History of the Stewarts


The earliest documented ancestor of the Stewart line was Alan Fitz Flaad of Dol, a Breton knight from Dol in Bretagne (modern day Brittany).

Although Alan came to England in 1066 as one of William the Conqueror's knights and was a member of the Norman ruling class, he was of Breton origin and probably spoke a Celtic language related to Welsh.

Stewart historians assert that Flaad and his ancestors came from a hereditary line of seneschals or servants to the Counts of Dol, Bretagne. Seneschal could refer to any kind of administrative or judicial officer, such as provincial governors and judges, as well as the official to whom the domestic arrangements of a large household were entrusted - a major domo or steward.

For his service to King William, Alan Fitz Flaad was given lands and a castle at Oswestry, in Shropshire, giving him the title of Sheriff of Shropshire. He had three sons: William, Walter and Simon. William Fitz-Alan stayed in England and became the ancestor of the Fitz-Alans and the Earls of Arundel. Simon Fitz-Alan is claimed by the Boyds of Scotland to be their ancestor. Walter Fitz-Alan went to Scotland early in the 12th Century where he served as a knight to David I and was granted the office of Steward of Scotland, in charge of administering the Crown revenues and the King’s household. Walter became the most powerful man in Scotland next to the king himself. The office of Steward became hereditary and by the 13th Century the title had evolved into a family surname. In Gaelic, stiubhairt is pronounced with a voiceless final ‘t’ rather than the voiced ‘d’ and so the name became Stewart or Steuart in English and, in the time of Mary Queen of Scots, Stuart, because her French relatives had no ‘w’ in their script.


In the late 13th century, Walter Stewart, the 6th High Steward of Scotland, was rewarded for his loyalty to Robert the Bruce by a marriage to Princess Marjorie Bruce, the king's daughter. Their son, Robert Stewart, who was born by emergency Caesarean section when his mother was killed in a fall, twice served as regent of Scotland when the Bruce’s successor, David II was first exiled to France, then imprisoned in England. On David’s death in 1371, Robert became king according to the provisions of a 1318 decree passing the succession to Robert the Bruce’s grandson. Robert II was the founder of the Royal House of Stewart which ruled Scotland from 1371 to 1714: 14 Stuarts in succession occupied the Scottish throne, the last 6 ruling also in England.


The Stewarts of Atholl


The Stewarts of Atholl are not a clan, but have held land in Highland Perthshire since the fourteenth century. They obtained the earldom of Atholl in 1457, the title passing in 1627 to Murray of Tullibardine, who married the last Stewart heiress.


Alexander Stewart, in A Highland Parish (1928), described the first Stewart earl thus: “His revenue and estates were not very great, but he had a great many allies, and pretty numerous company of gentlemen of his own surname to surround his motehill and fight under his own banner. Some of these Stewarts were cadets of his own house; many were collaterals that had been called in from Lorne. A few were descended from the Walter of Atholl line, and more than a few from the Wolf of Badenoch. To these were added Stewarts who boasted ancient or illegitimate descent from kings and princes who, when hunting the deer, wooed Highland maids in sequestered glens”. The Wolf of Badenoch, illegitimate son of Robert II, was the first of his name to hold land in Atholl. He is said to have built the grim fortalice of Garth Castle, and his descendants first established themselves as lairds round Fortingal. Their progeny spread throughout Atholl and, by 1822, it was established by David Stewart of Garth that more than 4000 people in the district were descendants of the Wolf. Down the centuries, the Stewarts intermarried with the Robertsons of Clan Donnachaidh. Living in the same area, they had interests in common and they fought together as Athollmen, usually under the earls and dukes of Atholl, but their loyalty was sometimes torn between their duty to their superior at Blair Castle and to the Royal House. They fought with the Royalists under the great Marquess of Montrose, and were out at all three Jacobite Risings. There are now no Robertson or Menzies lairds left in Atholl, but the Stewarts have managed to hold on to at least four of their old estates, albeit through the female line.


