The Grahams: These Are Your People
BY ARCHIE McKERRACHER
From the greed of the Campbells,
From the ire of the Drummonds,
From the pride of the Grahams,
From the wind of the Murrays,
Good Lord, deliver us...
...prayed a 17th century laird whose land was bordered by all four. And indeed, the pride of the Grahams was famous throughout Scotland for they were a close knit race deeply loyal to kith and kin. They also took pride in their unswerving devotion to their monarch even when this was sometimes rewarded with scant thanks. And lastly, they took pride in following their personal conscience, whatever the consequences.
Tradition says the first Graham was a Caledonian chief called Graym who attacked and burst through the mighty Antoine Wall which divided Scotland in two, and drove the Roman legions back to Hadrian’s Wall on the English border. More likely, the chiefs spring from an Anglo-Norman family who originally came to England with William the Conqueror in 1066, and are recorded in his Doomsday Book as holding the lands of Graegham or Grey Home.
David I, king of Scots, was brought up in England and given a Norman education. He married a Norman heiress and through her acquired vast estates in England. Thus when he succeeded to the Scottish throne in 1124 he brought with him many of his Anglo-Norman friends to help create order in what was then a very primitive and savage land. He granted them large estates in the Lowlands and without exception these barons then intermarried into the local Celtic aristocracy. Within a generation or two they had become totally integrated with the older race and were soon exclusively Scottish.
William de Graham, the first recorded of that name, was granted land around Dalkieth and Abercorn in Midlothian and appears as a witness on David I’s charter of 1128 founding the Abbey of Holyroodhouse. His descendant, Sir David Graham, acquired the lands of Dundaff in Strathcarron in 1237, and built a castle there. This was probably a wooden fortification on a motte or artificial earth mound in the Norman style. The remains of the later stone castle can still be seen. Sir John de Graham of Dundaff was William Wallace’s right hand man and close friend in the first struggle for Scottish independence in the late 13th century. The contemporary poet Blind Harry calls him ‘’Schir Jhone the Grayme’’ and records his brave death at the battle of Falkirk in 1298 when the small, ragged Scottish army was crushed beneath the hooves of the heavy armoured cavalry of the English army of Edward I. Sir John’s gravestone and effigy can be seen today at Falkirk Old Church and bear the inscription ‘"Here lyes Sir John the Grame, baith wight and wise, Ane of the chiefs who rescewit Scotland thrise, Ane better knight not to the world was led, Nor was gude Graham of truth and hardiment".
Although principally a Lowland and Border clan the Grahams never forgot the Highlanders who had fought for them. The 3rd Duke of Montrose, when Marquis of Montrose and a Member of Parliament, was responsible in 1782 for the repeal of the law forbidding the wearing of Highland dress. Mugdock was the principal seat of the Graham chiefs until 1680 when they acquired the lands of the Buchanans and moved to Old Buchanan House near Drymen. In 1707 James Graham, 4th Marquess, was created the 1st Duke of Montrose by Queen Anne. He is perhaps better known for being firstly the partner, and then the foe, of the Highland folk-hero Rob Roy McGregor.
The Grahams had become the largest landowners in Stirlingshire by Victorian times and in 1857 built the huge Gothic Buchanan Castle on the foundations of a much older fortification. This became the residence of the Dukes of Montrose until the beginning of the Second World War when it was requisitioned as a military hospital. Here was kept Rudolf Hess, Hitler’s deputy, after he made his mysterious flight to Scotland in 1940. The roof was removed after the war and the castle is now a ruin. James Angus Graham, b. 1907, was the 7th Duke of Montrose and was also Earl of Kincardine; Viscount Dunduff, Lord Graham; Aberuthven; Mugdock and Fintry. He became a farmer in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and was a cabinet minister in the Rhodesian Government of Ian Smith. He moved to South Africa and later returned to Scotland before his death in 1992. His son, James, the 8th Duke of Montrose lives on the ancestral estates, at Auchmar near Loch Lomond. The name of Graham is an honourable one not only in Scottish history but also in more modern times. For example, it was the 6th Duke of Montrose who invented the aircraft carrier during the First World War. Others of note include the evangelist Billy Graham; Kenneth Graeme who wrote the classic "Wind in the Willows:; Admiral Sir Cunningham Graham of the last war and many others too numerous to mention.
