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The Historical Families of Dunfriesshire and the Border Wars

When the Castle of Alnwick was besieged by the Scots in 1093, the English garrison capitulated on condition that their King, Malcolm III., should in person receive the keys of the gates. They were brought on the top of a spear by Mowbray, a knight who purposely sent the point through the King’s eye, causing his death. One of the King’s companions was Ewen de Maccuswell, who married a daughter of the Lord of Galloway, with whom he received the Castle of Caerlaverock. It was in this stronghold that Edward Baliol – who resigned during the minority and exile of the son of Robert Bruce – took up his abode to make his last stand in Dumfriesshire, when the young David II. was restored to his father’s throne. An English army had crossed the ford at the Solway to Baliol’s assistance in 1332; but Caerlaverock was captured by Roger Kirkpatrick and John Stewart, in the name of King David, whose rival was compelled to retreat to England with a remnant of his foreign allies more anxious to carry off their plunder than to assist a losing cause. The Maxwells supported the Crown against Douglas in 1425, for he had hung their near relation, Lord Herries of Terregles. They married with the Carlyles, Murrays, Johnstones, and other Annandale families, and increased much in importance during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. In 1424, Sir Herbert Maxwell was made a Lord of Parliament by the title of Lord Maxwell of Caerlaverock, and a little later his family shared in the plunder of the Douglases, which brought them into Annandale, and they supplanted the Crichtons in Nithsdale. Lord Maxwell was imprisoned with Archibald Earl of Douglas, the Earl of Angus, Dunbar, Earl of March, and Hepburn of Hailes, when Murdoch, Duke of Albany, and his sons were seized by James I., and Murdoch was shut up in the Castle of Caerlaverock, but as it was not politic to kill the leaders of the independent Borderers, who might be used again by the English against Scotland, these chiefs were released after Murdoch’s execution. Early in the 16th century, the Maxwells almost monopolised the Wardenship of the Borders, which up to that time they had held alternately with the Earls of March, the Earls of Douglas, the Johnstones, and the Murrays of Cockpool, and this produced much of the ill-feeling which existed between the Maxwells and the Johnstones for nearly 100 years.

The lord of Johnstone, who fought at Chevy Chase, had been a surety for the peace with England, in conjunction with Sir John Carlyle and Stuart of Castlemilk. His son Adam was distinguished in a battle fought against the English near Graitney or Gretna, where the Maxwells and Johnstones were opposed to the Welsh, the fiercest battalions of the enemy (1448). The contemporary chronicler of Auchinleck, writing from the victor’s side, gives this brief description:—

"The 23d day of October was the battle of Lochmaben Stone, within the parish of St. Patrick, where Hugh of Douglas, Earl of Ormonde, was chieftain on the Scottish side, and with him Sir John Wallace of Cragy, the Lord of Johnstone, the Lord Somerville’s son and heir, David Stewart of Castle Mylk, the Sheriff of Ayr, with other sundry gentles of the West land, and their men was called 4000. And on the English side the younger Percy and Sir John of Pennyton were chieftains, and with them 6000 of Englishmen; of whom their chieftains were taken and 1500 with them slain; drowned, 500."

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The English chronicler Holinshed, writing in 1577, gives a more detailed account of the battle, and a larger number of slain. He also mentions Maxwell, whom the Scottish chronicler omits, although he was Warden of the Marches. His daughter was married to Sir Adam Johnstone’s eldest son John. Sir Adam had married Lady Janet Dunbar, the youngest daughter of the rebel Earl of March. He had three sons besides his heir—Gilbert, who married Agnes, the heiress of Elphinstone, and was knighted for his services against the English; William, who died in 1468; and a Dumfries record mentions another son, James, as living in 1476. To judge by the legal cases in which Sir Gilbert Johnstone of Elphinstone and his son Adam were summoned by Dumfriesshire men, he lived chiefly in his native county till 1491, and then his name disappears; but most of his descendants migrated to Elphinstone, in Haddington, where they are now considered to be extinct. In 1484 Sir Gilbert Johnstone, as Sheriff of Edinburgh, opened the session of Parliament, and was also a guarantor of the Treaty of Peace with the English.

