Clan Swinton

Clan Swinton
Clan Swinton
Crest badge
Clan member crest badge - Clan Swinton.svg
Crest: A boar chained to a tree Proper.[1]
Motto: J'Espere.[1]
Region Lowlands
District Berwickshire

Swinton of that Ilk arms.svg
Rolfe Swinton,[2] 36th of that Ilk[3]
Chief of the Name and Arms of Swinton.[4]
Seat Calgary, Canada.[5]
Historic seat Bamburgh Castle[6]

Bamburgh Castle, the ancient seat of the Swinton Family[6]

Clan Swinton is a Lowland Scottish clan and founder of Clan Gordon, Clan Elphinstone, Clan Arbuthnott, Clan Nisbet and the Greystoke Family. Being a Border family, they were prominent Border Reivers.




The Swinton family are widely acknowledged as being one of the oldest landed families in Britain. They are the direct descendants of the Anglo-Saxon royal House of Bamburgh, Kings of Northumbria from 547-867 AD. This family later became Lords of Bamburgh and Earls of Northumbria. It was Eadulf Rus of Bamburgh who was first granted the Barony of Swinton around 1060 by his cousin King Malcolm III of Scotland, as reward for the military support he had given the King. The Swintons are said to have acquired their name for their bravery and clearing the area of Wild Boar. The chief's coat of arms and the clan crest allude to this legend. Although the name is thought more likely to be of a territorial origin. The village of Swinewood in the county of Berwick was granted by a charter from King Edgar, son of King Malcolm, to Liulf of Bamburgh at Coldingham Priory in 1098. Liulf's family was that of the Earls of Northumberland from whom also came the Clan Dunbar. Liulf's grandson Ernulf is said to be the first instance of a Scottish knight, and was succeeded by Cospatric(k). It is "practically certain"[7] that Cospatrick was the father of Hugo (Hugh) de Swinton, who was also the ancestor of the Clan Arbuthnott. Hugo acquired the lands of Arbuthnott from Walter Oliphant about 1150, tradition has it that Hugo's mother was an Oliphant.[7]

Sir Alan de Swinton, 6th of Swinton, obtained a charter from Bertram, Prior of Coldingham for the Barony of Swinton during the reign of King William the Lion. The tomb in Swinton Church is believed to be his. Edulph de Swinton received a charter, one of the first recorded in Scotland, confirming his property at Swinton from David I around 1140.


It is believed that the majority of the border families came from one stock; this is a point that Nisbet makes clear. He makes reference to the similarities between the arms of the Border families. It is widely accepted that this one stock from which the families originated from was the Swinton Family thus founding: Clan Elphinstone, Clan Gordon, Clan Nisbet and Clan Arbuthnott. Further Kin: Clan Dunbar, Clan Bruce and Clan Douglas. Royal Kin: Robert Stewart, Duke of Albany, King of Northumbria and Earl of Bernicia.


The Bookplate of Sir John Swinton, titled 'Baron of Swinton'[8]

The clan has held the Barony's of Swinton and Cranshaws. The latter is now separated from the clan. The family is commonly thought to have Feudal Barony status with numerous charters confirming this.[9] Indeed, Mr. James Anderson, the compiler of the Diplomata Scotiae, in his Historical Essay of the Independency of the crown of Scotland, says that among the many charters of Scots families in the chartulary of Durham, there are two original ones of David I., to the proprietor of Swinton, wherein he is termed Miles, and was to "hold his lands as freely as any of the king’s barons".[9] Indeed, Sir John Swinton of that Ilk, sitting in the Parliaments of both Scotland and Great Britain, is witnessed without fail in the list of Barons attesting certain documents.[10]

The clan may be well documented and been prominent in the history of the Nation, but it has never come to possess as much land or power as other Scottish families. However, many of the families who trace their ancestry back to the Swinton Family, namely Clan Gordon, Clan Elphinstone and Clan Arbuthnott, do hold status. Therefore, the name Swinton itself may not hold any huge title or land power as such, but its power lies in its ancient lineage and reputation.

Wars of Scottish Independence

Henry de Swinton, as one of the 13 claimants to the Scottish Throne put forward by Edward I of England, appears on the Ragman Rolls as one of the nobility swearing fealty to King Edward I of England in 1296. He was joined in this by his brother, William, priest of the church of Swinton. However later the Swintons would support Robert the Bruce during the Wars of Scottish Independence.

Sir John Swinton, 14th of that Ilk

Sir John Swinton, great-grandson of Henry, was a distinguished soldier and statesman in the reigns of Robert II of Scotland and Robert III of Scotland.

France, Hundred Years' War

He was one of the greatest fighters of his time. In his youth, the Borders being too quiet for him, he had signed on with John of Gaunt, 1st Duke of Lancaster. He made an interesting agreement with John of Gaunt which included the following among other terms:

  1. Swinton was not to be required to fight against his own country.
  2. He was to be given double pay, and free transport for himself, his horses and his men.
  3. The Duke was to replace any of his horses that were lost or taken. In return, he was to have one-third share in the ransom of Swinton’s future prisoners and in his other "profits of war".

