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Ferniehirst Castle
Chapter VIII - Border Families, Houses & Names

The Maxwells generally held the Western March while the Homes held the Eastern March and the Kerrs (of Ferniehirst) and Kers (of Cessford) alternated in command of the Middle March, which also included Liddesdale in Western Roxburghshire. But this wild district, centred on Hermitage Castle and inhabited by the great "riding" clans (or families) of Elliots and Armstrongs was regarded as so difficult to control that eventually a special "Keeper of Liddesdale" was appointed. His responsibilities were similar to those of the Wardens (but only in a small area), and he took part in the Wardens’ meetings or "trysts".

In theory the Keeper was assisted by the Elliot Chief at Redheugh, who was often made Keeper of Hermitage Castle and Deputy Keeper of Liddesdale. In practice, however, the frequent changes of Wardens in the 16th Century, the weakness of any central authority and the recourrence of war between Scotland and England reduced any system of justice to a facade. Anarchy reigned, and the Border clans and families were left largely to their own devices. It was not until the Union of the Crowns in 1603 that the King was strong enough to impose a general peace and bring to a stop the raiding and skirmishing on both sides of the Border. The first Chief of the Elliots (or Ellots) of whom definite record exists was Robert of Redheugh, described as 10th of his Name, and an exact contemporary of the first Sir Thomas Kerr of Ferniehirst (1476). According to tradition, the Elliots originated in Angus and were granted lands in Liddesdale by Robert the Bruce in about 1320. They appear to have been part of the military forces of the great House of Douglas, who held Hermitage Castle and the Lordship of Liddesdale for 150 years, until 1508, and they fought at the Battle of Flodden under Douglas’s successor, the Earl of Bothwell. At least by the 16th Century the Elliots’ territory also included upper Ewesdale and upper Teviotdale, and they were clearly linked with their neighbours the Scotts.

This link did not altogether survive in the disorder of the 16th Century as the Elliots grew more powerful and took over the leadership of Liddesdale from the Armstrongs, after the execution of Johnnie Armstrong of Gilnockie by King James V. Like the Scotts, however, the Elliots remained consistent enemies of England and complaints of their unrelenting raids on English territory continued to pour in from the Wardens on the other side of the Border. Their power and independence was only broken when King James VI succeeded to the English throne and was able to destroy the clan system in the Borders and reduce the whole area on both sides to what he called the "Middle Shires" of his kingdom.

After the Union of the Crowns and the "Pacification" of the Borders, from which the Elliots suffered severely, their territory was centred mainly in Teviotdale and Rulewater, and the Chief lived at Stobs, near Hawick. Today the Chief of the Clan, Sir Arthur Eliott Bt., lives once more at Redheugh in Liddesdale, thought to have been granted to the first Chief in about 1320 by Robert the Bruce. With only two short breaks the place has traditionally thus been in Elliot hands for some 650 years.

The Eliotts and Elliots, as they were variously spelt, became famous as soldiers, administrators and landowners, as well as in the development of a growing British Empire overseas. One of the most distinguished of these was a younger son of the 3rd Baronet of Stobs, General George Augustus Eliott, later Lord Heathfield, whose life overlaps with those of Marlborough at one end and of Wellington and Napoleon at the other (both were already serving soldiers when he took up his last appointment), while his military career spanned three of the five great 18th Century wars: the War of Austrian Succession, in which he fought at Dettingen and Fontenoy; the Seven Years’ War, during which he commanded a regiment in several battles in Germany and was second-in-command in the highly profitable raid on Havana, and finally the War of American Independence, when he successfully defended Gibraltar through a 3½ year siege against attacks by the combined French and Spanish fleets. He lived to see the start of the French Revolution and died at Aix-la-Chapelle (Aachen) on his way to resume his old command as Governor of Gibraltar, thus narrowly missing his fourth major war as a serving soldier.

Another notable member of the clan was Sir Gilbert Elliot of Minto, created first Earl of Minto for his active leadership as Governor-General of Bengal in 1807-13, when he expanded British possessions in the East Indies and rid merchant shipping of the menace of pirates in Borneo. His great-grandson Gilbert, the fourth Earl, rode several times in the Grand National before succeeding to the title, and won the corresponding French race (the Grand Steeplechase de Paris) in 1874. He served in a number of wars as a newspaper correspondent (Carlist War in Spain, Russo-Turkish War in the Balkans) and as an officer (Afghanistan, 1st Boer War, Egypt). Subsequently he became Governor-General of Canada (1898-1904) and Viceroy of India (1905-19 10) where he was jointly responsible with Lord Morley for the Morley-Minto reforms of 1909.

The present Earl, his grandson, was born in 1928 and was commissioned into the Scots Guards in 1948. He served in Malaya (1949-51), after which he was appointed ADC to the Commander-in-Chief, Far East, then, in 1953-55, ADC to the Chief of the Imperial General Staff; he was thereafter ADC to the Governor and Commander-in-Chief, Cyprus.

After retiring from the Army, he spent some time running the home farm at Minto. In 1974 he was elected to the Borders Regional Council. He served on the Council for eight years, becoming one of its most popular and respected members. He is a Brigadier in the Royal Company of Archers, the Queen’s Bodyguard for Scotland.

One of the sons of the 6th Baronet of Stobs emigrated to Australia with his family and became the first Speaker of the Queensland Parliament (1860-71). In modern times one of the best-known members of the clan was the Rt. Hon. Walter Elliot of Harwood, C.H., F.R.S. (1888-1958), the son of a tenant farmer and auctioneer who had bought the estate towards the end of his life.

Walter Elliot studied medicine at Glasgow University and served as a Doctor with the Royal Scots Greys in the First World War, winning the Military Cross and Bar. He was successively M.P. for Lanark, the Scottish Universities and Kelvingrove, and held office in turn as Minister of Agriculture (1932-36), Secretary of State for Scotland (1936-38) and as Minister of Health, also responsible for Local Government (1938-40). As Secretary of State he helped Scotland emerge from the Great Depression, the Queen Mary being built in Clydebank for the Cunard Line largely during his term of office. As Minister of Health he was responsible for organising the evacuation of about two million children from London and other cities to the countryside. Along with other Tories, he left the Government in 1940 to make way for the influx of Labour and Liberal Ministers in Churchill’s coalition, but remained a highly respected backbencher until his death in 1958, also serving as Rector of Aberdeen and Glasgow Universities and as Lord High Commissioner to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland (1956, 1957). He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1935 and was made a Companion of Honour in 1952.

Baroness Elliot of Harwood, DBE, was one of the first women to become a Life Peer and the first to speak in the House of Lords. She served on many Government Committees during and after the war. In 1957 she was Chairman of the Conservative Party, and was a UK delegate to the General Assembly of the United Nations for three years (1954, 1956, 1957) as well as a member of Roxburghshire County Council for 29 years. She has farmed at Harwood since her marriage in 1934 and is Chairman of Lawrie & Symington, Ltd. Livestock Auctioneers in Lanark, since 1958, and is a well-known figure in the agricultural community.

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