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Tuesday 8 April 2014

Peter Grant, ‘Auld Dubrach’: The King’s Oldest Enemy

A short extract from an interview conducted by Calum Maclean and Dr John MacInnes on a fieldwork trip to Braemar in 1959, local man John Lamont had the following to say about Peter Grant, ‘Auld Dubrach’:

J[ohn] L[amont]: An’ there’s another very historical place up by Glen DeeThe DubrachPeter Granthe was the oldest survivor of the ’45. He walked up to the Battle of Culloden.
C[alum] M[aclean]: Yes.
JL: An’ settled doon in a farm up Glen DeeThe Dubrach. He was a 110 when he died. He died in Braemarhe tookhe died doon in Braemar, you see. He was 110 but he was supposed to walk over the hill an’ Cullodenan’ worked at the croft up in Glen Deetill he was too old, you see. And then the King George the IV was at that time he was interviewed wi’ him in Edinburgh, and, the king said to him he was his auldest friend. “Na, your majesty, ” he said, “I’m your oldest enemy.” He got a pension of £30 a year. Aye, an’ “Na, remember,” he said, “I’m your auldest enemy.” An’ his old stone is down by the churchyard yet. Aye, big black…
CM: And most of the Grants round here belonged to that man then?
JM: Well, I couldn’t say to thatnothere’s different branches…

Having got wind of the survival of his oldest enemy, King George IV on his whistle-stop tour to Edinburgh in August of 1822 allegedly invited Peter Grant, known as ‘Auld Dubrach’, to an audience. The Royal progress, the first visit of a reigning monarch to Scotland since 1640, had been many months in the planning, and had been meticulously stage-managed by Sir Walter Scott (1771–1832). On being presented to George IV, the king made a friendly gesture by exclaiming, “Ah, Grant, you are my oldest friend.” The staunch Jacobite is said to have retorted, “Na, na, your majesty, I’m your auldest enemy.” Despite, or perhaps because of his impertinence, Grant was awarded a substantial pension of 52 guineas. He didn’t enjoy his pension for very long but his good fortune was passed onto his daughter Anne.

The long-lived Peter Grant was born at the Dubrach (An Dubh Bhruthach) in a farmhouse in a remote Deeside glen above the Linn of Dee, hence his nickname, near the Castleton of Braemar in 1714. He died at Auchendryne one-hundred and ten years later at a grand old age. His gravestone lies near to the Farquharson Mausoleum in Braemar Cemetery can still be read:

† Erected to the memory of Peter Grant, sometime farmer in Dubrach, who died at Auchendryne the 11th of Feb., 1824, aged 110 years. His wife Mary Cumming, died at West-side, parish of Lethnot, in Forfarshire, on the 4th Feby., 1811, aged 65 years, and lies in the churchyard of Lethnot.

Another stone tablet erected over his resting place has the following inscription: “The old, loyal Jacobite is at peace. He kept faith with his rightful Monarchs all of his life, a hero and man of honour to the last.” His fame lies in the fact that he is thought to have been the oldest surviving Jacobite to have fought at Culloden, that ended the Rising of the ’45. A brief report published in The Scots Magazine states the following:

Feb. 11. At Glenmuick, at the very advanced age of 110 years, Peter Grant, alias Dubrack [sic], long distinguished by the appellation of the Culloden Hero, having fought in that memorable and decisive action. His funeral, which took place on Saturday week, was attended upwards of 300 people, who came from all quarters of the surrounding country, to the extent of many miles, to pay their last tribute of respect to the departed hero. In the true Highland style, three pipers were stationed at the head of the coffin, playing the favourite tune of the period of Culloden, “Wha wadna fight for Charlie’s right,” while the company present were not unmindful of their wonted portion of mountain dew, finishing upwards of anchor [i.e. 4 gallons] of whisky before proceeding to the place of interment.

One of the pipers was Grant’s eighty-one year old friend called Charles Lamont. Another obituary appeared in The Aberdeen Journal and states that Grant was healthy in both body and mind to the very end:

The old man’s mental faculties continued unimpaired to the very last; and, possessing as he did, a comparatively good state of health, a retentive memory, a winning and cheerful disposition, a distinct recollection of long past events, many of them nearly a century old, and a certain vivacity and fire peculiar to himself in relating them, it is not surprising that the society of this Highland Patriarch was generally considered very agreeable. As may be supposed, he all his lifetime enjoyed an uncommonly strong constitution, scarcely every complaining of illness of any description, until within a few hours of his death¾even then, he seemed almost exempted from bodily suffering; and nature completely wore out, he at last expired without the least murmur of struggle.

