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The Ducal House of Montrose

British Isles Genealogy | Chapters From the Family Chest

     Amongst the chiefs of border clans who figure most frequently in the poems of Sir Walter Scott, is ‘The Graham,' or, as the name is spelt and pronounced north of the Tweed, the Graeme. The Grahams are not Highlanders, but Lowlanders, and their name is as well known to the south of the Scottish border as to the north of it. They have been from early times a gallant and loyal race, and various members of that race have done good service to the crown of Scotland. They have won a long list of honors, including knighthoods without number, some five or six baronetcies, four Scottish baronies, one viscountcy, two earldoms, a marquisate, and a dukedom, to say nothing of an English earldom and an English barony; and their head is hereditary sheriff of Dumbartonshire, in which county, on the fair banks of Loch Lomond, stands the princely residence of the Duke of Montrose, Buchanan Castle.
     The clan would seem to have been settled at Dalkeith and at Abercorn from the days of King David I. The names of several Graemes appear as witnesses to charters and other grants in favor of the Monastery of Newbattle, in Jedburghshire, in the twelfth century; and early in the thirteenth century David Graeme received a grant of broadlands near Montrose from William the Lion. Another Graeme, Sir John, of Dundaff, joined the standard of Sir William Wallace, and fell at the battle of Falkirk in 1289. Three years later his brother, Sir David, a nominee of Baliol for the Scottish Crown, swore fealty to Edward III., and afterwards, when taken prisoner by that king, was released from captivity on condition of serving in the wars against France. His son, Sir Patrick Graeme, of Kincardine, sat in the Parliament held at Scone in 1284, when Margaret,  ‘The Maiden of Norway,' was acknowledged heir to the Scottish throne. He, too, swore fealty to Edward, but afterwards took up arms against his superior lord, and fell fighting against the English at Dunbar. This warrior's grandson, Sir David Graham, was one of those who signed the famous letter to the Pope in 1320, asserting the independence of Scotland and the firm resolve of its nobles not to become the vassals of the English crown.
     A clan so resolute and bravo, with its members for the most part so loyal to their king and country, could scarcely fail to be frequently mentioned in the history of those troubles times, during which the English were 'moving heaven and earth' to subjugate the hardy sons of Caledonia, under the pretense of strengthening both counties by their union under one crown. It may be said with truth that, next to the name of Bruce and Wallace, the name of Graeme is most frequent in the annals of Scottish patriotism during the fourteenth, fifteenth, and sixteenth centuries. The name figures largely in Border poetry, and the brave Malcolm Grime is not quite unknown to readers of the ' Lady of the Lake.' On one occasion only do we read of the spirit of a Graeme leading him into an act of traitorous parricide: and then the motive was a blind desire for revenge, unpardonable indeed, but not unprecedented in the blood-stained annals of either Scotland or England. With this exception, it would seem as if the House of Montrose might well have borrowed the proud motto of the Paulets, Aimez Loyaulte, and have borne it from first to last without fear of challenge.
     Sir Walter Scott, in his 'History of Scotland,' records at much length, and with picturesque power, the assassination of King James 1. (of that country) whilst keeping Christmas with his court at Perth, in 1436-7, by the, hands of Sir Robert Graham, uncle to the Earl of Stratherne, in revenge for an injury done to him in respect of that earldom. By this act, for which he was executed, Sir Robert probably changed the whole course of Scottish history--how and in what direction it would be hard to say. Probably his act had, at all events, one distant effect, in that it hastened on the day of the Union.
    'It is certain,' says Sir Bernard Burke in his 'Peerage,'  ‘that no family of North Britain can boast a greater antiquity than the Grahams.'  He traces them up to Sir David Graeme of Old Montrose, in Forfarshire--an estate obtained by his father, Sir David, of Kincardine, for the estate of Cardross, from Robert I.--a personage remarkable for his bravery and patriotism, and one of the Scottish barons employed to negotiate the ransom of King David II., when made prisoner in the battle of Durham in 1346; and Sir David's son, Sir Patrick, laird of Dundaff and Kincardine, was one of the hostages by whom the release of the King was eventually accomplished. His son Sir William married, as his second wife, the Lady Mary Stuart, second daughter of King Robert III. This Sir William's grandson, Patrick, being one of the lords of the regency during the minority of James II. (of Scotland), was made a peer of Parliament about 1445 by the title of Lord Graham; and again this nobleman's grandson, William, the third lord, who was raised to the earldom of Montrose in 1505, in reward of his gallantry at the battle of Sauchieburn (in which his royal master fell), was eventually slain at Flodden, fighting under the standard of James IV. The third earl--though not actually a lawyer-was for six or seven years Chancellor of Scotland, and subsequently, in 1604, was made viceroy of that kingdom.
     The fifth earl, the illustrious royalist commander, one of the few characters who figure in history as really and truly noble from first to last, was created Marquis of Montrose, and, having gained many brilliant victories over the forces of Argyle and the Army of the Covenant, being defeated at Philipbaugh by General Leslie, was carried a prisoner to Edinburgh, tried, found guilty of treason, and condemned to death, and executed before the Tolbooth with all possible indignity. The house in the Canongate from which the Covenanters gazed down on their victim as he was led to the scaffold is still shown to visitors.  ‘His quartered remains,' says Burke, 'after being exposed, were interred under the gallows where he suffered; but, at the Restoration, Charles II. had them dug up again, and buried in state in the Cathedral of St. Giles'; at present, though the exact spot where he lies is known and pointed out by the guides, no monument or inscription records his tragic end. James, the second marquis, was known as  ‘the good Montrose'; and his grandson, another James, who became the fourth marquis in 1684, was raised to the ducal title in 1707. It is not a little singular that four dukes in succession should have held the title of Montrose between them only ten years short of two centuries.
     Among the many distinguished persons whom the clan Graeme has produced in modern times, I ought not to forgot to mention the gallant Sir Thomas Graham, one of the heroes of the Peninsular campaigns under Wellington, who was rewarded for his military services with the title of Lord Lynedoch; and, to come to a more recent date, the late Sir James Graham, of Netherby, some time First Lord of the Admiralty, and a member of the cabinets of Sir Robert Peel and Lord Aberdeen.

Chapters From the Family Chests, 1887

Chapters From the Family Chest

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