The first recorded of the family was John Johnstone, whose son, Gilbert, is named in records dated after 1194. John must therefore have been a prominent settler before that date. Sir John Johnstone, knight of the county of Dumfries, appears on the Ragman Roll swearing fealty to Edward I of England in 1296. His great-grandson was appointed one of the wardens of the western marches in 1381. His son, Sir Adam Johnstone of that ilk, was Laird of Johnstone before 1413, and took part with the Scottish army in the Battle of Sark in 1448. Sir Adam also took part on the royal side in the suppression of the rebellion of the Black Douglases by the Crown. He was rewarded by the King with a grant of the lands of Buittle and Sannoch near Threave Castle, formerly part of the Douglas lands of Galloway. Adam’s eldest son, Sir John, was the progenitor of the Annandale or main branch of the family, while another reputed, though unidentified, son, Matthew, who was said to have married a daughter of the Earl of Angus, chief of the Red Douglases, was the ancestor of the Westerhall branch.
The Johnstones, unlike many of their neighbours, who raided one another’s lands, ‘sought only to raid into England’, but they had a hereditary feud with the Maxwells. Lord Maxwell, the head of this great family, was the most powerful man in the south-west of Scotland in the sixteenth century. He was slain, with many of his men, at the battle of Dryfe Sands near Lockerbie on 7 December 1593. In turn, at a meeting held under a flag of truce in 1608 to reconcile their differences, Johnstone was treacherously shot in the back and killed by the ninth Lord Maxwell, who paid for his crime on the scaffold in 1614.
James Johnstone, the chief of the clan, was created Lord Johnstone of Lochwood by Charles I in 1633. Ten years later he was made Earl of Hartfell, which title was designated to him and his heirs male only. He joined Montrose after the Battle of Kilsyth in August 1645. He was captured at Philiphaugh, imprisoned in the castles of Dumbarton, Glasgow and St. Andrews, but was spared through the intercession of the Marquis of Argyll.
To recompense Lord Hartfell for the hardships he had suffered in the royal cause, throughout the Commonwealth period, Charles II created him Earl of Annandale and Hartfell, Viscount of Annan, Lord Johnstone of Lochwood, Lochmaben, Moffatdale and Evandale. As James, the Earl of Annandale and Hartfell, had at that time only daughters as his heirs, the king therefore granted a charter in 1662 erecting the land into a territorial earldom entailed to the heirs male of his body, and failing that, to heirs female. Although James later had a son, William, this grant was to be of consequence three centuries later.
In 1701, William, the third Earl of Hartfell and second Earl of Annandale and Hartfell, was raised to the rank of Marquess of Annandale. He held many important state offices including Secretary of State and President of the Privy Council. James, second Marquess of Annandale, died unmarried at Naples in 1730 while on his second grand tour, having enjoyed the family dignities and estates for only nine years. His half-brother, George, third and last Marquess, who succeeded him, was found on 5 March 1747 to be incapable of managing his affairs, and John, second Earl of Hopetoun was appointed curator. On the third Marquess’s death unmarried in 1792 the family titles became dormant and the estates devolved upon his grand-nephew, James, third Earl of Hopetoun through Lady Henrietta Johnstone, who was his grandmother.
Unsuccessful attempts were made in the nineteenth century to revive the Annandale titles, but it was not until 1971 that real progress was made. It was decided to proceed upon the basis of the Charter of 1662, unlike all previous cases, which re-granted the earldom of Annandale and Hartfell as a territorial earldom capable of descending through the female line. The first step was to confirm the head of the Annandale family as Chief of the Johnstones, and to update their family pedigree. This, unfortunately, had not been done for two hundred years. On 16 February 1982, the Lord Lyon recognized Major Percy Johnstone of Annandale and of that ilk as Baron of the lands of the earldom of Annandale and Hartfell and of the lordship of Johnstone, Hereditary Steward of the Stewartry of Annandale and Hereditary Keeper of the Castle of Lochmaben. From there the case was presented to the House of Lords in June 1985, and the Court found in favour of Major Percy’s son, Patrick, who is the present and 11th Earl of Annandale and Hartfell and Chief of the Name and Arms of Johnstone.
Other possible senior branches of the clan also flourished, particularly the house of Caskieben. Sir George Johnston of Caskieben who is said to have been descended from one Stephen de Johnston, the purported brother of the Laird of Johnstone, was created a Baronet of Nova Scotia on 31 March 1626. The third Baronet fought in the army of William of Orange at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690. The current holder of this title, the fourteenth Baronet, resides in America.
Originally, the seat of the Clan Chief was the old castle of Lochwood, now a ruin, south of Moffat. The present family seat is Raehills, near St. Ann’s, Lockerbie.
Written by Chief of Clan Johnstone, Lord Annandale, and Cecil, Baron Johnson of Kilmaine, and Commissioner to the Chief of Clan Johnstone.