The history of Clan Armstrong - Scotland Magazine
Clans, History

The history of Clan Armstrong

Clan Armstrong was a borders clan and feared by most, including both the English and Scottish crowns

We explore the history of Clan Armstrong, a Borders clan with a fearsome reputation

Clan Armstrong is a Borders clan from Liddesdale and Langholm around the Debatable Lands on the Western Marches of the Borders. 

The clan originated in Cumberland, England, but moved north in the 13th century, though there are at least two conflicting stories about its founder. One tells of an Anglo-Danish earl called Siward Digry (meaning ‘strong sword arm’), who was a nephew of King Canute, and the other tells of a man called Fairbairn, a member of the Scottish Court.

The clan had a fearsome reputation as it plundered the Western Marches. It could muster 3,000 horsemen, which alarmed not just the English Crown, but the Scottish one as well. The most powerful Armstrong was Johnnie Armstrong of Gilnockie, a notorious reiver, who in 1530 was captured and hanged on the orders of King James V.

Today Gilnockie Tower, at 16th-century pele tower and Johnnie’s home, is open to visitors and houses the largest collection of Armstrong archives in the world. Astronaut Neil Armstrong visited Gilnockie when he was made Freeman of Langholm. Other places of interest include Hermitage Castle, where the 2nd Chief, Alexander Armstrong of Mangerton, was killed.

Clan Armstrong is armigerous, meaning that it does not currently have a clan chief recognised by the Court of the Lord Lyon.

The clan tartan can be traced back at least to 1842, when it appeared in the controversial Vestiarium Scoticum of John Sobieski Stuart, which purported to be a reproduction of a 15th-century manuscript.
The clan crest is “an arm from the shoulder, armed, proper”, with the motto “Invictus Maneo” (“I remain unvanquished”).

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