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End London Rule

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Lord George Murray; "The Jacobite General"

George Murray born at Huntingtower outside Perth on the 4th of October 1694, lamented in Jacobite circles as the hero of the “45”. But was there more to Murray than meets the eye...
Brought up with the staunchly Jacobite views of his aunt Lady Nairne, Murray was “convinced that the setting aside of the royal line was an act of the highest injustice” Failing to settle in Glasgow University at the age of 17, George Murray was commissioned into the forces of Queen Anne in an anxious and desperate attempt to escape from a stern and difficult Whig father. Travelling to Flanders as an ensign in the British Royal Regiment he was to spend a winter in a sick bay in Dunkirk and the next two years of peacetime soldiering in the British army on the continent. He was on leave in Scotland when Mar raised the standard at Braemar on the 3rd September 1715 and joyfully exchanged a cornetcy in the army of George I for a colonelcy in the army of James VIII. He commanded a battalion of Athollmen though missed the Battle of Sheriffmuir being in Fife raising cess. Three years of exile in France and Italy he was to return for the rising of 1719 this time as a Major General. Losing everything they owned in that failure and refused the support of his Whig parent he was banished once more to an exiled wandering of Europe.

After 8 and half years in exile he risked his life returning to Scotland to visit his dying father.  His beloved monarch James VIII had given him permission to seek a pardon. This he did in 1725 through the good auspices of his brother James who had remained loyal to the Hanoverian Government. On disadvantageous terms he was given the old Murray lands around Tullibardine Castle and thereafter set himself at making a living from this long neglected estate. Marrying Amelia the daughter of James Murray of Glencarse and his wife Lady Strowan, George Murray also inherited the lands of Strowan and Arnhall near Stirling.

For the next 20 years Murray became a loyal servant to Great Britain but doggedly refused to take the oath of allegiance to the hated “House of Hanover”. Murray was a great supporter of the union and prided himself as a citizen of the world. His letters to his wife and Whig brother reveal a wholly British outlook. He strongly disapproved of money being expended upon foreign wars, which benefited Hanover rather than Britain and he hated to hear of British reverses. As the years slipped by any spirit of Scottish Patriotism he had in his youth disappeared and he gradually developed an intense desire that the prestige of Great Britain should be upheld among the nations of the world. In 1743 on a visit to London he was confronted with the necessity of kissing George II’s hand. And so it was, the once staunch Jacobite gave up his allegiances for an image at the British court and a kiss at the podgy hand of a German princeling. Assisted by his Whig brother’s friend Duncan Forbes of Culloden his words of submission to the Hanoverian monarchy were worded in the least painful of manners.

Murray was a member of the British elite. A landowner of the new British state in a Union that was slowly consuming all the efforts of hostility to it. Murray’s eldest son was sent to the english public school of Eton and destined for a commission in the British army of the House of Hanover. To Murray though it was the character of the sovereign whom he had good reason to believe would have made one of the best monarchs to occupy the British throne. Murray had assured his King James long before “that his attachment and fidelity would never alter”. The scene was now set for the arrival of his son Charles in his attempt to regain the throne of Great Britain for his father and Murray’s loyalty was to be put into practice once again, but for Great Britain and not for Scotland?

Loyalty and fidelity to James VIII did not necessarily mean the same to his son Charles, the “Irish intriguers” would play on the dislike that manifested itself between the Prince and his General, Lord George Murray. From day one rumours of Murray’s allegiance to the cause manifested themselves at the table of the Prince and his advisers and hangers on. Yet Murray commanded the loyalty of the chiefs and ensured that he dressed in the tartans of his Highland division. The story of the “45” is well known and many have questioned the loyalty of its hero Lord George Murray.

What are the grounds for these questions of disloyalty?

His wide knowledge of contemporary affairs at home and abroad, Murray was looked upon by the Chiefs as their spokesman.

Murray therefore became the chief instrument in thwarting many of the most cherished schemes of his Prince who very early in the campaign began to regard him not only with suspicion but with intense personal dislike.

The mischief-maker and one of the Moidart seven. Sir John MacDonald accused Murray of “a very good dragoon he knew very little of the general”

On the march south Murray gave up on the siege of Carlisle claiming “he knew little of siege warfare” Shortly afterwards Murray wrote to his Prince asking to be relieved of his commission. Despising the interference of the quarter master general O’Sullivan. The Prince refused to accept it.

Shortly after a Ranald MacDonald an officer of Keppochs Regiment claimed that a widow he had lodged with informed him that “a personage in our army was corresponding closely with the Government his name was Lord George Murray.

And so to Derby. With a force of just 4,500 men the Prince’s army halted 100 miles for their goal. At the council meeting in Exeter House, Murray was for retreat back to Scotland. The Prince was distraught he wanted to continue with London open before them. The retreat was agreed and old Sir Thomas Sheridan was heard to remark “All is over. We shall never come this way again”.

Was Murray in secret talks with the Hanoverian Government?

The 240 mile lightning retreat back to the border was a success but was Murray kept informed of the movements of the Government forces?

Murray always advocated the release of any prisoners taken. This proved to be a mistake as many of those released after Prestonpans were to fight against the Jacobites at Falkirk and Culloden.

At Falkirk, Murray lost control of the Highland battalions mostly MacDonald clansmen in his right wing. This loss of control was almost fatal to the victory and had the government infantry not turned and ran from the field Falkirk may have been a disaster.

