270 years ago on 17th March 1746 an assault began on Blair Castle that would make it the last house to be besieged in Great Britain.
Blair Castle has been around, in one form or another, since 1269 and is the ancestral home of Clan Murray and historically the seat of their chief, the Duke of Atholl. It began as a medieval tower that was continually extended over the years. In the 1740’s it was transformed into a stylish home losing its turrets and castellations.
During the first Jacobite Rising in 1689 the Duke of Atholl remained loyal to the government, despite two of his sons joining the Jacobites. However, the castle itself was taken by the Jacobites and it is said the Battle of Killiecrankie was fought because Viscount Dundee did not want to retreat and surrender the castle. Indeed, the Jacobites, led by Dundee held a council of war in the castle on the eve of the battle. After the battle, Blair Castle remained in Jacobite hands for some time.
In the 1715 Rising, the house was again divided. The 1st Duke and his second son, James, supported the government, while his eldest and youngest sons, William and George, followed the Jacobites. When the Rising failed, William was stripped of his title and lands and exiled to France. In his absence, James became 2nd Duke on their father’s death in 1724.
During the 1745 Rising Prince Charles Edward Stuart stayed in the castle on two occasions. The first in September 1745 and then again in February 1746. It was after this though that the Jacobites abandoned the castle leaving it open for Government forces to occupy.
On 17th March 1746 Lord George Murray returned with the Atholl Brigade to begin the siege on his family home and put it back in Jacobite hands. George Murray was the brother of the current Duke of Atholl, James Murray so it was very much a family affair with one supporting Prince Charles and the other the government. It is said when Lord George arrived at Blair he had ‘pipes playing and colours flying’.
The Jacobites managed to surprise the government outposts surrounding the castle and by the afternoon of the 17th terms of surrender were issued to Andrew Agnew, the commander of the government forces holding Blair Castle. Interestingly no one in the Jacobite army was found willing to deliver the summons so it was actually given to Molly of Blair Inn who gave it to a young officer of her acquaintance. He then passed it to Agnew. The Jacobites demanded the castle, garrison, military stores and provisions all be given over into the hands of Lord George Murray; the surrender was refused.
On 18th March the Jacobite opened fire with the first shot said to have been fired by Lady Lude whose nearby house had previously been plundered by the garrison. Unfortunately Lord George Murray was unable to make true headway in his attack on the castle. Equipped with only a couple of small field pieces he couldn’t dent the seven feet thick walls of the castle. After discussing various options Lord George Murray decided the best plan would be to starve the men out as they were low on provisions.
Finally after repeated demands from Prince Charles to return to Inverness in preparation of the approaching Government army Lord George Murray raised the siege on 31st March. The main body of Jacobites left to rejoin Prince Charles and Blair Castle remained in Government hands.
We hope you enjoyed the story of Blair Castle and as always please tweet, comment, like, share and why not visit Blair Castle yourself one day.
All the best, K & D.