Furth, fortune and fill the fetters
David Profumo goes behind the scenes at Blair Castle in Perthshire to discover the proud history of the Duke of Atholl’s private army, the Atholl Highlanders
The only remaining private army in europe, the Atholl highlanders is a ceremonial infantry regiment that acts as the personal bodyguard to the Duke of Atholl—chief of the Clan Murray, a family that has thrived in Perthshire for some 700 years. Although it has no military role, this handpicked body of local men is armed (with impressive Lee Metford rifles), but not collectively dangerous. A highlander, resplendently attired in full regimental dress, is effectively the genius loci of this part of Scotland, where I live.
The army’s precursors stretch way back into clan history, to the fearsome reputation of the Men of Atholl who defended Murray lands— the family’s motto ‘Furth Fortune and Fill the Fetters’ derives from an instruction by James III in 1475 to subdue the Lord of the Isles. however, its formal beginnings date from 1839, when Lord Glenlyon (later the 6th Duke) assembled a uniformed bodyguard of estate retainers to accompany him to a medieval-style tournament in Ayrshire.
he named this entourage the ‘Athole highlanders’ (due to poor handwriting) and, in 1842, turned out two smart companies of these ‘tournament men’ before Queen Victoria and the Prince Consort when they visited Dunkeld. her famous devotion to all things Caledonian seems to have its origins in the pageantry and highland hospitality of this singular event.
There followed a three-week private visit to Blair Castle in 1844, where a guard of honour was provided throughout the monarch’s stay. The standard bearer was a hirsute gillie and