• Jacobite exhibition at Blair Castle, Perthshire
  • Blair Castle's Duchess Kitty Exhibition

A Family Divided – The Atholls and The Jacobite Risings

Our new Jacobite exhibition reflects the trials and tribulations that the Atholl family and Blair Castle endured during the Jacobite rebellion. Entry into the Jacobite and Duchess Kitty exhibitions are included as part of our Castle tours.

The History

From the Battle of Killiecrankie in 1689 and Bonnie Dundee’s death to the final battle of Culloden, we see how a family was politically and physically divided for over 60 years.

The Jacobite attempts to restore the Stuart monarchy in the first half of the 18th century led to a dangerous period of intrigue and plots. Members of the Atholl family supported different sides of the political divide: father opposed son and brother fought brother.

The Family

The artefacts, plans, and documents in the exhibition will help explain and bring to life the story of the family. John, 1st Duke of Atholl, and his second son remained loyal to the Government, but suspicion remained regarding the family’s allegiance given that three of the Duke’s sons were at the heart of the Jacobite uprisings. William, the Duke’s heir, was disinherited and fled to France after the failed uprising of 1715 along with his brother George. The third brother Charles was captured at Preston however, but the Duke was able to secure a pardon for Charles and George.

With the death of the first Duke, his second son James inherited the title becoming the 2nd Duke of Atholl.

Bonnie Prince Charlie

Lord George returned to Scotland, but William remained exiled in France only to return in 1745 with Bonnie Prince Charlie. William did not accept his disinheritance and was often referred to as the Jacobite Duke. He travelled with Bonnie Prince Charlie to Blair Castle, raising an army as they went. Lord George rejoined the Jacobite cause well aware that it may cost him his life which he notes in a letter to his brother James.

The exhibition goes on to explain how the castle was besieged by Lord George and only saved due to his withdrawal from the Battle of Culloden. Finally, looking at the aftermath of Culloden, how the political and social landscape changed for the family, and how they emerged united.

The Exhibition

Watch the video below to find out more about ‘A Family Divided – The Atholls and The Jacobite Risings’.

Artefact Highlights

Pictured below are a few items from the exhibition: a Jacobite ticket used to access secret meetings note the tiny handwritten names of fallen Jacobites. A rarely seen ivory sight compass dating from 1745 previously having belonged to Bonnie Prince Charlie and still in working order. Bonnie Prince Charlie stayed at the castle at the end of August 1745.

The set of bagpipes dating from the early 18th century, with a silver sleeve on the chanter inscribed in Gaelic and English, ‘These pipes belonged to John McGregor, piper to the Duke of Atholl, played in the Battles of Prince Charles Stuart’s Army in 1745-6.’

Jacobite Exhibition Blair Castle

Duchess Kitty Exhibition

Katharine Marjory Ramsay was born on the 6th November 1874 at her family home Bamff House in Alyth, Perthshire. Katharine – or Kitty as she was normally called – was a studious child more often than not found with her head in a book. Kitty excelled in music and composition and in 1892 she entered the Royal College of Music.

First Encounters 

In 1896 Lady Charlotte was invited with her eldest daughter Kitty to the annual Atholl Gathering and house party at Blair Castle. Kitty was not impressed and attended under protest, even taking books, music, and her bicycle as ways to pass the time.

Lord Tullibardine, heir to the 7th Duke of Atholl, or ‘Bardie’ as he was known, was intrigued with Kitty and invited her for a tour of the Castle grounds. However much to Kitty’s displeasure, he brought another young lady for the tour expecting Kitty to follow behind. Kitty quickly turned back, when he followed and asked why she had left Kitty very quickly set him right!

She was clever, spirited, and independent – not something Bardie had encountered before. They spent the rest of the weekend in lengthy conversation walking around the estate. Kitty met a man who could hold a philosophical discourse, was amusing and had a fascinating and striking personality.

Bardie wrote to Kitty and a love affair of the heart began. They became secretly engaged, finally marrying on the 20th of July 1899.  Kitty was not unaware of what marrying a Duke would mean to her life or the commitment it would require. One of the things she would have to give up was her music studies.

Duchess Kitty and Bardie, 8th Duke of Atholl

World War

As World War began, Bardie and his regiment the Scottish Horse were deployed to the Gallipoli peninsula. Bardie, as usual, could not bear to be parted from Kitty and arranged for her to sail to Egypt in October 1915.

