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The Scottish Nation

STIRLING, a surname derived from the town of that name, and supposed to be a contraction of Striveling, that is, a place of strife or contention. The name is most probably of Celtic origin. Barbour has it written Strewelyn; Wyntoun, Strevelyn, Strivelyne, and Stryvelyne; Bellenden, Strivelyne, also Striveline, Striveling, Strevelyne, and Strevelyng. In English deeds of the reigns of Edward I., II., and III., it appears most commonly as Stryvelyn, sometimes Estrivelin. In the translation of Froissart, it is in the form of Estruleyn, and by a strange misnomer, of Esturmelyne. In ancient times, the fortress of Stirling formed a sort of boundary to the possessions of different hostile tribes, and the conjecture that it derived its name from being the object of frequent contention, is not without considerable plausibility. Stryveling, it has been said, “which was the ancient name of the plain, signifieth ‘the hill,’ or ‘rock of strife,’ to which the monkish writers seem to allude, when they give it the Latin name of Mons Dolorum.” In Irish and Gaelic, strith undoubtedly signifies strife, while linn in the Irish denotes a straight or narrow entrance, as if referring to the position of this rock, between which and the river there is only a narrow passage. Macpherson remarks that “that tract of country between the firths of Forth and Clyde has been, through all antiquity, famous for battles and rencounters between the different nations who were possessed of North and South Britain. Stirling, a town situated there, derives its name from that very circumstance. It is a corruption of the Gaelic name Strila, the hill or rock of contention.” In the Appendix to Nimmo’s History of Stirlingshire (edition 1817), the old name of Stirling is given as Strigh-lagh, meaning ‘strife of the archery.’ It is afterwards explained that the word Strile, the ancient name of Stirling, is derived from Strigh, ‘strife,’ and lagh, ‘bending the bow.’ “It could not,” it is added, “be law, the Scoto-Saxon for ‘hill,’ without violating one of the few canons of etymology.”


STIRLING, Earl of, a title in the peerage of Scotland, which, with the secondary title of Viscount Canada, was conferred, 14th June 1633, on Sir William Alexander, an eminent poet and statesman. He had previously, on 4th September 1630, been created Viscount Stirling and Lord Alexander of Tullibodie. For an account of the earls of Stirling, see ALEXANDER. When the descendants of Alexander M’Alaster – who, on settling at Menstrie, Clackmannanshire, first took the surname of Alexander – became numerous, the family, for the sake of distinction, were divided into five separate branches, all bearing the original arms and motto; but the four younger and subordinate branches were then marked off from the eldest, and from each other, by different and distinctive crests. As a matter of course, the eldest branch retained, as being the most honourable, the original crest of the family, viz., a bear sitting up erect – a distinction of which they were exceedingly proud, and which became a matter of envy and jealousy to the other branches; because it denoted the eldership and superiority over them. From this eldest branch the earls of Stirling derived their descent, and therefore “a Bear, sejant, erect, proper,” is their authorized and recorded crest; and it was their excessive pride in their possession of this, which forms the subject of that severe satire of Sir Walter Scott, in his romance of Waverley, where he so conspicuously and ludicrously parades this favourite crest of the earls of Stirling as “the Great Bear of the Barons of Bradwardine.”

On the death, without issue, of Henry, 5th earl of Stirling, in 1739, the male descendants of the 1st earl became extinct, and the earldom has since remained dormant; but the honours not being granted to him and the heirs male of his body, but, by the patent of 1643, “To himself and his heirs male for ever, bearing the name and arms of Alexander,” the title was claimed and assumed by Major-general Alexander, of the Unites States service, as the next heir, he being the only male descendant remaining of John Alexander of Gogar, the 2d son of Andrew Alexander, grandfather of the first earl. He was served heir male in 1759, and presented a petition to the king, which was referred to the House of Lords in 1760. But the Committee of Privileges in 1762 resolved that he should not possess the title until he had established it by course of law. The revolutionary war breaking out, he returned to America, and having joined the republican forces, and commanding a division, was taken prisoner at Long Island, and never returned to England to prosecute his claim. He died at Albany, near New York, in 1793, leaving two daughters, but no son. On his death the male descendants of John, the 2d brother of the father of the 1st earl, became extinct, and the representation has devolved into the line of James, the 3d brother of Alexander, father of the 1st earl, and is claimed by Arthur Alexander of Maryville, in the county of Galway, Ireland. Colonel Sir James Edward Alexander of Westerton, descended from the family of Alexander of Menstrie, ancestor of the noble family of Stirling, may also be able to establish a claim to this title.

