Katharine Stewart-Murray, Duchess of Atholl

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Her Grace
Katharine Stewart-Murray DBE
Duchess of Atholl
Katharine Stewart-Murray, Duchess of Atholl.jpg
MP for Kinross and West Perthshire;
Parliamentary Secretary to
the Board of Education
In office
1923 – 28 November 1938
Preceded by James Gardiner
Succeeded by William McNair Snadden
Personal details
Born (1874-11-06)6 November 1874
Died 21 October 1960(1960-10-21) (aged 85)
Nationality British
Political party Scottish Unionist Party
Spouse(s) John Stewart-Murray, Marquess of Tullibardine (later Duke of Atholl)
Relations Sir James Henry Ramsay, 10th Baronet (father);
John, 7th Duke of Atholl, KT (father-in-law)
Children None
Residence Blair Castle and London
Alma mater Royal College of Music
Profession Social reformer; parliamentarian
Religion Christian (Church of Scotland)
DBE insignia

Katharine Marjory Stewart-Murray, Duchess of Atholl, DBE (6 November 1874 – 21 October 1960), née Ramsay, and known as the Marchioness of Tullibardine from 1899 to 1917, was a British noblewoman and Scottish Unionist Party politician.


Early life and education[edit]

Katharine Marjory Ramsay was born in Edinburgh on 6 November 1874, the daughter of Sir James Henry Ramsay, 10th Baronet. She was educated at Wimbledon High School and the Royal College of Music. During her school years she was known as Kitty Ramsay. On 20 July 1899, she married John Stewart-Murray, Marquess of Tullibardine, who succeeded his father as 8th Duke of Atholl in 1917, whereupon she became formally styled Duchess of Atholl.

Political career[edit]

Kitty Stewart-Murray was active in Scottish social service and local government and in 1912 served on the hugely influential "Highlands and Islands Medical Service Committee" (Dewar Report) that has been widely credited with creating the forerunner of the National Health Service; she was appointed Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) in 1918.

Kitty Stewart-Murray (alias Duchess of Atholl) was the Scottish Unionist Member of Parliament (MP) for Kinross and West Perthshire from 1923 to 1938, and served as Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Education from 1924 to 1929, the first woman to serve in a UK Conservative and Unionist government.

She resigned the Conservative Whip first in 1935 over the India Bill and the "national-socialist tendency" of the government's domestic policy. Resuming the Whip, she resigned it again in 1937 over the Anglo-Italian Agreement. Finally she resigned her parliamentary seat in 1938 in opposition to Neville Chamberlain's policy of appeasement of Adolf Hitler. To permit her resignation (technically proscribed by law), she took Stewardship of the Chiltern Hundreds on 28 November 1938. She stood unsuccessfully in the subsequent by-election as an Independent candidate.

She argued that she actively opposed totalitarian regimes and practices. In 1931, she published The Conscription of a People - a protest against the abuse of rights in the Soviet Union. In 1936 she was involved in a long-running battle in the pages of various newspapers with Lady Houston, after the latter had become notorious for her outspoken support of rightist forces in Spain, as well as Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini. Stewart-Murray had also taken issue with Houston calling on the king to become British dictator in imitation of the European fascist regimes in the pages of the Saturday Review.[1] According to her autobiography Working Partnership (1958), it was at the prompting of Ellen Wilkinson that in April 1937 she, Eleanor Rathbone, and Wilkinson went to Spain to observe the effects of the Spanish Civil War. In Valencia, Barcelona and Madrid she saw the impact of Luftwaffe bombing on behalf of the Nationalists, visited prisoners of war held by the Republicans and considered the impact of the conflict on women and children in particular. Her book Searchlight on Spain resulted from this involvement, and her support for the Republican side in the conflict led to her being nicknamed by some the Red Duchess.[2] However, Cowling cites her as saying that she supported the Republican government because "a government [Franco's] which used Moors could not be a national government". Her opposition to the British policy of non-intervention in Spain epitomised her attitudes and actions. She campaigned against the Soviet control of Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary as the chairman of the League for European Freedom in Britain from 1945. In 1958 she published a biography of her life with her husband entitled Working Partnership.


She was also a vice-president of the Girls' Public Day School Trust from 1924-1960. She was also a keen composer, setting music to accompany the poetry of Robert Louis Stevenson.

Military appointments[edit]

She was closely involved in her husband's regiment The Scottish Horse and composed the melody "The Scottish Horse" to be played on bagpipes.

As Dowager Duchess of Atholl she took over the appointment of Honorary Colonel of The Regiment of Scottish Horse from 1942,[3] until she relinquished it in 1952.[4]

Her Grace died in 1960, aged 85, in Edinburgh.


  • Atholl, Katharine Marjory Stewart-Murray, Duchess of (editor) (1908), Military History of Perthshire (1660-1899) and (1899-1902), 2 Volumes, Perth: R A & J Hay 
  • Atholl, Katharine Marjory Stewart-Murray, Duchess of (1931), Conscription of a People 
  • Atholl, Katharine Marjory Stewart-Murray, Duchess of (1931), Women and Politics, Philip Allen 
  • Atholl, Katharine Marjory Stewart-Murray, Duchess of (1933) Main Facts of the Indian Problem.
  • Atholl, Katharine Marjory Stewart-Murray, Duchess of (1938), Searchlight on Spain, Middlesex: Penguin  1st, 2nd & 3rd editions
  • Atholl, Katharine Marjory Stewart-Murray, Duchess of (c. 1958), Working partnership: being the lives of John George, 8th Duke of Atholl, and of his wife, Katharine Marjory Ramsay, London: Arthur Baker Ltd 

See also[edit]


Primary sources[edit]

Records relating to Atholl can be found at:[5]

Published sources[edit]

  • Maitland, Frank (1937), Searchlight on the Duchess of Atholl, Edinburgh: Revolutionary Socialist Party 
  • Cowling, Maurice (1975), The Impact of Hitler - British Politics and Policy 1933-1940, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, p. 403, ISBN 0-521-20582-4 
  • Stobaugh, Beverly Parkers (c. 1978), Women and Parliament, 1918-1970, Hicksville, NY: Exposition Press, c 1978.: Exposition Press, ISBN 0-682-49056-3 
  • Hetherington, Shelia (1989), Katharine Atholl 1874-1960, Aberdeen University Press 
  • MacLeod, Douglas (2005), Morningside Mata Haris: how MI6 deceived Scotland’s great and good, Edinburgh: Birlinn, ISBN 978-1-84341-021-8 


  1. ^ Richard Griffiths, Fellow Travellers of the Right: British Enthusiasts for Nazi Germany, 1933-39, Oxford University Press, 1983, p. 235
  2. ^ Masters, Brian (1988). The Dukes. London: Frederick Muller. ISBN 0-09-173700-1. 
  3. ^ London Gazette May 1942
  4. ^ London Gazette, March 1952
  5. ^ National Register of Archives, Murray, Katharine Marjory Stewart- (1874-1960) née Ramsay, Duchess of Atholl, Conservative MP GB/NNAF/P151487, The National Archives, retrieved 5 July 2007 

External links[edit]

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
James Gardiner
Member of Parliament for Kinross & West Perthshire
Succeeded by
William McNair Snadden
Military offices
Preceded by
His Grace
8th Duke of Atholl
Honorary Colonel of the
Scottish Horse

May 1942-May 1952
Succeeded by
Col. Robert Appleby Bartram