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Ferniehirst Castle
Chapter VIII - Border Families, Houses & Names
Rutherford


According to legend, the first of the Rutherfords was a peasant who guided the Scottish King Ruther across the Tweed just behind the present Rutherford Lodge, where their Chief still lives, and was given the adjoining land for this valuable service. It seems a pity to spoil a good story, but Scottish History knows of no "King Ruther". The ford, however, is genuine enough, and the peasant could well have taken Malcolm Canmoreís great-grandfather across it on his way to Carham, the victory that gave Scotland her present size and shape. It would have cost Malcolm II nothing to give him the land as his well-earned reward, especially as it still belonged to Ethelred the Redeless (or Unready) and the name itself could simply mean "cattle ford" or the somewhat redundant "river ford" (one does not normally ford anything else!). If so the Rutherfords are the second oldest landed family in the Borders after the Swintons, and like them of Anglo-Saxon origin.

However, the first actually known to History is Robert de Rodysforde, who witnessed a charter of St. David I in 1140, and the record is only continuous (to the extent of something being down on parchment or paper for every generation of the family) from the time of Hugo de Rutherford, again mentioned as a witness to a land grant about 1215. His grandson, Sir Nichol de Rutherford, signed the Ragman Roll like nearly all Scottish lairds except Wallace himself, but later joined Wallace, to whose wife he was related, and assisted him in the Battle of Biggar and the capture of Sanquhar Castle. Sir Robert de Rutherford, his son, was a friend of Robert the Bruce and of the "Good Sir James Douglas", and fell with Sir James in Spain, guarding the Bruceís heart (which was later brought back to Melrose Abbey, where it remains hidden).

Sir Robertís grandson, Sir Richard Rutherford, was an ambassador to the English Court in 1398 and Warden of the Marches (together with his sons) two years later. Another of the same generation was Robert Rutherford of Chatto, also known as "Robin of the Todís Tail" from his unconventional battle standard at Otterburn in 1388. He had conveniently killed a fox just before the battle and finding nothing more suitable to use as a rallying point for his men, he tied its brush to a lance. It was distinctive enough, and it worked: he survived and found himself on the winning side.

Philip Rutherford, near the end of the 15th century, was the first Rutherford heir in 300 years, and perhaps longer, to die before his father; his eldest son Richard was the first head of the family to die without issue, and the present head of the family is descended from Philipís younger brother Thomas.

The Rutherfords of Hunthill are descended from John Rutherford of Chatto, a younger son of Sir Richard. One of his sixth-generation descendants was Andrew, later Lord Rutherford and Earl of Teviot, who served in the French army in the first decades of Louis XIVís long reign. He came to England with Charles II, who gave him a peerage, and brought with him his regiment, who became the 1st Royal Scots. Subsequently he was made Earl of Teviot as a reward for helping to negotiate the sale of Dunkirk (taken by Cromwell a few years earlier) to Louis: this gave Charles II a useful lump sum for which he did not have to answer to Parliament. Lord Teviot was appointed Governor of Tangier (which had become an English possession as part of Catherine of Braganzaís dowry) but was killed there by the Moors in a skirmish. Tangier was later abandoned as too expensive to defend and supply óa grave strategic error as it could have been used to keep the Barbary pirates bottled up in the Mediterranean and, together with Gibraltar (seized from Spain 20 years after Tangier was given up to the Moors), it would have given England complete control of the Straits.

The Hunthill branch of the family also included Major Andrew Rutherford, who fought with Claverhouse at Killiecrankie and later emigrated to France like many adherents of James VII and II (and the King himself). With the Scottish company he commanded, he served with distinction in the French army, notably at the capture of Rosas on the Costa Brava and in the defence of Alsace (conquered a few years earlier by Louis XIV and Turenne) against a German counter-attack. Major Rutherford and his men, wading breast-deep through the icy Rhine in December, recaptured a small island to which the Germans had already built a pontoon bridge, then held it against heavy odds until reinforcements arrived. Major Rutherford is not recorded as having been killed in the battle but probably died from wounds suffered there, as nothing more is heard of him.