This unusual "contract" shows that Sir John must already have acquired a solid reputation as a fighter, perhaps in Prussia or Spain or even both, some time before 1371, when it was made.

Sir John fully justified the trust placed in him, through his conduct in a series of campaigns and particularly at Noyon (between Amiens and Paris) when he fought his way single-handed into the town. Legend says he was the hero who, according to Jean Froissart, leaped the barrier gates at Noyon and for love of the fray fought the chivalry of France for more than an hour "alone against them all" - "giving many grand strokes with his lance." When the army began to move and he had to rejoin it, he cleared the way with a thrust or two, sprang back, and mounting, with his page in front, cried : "Adieu, adieu, Seigneurs, grands mercis!" and spurred away.[11]

About this time, he married a young wife, Joan, who died without children and whose jewels were stolen by Alice Perrers, Edward III’s mistress (who also stole the King’s rings from his fingers as he lay dying). He appealed to the King for their return, but they could not be traced, and it is not altogether surprising that he returned to Scotland soon after.[12]

Battle of Otterburn

He was a commander at the Battle of Otterburn in July 1388 when the Scots won the day and defeated the English, although their leader, the Earl of Douglas, was slain. The Scotichronicon, talking of the battle, mentions "a very experienced, strong, and brave Scot", John Swinton, who carved a path through the English: "Because of this the Scots were able to penetrate the English line with their spears, so that the English were forced to give ground to this strong force".[13]

It is related of Sir John, that in the wars with the English, he visited the enemy's camp, and gave a general challenge to fight any of their army.[14]


He was appointed one of the ambassadors extraordinary by King Robert III to negotiate a treaty with the court of England, for which they got a safe conduct from King Richard II for themselves and sixty knights in their retinue, 4 July, 1392. He was afterwards employed upon another negotiation and obtained a safe conduct from King Henry IV to go to England, with twenty horsemen in his retinue, 7 July, 1400.

Battle of Homildon Hill

The gallant bearing and heroic death of the Lord of Swinton, at the fatal Battle of Homildon Hill, have afforded a subject for the poetic genius of Scott, and are the materials on which he founded the drama of "Haledon Hill". Pinkerton thus records Swinton's fall:

"The English advanced to the assault, and Henry Percy was about to lead them up the hill, when March caught his bridle, and advised him to advance no farther, but to pour the dreadful shower of English arrows into the enemy. This advice was followed with the usual fortune; for in all ages the bow was the English weapon of victory, and though the Scots, and perhaps the French, were superior in the use of the spear, yet this weapon was useless after the distant bow had decided the combat. Robert the Great, sensible of this at the battle of Bannockburn, ordered a prepared detachment of cavalry to rush among the English archers at the commencement, totally to disperse them, and stop the deadly effusion. But Douglas now used no such precaution; and the consequence was, that his people, drawn up on the face of the hill, presented one general mark to the enemy, none of whose arrows descended in vain. The Scots fell without fight and unrevenged, till a spirited knight, Swinton, exclaimed aloud, "O my brave countrymen! what fascination has seized you to-day, that you stand like deer to be shot, instead of indulging your ancient courage, and meeting your enemies hand to hand? Let those who will, descend with me, that we may gain victory, and life, or fall like men." This being heard by Adam Gordon, between whom and Swinton there existed a deadly feud, attended with the mutual slaughter of many followers, he instantly fell on his knees before Swinton, begged his pardon, and desired to be dubbed a knight by him whom he must now regard as the wisest and boldest of that order in Britain. The ceremony performed, Swinton and Gordon descended the hill, accompanied by only one hundred men, and a desperate valour led the whole body to death. Had a similar spirit been shewn by the Scottish army, it is probable that the event of that day would have been different."[14]

Later 15th century and Hundred Years' War

Swinton’s second wife was the Countess of Douglas and Mar, but they had no offspring. His third wife was Princess Margaret, daughter of Robert Stewart, Duke of Albany who served as Regent from 1406 to 1419. The Princess bore Swinton a son, later Sir John Swinton of Swinton, reckoned to be the fifteenth Lord of the name.

Sir John Swinton, 15th of that Ilk

During the Hundred Years' War, Sir John Swinton, 15th of that Ilk was a doughty warrior who fought and led the Clan Swinton at the Battle of Baugé against the English in France in 1421, where the French-Scottish forces were victorious. Although the credit for this is claimed by others, he is said to have been the knight who slew the Duke of Clarence, brother of King Henry V of England. The incident appears in Sir Walter Scott's poem, "The Lay of the Last Minstrel":

  • "And Swinton laid the lance in rest,
    That amed of yore the sparkling crest
    Of Clarence's Plantagenet"

However, Sir John Swinton was killed when the Clan Swinton fought at the Battle of Verneuil in France in 1424.

16th century and Mary Queen of Scots

Sir John Swinton was among the band of Scottish barons who signed the bond of protection of the infant King James VI of Scotland in 1567 against the Earl of Bothwell on his marriage to the child’s mother, Mary, Queen of Scots.

