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The Scottish Nation

OLIPHANT, a surname originally Olifard. The first in Scotland of this name was David de Olifard, who accompanied David I. from Winchester in 1141. Under Malcolm IV., Osbert Olifard was sheriff of Mearns, and his only daughter married Hugo de Aberbothenoth, ancestor of the viscounts Arbuthnott.


OLIPHANT, Lord, a title (dormant) in the Scottish peerage, conferred before 1458, on Sir Lawrence Oliphant, descended from the above-named David de Olifard, who, at the siege of Winchester castle in 1141, being then a soldier in the army of King Stephen, rescued his godfather, King David I. of Scotland, holding that stronghold for his niece, the empress Maud, and having concealed him from his pursuers, conveyed him in safety to his own dominions. He was rewarded with grants of land in Roxburghshire, and with the office of justiciary of Lothian, being the first who held that office in Scotland of whom any account appears. His eldest son, David Olifard, was also justiciary of Lothian. He had four other sons. Walter, the second son, was one of the hostages for William the Lion, on his release in 1174. The second David Olifard witnessed a charter of that monarch respecting the woods and wastes belonging to the priory of Coldingham. His son, Sir Walter Olifard, was justiciary of Lothian for more than twenty years under Alexander II., and one of the most frequent witnesses of that king’s charters. He was present at the marriage of Alexander with the princess Joan, sister of Henry III. of England, 18th June 1221. He gave to the monks of Coldingham the right of exacting yearly from the church of Smailholm two marks and a-half of silver. He died in 1242. His grandson, Sir William Oliphant, was one of the most distinguished actors in the struggle for Scottish independence in the days of Wallace and Bruce. Although, like many other patriotic barons, forced to submit to Edward I. in 1297, he took the earliest opportunity of throwing off his allegiance to that grasping monarch and of opposing his ambitious schemes against his native country. In 1300 he defended Stirling castle for three months, when Edward besieged it, but at length was obliged to capitulate. In 1303 the Scottish leaders compelled the English to surrender that important fortress, when Sir William Oliphant was again appointed its governor, and under him it was the only fortress in Scotland which defied King Edward’s power. The castle was stormed by the English, and after an offer of capitulation had been refused, it surrendered at discretion, 20th July 1304. Edward sent the brave garrison to different prisons in England, and the governor, Sir William Oliphant, to the Tower of London. He was detained in captivity till the 24th May 1308, when he was set at liberty by Edward II. He was one of the subscribers of the famous letter to the Pope in 1320, asserting the independence of Scotland. He died 5th February 1329. His son, Sir Walter Oliphant of Aberdalgy, married the princess Elizabeth, youngest daughter of Robert the Bruce, as appears by a charter of David II., erecting the lands of Gask, in Perthshire, into a free barony, dated 11th January 1364. His grandson, Sir John Oliphant, was knighted by Robert II., and died about 1420. His son, Sir William, was one of the hostages for James I. Sir William’s son, Sir John Oliphant of Aberdalgy, married Isabel, daughter of Walter Ogilvy of Auchterhouse, and was slain in the encounter between the Ogilvies and the Lindsays at Arbroath in January 1446.

The son of Sir John, Sir Laurence Oliphant of Aberdalgy, was the first Lord Oliphant. In his youth, he accompanied the earl of Douglas to France, and afterwards traveled into Italy. He was created a peer by James II., but the precise date is not known. It was, however, before October 1458. He was a noble of great influence and power, and on two or three occasions was sent as ambassador to treat of peace with England. In the first parliament of James IV., 6th October 1488, he was chosen one of the lords of the articles for the barons. He was also sworn a privy councilor, and constituted justiciary within his own bounds, and those of Strathbrand, in 1490. He obtained bonds of manrent from 13 gentlemen in his neighbourhood, a list of whom is given by Crawford (Peerage, p. 379). He died about 1500. He had three sons. 1. John, second Lord Oliphant. 2. William, who married Christian, only daughter and heiress of Alexander Sutherland of Duffus, in Moray, Strabrock in West Lothian, and Berriedale in Caithness, in consequence of which he took the designation of William Oliphant of Berriedale. His lady also inherited a fourth part of the earldom of Caithness, to which she was coheir. From them descended the Oliphants of Gask. Their son, Andrew Oliphant, having no male issue, in 1520, resigned his estates in Caithness to his kinsman and chief, Lord Oliphant, on condition that his lordship should provide suitable matches and tochers for his three daughters. Two of them were accordingly married to cousins of their own, namely, Margaret, to Walter Oliphant of Newton, and Catherine to Andrew Oliphant of Binzian. The third son of the first Lord Oliphant was George Oliphant of Backilton.

