize Blair Castle, though the order was later countermanded upon ‘just certificate of his dangerous illness’ (N. Luttrell, A Brief Historical Relation of State Affairs from September 1678 to April 1714, 6 vols., 1857, 6.298). Accordingly, no further action was taken against Atholl. In 1710 he was chosen as one of the sixteen Scottish representative peers in the election, at which the tories were returned to power. Having been appointed an extraordinary lord of session on 7 November 1712, he was again chosen as a representative peer in 1713. Atholl acted as lord high commissioner to the general assembly of the Church of Scotland in 1712, 1713, and 1714. He was reappointed as lord privy seal in 1713, but this was superseded in 1714. Atholl obtained letters under the great seal in 1713 continuing the office of sheriff of Perthshire to him for life, and, on his death, to his eldest surviving son, Lord William.

Following the death of Queen Anne in August 1714, Atholl proclaimed George I king, at Perth. None the less, he was thereafter deprived of the office of lord privy seal, though he was appointed lord lieutenant of Perthshire in August 1715. As at the aftermath of the revolution of 1688, the house of Atholl was divided over the Jacobite rising of 1715. Atholl and his son , sided with the Hanoverian cause, but his sons , , and all followed James Francis Edward Stuart, the Pretender. In 1715 Atholl obtained an act of parliament for vesting his honours in his second surviving son, James, as a result of the participation of his eldest son, William, in the Jacobite rising. Atholl himself was involved in supporting the government against Jacobite activities. On 27 July 1715 he wrote to the provost of Perth offering to supply two or three hundred men to guard the burgh. On 7 September he sent information to John Campbell, second duke of Argyll, informing him of the movements of John Erskine, earl of Mar. Atholl informed Argyll that he would prevent Mar from passing through his territory, and that he would guard the fords and boats on the River Tay between Dunkeld and Loch Tay. On 9 October Atholl wrote to the earl of Sutherland seeking the latter's presence in Atholl with military aid. Atholl assured Sutherland that the north side of the River Forth could be recovered if Sutherland came with a force of between two and three thousand men. Despite this approach Atholl received no reply from Sutherland. In the wake of the battle of Sheriffmuir, he stated his intention of marching to Perth to recover the town from the Jacobite rebels, though this intention was not fulfilled. After the retreat and dispersal of the rebels, Atholl was particularly active in collecting weapons from those involved in the uprising. He further ingratiated himself with the government by his capture of the highland folk hero Rob Roy MacGregor on 3 June 1717, despite his friendship with MacGregor over several years.

Atholl died at Huntingtower, Perthshire, on 14 November 1724, and was buried at Dunkeld on 26 November. Lockhart of Carnwath offered an ambivalent assessment of the abilities of a politician who was ‘endowed with good natural parts, though by reason of his proud, imperious, haughty, passionate temper he was no ways capable to be the leading man of a party which he aimed at’ (Scotland's Ruine, 42). He was, Lockhart added:
selfish to a great degree, and his vanity and ambition extended so far that he could not suffer an equal … He was reputed very brave, but hot and headstrong, and, though no scholar nor orator, yet expressed his mind very handsomely on publick occasions. (ibid.)
This was a view endorsed by Macky, who believed Atholl was ‘of a very proud, fiery, partial disposition; [he] does not want sense, but cloaks himself with passion, which he is easily wound up to when he speaks in public assemblies’ (Memoirs of the Secret Services, 184). On his death the dukedom passed to his second son, James, while his eldest son, William, was styled second duke by Jacobite sympathizers.

John R. Young


DNB · APS, 1689–1707 · Scotland's ruine: Lockhart of Carnwath's memoirs of the Union, ed. D. Szechi (1995) · Scots peerage · J. J. H. H. Stewart-Murray, seventh duke of Atholl, Chronicles of the Atholl and Tullibardine families, 5 vols. (privately printed, Edinburgh, 1908) · P. W. J. Riley, King William and the Scottish politicians (1979) · P. W. J. Riley, The union of England and Scotland: a study in Anglo-Scottish politics of the eighteenth century (1978) · B. Lenman, The Jacobite risings in Britain, 1689–1746 (1984) · W. Ferguson, Scotland's relations with England: a survey to 1707 (1977) · J. Elder, The highland host of 1678 (1914) · P. Hopkins, Glencoe and the end of the highland war (1998) · Manuscripts of the duke of Atholl … and of the earl of Home, HMC, 26 (1891) · Bishop Burnet’s History of his own time, ed. G. Burnet and T. Burnet, 2 vols. (1724–34) · Memoirs of the secret services of John Macky, ed. A. R. (1733)


Blair Castle, Perthshire, corresp. and papers · NL Scot., legal corresp. · NRA, priv. coll., corresp. and papers |  BL, letters to Lord Godolphin, Add. MS 28055 · College of William and Mary, Williamsburg, Virginia, corresp. with earl of Dunmore · NA Scot., corresp. with Lord Leven · NA Scot., corresp. with earl of Mar · NA Scot., letters to duke of Montrose · NL Scot., corresp. with first and second marquesses of Tweeddale · NRA, priv. coll., letters to duchess of Hamilton · U. Edin. L., MSS relating to family dispute with his brother


T. Murray, oils, 1705, Blair Castle, Tayside [see illus.] · T. Murray, oils, Blair Castle, Tayside