Grant was but a babe-in-arms when John Erskine (1657–1722), known as Bobbin’ Jock, the 5th Earl of Mar, raised the royal standard in front of six-hundred Jacobites at the Castleton of Braemar that was “up and streaming rarely.” Only a few months later, the rather ill-starred Jacobite Rising of 1715 ended acrimoniously at the Battle of Sherrifmuir. Undoubtedly, as Grant was growing up, he would have heard a great deal of stories and personal reminiscences from the men who had taken up arms for the Stuart cause. It is also very likely that his political views were shaped from a young age; he would later become a staunch Jacobite. After gaining a rudimentary education, Peter Grant was apprenticed to a weaver and tailor at Auchindryne and would later become a tailor to trade. He would have travelled near and far around the Braes o’ Mar plying his sartorial skills. All this was about to change when he reached the age of thirty-one as the Jacobites rose once more.

In 1745, Prince Charles Edward Stuart (1720–1788), the Bonnie Prince or the Pretender depending on political proclivities, arrived in Eriskay on 23 July. A few weeks later, the standard was raised, on 19 August, in Glenfinnan by Loch Shiel, in an attempt to put a Stuart back on the British throne. Many Highlanders were sympathetic to the Stuart cause, and Peter Grant was but one of many who rallied to the cause. He “flung down the tailor’s goose”, picked up a broadsword, and joined Monaltrie’s regiment of the Jacobite Army, and fought in various engagements. If there is any truth to the following anecdote, then Grant, like most of the rebels, was not content to stay on the sidelines and, in the heat of his ardour, is said to have cried out to to his superior officer, “I lat’s throw awathae fushionless things o’ guns, ’er we get doon upo’ the smatchets wioor swords!”

For bravery shown at the Battle of Prestonpans fought on 21 September 1745, Grant was decorated and raised to the rank of Sergeant-Major. His military career, however, came to an abrupt end for, although he survived the carnage that was Culloden, Grant was captured and taken prisoner to Carlisle Castle. He is said to have killed around a dozen of Cumberland’s soldiers in that encounter. He was made a prisoner, taken to nearby Inverness before being transferred to Carlisle Castle to await trial and sentencing. His future, and those of his other Jacobite comrades, looked particularly bleak. His and their fate could have been hanging, deportation to the colonies (if the journey was survived), or death due to the inhumane conditions that Jacobite prisoners had to endure. Grant, though, had other plans. Scaling the castle walls in which he and his fellow Jacobites had been incarcerated, he escaped and possibly unmolested, but probably in fear of his life made it all the way back to Deeside on foot.


He had to lie low for many years until the Jacobite cause had been firmly put to bed. Given that the government set up a garrison at Braemar Castle full of Hanoverian troops, it is rather remarkable, if not inconceivable, that he was no recaptured, far less than to have been actually harassed. Had they known about his whereabouts, but decided to turn a blind eye? This may well be as a result of the Jacobite sympathies shown by the vast majority of the local populace. Either way, Grant managed to return to his former trade as a tailor. In later years, he married a local girl, thirty-two years his junior, from the village of Braemar. She was called Mary Cummings (1746–1811) and they had issue: three sons – John, Peter (a gardener) and William (a cattle-dealer) – and three daughters: Jean (afterwards Mrs Smith), Annie (who later lived with and cared for her father) and one other who name appears to be unknown.

Grant later took on the lease of the farm of Dubrach where he had been born and brought up, but after many years, with the lease of the farm about to run out, and being considered too far advanced in years to have the lease renewed, ‘Auld Dubrach’ upped sticks and moved to Lethnot, Forfarshire. There his wife died and was buried in the churchyard of that parish in 1811, aged sixty-five. Thereafter, very little is known of Peter Grant until after he had become a centenarian.

During his time at Lethnot, a new minister arrived, the Rev. Alexander Symers. His newly-wed wife Clementine, a daughter of James Carnegie of Balmackie, Panbride, near Arbroath. The Carnegies had been staunch Jacobites and James had been Grant’s commanding officer.

In the summer of 1820 two wealthy gentlemen were walking the Glen Lethnot hills when they met Grant by chance. By then he was known as ‘Auld Dubrach’, after the croft he resided in. They were astonished to find out that he had fought in the ’45 Rising, and was in exceptional health for his age. He invited the gentlemen into his cottage and recalled the events and experiences of being a soldier in the Jacobite army for them. He even showed them how to use the broadsword! The two men were so taken aback at the exploits of Auld Dubrach they decided to do something to comfort him in his advancing years. One of these gentlemen was William Smart, of Cairnbank, near Brechin, who happened to have the ear of the Honorable William Maule, who lost no time in bringing the matter to his lordships’s attention.

