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Issue 38 - The clan Graham

History & Heritage

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Scotland Magazine Issue 38
April 2008


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The clan Graham

James Irvine Robertson turns his attention to another of Scotland's great families.

William I, Duke of Normandy, conquered England in 1066. The adventurers in his army, most of whom, like William himself, had been Vikings a few generations earlier, were granted lands throughout the country supplanting the native aristocracy.

Their takeover of much of Scotland was a later and more stealthy affair, the responsibility of David I, youngest son of Malcolm III (Canmore), and his Queen, St Margaret, when he became King of Scots in 1124. The role of important clans whose chiefs descend from such continental immigrants who came north with the king is astonishing: Fraser, Hay, Lindsay,Gordon, Stewart, Murray, Menzies, Cumming, Sinclair are a few examples, What is also startling is the contribution they made to their adopted country, both locally and nationally.

Amongst the most distinguished of such clans is the Grahams, or Graemes – the spelling of the name makes no difference to its origins. The Graham progenitor was an Anglo-Norman holder of the manor of Graegham which is mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086.

The member of the family who came to Scotland was William, who witnessed his patron David’s charter founding the Abbey of Holyrood in 1128. In subsequent generations, the family acquired extensive lands in the Lowlands and no less than seven Grahams signed the Ragman Rolls in which the nobility of Scotland swore fealty to Edward I, his condition for umpiring the dispute for the Scots throne.

Sir Patrick Graham was killed in 1296 carrying the Scottish banner at the Battle of Dunbar. Hemingford, the English chronicler, says of him in Latin that he was a ‘stout knight, the wisest among the wise in council, and among the noblest the most noble. His great nephew, Sir John Graham, the freedom fighter Sir William Wallace’s closest friend and lieutenant, was killed at Falkirk in 1298.

His sword is still held by the Duke of Montrose. Buried in Falkirk churchyard, his tomb bears the epitaph: ‘Here lys Sir John the Graeme, baith wight and wise, Ane one the chiefs reskewit Scotland thrise; Ane better knight not to the world was lent, Nor was gvde Gramie of trvth and hardiment.’ Sir John’s great uncle David, Patrick’s son, fought alongside Robert the Bruce in the Wars of Independence, and was first of the family to be granted an estate in the Highlands when he exchanged Cardross in Dumbartonshire with his king for lands near Montrose in Angus. He was one of three Grahams who signed the Declaration of Arbroath in 1320.

The family remained among the most important in the land, but fell out with their monarch in the early 15th century. Through marriage to a granddaughter of Robert II, the infant Malise Graham inherited the ancient earldom of Strathearn after the murder of his father by the Drummonds. The earldom was seized by the King, James I, and the boy was sent as a hostage to England where he was imprisoned in Pontefract Castle for 25 years.

His uncle and guardian protested and even tried to arrest the King in parliament. Eventually, he denounced James I as a tyrant and, in 1437, led those who assassinated him at Blackfriars monastery in Perth. For this crime he was tortured to death.

William, the 3rd Lord Graham was created the 1st Earl of Montrose. He was killed at the Battle of Flodden in 1513. And he was the ancestor of two of the most charismatic commanders of Highland troops. The first of these was the 5th Earl, James, who was created Marquis by Charles I. His extraordinary campaign for the King in 1645, and his succession of five victories is still studied by students of warfare. A generation later, John Graham of Claverhouse, Viscount Dundee, almost single-handedly inspired the first of the Jacobite Risings and his death at the moment of victory at the Battle of Killiecrankie in 1689 was an enormous relief to the governments in both Edinburgh and London.

By this time, cadet families of the Grahams held land across Scotland. In 1680, William Graham, Earl of Menteith and Airth was without an heir, and he passed all his lands to his chief, the 3rd Marquis of Montrose, An Greumach Mor – the Great Graham.

The 4th Marquis was Lord President of the Scottish Privy Council and, in 1707, was created a duke for his work towards the Act of Union. As well as achieving fame today as patron turned persecutor of the renegade Rob Roy MacGregor, he served as Secretary of State for Scotland and was Keeper of the Privy Seal for 20 years. The 3rd Duke was largely instrumental in securing the repeal, in 1784, of the acts prohibiting Highland dress and culture brought in after the 1745 Rising.

The 6th Duke was a sailor and invented the first aircraft carrier. He was also leader of the home rule movement in Scotland in the aftermath of the First World War.

His son, the 7th Duke, emigrated to southern Africa and took an interest in politics. He was a signatory of Rhodesia’s Unilateral Declaration of Independence in 1965 and served as both that country’s Minister of Agriculture and Defence.

There were innumerable land-holding branches of the Graham family, many in the clan heartland north west of Stirling and others throughout Scotland including, in a delightful roll call of Scots place names, those of Morphie, Monkhouse, Duchray, Tamrawer, Dundaff, Meiklewood, Leitchtown, Gartur, Callingod, Gartmore, Kirkstall, Netherby, Esk, Orchill, Inchbrakie, Killearn, Braco, Scottistoun, Drynie, Buchlyvie, Gorthy, Knockdolian, Garvock, Balgowan, Calendar, Kincardine, Strathcarron, Fintry, Claverhouse and Duntrune.

Today’s chief is James Graham, 8th Duke of Montrose. He is the only duke with a seat in the House of Lords as an elected peer. The ancient honours of the family are reflected in his impressive collection of subsidiary titles – Marquis of Montrose, Marquis of Graham and Buchanan, Earl of Montrose, Earl of Kincardine, Earl Graham of Belford, Viscount Dundaff, Lord Graham (the oldest, created in 1415), Lord Aberruthven, Mugdock and Fintrie and Baron Graham of Belford.

The Duke lives at Auchmar on Loch Lomond, held by his family since 1682. He is shadow spokesman for Scottish affairs in the House of Lords with further interests in farming, fishing, forestry, and the environment.