The "pride of the Grahams" is perhaps best summed up in the famous verse by James Graham, the Great Montrose,
He either fears his fate too much,
Or his deserts are small,
Who dare not put it to the touch,
To win or lose it all.
Sir John’s elder brother, Sir Patrick Graham, had fallen two years before at the battle of Dunbar in 1296 while carrying the royal banner of the King of Scots. Their father, Sir David Graham, had married into the ancient Celtic Earldom of Strathern and acquired land around Kincardine in south Perthshire. He was also the first to acquire land around Loch Lomond on the verge of the Highlands, still held today by the present Duke of Montrose. Sir Patrick’s son, also Sir David, supported the cause of Robert de Brus, another Anglo-Norman-Scot whose mother was a Celtic countess and he descended from the younger son of David I. When de Brus or Bruce became King Robert I, and independence was achieved, he granted Sir David land around Montrose in Angus in exchange for Graham lands near the River Clyde. The hero king built a fortified house for himself at the latter where he died in 1329. A branch of the Graham – the Cunningham – Grahams – continued to live nearby until recent years.
The Grahams continued a steady rise. They had acquired land at Mugdock to the north of Glasgow and began to build a huge castle here from about 1370. This became the principal seat of the chiefs until the beginning of the 18th century. In 1445 Sir Patrick was created Lord Graham and in 1460 gave his land around Loch Lomond to the chief of the Buchanans in exchange for some land around Mugdock. These lands were regained later when the bankrupt Buchanan chief was forced to sell his ancestral estates to the Grahams in 1682.
An unfortunate episode began in 1413 after the then chief’s half brother, Patrick Graham, was murdered by the Drummonds. He had been created Earl Palatine of the royal Earldom of Strathearn after marrying the grand-daughter of Robert III, and had acquired the vastly rich estates. He had left his infant son in the care of his younger brother, Sir Robert Graham of Kilpont but in 1427 King James I seized the wealthy earldom and gave the boy only the poor Highland parish of Aberfoyle and the empty title of Earl of Menteith. He also sent the unfortunate child as a hostage to England where he was imprisoned for nearly twenty five years.
The Grahams always resented injustice and Sir Robert Graham of Kilpont protested loudly. He tried to arrest the king in Parliament, and then publicly renounced his allegiance to a tyrant. On February 21, 1437, Sir Robert led a band of Highlanders to Perth where they trapped the king in the cellar of the Blackfriars Monastery and stabbed him to death. For this crime Sir Robert and his sons were tortured and executed in a most horrible manner at Stirling.
William, 7th Earl of Menteith, was restored to the Earldom of Strathearn in 1603. He rose to high office as Justice – General of Scotland and President of the Scots Privy Council. But the pride of the Grahams was his undoing. His casual remark that he had a better right to the crown than the king reached the ears of Charles I who promptly stripped him of the Strathearn earldom. In 1680 the last Earl of Menteith, childless and in debt, left all his estates to his chief, the Marquess of Montrose, who thus regained all the old Graham land around Loch Lomond plus the lands of the Buchanans and also the land in Menteith. The Grahams now held a vast estate stretching right across Scotland from Loch Lomond to near Perth, and roughly comprising the ancient earldoms of Strathearn and Menteith. There were many cadet families established throughout these lands on the very verge of the Highlands. William, 3rd Lord Graham, chief of the Clan, had been created Earl of Montrose in 1504 but had died with the rest of the Scottish nobility around their king James IV on Flodden field in 1513.
