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The Mysterious Case of the Disappearing Duke

Thomas Drummond's Claim to the Earldom of Perth, 1831

Thomas Drummond’s Claim to the Earldom of Perth, 1831

The mystery surrounding James Drummond, commonly called the 3rd Duke of Perth, is an intriguing one.  Born in 1713 he was the eldest son and heir of James, 5th Earl and 2nd titular Duke of Perth.  The father was involved in the 1715 Rebellion and consequently forfeited his titles under attainder.  When James, the son returned from his education in France, though deprived of the legal titles because of his father’s actions, he nevertheless styled himself, “Duke of Perth” and was known by his tenantry and locals as such.

By 1745, James the son was himself involved in the second Jacobite rebellion having joined the forces of the “Young Pretender”, Charles Edward Stuart. He commanded the left wing of the rebel forces at Culloden in 1746.  All this is more or less agreed by most of those writing of the period but what is more curious and fascinating is the dispute over what happened to James following the rout of the Jacobite army.

Standard histories record that he was mortally wounded during the battle and though he escaped the field and made it onto the French ship “Bellone”, he died on board while on passage to France on 13 May 1746.

An alternative history however, suggests that he not only survived Culloden, but that he made the sea journey to South Shields in the north east of England.  From there he journeyed a little further by land to the mining community of Biddick about 5 or 6 miles south of Newcastle.  Here, he holed up “under the radar” of the Hanoverian government and its military forces, married and had children until his natural death in 1782.  It was from here in the 1820s that his grandson, Thomas Drummond, set out to try and regain his family’s titles and property.

Edinburgh City Archives holds a large collection of records called ‘Services of Heirs’.  Under the feudal system in Scotland all land was theoretically owned by the Crown and then passed on to, or “feued” to, vassals or other owners.  When an owner of such property died within a royal burgh, the heir had to prove his or her right to inherit it and did so by taking the case to a jury (or ‘inquest’) of local landowners who decided whether or not the claim was valid.  In 1831 Thomas Drummond took his case to such an inquest in the burgh of the Canongate and the bundle of papers which survive in the City Archives tell a compelling story.

In this blog all that can be given is the briefest of outlines of a few of the testimonies of people given under oath.  In those given in Crieff was one from a James Fisker, whose father, John, was the tenant in a farm called Gallyburn in the parish of Monzie.  According to the son, his father had told him that, “several years after the Battle of Culloden…the said Duke came to his house in the disguise of a beggar-man…” and stood at the highest point of the farm to gaze west towards Drummond Castle about 5 miles away.” He watched as the Duke quietly shed tears.  John Fisker knew the Duke well from the times he had seen him attend the annual Michaelmas Fair at Crieff and was “positive it was the Duke” whom he saw on his farm that day.

Another who gave testimony was John McNab, a merchant and manufacturer in Crieff.  He related how an elder of the Strowan Parish Church, David Harley had told him that he was well acquainted with the Duke before the ’45 and had even seen him in Crieff square alongside Charles Edward Stuart at the start of the campaign.  Harley had told McNab that many years after Culloden, he had seen the Duke “repeatedly pass and repass between Auchtertyre and Drummond Castle sometimes in the habit of a beggar-man, and at other times in the habit of an old lady.”

It has to be said that there are other historical sources which support the contention that James Drummond the Jacobite of Drummond Castle fought at Culloden and was so badly wounded that he died during his flight to France. But the testimonies related above and many more from the same source give us cause to stop and wonder. The stories here and more from those in Scotland, in the north-east of England and in Kent (where a woman called Elizabeth Peters who swore on oath that she was the daughter of the late James Drummond) all make compelling reading and outline an altogether different history to the standard one of the man who was commonly known as the Duke of Perth.