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.