Piping’s thanks to Lady Dorothea Stewart Murray

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Lady Dorothea photographed in 1921.

Today is International Women’s Day (IWD), a global day celebrating the “social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women.” Marked annually on, this date, IWD is one of the most important days of the year to, among other things, celebrate women’s achievements and to raise awareness about women’s equality.

In piping, of course, most female pipers prefer to be classed simply as ‘pipers’ rather than as ‘women pipers’ – and rightly so. A fair number of classic pipe tunes have been composed for some fine adult female human beings: Mrs MacPherson of Inveran (composed by G. S. MacLennan for Alice Ross, wife of Angus MacPherson), Maggie Cameron (wife of Donald Cameron, Maryburgh), Dora MacLeod (one of Peter MacLeod Snr.’s daughters), Susan MacLeod (Donald MacLeod’s eldest daughter), Lady Elspeth Campbell (the Duke of Argyll’s daughter and one of the founders of the Piobaireachd Society) and so on.

In our library we have every pipe collection published and after browsing it for a short time gave up counting the number of tunes named Lady, Miss or Mrs somebody. This would be a very long article if we devoted space to them all. Therefore, we wish to focus today on one woman, someone who made a huge contribution to piping in particular and the culture of Scotland more generally: Lady Dorothea Stewart Murray, she of the eponymous 6/8 march that can be found in, amongst other collections, the Scots Guards, vol 1. Aeneas Rose, Pipe Major of the Atholl Highlanders (and uncle of Pipe Major Willie Ross), composed the tune and it remains in the repertoire of the Pipes and Drums of the Atholl Highlanders, the Duke of Atholl’s private regiment.

Lady Dorothea Murray (1866-1937), or more accurately, Stewart-Murray, was born on March 25, 1866, the daughter of John Stewart-Murray (the 7th Duke of Atholl) and Louisa Moncreiffe. She grew up with a lifelong interest in Scottish traditional music – given her family were patrons of the famous Perthshire fiddler, Niel Gow this is hardly surprising. Gow’s fiddle hangs beneath his portrait in the ballroom of the family seat, Blair Castle. (Gow lived at Inver, on the other side of the River Tay from the Duke’s summer house at Dunkeld.)

In 1895, Dorothea married Harold Ruggles-Brise, an officer in the Grenadier Guards. Aeneas Rose composed the 6/8 march referred to earlier to mark the occasion (the tune is sometimes called Lady Dorothea Stewart Murray’s Wedding March).

The tune as it appears in Glen’s collection. Click to enlarge.

Despite now living in the southeast of England, Dorothea continued her interest in Scottish music and its history. In late 1904, after the death of John Glen (of the famous pipe-making and publishing family), she acquired his extensive music collection. This collection is now permanently housed in the National Library of Scotland, to whom she gave it in 1927 in memory of her younger brother, George, who had been killed in action with the Black Watch in France in 1914. The collection contains some 900 items (much of which relates to the bagpipe), bound in 412 volumes, including six manuscripts. Many of the items of this collection have been digitised.

Dorothea also built an extensive music collection of her own, which included the William Dixon manuscript of 1733, the earliest source of bagpipe music from the British Isles, and the most extensive source of Lowland and Border pipe music from the 18th century. This manuscript can be found in the A. K. Bell Library in Perth where it resides among c600 volumes, now referred to as the Atholl Collection.

For a very long time, the Dixon manuscript had been largely forgotten about, but in 1997, two years after it had been re-discovered (by Matt Seattle), the Lowland & Border Pipers’ Society devoted its entire conference that year to it. The papers that were presented and discussed were subsequently combined into a book entitled, Out of the Flames. The title had been suggested because the Dixon manuscript is slightly scorched. There are two stories behind this. The first is that when Dorothea offered to buy it from its previous owner, Charles Macintosh (a naturalist and musician who lived at Inver and whose grandfather had learned fiddling from the aforementioned Niel Gow), he refused to sell it to her, insisting she take it instead as a gift. When she demurred, he put it on the fire to force her to accept it.

The second story is that it was her father, the Duke of Atholl, who threw the manuscript on the fire after another heated argument with his daughter. Dorothea promptly retrieved the manuscript from the embers.

Dorothea died, aged 71, on December 28, 1937. Pipers – and those with a wider interest in Scotland’s traditional music and culture – have much to thank her for.

* Dorothea’s sister, Evelyn Stewart Murray, was also something of a collector. She amassed a large collection of Gaelic folk tales and songs from the Gaels in and around her father’s huge estate. Although she was encouraged by her father, a native speaker of Gaelic, to learn the language she soon wished to study it seriously – even academically – which brought her into conflict with both her parents who did not consider it an appropriate pursuit for a young woman of her class.


• Watch the Atholl Highlanders Pipes and Drums play Lady Dorothea Stewart Murray as it leads the regiment on to the forecourt of Blair Castle during the 2018 Atholl Highlanders Parade*:

* Our thanks go to Atholl Highlanders’ Pipe Major, Ian Duncan for the video.