Alexander Humphrys, calling himself Alexander, claimed the title, as descended in the female line from a son of John Alexander of Gartmore, the 4th son of the 1st earl, but it was proved by the officers of the crown that John Alexander of Gartmore had no son, and that Gartmore descended to his daughter, because there was no male heir, and at the trial of Alexander Humphrys in the high court of justiciary at Edinburgh, for forgery, in 1839, it was proved that the pretended charter of Nova Damus, granting the honours to the heirs female of the last earl, was a manifest forgery.


The principal family of the name of Stirling is considered to be that of Stirling of Keir, Perthshire. It is of great antiquity, and supposed to be descended from Walter de Strivilin, witness in a charter of Prince Henry, son of David I., of the grant of the church of Sprouston, by John, bishop of Glasgow. Robert de Strivilin is frequently a witness in charters of King William the Lion, and in those of Alexander II. Robert and Walter Strivilin are witnesses. In the reign of the latter monarch, Thomas de Strivelin was chancellor of Scotland. In the transumpt of a charter of Alexander III., the thirteenth year of his reign, to Richard de Moravia, brother of Gilbert, bishop of Caithness, of the lands of Cowbin, one of the witnesses is Thomas de Strivilin, cancellarius. (See Nisbet’s Heraldry, vol. i. p. 410.) In the Ragman Roll are several barons of the name of Strivilin, who swore fealty to Edward I. in 1292, 1296, and 1297, viz., 1. Johannes de Strivilin, miles, of Glenesk. Sir John Stirling of Glenesk had a daughter, his sole heiress, who, in the reign of David II., married Sir Alexander Lindsay, second son of David dominus de Crauford, and carried the estate of Glenesk into that family. 2. Alisandre de Strivelyne del conte de Lanerk, the head of the family of Stirling of Calder, near Glasgow, which in the reign of James V. terminated in an heiress, who, in 1535, married James Stirling of Keir. 3. Johannes de Striviling de Moravia, also designed Johannes de Strivelyn de Murriff. 4. Johannes de Striviling de Carse, Stirlingshire. Sir John Stirling of Carse favoured the cause of Edward Baliol, and, according to Dugdale, was summoned to attend the English parliament as a peer of England. His daughter and sole heiress, Marjory, married John Menteith, son of Sir Walter Menteith of Rusky, and brought him the estate of Carse. 5. William de Strivelyn. Under this name it is stated that the Stirlings of Calder “seem to be the root of all the other Stirlings, and from whom all the rest of the Stirlings in the western parts of Scotland are descended.”

On the extinction of the male line of Glenesk, the Stirlings branched off into two principal families, the Stirlings of Keir and the Stirlings of Calder. The direct line of the latter became extinct in the 16th century, though many of its branches still exist, and the estate of Calder became by marriage the property of the house of Keir. Andrew Stirling, the last laird of Calder, had an only child, Janet, whose ward and marriage James V. bestowed upon Sir James Stirling of Keir, by gift under the great seal, dated July 22, 1529. In a confirmation of the marriage contract to the archbishop of Glasgow in 1532, the young lady is called “spouse Jacobi Stirling.” She, however, eloped from him, but he retained possession of the estate, and transmitted it to his descendants.

In the reign of James VI., the proprietor of Keir was Sir Archibald Stirling, who had charge of the young Prince Henry at Stirling castle. On the 7th May 1603, after James’ departure for London, the queen went to Stirling to obtain possession of the prince, but the countess of Mar and her son and the laird of Keir would not allow the prince to go with her.

In the reigns of Charles I. and II. Sir George Stirling of Keir was a staunch royalist, and fought under Montrose. On June 11, 1641, he was apprehended with Montrose himself and Lord Napier, and committed to the castle of Edinburgh, They were released in Nov. of the same year. In 1644 he was again arrested. Sir George married Lady Elizabeth Napier, daughter of the first Lord Napier, and niece of the great Montrose.

