The Stirling's first appear as
owners of land in the twelfth century. After possessing land in different counties, they
acquired, in the reign of William the Lion, the estate of Cawder, which has continued in
the family, without interruption through the 20th century -- a period of nearly 8
centuries. Few families can boast of an inheritance which has descended through so long a
line of ancestors.
The Stirlings of Fairburn are acknowledged by the Lord Lyon
in a matriculation of Arms to be direct descendants of Clan MacGregor that took the name
Stirling, when they were under the protection of the Stirling family, as an alias during
the proscription on their name and kept the name Stirling when the proscription was
After continuing for ten generations in the direct male
line, the Cawder estate, in the sixteenth century, descended to an heiress, who married
her kinsman, Sir James Stirling of Keir; and thus the Cawder and Keir families became
united; the two estates have ever since been held by the same proprietor.
Keir was first acquired by the Stirling family in the year
1448. Lukas Stirling, who had previously possessed lands in Fife and Strathern, purchased
Keir from George Leslie of that ilk, ancestor of the Earls of Rothes. Sir William, the
grandson, got Keir erected into a barony by King James III, who afterwards burned the
tower. Sir William had been accused of being a party to the assassination of James III, at
the battle of Sauchieburn, but without sufficient evidence.
Sir John, the fourth Laird of Keir, added greatly to the
family estates between the years 1517 and 1535. He took a prominent part in the public
events of the time, and held office of the Sheriff of Perth in 1516. After the death of
James IV at Floden, the custody of the young King's person was committed to him. He was
forfeited for appearing at the battle of Linlithgow against the King's authority in 1526,
but was restored in the following year. He founded a chaplainry in the Cathedral church of
Dunblane in 1509.
His son, Sir James, was the husband of the heiress of
Cawder. He divorced his wife, but retained her estate, and thus added considerably to the
wealth of the family. He was appointed by King James IV, to be one of the judges who tried
Morton for the murder of Stewart of Darnley, and pronounced the sentence of death on the
Sir George Stirling, great grandson of Sir James, was
intimately connected with his kinsman, the first Marquis of Montrose, and was prosecuted
in 1641, by the Committee of Estates, as one of the 'Plotters'. Sir George was with
Montrose at the rout of Philiphaugh, the only occasion on which this quiet knight was
found associated in arms with his great cavalier chief. After the death of Sir George
without surviving issue, the estates of Keir and Cawder were inherited by his cousin Sir
Archibald Stirling, Lord Garden, a Lord of Session of some distinction in the reign of
James Stirling, grandson of Lord Garden, was a keen
Jacobite, and was tried for an alleged conspiracy in favour of the Stuart family in 1708,
but acquitted. James Stirling was forfeited in 1715, and deprived of his estates, which
were afterward acquired by friends, and restored to his son, from who they have descended
to the present representative of the family.
In the course of the long descent of the Keir and Cawder
families, there have been no less than fourteen knights, ten of whom were in immediate
succession to each other. The honour of knighthood, though personal, has thus the
appearance of having been hereditary for many generations in the Keir family. Several
branches of the family, such as Ardoch, Glorat, and others, attained hereditary rank of
Baronet for special services; but the representatives of the main line have remained
untitled, as they began, barons of Cawder and Keir.
Our thanks to
Rick Stirling for providing us with this history.