The name Galbraith
probably originates from the Britons of the Kingdom of Strathclyde which did not become
part of Scotland until 1124. The first recorded chief of the Galbraiths appears in the
12th century, he married a daughter of Alwyn Og, son of Muireadhach, 1st Earl of Lennox.
The fourth chief Sir William Galbraith married a daughter of the Black Comyn, he was one
of the Co-Regents of Scotland in 1255. His son Sir Arthur married a daughter of Sir James
Douglas and fought with Bruce. The chiefship passed out of the main line to the Galbraiths
Strathendrick, a cadet branch at the end of the 14th century. The Galbraiths were always
closely linked to the Earls of Lennox and lent their support at the time when James I
returned to Scotland from England and murdered his own kinsmen. The chief at the time is
said to have aided in the raid of Dunbarton in 1425 and afterwards fled to Kintyre and
Gigha escaping from the King. The 12th Chief, Thomas again took up arms with Lennox after
the murder of James III in 1488, however after the defeat of Talla Moss, Thomas was
captured and hanged in 1489. Andrew, the 14th Chief also partook with the Lennoxes when
they attempted to rescue the young King James V from the Douglases in 1426. During the
16th century the 17th Chief of the Galbraiths, Robert, was renowned for his misdeeds,
including the attempted murder of his brother-in-law to whom he owed money and the abuse
of his power to pursue the Clan Gregor to attack the chief of MacAulay who had married his
widowed mother against his will. Finally he was denounced a rebel and fled to Ireland
sometime before 1642. His heir James, 18th chief was the last traceable member of the
line. The Galbraiths who moved to Gigha held the island for the MacDonalds of the Isles
till after 1590 but later took their protection.
We'd like to thank Glenn Smith for providing the
Robert C. Galbraith of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and V. Scott Galbraith of
Monrovia, Maryland, were two of the driving forces that organized the Clan Galbraith
Association of North America back in 1980. They apparently found various
references that showed the Galbraiths as a sept of MacDonald and/or
MacFarlane. Robert C. Galbraith wrote several letters to the Scottish
authorities for clarification on this issue and the replies were photocopied and published
in The Red Tower, Summer 1981 issue (quarterly publication of the Clan Galbraith
Association) as follows:
Letter dated 27 November 1980, from the Court of the Lord Lyon, H.M. New Register House,
Edinburgh, Scotland. The Lyon Clerk and Keeper of the Records was Malcolm R. Innes.
This letter was addressed to Robert C. Galbraith, National Convener, Pittsburgh, PA,
Dear Sir, I have your letter of 18th November regarding the chiefship of the Galbraiths. I
confirm that there are at present no claimants for the undifferenced Arms of the Head of
the family of Galbraith. I think there is no doubt that the Galbraiths are recognized as a
separate and independent family with their own Chief or Head and are not regarded as a
sept of MacDonald or MacFarlane.
The second letter from the Court of Lord Lyon was dated on 28 January 1981:
......if you look at the back of "Scotland of Old" by Sir Iain
Moncreiffe of that Ilk and Don Pottinger, you will see that the undifferenced Arms of
Galbraith of Culcreuch are shown thereon. I know that certain tables show the Galbraiths
being a sept or dependent of MacDonald or MacFarlane, and while one or two families of
Galbraith may have been so dependent, I think it is incorrect to assume that all were
The Lyon Clerk was probably receiving letters from other clans during this same time
period, so there must have been an ongoing discussion of this issue. Robert C.
Galbraith wrote to the Court of the Lord Lyon again on February 16, 1981 concerning
the same subject. The third letter of reply from the Lyon Clerk was dated on 25
Thank you for your letter of 16th February. I note all you write regarding
"The Clans, Septs and Regiments of the Scottish Highlands." I think it
would not be safe to regard everything that was written in such a large compendium as
being authoritative, and certainly the information given therein is, I do not think, in no
way regarded as being the final word on the matter. I think you can take it that the Lyon
Office regards the family of Galbraith as a separate family.
Malcolm R. Innes
It appears this issue was resolved in 1980, so I am concerned
that certain references are still showing the Galbraiths as a sept. Perhaps we should be
sure these letters from the Court of the Lord Lyon receive wider circulation in the
AB OBICE SAEVIOR -- FIERCER (STRONGER) WHEN OPPOSED?
At least two different spellings have been found on the Clan Galbraith motto. This article
was compiled to see if anyone could add new information concerning the different versions
of the Clan Galbraith motto. Lord Strathclydes’ family used the motto “AB
OBICE SUAVIOR” which is said to be “Gentler Because of the Obstruction.”
