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The Scottish Nation

CHISHOLME, a surname derived from the Norman French chesé, to choose, and the Saxon holme. the family who first bore it in Scotland possessed lands in Roxburghshire and Berwickshire so early as the reign of Alexander III. The chief of the name was Chisholme of Chisholme in the former county, of whom Chisholme, now of Stirches, also in Roxburghshire, is the direct heir male and representative.  In the Ragman Roll appear the names of Richard de Cheseholme, counte de Rokesbrugh, and his son, John de Chesholme. The son of the latter, Sir Robert Chisholme, married in 1335, Ann, daughter and heiress of Sir Robert Lauder of Quarrelwood, county of Nairn, and constable of the royal castle of Urquhart in Inverness-shire. In 1346, he was taken prisoner with David II., at the battle of Durham. In 1364, he succeeded his father-in-law as constable of Urquhart castle, and died in 1372. His eldest son, John, succeeded to the border estate and the lands of Quarrelwood in Nairnshire, while his second son, Alexander, married Margaret de la Ard, heiress of Erchless, and founded the family of Erchless and Strathglass, in Inverness-shire. He is mentioned in a deed of date 1368, as comportioner, along with Lord Fenton, in the barony of Ard, and was succeeded by his son, Thomas, as appears by an indenture, dated 1403, entered into between William de Fenton of Baky on the one part, and Margaret de la Ard, domina de Erchless, and Thomas de Chisholme, her son and heir, on the other part. This Thomas died without issue. His brother, Alexander, who succeeded him, had only daughters, who conveyed the estate into other families by marriage, and so the family of Chisholme of Strathglass came to an end. William, the third son, was treasurer of Moray. John, the eldest son, had three sons: John; Robert, who succeeded John; and Edmund, founder of the house of Cromlix, after mentioned. John’s only daughter, Morella, married Alexander Sutherland of Duffus, who got with her Quarrelwood and other lands in Nairnshire. Robert’s great-grandson, John Chisholme, tenth of that ilk, forfeited the estate during the minority of James V.; but in 1531, it was restored to his brother George, by Douglas of Drumlanrig, to whom it had been granted. His son, Walter, is styled baron of Chisholme in the parliamentarian roll of chieftains, anno 1587. He was succeeded, in 1589, by his eldest son, Walter, whose son, also named Walter, a minor on his father’s death, married a lady named Stirling, against the will of his guardian and feudal superior, Douglas of Drumlanrig. As the lands held from the latter by the old feudal tenure of ward of marriage, he became liable in a fine of 5,600 merks Scots, and failing to pay it the estates were attached and lost to the family. He had two sons, Walter and William. The former acquired the estate of Stirches from Thomas Scott of Whitslade in 1660. His eldest son, William, the second of Stirches, was succeeded by his eldest son, John (died in 1755), whose son, also named John, was succeeded in 1794, by his third son, Gilbert, the elder two having predeceased him. By his second wife, Elizabeth, second daughter of John Scott, Esq. of Whitehaugh, Gilbert had two sons and two daughters, and died in 1820. The eldest on, John Chisholme, the sixth of Stirches and twentieth in descent from Richard de Chisholm, married in 1840, Margaret, eldest daughter and coheiress of Robert Walker, Esq. of Mumrills, Stirlingshire, with issue. On succeeding, in 1852, to the lands of Whitehaugh, he assumed the name of Scott Chisholme.


