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Clan Oliphant

The name Oliphant came from the Norwegian name Holifard/Holifarth. David Holifard who came back north with King David I from whom he received lands in Roxburghshire. David Holifard saved the King's life at the Battle of Winchester in 1141. A descendant of the above David was Sir William Oliphant who played an important role in the struggle for Scottish independence. He defended Stirling Castle during the wars and in 1320 after being set free signed the Declaration of Arbroath, a letter from Scottish barons to maintain Scottish independence and support Robert I. 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. His descendant Sir Laurence Oliphant of Aberdalgy was the first Lord Oliphant. He had three sons, John the 2nd Lord Oliphant, William from whom descended the Oliphants of Gask, the Oliphants of Condie, the Oliphants of Rossie and George who was styled of Bachilton. The heir was killed at Flodden in 1523 and the 3rd Lord Oliphant was taken prisoner at Solway Moss in 1542 and ransomed. The 4th Lord was a loyal supporter of Queen Mary of Scots and was one of those who acquitted Bothwell of the murder of Darnley and later signed the bond for Bothwells marriage with the Queen. He also fought at her final defeat at Langside in 1568. The heir was involved in the Raid of Ruthven in 1582 when James VI was kidnapped. He was banished and never seen again. His son succeeded and dissipated the entire estates barr Gask which was already in the hands of a cadet branch. The title was not passed onto his daughter but decided by Charles I to go to a cousin, Patrick. The Oliphants of Gask the cadet branch continued the line and were noted for their strong Jacobite sentiments. They were "out" in 1715 and in 1745 when the house was routed by English troops after Culloden. The Scottish poetess, Carolina Oliphant (Lady Nairne) was born in 1766 of the family of Gask. Her celebrated poems include "Charlie is my Darling" and "Will ye no come back again". The tartan worn by the Oliphants is generally referred to as "Oliphant and Melville" although there seems to be no apparent family connection.

The information below has been kindly made available by Richard Oliphant of That Ilk.


The name Oliphant derived through variations of Holifard/Holifarth probably, from the Norwegian name Olaf. Following the crusades, the name changed to take on that given to the animal encountered in Palestine - an Oliphaunt. Mediaeval French termed the animal thus but that name evolved later into Elephant.  However, W. Maitland Thomson quotes J.H. Round's Cal. Of Documents, France in stating that there is no record of the name in Normandy prior to 1066 and concludes it was first assumed on English soil.  This is belied by evidence of the Oliphant progenitor in
Scotland long before that.


The Oliphants in Scotland descend from Donald Olifard, a Norwegian nobleman shipwecked on the East coast in the Ninth Century, at the time of Harold Haarfager (Fair-haired) of Norway's invasions of Scotland, some 300 years before David Olifard (vide The Baronage of Angus and the Mearns, p.269.)

By late 10th Century, Roger Oliphant was Hereditary Sherriff of the Mearns. By 1004, Duncan Oliphant, the then Sherriff, married Helen Hassa, the last of that name, to become Thane of Glenbervie, which included Aberbuthnoth, in Kincardineshire.  Their son Walter married Matilda Sinell, dau. of Thane of Angus and produced at least two sons, David who moved to Lilford in Northants and Osbert, who married Aegidia, dau. of the Hay of Arroll (sic). Osbert had a daughter who married James Melvil, an Hungarian Nobleman (vide The Baronage of Angus and the Mearns, p.73-4.)  The Aberbuthnoth lands passed to Hugh de Swinton upon his marriage to their daughter Margaret, who took on the name Arbuthnot (vide that Clan.)


In general, arms which are 'pure' (undifferenced) as the Oliphant chief's are, are a priori matriculations and are identifiable as such, e.g. on the Glenbervie old church yard vault recording the genealogy hereabove. The Oliphants have never been a Sept of any other Clan, (including the Sutherlands) but are a clan in our own sole right, as sources at both the Standing Council of Scottish Chiefs and at the Court of the Lord Lyon have opined to us.

Of the Sutherland link, the first Lord Oliphant bought for his second son the hand in marriage of a Sutherland heiress (an orphan who, due to her large estates, had been made a ward of the Crown.) Her uncle had disputed her inheritance (on the grounds of her legitimacy) in Rome and received a settlement thereby.  Later, in the face of pressure from the Sutherland family, who wanted the lands back (in Sutherland ownership,) the lands were exchanged with the then Lord Oliphant.  He was the only family member powerful enough to defend the properties from the Sutherland attacks.  In return for these estates Lord Oliphant agreed to finding each of Andrew's three daughters (he had no son) suitable husbands.  Later, Lord Oliphant made a mutual bond (not a one-way bond of manhrent) with the Sutherlands as both were much troubled by the Sinclairs but, never ensepted his chiefly status to the Sutherlands thereby.

Oliphant's Leap at Wick Castle marks the spot where, pursued by Sinclairs, the Master of Oliphant, not having time to sound his horn to have the drawbridge lowered, was obliged to make his horse jump the chasm in order to elude his pursuers.

Of the Melville connection mentioned above, the current Earl of Leven & Melville (chief of Clan Melville) in his own arms has what appears to be a differenced version of the Oliphant arms as a quartering. Other clan chiefs such as Rattray and Rollo of Duncrub gave bonds of manrent to Lord Oliphant (vide Gask Charter Chest) thereby theoretically ensepting themselves but none are known as such today other than the Kinlochs, who wear the Oliphant tartan and acknowledge themselves as a sept of the


Keith Lumsden at the Tartan Society in Pitlochry advised that Vestiarum Scotticum prepared by the Sobieski Stewart brothers by 1827 (but only published in 1842) shows the tartan as Oliphant alone. Soon afterwards, it was combined as Oliphant/Melville in other sources (Wilson's of Bannockburn (1847) Scott Adie's and the Macpherson Museum) which set in motion the compounding of this blurring of identity.