John, second Lord Oliphant, the eldest son, was one of the peers who ratified in parliament the settlements on Margaret, queen of James IV., 13th May 1504. He had two sons, Colin, master of Oliphant, and Laurence, abbot of Inchaffray, both slain on the fatal field of Flodden. The master left a son, Laurence, third Lord Oliphant, who succeeded his grandfather in 1516. He was one of the noblemen taken prisoner at the rout of Solway in November 1542, when his annual revenue was estimated at 100 marks sterling. At first he was ordered to remain with Sir Thomas Lee, an English knight, but was allowed to be ransomed for 800 marks sterling, 1st July 1543. He died 26th March 1566. Besides four daughters, he had three sons. The latter were, 1. Lawrence, fourth Lord Oliphant. 2. Peter, ancestor of the Oliphants of Langton. He got from his father the lands of Turing and Drimmie, part of the dowry lands given by King Robert I., with his daughter, Lady Elizabeth Bruce, to Walter Oliphant. 3. William, mentioned in a remission, dated 5th May 1576, to himself and two others of the name, for being art and part in the slaughter of one James Ross, committed in September 1571.

James, fourth Lord Oliphant, joined the association in behalf of Queen Mary at Hamilton, 8th May, 1568, and always continued true to her cause. He died in Caithness, 16th January 1593. With three daughters, he had two sons, Laurence, master of Oliphant, and John Oliphant of Newland. The former married Christian, second daughter of William Douglas of Lochleven, second earl of Morton. In a chance pursuit of Lord Ruthven, with whose family the Oliphants were at feud, Alexander Stuart, of the house of Traquair, a kinsman of Ruthven, was slain by a follower of the master of Oliphant. This happened in October 1580. Lord Ruthven prosecuted the master at law for the same, and in March 1582, the latter went to the lodgings at Edinburgh, of his lordship, who was then earl of Gowrie, at nine o’clock one night, without his sword or any other weapon, and offered himself in his will. In August of the same year, the master was one of the persons engaged in the Raid of Ruthven. In March 1584 he was charged with his brother-in-law, Mr. Robert Douglas, to quit the realm, and on their passage to the continent they were drowned. They “were never seene again,” says Calderwood, “they, nor shippe, nor anie belonging thereunto. The maner is uncertaine; but the most commoun report was that being invaded by Hollanders or Flusingers, and fighting valiauntilie, slue one of the principall of their number, in revenge whereof they were all sunke; or, as others report, after they had rendered (surrendered) they were hanged upon the mast of the shippe. They were two youths of great expectation.” (Hist. of Kirk of Scotland, vol. iv. p. 46).
His son, Laurence, fifth Lord Oliphant, born 24th March, 1583, succeeded his grandfather ten years afterwards. He dissipated most of the extensive estates of the family. By his wife, Lilias Drummond, eldest daughter of James, fourth Lord Maderty, he had a daughter, Anne, married to Sir James Douglas of Mordington, brother of the marquis of Douglas. With the view of preserving the peerage in the male line, his lordship resigned his honours and estates in favour of Patrick Oliphant, his cousin-german and heir male; but this settlement not having been ratified by the crown, Anne Oliphant, his daughter, claimed both, by action before the court of session. The case was decided 11th July 1633, in presence of Charles I. It was found that the deed by which Lord Oliphant had disposed of his honours barred the succession of his daughter, while it did not vest the peerage in the heir male, and the dignity was declared to be at the disposal of the king. In consequence of this decision Charles created the heir male Lord Oliphant, with the former precedency, by a new patent, dated 17th July 1633, and at the same time raised Sir James Douglas, husband of Anne Oliphant, to the peerage, by the title of Lord Mordington with the precedency of Lord Oliphant.

