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Index of first names

The Scottish Clan System - Our Guide


Border Clans



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  • Border clans

  • In 1587 a Scottish act of parliament referred to the inhabitants of the Scottish Borders, as well as the Highlands, as 'clannis', while the English borderers are usually referred to as families.


    Although their were other Riding Families (Rievers) in the border lands of Scotland, only 17 were ever named 'Clan'.

    In 1587 the Parliament of Scotland passed a statute: "For the quieting and keping in obiedince of the disorderit subjectis inhabitantis of the borders hielands and Ilis." Attached to the statute was a Roll of surnames from both the Borders and Highlands.

    The Borders portion listed 17 'clannis' with a Chief and their associated Marches: During the time of the Border Reivers, from the 13c -17c, the Anglo-Scottish border was split into three Marches: the East, the Middle and the West. The Western March was deemed to be the most dangerous, unpredictable and violent place to live.

    However, although this list does not include the 'Douglas Clan', it is argued that the list only included the 'unrulie clannis'.


    Border Clans included the Armstrongs, Johnstones, Scotts, Elliotts, Fenwicks, Bells, Nixons, Maxwells, Kerrs, Dodds, Taits, Howards, Cecils, Douglases, Homes, Croziers, Forsters, Grahams, Irvines, Robsons and Storeys. These names are still common place across the Border country.

     Linda Bruce Caron has provided the following, which is based on riever families:

    Armstrongs: (or Armstrang). The Armstrongs held sway in the English West March and the Scottish East March. The Armstrongs were the most feared riding clan on the frontier. By 1528 they could put 3000 men into the saddle. Some of the famous Armstrong reiving names are Johnnie Armstrong, Kinmont Willie Armstrong, Sim the Laird, Ill Will Armstrong and Sandie his son, Dick of Dryhope, Jock of the Side.

    Bell: English and Scottish. A great surname of the West March (Scottish), particularly hostile to the Grahams.

    Burn or Bourne. Scottish, East Teviotdale. A most predatory and vicious family of the Middle March whose raids and murders reached a peak in the 1590s when they were under the protection of Robert Kerr. They were the worst of the East Teviotdale Reivers and are supposed to have killed 17 Collingwoods in revenge for the death of one of their own men. Notable name: Geordie Burn - his confession is detailed elsewhere.

    Charlton (Carleton). This was an English family although the name appears in southwestern Scotland. The Charltons were one of the hardiest and most intractable families on the English side and were alternately allied to and at feud with the Scottish in the west. They were engaged in a bitter vendetta with the Scotts of Buccleuch.

    Croser (Crosar, Crozier). Mostly Scottish. A small but hard-riding family often associated with Nixons and Elliots and often allied with England. Some notable names: Ill Wild Will Croser, Nebless (Noseless) Clemmie, Martin’s Clemmie.

    Elliot. The Elliots were Scottish. Less numerous than the Armstrongs with whom they were frequently allied but as predatory as any clan on the border. Occasionally under English protection, they received a subsidy from Queen Elizabeth during their feud with the Scotts. Notable names: Martin Elliot of Braidley, Little Jock of the Park, Robin of Redheuch, Archie Fire the Braes, William of Lariston, Martin’s Gibb.

    Forster (Forrester, Foster). Mostly English. The Scottish Forsters intermarried with English. English Forsters were allied with the Humes. Notable names: Sir John Forster, Red Rowry, Rowry’s Will.

    Graham. Mostly English but ready to be on either side. Originally Scottish. Next to the Armstrongs, the Grahams were probably the most troublesome family on the frontier. Their dual allegiances caused confusion. At one time the most numerous family on the West Border, with 500 riders in 13 towers in 1552, they were savagely persecuted in the reign of James VI and I. Notable names: Richie of Brackenhill, Jock of the Peartree, Will’s Jock and many more.

    Hall. English and Scottish. At one time the most powerful in Redesdale they were hated and feared on both sides. In 1598 in an incident the Scottish Halls and the Rutherfords were allegedly singled out by English officers as two surnames to whom no quarter should be given.

    Hume (Home). Scottish. A great name in Scottish and Border history, the Humes achieved one extraordinary distinction as the only frontier family who would claim continuous domination in their own March. They usually held the Scottish East Wardenship, and although frequently in trouble with the Crown they never lost their eminence and influence.

    Irvine. Scottish. Contributed much to the general disorder despite their small numbers. Notable name: Willie Kang

    Johnstone (Johnston, Johnstoun). Scottish but possibly of English origin. Powerful reivers and also frequent Wardens. Their feud with the Maxwells was the longest and bloodiest in Border history.

    Kerr (Ker, Carr, Carre). Scottish. The Kerrs were (with the Scotts) the leading tribe of the Scottish Middle March and frequently were Wardens of such. No family was more active in reiving.

    Maxwell. Scottish. The strongest family in the Scottish West March until the Johnstones reduced their power in the 16th century. Maxwells were often wardens.

    Scott. Scottish. One of the most powerful families in the whole Border, both as reivers and as officers. Notable names: Walter Scott of Buccleuch, his grandson known variously as the Bold Buccleuch, God’s Curse, etc.), Walter Scott (Auld Wat) of Haren.

    I left out some Fraser listed such as Fenwick Hetherington, Musgrave, Robson, Nixon, Storey and he lists others, both English and Scottish in the Marches. I will list them here in the event that any of you have those names and are interested.

    East March:

    Scotland: Trotter, Dixon, Bromfield, Craw, Cranston
    England: Selby, Gray, Dunne

    Middle March:

    Scotland: Young, Pringle, Davison, Gilchrist, Tait, Oliver, Turnbull (Trumble), Rutherford, Douglas, Laidlaw, Turner, Henderson

    England: Ogle, Heron, Witherington (Woodrington), Medford, Collingwood, Carnaby, Shaftoe, Ridley, Anderson, Potts, Read, Hedley, Dodd, Milburn, Yarrow, Stapleton, Stokoe, Stamper, Wilkinson, Hunter, Thomson, Jamieson

    West March:

    Scotland: Carlisle, Beattie (Baty, Batisoun), Little Carruthers, Glendenning, Moffat.
    England: Lowther, Curwen, Salkeld, Dacre, Harden, Hodgson, Routledge, Tailor, Noble.


    Border clan armorials


    The links below are to those for which I have identified a website.

    Clan Elliot
    Clan Armstrong
    Clan Johnston
    Clan Scott
    Clan Irving
    See also:
     The Border Marches
     The Debatable Lands
    Kinmont Willie






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