Clan Montgomery History

From Vikings to viscounts, James Irvine Robertson takes a look at the powerful Clan Montgomery through the generations

The Montgomery clan is thought to have originated with a Viking named Gormeric, who settled on a hilltop estate in Normandy called Mount Gomeric. This eventually evolved into the Montgomery family name.

Generations later, after the Norman Conquest in 1066, Roger de Montgomerie, an advisor to William the Conqueror, arrived in England. He was given the titles of Earl of Chichester, Arundel and Shrewsbury. He owned over 100 manors, most of Shropshire, took 3 per cent of the country’s GDP, and had a county in Wales (Montgomeryshire) named after him.

The first of the family in Scotland is believed to have been his grandson Robert, who, along with two younger brothers, came north with Walter Fitzalan, the first High Steward of Scotland, in the reign of David I. He received a grant of the manor of Eaglesham in Renfrewshire, which his descendants owned for seven centuries.

The family flourished. The counts of Ayr, Lanark and Stirling joined the rest of the elite of Scotland in signing the Ragman Roll of 1296, swearing fealty to Edward I, as he adjudicated on the claimants to become King of Scots. They joined with Robert the Bruce to fight for Scottish independence and, in 1388, Sir John de Montgomery, 7th Lord of Eaglesham won the jackpot when he captured Sir Henry Percy at the Battle of Otterburn. The 7,000 mark ransom was ample to build the now-ruined stronghold and family seat of Polnoon at Eaglesham and he still had enough to lend “ix hunder punde of Inglish gold” to James Lindsay in 1389.

Sir John gained more land – Eglinton and Ardrossan – through his marriage and was later appointed bailie of the Cunningham lands, running them on behalf of the king, yet their rival clan, the Cunninghams, objected. The Montgomery Clan began to feud against the neighbouring them and the Boyds. The warring between these families that ran through to the 17th century sprang from the weakness of the Crown. Hugh Montgomerie, the 1st Earl of Eglinton, was particularly violent. He murdered the 15-year-old 2nd Lord Boyd in 1484. In retaliation, Robert Boyd, 4th Lord Boyd, killed Patrick Montgomerie in 1523, and Sir Neil Montgomerie in 1547.

The stunning ruins of Eglinton Castle, burnt down by the Cunninghams in 1528. Credit: Maria Gaellman/Alamy

The vendetta with the Cunninghams was perhaps the bloodiest in Scots history and lasted 150 years. Their chief, Alexander Cunningham, the Earl of Glencairn, was killed at the Battle of Sauchieburn that resulted in the death of James III. The national turmoil became worse after the Battle of Flodden in 1513 and the death of James IV. The feud led to murders, civilians being killed, castles sacked and crops burned. After many attempts to resolve the feud, the government of James VI managed to get the rival chiefs to make peace and it was properly settled in 1661 when William Cunningham, 9th Earl of Glencairn, married Margaret Montgomery, daughter of Alexander, 6th Earl of Eglinton.

A feature of the Clan was how its offshoots founded important families in other countries. In 1606 Sir Hugh Montgomery obtained land in Ulster as part of the Plantation project (the colonisation of Ulster in Ireland) by James VI (later James I of England). He brought across many followers and within four years he could field 1,000 fighting men. His son Hugh was a Royalist in the War of Three Kingdoms and was given numerous titles, including Earl of Mount Alexander. 

Another descendant, Robert Montgomery 1st Lord Montgomery went to France in 1480. He was the founder of the second French house of the Counts of Montgomery. His son, Gabriel became commander of the king’s Scots guard in 1545 and Count de Montgomery. The count’s eldest son Gabriel was sent to Scotland in 1545. He was put in charge of 3,500 troops by Francis I during the minority of Mary Queen of Scots. He, too, became captain of the king’s guard and became a favourite of Henry II of France. In 1559, he was commanded to joust against the king and accidentally killed him.

Before his death the king pardoned Gabriel, but his queen, Catherine de Medici, never forgave him and Gabriel was banished from court. He became a Protestant hero of the bitter religious wars that broke out in 1562. In 1574, he was betrayed, captured and delivered into the hands of Catherine who had him beheaded. 

By the end of the 17th century, descendants of the 1st Earl of Eglinton were in America. Today no less than 18 US counties are called Montgomery. Many are named after Richard Montgomery, a general and hero of the Revolutionary War. He was a descendant of the 1st Lord Montgomery, whose forebears went to Ireland during the plantation of Ulster and later crossed the Atlantic.

Unlike his predecessors, Alexander, 6th Earl of Eglinton, was a staunch Presbyterian. He was wary of the attempts of the Stuarts to impose bishops on Scotland but became a heroic cavalry commander on the Royalist side during the War of the Three Kingdoms. After the Battle of Worcester he was betrayed and imprisoned in Edinburgh Castle.

READ MORE: Great Scottish castles: Edinburgh Castle

The 11th Earl of Eglinton, Archibald Montgomery, raised the 77th Foot Highlanders Regiment in 1757 who served with George Washington in the French and Indian War. He died a general and colonel of the Scots Greys.

The 13th Earl, also Archibald, hosted the surreal Eglinton Tournament in 1839. He and his friends donned armour and played out a day of jousting. Around 4,000 spectators were expected; 100,000 turned up completely swamping the locality and jamming the roads for miles. The cost forced the Earl to sell Eaglesham after 700 years of possession.

The surreal Eglinton Tournament. Credit: The History Collection / Alamy

The most celebrated of the Ulster Montgomeries was Field Marshall Viscount Montgomery of Alamein, who commanded British Forces in Europe at the end of the Second World War.

Today, the chief of Clan Montgomery is Hugh Archibald William Montgomerie, 19th Earl of Eglinton and 6th Earl of Winton

READ MORE: The History of Clan Stewart

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