      The modern clan CHISHOLM in Inverness-shire, though claiming to be of Celtic origin, are, it is probable, descended from one of the northern collaterals of the original family of Chisholme of Chisholme in Roxburghshire, and cannot be traced farther back than the reign of James IV., when a Wiland de Chesholm obtained a charter of the lands of Comer, dated 9th April 1513. At a later period they obtained a gift of the lands of Erchless and others. In 1587, the chiefs on whose lands resided “broken men,” were called upon to give security for their peaceable behaviour, among whom appears “Cheisholme of Cummer.” After the battle of Killiecrankie, in 1689, Erchless castle, the seat of the chief, was garrisoned for King James, and General Livingstone, the commander of the government forces, had considerable difficulty in dislodging the Highlanders. In 1715, Ruari, or Roderick MacIan, the chief, signed the address of a hundred and two chiefs and heads of houses to George the First, expressive of their attachment and loyalty, but no notice being taken of it, he engaged very actively in the rising under the earl of Mar; and at the battle of Dunblane, the clan was headed by Chisholm of Crocfin, an aged veteran, for which the estates of the chief were forfeited and sold. IN 1727, he procured, with several other chiefs, a pardon under the privy seal, and the lands were subsequently conveyed, by the then proprietor, to Roderick’s eldest son, who entailed them on his heirs male. In 1745, this chief joined the standard of the Pretender with his clan, and Colin, his youngest son, was appointed colonel of the clan battalion. Lord President Forbes thus states the strength of the Chisholms at that period. “Chisholms – Their chief is Chisholm of Strathglass, in Gaelic called Chisallich. His lands are held of the crown, and he can bring out two hundred men.:” At the battle of Culloden, William Chisholm, a near kinsman of the chief, was flag-bearer of the clan. He fought long and manfully; and even after the retreat had become general, he rallied and led his clansmen again and again to the charge. A body of the Chisholms ultimately sought shelter in a barn, which was soon surrounded by hundreds of the soldiers of the royal army, but William Chisholm cut his way through them until he was shot by some Englishmen. His widow, Christiana Fergusson, a native of the parish of Contin, Ross-shire, where her father was a blacksmith, composed a beautiful lament for him in Gaelic, “Cumha do dh’ Uilleam Siseal,’ which is still popular in the Highlands. One of the seven outlaws who sheltered Prince Charles in a cave in the Braes of Glenmoriston, during his wanderings after the battle of Culloden, was a Chisholm, who, with another of the men named Grant, safely conveyed him to the coast of Arisaig, resisting the temptation of thirty thousand pounds offered for his capture. From this man, Hugh Chisholm, who afterwards resided for many years in Edinburgh, Mr. Home obtained some of his information for his account of the Rebellion. Sir Walter Scott knew him personally, and in his Tales of a Grandfather gives some interesting details respecting him, but too long for insertion here, besides being somewhat inflated, and probably in part apocryphal.

      Alexander Chisholm, chief of the clan, who succeeded in 1785, left an only child, Mary, married to James Gooden, Esq., London, and dying in 1793, the chiefship and estates, agreeably to the deed of entail, devolved on his youngest brother, William, who married Elizabeth, eldest daughter of Duncan MacDonnell, Esq. of Glengarry, and left two sons and one daughter. On his death in 1817 he was succeeded by the elder son, Alexander William, once member of parliament for Inverness-shire, who died, prematurely, in September 1838, and of whose amiable life an interesting memoir has been published. “His eminent classical and scientific attainments,” says the writer of the account of the parish of Kilmorack, in the Statistical Account of Scotland, “graced and sanctified by his unostentatious and unfeigned piety, rendered him peculiarly fitted for the honourable situation of representative of his native county in parliament. To that situation he was called at an early period of his life, but death cut shirt his career almost in its commencement.” He was succeeded by his brother, Duncan MacDonnell Chisholm, who died in London 14th September 1858, aged 47, when the estate devolved on the descendants of Archibald Chisholm, eldest son of Chisholm of Muckrath.

      The prefix “The’ is employed occasionally and appropriately by the chiefs of clans who use the name Mac or Magnus, as The Macnab, The MacGregor, meaning the chiefs of the clans Nab and Gregor. It is also used in the same sense by the head of an Irish family, viz. “The O’Connor Don;” the Spanish adjunct Don, Dominus, or Lord, having the same meaning. “The Chisholm” is the only instance of its use without the accompanying term of headship. An old chief of the clan Chisholm once not very modestly said that there were but three persons in the world entitled to it – ‘the pope, the king, and the Chisholm.’

      One of the chiefs of this clan having carried off a daughter of Lord Lovat, placed her on an islet in Loch Bruirach, where she was soon discovered by the Frazers, who had mustered for the rescue. A severe conflict ensued, during which the young lady was accidentally slain by her own brother. A plaintive Gaelic song records the sad calamity, and numerous tumuli mark the graves of those who fell.


