The first Earls of Athol

Athol, originally Athole, is a district in the north of Perthshire in Scotland which is said to have been named Athfotla after Fotla, one of the seven sons of Cruithne. The first Earl of Athol is regarded as being one Madach, son of Melmare, who is recorded as such on the Charter of Scone dated to around the year 1115. Madach died sometime between the years 1142 and 1152 and was succeeded by his grandson Malcolm who died sometime between the years 1186 and 1198, and was himself followed by his son Henry who died sometime before January 1211. Henry left two daughters, Isabel and Fernelith, both of whom were to feature in the descent of the title.

It was the eldest daughter Isabel who first succeeded her father, with her husband Thomas of Galloway also assuming the title in her right. Thomas died around the year 1231 and Isabel, after taking a second husband named Alan de Lundin, herself died sometime before the 25th September 1237.

Isabel and her first husband had a son known as Patrick of Galloway who is therefore regarded as the 5th Earl. Patrick however came to an untimely end in 1242 whilst competing at a tournament held at Haddington in Lothian. There he defeated a gentleman by the name of Walter Bisset, who proved to be a bad loser as he killed the unfortunate Earl in retaliation. Patrick died without issue and so the title passed to his aunt Fernelith, the younger of the 3rd Earl's daughters. She had married a David Hastings who thereby also assumed the title of Earl of Atholl in 1242. Both Isabel and David appear to have died by around the year 1250 when their only issue, a daughter named Ada succeeded as the Countess of Athol.

The Strathbogie Earls

Ada had married a John of Strathbogie, son of David of Strathbogie and a descendant of Duncan, 5th Earl of Fife. Having succeeded to the title in circa 1250, she subsequently died sometime before the year 1264. Ada was followed by her son David the 8th Earl who then joined the Seventh Crusade and died at Carthage in Tunisia on the 6th August 1270.

David was succeeded by his son John of Strathbogie. Having earlier sworn fealty to Edward I in 1292, this John later fought against him at the battle of Dunbar on the 28th April 1296. The Scots were defeated at that battle and John was captured and taken to London where he was imprisoned in the Tower. Freed in 1297 after providing a suitable hostage and agreeing to serve against the French, he later returned to Scotland and one of the only two Scottish earls to openly declare their support for Robert the Bruce, and assisted at the coronation of the latter as Robert I on the 27th March 1306. John was however captured during Edward's summer campaign of 1306 against Robert the Bruce and sent once more to London. There he was hanged, drawn and quartered on the 7th November 1306 for treason with his estates and titles declared forfeit.

The title of Athol was then conferred by Edward I upon a Ralph de Monthermer who was, or at least claimed to be, the Earl of Gloucester. However in the following year Ralph resigned the title in favour David, the son of the John previously executed. This David of Strathbogie may be regarded as the 10th Earl of the original line, although some accounts insist on according him the status of being the first earl of an entirely new Strathbogie creation.

Unlike his father David consistently maintained his loyalty to the English crown, an unfortunate decision as it turned out, as following the victory of Robert the Bruce at Bannockburn in 1314 his title was declared forfeit, and David was forced into exile in England. This of course placed David in the same position as all the other landholders dispossessed by Bruce in the years following his victory, which is to say, that they maintained their claim to their lost estates and titles. There were therefore two further generations of Davids who all claimed the title of Athol until the 10th Earl's grandson died without male issue in 1369.

Meanwhile Robert the Bruce awarded the title to a John Campbell who was created Earl of Atholl sometime around the year 1320, but who subsequently died without issue on the 29th July 1333. The title was allowed to remain vacant for a few years before it was granted to William Douglas, who was created Earl of Athol on the 18th July 1341.

A confusion of Stewarts

William Douglas retained the title for only a few short months, as on the 16th February 1342 he was induced to resign the peerage in favour of a Robert Stewart, establishing the first of a long sequence of Stewart creations of the dignity.

This Robert Stewart later succeeded as Robert III in 1371, when the peerage merged with the crown. The king later granted the title to his eldest son David Stewart, Duke of Rothesay on 28th April 1398, but David later died in somewhat suspicious circumstances on the 26th March 1402. On the 8th September 1403 the title was then granted to Robert Stewart, 1st Duke of Albany (ironically one of the men suspected of involvement of the death of his predecessor David), but this award was only valid during the life of Robert III, so that the title became extinct on the latter's death in 1406.

Then in around 1409 one Walter Stewart, the sixth son of Robert II was made Earl of Athol. Walter, who also held the title of Earl of Caithness later become involved with the murder of James I and was executed for treason on the 26th March 1437 after which his title was forfeited to the crown.

Around twenty years later in about the year 1457 Atholl was then awarded to a John Stewart of Balveny, eldest son of James Stewart, the Black Knight of Lorn, the second son of John Stewart of Innermeath, who could trace his descent back to John Stewart of Bonkyl, the second son of Alexander Stewart, 4th High Steward of Scotland. However the new Earl of Athol could count on a far closer connection to the Stewart royal dynasty as his father the 'Black Knight' had married Joan Beaufort, the widow of James I, and was thus stepfather to king James II.

