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Issue 39 - The Clan Grant

History & Heritage

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Scotland Magazine Issue 39
June 2008


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The Clan Grant

James Irvine Robertson turns his attention to another of Scotland's family lines.

Like most clans in Scotland, the origin of Clan Grant is obscure.

One of the defining characteristics of Highland families is ancestral pride and arrogance. This has often driven them to embrace exotic and distinguished lineages, although the Mackenzies may have gone a bit over the top when claiming the god Coinneach, the Bright One, as their progenitor. However, any clan founder must have been a mighty individual, even if he is sometimes hard to pin down.

Based on an 18th century manuscript, the Grants now believe that their earliest discernable ancestor was Griotgardof Yriar from Norway, whose descendants, by a roundabout route via England and Ireland, found themselves in possession of lands in Inverness-shire. However, the traditional descent was through Sir William le Grant who married into the powerful Anglo-Norman Bissets and thus won possession of a manor in England.

An offshoot of the Bissets came north with a Grant before 1200, in the reign of William the Lyon. The Bissets were granted immense estates in north east Scotland, but these were forfeit in 1242 after Walter de Bysett unsportingly murdered the Earl of Atholl after being beaten by him at a tournament in Haddington.

But by then the Grants had acquired Stratherrick in the province of Moray through a Bisset marriage and were a power in their own right with William le Grant becoming Sheriff of Inverness in 1258.

Profitable marriages continued; Sir Iain, also Sheriff of Inverness, married an heiress of Gilbert of Glencarnie, a branch of earls of Strathearn, and gained estates in Strathspey. An exchange of lands in Stratherrick established the clan in their principal territories east of Aviemore, north and south of the River Spey, and Glens Urqhuart and Moriston west of Loch Ness.

Branches of the family proliferated and, in the west, the Grants of Glenmoriston hived off to form a separate clan.

During the Wars of Independence, the Grants supported John Baliol until he was removed from the throne of Scotland by Edward I of England. Like the rest of the nobility of Scotland, they signed the Ragman Roll, swearing fealty to the English king, but backed Bruce against his rival John Comyn.

In subsequent centuries, the Grants consolidated their power in their heartland, marrying carefully and generally managing to avoid the depressing and costly inter-clan squabbles that are such a feature of Highland history. They had the wisdom to be loyal to the Crown and, as a reward for quelling northern insurrections, received a charter from James V in 1535 exempting them from the attendance of all courts except the newly instituted Court of Session.

Then came the Reformation and the Grants became zealous promoters of the new faith. However, they remained in Royal favour throughout the troubles of the 16th century, receiving land from both Queen Mary and James VI. Initially they supported the Scots Convention during the Marquis of Montrose’s campaign for King Charles II, but after the battle of Inverlochy, the clan switched sides and remained royalist into the Interregnum. This ensured Royal favour at the Restoration, but they were strong supporters of the Glorious Revolution of 1688 when the Catholic James VII abandoned the throne to the Protestant William of Orange. Six hundred of the clan turned out in support of the Government and helped beat the Jacobites at the Haugh of Cromdale in 1690. On the other side, however, were the Grants of Glenmoriston who fought against the Government in all the Jacobite Risings of the 18th century.

In 1694, for the clan’s loyalty, the 17th Chief, Ludovic, had his lands raised to the status of a Regality, which virtually turned it into a mini-state under the Chief’s jurisdiction. In the 1715 Jacobite Uprising, the Grants remained loyal to the Government, as they did in the ’45 – again with the exception of the Glenmoriston branch.

But it was interesting marriages that marked this century. In 1702, Sir James Grant of Grant married the heiress of the Colquhouns of Luss and their second son became Chief of the Colquhouns. Their eldest son, Sir Ludovic, married the heiress of the earls of Seafield and their grandson Sir Lewis added the Seafield surname, Ogilvie, when he became the 5th Earl in 1811.

The 23rd Chief, Sir James Grant of Grant, born in 1738, was known as “The Good Sir James.” David Stewart of Garth said of him: ‘He was the worthiest gentleman, the best master, the best friend, the best husband, the best father, and the best Christian, of the district to which he was an honour and a blessing.’ Sir James, who created the model village of Grantown, resolutely refused to follow the trend amongst his fellow chiefs of clearing his lands of tenants for sheep and profit and he thus retained to a remarkable extent the loyalty of his clan.

After his death, during the General Election of 1820, the Chief’s brother was Tory candidate for Elgin. The townsfolk were Whigs and blockaded Grant Lodge where the Chief and his sisters were in residence. His clansmen sent round the Fiery Cross, the last time in history this happened, and 800 Grant clansmen marched on Elgin, which immediately ended the blockade. They then marched home again.

Sir James Ogilvie-Grant, 15th Baronet, 30th Chief of Clan Grant, and 11th Earl of Seafield had an only daughter. Through the Celtic tradition, there is a precedent for Ancient Scottish earldoms to be inherited through the female line. The 11th Earl fought and died in the First World War, and Seafield earldom was inherited by his daughter. But his grandfather, a politician, had also been created Baron Strathspey, and this title and that of 31st Chief of Clan Grant went to his brother. His grandson, Sir James Grant of Grant became Lord Strathspey in 1992, and is therefore the 33rdChief of Clan Grant.

One of the most interesting of the many Grant branches is the family of Rothiemurchus in Inverness-shire. This estate was first granted to James, the 14th Chief of Clan Grant, in 1545. It passed to a second son around 1580, and has been owned by his descendants ever since.

Generations of lairds have conserved its 25,000 acres of forest, lochs, rivers, glens and mountains. Lying at the heart of the Cairngorm National Park, it is one of the most important stretches of Scotland’s natural heritage.


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