Notable Atholl places


Blair Castle is now the seat of the Murray Dukes of Atholl who married the last Stewart heiress to the earldom, the castle was always been the key to the domination of Highland Perthshire during the struggles of the Stuart kings for the throne. In 1644, it was taken by William Macpherson of Invereshie for Montrose. In 1689 it was occupied by Patrick Stewart of Ballechin for Viscount Dundee. The government held it in 1715 and, in 1746, it was the focus of the last seige in Britain when the Atholl Brigade, which incorporated the Menzies and Robertson regiments as well as the Stewarts and tenants of the Duke of Atholl invested the castle and took large numbers of government troops prisoner. The siege lasted from the 16th March to the 2nd April 1746, when Prince Charles ordered the Brigade north. Two weeks later came Culloden, where about half the Stewarts and Robertsons of the Atholl Brigade were casualties.


Lude House is the seat of the leading cadet family of Clan Donnachaidh. In 1745, Lady Lude gave a ball at which the guest of honour was Prince Charles Edward, who stayed next door at Blair Castle on his way south to Perth. Lady Lude was infatuated by the Prince and was described as behaving like a "light giglet" in his company.

based on an article in The Newsletter of Highland Perthshire


The Clearances in Atholl


The Duke of Atholl was the first landowner in Highland Perthshire to clear some of his land for sheep. The clearances in Glen Tilt in Blair Atholl were the first in Scotland. The Earl of Breadalbane followed suit when around 1830 he had Glenquaich lands cleared along with some parts of the Parish of Dull.

The Rev James McLaggan, writing about the causes of depopulation in Blair Atholl parish wrote in the 1791-1799 Statistical Account:


“When people of small landed property no longer lived upon the produce of their estates but followed the example of their wealthier neighbours in the use of foreign commodities, they contracted debt, sold their estates and went to push their fortunes elsewhere. When the Jurisdiction Act took place and men of landed property could not make their tenants fight their battles, they became less careful of having clever fellows about them and so began to consider how they might make the most of that class of men in another way. Then the rents began to be raised, the farms to be enlarged, much land to be taken into the landlord’s domain, and the shepherd and his dog to be the inhabitants of farms that formerly maintained many families; though this last particular is not, as yet, so much the case here, as in so many other places. In consequence of these changes, some of the tenants are become cottagers; some have removed to towns to gain livelihood by labour; and a few have emigrated to America, though this spirit is not become very common here as yet.”


The Rev Alex Irvine, minister of Blair Atholl, writing to James Robertson, the Sheriff-Substitute on Orkney, gave this forthright opinion of the Atholl landlords’ behaviour in clearing people off the land:

The Manse, Blair Atholl. 17 May 1861

My Dear Robertson,

You must not suppose that the Duke is the sole or chief sinner in thinning the population of the parish. No doubt he is answerable for some part of the evil, but in proportion to the extent of his property he has done little compared to old Barbour of Bonskeid, Sandeman's son-in-law and successor. He is a sour, ill-conditioned Free Kirker of the strictest sect & cleared off his tenants rich and poor without mercy to make room for men of his own persuasion. Since I came here the whole of the Loch Tummelside part of the property has been reduced from upwards of 20 holdings to one. In Bonskeid he has been going on in much the same way - But besides what is done by the Lairds, the young and enterprising wont remain at home. They rather like the idea of going abroad, and are ready on very slight provocation to pack up & set out for Canada or Australia. And that is the chief cause of the diminution of the population as regards the Duke's lands. He is by no means an exacting landlord or blind to the evils that threaten us from the decrease of our numbers. But it is a sad state of matters for us, & -


There were other reasons for the loss of people from the glens, though: many Highlanders left their homeland by choice and were not actually forced out. After the landowners had amalgamated the small farms or crofts there wasn’t enough to keep young people at home, and agents were advertising for young Scots to go to the colonies where they were needed and work was plentiful.