The Elliots are a notorious and powerful Border Clan associated with the Border Reivers with a very colourful history. They have had a recognised Clan Chief since the time of King Robert the Bruce (1306-1329) right up to the present day.
The origin of the Elliots is shrouded in mystery. A lot of their history was destroyed their old castle at Stobs was destroyed by a fire in 1712. Sadly in this fire all the family documents were lost.
Old Stobs Castle
It was thought this surname is derived from the name of an ancestor. ‘the son of Alot’. Prior to 1500 it was usually written in Old English as ‘Elward’ or ‘Elwold’. The pronunciation of this was ‘Ellot’, in places in the Scottish Borders the name is still pronounced ‘Ellot’. By 1600 the phonetic spelling had almost completely taken over the Old English spelling. The Clan was referred to as ‘Ellots’ until around 1650 when the name was changed to ‘Elliot’.
Elliots were among the thousand or so Bretons who constituted the left flank of William the Conqueror’s invading army in 1066. A Sir William Aliot a distinguished Knights came into England with the Conqueror. As a reward for his loyalty, The Conqueror gave de Aliot an honourable coat of arms. The Eliot’s of Southern England come from this branch as after the conquest land was disrupted and a vast territory in Devon was where where the Eliot (the name would have been spelt differently) first settled.
One thing we know is that the Elliots would have been numerous and their power spread quickly as they also settled also in South Wales, following its conquest by fitzOsbern, and in the old marcher counties of Monmouth, Hereford and Gloucester. Other companions of the Elliots imported variant names from Brittany, which became familiar in England and Scotland. Many of the Elliots were mercenaries for the Normans. Their fighting skills were passed down from generation to generation gaining wealth and notoriety for their professional military services to kings and magnates.
The connection between the relationship between all Elliots (Eliots, Eliotts and Elliotts), English, Welsh and Scots is one of great mystery. The identity of the first member of the Aliot/Eliot Anglo-Breton kinship to settle in Scotland is not known.
Like the Normans they used the same name format and the use of surnames. The names included d’Aliot, spelt also in England and Brittany, as d’Eliot, and alongside them were companions whose uncorrupted Breton surnames were Allegoët and Elegoët, names now found in smaller numbers, mainly in Finistère in the Aliot.
So Elliots can claim a Breton pedigree rather than Norman like so many other Clans and Families. Elliot DNA projects have been able to show that at least 40% of Elliots tested have Celtic-Brittonic origin (as opposed to Celtic-Gaelic). There are still many Elliot ancestors living in Brittany today.
Elliot tradition tells us that the Ellots in Scotland were first found and some would have taken their name from a small town written by various spellings; Alyth, Alight and Alyght, pronounced as Eliot at the foot of Glenshee in Angus, Perthshire. This doesn’t exist any more. Evidence can be found with the First Earl of Buccleuch, Walter Scott of Satchells who wrote in his ‘True History of several honourable families of the right honourable name of Scot, in the shires of Roxburgh, Selkirk, and others adjacent, gathered out of ancient chronicles, histories, and traditions of our fathers.’:
‘The town of Elliot was their antiquitie,
Which stands in Angus, at the foot of Glenshie;
With brave King Robert Bruce they hither came;
Which is three hundred and eighty years agone;
In West Teviotdale* these gentlemen did dwell, (*An old way of describing Liddesdale) They were twelve great families, I hear my goodsir tell;
Their chief was a Baron of renown,
Designed Reid-heugh, which is now called Lariston.'
The early fourteenth century existence of a thanage of Alyth is confirmed by a charter of Robert I in 1319.
Evidence of this can be seen on early maps and could anyone other than the Elliots could have given their name to Elliot Water in Angus. There is some disagreement about whether this is connected to the place of Alyth.
Walter d’Alyth ( pronounced d’Elliot) was the baron ‘of renown’, of The Brae, which can be seen just to the north of Alyth.
He forfeited these lands in 1306, when supporting Robert the Bruce. The Brae was given to the Balliol supporter Adam Brunyng, before it was inherited by his son, substitute justiciar, John Brunyng, who came over to Bruce’s side. Bruce confiscated land from some and rewarded others with the land. In these times the Ellots loyal and great supporters of Bruce. A loyalty that was about to benefit them greatly.
