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The Scottish Nation

BONAR, a surname belonging to a family of French origin, which settled in Scotland in the reign of King William the Lion. According to an ancient family tradition, the name was originally Bonares, and was first assumed by a valvassor of Aquitaine, named Guilhem le Danois, claiming descent from the Danish Vikingrs, who, in 842, sailed up the Loire, and founded a colony at Angers. A band of Pagan Northmen which he had defeated, during one of the many invasions to which France in those times was subjected, had intrenched themselves with their booty in the Abbey of St. Blaise sur Loire, to which he set fire, and for this act he was blamed by many at court as having been guilty of sacrilege, but the then king of France approved of what he had done, and turning to his accusers, exclaimed, in the rude Latin of the period, “Bona res! Bona res! Conspecta Dei et Regis!” “A good thing, a good thing, in the eyes of God and the King!” in consequence of which he was thenceforth called Guilhem de Ronares, an appellation which descended as a patronymic to his race. In the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, the name in Scotland was written Bonare and frequently Bonares; and afterwards, with a circumflex, Bonár; but the accent is now placed on the first instead of the last syllable.

Sir Guilhem (or William) de Bonare, the first of the family who came to Scotland, before 1200 received from William the Lion, a grant of lands in Perthshire, to be held of the crown in fief, to which he gave his own name, yet borne by the village of Bonar, situated at the foot of a hill, on the summit of which are the ruins of Castle Bonar, the donjon or keep being the only portion now remaining. Although the barony has long since passed into other hands, it still continues to be a saying amongst the peasantry that “the auld tower will stand till the Bonares come back.”

Sir Guilhem was succeeded by his son, William, who was living about 1230, in the reign of King Alexander the Second. The son of the latter, William-Roger de Bonar, took the cross, in 1248-9, and joined the sixth crusade with the other Scottish knights, whom Alexander the Third sent to Palestine, to fight under the banner of St. Louis. He was a knight of the Sacred and Military Hospitalier Order of the Holy Sepulchre. He returned from the Holy Land in 1254-5. He is known to have had two sons, viz., William, his successor, and John of Laindes, who went to Flanders, and was progenitor of several lines which flourished both in that country and in Sweden, Poland, Moravia, Silesia, and Breslau. Morley, in his ‘Grand Dictionaire Historique,’ thus mentions them, “Bonar, famille noble en Ecosse, dont plusieurs branches se sont establies en Flandres, en Swede, en Pologne, et en autres pays de l’Europe.”

In the Supplementary Volume of Burke’s ‘Landed Gentry of Great Britain and Ireland,’ a very full account is given of the family of Bonar, in relation to the Bonares of Bonare, Kelty, Kilgraston and Kimmerghame, and from it we extract the following passage: “Of all the continental branches, the most illustrious were the Polish lines, which rose to great importance, and filled the highest offices in that kingdom, holding the dignities of Lord High Chancellor, of Earl-seneschal, or Burgrave-palatin of Cracow, of Prime Minister of the Crown, of Premier lay senator of Poland, of Lord-chief-governor, or Magnus Gubernator, of Lord high treasurer, of Lord President of the States, or Tavernisocum Regalium Magister, of Grand Master of the Mint and Mines. They were also invested with the rank and title of Starosts, or earls of the kingdom of Poland, and of Barons of the Holy Roman Empire, (which last dignity was possessed by all the other Continental branches of this family,) and produced several prelates eminent both by their learning and piety, of whom the two most conspicuous were Theobald, of the Silesian branch, (issued from a younger son of John, lord high treasurer of Poland, temp. King Sigismund I.,) who was General of the Franciscans; and still greater luster has been shed on the name by the virtues and piety of St. John-Isajah de Bonare, patron-saint of Casimirowna, who, dying in odour of sanctity, in 1473, was canonized, and is recorded in the calendar on the 8th of February, as appears in the Acts of the Ballandists. This eminent personage was brother of John de Bonare, lord high chancellor of Poland, temp. King Casimir IV. The four most illustrious descendants of this family on the Continent, and all descended from John of Laindes, were, 1st. Jehan de Bonare (of the Flemish line) Roth magister of the armies of France, who signalized himself by the victory gained over the English in 1337; 2d. St. John-Isajah de Bonare, patron saint of Casimirowna; 3d. John de Bonare, Starost of Zator, Rabzstym, and Oezwyecin, Baron of Biecin, and of the Holy Roman Empire, Premier lay senator of Poland, Burgrave Palatin of Cracow, and Magnus Gubernator, in 1550, who married his daughter to John de Firley, Heritable Grand-marshal and Palatin of Poland, elected king in 1572, but resigned in favour of King Henry de Valois; this lady is said by Mismiez to have carried a considerable portion of the possessions of the family of Bonar into the house of Firley, by her marriage; 4. John de Baner (of the Swedish line), Field-marshal and Generalissimo of the Northern League, in 1640.” It is thought by Swedish writers that the knightly house of Baner in Sweden, on whose name the celebrated field-marshal has thrown such luster, derive their origin, name and arms from the Bonar family above alluded to, and that their name of Baner, as it were Banner, is deduced from the two banners added to their arms by the king of France, in commemoration of the signal victory gained by Messire-Jehan de Bonare over the English.