The Galbraith-Culcreuch Association also used this same version of the Clan Galbraith
motto on their letterhead and correspondence.
The Clan Galbraith Association uses AB OBICE SAEVIOR as the official motto.
The Galbraith-Culcreuch News Review (1980) contained an article written by Professor John
D. Christie of Fintry, Stirlingshire, Scotland.1 He mentioned that there were two
different spellings and explained how the Latin term “AB OBICE SAEVIOR” -
Fiercer Because of the Obstruction - was found in the writings of Ovid. The change of the
spelling to “AB OBICE SUAVIOR” changed the motto to mean “Gentler because
of the Obstruction.”
Professor Christie continued: “While working on the Galbraith motto, it occurred to
me that Ovid’s original ab obice saevior, (fiercer because of the obstruction), would
itself unaltered have made a good and typically Scottish motto, with the proud or
“touchy” implication - “if you try to thwart me, you’ll find me all
the fiercer a foe.”
“I would be most interested to learn of the historical origins of the Clan Galbraith
motto. One suspects there is some traditional anecdote to account for the acceptance of
the device of a muzzled bear, and the declaration in the motto that the family is gentler
now that it has been restrained (presumably by a check imposed from outside). Otherwise it
would seem to be a surpassingly humble, not to say “humiliated” motto. The
implication of the “gentler” is that previous to the muzzling (whatever that
symbolizes), the family was fierce but now is tamed.”
“The Galbraith motto now means “Gentler because of the obstruction” and as
it accompanies a device of a bear wearing a muzzle, presumably the obstruction is this
muzzle. The Latin word obex, however, seems at first sight to be a rather improbable word
for the composer of the motto to have chosen for muzzle. Obex (stim, obis-) properly means
something thrown in the way (to obstruct progress), and this scarcely describes a muzzle
or its function. The common Latin word for a muzzle is capistrum, which could as easily
have been used. Why then was ab obice chosen instead?
There must have been some special reason for going out of the way to use this particular,
less than appropriate word.”
“Now, Ovid’s Metamorphoses was possibly the best known classical Latin poem in
the Middle Ages and Renaissance, and it would be very familiar to the many accomplished
Scottish classicists of the period to which the
composition of the motto probably belongs. (There are in fact four manuscripts of
Ovid’s major works dating from the 12th-13th centuries still preserved in
Scotland.)” .....“The third book of Ovid’s Metamorphoses (lines 568-571),
where Ovid describes a dammed river thus:”
sig ego torrentem, qua nil obstabat eunti, lenius et modic strepitu decurrere vidi; at
quacumque trabes obstructaque saxa tenebant, spumeus et fervens et ab obice saevior ibat.
(“So have I myself seen a river, where nothing barred its course, flow on quite
smoothly and with no great noise; but whatever logs and boulders were piled up in its way
to hold it back, it would continue on its way, foaming and boiling, fiercer because of the
Here “obice” is used by Ovid with nice exactitude; a river dam is precisely
“something thrown in the way to obstruct progress. This leads one to believe that the
composer of this motto took Ovid’s striking and original phrase, ab obice saevior
(fiercer because of the obstruction) and by the simple change of just two letters
(substituting ua for ae) cleverly produced the motto ab obice suavior, carrying exactly
the opposite meaning (gentler because of the obstruction), which he wanted in order to
describe the effect of the muzzle on the bear. He, no doubt, felt that the slight
inappropriateness of obice for a muzzle was justified by the neatness (one might almost
say wit), of his adaptation of Ovid’s phrase, which would be recognized and relished
by most of his contemporaries who were well
educated in the classics.”
Can anyone add to this explanation? Please contact the Clan Galbraith Association, or firstname.lastname@example.org
OTHER GALBRAITHS IN SCOTLAND
By Glenn Smith
There were other GALBRAITH family members in Scotland who did not live in castles with
nobility, but were members of the middle class, or working men of their day. When we look
for our Scottish heritage, some of us fail to seach the other records for possible family
Clan Galbraith member David Dickinson contributed copies of the Rolls of Edinburgh
Burgesses and Guild Brethren to the CGANA library. As I reviewed the list of Galbraiths
mentioned in this record, my curiosity got the best of me. How did people obtain these
positions, and just exactly what role did the burgess and guild brother play in early
Scotland? This article was compiled to share answers to those questions.
In sixteenth and seventeenth century Scotland there were many towns, or burghs, but none
with the population as we know today. It is estimated that Edinburgh, the largest of them
all at the beginning of the sixteenth century, had a total population of about 16,000, and
by the end of the seventeenth century, it had grown to something like 30,000 inhabitants.
