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CLAN URQUHART

BADGE: Lus Ieth 'n t-samhradh (cheiranthus) native wallflower

The name Urquhart, which is still widespread in the counties of Ross and Cromarty, has been the subject of much curious speculation. The family genealogist, Sir Thomas Urquhart, Knight of Cromartie, of the days of Charles I and Charles II, declares it variously to be derived from Ourohartos, "fortunate and well-beloved", and to have the same meaning as Adam, namely, "red earth". He backs up the latter speculation with a pedigree which traces the descent of the clan from the first parents of mankind, and makes Ourohartos to have been the familiar name of Esormon, of whom he himself was the 128th descendant. While the worthy if eccentric chief of the seventeenth century was no doubt as amply justified as other people in claiming descent from "the grand old gardener and his wife", it may be feared that absolute reliance is not to be placed upon the authenticity of all the links in his long connecting chain.

More authentic, probably, is the origin of the clan and name given by Nisbet in his Heraldry. "A brother", he says, "of Ochonchar, who slew the bear, and was predecessor of the Lords Forbes, having in keeping the castle of Urquhart, took his surname from the place". Urquhart, or Urchard, is the name of a district in Invernessshire, and the ruin of Urquhart Castle, which was a royal stronghold in early times, still stands at the foot of Glen Urquhart, on the western side of Loch Ness, and was the scene of a famous siege by the army of Edward I of England, during which the wife of the governor, about to become a mother, escaped in the guise of a beggar driven forth from the gate.

It should here be noted, however, that in the old county of Cromarty itself, in the Black Isle, lies a district known as the White Bog, or Glen Urquhart, and it seems possible that this was the original seat of the Urquhart family, and the property from which that family took its name. There are also parishes of Urquhart in Ross and Moray shires.

At the time of the siege of Urquhart Castle the ancestor of the Urquhart Chiefs was Sheriff of Cromarty. Lord Hailes in his Annals describes how, during the competition for the Scottish crown at the end of the thirteenth century, Edward I ordered a list of the Sheriffs of Scotland to be made out. In that list appears the name of William Urquhart of Cromarty, Heritable Sheriff of the county. Evidently, therefore, even at that early date, the family was already of considerable importance in Cromarty and the north.

The Heritable Sheriff of the days of Edward I and King Robert the Bruce married a daughter of Hugh, Earl of Ross, and his son Adam obtained charters of various lands. In the years that followed, the family estate were greatly enlarged by marriages with heiresses of the neighbouring Mackenzies and others.

Thomas Urquhart of Cromarty, chief of the name in the first half of the sixteenth century, had a family of no fewer than eleven daughters and twenty-five sons. Of these sons, seven fell at the battle of Pinkie in 1547, and from another descended the Urquharts of Newhall, Monteagle, Kinbeachie, and Brae-Langwell. The eldest of the family, Alexander Urquhart of Cromarty, in 1532, under a charter of James V, acquired the lands of Inch Rory and others, in the shires of Ross and Inverness. He had two sons, the younger of whom, John Urquhart of Craigfintry, born in the year of the disastrous battle above mentioned, was afterwards known as the Tutor of Cromarty, to be referred to presently.

The elder son's grandson, who succeeded to the chiefship was Sir Thomas Urquhart, the family genealogist of the days of Charles I, already mentioned. During his minority the estates prospered under the management of his grand-uncle the Tutor, who died only in 1631 at the age of eighty-four. Born in 161l, Sir Thomas was educated at King's College, Aberdeen, and travelled in France, Spain, and Italy. On the outbreak of the Civil War he took the side of Charles I and fought against the Covenanters at Turriff in 1639. Two years later he was knighted by the king and began a notable literary career by the publication of his Epigrams. After returning from London to Scotland to arrange his affairs in 1642, he again went abroad and remained there till 1645. On his return he published Trissotetras, a work on trigonometry, and for five years resided in Cromarty Tower, on his ancestral estate. Then the news reached him of the execution of Charles I, and he forthwith took part, along with the Mackenzies, Monroes, and other clans, in the Inverness rising of 1649, which proclaimed that monarch's elder son, as Charles II. After the young king's landing in the north of Scotland in the following year Sir Thomas again took arms, and as an officer in the royal army followed Charles into England. At the battle of Worcester he was made prisoner, and had many of his manuscripts destroyed. During his captivity in the Tower of London and at Windsor he published his True Pedigree and Lineal Descent of the Most Ancient and Honourable Family of Urquhart, since the Creation of the World, as well as an invective against the Scottish Presbyterians. In 1652 he returned to Scotland on parole, to find that his affairs had gone to ruin in his absence. The trustees to whom he had entrusted the care of his estates had pillaged his lands and appropriated the rents. Believing him to be dead they had even abstracted his title-deeds and other documents, and one of them, Leslie of Findrassie, had made a predatory raid on one of his chief vassals.

His clansmen would have avenged his wrongs by force even at that late day, but he would not hear of it, and in the end his property was sequestrated, and to his great grief a choice collection of books which he had formed was dispersed. In 1653, he published his scheme for a universal language, and also the first part of his most important work, a translation of Rabelais. These were only a moiety of the literary achievements he had planned. "Had I not", he says, "been pluck'd away by the importunity of my creditors, I would have emitted to public view above five hundred several treatises on inventions never hitherto thought upon by any". He afterwards went abroad, and his death place is unknown. Tradition says he expired of an inordinate fit of joyous laughter on hearing of the restoration of Charles II to the throne in 1660. A further part of his Rabelais was published in 1693, and his miscellaneous works were published in 1774 and 1834.

The senior line of the Urquharts came to an end with the death of Colonel James Urquhart, an officer of much distinction, in 1741. The chiefship of the clan then devolved on a descendant of the Tutor. The latter's son had married, in 1636, Elizabeth, heiress of the ancient family of Seton, of Meldrum in Aberdeenshire, and his descendants were known as the Urquharts of Meldrum. Still later, the representation devolved on the Urquharts of Brae-Langwell, descended from a brother of the Tutor, but Brae-Langwell was sold, excepting a small portion, which was strictly entailed, by Charles Gordon Urquhart an officer in the Scots Greys.

Among notable bearers of the name of Urquhart have been Thomas Urquhart, the famous violin-maker of London, who flourished about 1650, and David Urquhart, the diplomatist and traveller; who after serving in the Greek navy, and advocating Turkish autonomy, represented Stafford in Parliament from 1847 to 1852, bitterly opposed Palrnerston, and died at Naples in 1877.

Meanwhile, after the sequestration of Sir Thomas Urquhart in the middle of the seventeenth century, the ancient possessions of the Urquhart chiefs passed into possession of Mackenzie of Tarbat, and Sir George, second baronet of Tarbat, the famous antiquary, Lord Justice General, and Secretary of State, who was made Justice of Cromarty by Queen Anne in 1703, had them included, along with his other landed possessions, in the widely scattered county of Cromarty, a territory fifteen times as great as that ruled by the Heritable Sheriff of the days of Edward I and Robert the Bruce.

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