Clan Oliphant

Clan Oliphant
Crest badge
Clan member crest badge - Clan Oliphant.svg

Oliphant of that Ilk arms.svg
Richard Eric Lawrence Oliphant of that Ilk
Chief of the Name and Arms of Oliphant
Seat Ardblair Castle
Historic seat Kellie Castle

Clan Oliphant is a Highland Scottish clan.



Origins of the clan

The earliest record of the name was Osbernus Olifardus (Osbert Olifard) circa 1046 in Normandy.

The first known Oliphant landholding was in England at Lilleford in Northampton by the family of David Olifard, who is commonly held to be the progenitor of the clan. In 1141 he was granted lands at Crailing and Smailholm - both in Roxburghshire, Scotland - by King David I of Scotland who had risen from being the Earl of Huntingdon followng the deaths of his own elder brothers.

David Olifard was granted these lands for saving his godfather's (David I's) life at the Battle of Winchester in that year. David Olifard also had a brother called Osbert, which name may have emanated from his namesake in Normandy one hundred years before.

David was also made Chief Justiciar of the Lothians, second only in rank in Scotland after David I's brother, who was Chief Justiciar of the Highlands.

David Olifard's son Sir Walter Olifard, the second Justiciar, in 1173 married Christian, the daughter of the Celtic Earl (Mhormair) of Strathearn. Her dowry was the lands of Strageath. However, ten years later in 1183 they were exchanged for others at Aberdalgie, which became the principal Oliphant seat for nearly four hundred and fifty years.

Wars of Scottish independence

In the 14th century during the Wars of Scottish Independence Sir William Oliphant fought at the Battle of Dunbar and was captured and imprisoned at Devizes in England, thereby preventing him from attending Berwick-on-Tweed to sign the Ragman Roll. He was released and appointed Constable of Stirling Castle.

In 1304 Stirling was the final stronghold remaining in Scots hands. King Edward I of England laid siege. Sir William was again captured and sent to the Tower of London. He was later released and appointed Governor of Perth by King Edward II of England. Perth was subsequently captured by King Robert the Bruce and Sir William was exiled to the Western Isles.

Sir William was released at least by 1313 and served the Bruce in the continued struggle to defeat the English. He was subsequently rewarded with land at Gallery in Angus, Gask and Newtyle both in Perthshire. He was also given the lands of Muirhouse near Edinburgh in compensation for lands taken by King John de Balliol in Kincardineshire.

Sir William's son, Sir Walter Oliphant, married Princess Elizabeth, the youngest daughter of King Robert the Bruce.

Their resting place may be in the family vault in Aberdalgie Churchyard (formerly inside the church before that moved) which is better known as the tomb of Sir William Oliphant, the resolute Governor of Stirling Castle when it held out longer than any other against Edward I. The tomb was covered by an effigy which is the finest example of Tournai stone work in Scotland. From the design of the armour of the recumbent figure of the effigy, it has been dated to around 1365, which was some long time after Sir William died but fits most closely with the dates of Sir Walter and his Royal bride. The tomb is now the registered lair of the Chief of Clan Oliphant.

15th century and clan conflicts

Members of Clan Oliphant fought on the side of the Clan Ogilvy who were also supported by men from the Clan Seton, Clan Gordon and men from the Clan Forbes of Pitsligo at the Battle of Arbroath on January 24, 1445.

Their enemy was the Master of Crawford and his Clan Lindsay who advanced with over one thousand men. His father, the Earl of Crawford, rode between the two armies in an attempt to call a truce. However, an ill-advised Ogilvie, thinking that this was the start of the Lindsay's attack, threw his spear at the Earl, hitting him in the mouth and killing him instantly.

So began the battle, which went in Clan Lindsay's favour. Here fell Ogilvie of Inverquharty, Forbes of Pitsligo, Brucklay of Gartley, Gordon of Borrowfield, and Sir John Oliphant of Aberdalgie (father of Laurence, first Lord Oliphant), along with 500 or so Ogilvis. However, the Lindsays lost a disproportionate amount of men, most notably the Earl himself. [1][2]

Olyfavnt tartan, as published in 1842 in Vestiarium Scoticum.

16th century and Anglo-Scottish wars

During the Anglo-Scottish Wars a number of Clan Oliphant members fought against the English at the Battle of Flodden Field in 1513, where the Master of Oliphant, heir to the Clan Chief, was killed.

The third Lord Oliphant was taken prisoner at the Battle of Solway Moss in 1542 and was later released for a large ransom.

During the 16th century Clan Oliphant were staunch supporters of Mary, Queen of Scots and fought for her at the Battle of Langside in 1568.

The chief's eldest son was implicated in the conspiracy known as the Ruthven Raid led by the Clan Ruthven, to kidnap the young King James VI of Scotland and was therefore exiled in 1582. The ship in which he and his co-conspirator, the Master of Morton sailed in was lost at sea. It was rumoured that they had been caught by a Dutch ship and the last report was that they were slaves on a Turkish ship in the Mediterranean. A plaque to their memory was raised in the church in Algiers.

17th century and civil war

His son, who succeeded to the title, dissipated the entire estates, but some of the family lands were saved when one of his cousins purchased from him the Gask estate.

He died without male issue and the seniority of the title of Lord Oliphant passed to his daughter and her husband in their own right, while a new title of Lord Oliphant was created by King Charles I for the nearest male cousin, Patrick Oliphant.