William Stirling, Esq. of Keir, the representative of that ancient family, the only son of Archibald Stirling, Esq. of Keir, by Elizabeth, his wife, daughter of Sir John Maxwell, bart. Of Pollok, was born at Kenmure, near Glasgow, March 8, 1818, and graduated at Trinity college, Cambridge. Having visited Palestine, on his return in 1846, he printed for private circulation, a small volume entitled ‘Songs of the Holy Land.’ They were afterwards published with considerable additions in an 8vo volume, in 1848. He afterwards turned his attention particularly to the language and history of the Spanish peninsula, and in 1848, he produced a work of much research and learning, in 3 vols. 8vo, called ‘The Annals of the Artists of Spain.’ In 1852 he published ‘The Cloister Life of Charles V.’ While preparing for the latter work, he visited the convent of Yuste, the place to which “the contentious monarch” retired. At the general election of 1852 Mr. Stirling was elected M.P. for the county of Perth, and in 1855 published the Life of Velasquez, the famous Spanish painter. In October 1857, he was appointed one of a commission to inquire into the expediency of uniting the two universities of Aberdeen. In April 1861, the degree of doctor of laws was conferred upon him by the university of Edinburgh.


The Stirlings of Kippendavie, Perthshire, and Carden, Stirlingshire, are cadets of the Keir family. The ancestor of the Kippendavie branch was Archibald Stirling, son of Archibald Stirling of Keir, to whom his father gave the lands of Kippendavie by charter, dated Aug. 5, 1594.

John Stirling of Kippendavie married Mary, 2d daughter of William Graham, Esq. of Airth Castle, and had a son, Patrick, who married in 1810, Catherine Georgina, 2d daughter of John Wedderburn, Esq. of Spring Garden, Jamaica. He died March 30, 1860, leaving 2 sons and 1 daughter.

The elder son, John Stirling, Esq. of Kippendavie, J.P., born Aug. 19, 1811, married Aug. 8, 1839, Catherine Mary, only child of Rev. John Wellings by Mary Wedderburn, his wife; issue, 3 sons and 1 daughter.


The Stirlings of Ardoch in Strathallan, also a branch of the house of Keir, possessed a baronetcy of Nova Scotia, conferred 2d May 1666, but this family merged, by marriage, in that of Moray of Abercairnie, the heiress being the eldest daughter of Sir William Stirling, baronet of Ardoch.


The family of Stirling of Glorat, Stirlingshire, are said to be descended from the Stirlings of Calder. The first of the family was Sir John Stirling, armour-bearer to King James I. of Scotland, comptroller of the royal household, governor of Dumbarton castle, and sheriff of Dumbarton. He was knighted in 1430, on the baptism of the twin princes. He obtained the lands of Glorat in dowry with his wife, the daughter of the laird of Galbraith.

His son, William Stirling of Glorat, was also governor of Dumbarton castle and sheriff of Dumbarton. IN 1525, John, earl of Lennox, gave a grant of the lands of Park of Inchinnan, Renfrewshire, to William Stirling of Glorat, and Margaret Houston, his spouse. This William Stirling of Glorat is also said to have been governor of Dumbarton castle, and sheriff of Dumbartonshire.

His eldest son, George Stirling of Glorat, is likewise said to have been governor of Dumbarton Castle and sheriff of the county. It is likely, says Playfair, in a note, that he held the office of lieutenant-governor, from the earl of Lennox; and we are told that, in 1544, when there was a plan in contemplation, for annexing the Scottish crown to England, for which purpose the earl of Lennox reached Dumbarton Castle and signified to his lieutenant his desire of promoting the design, the latter refused his aid, and compelled him to leave the castle. For his fidelity he obtained an addition to his arms, consisting in a hand supporting a crown. A younger son, Andrew Stirling of Portnellan, obtained the Inchinnan lands in patrimony. His lineal heir was John Stirling of Law.

William Stirling’s son, also William Stirling of Glorat, was governor of Dumbarton Castle, by a grant of James V., under the privy seal. He was also, probably from consanguinity, appointed sole tutor and curator of the minor earl of Lennox, and Baillie of his regalities of Lennox and Glasgow.

His great-grandson, Sir Mungo Stirling of Glorat, knight, a staunch adherent of Charles I., was succeeded by his son, Sir George, who, in 1666, was created a bart. Of Nova Scotia. The Glorat family were granted an honourable additament to their arms for their loyalty to Charles I. and II.

