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Murray of Stanhope

The Beautiful Recruiting Sergeant

by Jim Wotherspoon

Reprinted with permission of:
THE HIGHLANDER MAGAZINE
March/April 2000
Vol. 38, No.2


hite Cockade emblem of Jacobite cause
White Cockade

On September 17, 1745, at the market cross beside St. Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh, a proclamation from the exiled King James VIII (The Old Pretender) was announced.  It stated that his son, Prince Charles Edward STUART, (shown at right) resplendent in his tartan coat and blue bonnet adorned with white cockades, had been proclaimed Regent.

As soon as the herald had finished the proclamation, the large crowd began to cheer and chant acobite songs.  Suddenly, a shot from a musket near the cross brought all the merriment to an abrupt halt.  All eyes were now transfixed on an extremely beautiful young lady at the cross, stunningly dressed in a fur-trimmed uniform similar to that of the Jacobite Hussars.  She was mounted on a horse.  In her hand was a drawn sword, and in her blue bonnet was a feather, along with the white cockade (shown at left) (a little rosette made from white muslin),  the emblem of the Jacobite cause.

Prince Charles
Prince Charles

Then, a soft murmuring - reminiscent of bees around a honey pot - was heard from the crowd.  "Who is She?" and "What is she doing here?" were the questions most people were asking.  The lady in question was the beautiful Margaret MURRAY, spouse of John MURRAY of Broughton, and she was there to enlist recruits into the Jacobite army of "Bonnie Prince Charlie." (shown above right)  Later, to the background music of the pipers playing patriotic Scottish tunes, Mrs. MURRAY beckoned the young men to come forward, to the loud cheering from the gathered assembly.  Thus, a large throng of men and boys began to form round her, pressing ever forward to kiss her hand and receive a white cockade and a warm welcome into the Jacobite Army.  This extremely beautiful recruiting sergeant was like the sirens in ancient Greek mythology who lured lovesick sailors to their doom.  Only now the enticed young men were on their way to the Jacobite Army.  It makes one wonder just how many volunteers this fair maiden sent to their maker.

(The drawing at right, by C. Roberts, Sr., depicts Margaret Fergusson Murray at the Cross in Edinburgh on 17 September 1745.  The drawing appeared in THE GRAPHIC on 14 November 1885, on pages 536 and 537.  Click on drawing for larger image.)

John MURRAY had courted and married Margaret FERGUSSON of Nithsdale.  Their home was in the barony of Broughton in Peeblesshire, and both were dyed-in-the-wool Jacobites.  John's father, Sir David MURRAY of Stanhope, fought for the "Old Pretender" in the first Jacobite uprising in 1715.  His son, John, had been educated in Edinburgh as well as Leyden in Holland.  After completing his education, John traveled to Rome where he met "The King ower the Watter," as the exiled James VIII was lovingly called by his loyal supporters.  While in Italy, MURRAY met with Prince Charles Edward STUART and discussed the next phase of the Jacobite dream.  Leaving Rome in 1738, MURRAY returned to Edinburgh and for the next seven years he fervently campaigned for the restoration of the exiled STUART monarchy.  In July 1745 when the Prince landed on Scottish soil, John MURRAY was there to greet him.  In the newly created Jacobite administration, John MURRAY was given the post of Secretary.  Being a rather pompous fellow, he preferred to be addressed as "Mr. Secretary," or better still, "Mr. Secretary MURRAY," rather than the plain "Mr. MURRAY."

Now the rest of the Jacobite dream is history: victory in Prestonpans, the futile march to Derby (only 130 miles from London) then full retreat culminating with the resounding defeat of the Jacobite army on Drummossie Moor on April 16, 1746.  After that, it was every man for himself.  On that fateful day at Culloden (#1 on map below) when Prince Charlie's army was decimated, Secretary MURRAY was about twenty miles away lying in a sick bed at Elgin.  (see #2 on map below)  The following day he was transported on a litter to the house of Mrs. GRANT of Glenmoriston, (near southern end of Loch Ness) and it was there that he learned about the Jacobite Army's crushing defeat, and that his Prince was now on the run.

Northern Central Scotland
Northern Central Scotland
#1 Culloden Moor
#2 Elgin
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After Mr. Secretary had recovered sufficiently, he moved covertly around the Highlands trying to unite the scattered clans, telling them that vast financial help was in the offing.  Ships were on their way from France with a fortune of louis d'ors, and, God willing, they would land the casks of gold at a secret location.  The Highlanders were not interested; under no circumstances were they going back into Battle for the Prince, or anyone else for that matter.

Cumberland's government soldiers were all around, armed to the teeth, and all the Highland clans had been forced to disarm.  The Prince had acted stupidly by not listening to Lord George MURRAY, a brilliant strategist who held the rank of Lieutenant General in the Jacobite Army.  (No apparent relation to the MURRAYs of Stanhope)  Lord George's tactics were to attack the supply lines to Cumberland's army; then their enemy, deprived of food for a week or so, would be fair game for the hit and run tactics favoured by Lord George.  But the Bonnie Prince was Supreme Commander of the Jacobite Army, and he was determined to take on "Butcher" Cumberland.  As a consequence, he - and his troops - suffered for his rashness.

This was the start of an extremely difficult time for the beautiful lady with the white cockades.  Margaret MURRAY had followed the Jacobite Army to Derby, and after Culloden she became a fugitive on the run (as were the rest of the camp followers).  Happily she joined her husband near Strontian in the West Highlands.  He told her he had made arrangements to send her to Ireland, where she was to remain until the situation in Scotland had stabilized.  But when Margaret reached the port of embarkation, there was no available boat - meaning no one was prepared to risk their life to assist the spouse of a rebel.