William Bonare, the elder son of William-Roger, the Crusader, held the office of royal seneschal of the castle of Kinghorn, then called Kyngshorne, at the time of the death, in its immediate neighbourhood, of Alexander the Third, who, by the stumbling of his horse, was thrown over a high rock, now called King’s Crag, and killed, in 1285-6, an event, in its consequences, most calamitous to Scotland.

His son and successor, William Bonare of Bonare, is mentioned in the chamberlain’s Rolls as royal seneschal of Kinghorn, in the reign of Robert the First. He had been a staunch adherent of Sir William Wallace, and fought at Bannockburn in 1314, under the banner of Robert the Bruce.

His only son, William Robert Bonare, was royal seneschal of Kinghorn in the reigns of Robert the First and David the Second, as appears from mention made of him in the Chamberlains’ Rolls, fol. 157, ann. 1328, and again fol 167, ann. 1329, and fol. 192, ann. 1330. In the second of these records the name is written Boner, which is the only instance in Scotland of the orthography so constantly occurring on the continent. He fought at the battle of Halidon Hill in 1333, and was killed at the battle of Durham in 1346, as appears from the mention in the chamberlain’s rolls, fol. 309, of a payment made to his widow, in which he is styled not seneschal but “Constabularius de Kyngshorne, qui mortuus est sub vexillo dominij nostril Regis;” and notice is likewise taken of a sum of monies paid to him by order of the king, a short time before that disastrous battle, in which the king was taken prisoner. By Margaret, his wife, of the family of Wemyss of Wemyss, he had two sons; John, his heir, and James, of Bonarton, founder of that line, which continued for about three hundred years, and ancestor of other branches which, in the sixteenth century, flourished in Poland and Silesia.

His son and successor, John Bonar, was at the murderous siege of Caerlaverock Castle, in 1355, when this fortress, with the castle of Dalswinton, was taken from the English, by Roger Kirkpatrick of Closeburn, who remained faithful amidst the general defection of the nobles, and preserved the whole territory of Nithsdale in allegiance to the Scottish crown. John Bonar of Bonare was still living in 1380. He married Anne, of the Ramsays of Dalhousie, and left three sons, viz., William, his heir; James, of Rossie, in Fife, founder of the Rossie Bonars, and of other lines. Of the first was William, fourth baron of Rossie, who, during the thirty years’ war, went to Sweden, having, previous to his departure, received from King Charles the Second a birth-brief, given under the great seal of Scotland, 14th June, 1670, in which, after authenticating eight degrees and sixteen quarters on either side, both paternal and maternal, his majesty was pleased to recommend him to the good graces of the Swedish monarch, “as a gentleman eminent alike by the nobility of his blood and his own valour.” In Sweden he rose to high military rank. He married the Countess Elizabeth de Grammont-Brossart-vander-Decken, whose family had the honour of being allied to the royal house of Sweden, and from him sprung the lines of the barons de Bonare in Bremen and Silesia. From the line of Rossie also derived the barons of Cairnbuddy in Scotland, who held their lands immediately from the crown; also, the lairds of Bonarfield, of whom David, the first, was killed at Flodden; the lairds of Balgershaw, and the lairds of Easter Rossie, of whom John, the first laird, was killed at Flodden; with the legitimated line of Colty, and the lines of the lairds of Forgandenny and Cowbyres. The third son of Sir John de Bonare was named John. He was the progenitor of the family of Friarton, of which James, the first laird, was killed at Flodden.