Most of the larger burghs belonged to a group known as the royal burghs. They were
privileged communities granted rights by the king to develop trade both in Scotland and
with other countries. Other "burghs of barony" were extremely small, typically
with about a hundred inhabitants, and did not have the trade privileges of the royal
All burghs had some rights of self-government. For instance they could elect
baillies, make by-laws, and organize themselves into merchant guilds and craft guilds. But
only the royal burghs had the right of separate constitutional representation, and could
send representatives to Parliament.
The institutional structure of the burghs was divided into burgesses and
non-burgesses. Only the merchants and craftsmen were the burgesses in each town, and all
others were known as "unfreemen," without any rights in town
government. The class of non-burgesses was made up mostly of the unprivileged poor, a
class that made up the bulk of the population of any large town. They had no rights as
citizens and left few records, so little is known of the majority of this group of people.
Some were journeymen who worked for wages for the masters of the craft guilds, while
others were the drovers, carters, porters, and coalmen. There was also a number of
"ale-sellers" (often the poorest widows who had no other way to make a living),
water carriers and milk vendors. Generally speaking, for most of the unfreemen, the
unprivileged poor, life was lived very close to destitution.
Many of the unfreemen were the casual unskilled labourers and the servants of the
burgesses. Their wives and daughters were among the maids, of which there were many in
this period of time. One report shows there were 492 maid-servants distributed among 548
households in central Edinburgh, along with 115 male servants and 144 apprentices.
The next division of burgesses was between the merchants and craftsmen, who were
organized into merchant guilds and craft guilds. A man could become a burgess in
several ways: normally he had to pay a sum of money to the corporation, and to prove that
his name was on the apprenticeship books of the town. In the sixteenth and seventeenth
centuries, most new burgesses were either the sons, or the sons-in-law of existing
burgesses. Sons could follow their fathers paying a smaller entry fee, and serving a
shorter apprenticeship than strangers. Those who married the daughter of a burgess
(provided in Edinburgh that she was a "clene virgine swa repute and haldin")
gained the same concession. This rule made sure the daughters of merchants and craftsmen
were at a premium in the marriage market. Others, not so lucky in birth or love, had to
pay a higher entry-fee and to wait for a longer period after they had finished their
apprenticeship before they were qualified.
For example, in Glasgow, the hammermen's guild required the apprentice to serve
seven years in return for his food and clothing, followed by two more years when he
received only his food, along with a very small wage. At the end of this time he made his
"essay," or sample of his workmanship (it might be a highlander's sword-hilt for
an armourer, or a horse-shoe and eight nails for a black-smith), which had to be tested
and approved by three "essay masters." Then, upon payment of burgesses' fees, he
could become a freeman with permission to work as an independent master. But, to attain
the full dignity of "guild brother" he had to work for another four years, of
which the first two must be without assistance from apprentice or servant. Then he could
pay additional fees and enter the guild. This thirteen-year period of training and
probation limited new potential craftsmen as much as the high entry fees.
The merchant's guild had their own restrictions, which made it more difficult for a
stranger to enter their trade and guild. For example, the Edinburgh council passed
an act in 1565, that none were to be admitted to the merchant guild "except they be
of honest, discreitt and gud conversation" and possessed "movable guds worth one
thousand merks of frie geir": for the "handie lawborer using his craft" the
qualification was five hundred merks. Such controls effectively excluded mere journeymen,
servants and common labourers from the qualifications of town citizenship in the largest
burghs. There was not much chance a young man would ever have that amount of money to
enter these guilds.
Among the burgesses, the merchants provided the socially and politically dominant
inner group, holding themselves above the mere craftsman in a variety of different ways. A
good example of this attitude was when the Edinburgh merchant guild admitted a skinner in
1588, they compelled him not only to renounce his craft, but also to promise that his wife
and servants would use "no point of common cookery outwith his house," would not
carry "meat dishes or courses through the town," and would not appear in
the streets with their aprons on. Evidently his wife had been doing a little catering on
the side, and while it might be socially acceptable in a skinner's family, it was
definitely not acceptable in a merchant's.
The first purpose of the merchant guild was to maintain a monopoly. They spent most
of their time bringing charges and prosecuting unprivileged men from selling or peddling
petty amounts of goods. The second purpose of the guild was to provide organization by
which the merchants could dominate the town council. Corruption followed in the wake of
this sought after privilege. Town contracts went to the provost's friends, and most
councils were notorious for their graft. The craftsmen fought repeatedly and often
riotously against this practice, though they never managed to dislodge their enemies from
the majority of their influence.