An earlier Rutherford of Hunthill was the "Cock of Hunthill", also an ancestor of William Gladstone, who played a prominent part in the action at Redeswire, the last "official" battle between Scots and English, though there were several later affrays and raids. Nine of his sons also fought there, among them Richard, the "bauld Rutherford" who led the Jedburgh men as their Provost and who had a few years earlier presided over the "debagging" incident mentioned on p. 23.

Several Rutherfords of the Hundalee branch (descended from yet another son of Sir Richard) were provosts of Aberdeen. One of them, Alexander, held this office for nearly 20 years and was a noted Anglophobe. He made a speach against the Union of Crowns, first in Scots, which the English nobles could not understand, then in French, then in Latin, but avoiding speaking any English, except a few words whenever he ran out of Latin. This made a great impression on the scholarly King James, who disagreed with him but gave him a ring from his own finger as a token of appreciation. Provost Alexander Rutherford also had to put down a "sit-in" by the boys of Aberdeen Grammar School, who were armed with "hagbuttis, pistollis, swordis and lang wapynnis", organised as a protest against the suppression of Christmas celebrations by the Kirk.

An interesting document from the family history of the Rutherfords is their "peace treaty" with the Kerrs at Ancrum Spittal in 1560. Written in medieval Scots and difficult to read, it provides compensation of £500 to be paid by the Kerrs to George Rutherford of Longnewton, whose father had been killed not long before, and for Robert Kerr of Newhall to "offer his sword" to George Rutherford (and presumably get it back) "according to the practice and fashion of the country". Additionally several Kerr-Rutherford marriages were to be arranged, in some cases between unspecified young couples, when the girls were 12 and the boys reached an unspecified age of majority (probably 14 or 15). In one case the parties were named; Andrew Kerr (Robertís son) and a daughter of Philip Rutherford of Edgerston. If Andrew died, his next available brother was to take his place; if the girl died, "another gentlewoman of that surname and blood". Some of the signatories were illiterate, so the notary "led their pens".

Not all the Rutherfords were soldiers, landowners or provosts: one of them was a naval captain at Trafalgar and several were professors of theology, medicine or science, among them Samuel Rutherford, D.D., one of the leading Covenantersí, Dr. John Rutherford, and his son Daniel. Sir Walter Scottís uncle, who discovered nitrogen gas. As a young man in Paris, Dr. Daniel Rutherford refused to attend a party where Prince Charles Edward, by then an alcoholic and an overweight shadow of his former self, was expected to be present; though not a Jacobite, he had too much respect for the House of Stewart to witness the degradation into which they had sunk. He died suddenly, while stroking a cat, after attending his sister, Sir Walter Scottís mother, who had gone down with "paralysis"; another sister died two days later and Mrs. Scott not long after.

If we now live in the nuclear age, for better or for worse, part of the responsibility must lie with Lord Rutherford of Nelson (1871-1937), the father of atomic science. He was born Ernest Rutherford, near the town of Nelson in New Zealand, from which he took his title, his grandfather having emigrated from Perth thirty years earlier, and educated at Nelson College and at Canterbury College, Christchurch, where he graduated with first-class honours in mathematics and physics. He then came to Trinity College, Cambridge, and worked under Sir J.J. Thomson (also of Scottish descent, though born in England), experimenting with electromagnetic waves and with various kinds of radiation. He was appointed Professor of Physics at McGill University in Montreal before his 27th birthday, returned to New Zealand to be married and settled with his wife in Montreal, continuing his research into radio-activity there and at Manchester University, where he became Professor of Physics in 1907. While at Manchester he discovered the division of the atom into a nucleus and electrons but did not manage to actually split the atom, though he foresaw that it could be done and would give rise to an entirely new and terrifying form of energy. He succeeded Thomson as Professor of Experimental Physics at Cambridge in 1919 (having been knighted a few years earlier), was elected President of the Royal Society in 1925 and was created a peer in 1931.


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