Patrick, sixth Lord Oliphant, the heir male, on whom the king thus conferred the title, was the son of John Oliphant of Newland, second son of Laurence, fourth Lord Oliphant, and previously had the designation of master of Oliphant. He was twice married; first, to Elizabeth, daughter of Sir Patrick Cheyne of Esslemont, by whom he had a daughter, Lilias, wife of Sir Laurence Oliphant of Gask; and, secondly, to Mary, daughter of James Crichton of Frendraught, and had by her three sons, Charles, William, and Francis, who all succeeded to the title.

Charles, seventh Lord Oliphant, took the oaths and his seat in parliament, 12th October 1706, and opposed the treaty of Union. His son, Patrick, eighth Lord Oliphant, died without issue, in 1721, when the title devolved on his uncle, William, ninth lord, a colonel in the army, who also died without issue. His brother, Francis, tenth lord, voted at the elections of Scots peers down to 1747. On his death, 19th April 1748, William, son of Charles Oliphant of Langton, one of the clerks of session, assumed the title, and voted at an election in 1750, since when no one has voted as Lord Oliphant at the elections of Scots peers. He died 3d June, 1751, acknowledging Laurence Oliphant of Gask to be heir to his peerage. That gentleman, however, having, with his eldest son, been attainted for engaging in the rebellion of 1745, did not assume the title. John Oliphant of Bachilton, who died in March 1781, was styled Lord Oliphant. His posthumous daughter, Janet Oliphant of Bachilton, was the wife of the eighth Lord Elibank, and their children, in consequence, adopted the name of Oliphant-Murray as their family name.


The Oliphants of Gask were descended from William Oliphant of Newton in Perthshire, 2d son of Colin, master of Oliphant, slain at Flodden. They were devoted Jacobites. The paternal grandfather of Carolina Oliphant (Lady Nairne the poetess) had attended Prince Charles Edward as aide-de-camp during his disastrous campaign of 1745-6, and his wife had cut off a lock of his hair on the occasion of his accepting the hospitality of the family mansion. The portion of hair is preserved at Gask, and Lady Nairne has alluded to the circumstance in her song of ‘The Auld House.’ The estate of Gask escaped forfeiture, but the father of Lady Nairne, Laurence Oliphant of Gask, did not renounce his Jacobite sentiments. He named his daughter, Carolina, in honour of Prince Charles; and would not permit the names of the reigning monarch and his queen to be mentioned in his presence, nor allow them to be designated otherwise than by the initial letters, “K. and Q.”

In 1755, Laurence Oliphant of Gask married his cousin, Margaret, daughter of Duncan Robertson of Strowan, by the daughter of Lord Nairne. On the death of her brother, the aged chief of Strowan, his grand-nephew of Gask became heir of line of the family. Mr. Oliphant died Jan. 1, 1792. His grandson, James Blair Oliphant of Gask, succeeded, on the death of his elder brother, unmarried, Dec. 31, 1824, and was the 13th in descent from the first lord, and 23d from David de Olifard, the first of the name in Scotland.

Mr. Oliphant of Gask was, Aug. 18, 1839, served heir male of Francis, 10th Lord Oliphant, also heir of the body of William Oliphant of Newton, brother of Laurence, 3d Lord Oliphant. He was also heir general to the last acknowledged Lord Oliphant, and to the principal branch of the family. He married in 1840, Henrietta Graeme, only surviving daughter of Margaret Anne Graeme, daughter of William Grahame of Orchill by James Gillespie-Grahame, Esq. Mr. Blair Oliphant died in 1847.

Laurence Oliphant of Condie and Newton, Perthshire, descended from Laurence Oliphant, first of Condie, grandson of William Oliphant of Newton, by his wife, the heiress of Berriedale, succeeded to the estate in 1806. The eldest son of Ebenezer Oliphant of Condie and Newton, by Mary, 3d daughter of Sir William Stirling, baronet, of Ardoch, he was born in 1791, and has been thrice married. His son and heir, by his 3d wife, Marianne, eldest daughter of Stuart Oliphant, Esq. of Rossie, named Laurence-James, was born in 1846. The estate of Condie was purchased by this family in 1601.

Memoir of the Life of Lawrence Oliphant
And of Alice Oliphant, His Wife by Margaret Oliphant author of Life of Edward Irving and Life of Principal Tulloch (new edition) (pdf)

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