The ninth Lord Oliphant was a Colonel in the Jacobite army at the Battle of Killiecrankie in 1689 and was afterwards imprisoned.

18th century and Jacobite uprisings

The 9th Lord Oliphant also rose in support of the Jacobites during the 1715 uprising he led Clan Oliphant against the British government forces at the Battle of Sherrifmuir in 1715, where the Jacobites were defeated.

Clan Olphant remained devoted to the Jacobite cause and the 10th and last Lord Oliphant was actively involved in the 1745 to 1746 Jacobite Uprising. The Oliphants fought at the Battle of Prestonpans in 1745 and the Battle of Falkirk in 1746, where government forces were defeated.

Oliphants also fought at the Battle of Culloden in 1746 where the Jacobites were defeated. The chieftan of the House of Gask, Laurence Oliphant and his son fled to Sweden and finally took refuge in France.

Modern times

Clan Chief

Clan Chief: Richard Eric Lawrence Oliphant of that Ilk, Chief of the Name and Arms of Oliphant,[1] and heir male to the dormant Oliphant Lords of Oliphant, Aberdalgy and Duplin created before 1460, as well as to the Lords Oliphant emanating from the second creation of the Lordship of Oliphant on 2nd June 1633 and, to the subsequent Jacobite peerage, created by Prince Charles Edward Stuart on 14 July 1760 in Rome for Laurence Oliphant.[2]

The Chief is also Chieftain of the CONDIE branch. Scions of the latter include an Admiral; an Ambassador (author of “Ambassador in Bonds”;) a Chairman of the Hon. East India Company who was also appointed by Queen Victoria as guardian to Maharajah Duleep Singh; a Chief Justice of Ceylon who first planted tea bushes commercially when the coffee rust hit the latter crop; two Generals; several knights, two Scottish MPs and Thomas Oliphant (1799–1873),[3] amateur composer, Chairman of the Madrigal Society and author inter alia of La Musa Madrigalesca (1837), whose work appears in the English Hymnal.

Three further Chieftains

  • OLIPHANT OF GASK: LAURENCE KINGTON BLAIR OLIPHANT OF ARDBLAIR AND GASK's is Chieftain of Gask in the female line. The Gask branch produced Scotland's greatest poetess, Carolina Nairne, Lady Nairne. Later descendants through the female line, going by the name of Kington-Blair-Oliphant or Blair-Oliphant, include an Air Vice-Marshal and two composers in film and television. Laurence lives at Ardblair Castle, a Clan Blair seat inherited by the Gask Oliphants by marriage to a Robertson of Struan. Ardblair contains not only the majority of the Gask Oliphant artifacts and portraits but also the Lords Oliphants' charters and known possessions, so remains hugely important to Clan Oliphant. With his surname including that of Blair, Laurence is also in the female line a Chieftain of that Clan, as BLAIR of ARDBLAIR and thereby is Chieftain of the nearby Blairgowrie Games;
  • OLIPHANT OF ROSSIE: PHILLIP OLIPHANT OF ROSSIE is Chieftain in the female line of a branch which produced a Postmaster General of Scotland who appeared in Charles Lee's renowned 1847 painting “The Golfers” and, more recently, the late Betty Oliphant, founder of the Canadian National Ballet School;
  • OLIPHANT OF BACHILTON: DAVID OLYPHANT OF BACHILTON is Chieftain in the male line, which is one of the earliest offshoot branches and is most closely linked to the Oliphants of Culteuchar, large landowners in Fife. From the Culteuchar Oliphants descend the largest number of American Oliphants.
  • OLIPHANT OF KELLIE: The KELLIE branch, currently without a chieftain, produced Margaret Oliphant, the author.

Other branches

Other branches of Clan Oliphant do exist but as of today they still await rightful claimants for their chieftainly arms and the right to wear one or two eagle's feathers. These have produced a US General, the renowned scientist Sir Mark Oliphant who was involved in the Manhattan Project and a renowned author and journalist, Thomas Oliphant.

Castles and clan seat

  • Kellie Castle was built and owned by Oliphants from 1360 to 1613.
  • Old Wick Castle and Berriedale Castle, held by Clan Sutherland in the 15th Century, came to Sir William Oliphant of Berriedale (the progenitor of the Oliphant's of Berriedale) second son of the second Lord Oliphant, by his marriage to Christian, the daughter and heiress of Alexander Sutherland of Duffus in 1497.
  • Hatton Castle was built in 1575 by Laurence, the 4th Lord Oliphant and replaced the previous nearby wooden fortalice of Balcraig Castle. Hatton Castle was restored in the 2oth Century.
  • Following the decline in the Oliphant fortunes and the loss of Aberdalgie by the main branch of the family, by the 19th century the estates of Gask, Condie, Rossie and Kinneddar were those most associated with the Oliphant Clan. Although the land at Gask was held by Oliphants from the mid 14th century and although no Castle was ever built there, it is the site of 'The Auld Hoose' in Carolina Oliphant's song.
  • There is no Clan Seat currently but Ardblair Castle, near Blairgowrie in Perthshire is the seat of one of the Clan Chieftains, the Oliphant of Gask. Ardblair contains the largest collection of Oliphant heirlooms and portraits today.

See also


  1. ^
  2. ^ Concerning Ruvigny's mis-stating of the destination vide: Burke's Peerage, 2003, article heading "Jacobite Titles."
  3. ^ Papers of the Manchester Literary Club; Manchester: H. Rawson & Co., 1890

External links

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