The once beautiful recruiting sergeant was now seriously ill, very weak and moving with great difficulty.  She had been through a lot during the past four months: hunted from moor to moor, sleeping rough in the heather, at times unable to obtain sufficient food to sustain herself.  Margaret eventually made her way south, and on June 25, 1746 (three months after Culloden), she reached her mother's house in Cant's Close, Edinburgh.  (Cant's Close highlighted in red below)  She was now expecting a child, and it was thought inappropriate that she remain there because the troopers would surely arrive to search her mother's premises.

Edinburgh 1765
Old Edinburgh 1765
Market Cross (green)
Cant's Close (red)
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From there she was covertly moved to a "safe" house in the Abbey Hill district of Edinburgh, owned by her friend Lady WALLACE.  (Abbey Hill district, not shown on map, is just north of Holyrood Palace) A few days later she had to move again, as word was spread on the street that a fugitive was concealed in the building.  Another house had to be found quickly.  On July 6, 1746, she was secretly taken to a house in Bruntsfield Links, the home of the HAMILTON family.  (Bruntsfield Links, also not on map, is 3/4 mile south of Edinburgh Castle)  There she was concealed in a small closet in the attic.  The owner of the house knew nothing about his latest addition to his household.  His wife was a supporter of the Jacobite cause, but he was not.  This was most fortunate for Mrs. MURRAY, because his house would never be suspected of being a rebel hideout.

It was here the news was broken to Margaret that John had been taken prisoner.  With this news and the unpleasant living conditions to contend with, Margaret was in a sorry state.  Because the arrival of her baby was now immanent, her friends insisted that she must now move into more comfortable accommodations.  A vacancy was found at a house in the Land Market, (Lawnmarket section of current Royal Mile) and in the middle of the night in late August, Margaret moved in.  A few weeks later, on September 25, 1746, Margaret gave birth to a son, who was secretly christened by the Rev. Mr. HARPER, a local lay preacher, and given the name Charles.  Unfortunately, the child was very weak and survived on a few days.  Low in spirit and extremely ill, Margaret required a lot of care.  She was carried back to her mother's house at Cant's Close on October 24.  Here she gradually regained her health, and during the winter months, she thought of various ways to escape to Holland.

A few months later, now fully recovered, Margaret visited her friend Mrs. HAMILTON and intimated that she wished to emigrate to Holland to get away from the intolerable situation in Scotland.  She asked Mrs. HAMILTON to arrange passage for her, and was promptly booked on a Dutch ship sailing from Leith.  Mrs. Murray was elated and had what little luggage she needed for the journey packed and ready to go.  But six hours before she was due to sail, a message from the captain was delivered to the house, saying he would have carried her with great pleasure, but "was advised against it by some of her friends."  She knew full well who the "friends" were.  Her husband's brother-in-law, MacDOUGAL, had earlier refused to give her money belonging to her husband.  So it could only have been he who prevented her sailing.  Over the next few weeks, Mrs. HAMILTON tried to secure passage to Europe on various ships, but to no avail.  The excuses were diverse and trivial;  Margaret had once again been thwarted.

Utterly fed up with all the torment she encountered in an around Edinburgh, Mrs. MURRAY decided to travel to London, and hopefully start a new life.  She journeyed south to London in May 1747 under an assumed name, and obtained lodgings with a Mrs. PITCAIRN on Newport street in the Lambeth district.  Here she had no problems with the shipping companies and eventually secured a passage to Holland.

As a turncoat, John MURRAY of Broughton betrayed a vast number of his Jacobite comrades.  Brought before the Privy Council, DOUGLAS of Kelhead was asked in MURRAY's defense, "Do you know this witness?"  Looking straight at his accuser, DOUGLAS replied, "Not I.  I once knew a person who bore the designation MURRAY of Broughton, but this was a gentleman and a man of honour, and one that could hold up his head."

After betraying a number of his friends, MURRAY was now referred to as Mr. "Evidence."  He was still a prisoner in the Tower of London when his wife, using a false name, booked passage and sailed to Holland.  Fearful of being implicated in his wife's escape to Holland, MURRAY wrote the following letter to King George II from the Tower:

"Sir, To my very great surprise I was this day informed by Mr. FULLER, the gentleman jailer, that Mrs. MURRAY had pass'd into Holland, which you may believe after the letter I had the honour to write you lately concerning her gives me the outmost uneasiness.  I hope nevertheless you as I do impute it entirely to a womanish fear, and her ignorance of my situation, as I am apt to believe that had she known of my being a Prisoner, no Consideration would have made her take so imprudent a step.  I thought it my Duty to acquaint you of this by the first opportunity least any wrong Construction should be put upon it.  I hope the letter I had the honour to write you some days ago came safe, and I am with the most sincere regard and esteem, Sir, your most obed and most oblidged hum servant, John Murray, Tower of London, Octob ye 16, 1746."

The fact that Margaret MURRAY traveled to Holland under an assumed name has completely erased any records of her life in Europe, and it is now generally assumed that the beautiful lady with the white cockades died in one of the Benelux countries.

John MURRAY was pardoned and released from prison after giving evidence against Simon FRASER, Lord Lovat, who was later beheaded in London in 1747.  Subsequently John met and married a young Quaker girl (Dorothy Webb) just out of boarding school and introduced her to all his friends as Lady MURRAY.

NOTE: Margaret Fergusson MURRAY actually died near London in early September 1779.  She was buried in the St. Marylebone Cemetery on 10 September 1779.