      The once great family of Chisholme of Cromlix, sometimes written Cromleck, in Perthshire, which for above a century were hereditary bailies and justiciaries of the ecclesiastical lordship of Dunblane, and furnished three bishops to that see, but which is now extinct, was also descended from the border Chisholmes; the first of that family, Edmund Chisholme of Cromlix, early in the fifteenth century, being the son of Chisholme of Chisholme in Roxburghshire, who also possessed the estate of Tindale in England, He married, first, Margaret Sinclair, a widow, a daughter of the house of Dryden, and the mother of Sir John Ramsay of Balmain, the unworthy favourite of James the Third, afterwards for a time Lord Bothwell. By this lady he had two sons, James, of whom afterwards, and Thomas. He married, secondly, Janet, daughter of James Drummond of Coldoch, brother of John Lord Drummond, and by her he had two sons, Sir James, who succeeded him, and William, bishop of Dunblane, and also three daughters.

      His elder son, by the first marriage, James Chisholme, was chaplain to James the Third, and having been sent by that monarch to Rome, was by Pope Innocent the Eighth made bishop of Dunblane in 1486, but was not consecrated till the following year. In his old age, after having been forty years in the see, he resigned it in the year 1527, in favour of his half-brother, William Chisholme, above mentioned, retaining the administration of the fruits of his bishopric, and died in 1534.

      Sir James Chisholme, the elder son of the second marriage, succeeded his father, as second laird of Cromlix. He married Lady Catherine Grahame, sister of the third earl of Montrose, and by her had three sons and four daughters. His eldest son, Sir James, succeeded him. William, the second son, succeeded his uncle William, as bishop of Dunblane; and Alexander, the third son, was parson of Comrie. William Chisholme, the youngest son of Edmund Chisholme, and full brother of the first Sir James, was consecrated bishop of Dunblane in April 1527. He was a great opponent of the Reformation, and alienated the episcopal patrimony of his see to a considerable extent. Most of it he gave to his nephew, Sir James Chisholme of Cromlix, but large portions of it were also bestowed on James Chisholme of Glassengall, his own natural son, and on his two natural daughters, one of whom was married to Sir James Stirling of Keir, and the other to John Buchanan of that ilk. He died in 1564. His nephew, William Chisholme, was, in June 1561, by papal brief, constituted coadjutor and successor to him in the see of Dunblane. This nephew was much employed by Mary queen of Scots in public affairs, and was one of the commissioners for the divorcing of the earl of Bothwell from Lady Jane Gordon, previous to the marriage of that nobleman with the queen. He dilapidated what his uncle had left of the revenues of his bishopric, and was forfeited for noncompliance with the new measures both in church and state. Retiring into France, he was made bishop of Vaison, and in his old age he resigned that see in favour of his nephew, also named William Chisholme, and became a friar at Grenoble. He died at Rome.

      Sir James Chisholme, the third laird of Cromlix, married Jean Drummond, daughter of Sir John Drummond of Inverpeffray, by his wife, Lady Margaret Stuart, widow of Lord Gordon, and daughter of King James the Fourth. By this lady he had four sons and four daughters. Sir James, the eldest, succeeded him. William, the second son, was born at Inverpeffray, Marcy 11, 1551, and was educated in France. On his uncle’s resigning his see in his favour, he became bishop fo Vaison. John Chisholme, the third son, born at Dunblane in August 1557, lived chiefly in France, and was the secret agent of the king of Spain and the duke of Parma with the Scottish Catholic lords, of whom mention is made infra. Thomas Chisholme, the fourth son, whose name in old documents is spelled Cheeseholm, was portioner of Butter-Gask, and died without heirs. The eldest daughter, Jean, was married to James Drummond, second son of David Lord Drummond, and by her he got the lands of Inverpeffray, which were her mother’s portion. He first bore the title of Lord Inchaffray, being commendator of that abbacy, but was, in 1607, created Lord Maderty, a title merged in 1711, in the viscounty of Strathallan, the second title of which is Lord Drummond of Cromlix. [See STRATHALLAN, Viscount of.] Helen, the second daughter, was married to Charteris of Kinfauns; Margaret, the third, to Mushet of that ilk; and Agnes, the youngest, to Napier of Merchiston.