The eldest son, William Bonar of Bonare, was the first of this family designated of Kelty, which afterwards became the chief barony of the family. He served in the French wars under the earl of Buchan, son of the first duke of Albany, who led a body of Scottish knights to the assistance of the dauphin against the English, and, under the bold bastard of Orleans, gained the victories of Benugé in 1421, and of Verneuil in 1424. After his return to Scotland, Bonar appeared in arms at the battle of Arbroath, in 1445, and again, at Sauchieburn, in 1448, with his sons by his side. By his marriage with Christian, of the Balfours of Burleigh (whose namesake and kinswoman had married William Bonar of Rossie, kinsman and namesake of this baron), he left four sons, viz., John, his heir; William, of Kelty, who died in 1478, leaving three sons, of whom the eldest, Ninian, succeeded to the representation of the family; Robert of Strathy Bonar, ancestor of the Bonars of Strathy and Coulie, both extinct; and James, of Bonahalffe, who married Anne, daughter of Inglis of Tarvat, and had with another son, William, of Drumdowane, a successor, John, of Kilgraston, a descendant of whom became eventually chief of the house of Bonar.

William Bonar of Kelty died in 1469, and was succeeded by his eldest son, John Bonar. He assisted at a grand tournament at Falkland, in which, amongst other sports, a combat of the king’s lions and leopards was to be shown. One huge lion broke from his den and rushed towards the queen’s tribune, when Bonar of Kelty, seizing a piece of flesh provided for the feeding of the animals, flung himself before it, thus turning its attention upon himself, and then killed it with his dagger; in commemoration of which bold feat, the king granted to him a chief on his coat of arms, charged with a lion rampant, encountered by two hands clad in steel gauntlets, of which the sinister bears a piece of animal flesh, and the dexter a poniard. Buchanan records this John Bonar of Kelty, amongst the barons who signed the act of settlement of the Crown of Scotland in favour of Prince John of Scotland, duke of Albany, and his heirs, failing the king’s issue, in 1477. He had likewise signed the demand of Prince Alexander of Scotland, duke of Albany, father of the said Prince John, for a divorce from his duchess Catherine Sinclair, daughter of the earl of Orkney and Caithness, lord high chancellor of Scotland. He married Margaret, of the Setons of Parbroath, by whom he had an only son, Ninian, who died in infancy, and he was succeeded by his nephew, Ninian, above mentioned, eldest son of William of Kelty, and grandson of William of Bonare. Sir Ninian was created a knight banneret on the field of Sauchieburn in 1488, in which he is said to have saved the life of Prince James, afterwards James the Fourth, by whose side he was killed at Flodden, 9th September 1513. He married before 1505, Margaret Oliphant, Lady of Dron, sole daughter and heretrix of John Oliphant of Dron, Dumbarney, Pitcaithly, and Binzean, a descendant in the direct male line of Walter Oliphant of Aberdalgyn, Gask, &c., by Princess Elizabeth of Scotland, daughter of King Robert the First. By his wife he had three sons, of whom Walter, the eldest, succeeded him. Besides these, he had a natural son, Andrew, of Pitcairns, ancestor of that line, and Janet, both legitimated after the death of their father, by charter under the great seal of Scotland, 24th June 1529. Sir Ninian had led eight of his kinsmen, with their followers, besides his eldest son, under his banner, to the fatal field of Flodden, and five of them were left dead on the field by his side.

The eldest son, Sir Walter Bonar, received a charter granted by King James the Fifth under the great seal of Scotland, 5th March, 1525, according to which “his heritable barony of Kelty was to be holden by him and his heirs male immediately of the king and his successors in free barony.” Having a feud with Andrew Rollo of Dunerub, ancestor of Lord Rollo, and Godfrey Wilson, he attacked them in the parish church of Dunning, and wounded the latter, for which act of violence he succeeded in obtaining a remission under the great seal of Scotland, 28th January 1526-7. He married Beatrice, of the Hays of Errol, by whom he had a daughter, Isabel, married to Charles, of the Rutherfords of Fairnilee, and two sons, William his successor, and John of Trevor, who married Margaret Colville of the Culross family, and had, with other issue, a son and heir, James of Trevor, from whom derived also the Bonars of Boghall, of Nether Cultuquhaire, and of Eyemouth; with the legitimated line of Kinclady, founded by his natural son, John, of Kinclady, legitimated under the great seal of Scotland, 18th January, 1586.