Sir George’s son and heir, Sir Mungo, 2d bart., died in 1712.

His son, Sir James, 2d baronet, dying without issue, was succeeded by his cousin, Sir Alexander, 4th baronet. The son of John Stirling, Esq., by Elizabeth, eldest daughter and co-heir of Sir Alexander Home of Renton, he was born in 1715, and married Mary Willis of Rochester. He died in 1791.

His son, Sir John, 5th baronet, married Miss Folsome of Stratford, North America, and had a large family.

His eldest son, Sir Samuel, 6th baronet, was admitted advocate in 1808. He married in 1843, Mary Anne, only daughter of Major Robert Berrie, E.I.C.S., and died, without issue, May 2, 1858.

His nephew, Sir Samuel Home Stirling, son of Captain George Stirling, 9th regiment, then became 7th baronet. Born Jan. 28, 1830, he married, in Oct. 1854, Mary Margaret Thornton, youngest daughter of Colonel Thomas Stirling Begbie, 44th regiment, and had Mary Eleanor, and another daughter. He died Sept. 19, 1861.

His brother, Sir Charles Elphinstone Fleming Stirling, born in 1832, succeeded as 8th baronet.


The Stirlings of Faskine, Lanarkshire, are said to derive their descent from Henry, third son of David, earl of Huntingdon, brother of King William the Lion. Having been born in the town of Stirling, he assumed that name for his surname. They are lineally descended from Walter Stirling of Balquharage, Stirlingshire, a collateral branch of the Stirlings of Calder, and great-grandfather of John Stirling, lord-provost of Glasgow, born in 1640, died in 1709. His grandson, Sir Walter Stirling of Faskine, captain R.N., born 18th May 1718, commanded the Saltash sloop under Viscount Keppel, in his expedition to Goree in 1758, and served with Lord Rodney in the West Indies. He was knighted on bringing home the dispatches announcing the capture of St. Eustatia from the Dutch in 1781. Subsequently appointed commodore and commander-in-chief at the Nore, on George III. reviewing the ships under his command, his majesty offered to make him a baronet, but he declined it. He died 24th November 1786, and with a daughter, Anne, had two sons, Walter and Charles, the latter vice-admiral of the white. The elder son, Walter, born 24th June 1758, was created a baronet of the United Kingdom, 15th December 1800. He was M.P. first for Gatton and afterwards for St. Ives, Cornwall, and in 1804 high-sheriff for Kent. On his death, Aug. 26, 1832, his son, Sir Walter George Stirling, became 2d baronet. Born March 15, 1802, he married in 1835, Lady Caroline Frances Byng, daughter of the first earl of Strafford, issue, 2 sons and 2 daughters.

Anne, daughter of Sir Walter Stirling, knight, married her cousin, Andrew Stirling, Esq. of Drumpellier, Lanarkshire, with issue. Their fifth son, Rear-admiral Sir James Stirling, born in 1791, entered the navy at an early age. He commanded the Brazen in the war with America in 1812, obtained post rank in 1818, and became a vice-admiral in 1861. He was for ten years governor of Western Australia, and was knighted in 1833, on his return from establishing that colony. A junior lord of the admiralty in 1852, and subsequently commander-in-chief on the China station.


A baronetcy of the United Kingdom was conferred, 17th July 1792, on James Stirling, lord-provost of Edinburgh, to mark the royal approbation of his conduct during the riots in that city the same year. He was the son of Alexander Stirling, cloth merchant in Edinburgh, and in early life went to the West Indies, as clerk to Mr. Stirling of Keir, an extensive and opulent planter. In a short time, through the influence of his employer, he was appointed secretary to Sir Charles Dalling, governor of Jamaica. Having accumulated a considerable sum of money, he returned to Edinburgh, and became a partner in the banking house of Mansfield, Ramsay, &c. He married Miss Mansfield, daughter of the principal partner, and acquired the estate of Larbert, Stirlingshire. He died 17th February 1805. He had three sons and two daughters, Janet, Lady Livingstone of Westquarter, and Joan. The two youngest sons died in infancy. The eldest son, Sir Gilbert Stirling, succeeded a second baronet, being at that time a lieutenant in the Coldstream guards. On his death in 1843, the baronetcy became extinct.

The Stirlings of Keir and their Family Papers
By William Fraser

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