But without doubt the most famous Graham was James, 5th Earl, born in 1612, and created a Marquis in 1644. He was the first to be given the Gaelic patrynomic An Greumach Mor, The Great Graham, or as he is better known to history, The Great Montrose. He was a poet and intellectual who was happiest in his study in one of his many castles or stately homes in Angus, Perthshire or Stirlingshire. In 1638 he was persuaded to sign the National Covenant which declared its opposition to the Episcopalian religion King Charles I wished to force upon Scotland. He then actively fought against the king’s forces who tried to enforce the king’s edicts. But as time went on James Graham became increasingly uneasy about the motives of the ultra-Protestant party headed by Archibald Campbell, Marquess of Argyll. In 1643 the Solemn League and Covenant was drawn up which declared the Scottish Covenanters would assist the English Parliament in a Civil War against the king provided England would adopt a Presbyterian form of worship. This was more than James Graham could stomach. He left the Covenanters and offered his services to the king. He was created Captain-General of the King’s army in Scotland although this comprised a mere 400 men, mainly Grahams. Then they were joined by a 1000 Highlanders led by Alasdair MacColla MacDonald, a giant of a man and a fearsome fighter from the western isles.
During 1644 – 45 James Graham won a series of brilliant victories against far superior odds and became renowned as probably the finest strategist the world has ever seen. Unfortunately, with all Scotland almost conquered, the Highlanders slipped away to harry the Campbell lands in Argyll. James Graham’s small force was cut to pieces at Philiphaugh in the Borders and he was forced to flee into exile. He returned in 1649 but was captured and taken to Edinburgh where he was hung, drawn and quartered. His quiet dignity on the scaffold won him the respect of all who watched. In 1660, when Charles II was restored to the throne, David Graham of Gorthie took his kinsman’s head off its spike and had the other remains gathered together for honorable burial in the Montrose Aisle of St. Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh. All the various branches and cadets of the family attended the funeral – the Grahams of Inchbrakie; Orchill; Morphie; Balgowan; Cairnie; Deuchrie; Drums; Duntroon; Fintry, Killearn; Monzie and Potento.
Another Graham entered the history books in 1689 when John Graham of Claverhouse raised a Highland army in the name of the exiled Stuart king James VII. He was created Viscount Dundee and was variously known as "Bonnie Dundee" or "Bloody Claverhouse", depending on which side one was on. He met a government army on the hill above Killiecrankie gorge in Perthshire on July 27, 1689, and within minutes his screaming Highlanders had devastated the enemy with their claymores. But in the moment of victory Dundee fell dead. It is said he was killed by a silver button fired from a gun because his enemies believed he was the Devil incarnate and only silver would kill him. It is remarkable that although the Grahams were really a feudal Lowland family only these two were able to bring out the highland clans in a national cause and devise strategies which used their peculiar fighting methods to advantage.
The other principal Graham area was in the Borders. Sir John Graham of Kilbride, one of the cadet families, fell out of favor with the king towards the end of the 14th century and led his followers south into the Border country where they settled in Eskdale. They met violent opposition from the other unruly Border clans and also from the hostile English in this disputed area. Yet the Grahams not only flourished here but became the largest and strongest family in the Borders. By 1552 they held over thirteen Border towers and could raise over 500 mounted troopers. They continued to dominate the Borders by right of the sword until the early 17th century when measures were taken against them by the Commission for the pacification of the Borders. In truth this was an attempt by the English Earl of Cumberland to seize their lands for no action was taken against the other unruly Border families of Maxwells, Elliots, Armstrongs, Scotts and Kerrs. The Grahams were hanged, transported, banished and imprisoned. Some came back with assumed names and the McHargs and Mahargs in Scotland and Northern England are simply Border Grahams with the name reversed.
The coat-of-arms of Sir David de Graham appears on the earliest known roll of Scottish arms dated 1332. These shows three scallop shells, used as pilgrim’s begging bowls, and indicate an early Graham had made the pilgrimage to the shrine of Santiago de Compostella in Spain. The scallops are also found on the earliest known Graham seal dated 1230.
The personal arms of the Duke of Montrose shows three scallop shells in the 1st and 4th quarters, and in the 2nd and 3rd quarters the rose for the title of Montrose.
The crest, entitled to be warn by clansmen, shows a falcon killing a stork. The motto is "Ne oublie" (Forget Not).
Reprinted with permission from
The Highlander, Angus J. Ray Associates, Inc.,
560 Green Bay Road, Suite 204,
Winnetka, IL 60093