Sir Walter resigned his barony into the queen’s hands, by deed dated at Kelty, 23d February 1535, in favour of his son, William Bonar, who fought at the battle of Pinkie in 1547. William’s son, Ninian, received from King James the Sixth a grant of the island of North Ronaldshay, and investiture, per charter under the great seal, 27th July, 1591. Having no male issue, he resigned the barony by act dated at Kelty, 28th November, 1610, in favour of his brother, Robert Bonar. The last baron of Kelty, William Bonar, great-grandson of this Robert, died in December, 1691, without issue, when his kinsman, John Bonar, the sixth proprietor of Kilgraston, became the chief of the family. He was the eldest son of John, fifth laird of Kilgraston, and Agnes, daughter and heir of Laurence Graham of Callander, a scion of Montrose, and in right of his mother representative and heir of line of Graham of Callander. He died in 1694, and was succeeded by his son, John Bonar, born 16th January 1670, married 16th December 1693, Grizzel, daughter of Gilbert Bennett of Beath, by whom he had seven children, all of whom except two, John the eldest, and Andrew, died young. During the troubles of those days he was subjected to persecution for his attachment to Presbyterianism. He was settled in the parish of Torphichen in 1693, and continued in that charge till his death, 7th August 1747, a period of fifty years. He was known as one of the twelve Marrow men, and was the intimate friend of Ebenezer and Ralph Erskine. His third son, Andrew, was founder of the Bonars of Camden and Elmstead, in the county of Kent, England. By a disposition dated at Kilgraston, 23d October 1696, he conveyed his tenandry of Kilgraston, with the castle, manor, and lands thereof, to his cousins, Oliphant of Carssow, Oliphant of Cultuquhaire, Murray of Auchtertyre, and Craigie of Dumbarny, in mortgage, under reversion and reservation of free regress and ingress to said tenandry of Kilgraston, to his heir-male.

His eldest son, John, bore the designation of titular of Kilgraston. He was born at Torphichen 25th July 1696, and became a minister. He was settled in the parishes of Fetlar and North Zell in Shetland in the year 1729, and died there in 1752. He was distinguished as a classical scholar and well acquainted with the Oriental languages. One of his descendants, Thomson Bonar, became connected with an extensive mercantile house in Russie, which still bears the name, -- and, along with his wife, was murdered by their valet in London, in June 1813. Another of the sons of John Bonar, named Andrew, was born in March 1734, married Patience Redmore, by whom he left two sons, James and William, and a daughter, Anne, who married the Rev. Archibald Bonar, minister of Cramond. The eldest son of John Bonar of Fetlar was John, the last titular of Kilgraston. He was born 4th November 1721, -- became a minister, -- was ordained at Cockpen 22d August 1746, -- translated to Perth in January 1756, and died there 21st December 1761. He was the author of several religious publications, one of which, entitled ‘Observations on the Conduct and Character of Judas Iscariot,’ has been frequently reprinted. His eldest son, also John Bonar, born in 1747, on the abolition of the feudal system of Scotland relinquished the qualification of titular of Kilgraston, which his father had borne. He was eminent in his day for his profound knowledge of the Revenue laws, united with an acute discernment in the application of them. In 1764, while at the university of Edinburgh, he and five other students, namely, Mr. William Creech, the bookseller; Mr. John Bruce, afterwards professor of logic there; Henry Mackenzie, author of the ‘Man of Feeling;’ and Mr. Belches, afterwards of Invermay; with the view of mutual improvement in public speaking, originated the debating club, called the Speculative Society, which still flourishes. He was secretary of the society from its institution till November 1771. On 8th February of that year he received an unanimous vote of thanks for his zeal and attention to the interests of the society. He read in all fourteen essays to the society, his last in 1775, indicating an attendance of more than eleven years. He afterwards became solicitor of excise. The minister, Lord Melville, and the board of Treasury placed great confidence in his judgment in questions of revenue. He was author of a pamphlet entitled ‘Consideration on the proposed application to His Majesty and Parliament for the establishment of a Licensed Theatre in Edinburgh,’ printed in 1767. He died in 1807, unmarried.