The town craftsmen, who formed the second and socially inferior half of the burgess
class, had began to organize themselves by 1450. By 1600 Edinburgh and Glasgow both had
fourteen "incorporated trades." The Guilds were as small in membership as they
were in number. Most guilds reportedly had from twenty to forty members. The purpose of
their guilds, like those of the merchants, was primarily to uphold the rights of a small
group of privileged citizens from the dangerous pretensions of unfreemen. When the
blacksmiths, goldsmiths, saddlers, armourers, and other metal workers of Glasgow
petitioned in 1536 for permission to incorporate, they grounded their application on the
"great hurt and damage" suffered by other honest burgesses from the work of
unqualified men. They spent much of their time searching out "dishonest work,"
preventing the neighboring towns from flooding their market with competitive goods,
and stopping merchants from employing unfree smiths on private business.
Despite these efforts, few of the craftsmen ever died rich, or could afford in
their lives the standard of comfort the merchants came to enjoy. It was rare for a
craftsman to ever be financially able to purchase a small estate, or put money out to
loan. To many craftsmen the main benefit of the guild must have been not the opportunity
it gave for gain, but the defense it gave against becoming a pauper. The records show
every craft collected regularly for the families of poor distressed members. Some guilds
even ran an alms house, and helped pay for a deceased member's respectable burial. You
could not rise very high as a hammerman or a cordiner (shoemaker), but neither could you
fall all the way to the bottom of society.
In this time period the unfreemen sometimes included affluent house-holders such as
the chamberlains, the advocates, writers, and notaries of the legal profession. Many of
these, however, were honored by the town and were made burgesses gratis, a status which
conferred citizenship on them. Thus, the records show that James GALBRAITH, writer in
Edinburgh, obtained the status of Burgess gratis in 1685. He was evidently very
successful, as he later purchased the Balgair estate. This is apparently the same man, as
he was the only one listed as a "writer" in the records of burgesses. Galbraiths
of the Lennox states that "James Galbraith, writer in Edinburgh, bought the lands of
Balgair in 1687." Mr. Galloway further concluded that James Galbraith of Balgair
(1687) was descended from Robert Galbraith, the brother of Andrew Galbraith, 8th of
Culcreuch, and 14th Chief of the Galbraith Clan.
The earliest record found of a burgess named Galbraith in Edinburgh was the year
1538, when Thomas GALBRAITH was made burgess in the right of his wife Mariota, daughter of
William Dic or Dick. So it appears Thomas Galbraith married the right girl, and as the
son-in-law of a burgess, his entry into the dominant inner-group of merchants was made
This Thomas Galbraith, who became a burgess in 1538, cannot be identified at this
time. He was possibly the son of one of the several different Galbraith lairds, and his
birthdate might be estimated sometime about 1510-1515. The merchant apprentices during
this period were most often the sons of lairds, or of merchants from other burghs. The
craftsmen apprentices were usually the sons of other craftsmen, of sailors, or even of
During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, several Galbraiths were merchants,
and craftsmen in the town of Edinburgh. The following names were taken from the
copies made by the Scottish Record Society, of the Rolls of Edinburgh Burgesses,
1406-1700. Printed by J. Skinner and Co., LTD., 1926. Contributed to CGANA by David
Dickinson, Vancouver, B.C. [Any additions I have made to these records will be found
ROLL OF EDINBURG BURGESSES
Year - Date Name
1538, May 31 - Thomas Galbraith, merchant, in right of wife Mariota, dau. of William Dic
1560, Dec 27 - William Galbraith, merchant, in right of wife (blank) dau. of (blank)
1561, Feb 24 - Johnne Galbraith, F.C. [no additional info]
1563, Dec 1 - Robert Galbraith, B., merchant, eldest son of umq. Thomas Galbraith.
1573, Sep 11 - Edward Galbraith, merchant, in right of his father Thomas Galbraith.
1580, May 4 - Omphray Galbraith, B. and F., tailyeor, as p. [apprentice] to Wm. Leche,
1582, Jul 25 - James Galbraith, tailyeor, as p. [apprentice] to Johnn Barclay, taileor.
1582, Aug 29 - Valentine Galbraith, B., mt. [merchant]
1588, Oct 16 - Johnn Galbraith, B., cordiner, be r. of wife Sybilla, dau. to Henry
1588-9, Jan 22 - Frances Galbraith, servant to the kingis majestie, be right of
wife Agnes, dau. to Jerome Bowy (sumlier to his majestie), B. and G., and the dewtie
thairof givin to himself for guid service done and to be done be him to the guid town.
1601, Jul 14 - Johnne Galbraith, B., merchant. (hagbute), as s. of Robert Galbraith,
merchant.; John Wilkyne, merchant., souerty for extents.
