The Atholl Inheritance

In researching for my book “The Survival of the Crown“, the second volume of my history of Mary Queen of Scots and James VI, I came across the complex efforts made by James VI to protect the posterity of the Earldom of Atholl after the failure (on two occasions) of the male line.

In 1595, John Stewart, 5th Earl of Atholl had died leaving four daughters, but the title did not by right pass through the female line and there was no collateral line with a male heir. James VI was determined to ensure the continuity of the title and, when, in 1596, Atholl’s widow, Mary Ruthven, remarried John Stewart, 6th Lord Innermeath, Innermeath was granted the Earldom. When the new Earl died at Kincardine in 1603, he was succeeded by his son, John, who, at James’s instigation, married his stepsister, Mary Stewart, the 5th Earl’s second daughter. Although this linked the old and new lines, they produced no children. Yet again, James stepped in to preserve the Atholl title and, before his death in 1625, arranged for it to pass to the eldest son of the 5th Earl’s eldest daughter, Dorothea, who had married William Murray, 2nd Earl of Tullibardine. Under this arrangement, Tullibardine, who had assisted the King during the Gowrie conspiracy, resigned his Tullibardine title in favour of his brother Patrick, who became the 3rd Earl of Tullibardine. William’s son, John, by Dorothea became the first Murray Earl of Atholl on his death in 1627. Sadly, in 1670, James Murray 4th Earl of Tullibardine (son of the 3rd Earl) died without male issue, so the Tullibardine title reverted to the Earls and later Dukes of Atholl.