The Atholl Highlanders
Cap Badge of the Atholl Highlanders
Country Scotland
RolePersonal bodyguard
SizeOne company
Part ofPrivate army
Garrison/HQBlair Atholl
Motto(s)Furth Fortune and Fill the Fetters
MarchThe Atholl Highlanders
Lieutenant Colonel The Earl of Kinnoull
Colonel-in-ChiefThe Duke of Atholl
TartanMurray of Atholl

The Atholl Highlanders is a Scottish ceremonial infantry regiment. They are the only remaining private army in Europe, and act as the personal bodyguard to the Duke of Atholl;[1] Chieftain of the Clan Murray, a family that has thrived in Perthshire for some 750 years. Although it has no official military role, this hand-picked body of local men are armed with Lee Metford rifles, and the regiment includes a pipe band. Joining the Highlanders is by invitation-only from the Duke, who specially selects men with ties to the estate or the local area. The regiment is not part of the British Army but under the command of the Duke of Atholl, and based at Blair Castle, Blair Atholl.[2]


First raising as a regular regiment in the British Army

The regiment was raised in Perthshire by John Murray, 4th Duke of Atholl as the 77th Regiment of Foot (or Atholl Highlanders, or Murray's Highlanders) in December 1777.[3] The regiment was formed as a relief for other regiments serving in North America, and spent most of its existence in Ireland.[4] The terms upon which the regiment was raised stated that the men were to be employed for either three years or the duration of the war in America.[4] In 1781, the original three-year term ended, and the men expected the regiment to be disbanded.[4] However, the regiment was transported to England and marched to Portsmouth to be embarked for service in India.[4] Upon learning of this, the men mutinied, and the embarkation orders were countermanded.[4] The regiment was marched to Berwick, where it disbanded in 1783.[4]

Second raising as a private regiment of the Duke of Atholl

The Atholl Highlanders on parade in 2017
The Atholl Highlanders on parade in 2017
The full dress of the Atholl Highlanders
The full dress of the Atholl Highlanders

More than 50 years later, in 1839, George Murray, 6th Duke of Atholl, as Lord Glenlyon, formed the regiment[3] as a bodyguard which he took to the Eglinton Tournament at Eglinton Castle, Ayrshire.[5] Three years later, in 1842, the regiment escorted Queen Victoria during her tour of Perthshire and, in 1844, when the Queen stayed as a guest of the Duke at Blair Castle, the regiment mounted the guard for the entire duration of her stay.[6] In recognition of the service that the regiment provided during her two visits, the Queen announced that she would present the Atholl Highlanders with colours, thus giving the regiment official status, in perpetuity.[6] The regiment's first stand of colours was presented by Lady Glenlyon in 1845.[6] It received new colours in 1979 from Mrs David Butter, the wife of the Lord Lieutenant of Perth and Kinross.[7] A third stand of colours was presented in 2006 by the Duchess of Atholl.[8]

Under the John Stewart-Murray, 7th Duke, the regiment regularly provided guards for royal visitors to Blair Castle (which was a convenient stopping point on the journey to Balmoral). The regiment also attended the Braemar Gathering, while an annual Atholl gathering was held in the first week in September in which the regiment paraded, then participated in various trials of strength and stamina. Following the First World War, parades of the regiment became fewer, although it did provide guards when the Crown Prince of Japan and King Faisal of Iraq visited Blair Castle in 1921 and 1933 respectively.[9]

After many years of inactivity the regiment remained in abeyance until in 1966, when it was reformed by Iain Murray, 10th Duke of Atholl. The 10th Duke made the decision to revive the regiment’s annual parade.[6] To this effect eight local men mostly estate employees and all with previous military service training were invited to join, seven accepted. They paraded on 8 April 1966 at Blair Castle for the first time in 33 years.[10] They marched past the Duke led by two Atholl Highlander pipers. In 1973 the regiment returned to the Braemar Gathering and took part in a march past in front of the Queen and other members of the royal family.[10] The Atholl Gathering was re-introduced at Target Park in June 1984.[10]

It was feared that the regiment would be disbanded following the 10th Duke's death in 1996, until his successor, John Murray, 11th Duke of Atholl, wrote to the estate trustees insisting that he would continue his traditional role.[11][12] The 11th Duke, although resident in South Africa, visited Blair Atholl almost every year to inspect the regiment's annual parade until his death.[11] The 12th Duke continues this tradition.[13]

The Atholl Highlanders continue with the current Bruce Murray, 12th Duke of Atholl, as their Colonel in Chief.[13]


See also


  1. ^ "Atholl Highland Gathering weekend - Blair Atholl,Highland Games,Pitlochry". Blair Castle. Retrieved 2020-03-12.
  2. ^ "Blair Castle, Pitlochry, Perthshire- 5* Visitor Attraction and Campsite". Blair Castle. Retrieved 2020-03-12.
  3. ^ a b "The Atholl Highlanders [77th Regiment of Foot]". Archived from the original on 18 January 2008. Retrieved 19 February 2017.
  4. ^ a b c d e f "The Atholl Highlanders [77th Regiment of Foot]: Locations". Archived from the original on 18 January 2008. Retrieved 19 February 2017.
  5. ^ "Heraldic shield returns to Blair Castle". Daily Record. 5 February 2010. Retrieved 19 February 2017.
  6. ^ a b c d "Queen Victoria and the fascinating royal story behind the Duke of Atholl's private army revealed". Daily Record. 26 May 2016. Retrieved 19 February 2017.
  7. ^ "Presentation of New Colors to The Atholl Highlanders By Evelyn M.E. Murray, FSA Scot". Clan Murray Newsletter - The Aitionn. 2006. Archived from the original on 20 February 2017. Retrieved 19 February 2017.
  8. ^ "Members of the Atholl Highlanders parade at Blair Atholl on 27 May 2006". Getty images. Retrieved 19 February 2017.
  9. ^ "Atholl Highlanders" (PDF). Atholl Estates Newsletter. 2006. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2006-10-05. Retrieved 19 February 2017.
  10. ^ a b c "The History of the Atholl Highlanders". Blair Castle. Retrieved 7 April 2020.
  11. ^ a b "The Duke of Atholl". The Daily Telegraph. May 17, 2012. Retrieved May 20, 2012.
  12. ^ Daily Mirror, March 20, 1996
  13. ^ a b "Bruce Murray, 12th Duke of Atholl". Jacaranda FM. Retrieved 19 February 2017.