For centuries, castles with fairytale turrets have been the setting for romance.
This Valentine’s Day, Blair Castle, through archivist Keren Guthrie, has shared some of its treasures that reveal the quiet love stories behind the gifts between the Dukes and Duchesses of Atholl.
From love letters to lockets, the castle archives bring into focus the love that blossomed on the estate in Highland Perthshire.
Amongst Keren’s favourite artefacts is a gold heart-shaped locket given by the 6th Duke of Atholl to his wife Anne in 1861. It has delicate enamel decoration and is inset with semi-precious stones, with an unusual serpent clasp.
The couple met during a medieval re-enactment of a joust called the Eglinton Tournament in 1839. The Duke asked the crowd for a ladies favour and Anne gave him her glove, later that year they married. When she arrived at the front door of the castle as a new bride, she was lifted over the threshold by some of the Athollmen, whilst an oatcake was crumbled over her head by the Dairymaid.
A second more unusual gift was a hair locket, made for the Hon. Jane Cathcart, 4th Duchess of Atholl from her husband, John, around 1788. It not only contains a curl of hair from each of their nine children, but their names are also engraved on the reverse side. The locket face also includes two tiny gold Ducal coronets next to two more locks of hair from the Duke and Duchess themselves.
The hair locket is made of gold with a glass facing front. Hanging on a velvet ribbon it would have been worn as choker. Whilst its design may seem unusual today, this locket was a forerunner for many more pieces of jewellery made using human hair popular in the Victorian era.
However, it is the letters from Lord George Murray to his wife Amelia Murray that are the most heart wrenching. Lord George was a Jacobite leader who disappeared after the Jacobite defeat at Culloden in 1746. He wasn’t heard from for eight months, until he reappeared in the Netherlands where he remained in exile for the rest of his life. His wife Amelia and their son John were left behind at Blair Castle, but their love did not wither and die as they endured the separation. It was kept passionate until Lord George’s death 14 years later through constant letter writing.
Bundles of letters between Lord and Lady George exist in the archives and they are wonderfully romantic and tender. In one, Lord George says ‘I am always exceedingly obligd to you, and have not confessions so strong, as can paint the overflowings of my heart, when I consider the innumerable marks I receive of your affections.’
Keren Guthrie said: ‘Blair Castle is a very romantic place and that is captured in the many artefacts we have here. While I love the letters from Lord George Murray, we also have pictures of brides, the original score of a piece of music written especially for Lady Dorothea’s wedding day in 1895, as well as a wedding tiara. Each item tells its own story of a love between a duke and duchess and provides a little more colour to the characters whose portraits adorn the castle walls.’
Situated in the heart of Atholl Estates, Blair Castle was built in 1269 and today is the ancestral home of the Dukes of Atholl. Set against the magnificent landscape of 145,000-acres, the estate offers beautifully scenic vistas of rolling farmland and wild open hills across Perthshire.
Find out more about Blair Castle HERE.