Johnstone consists of at least two distinct groups, those of Annandale in Dumfries and
Galloway, and those of Caskieben in Aberdeenshire, as well as Johnston(e)s who cannot
easily be classified as either, such as those who took their name from the former name of
Perth (St. Johnstoun) or other places called Johnston or Johnstone.
A word about pronunciation and spelling: Americans and
Canadians tend to pronounce Johnstone as "Johnstoan" and Johnston as
"Johnston", suggesting two different names. In the U.K. generally, the name is
pronounced "Johnston", no matter how it is spelled; native border Scots often
pronounce it "Jawnson."
Presently, the Chief of the entire Name spells his name
"Johnstone," and the Head of the House of Johnston of Caskieben spells his name
"Johnston." Actually, either spelling may be used by Annandale or Caskieben
clansmen, although the "e" is more common among those of Annandale. The writer
has tended to use the "e" in this short history because it is the way the Chief
of the entire Clan spells his name, and also because that is the way the writer spells his
name. The derivation of the name Johnstone is Anglo-Saxon and means "John's
settlement." The first known Johnstone was Gilbert, son of John, who received use of
a small parcel of land in southern Annandale from William Bruce, Lord of Annandale,
between 1195 and 1214. Gilbert soon was knighted and witnessed various charters as Sir
Gilbert de Joneston. Later Johnstone lairds fought the English at the Battle of Solway in
1378 and the Battle of Otterbourne in 1388.
The Johnstones of Annandale were among the most intrepid
reivers of the Scottish West March of the Borders. The tartan-clad Gaelic highlander of
popular image certainly is not a Johnstone clansman. Yet the Johnstones (Johnston,
Johnstoun, Jhonstowne, Joniston,etc.) were very much members of a tribal society. They
were also products of a brutal frontier. Centuries of border warfare and scorched-earth
campaigns, in which the Scots frequently lost all their possessions to the English, left
the borderers disinterested in growing crops. Guerilla warfare evolved into a guerilla
existence. The borderers became semi-nomadic, raiding the English and neighboring clans to
replenish the cattle and horses which were their chief form of property. The Johnstones
were excellent horsemen and, dressed in a metal helmet (steel bonnet) and reinforced
leather jacket (jack), with a long lance, cutting sword and set of pistols, a Johnstone
clansman was well adapted to his world. A monument at the Devil's Beef Tub, a vast,
sinister-looking hollow near the source of the Annan River, records that the Johnstones
used the place "to hide cattle stolen in predatory raids."
Border lairds lived in stark, square stone peel towers, three
or four stories tall, surmounted with battlements and built on inaccessible ground. The
principal stronghold of the Johnstones was Lochwood Tower, a massive, L-shaped fortress
surrounded by forest and marsh. On approaching Lochwood, King James V is said to have
remarked that "He who built it must have been a knave in his heart."
Sir Walter Scott, himself a descendant of border reivers,
portrayed the Johnstone clansmen in the Fair Maid of Perth. The language maybe dated, but
the idea still comes through:
Do you see yonder five or six men, who are riding so wildly
the other side of the river? These are Annandale men; I know
them by the length of their lances, and by the way they hold
them. An Annandale man never slopes his spear backwards, but
always keeps the point upright, or pointed forward.... If you
were in their own glens, they would use you hospitably, and
you would have nothing to fear; but now they are on an
expedition. All is fish that comes to their net. There are
amongst them who would take your life for the value of your
gold earrings. Their whole soul is settled in their eyes to
see prey, and in their hands to grasp it. They have no ears
either to hear lays of music or listen to prayers for mercy.
Elsewhere in the novel, several of the main characters happen
upon a Johnstone clansman hawking on burgh land:
Yon fellow, who stops so impudently to look at us, as if he
were engaged in the most lawful sport in the world -- I guess
him, by his trotting hobbler, his rusty head-piece with the
cock's feather, and long two-handed sword, to be the follower
of some of the southland lords -- men who live so near the
Southron that the black jack is never off their backs, and who
are as free of their blows as they are light of their fingers.
The borderer's figure is described as "gaunt and lathy,
his visage marked by two or three ill-favoured scars, and the whole man had much the air
of one accustomed to say 'stand and deliver' to atrue man." When asked his name and
what he was doing, the borderer replies:
You want to know my name? -- My name is the Devil's Dick of
Hellgarth, well known in Annandale for a gentle Johnstone. I
follow the stout Laird of Wamphray, who rides with his kinsman
the redoubted Lord of Johnstone, who is banded with the
doughty Earl of Douglas; and the Earl and the Lord, and the
Laird and I the Esquire, fly our hawks where we find our game
and ask no man whose ground we ride over. ...And take you this
to boot, to keep you in mind that you met the Devil's Dick,
and to teach you another time to beware how you spoil the
sport of any one who wears the flying spur on his shoulder.