      Sir James Chisholme, eldest son of Sir James, the fourth laird of Cromlix, was born at Muthil, 10th September 1550. The first Lord Balmerinoch, principal secretary of state in Scotland, on his trial in 1608, for high treason, for sending a letter to the Pope, in his majesty’s name, without his authority confessed that, in 1598, he had written to his holiness, in the king’s name, for a cardinal’s hat for the bishop of Vaison (William Chisholme, secundus). Lord Balmerinoch was a connection of the Cromlix family, and hence the interest he took in their advancement. Robertson in his History of Scotland, and Douglas in his Peerage, erroneously call this bishop Drummond, a very natural mistake, as the Chisholmes and Drummonds were very nearly connected by frequent intermarriages, but he was William Chisholme, second of the name and surname. It was also stated, on that occasion, by the lord privy seal, that, in 1588, the same bishop came to Scotland, with great offers from the Pope, that if King James made any kind of acknowledgment of him, he would have prevented the sailing of the great Armada, “and after him came Sir James Chisholme, who dealt in the same course, and because he did not prevail, he broke his heart and so died.” On the alarm of the Spanish Armada that year, the General Assembly remitted to the presbytery of Edinburgh, to summon before it certain papists and apostates, among whom was the above named John Chisholme, brother of the bishop of Vaison (William Chisholme, tertius), and son of Sir James Chisholme of Cromlix, who, in the intercepted correspondence between the duke of Parma and the Catholic lords was, for better concealment, called John Jameson, while the duke was styled “our miller.” Robert Bruce, the Roman Catholic trafficker, in his letter to the duke, intercepted in January 1589, speaks of Sir James Chisholme as the eldest brother of this John Chisholme, and with reference to the money which he had brought from the duke, he says that he would be guided by his advice in the disposal of it, “for he is a man confident and wise, and one upon our part, and very little suspected.” [Calderwood’s History, vol. v. p. 22.] Sir James married dame Anna Bethune, daughter of the laird of Creich, and by her he had his successor, Sir James, and other children.

      The eldest son, Sir James Chisholme, styled of Dundarn and Cromlix, knight, was one of the masters of the household to King James the Sixth, and high in the favour of that monarch. Notwithstanding of his position and prospects, however, he seems to have been much mixed up with the intrigues of the Catholic lords for the overthrow of the reformed religion in Scotland; and in 1592, it was intended that he should proceed to Spain, on their part, to procure assistance for the advancement of their projects; but not being ready in time, Mr. George Kerr went in his stead. That gentleman was apprehended in the island of Cumbray, and upon him were found, besides seventeen letters of a treasonable and dangerous character, eight others, signed in blank by the earls of Huntly, Angus, and Errol, and by Gordon of Auchindown; which, on being known, created great consternation and alarm in the kingdom. An account of the discovery of this Popish plot, called the affair of the “Scottish Blanks,” has been reprinted, from a rare tract of the time, in Pitcairn’s Criminal Trials, (vol. i. p. 317,) to which the reader is referred. On February 15, 1592-3, Sir James Chisholme was denounced for not appearing to answer “touching his practising and trafficking in sundry treasonable matters against the true religion,” &c.; and at the provincial synod of Fife convened at St. Andrews, 25th September 1593, he was, with the Catholic earls, Angus, Huntly, and Errol, and Sir Patrick Gordon of Auchindown, formally excommunicated; but in 1595, on his appearing before the Assembly, which met in June of that year at Montrose, confessing his apostacy, and declaring his adherence to the reformed faith, he was released from the sentence of excommunication, and admitted a member of the reformed church.

      This Sir James Chisholme was the author of the touching and interesting love-song of ‘Cromlet’s Lilt,’ written in his youth, when absent in France, on the supposed inconstancy of his betrothed, Helen Murray, commonly called “Fair Helen of Ardoch,” daughter of William Stirling, brother of the laird of Ardoch, and grand-daughter of Murray of Strewan, one of the seventeen sons of Sir William Murray of Tullibardine, already referred to [See ATHL.]. It begins:

                        “Since all thy vows, false maid,
                              Are blown to air,
                        And my poor heart betray’d
                              To sad despair.
                        Into some wilderness
                        My grief I will express,
                        And thy hard-heartedness,
                              O cruel fair!”

