The secret love letters of an exiled Jacobite commander

The letters between Lord George Murray and his wife Amelia were often laced with pseudonyms, with numerical codes used to refer to members of their family, which was split over the Jacobite cause, to avoid detection of the lieutenant commander’s whereabouts.

Lord George, a long-trusted military strategist whose relationship with Bonnie Prince Charlie ultimately disintegrated, vanished to the Netherlands following an eight-month period on the run after Culloden, with his wife remaining at the family seat of Blair Castle, Perthshire.

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Keren Guthrie, archivist at Blair Castle said: “Writing from exile in the Netherlands, the letters illustrate the depth of love between the two in terrible circumstances. It is a long distance love affair against the backdrop of conflict not only between countries, but also within the immediate family.”

Blair Castle in Blair Atholl, Perthshire, the family seat of Lord George Murray. His wife and children of him remained here when he went into exile in the Netherlands in 1746. PIC: Blair Castle Collection.

In one letter, Lord George wrote: “I am always exceedingly obliged to you, & have not confessions so strong, as can paint the overflowings of my heart, when I consider the innumerable marks I receive of your affections.”

In another, he said: “May everything that is good constantly attend you and yours; and believe that no person upon earth values, esteems or loves you better.”

The letters, which were delivered using a network of friends, were initially “very formal in tone”, with pseudonyms such as Harry Dow and Mr Fogo appearing in the correspondence.

Ms Guthrie said: “In 1747 Lord George wrote to Lady Strowan of Arnhall. This letter, as with many others, was intended for his wife by him, but written under a pseudonym. He refers to his wife of her as Miss Gordon and himself as her friend of her. ”

The letters between Lord George Murray and his wife, Lady Amelia, often deployed pseudonyms and numerical codes to hide the identities of the senders and their family members. PIC: Blair Castle Collection.

Lord George wrote: “Madam, I had the good fortune to see Miss Gordon’s Friend at this place both in his going & coming. He is in good health & he tells me he is going for France.”

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The Murrays shared news on health, living conditions and sometimes mundane matters in the correspondence.

“But the words of devotion are nonetheless prominent throughout, illustrating the strength of feeling,” Ms Guthrie said.

Lord George Murray and his wife, Lady Amelia. The pair were separated after Culloden when the Jacobite lieutenant commander went into exile in the Netherlands for eight years, with secret correspondence between the two illuminating the deep bond that remained between them. PIC: Contributed/Blair Castle Collection.

Ms Guthrie said the couple – and their children – did manage to meet on occasion. Once the political situation calmed down, Lady Amelia took a house in Medmblik in The Netherlands to be near her husband de ella as he was dying.

It was from here she wrote to her son, saying: “God only knows my sad and afflicted heart, and disconsolate situation in the loss I have made of so kind, affectionate, and inestimable friend and husband.”

Lord George Murray and Bonnie Prince Charlie turned on each other in the latter stages of the 1745 rising. He resigned his command following the siege of Carlisle in November 1745, although he stayed on to fight on the ground.

When he went into exile in the Netherlands, it was the third time he had sought safety on the Continent, having fought for the Jacobites in 1715 and 1719.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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