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Issue 52 - The clan Ogilvy

Scotland Magazine Issue 52
August 2010


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The clan Ogilvy

James Irvine Robertson looks at another of Scotland's great families.

Any clan worth its salt claims to have fought alongside Robert Bruce at Bannockburn in 1314. There’s a snag, however. The first listing of such clans does not come until 1822 when the soldier/historian David Stewart of Garth records 21 chiefs who fought there. Stewart was an excellent soldier but not that meticulous a historian and he does not tell us how he came by his list. There are certainly some chiefs included who cannot possibly have been present at the battle. But only a fool would risk the consequences of publishing their names. Hell hath no fury like a Highlander whose honour is impugned. The clan chief of the Ogilvies, the Earl of Airlie, told Stewart in 1816 that his ‘ancestor at Bannockburn was Patrick Ogilvie’. He also informed him that the clan’s most complicated of all tartans ‘is remarkable in not having any green in it which is a colour the name have a particular aversion to being once dressed in that colour in some battle where they were unfortunate.’ The Ogilvies had been one of the most prominent families in Scotland for long before Bannockburn. The first of the family on record was Gilliebride, Earl of Angus, and Angus had been one of the seven kingdoms of the Picts. In the Ogilvy coat of arms is the red lyon, blazoned crowned, which shows descent from the royal house of Dalriada which merged with the Picts in the 9th century to form the kingdom of Alba.

The name Ogilvy is derived from ocel-fa, high plain, in the ancient British language which predates Gaelic. Gilliebride gave the high plain of Angus to his younger son Gilbert who thus became Gilbert of Ogilvy.

Patrick along with his two sons fought at Bannockburn and King Robert gave them charters for their lands. A judicious marriage gave them the hereditary sheriffdom of Forfar and this led to trouble in 1391. Wild clansmen from Atholl led by sons of the Wolf of Badenoch launched a devastating raid into Angus. The Sheriff, Sir Walter Ogilvy, along with Sir David Lindsay and Sir Patrick Gray and their men caught up with the raiders on the watershed between Atholl and Strathardle at Glenbrierachan. The Angus men were on warhorses, clad in armour, the Highlanders barefoot and nimble. The cavalry were little use on the bleak and boggy moorland and the forces of the law were defeated and Sir Walter along with his brother and some 60 of his followers killed.

His second son, Patrick called ‘le vicomte d’Ecosse’ was leader of the Scottish army in France and councillor and chamberlain of King Charles VII. In 1429 he commanded the escort of the convoy carrying foods to Orleans alongside Joan of Arc.

Of all the clans of Scotland none were more faithful to the House of Stuart than the Ogilvies. James was created Earl of Airlie by Charles I in 1639 and during his absence in the south the Earl of Argyll procured a commission from the Committee of Estates to attack those who had not signed the Covenant. Amongst those were the Ogilvies.

Airlie and Forter castles were taken, pillaged, and burned by Argyll. The destruction of Airlie is commemorated in the ballad The Bonnie House o’ Airlie. The earl joined Montrose’s great campaign of 1644-5 and had the satisfaction of burning Argyll’s Castle Campbell in revenge. His second son, Thomas, raised a regiment for the king and was killed at the battle of Inverlochy, one of the very few royalist casualties.

The earl’s eldest son was taken prisoner at Philiphaugh in 1646 at which Montrose’s army was defeated and most of its men captured and slaughtered by the Covenanters. James, later the second earl, was tried in St Andrews and sentenced to death. As so often seemed to happen in such circumstances, he was visited by a beautiful girl, in this case his sister, exchanged clothes with her to make his escape.

James, the eldest son of the 3rd Earl of Airlie, led a regiment of the clan in the 1715 Rising and fought at Sheriffmuir. In 1745, David, Lord Ogilvy, joined the Prince at Edinburgh with a following of 600 men, chiefly of his own name. After the final overthrow of the cause at Culloden he escaped through Norway and Sweden to France, where became a Lieutenant General and commanded a regiment of 750 men, known as Ogilvy’s Regiment which was disbanded in 1763 at the end of the Seven Years’ War. He received a pardon from the British government in 1778 although the family titles were not restored until 1826.

The eighth Earl of Airlie was killed in the Boer War in 1900 during a charge which saved the guns at Diamond Hill, his last words ‘Moderate your language please, sergeant’ were addressed to the distraught NCO bending over him. Back in Scotland Lady Airlie heard the tattoo of the ghostly drummer boy which always announces the death of an earl of Airlie.

The current Earl of Airlie, the 13th, is as distinguished as it gets. He was Lord Chamberlain to HM The Queen from 1984 to 1997. He is Captain General of the Royal Company of Archers, Gold Stick for Scotland, the senior bodyguard to the monarch, and Chancellor of the Order of the Thistle. Lady Airlie was born an American and is a Lady of the Bedchamber. She was present with the Queen at a state dinner in the White House hosted by President Bush in 2007. The family have held the castles of Cortachy and Airlie for seven centuries. The former is the seat of the chief, the latter can be rented for holidays.


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