And ends most pathetically,

                        “And when a ghost I am
                              I’ll visit thee;
                        O thou deceitful dame,
                              Whose cruelty
                        Has kill’d the kindest heart
                        That e’er felt Cupid’s dart,
                        And never can desert
                              From loving thee.”

      It is pleasant to know that fair Helen became, after all, the wife of Chisholme, notwithstanding her forced and unconsummated marriage with his treacherous confident, which was annulled on his return to Scotland, on the exposure of the treachery and villany of his false friend, who had kept up his letters, and prepossessed the lady against her absent lover. By her Sir James had two sons, James, and John, who both inherited the estate of Cromlix, besides several daughters. The estate afterwards became the property of General Drummond, by purchase.

      A John Chisholme, probably a member or relative of the Cromlix family, was in the reign of Queen Mary comptroller of artillery, and as such was in 1564 infefted in the extensive building, called the King’s Work, at the mouth of the harbour at Leith. The ancient buildings had shared in the general conflagration which signalized the departure of the army of Henry the Eighth of England in 1544, and they would appear to have been rebuilt by Chisholme in a most substantial and magnificent style. The following are the terms in which the queen confirms her former grant: – “Efter her heines lauchfull age, and revocation made in parliament, hir majeste sett in feu farme to hir lovite suitoure Johne Chisholme, his airis and assignais, all and haille hir landis, callet the King’s Werk in Leith, within the boundis specifit in the infeftment, maid to him thairupon, quhilkis than war alluterlie decayit, and sensyne are reparit and reedifit be the said Johnne Chisholme, to the policy and great decoratioun of this realme, in that oppin place and sight of all strangearis and uthwris resortand at the schore of Leith.” Notwithstanding the terms of this royal grant, the property of the King’s Work remained vested in the crown. [Wilson’s Memorials of Edinburgh, vol. ii. p. 144.]

CHISHOLM, ALEXANDER, an artist of considerable merit, was born at Elgin, in 1792, or 1793. He was intended by his father for the humble occupation of a weaver, for which he entertained a strong aversion. He early manifested a predilection for art, and he was accustomed, from his own untaught impulses, to sketch on the cloth on which he was occupied at the loom, all the odd figures he saw, and remarkable objects which struck him. He had been placed with a master weaver at Peterhead, and when his leisure permitted him, he used to resort to the seashore, and sketch on the sand. When about thirteen or fourteen years of age he walked from Peterhead to Aberdeen, and wandered about the streets for some time; his attention was at length arrested before a shop window by seeing some advertisement about colours. He entered the shop, introduced himself to the shopkeeper, and from him received his first lessons in light and shade. At this time there was a meeting of the Synod of Aberdeen, the members of which he was permitted to sketch; and his work gave such satisfaction that he was forthwith commissioned to paint them, but was compelled to decline doing so, from his ignorance of the use of colours. When he was about nineteen or twenty, he proceeded to Edinburgh, where he was patronized by Lord Elgin and the earl of Buchan, and was subsequently appointed an instructor at the Academy of Painting, &c. He married Miss Susanna Stewart Fraser, one of his private pupils. In 1818, he went to London, and obtained a considerable share of encouragement. His favourite style of art was history. He also painted portraits with considerable success. In the Exhibition of the Royal Scottish Academy of 1830 he had a picture very well treated, ‘Shall I fight or not/’ in that of 1843 one of ‘The Fair Maid of Perth listening to the instructions of the Carthusian Monk,’ and in that of 1847, one of a bolder character than either, ‘The Signing of the Covenant in Greyfriars Churchyard, February 28, 1638.’ The point of time in the picture is when Mr. Henderson is administering the oath, which was “taken with drawn swords in their hands and tears in their eyes.” Having suffered affliction during nine years before his death, his latter paintings do not exhibit that degree of vigour which characterized his earlier works. Mr. Chisholm died at Rothesay, in the Isle of Bute, on the 3d of October 1847.

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