By that time, well into his dotage, he had gone to stay with his daughter, Anne, in Lethnot, Angus. An old lady, who was upwards of ninety at the time, provides a sketch of Peter Grant, published later in 1895:

I remember ‘Dubrach’ residing with Mr. John Chalmers, joiner, Airlie Street, for some time during his sittings to Colvin Smith, R.S.A., at his studio in Pearse Street. The result of these sittings is a grand likeness, now hanging in the wall of the staircase of Brechin Castle. I frequently saw the old man while in Brechin, and had a crack with him. It may seem strange that I or any other person still  in existence could have seen a man who had fought at Culloden in the year 1746; but sixty-eight years ago I not only saw him, but to him and his sister, or perhaps daughter, in their neat cottage in Lethnot in Angus.

The above quote is taken from an interesting article that contains two slightly different accounts about ‘Auld Dubrach’ which may not be that surprising as they came from two separate testimonies. One version maintains that Grant was in Edinburgh during the king’s visit and personally presented his petition, whilst the other claims that the petition was presented on Grant’s behalf by William Maule, who had taken the trouble to have it drafted in the first place.

The petition drawn up at the behest of William Maule (1771–1852), afterwards Lord Panmure, containing an epitome of Grant’s history, was forwarded to the king when he arrived in Edinburgh. After informing his Majesty of his age and so forth, and that he was perhaps his oldest enemy alive, it proceeded thus:

Educated a Roman Catholic, and in all the prejudices of the times, he drew his sword on behalf of another family, and fought with all the energy of a Highlander; but time and experience have corrected his views. Under the mild administration of your royal predecessors, he has seen the nation flourish, and its glory upheld by their wise, able, and vigorous measures. With equal zeal, then, would he gladly draw the sword in defence of that monarch, who now tills the throne, and who he trusts in God, for the good and happiness of his people, will continue to do so for many years to come!

But, alas! my royal sire, though the soul of the aged Highlander is still ardent, the frost of age has chilled his vigour. He who in former times had experienced all the luxury of a comfortable independence, is now, in the evening of his age, reduced to poverty and want; for he has not even strength left to travel in search of his daily bread: and to aggravate his distress, to one affectionate daughter, Ann, the only solace of her aged and surviving parent, your petitioner can only bequeath poverty and rags.

May it, therefore, please your majesty to take your petitioner’s case into your royal consideration, and to grant such relief as his circumstances may seem to merit; and your petitioner shall ever pray.

The petition was signed by Patrick Grant, the petitioner; Alexander Symers, minister; and the following elders: James Young; Thomas Mollison; James Gordon; and James Speed as witnesses.

As previously mentioned, William Maule commissioned Colvin Smith (1795–1875), R. S. A., to paint a portrait of Peter Grant. It is said that he supplied the subject with new tartan garments, and lodged him with John Chalmers, joiner, Airlie Street, Brechin, while giving sittings to the artist in his studio in Pearse Street of that town. It is further alleged that the staunch old Jacobite refused to dress in his new clothes in order to be presented to the king, and instead donned the dress he had worn at Culloden. This has been described as a “tartan coat, kilt, brogues with large brass buttons on the uppers, a Glengarry bonnet with an eagle’s feather in the front of it, and a pike-staff seven feet long, with a brass knob on the top, and ornamented with pretty blue tassels.”

The likelihood, however, seems to be that Dubrach was never presented to the King. There is a very full record of the proceedings of the Court during the time George IV. was in Scotland, but no mention is made of any such function. Lord Panmure’s name only appears in those records twice—once, on being presented to His Majesty on 20 August 1822; and, again, on his presenting the king with a large quantity of whisky for the Royal table. It seems highly probable that, had that nobleman been instrumental in presenting Dubrach, some mention would have been made of it. Again, had such a function taken place, there would have been little necessity for getting a petition, as Lord Panmure would have urged the claims of the veteran verbally. It would rather appear that the petition alone was presented to the king,

 Whether or not he was presented personally to the king, Peter Grant was awarded a generous pension. Colvin’s portrait of ‘Auld Dubrach’ also opens up a few lines of inquiry for it is alleged that the tartan coat he wore whilst during his various sittings was the very one which he wore when he fought at the Battle of Culloden. There is an eyewitness account as recounted from Lord Archibald Campbell’s Records of Argyll concerning Peter Grant’s dress from the same year in which he had his portrait painted:

