IT is a letter in which Bonnie Prince Charlie calls out his military strategist for his advice which could have changed the future of the Stuart dynasty.

As the historic Blair Castle reopens its doors today a stunning piece of Scottish history will go on show for the very first time.

To mark the reopening of the Perthshire castle for the first time this year, visitors will be able to absorb themselves in Blair Castle’s Jacobite Exhibition: A Family at Divided.

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Amidst all the conflicts of the Jacobite Rebellions, Bonnie Prince Charlie calls his loyal supporter and an acknowledged military strategist Lord George Murray, brother to the Duke of Atholl, an “idiot” for his advice – advice that could have changed the fortunes of the Stuart line.

The surprisingly candid and rather boorish accusation was made in a letter recently uncovered in the Perthshire castle archives, in which the Young Pretender dismisses George’s call for a war council.

Alongside personal letters, it includes a pardon obtained by the Duke for his son George after the first Jacobite Rebellion of 1715, a compass said to have been used by Bonnie Prince Charlie and canon ball kept after the siege in 1746.

Keren Guthrie examines Bonnie Prince Charlie letter

Keren Guthrie examines Bonnie Prince Charlie letter

Not dissuaded by Bonnie Prince Charlie’s refusal to follow his advice, nor his rudeness, in another letter, Lord George Murray goes on to tell his brother William that he is preparing to storm the Castle and demolish the family home, where the King’s troops were camped, threatening all its rich artworks for the sake of the Jacobite cause. William, the eldest son who had been disinherited for his Jacobite leanings had fled to France with the Young Pretender, wrote back saying he had no qualms about destroying the family pictures in the face of public service.

These letters are just two of hundreds written to and from the Murray family during the early 18th century and until now, stored in the Castle archive before going on display as part of the Castle’s Jacobite Exhibition: A Family Divided – The Atholls and the Jacobite Risings.

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Altogether, the letters provide a unique personal narrative on 60 years of the Jacobite uprisings. Alongside the obvious tension between the Young Pretender and his ally and commander, they reveal an intense family drama, which put father against son and brother against brother.

Keren Guthrie, the Castle Archivist, said: “When I discovered the letter from Bonnie Prince Charlie, I just went ‘wow.' Here is a letter of the 1740s that could have been written now. It gives that sense of a disagreement between real people, which we can all understand. So much is romanticised about Bonnie Prince Charles, but this letter catches him in a moment of utter frustration – and perhaps misguided in the belief in his own abilities. George was very loyal to the Jacobite cause and his brother William was a close confidant of the Young Pretender, so the tone is all the more remarkable.

“An amazing story unfolds through the letters. The first Duke of Atholl was involved in drawing up the Act of Union and his wife Katherine Hamilton Murray wrote passionately about the matter to her friends. Yet, while the second Duke remained loyal to the King, as his father, the three rather wilder brothers, George, William and Charles who clearly wanted to make a name for themselves in the world, believed fervently in the Stuart line. Keeping these family disputes in check and holding the family together would have been an exceptional feat.”

Rare letter was discovered at Blair Castle

Rare letter was discovered at Blair Castle

Built in 1269, remains the ancestral home of the Dukes of Atholl. Before the Covid-19 pandemic welcomed about 100,000 visitors a year. Earlier this month Blair Castle became the first Scottish castle to partner with Smartify, the world’s most downloaded museum app. The aim was for to ensure people from around the world can remain connected to the castle and allow domestic visitors to have an enhanced experience.

Indeed it might help the current Duke of Atholl, Bruce Murray, the 12th duke, has been kept in touch from afar because he is based in South Africa.

The castle is the home of Europe’s only remaining private army, the Atholl Highlanders.