The geographical origin of this ancient clan is the lands of Brodie near Forres, in Morayshire. The exact details of the clan’s origin were denied to history through a malicious attack on Brodie Castle by Lord Lewis Gordon, 3rd Marquis of Huntly, in 1645. All archive material such as charters were burnt and, as a consequence, the origins are mysterious. The gaelic origin of the Brodie name is clearer, though – it derives from the Gaelic word ‘brothaig’ meaning ‘ditch’.
The original Brodie Castle was built by the clan in 1567, but was destroyed by fire by the Gordons in 1645. It was rebuilt and then expanded in the 1820s, turning it into a mansion house. It is now in control of the National Trust for Scotland.
The charter of confirmation for the Brodie lands came from Robert the Bruce and declared that Michael Brodie of Brodie held the rights of thanage over Brodie by right of succession from his paternal ancestors, including his father Malcolm of Brodie.
There is also the suggestion that the family has Pictish origins through descent from the royal family who carries the Pictish name ‘Brude’.
This is reinforced by the extensive archaeological evidence of Pictish settlements around Brodie . For instance, there is a finely carved Pictish symbol stone that stands close to the castle. This is a remnant of an old aristocratic order whose pinnacle was MacBeth: close to Brodie castle lies ‘the blasted heath’ on which MacBeth is reputed to have met the three witches.
Alexander Brodie of Brodie (b.1617) was a vigorous Presbyterian, the reformed religion, and these convictions led him to attack Elgin cathedral in 1640, destroying as he did the carvings and paintings of the Crucifixion and Last Judgement that he considered idolatrous to his religion. His position among local nobility was assured: he represented Elgin in parliament, and further afield, in 1649 he was one of the commissioners sent to negotiate the return of exiled Charles II to Scotland.
His diplomatic career also included a summons by Cromwell to London in 1651 to consider a Scottish union with England. He resisted attempts to appoint him to judicial office, though Cromwell’s death in 1658 forced the issue for him, and he relented. The consequence was royal disfavour following the Restoration, Charles II finding it hard to forgive men who had tried to force their Calvinist beliefs upon him as the price of their allegiance.
Through the centuries the family avoided any role in public affairs commensurate with social status, preferring the security of title and home. In 1972 Mrs Helena Brodie of Brodie discovered a vellum pontifical beneath a set of Bleau atlases in her loft. It was dated to the year 1000 and shows evidence of associations with Durham. Older than the reign of Saint Margaret, the advent of the Turgot of Durham, older than Elgin cathedral itself the Brodie Pontifical now resides in the British Museum.
In short, it is testimony to the family’s antiquity and a historical document of unquantifiable value.