I will now relate how I had the chance of seeing the old Culloden soldier.  In 1822 my father was under-gardener with John Fletcher of Dunans, at the head of Glendaruel, Argyleshire, and Peter Grant, son of Old Dubrach, was the head-gardener.  Shortly after his father had the £50 a-year settled on him, the old man came to Dunans to visit his son Peter, and stayed with him for some weeks. During the old man’s stay he spent a few hours every day in my father's house; and although I was a very young boy at the time, just about six years of age, I think, I have still a clear recollection of his remarkable appearance, which was so very striking that it left a deep impression of my young life. He was about six feet in height, stout and well formed, with small feet, but large hands, a fine open brow, small and dark penetrating eyes, and long hair, which hung in curls round the back of his head, and hung down his back and shoulders, and was as white as the snow on his native mountains. The dress he had on him on this occasion was the same as that he wore at Culloden, and also when he was presented to George IV. in Edinburgh. I well remember that he exhibited an air of independence; his spirit would not brook opposition of any kind, and his whole bearing was majestic and heroic-like.

A further piece of testimony is also given in a letter sent to Lord Archibald from the same John Campbell who had seen ‘Auld Dubrach’ in Glendaruel some sixty years before:


MY LORD,—I duely received your letter, and in reply I beg to say that I hope your lordship will excuse my old plain style of writing, as I only got three winters in the school of Jarvie, Glendaruel.

In reference to Old Dubrach, I can see him in my mind’s eye as well as I could sixty-one years ago, for his general appearance was so very striking that it left such an impression on my young mind that no length of time could erase it. His coat was tartan, with the check lines strait up, down, and across; the cloth was very much faded. I could not tell what clan tartan it was made of, but your lordship may rest assured it was the Royal Stuart’s. My for proof for saying this:  The Fletchers of Dunans or Dounans were Roman Catholics and staunch adherents to the Stuart dynasty. Hence old Peter Grant (Dubrach) got a warm reception when he came to Dunans to see his son after he had got the pension. Old John Fletcher, the laird, father of Angus Fletcher, was for many years at the head of Inland Revenue Office, Edinburgh—had an old maiden sister named Miss Ellen, and for some years after old Grant had been there, I often heard Miss Ellen saying to my father and mother, when they happened to be in the big-house kitchen at times—for our house was only about a hundred yards from the laird’s (my father being the head gardener after young Peter Grant left permanently and went home to his father after the pension was got)—that old Grant’s coat was made of the Royal-Stuart tartan. A few years after that time, I was a message-boy with one Benjamin Osbourne, who was a sheriff officer; he was also the weaver that wrought all the fancy work for the better sort of people in “Cowal.” He wrought various clans’ tartan in my time, and I often heard him also say, when he happened to be working the Stuart tartan, that it was the same check that Old Dubrach wore when he was in Dunans, for Osbourne saw him every night in my father’s when he was in the Glen house. There can be no doubt but what it was the Stuart tartan which Dubrach had on when he appeared at Culloden, Loudon, and at Dunans, Glendaruel. I can assure your lordship that he wore the kilt in the same way as is done at the present time, but was the badger’s head that the sporran consisted of.—I am,  your humble servant,


P.S.—Dubrach wore the kilt in the same way as I wore it myself up to 1830. I am not aware that there is any difference up to the present time.

Further information about ‘Auld Dubrach’ and his visit is given:

Note.—Mr John Campbell, of 122 Ingram Street, Glasgow, wrote to the papers on account of “Old Dubrach,” whom he saw in 1822.  He had on at that time the tartan coat which he wore at the battle of Culloden and which he also wore when presented to King George IV. at Edinburgh. Mr Campbell’s letter is appended, and is of value for detail of “dress.”

The kilt was a dark-grey homespun cloth, but the coat of Stuart tartan.  This I have from Mr Campbell, in a letter written in 1883.—ED.

MR. JOHN CAMPBELL also stated that Dubrach used to visit his father’s house where a piper called Hay was wont to resort.

“During the time that the old veteran was there, John had to be at the pipes every night. Old Dubrach appeared to be perfectly charmed when the bagpipes were being played well, and would ask for the tune of ‘Hielan’ laddie’ several times in the same night; but he got into a perfect rage one night when Hay began to play the

‘Campbells are coming, hurrah! hurrah!
The Rebels are running, hurrah! hurrah!’