The retreat to the Highlands saw Murray lead a force to Atholl in an effort to drive out the many Campbell Militia men now stationed there. Murray was once again accused of being too lenient. He missed the opportunity of blowing up his brother’s castle at Blair. He returned a captured Hessian officer to his corps which was to lead to the Hessian Prince halting his force of 6,000 at Pitlochry declaring he was “not enough interested in the quarrel between the House of Stuart and Hanover”.

The accusations continued. The Frenchman D’Eguilles wrote to the French Minister D’Argenson that he believed that Lord George Murray meant to betray the Prince.

With a stand east of Inverness agreed Murray was strong in his disagreement that the ground chosen was unsuitable for their way of fighting and did not suit a Highland charge. With at least 1,500 men still to come in they advocated a further retrial. But Murray devised a surprise attack by night march to Nairn where Cumberland’s forces were camped. This was  a disaster. Not only did Murray give up within sight of Cumberland’s pickets he about turned his advance force and marched them all the way back by road to the field at Culloden House.

The accusations of treachery continued. The Irish about the Prince were warned to watch the motions of Murray in battle and to shoot him if they found he intended to betray him.

The battlefield of Culloden placed the Jacobite line between the park walls of Culloden House on the left and the enclosure walls of Cullwiniac Farm on the right. Murray commanded the right wing with his Atholl Brigade. The MacDonald’s were placed on the left. Many have incorrectly stated that Clan Donald did not charge that fateful day. This is incorrect and recent archaeological study proves that the Jacobite right did charge forward but were hampered by the poor terrain. Much has been made of the uproar from the Clan Donald leadership that they had not been awarded their heredity right wing stance.

With the Government lines being drawn up in front of them Murray requested permission to swap his wing with the MacDonald’s moving to the right. This was refused as to cause confusion in front of the enemy. What did Murray know was to come?

With both sides drawn up cannon fire began. Murray wheeled the right wing further forward. This caused huge gaps in the Jacobite centre forcing the second line to take up positions in the front line to plug them.

On the charge, Murray’s right wing was aided by the farm track that ran to Leanach. Murray once again lost control of the charge. He allowed his flank to be turned. Despite his Athollmen fighting valiantly and at one point had they the reserve could have changed the day. But the flank was turned. This was the main cause of the defeat at Culloden.

Questions remain.  Why were the British forces allowed to turn the right flank through the Cullwiniac parks so easily? Why was the right flank chosen and not the easy route around Culloden House on the left. If Murray was the general that some have made him out to be, why then did he lose control of the situation?

He lost his wig in the charge but many of the leaders lost their lives.

Murray survived and made his escape but one last twist to the tale remains. With a force of over 3,000 gathered at Ruthven some of them not even at Culloden and fresh for the fight. The order came from the Prince. “Let every man seek his safety in the best way he can.”  And so they did.......Could the general, Murray have continued the fight in the mountains and rallied the clans again? No. It was everyman for himself and the butchers broom began its sweep.

There were many recriminations and writings following the failure. Many accusations of blame from the day after Culloden to the present day. Murray was forced into exile again and would see out his life in the land of is ancestor William the Silent, Prince of Orange the founder of the protestant Dutch Republic. He died aged 66 on the 11th of October 1760 in Medemblik and is buried in the grounds of the church there.

Murray's funeral hatchment below indicating his pedigree. It includes the royal arms of the Netherlands indicating his descent from William the Silent, Prince of Orange and founder of the Dutch Republic. Also included are Arms of; Murray Duke of Atholl, Stewart Earl of Atholl, Campbell of Glenorchy, Lord Sinclair, Stanley Earl of Derby, De Vere Earl of Oxford, La Tremoille Duc de Thouars, Nassau Prince of Orange, The Red Douglas Earl of Angus, Lord Oliphant, The Cock o the North, Marquis of Huntly, Stewart d'Aubigny Duke of Lennox, Hamilton Duke of Hamilton, Cunningham Earl of Glencairn, Fielding Earlo of Denbigh, Villiers later Duke of Buckingham;
Through the Stanleys, Murray was descended from King Henry VII, and thus from the vigorous english houses of Tudor and Plantagenet.

He is remembered as the “Jacobite General” A Hero or Villain? A Scottish Patriot?? Or just another member of the Scottish elite that had grasped their part in the British Empire and looked to change what king ruled over it??

Our thanks to Katherine Tomasson who’s painstaking research of the Atholl Papers made some of these assumptions possible.



  1. I'll say hero. I think what happened was the Prince didn't take his advice because the Prince was surrounded by yes men. We will never know what would have happened, but I think we would have at least made them bleed more had Lord George Murry had more to do with where we met in battle and how we deployed our men. This man was a hero of Scotland.
    If there is anything else to learn from the story above, it's how divisive we as Scots can be to such a great cause as Indpendence. What we need to learn is to stand together.

  2. Interesting comment. Do you think Murray cared about Scottish Independence? Is a hero a man that leads others to their deaths in battles? Yes agree, divisive and there are many many causes of this both then and now and Murray was a part of that cause then. We only need to learn from the mistakes of the past to stand united for the future. So sticking a crown on one's head in London will never unite Scotland not then and not now.

  3. if Charles had listened to good solid advice from a man who had directed three Jacobite battles and three victories for the Highlanders and had let lord George take charge of the events at Culloden Moor the outcome could have and would probably have been so different .