The second son of John Bonar of Perth, Andrew Bonar, with his immediate younger brother, Alexander, was partner of the banking house of Ramsays, Bonars, &c. In 1792 he acquired the property of Warriston in the neighbourhood of Edinburgh, and, in 1818, purchased the estate of Kimmerghame in Berwickshire. He died 5th August 1825. He was succeeded in the estate of Kimmerghame by his eldest son, John, born in 1793, and died, unmarried, in July 1834. His brother James, one of the partners of the firm of Small, Colquhoun & Co., merchants, London, succeeded him. The latter married Mary, daughter of Sir Patrick Murray of Ochtertyre. In 1846 he sold the estate of Kimmerghame to Miss Campbell of Blythswood. One of his brothers, William, born in 1797, married Lilias, daughter of Alexander Cunnigham, Esq. of Craigends; issue, one daughter; another, Andrew, born in 1802, married in 1833, Marcelline, daughter of M’Donell of Glengarry; issue, two sons and two daughters.

The third son of John Bonar of Perth was Alexander Bonar, who was born 22d February 1750, married Sarah M’Cull, daughter of John M’Cull, merchant in Glasgow, died in April 1820. He was a partner in the house of Ramsays, Bonars, & C., and was proprietor first of Rosebank, on which a part of Edinburgh is now built – then of Craighall, in the neighbourhood of Edinburgh, and subsequently purchased in 1818 the estate of Ratho, situated about eight miles west of Edinburgh. He left five daughters and one son, named John, who succeeded him in the estate of Ratho, and died unmarried in 1838. The estate of Ratho afterwards passed (in 1844) into the hands of the late Robert Cadell, Esq., the publisher of Sir Walter Scott’s works, and subsequently into the possession of Ord Ewing, Esq., a Glasgow merchant.

Archibald, third son of John Bonar of Perth, was minister of Cramond, and died in 1816, leaving two sons and several daughters. One of his sons, named John, was also a minister of the Church of Scotland.

The fourth son of John Bonar was Thomson Bonar, merchant in Edinburgh, who in 1792 married a daughter of Mr. Andrew Bell, engraver, proprietor of the original Encyclopedia Britannica. After his father-in-law’s death he purchased from his executors the entire property of this work, and carried on the printing of it at the Grove, Fountainbridge. He had two daughters and three sons, -- John, Andrew, and Thomson. His wife died in 1806, and he married a second time, Mary Lawrie, by whom he had three daughters, -- the eldest of whom married the Rev. Robert Burns, D.D., Paisley, subsequently professor of Church History and Evidences of Christianity, Knox’s college, Toronto, Thomson Bonar died in July 1814.

The sixth son of John Bonar of Perth was James Bonar, solicitor of excise, who was married to Marjory Maitland in 1797, and died in March 1821, leaving five sons and three daughters. He was distinguished for great literary attainments, and was the author of a disquisition on the origin of the Greek Preposition, published in the Royal Society’s Transactions, and of several articles in Dr. Brewster’s Edinburgh Encyclopedia. He was the great promoter of the Astronomical Institution in Edinburgh, as well as of several other literary and benevolent institutions. Three of his sons became ministers.

The Bonars of Gregston, in Fifeshire, derived from the Bonars of Lumquhat, in the parish of Collessie, in that county. The family was founded by Harry Bonar of Gregston, second son of John Bonar, second proprietor of Lumquhat, and great-grandson of William Bonar of Kelty, who died in 1478. In 1723, Grahame of Gorthie, who married his cousin, Margaret, only child of Robert Bonar of Gregston, by his wife, Margaret Trail of the Trails of Skayll, succeeded, in his wife’s right, to the estate, when he assumed the name and arms of Bonar in addition to his own, and Grahame-Bonar became the name of the proprietor of Gregston.

It is stated in a note to Burk’s account of this family, that the surname was, at one period, so numerous in Scotland that no less than thirty-seven different lines of Bonars are to be found upon record, each styled by their territorial designation.

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