Once she arrived, Kitty visited the hospital in Alexandria where many soldiers were being treated, including her brother Douglas. Kitty wrote letters home for them, helped them to eat, and read to them.

This is where her involvement with nursing and the Voluntary Aid Detachment nurses began. This led to her becoming chairman of an executive committee that arranged concerts for the troops. With the evacuation of Gallipoli, Kitty realised there would be a large number of casualties so she secured the house to be used as a convalescent home.

In January 1917, with the death of the 7th Duke, Kitty became a Duchess. The newspapers used quotes such as ‘A good speaker and organiser….Petite, graceful, dark-haired, and charming…..kindest and brightest of women…devoted to life in the Highlands’.

As the war continued, Kitty opened up the Castle ballroom and North wing as a convalescent home. This was to be staffed by excellent nurses from the VAD and the Red Cross – both organisations Kitty was heavily involved in.

Her Life in Parliament

The nation, including Kitty and Bardie, was relieved the war was finally over. Back at Blair, Kitty settled down to Highland life in her own indomitable style. She was elected to the County Education Authority of Perthshire, as the Highland District Member and by 1920 she was on over 25 Committees.

What all of these had in common was Kitty’s unfailing desire to help others in need or distress – and using her intelligence, political shrewdness and vast amounts of energy – she did just that.

Lloyd George, the then Prime Minister was keen to have more women in the House of Commons and suggested just that to Duchess Kitty. With support from Bardie, she stood as a Conservative candidate for West Perthshire and won in 1923, becoming one of only three women in Parliament.

Duchess Kitty took her seat in Parliament in 1924 and became the first Conservative women minister in the Department of Education, a position which she held until 1929.

Duchess Kitty Atholl Estates

Foreign Affairs

Kitty became more and more concerned with foreign affairs, particularly in relation to women and children. With this in mind, she established a committee looking into female circumcision (FGM).

A particularly unpopular topic, this did not deter Kitty and she raised the issue in Parliament with only two other female MPs present. FGM is a topic still relevant today as it was made illegal in 1985 and with the first successful prosecution in 2019, Kitty would have approved.

In 1931, Kitty produced Conscription of a People that she had written after her usual careful, thorough research on official Russian publications and from interviews with refugees. This exposed the horrors of the Russian labour camps, the seizures of property and the secret police campaign of terror.

In 1933, an English version of Mein Kampf by Hitler was published, it outlined Hitler’s political ideology and future plans for Germany. Kitty was very alarmed by this, having read the original German version. She spoke to fellow politicians sharing her fears about Hitler, even going to the effort to produce an accurate translation of the book.

Spanish Civil War

By 1936, the Spanish Civil war had broken out. It was seen as a struggle between democracy and fascism lead by General Franco. Kitty travelled to the Spanish war zone in 1936 with two woman MPs to see for themselves the conditions.

They were shocked by the destruction caused by the fighting and how it was affecting people. She visited prisoners of war held by the Republicans and considered the impact of the conflict on women and children, in particular.

Duchess Kitty took action and arranged for the evacuation of 4,000 children to Britain. Kitty also wrote a book about her experiences called ‘Searchlight on Spain’ highlighting the plight of the Spanish people. It is from this involvement in the Spanish Civil War she earned her nickname the ‘Red Duchess’.

Warnings of Hitler

Duchess Kitty was losing patience with the British government, feeling her warnings about Hitler and Germany were going unheeded. With her continuing interest in foreign affairs, Kitty’s Perthshire constituency association were feeling her lack of support, particularly in relation to the party.

As ever, Kitty remained true to her principles and views. She resigned her seat provoking a by-election in which she stood as an independent candidate. The local conservative party raised a vicious campaign against the Duchess, backed by Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and all the resources of the party.

Unsurprisingly faced with all of this, Kitty lost the election but only by a small margin. Sadly her predictions about Hitler proved true when he invaded Poland a mere nine months later.

Later Life

Duchess Kitty returned to Blair Castle but still maintained a healthy interest in all matters political and was often called upon for her views by newspapers and politicians. She always remained active and when Bardie died in 1942, she was invited to become Honorary Colonel-in-Chief of the husband’s old regiment the Scottish Horse, which she did with great pride.

In 1958, Kitty published Working Partnership about her life with Bardie, telling her audience, ‘I have enjoyed the battles of my life’. Kitty died in 1960 and is buried beside Bardie in the small family plot at Blair Castle.

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