17th century and Civil War

In 1640 Sir Alexander Swinton, the 22nd chief, became sheriff of Berwickshire. He died in 1652, leaving six sons and five daughters. His second son, Alexander, was appointed to the Supreme Court of Scotland in 1688, taking the title, ‘Lord Mersington’.

The Swintons supported the Royalists during the Civil War. The eldest son, John, was colonel for the regiment of Berwickshire, and at the Battle of Worcester in 1651, he was taken prisoner, and his brother, Robert, died in an attempt to carry off Oliver Cromwell’s standard.

John was later appointed by the Lord Protector to the Council of State he established to assist in ruling Scotland in 1655. He was said to have been "Cromwell's most trusted man in Scotland". His involvement with Cromwell led to his being tried for treason in 1661, and although he escaped the block, his estates were forfeited and he was imprisoned for six years.

An extract from Volume 2 of The Heart of Midlothian by Sir Walter Scott, a cadet of the Family of Swinton on his Mother's side, explains the tale of Judge Swinton, as the Quaker was known.

"The celebrated John Swinton, of Swinton, nineteenth baron in descent of that ancient and once powerful family, was, with Sir William Lockhart of Lee, the person whom Cromwell chiefly trusted in the management of the Scottish affairs during his usurpation. After the Restoration, Swinton was devoted as a victim to the new order of things, and was brought down in the same vessel which conveyed the Marquis of Argyle to Edinburgh, where that nobleman was tried and executed. Swinton was destined to the same fate. He had assumed the habit, and entered into the Society of the Quakers, and appeared as one of their number before the Parliament of Scotland. He renounced all legal defence, though several pleas were open to him, and answered, in conformity to the principles of his sect, that at the time these crimes were imputed to him, he was in the gall of bitterness and bond of iniquity; but that God Almighty having since called him to the light, he saw and acknowledged these errors, and did not refuse to pay the forfeit of them, even though, in the judgment of the Parliament, it should extend to life itself."

"Respect to fallen greatness, and to the patience and calm resignation with which a man once in high power expressed himself under such a change of fortune, found Swinton friends; family connections, and some interested considerations of Middleton the Commissioner, joined to procure his safety, and he was dismissed, but after a long imprisonment, and much dilapidation of his estates. It is said that Swinton's admonitions, while confined in the Castle of Edinburgh, had a considerable share in converting to the tenets of the Friends Colonel David Barclay, then lying there in the garrison. This was the father of Robert Barclay, author of the celebrated 'Apology for the Quakers'."

He died in 1679 and was succeeded by his son, Alexander, who later died without issue. There is a theory that another of Swinton's sons took the name Sinton, founding that family.

18th century

Alexander’s brother, Sir John, succeeded as the twenty-fifth Laird of Swinton who, after a successful career as a merchant in Holland, returned to Scotland in the wake of the Glorious Revolution of 1688 which brought William of Orange to the throne with his wife, Queen Mary. His father’s forfeiture was rescinded, and Swinton sat in both the Scottish Parliament and, later, in the British, at Westminster. He was appointed as the President of the Committee for Trade in Scotland[10] and was also a founder of the Bank of Scotland. John Swinton of that Ilk, the twenty-seventh Laird, became a member of the Supreme Court in 1782, taking the title, ‘Lord Swinton’.

His fourth son, Archibald Swinton, a Captain in the Honourable East India Company's Service, married Henrietta Campbell of Blytheswood and acquired the estates of Kimmerghame and Manderston. It was Henrietta who brought in the Campbell arms now borne in the 2nd and 3rd quarters of the Swinton of Kimmerghame arms.

A little known fact concerns Captain Samuel Swinton, husband of Félicité Jean le Febre. Baroness Emma Orczy, when she wrote The Scarlet Pimpernel in 1905, loosely based the story of the hero, Sir Percy Blakeney, on the life of Samuel in France during the French Revolution where, with his wife they assisted in the escape by some of the nobility who were in danger of going to the guillotine.

Modern history

The modern Swintons have produced some very notable characters. Captain George Swinton, descended from the Swintons of Kimmerghame, a cadet of the chiefly house, was Lord Lyon King of Arms, and Secretary to the Order of the Thistle from 1926 to 1929. Major-General Sir Ernest Dunlop Swinton was the mind behind the Tank.

*Major-General Sir Ernest Dunlop Swinton

During the war with Germany few names were more widely known than that of General Ernest Dunlop Swinton. It had long ceased to be a secret that he was the author of some remarkable military stories published after the Boer War, and for a time he was the "Eyewitness", who described battles in France and Belgium and coined the phrase "No man's land".

At the opening of an exhibition of the tank in Berwick by General Swinton, Colonel Summers, who was present, in a speech full of humour recited a few impromptu lines about the Swintons. They ran:

  • "Of old along the Scottish Border
    The Swintons kept us in disorder.
    Their martial ardour they revealed
    By pinching cows from many a field.

    Now to the changing mood of time
    Comes to our ears a nobler chime.
    It's mainly due to Swinton's skill
    That we have beaten Kaiser Bill!"


Modern History cont.

The present chief is a Canadian currently living in London, Rolfe William Swinton 36th of that Ilk[16]

Notes and references

External links

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