In 1320 William de Soulis, a powerful nobleman who owned the lands of Liddisdale in the Scottish Borders was convicted of treason against Robert the Bruce. His lands confiscated, including the impressive fortress of Hermitage Castle.
There are stories about Soulis practicing dark arts and kidnapping children to use in his rituals at Hermitage Castle. It was believed that Soulis could not be killed by ordinary means so when an exasperated Bruce cried “”Soules! Soules! Go boil him in brew!” The locals boiled him in molten lead in a cauldron suspended above a large fire.
The lands and castle were handed over to Robert the Bruce’s illegitimate son, Robert. Liddisdale was of great strategic importance and to ensure his hold of these lands he needed settlement by a loyal clan. This is the story that has been passed on as to how the Ellots were transplanted from Perthshire to Liddisdale.
The Chieftain of Clan Ellot was just simply called Elward – Old English for Ellot.
Ellots of Redheugh
In 1312. A Charter to the lands of Redheugh was granted to a chief of the Elliots by Robert the Bruce, according to Scott of Satchels, writing in 1688. This was the first Elliot Laird of Redheugh and Larriston. Further evidence comes in 1376 when Redheugh mentioned in a Rent Roll of Liddesdale.
Redheugh is the principal tower and main settlement of the ‘original’ Elliots. Nothing remains of the Tower or is known about it’s construction. Another Elliot mystery.
This spot was pointed out by three local informants in 1858 as the site of Redheugh Tower, property of the Elliotts (Name Book 1858)
From at least the early 1400s probably earlier there were Ellots of Redheugh recorded. In 1426 we see on record John Elwalde of Teviotdale.
In 1476 Robert Ellot of Redheugh appears as the tenth chief of the clan so this dates the time they were here. The first nine chiefs are unknown. Robert (10th) was a close friend and adherent of Archibald Douglas, Earl of Angus and Lord of Liddesdale, and his eldest son was Captain of Hermitage Castle. Archibald Douglas was also known as the Red Earl of Angus and was the most powerful man in Scotland at that time. He led a successful rebellion of the nobles against King James lll in the Battle of Sauchieburn in 1488, in which the king was killed. Their loyalty was to the English King. Robert Ellot in the aftermath gained several estates in Liddesdale in 1479 for his service. Robert Elliot, 10th Chief died in old age, in 1497. He is remembered as having only one son who died in his own lifetime. Robert was succeeded by his grandson Robert Elliot, the 12th Chief from 1497 until his death in 1516.
There were seven Robert Ellots or Elliots of Redheugh in direct succession. History becomes clearer with the 13th Chief (Robert Ellot) who built Redheugh Tower on a cliff overlooking the ford on Hermitage Water in 1470. This was just one of about one hundred strong towers which belonged to the Ellots and which they shared with the Clan Armstrong who were another Border Reiver clan.
Robert Elliot was killed at the Battle of Flodden in 1513. (The beautiful lament for that disaster, The Flowers of the Forest, was written by Jane Elliot, sister of Sir Gilbert Elliot, first Baronet of Minto in the 18th century). It was from Robert Elliot’s third son that the Elliots of Arkleton descend.
Subsequent Chiefs of Clan Ellot were Captains of the castle.
The Middle Marches
The Elots held that part of the frontier with England known as “The Middle March” — their Chief usually being appointed Captain of Hermitage Castle in Liddesdale, and they became famous as one of the great “riding” clans of the Scottish borders.
The Scottish Marches was the term used for the English/Scottish border during the late medieval and early modern eras, characterised by violence and cross-border raids. In 1249 there was a treaty between Henry III of England and Alexander III of Scotland to attempt to control the border between Scotland and England. There was to be essentially a buffer zone on both sides. The area was split between Marches:
In the late 13th century Edward I of England appointed the first Lord Warden of the Marches, who was tasked with overseeing these regions and keeping their monarch’s domain secure but also wanted to use these clans for the purpose of battle.
Here allegiances between families or clans switched depending on what suited their interests so support for the English or Scottish throne was not set by which side they were on. They had more connection to other border families than who’s bottom was on what throne. This caused a lot of problems for the English and Scottish Crown.
