The Atholl Highlanders is a
Scottish regiment. However, they are not part of the British
Army. Instead, the regiment is in the private employ of the Duke
of Atholl, making it the
UK's, and indeed Europe's, only legal private army.
name Atholl Highlanders dates to the formation of the
77th Regiment of Foot by the 4th Duke in 1777. The regiment was
formed as a relief for other regiments serving in North America,
and spent most of its existence in Ireland. The terms upon which the
regiment was raised stated that the men were to be employed for
either three years or the duration of the war in America.
In 1781, the original three year term ended, and
the men expected the regiment to be disbanded. However, the
regiment was transported to England and marched to Portsmouth to be embarked for service in the East Indies. Upon learning of this, the men mutinied, and
the embarkation orders were countermanded. The regiment was
marched to Berwick, where it disbanded in 1783.
Nearly 50 years later, in 1839, the 6th Duke, as
Lord Glenlyon, resurrected the regiment as a bodyguard that he
took to a tournament in Ayrshire. Three years later, in 1842,
the regiment escorted Queen Victoria during her tour of Perthshire. In
1844, when the Queen stayed as a guest of the Duke at Blair Castle, the regiment mounted the guard for
the entire duration of her stay. In recognition of the service
that the regiment provided during her two visits, the Queen
announced that she would present the Atholl Highlanders with
colors, thus giving the regiment official status. The regiment's
first stand of colors was presented by Lady Glenlyon on behalf
of the Queen in 1845. It received new colors in 1979 from Mrs.
David Butler, the wife of the Lord Lieutenant of Perth and Kinross. A third stand of colors was
presented in 2006 by the Duchess of Atholl.
Under the 7th Duke, the regiment regularly
provided guards for royal visitors to Blair Castle (which was a convenient stopping
point on the journey to Balmoral). The regiment also attended
the Braemar Gathering, while an annual gathering was held in the
first week in September in which the regiment paraded then
participated in various trials of strength and stamina.
Following the First World War, parades of the regiment became
fewer, although it did provide guards when the Crown Prince of
Japan and King Faisal of
Iraq visited Blair Castle in 1921 and 1933 respectively.
After 1933, there was little activity, and it seemed the
regiment would disappear into obscurity until, in 1966, it was
reformed by the 10th Duke, who made the decision to revive the
regiment's annual parade. It was feared that the regiment would
be disbanded following his death in 1996, until his successor,
the present Duke, wrote to the estate trustees insisting that he
would continue his traditional role.
Although the regiment has never seen action, many
of its number served with The Scottish Horse, the yeomanry
regiment of Perthshire in the First and Second World Wars.
Today, the Atholl Highlanders is a purely ceremonial regiment,
of approximately 100 men, including pipes and drums. This
regiment has no connection, except the name, with the 77th Foot
of 1777. The regiment wears the tartan of the Clan Murray of
Atholl and has as its cap badge the clan arms approved by the
Duke, which it wears along with a sprig of juniper, which is the
clan's plant, and is presented by the Duke on his annual
inspection. The regiment is responsible for the defense of Blair
Castle, the surrounding estate and its inhabitants, but in
practice usually only parades twice a year at the regiment's
annual inspection when the present Duke comes from his home in
South Africa to inspect his men, and the Atholl Gathering
Highland Games, which is hosted by the Duke, on the last weekend
in May. However, there are certain other occasions when the Duke
permits the regiment to parade, such as royal visits to Blair
Castle (when the regiment would serve as the guard), or on tours
overseas. The regiment is usually stood down between January and
May of each year, depending on whether new recruits are invited
to join. Normally, the regiment's training starts at the
beginning of May, in preparation for the Atholl Gathering at the
end of the month; however, if new recruits join, they must gain
a standard of foot and arms drill before being permitted to
parade with the rest of the regiment, which they practice
between January and March.