He said it hurt his feelings very much to hear that tune played, ever since the day that he was on the battle-field of Culloden. He went on to say that there was a number of Campbell officers in the Duke of Cumberland’s forces, and that he knew how the officers acted towards the poor wounded Highlanders as they lay in their gore on the field. He also said that there was no Clan Campbell in the Prince’s army, and that if that tune was to be played any other night, he would not come back to our house again. My father and mother having assured him that it would not, there was no more heard about the matter. As I was very young at the time, I could not have remembered everything so well were it not that Old Dubrach and John Hay were constantly talked about in my father’s house and the big-house kitchen for some years after both the piper and the old hero had left the Glen. Hence the circumstances was still kept fresh in my memory.”

Despite the immediacy of this eyewitness account, full of interesting details, the question remains whether it is conceivable that Peter Grant kept the tartan that he wore at Culloden. Would he not have discarded his Jacobite dress at the first opportunity when he made his escape from Carlisle Castle? It would have been extremely foolhardy to have worn the dress of rebel when his life was at risk. Given that unworn garments are unlikely to last such a long time it would seem far more probable that ‘Auld Dubrach’ rather wore the tartan suit provided for him by Lord Panmure.

Colvin Smith’s depiction, now in the care of the National Portrait Gallery of Scotland, shows ‘Auld Dubrach’ dressed in tartan trews and plaid, and looking far younger than belies a gentleman at one-hundred-and-eight years of age. Lightly clasping a basket-hilted broadsword, the congenial-looking Grant retains the vestiges of his rebellious past, marking him out as the last surviving Jacobite of the Battle of Culloden.

George IV’s visit to Scotland in 1822 was the first made by a reigning monarch since the time of King Charles II. Sir Walter Scott stage-managed the event, which was seen as symbolising the new relationship between the kingdoms after the traumas of the previous century. Scott convinced many of the participants in the ceremonies to wear Highland dress, which provoked amusement and some criticism. The king, too, insisted on wearing Highland dress, although he only wore a kilt once, to greet guests at Holyrood. Satirists had a field day; here George is shown alongside Sir William Curtis, former Lord Mayor of London, whose experiment with Highland dress seems even more ill-advised than that of the king.

Peter Grant by Colin Smith, 1822 [National Portrait Gallery of Scotland, PG 2924]
Peter Grant’s gravestone in Braemar Cemetery
Braemar Castle, once a Hanoverian Garrison
The First Laird in Aw Scotia – or a View at Edinburgh in August 1822 – a satirical cartoon of King George IV during his visit to Scotland. To the right of the king is the comically depicted Sir William Curtis [National Galleries of Scotland]

Anon., A Narrative of the Visit of George VI. to Scotland, in August 1822 (Edinburgh: MacRedie, Skelly & Co., 1822)
Anon., London Morning Post (29 Jan., 1822), p. 4
Anon., The Aberdeen Journal (25 Feb., 1824)
Anon., The Cabinet of Curiosities, or Wonders of the World Displayed (London: Limbird, 1824)
Anon., The Scots Magazine (Mar., 1824), p. 384
(Lord) Archibald Campbell, Records of Argyll: legends, traditions, and recollections of Argyllshire Highlanders  (Edinburgh: William Blackwood & Sons, 1885), 456ff.
James Gammack, The History and Traditions of the Land of the Lindsays in Angus and Mearns (Edinburgh: David Douglas, 2nd ed., 1882)
David Grewar, ‘“Auld Dubrach”’, Aberdeen Journal Notes and Queries, vol. III (1910), pp. 134–36
Andrew Jervise, Epitaphs and Inscriptions from Burial Grounds and Old Buildings in the North-East of Scotland, vol. I (Edinburgh: Edmonston & Douglas, 1875), p. 219
Alexander Lowson (ed.), Caledonia: A Monthly Magazine of Literature, Antiquity & Tradition (Aberdeen: W. Jolly & Sons, 1895), pp. 55–61
John Prebble, The King’s Jaunt: George IV in Scotland, August 1822 ‘One and Twenty Daft Days’ (Glasgow; London: Collins, 1988)
Rev. John Stirton, Crathie and Braemar: A History of the United Parish (Aberdeen: Milne & Hutchison, 1925), pp. 313–14


  1. Sònraichte inntinneach. Saoil an robh Gàidhlig aige? Theirinn gum bitheamh, san àm sin, taobh Bhràigh Mhàrr....

  2. Cho ìnntineach is gu math beothail. Mòran taing.

  3. God bless the loyal men who fought for Scotland and Prince Charlie.