For a time, powerful local clans dominated a region on the border between England and Scotland, known as the Debatable Lands, where neither monarch’s law meant anything.
The Elliots, with the Armstrongs, were the most troublesome of the great Scottish Border families in the Middle Ages, the Redheugh branch being regarded as the most influential of them. Together they could raise an army that was said to rival anything the Crown could do.
The culture and traditions of the Border Clans/Families were quite clearly identified. There are very specific customs to this area and many wonderful legends.
Clan Feuds and Allies
At the Battle of Melrose the Eliotts supported Scott of Buccleuch, but their support of the Scotts was short lived and a bitter feud between the Elliots and the Scotts was to ensue. Scott of Buccleuch executed four Ellots for the minor crime of cattle rustling. In response three hundred Ellots rode to avenge the fate of their kinsmen. During the battle losses on both sides were heavy but eventually the two clans came to terms with each other.
At one time in the pay of Queen Elizabeth, known to have described them as ‘stout Elliots,’ during a feud with the Scotts of Buccleuch, supporters of Mary Stuart. Following the lynching by James V of John Armstrong of Gilnockie in July, 1533, the Elliots, Armstrongs and other Border allies were not well disposed towards the Stuart monarchs.
Another feud took place between the Ellots and James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell, the future husband of Mary, Queen of Scots. A skirmish took place around Hermitage Castle in which the earl was wounded. In reprisal, in 1569, a royal force of nearly four thousand men devastated the Ellot’s lands
Stobbs Elliots & The Earls of Minto
The Elliots of Stobs go back to Gawain Elliot of Stobs in the late 16th century, who was descended from the Elliots of Redheugh. Since the 17th century, when Border plundering was finally suppressed, they have been the principal among the many cadet houses. Gawain was succeeded as Laird of Stobs by Gilbert, known as “Gibbie wi’ the gowden gartens”, and from one of his sons the baronets and earls of Minto are descended.
Of this line, several of whom were distinguished as judges and empire builders, the most famous were George Elliot, vegetarian and teetotaller, who as governor of Gibraltar in 1779 conducted the heroic and successful defence of the Rock when it was besieged by Franco-Spanish forces, and Gilbert Elliot, first Earl of Minto, a notable Governor-General of India in the early 19th century.
His great grandson, Gilbert, fourth Earl of Minto (1845-1914), is remembered in the sporting world for having broken his neck riding in the Grand National. The mishap had no permanent effects and he was Governor-General of Canada before succeeding Lord Curzon as Viceroy of India in 1905. He was the chief architect of the Morley-Minto Reforms, regarded as dangerously radical in some circles at the time though, as it turned out, insufficient to stem the tide of Indian unrest.
The seat of the Earl of Minto was Minto House (above), in Hawick, and of the Elliot of Stobs, chief of the clan at Redheugh.
The Union of Crowns and Dispersal of the Clan Overseas
The Union of the Crowns was the end of the Border Reivers. The Clans and Families of the Borders were problematic for Scotland and England and the Union meant the treatment of those that lived in these areas was harsh. Many people were executed and there was mass emigration over to Ulster. Emigration happened in such numbers to one place which produced who we call ‘Ulster Scots; . This part of history was similar to the Highland Clearances but happened over a longer time. People on both sides of the border suffered. The Border way of life was decimated.
Robert Eliott of Redheugh left his broad lands in Liddesdale and went into exile in Fife The use of the letter “i” in the Ellot surname was introduced in about 1650.
In 1666 Sir Gillbert Eliott of Stobs was created a Baronet of Nova Scotia by Charles II of England. He became chief of the Clan Elliot in 1673.
In 1764 the third Baronet remodelled the old Tower of Stobs into a mansion house. His second son was George Augustus Eliott who was rewarded for a spirited defense of Gibraltar in 1782.
A branch of the chief’s family acquired the lands of Minto in 1703. Gilbert Elliot-Murray-Kynynmound, 1st Earl of Minto was a diplomat who served in Corsica and Vienna. He later became Governor General of Bengal.
The independence of character of specifically the Elliots made them very successful in Britain's expansion overseas. They were among the leaders of this and have prospered well, spreading the Clan throughout the world.