With these words, the Devil's Dick unhorses his questioner,
places a whinger to his throat and seizes his purse! With the approach ofthe victim's
companions, the Devil's Dick makes his exit, as follows:
...Snapping his fingers, and throwing his hand out with an
of defiance, spurred his horse into a neighboring bog, through
which he seemed to flutter like a wild-duck, swinging his lure
round his head, and whistling to his hawk all the while,
though any other horse and rider must have instantly bogged up
to the saddle-girths.
The Johnstones rose to prominence and power by assisting the
King in crushing the Douglas rebellion in 1455. The Black Douglases virtually controlled
southern Scotland and were perceived as a serious threat to the Stewart dynasty. The
Johnstones fought the Black Douglases at Arkinholm in Dumfriesshire and participated in
the King's siege of Threave Castle in Kirkudbright. The Douglases were attainted, their
estates forfeited, and King James II "of the fiery face" rewarded his
supporters, including the Johnstones, with grants of former Douglas lands. Johnstone
clansmen soon spread throughout upper Annandale and into Lanarkshire. In 1542 Queen Mary
of Guise erected the lands of the Laird of Johnstone into a free barony.
The Johnstones were listed as troublemakers on the West March
in the "Roll of the clannis that hes capitanes chieffis and chiftanes quhome on thai
depend oftymes againis the willis of thair landislordis alsweill on the bordors as
hielands and some speale personis of braches of the saidis clannis" which as appended
to a 1597 Act of the Parliament of Scotland "For the quieting and keping in obedience
of the disorderit subiectis inhabitantis of the bordors hielands and Ilis." In 1578
the "nayme of Johnnstounis" appointed a council of twelve arbiters to settle
internal disputes, all under the leadership of their "chief and maister" the
Laird of Johnstone. The council consisted of Johnstones of Carnsalloch, Craigieburn,
Elsieshields, Fairholm, Fingland, Howgill, Lockerbie, Marjoribanks, Millbank, Newton,
Poldean and Wamphray. During the sixteenth century, the clan was also organized in
numerous "gangs," which changed form over time.
During the sixteenth century the Johnstones and the Maxwells
competed for primacy in the Scottish West March. Johnstone and Maxwell chiefs each served
at various times as Wardens of the Scottish West March. Their respective clans continued a
deadly blood feud for almost a century. In late 1593 John, seventh Lord Maxwell, Earl of
Morton, sometime collaborator with the Spanish armada and Warden of the Scottish West
March, assembled 2,000 armed horsemen and, displaying the King's banner, invaded the
mountainous district of Annandale, land of the Johnstones. Whatever the official reason,
Lord Maxwell's personal intention was once and for all to destroy his family's ancient
enemies and rivals for power in southwestern Scotland.
Sir James Johnstone of Dunskellie, Chief of the Johnstones,
received advance warning of the approaching army and realized that his clan would soon
have a desperate fight for continued existence. He summoned help from Grahams, Scotts,
Carrutherses, Irvings, Elliots and others, and quickly raised a force of perhaps 800.
Among those who came to the aid of the clan was the Chief's eleven-year-old kinsman,
Robert Johnstone of Raecleuch. Lord Maxwell had offered his followers a reward for the
head or hand of the Laird ofJohnstone, and Sir James in turn offered his followers a
reward for the head or hand of Lord Maxwell.
On December 6, 1593 the Maxwell army approached the Johnstone
town of Lockerbie near a place called Dryfe Sands. Sir James kept most of his men hidden,
but sent a handful of horsemen to provoke the Maxwell vanguard, then retreat. When the
vanguard broke ranks inpursuit with loud cries of victory, the main body of Johnstones
made a sudden, desperate charge, catching the Maxwells off guard and driving the
disorganized vanguard into the main force. The Johnstones then savagely pursued their
enemies into the streets of Lockerbie and into the Water of Dryfe, slaughtering some 700
of the Maxwells and slashing others with downward sword strokes which caused gruesome
facial wounds known as "Lockerbie licks."
In the midst of the carnage Lord Maxwell begged for mercy and
offered to surrender, but the Johnstones cut off his outstretched arm and slew him. It is
said that the Laird of Johnstone affixed the head and right hand of Lord Maxwell to the
battlements of Lochwood Tower as bloody trophies of the Johnstones' overwhelming victory
at the Battle of Dryfe Sands.