When the Albany and Douglas rebellion of 1483 was in progress, Sir Gilbert Johnstone, by order of James III., deputed his nephew Adam of Johnstone to arrest Sir James Liddell of Halkerstone and others of the insurgents. William and Robert of Johnstone witness Adam of Johnstone’s formal summons to Sir James to surrender himself to the authorities. As stated, the rebels were finally crushed by the Dumfriesshire chiefs, among whom was Sir Gilbert’s brother, the Lord of Johnstone.

Although some of the Carruthers family were faithful to the King, the Laird of Mouswald, their head, seems to have leagued with the Douglases. He was keeper of Lochmaben Castle, and the Auchinleck chronicler relates that in 1454 "the Lord of Johnstone’s two sons took the Castle of Lochmaben from the Lord of Mouswald, called Carruthers, and his two sons, and all through treason of the porter; and since, the King gave them the keeping of the house to his profit." The King’s adherents in Dumfriesshire—the Johnstones, Maxwells, Carruthers of Holmains, Crichton of Sanquhar, Cuthbert Murray of Cockpool, and Charteris of Amisfield—were rewarded with part of the confiscated estates of the Corries and Douglases, though it entailed long disputes with the relatives of the ancient possessors. In 1516, we find James Johnstone of that ilk confrmed by a Royal Charter in the barony of Corrie, which had been held in the previous century by the Corrie family in conjunction with Newbie, Stapleton, and the parish of St. Patrick, now divided into Kirkpatrick-Fleming and Gretna, and which the Corries had obtained from the Carliles, while in 1494 John Murray had been returned heir to his father Cuthbert in the hereditary lands of Cockpool, Ryvel or Ruthwell, as well as of Rampatrick, or Redkirk, also part of the Corrie property.

As the question whether Newbie Castle and Gretna or Graitney passed direct from the Corries to the Lord of Johnstone has been one of dispute, not only when the Annandale peerage claims were last tried, but in 1772, in a case heard before the Scottish Courts, when the Earl of Hopetoun, curator-in-law of the last Marquis of Annandale, produced on his behalf the charter settling Newbie on William Johnstone of Gretna, and his wife, Margaret Crichton, in 1541, we may here make some allusion to this subject. The Counsel for the Marquis, who was trying to prove his right to certain fisheries from remote times, held that the manner in which Newbie afterwards passed to the Lord of Johnstone in 1607 shewed that William Johnstone’s descendants were cadets of his house. Chalmers, in his Biographia, and the compiler of the "New Statistical History of Scotland," were impressed with this notion. The last states that many Johnstones of Annandale are interred under the old church at Gretna; and these Johnstones were all William’s descendants. The author of the "Biography of Eminent Scotsmen" took the same view, and also the editor of the New Monthly Review in his obituary of the representative of William’s family in 1802. So did the second Marquis when he put Johnstone of Gretna in his entail. The Johnstones of Gretna are described in the oldest peerages (Crawford of 1716, and Nesbitt, published by Royal authority in 1722) as cadets of Johnstone of that Ilk; and in various local histories the Johnstones of Gretna and Newbie are also described as his cadets. The same claim is engraved on the monument of John Johnstone of Galabank, their descendant in 1774, when the last Marquis was alive, and his mother and two half brothers resided at Comlongon Castle, in the immediate neighbourhood, and its authority was not called in question. The connection was, therefore, supported by common repute.