Prior to the 12th Century, the Oliphants had built up an affiliation with the Scottish Royal family, who had the palace of Kincardine. As Jervais notes the Oliphant family was not present in Normandy prior to (or after) 1066. The other evidence would indicate that David I must have taken David Olifard's family to Northamptonshire with him as part of his retinue upon his marriage to the Countess of Northamptonshire.  Both Douglas' Peerage of Scotland and Crawfurd's state David was David I's godson, which reflects why David Oliphant had been given the King's first name at birth.  Facing David I's expulsion from his lands in Northamptonshire by defeat at the Battle of Winchester his allegiance was logically to the Scottish king and not to Norman England where he would have had difficulty surviving, (as is borne out by lack of later historic evidence of those Oliphants who are recorded as having stayed.) Back in Scotland, David Olifard was made Justiciary of the Lothians (lowlands) and had grants of Smailham and Crailing, in Roxbrughshire followed by the great lordship of Bothwell. The location of these early residences is not known, probably because fortifications then were built of wood.

Two centuries on Walter, son of the Sir William Olifard who defended Stirling Castle against Edward I's armies, was granted the lands in Perthshire (and Angus) not only of Gask but also of Hatton, Kinpurney Newtyle, Balcraig etc., etc. upon marriage to the Princess Elizabeth (youngest daughter of Robert the Bruce by his second wife.)  All the main Bruce Charters (Robert + David II) were entrusted by the 9th Lord Oliphant into the Gask charter chest and are set out in the books below (Regesta Regum Scottorum has transcripts in the Latin (nos. 27, 337 to 343 inclusive, 371, 422.) All these charters from the Gask Charter Chest are now with National Library for Scotland although more than one copy of each charter would have been prepared, some of which survive.

When Robert died and was succeeded by David II in 1364, in the usual feudal style the lands were all ceded back to the Crown and then re-granted to Walter and his wife Elizabeth, the king's sister. (David II was full brother to Elizabeth, by Robert's second wife.)


My younger brother Roderick started a Clan Society in Scotland at around the time he restored Hatton Castle, Newtyle, Angus (near Perth) in the early 1980s.  Hatton was built by the 4th Lord Oliphant in around 1575, as aforerunner to building Kellie Castle, in Fife. We held a number of gatherings attended by Oliphants from Canada, U.S.A., N.Z. and Australia. My brother wrote quarterly Clan Newsletters over a number of years, which dealt with his research into some of the aspects addressed here. However, the castle was lost to 'bills and interest rates' in June 1996 although the Clan Soc. goes on under the guidance of some of the then members.


The Oliphant clan emblem, as traditionally pinned to the bonnet for identification, is the Maple leaf. The Chiefly Crest was the Unicorn, as were Gask's.  That of Condie is a Falcon Volante Proper. The former two used the motto "A tout pouvoir," "Provide for all" or A Tout Pourvoir meaning Power for anything and Condie has Altiora Peto - "I strive higher".  Carolina Oliphant (the poetess who wrote Charlie is My Darling, Land o' the Leal, etc.) was of the Gask line, Laurence Oliphant (the mystic, traveller, writer, MP, spy etc.) was from the Condie line and Maragaret Oliphant (authoress) was of the Kellie line.  There were another dozen or so armigerous Oliphant families, including Oliphant of Rossie who numbered a Postmaster General for Scotland among them.


The father and son listed in the addenda to the battle role at Culloden Visitor Centre were Gask Oliphants who were both on horse and thus were able to get away. They were attainted and had to flee to France. Ebenezer Oliphant (another Gask son) a goldsmith and the then Oliphant of Condie later bought back and reinstated them at Gask. The Lord Oliphant had lost his lands and was unable to support Prince Charlie.


Ardblair Castle near Blairgowrie in Perthshire is a Blair seat and not Oliphant per se but is where the preponderance of most Oliphant portraits and artefacts (and some of Bonnie Prince Charlie's clothing and a lock of his hair) now are.

The Peerage of Scotland - 1716 by George Crawfurd, Esq, printed for the author: sold by George Stewart, recites that David O went to England with David I...

The Peerage of Scotland - 1813 by Sir George Douglas of Glenbervie, printed by George Ramsay and Company for Archibald Constable and Company, Edinburgh: Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, and Brown; White, Cochrane, and Co.: John Murray; and Richard Rees, London .....recites that David was godson to David The Baronage of Angus and the Mearns - 1855 by David Macgregor Peter

Jacobite Lairds of Gask - 1870 by T.L. Kington-Blair-Oliphant published for the Grampian Club by Charles Griffin & Co, , Stationer's Hall Court, London

The Oliphants in Scotland - 1879 printed for T.L. Oliphant of Gask by Robert Anderson, Glasgow ... gives a large selection of the Gask charters now in the National Library of Scotland...

The Scots Peerage - 1886 by W. Maitland Thompson

Oliphants of Gask - 1910 by E. Maxtone Graham published in London by James Nisbet & Co, 22 Berners Street and printed at Edinburgh Press, 9 and 11 Young Street

TL Kington-Blair-Oliphant began to write in 1870s just after the 30 year court case into who should inherit Gask - it was left to the last laird's heir male before the heir whomsoever Condie was not only an heir male - he had rebought Gask for that branch after its confiscation following the Rising.  Thus, TL's opinions on the relationship between him and Condie may differ from ours......... but (the Norwegian vs. Norman origins apart,) on more general matters, we agree.

(NB) The name Laurence used as a first name is spelt with a 'U', both in practice and from reference to the documents.



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