In 1608 a meeting was arranged for a reconciliation of Sir
James Johnstone of Dunskellie and Lord Maxwell, son of the chief who was killed at the
Battle of Dryfe Sands. Precautions were taken for each party to bring only one attendant.
During the interview, Lord Maxwell suddenly drew a pistol from under his cloak and shot
the Johnstone chief in the back with two poisoned bullets, mortally wounding him. After
escaping to France, Lord Maxwell was finally apprehended and publicly beheaded in
Edinburgh for his "murder under trust" of Sir James Johnstone of Dunskellie.
When King James VI of Scotland succeeded to the throne of
England in 1603, the border frontier became the center of a new united kingdom. The King
used his new authority to deal with the unruly border clansmen as ruthlessly as his
successors dealt with the highland clans a century and a half later. A proclamation of
1605 forbade borderers, "except nobles and gentlemen unsuspected of felony or
theft," from carrying "jacks, spears, lances, swords, daggers, steel caps,
hackbuts, pistols, platesleaves, andsuchlike." It also forbade the owning of any
horse above the value of 50 shillings sterling or 30 pounds Scots. The government deported
or executed the worst of the troublemakers, including many Johnstones. The old border
frontier ceased to exist within a few short years.
In 1633 at the coronation of King Charles I in Scotland,
James Johnstone, son of Sir James Johnstone of Dunskellie, was created a first lord of
Parliament with the designation of Lord Johnstone of Lochwood. In 1643 he became Earl of
Hartfell, Lord Johnstone of Lochwood, Moffatdale and Evandale. During the religious wars
the Earl joined the Covenanters, but later supported the royalist cause under Montrose.
The Covenantor army captured the Earl at Philliphaugh in 1645 and condemned him to death,
but later commuted the punishment to a fine of 100,000 pounds Scots. During the
Commonwealth, the Earl of Hartfell and his son were imprisoned in Edinburgh, Dumbarton and
St. Andrews castles. Upon the Restoration, King Charles II rewarded James, the second Earl
of Hartfell, for loyalty with a crown charter to the Earldom of Annandale.
William Johnstone, the second Earl of Annandale, participated
in a Jacobite plot as a youth, but eventually regained the favor of King William I and
became an Extraordinary Lord of Session, Lord of the Treasury, Lord of the Privy Counsel,
Knight of the Thistle, Joint Secretary of State for Scotland, Keeper of the Great Seal,
and Privy Counselor. In 1701 the King made him the Marquis of Annandale in recognition of
his service. His oldest surviving son, James, the second Marquis of Annandale, died
unmarried in Naples in 1730. The first Marquis's posthumous son, George, who was declared
an incompetent, was the third Marquis and when he died unmarried in 1792 the titles became
In 1983, after a lapse of nearly two centuries, the Lord Lyon
King of Arms officially recognized Major Percy Wentworth Hope Johnstone of Annandale and
of that Ilk, hereditary Keeper of Lochmaben Castle and a descendant of the daughter of the
first Marquis of Annandale, as Chief of Clan Johnstone. Upon Major Hope Johnstone's death
later that year, his son Patrick Andrew Wentworth Hope Johnstone succeeded as Chief. In
1985 the House of Lords recognized the Chief's claim to the long-dormant titles of Earl of
Annandale and Hartfell. The Chief resides with his wife, Countess Susan Josephine Ross
Hope Johnstone at Raehills on their Annandale estate. They have a son, Lord David
Johnstone, and a daughter, Lady Julia Johnstone.
The Johnstons of Caskieben in Aberdeenshire descend from
Stephen "the Clerk," a man of great learning who is claimed to have been a son
of the Laird of Johnstone in Annandale, although this claim is disputed among historians.
The head of the Caskieben branch became a Baronet of Nova Scotia, and his descendant, an
American citizen, is the current head of the branch.
Copyright 1995, 1996, 1997 Jeffrey M. Johnstone
This history of the Clan Johnstone or Johnston was written by
Jeffrey M. Johnstone, FSA Scot. Since this was posted on the site the email address and web page no longer work we're sorry to say. Should anyone know of a new email address for him or a new web site please let us know. (firstname.lastname@example.org),
who invites comments or suggestions. Visit his Clan Johnstone Heritage Page:
This comment system
requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account
or an account you already have with Google, Twitter,
Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account
with any of these companies then you can create an account
with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't
display until the moderator has approved your comment.