But now to proved facts. In 1453 a Gilbert de Johnstone de Gretna signed a retour at Dumfries for Lord Maxwell, whose sister was married to the eldest son of Sir Adam Johnstone. Sir Adam’s father was named Gilbert, and his second son was named Gilbert, and was able to write, not a common accomplishment at that time. Sir Adam was then Warden of the Borders, and would therefore be likely to put a near relative into Gretna, as it was the gateway to England, and commanded his own neighbouring estates at Cavertsholme and Dunskellie. Retours were signed by relations and connections, and as no mere tenant in a distant place would have been called upon to sign Lord Maxwell’s retour at Dumfries when he had connections much nearer, it is probable that Gilbert Johnstone of Gretna was Gilbert, the second son of Sir Adam, or else a brother of Sir Adam, and that he was custodian of Gretna Tower, a Border fortress, when his relative was Warden. Unless the Annan was navigable higher up than it is now, it is difficult to see how the lairds of Johnstone could have been "naval admirals," have owned "ships to trade with English ports," or, considering the small extent of the family estates inland, could have carried sufficient weight on the borders to act as Constables and Wardens, a hundred and fifty years earlier, if they had no footing on the Solway; and Graitney Tower and Saltcoats, with a few maritime villages afterwards owned by William Johnstone of Graitney and Newbie, are the only points not claimed elsewhere. Hoddam was then owned by the piratical Lord Herries of Terregles. During the rest of the 15th century, there is no mention of Gretna in any record; but a Thomas Johnstone, described as of Gartno—that is, Gretna—is alluded to in a justiciary case of 1504. He was not a judge of the assize. There is no sasine concerning him in existence, and nothing to show that he was a landowner or had any connection with William Johnstone, the young lord of Gartno, who appears in 1513.

In 1511 an Adam Johnstone de Newbie appears as a judge of the assize at Edinburgh. Adam of Johnstone of that Ilk was dead in 1509, when his son James was returned his heir. His family, of all the leaders of the King’s party against the Douglas rebellion, would have had no share in the spoil if he had not been rewarded with some of the lands of the rebel Corries, who, as before stated, owned the baronies of Corrie and of Newbie, Mylnfleld, Robgill, Cummertrees, Bonshaw, and Stapleton, within a mile of Gretna, and adjoining the Laird of Johnstone’s property at Dunskellie, Cavertsholme, and Kirkpatrick-Fleming. They would naturally prefer the estates which intersected their own lands, and being good soldiers and nearly related, as well as friends at that time with the Warden of the Borders, he would have been likely to approve of their infeftment into the part of the forfeited demesne, which bordered on England, to aid him in the defence of the country. In 1508-9 the Lord of Johnstone and Adam Johnstone were two of the judges of assize who convicted William Carruthers of uplifting cattle from the lands of Newbie. This Lord of Johnstone was Adam, who died a month or two later. The other Adam Johnstone on the assize was probably the same as Adam Johnstone of Newbie mentioned in 1511, and may have been the second son of the Laird, or his grandson, afterwards known as Adam Johnstone of Corrie.

In 1516 James Johnstone of that Ilk obtained a charter confirming him in the possession of the Barony of Corrie. He had previously received a charter of the Barony of Johnstone, the advowson of the Church of Johnstone, the lands of Wamphray, the mill and lands at Dunskellie, in Kirkpatrick-Fleming, and the lands of Cavertsholme (near Gretna) owned by his father, "which lands," it states, "were sequestrated at the King’s instance for certain fines of Justice Courts, which now his Majesty freely discharges, and dispones the land to him again." This sequestration must have taken place after James IV. visited Dumfries in August 1504, and held an assize, in person, as on that occasion Adam Johnstone was pledge for his eldest son, James. While the Lord of Johnstone was ejected from the Barony of Johnstone and his residence at Dunskellie he would be likely to live at Graitney with his immediate followers. The Justiciary Records are not always very exact in their descriptions, as James Johnstone is described as the Laird of Johnstone in his father’s lifetime. He was for some years an outlaw, but in 1513 he acted as pledge at Dumfries for his relative, Adam Scot, and for several Johnstones, including William, the young lord of Gartno (Gretna or Graitney), and a "David Johnstone, brother to John Johnstone in Bartycupen," which was not far from Lochwood, and he was fined for their non-appearance. A man began life early at that date, and as Robert Johnstone of Racleuch was only eleven years old when we find his name among those respited in 1594 for arson and slaughter, William of Gretna may have been no older in 1513. The David and John mentioned were probably James Johnstone’s two illegitimate sons of that name. Gretna was not a lairdship, and those described as of Gretna could not have been landowners, while William being distinguished by the term "young laird," shows he was the son of a laird, and he could not have made the good marriage he did if he had been a mere tenant. In the affair for which he was summoned in 1513, a relative of Lord Crichton, the Sheriff, had been killed in an attack on Dumfries by Maxwell and his followers, including these Johnstones, while the assize was being held. Not only did the Laird of Johnstone protect William and David, but he offered to pay half the sum adjudged by the Lords in Council (See Acta Dom. Con. 25, f. 168, t. 172, 1513) to be paid by Lord Maxwell to the injured party, Lord Crichton. [In most instances the Constables of the Borders were given lands on condition that they maintained garrisons, and kept lighted beacons on the towers near the English frontier. Hoddam and Graitney were very important ones. Graitney is a little to the east of the village.]