The 1st Earl died on the 19th September 1512 and was succeeded by his son John the 2nd Earl who died less than a year later on the 9th September 1513 at the Battle of Flodden alongside a good many other of the Scottish nobility. His son John the 3rd Earl thus inherited the title at the age of six but died in 1542 at the age of thirty-nine.

Therefore John Stewart, 4th Earl of Atholl succeeded his father in 1542. This John Stewart was one of the few Scottish nobles who remained a Roman Catholic and was thus a supporter of the government of Mary of Guise against the opposition forces of the Lords of the Congregation. In 1560 he was one of only three nobles who voted in the Scottish Parliament against the Reformation and the Confession of Faith. Naturally his religion became an advantage when the similarly Catholic Mary, Queen of Scots arrived from France in 1561 and together with the Earl of Lennox he became one of her leading supporters. However, after the murder of Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley he abandoned the queen and joined with the Protestant Lords and supported her imprisonment at Lochleven Castle and subsequent abdication.

In 1578 he joined with the Colin Campbell, 6th Earl of Argyll and succeeded in driving James Douglas, 4th Earl of Morton from the office of Regent of Scotland. James VI then dissolved the regency and on the 29th March 1578 appointed John Stewart as Lord Chancellor of Scotland. John however died on the 25th April 1579 after being suddenly taken ill a few days earlier. There were strong suspicions of poison and that the culprit was the aforementioned Earl of Morton.

The 4th Earl was succeeded by his son yet another John Stewart the 5th Earl, at whose death on the 28th August 1595 the title became extinct and again reverted to the crown.

Within the year the title was again bestowed on yet another branch of the Stewart family in the form of John Stewart, 6th Lord Innermeath, a descendant of Robert Stewart, 1st Lord Lorn the eldest son of the John Stewart of Innermeath referred to above. This John Stewart was created Earl of Athol on the 6th March 1596 and whilst he married Mary Ruthven, widow of the previous 5th Earl, he arranged for his son and heir John to marry Mary Stewart the daughter of 5th Earl.

John the 1st Earl was duly succeeded by John the 2nd Earl in 1605 but he died without issue in 1626 rendering the title extinct once more.

The Murray Earls and Marquesses

As it happens Mary Stewart was not the only daughter of the 5th Stewart Earl of the 1457 creation, she had a sister named Dorothea Stewart and she married William Murray, Earl of Tullibardine. In 1626 this William resigned his earldom of Tullibardine in favour of his brother Patrick Murray, in return for which Athol was regranted to his wife and her descendants. Their only son John Murray was accordingly acknowledged as Earl of Atholl on the 17th February 1629 and is regarded as the 1st Earl of Athol of the Murray line.

John Murray was a staunch royalist and when the dispute between Charles I and the Covenanters first broke out into open war he raised troops in support of the king but was quickly found himself imprisoned on the orders of Archibald Campbell, 8th Earl of Argyll at Stirling Castle in 1640 and died two years later in 1642.

His son and successor John Murray was eleven at the time of his father's death, and like his father was a keen royalist who later became one of the leading proponents of the king's cause until he was forced to surrender to George Monck on the 2nd September 1654. However his loyalty to the Stuart cause meant that he was naturally favoured after the Restoration of 1660, after which he was appointed to a succession of offices, most notably that of Lord Justice-General of Scotland. Having succeeded to title of Earl of Tullibardine in 1670, the 2nd Earl was further rewarded on the 17th February 1676 when he was created the very first Marquess of Athol.

Although John appears to have been in two minds regarding which side to choose following the Glorious Revolution in 1688 and the deposition of James II. After some prevarication the Marquess eventually declared his allegiance to William and Mary in 1689, but despite such protestations of loyalty continued to flirt with Jacobitism. He was briefly imprisoned during Dundee's insurrection and was later implicated in the Montgomery plot and other Jacobite intrigues, but received a pardon in June 1691. Thereafter he appears to have abandoned his Jacobite sympathies and assisted the government in pacifying the Highlands.

The Marquess died on the 7th May 1703 and was succeeded by his eldest son, also named John Murray. Within two months of his succession the younger John was created Duke of Atholl on the 30th June 1703, a title which continues to be held by his descendants to this day.








Title forfeited 1314, but subsequent claimants




Creation of 1342

  • Robert Stewart, Earl of Athol later Robert III (1342-1371)

Creation of 1398

Creation of 1403

Creation of circa 1409

Creation of circa 1457

Creation of 1596


As Marquess of Athol

The 2nd Marquess was created Duke of Athol in 1703


  • The 1911 Encyclopedia Brittanica entry for ATHOLL, EARLS AND DUKES OF.
  • A genealogical survey of the peerage of Britain at
  • Stirnet Genealogy at
  • The Peerages of England, Scotland, Ireland, Great Britain and the United Kingdom at
  • Charles Arnold Baker The Companion to British History (Longcross Press, 1996)

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