1606, Feb 26 - Valentine Galbraith, mt. [merchant] B. before the decreit arbitrall
1608, Jan 27 - Johne Galbraith, B., tailyeor (hagbute) by right of wife Kathreine, dau. to
Edward Kyncaid, B.
1615, Jan 11 - Robert Galbraith, B., merchant, (hagbuit); James Braidfoote, mt., souertie
1619, Sep 22 - Robert Galbraith, B., cuik, servitor to my lord of Newtoune, advocat to our
souerane lord (hagbuit), by act of C. of dait
1633, Jun 23 - Robert Galbraith, B. and G., servitor to the Prince his hienes (C.I.
1654, Aug 26 - Edward Galbraith, B., as son of Thos. Galbraith, B.
1664, Dec 21 - George Galbraith, B. and G., mt, as p. to Thomas Leishman, mt., B. and G.
(20 Dec. 1643)
1665, Apr 12 - Alexr. Galbraith (Galbryt), B., tanner.
1674, Jan 21 - John Galbraith, B., tanner in Pottsburgh, by r. of umq. father Alexander
1678-79, Jan 2 - Johnne Galbraith, B. draper.
1681, Apr 13 - John Galbraith, B. and G., present servitor to Sir John Wauchop of Niddery,
gratis, by act of C. of 8 Apr. 1681.
1685, Jun 4 - James Galbraith, B. and G. wrytter, gratis.
1687, Aug 3 - Hugh Galbraith, B. and G., as p. [apprentice] to dec. George Galbraith, mt.
[merchant] B. and G.
1698, Nov 30 - John Galbraith, B., pirriwigmaker, by act of C. of 25 inst.
1700, Mar 22 - James Galbraith, B. stabler, by act of C. of this date.
Guild Members - Edinburgh Treasurer's Accounts
(mentioned in records)
1556-57 - John Galbrayth and James Galbrayth, quariours
1556-57 - James Galbraith and Thomas Galbrayth, quariours
1558-59 - Johnne Galbraith, quarior
Edinburgh Records - Dean of Guild
(mentioned in records)
1557 - Cristell Galbrayth
1560 - Cristell Galbrayth, "shops above the Kirk"
1562 - Christofer Galbrayth
1565 - Crystell Galbrayth - "Goldsmythis Shoppe"
Accounts of Deans of Guild - Edinburgh
1563-64 - Robert Galbrayth, Merchant, made Burgess in right of his father Thomas
1563-64 - Edward Galbraith, merchant, made Burgess by right of his father Thomas
1566, Aug. - John Farquhar, merchant, was made burgess and gyld brother the 3rd day of
August 1566, by right of his wife, Isobell Galbraith, daughter of Thomas Galbraith.
From these records we find many other Galbraith family members in old Scotland.
More research is necessary, but you can almost see what appears to be members of the same
family. Thomas Galbraith, who became a burgess
and merchant in 1538, after his marriage to Mariota, daughter of William Dick. Twenty-five
years later, what appears to be his eldest son, Robert Galbraith, who became a burgess in
1563. Then Edward Galbraith, mentioned as a son of Thomas Galbraith, merchant, and then
perhaps his son-in-law John Farquhar, in 1566 was made burgess in right of his wife,
Isobell Galbraith, daughter of Thomas Galbraith. The entry of 1601, John Galbraith,
merchant, as son of Robert Galbraith, could be the son of Robert, and grandson of Thomas,
The following mention was found about Sir William Dick:
"Sir William Dick, provost of Edinburgh and incomparably the richest merchant
Scotland ever saw before the age of the Glasgow tobacco lords, was quixotic enough to lend
the whole of his immense fortune of over half a million pounds Scots to the Covenanting
army in 1639, and as a consequence died in deep poverty. Sir Walter Scott in a vivid
passage recounts the folk memory of the Edinburgh citizens who watched with wonder as the
sacks of silver dollars were emptied into carts from his counting house to pay the troops
encamped at Duns. His piety won Puritan approval even as it cost him every penny he
[Source- A History of the Scottish People 1560-1830. T.C. Smout, 1969.]
This event occurred about 100 years after Thomas Galbraith, son-in-law of William
Dick, became a burgess in 1538. This Sir William Dick was possibly a grandson, or
great-grandson of Thomas Galbraith's father-in-law.
Additional research in the early records may be productive in learning more about
these Galbraith family members. The Clan Galbraith Association maintains a library
containing records of every mention we have found on the various families throughout
the world. This is an organization of volunteers who are preserving the history and
heritage of this family name. You can help by becoming a member and by contributing
records to our library. For membership information contact the
Co-Secretaries which are William and Anita Gilbreath at email@example.com
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