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

Country Life Every Week - - In The Garden - Pho­to­graphs by Glyn Sat­ter­ley

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

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