James, Laird of Johnstone, died in August, 1524. On October 14, 1527, we find an entry in the Justiciary Records that John Johnstone of that Ilk, John, Andrew, and Roland Bell, William and Matthew Johnstone, were charged with the cruel murder of Symon Armstrong, James Douglas of Drumlanrig being their cautioner; and failing to appear, they were all denounced rebels, which, with a subsequent sequestration, accounts for the Johnstone estates being in ward four years. John Johnstone entailed his lands in 1542, and mentions four brothers: Adam of Corrie, William, Symon, and John. There were also two illegitimate brothers, David and John, so that in one family there were three brothers named John. Adam, the second brother, had inherited the barony of Corrie, and it seems likely that he was the Adam Johnstone of Newbie mentioned in 1511, and had later received from his father the more secure possessions of Corrie. The Corrie family continued to claim Newbie, and to style themselves of Newbie, as late as 1630, but Thomas Corrie was an outlaw some time before 1523, and being respited in 1527, he instituted proceedings against William Johnstone of Graitney, who for three years past (i.e., since the death of the laird of Johnstone) had occupied the lands of Newbie. Newbie was worth only six pounds a year less than the Barony of Johnstone, and, as we have stated, with its dependencies intersected the estate of Johnstone of that Ilk, and was a near neighbour to his chief residence, Dunskellie. It is clear that William Johnstone could not have taken possession of so large an estate without the concurrence of the great Annandale chief; and Gretna, it appears from later documents, was only held in feu from the Murrays of Cockpool. The mistake of calling a man laird of a place when he lived there, but was only son or brother of a laird, occurs in the Acta Dom. Con. in 1594 with regard to a Johnstone of Newbie. At last William Johnstone purchased a clear right to Newbie from Thomas Corrie, who was to retain a life interest in it, but was killed at the battle of Pinkie in 1547.

In 1541 William Johnstone obtained a charter, which the late Sir John Holker, Attorney-General, described as the most extraordinary which had ever been brought before the House of Lords. He entailed Newbie and its lands,--but not Gretna—first, on his own and his wife’s (Margaret Crichton) legitimate children; secondly, on his own legitimate male heirs; thirdly, on his son George and his heirs; fourthly, on his brother David and his heirs; fifthly, on his son Herbert and his heirs; sixthly, on his son John and his heirs; seventhly, on his brother John and his heirs. These brothers and sons mentioned by name were undoubtedly illegitimate, and the fact that the Laird of Johnstone and his brother William had at the same period two illegitimate brothers, named David and John, seemed, with the evidence already given, to point to the conclusion that they were the same people, and that William Johnstone of Graitney and Newbie was identical with William, the second brother of the laird. Also, the fact that Graitney descended to William’s illegitimate son George, while Newbie went to his eldest legitimate son John, who in 1565 was returned his father’s nearest and legitimate heir, would further show that Graitney was not regarded as a special hereditary possession of his family. This John, second Baron of Newbie, is the ancestor of the Johnstones of Galabank and now of Fulford Hall. It appeared as if James, lord of Johnstone, had bequeathed the confiscated Corrie property to his second and third sons, the elder receiving Corrie, for which he had obtained a regular charter; the other Newbie, for which he had to enforce his claim. Another brother, James of Wamphray, is not mentioned in the entail, but in 1550 he formed a bond of manrent with the laird. The descendants of George Johnstone of Graitney died out in the male line, and their present representative in the female line is Lord Ruthven. In 1592, they bore the arms of Johnstone of that Ilk, charged with two mullets to show cadency, and a different crest to denote legitimized bastardy. We learn by the charters of 1536 and 1541 concerning William of Graitney that he bore the same arms as Johnstone of that Ilk, proving that he was legitimate.

