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The Scottish Nation

URQUHART, or URCHARD, the name of a minor clan, (Urachdun,) originally settled in Cromarty, (badge, the wallflower), a branch of the clan Forbes. Nisbet says, “A brother of Ochonchar, who slew the bear, and was predecessor of the Lords Forbes, having in keeping the castle of Urquhart, took his surname from the place.” This castle stood on the south side of Loch Ness, and was in ancient times a place of great strength and importance, as in apparent from its extensive and magnificent ruins. In that fabulous work, ‘The true pedigree and lineal descent of the most ancient and honourable family of Urquhart, since the creation of the world, by Sir Thomas Urquhart, Knight of Cromartie,’ the origin of the family and name is ascribed to Ourohartos, that is, ‘fortunate and well-beloved,’ the familiar name of Esormon, of whom the eccentric author describes himself as the 128th descendant. He traces his pedigree, in a direct line, even up to Adam and Eve, and according to him, the meaning of the work Urquhart is the same as that of Adam, namely, ‘red earth.’

The family of Urquhart is one of great antiquity. In Hailes’ Annals, it is mentioned that Edward I. of England, during the time of the competition for the Scottish crown, ordered a list of the sheriffs in Scotland to be made out. Among them appears the name of William Urquhart of Cromartie, heritable sheriff of the county. He married a daughter of Hugh, earl of Ross, and his son Adam obtained charters of various lands. A descendant of his, Thomas Urquhart of Cromartie, who lived in the 16th century, was father of 11 daughters and 25 sons. Seven of the latter fell at the battle of Pinkie in 1547, and from another derived the Urquharts of Newhall, Monteagle, Kinbeachie, and Braelangwell.

The eldest son, Alexander Urquhart of Cromartie, had a charter from James V. of the lands of Inch Rory and others, in the shires of Ross and Inverness, dated March 7, 1532. He had two sons. The younger son, John Urquhart, born in 1547, became tutor to his grand-nephew, Sir Thomas Urquhart, and was well known afterwards by the designation of the “tutor of Cromartie.” He died Nov. 8, 1631, aged 84.
Of Sir Thomas, the family genealogist, a memoir follows. He was succeeded by a brother, whose successor, a cousin of his own, sold what remained of the family property to the Mackenzies, afterwards earls of Cromartie. The male line ended in Colonel James Urquhart, an officer of much distinction, who died in 1741. The representation of the family devolved on the Urquharts of Braelangwell, which was sold (with the exception of a small portion, which is strictly entailed) by Charles Gordon Urquhart, Esq., an officer in the Scots Greys. The latter’s brother, David Urquhart, Esq., at one period secretary to the British legation at Constantinople, and author of a work on the Resources of Turkey, and other publications, became representative of the family.


The Urquharts of Meldrum, Aberdeenshire, obtained that estate through the marriage, in 1610, of their ancestor, John Urquhart of Craigfintry, tutor of Cromarty, with Elizabeth Seton, heiress of Meldrum. The Urquharts of Craigston, and a few more families of the name, still possess estates in the north of Scotland. And persons of this surname are still numerous in the counties of Ross and Cromarty. In Ross-shire, Inverness-shire, and Morayshire, there are parishes of the name of Urquhart.

URQUHART, SIR THOMAS, of Cromartie, a quaint old writer of the seventeenth century, is chiefly known as the translator of Rabelais. He appears to have at one period traveled much on the continent. He afterwards became a cavalier officer, and was knighted by Charles I. at Whitehall. After that monarch’s decapitation, he accompanied Charles II. in his march into England, and was taken prisoner at the battle of Worcester in 1631, when his estates were forfeited by Cromwell. The year following he published at London, where he was detained for some time on his parole, a singular piece, entitled ‘The Discovery of a most exquisite Jewel, found in the kennel of Worcester Streets the day after the Fight, and six before the Autumnal Equinox, anno 1651, serving in this Place to frontal a Vindication of the Honour of Scotland from that Infamy whereunto the rigid Presbyterian Party of that Nation, out of their Covetousness and Ambition, most dissembledly hath involved it.’ He also wrote the adventures of the Admirable Crichton, and among various other curious matters, his inventive genius fabricated the strange and original genealogy of the Urquhart family above mentioned. His ‘Jewel’ was written for the avowed purpose of helping him to the recovery of his estates, as he conceived that the Protector would have been so dazzled by the extraordinary talent displayed in it, as to have readily restored them, and he boasts that it was the production of fourteen days!

The best executed of his works is his translation of Rabelais. He was also the author of a treatise on trigonometry, published in 1645, and dedicated in extravagant language to “The Right Hon. And Most Noble Lady, my dear and loving Mother, the Lady Dowager of Cromartie.” A specimen of his verse is found in his ‘Epigrams;’ the following on Woman being one of the best:

“Take man from woman, all that she can show
Of her own proper, is nought else but wo.”

These Epigrams, however, possess less of the character of poetry than some of his prose rhapsodies, which are so highly poetical as to be, in many parts, altogether unintelligible! Such, notwithstanding, was the universality of his attainments, that he deemed himself capable of enlightening the world on many things never “dreamed of in the philosophy” of ordinary mortals. “Had I not,” he says, “been pluck’d away by the importunity of my creditors, I would have emitted to public view above five hundred several treatises on inventions, never hitherto thought upon by any.” The time and place of his death are unknown. There is a tradition that he died of an inordinate fit of laughter, on hearing of the restoration of Charles II. His works are:

The Trissotetras; or, a must easy and exact Manner of resolving all sorts of Triangles, whether Plain of Spherical. 1645. Lond. 1656, 4to.
Epigrams, Divine and Moral. Lond. 1646, 4to.
The Discovery of a most excellent Jewel, more precious than diamonds inchased in gold, the like whereof was never seen in any age; found in the Kennel of Worcester-streets the day after the Fight, and six before the Autumnal Equinox, anno 1651, &c. Lond. 1652, 8vo.
Introduction to the Universal Language in vi. books. Lond. 1653, 4to.
Tracts; containing the Genealogy of the Urquhart Family, with the Jewel, &c. Edin. 1782, 12mo.

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