In 1546 the English invaded Scotland, and razed Annan to the ground, whereupon the neighbouring chiefs gave in their submission, and swore fidelity to the English King. Holinshed’s "Scottish History," published in 1577, mentions the Laird of Newbie among them, but no other representative of the Johnstones; while the English State papers describe William, the brother of the Laird, as surrendering on behalf of the Johnstones. They also speak of George Johnstone (William of Newbie and Graitney eldest illegitimate son) as heading the Newbie dependants. The Laird of Johnstone was a prisoner, and his next brother (Adam) dead; but his nephew, James of Corrie, a man of full age, was also a prisoner among the English. In 1548 an Act of the Scottish Parliament outlawed the Laird of Newbie and several other chiefs, but no other representative of Johnstone of that Ilk, for their surrender, and from this period William Johnstone of Newbie disappears. In 1558 William Johnstone, brother-german to the laird, signs (with his hand at the pen) a renunciation of his rights to Hartope, in Nithsdale, and as these lands were part of the Crichton property, the fact of William Johnstone, Laird of’ Newbie,, being married to a Crichton seemed another proof of the identity of these Williams, particularly as at that period the English occupied Newbie and Gretna, and he had been outlawed as Laird of Newbie, so would hardly have signed his name with that appellation. In 1542, when the Johnstone property was provisionally entailed on the Laird’s brother William, he is simply mentioned as brother-german to the Laird, but he did not possess the life-rent of Newbie till 1557, and seems to have had no real property in Gretna till 1544 (in which year William, brother of the Laird, signed his name himself as witness to Simon Carruthers, [Married to Marion Johnstone] his brother-in-law), and when, by letters under the Privy Seal, a grant of the non-entres of Gretna, that had been held by the Crown since the decease of "the late Johnstone, his father," is made to William of Gretna until such time as another heir should appear. The son and heir of this William in 1569 acted as pledge for the Laird of Johnstone and his clan, thereby preserving the castles of his chief from being destroyed by the Regent Murray after the outbreak on behalf of Queen Mary. He was a guardian of the peace with the English, and was one of the kinsmen selected by the Laird of Johnstone to adjust his quarrel with Lord Maxwell in 1574. His son, Edward Johnstone, was curator to the young Laird of Johnstone in 1608, and had possession of the Annandale charter chest, which still contains many charters concerning the Newbie family. In 1613 a Crown charter states that all the old papers concerning Gretna had been destroyed in the wars and conflagrations of which it had been the centre, so it appears as if William Johnstone had been the custodian of the fortified tower at Gretna—an important post before the Union of the Crowns. His wife’s mother, Elizabeth, was the daughter of Cuthbert Murray of Cockpool. Margaret Crichton’s father was Sir Robert Crichton, Lord of Sanquhar, dead before 1517, when Ninian Crichton is mentioned as her guardian; and James and Ninian Crichton were cautioners for William Johnstone in 1535, with regard to the contract with the Corries of Newbie.

But the point which weighed against the claim of the descendants of William Johnstone of Gretna and Newbie, that their ancestor was identical with the third son of the Laird of Johnstone, was the discovery of a precept for a charter under the Privy Seal of 1543. It had been overlooked by two searchers in the Register House at Edinburgh, but a copy was found among the papers of a deceased advocate, which brought it to light. It was a precept of legitimation for George, Herbert, and John, the illegitimate sons of William Johnstone of Gretna, and of his illegitimate brother John, the natural son of the late William Johnstone of Gretna—this last name of the late William, &c., being added over the line, as if an afterthought on the part of the clerk. Twenty pounds had been paid for this precept, which was not signed or followed by any charter, so could never have been carried out, as a precept of legitimation requires to be confirmed by three charters to be effective; and. it was written in such bad Latin that it might have been construed that one William was the brother of the other, and that John was the natural son of the deceased one. Just a month after the date of this precept there was another precept for a charter to legitimatise David and John, the natural sons of James, the Laird of Johnstone of that Ilk, and this precept was given gratis, and followed by a charter. It might have been suggested that the first was erroneous, and did not include William’s illegitimate brother David, and that the second, which was issued just sufficiently long after to allow of a journey from Edinburgh to Annan and back again, was a correction of the first, and hence given without a fee; that William Johnstone of Newbie had desired the legitimation of the two brothers whom he had named in his entail, not of his sons, who might in that case have interfered with the rights of his and Margaret Crichton’s legitimate son John; and that the father’s name--the late William Johnstone of Gretna—had been ignorantly added by the clerk, as it was usual in such cases to give the father’s name, and "William Johnstone, young Lord of Gartno," [Most family histories conjecture that the marriage of Lady Janet Dunbar with Sir Adam Johnstone took place only in 1448; but that is not likely (and there is no proof that he had a previous wife), if she were the mother, as is alleged, of his younger son Sir Gilbert Johnstone of Elphinstone, for her grandson (by her first husband, Sir John Seton) was in possession of his grandfather’s estates in 1441, and in 1448 he was Ambassador Extraordinary to the Court of England. Her eldest son, the father of this grandson, was killed in battle in 1424, and her father was a Commissioner of the Peace with England in 1380. Her eldest sister had been betrothed to David, Prince of Scotland, an engagement broken off before 1402.] was a name found in the Justiciary Records in Edinburgh, as sharing in an affray in 1513. But even if the two Williams were not identical they were evidently closely related.

Sir Frederick Johnstone of Westerhall claimed the Annandale Peerages on the ground that his ancestor Matthew was a son of Sir Adam Johnstone, who died in 1455. Sir Adam left four sons—John, his heir; Gilbert of Elphinstone; [Mr Archibald Johnstone of Herriothill, Edinburgh, writes that he believes himself to be a descendant of the Johnstones of Elphinstone (whom two lawsuits have declared to be extinct in the male line). They exported coal from Haddington till it was stopped by an order from the Lords in Council, who feared the supply would become exhausted. The home trade was overstocked, and having to support all the work people without remuneration they were obliged to dispose of their lands, and removed to Newmonkland, where they again farmed and mined for coal about 1693. But the heiresses of Elphinstone, as of Wamphray, in more than one instance married Johnstones of another branch, in accordance with their father’s will, and in this way their maiden name remained to their descendants.] William, who died 1468; James, who was living in 1476; and an old peerage includes Adam of Pensakke, who was dead, but leaving a son Robert before 1495. Unlike the Johnstones of Galabank and Fulford Hall, Sir Frederick was descended almost invariably from eldest sons. Matthew is described as armiger or esquire in 1455. There are several Matthew Johnstones on record in that century, but it is a name absent from the direct line of Johnstones of that Ilk. Sir Frederick’s ancestor received lands in Lanarkshire for service against the rebel Douglas; and his descendants were from that time little seen in Dumfriesshire till the close of the 16th century, when they sold their property in Lanarkshire, and came to live on their present demesne, the head of their house having married the sister of Johnstone of that Ilk. They have long been reported to be an early branch of the Johnstones of Lochwood, but they were unable to produce proof of the connection of the two families at any special link. Their claim, like that of Mr Edward Johnstone of Fulford Hall, was therefore declared to be not proved to the satisfaction of the House of Lords in 1881.

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