Oliphant Clan History

The Oliphants appear firstly as a family in Normandy, where Osbert Oliphant held sway in 1045 and who are currently known to have first held lands in England at Lilford, Northamptonshire although may have done so earlier in Hereford and Wessex. In 1090, Roger is the first Olifard for whom there is contemporary evidence of the surname being used.

David de Olifard is commonly held to be the progenitor of House of Oliphant. During the 1141 Battle of Winchester David de Olifard saved the life of his godfather, David I of Scotland receiving in return grants of land at Crailing and Smailholm in Scotland and so becoming the first Chief and first of four successive hereditary Justiciars of the Lothians.)  Malcolm IV also created the Great Barony of Bothwell for David or his son.

Sir Walter, the 2nd Chief, married Christian, the daughter of Ferteth, the Earl of Strathearn in 1173, by 1183 had gained the lands of Aberdalgie in Strathearn.

In 1296 the 10th Chief, Sir William, was captured at the Battle of Dunbar and taken as a prisoner. As a result, he is one of very few Scots who did not sign the Ragman Roll (of Scottish nobles submitting to Edward I of England). He soon took up the cause of Scottish Independence, in 1304 defended Stirling Castle against Edward. Sir William was captured and sent to the Tower of London. However, he was later released and he or his cousin of the same name was awarded lands of Balcraig, Auchtertyre, Turin, Newtyle, Gask and Gallery as compensation in 1317. Nine years before his death in 1329, Sir William was a signatory to the Declaration of Arbroath which asserted Scotland’s freedom to Pope John XXII.

Sir William’s nephew’s son, Sir Walter married The Bruce’s youngest daughter, Elizabeth. Together they received the Barony of Kellie in 1360.

Laurence Oliphant, the 15th Chief, was a Lord of Parliament in the July of 1455, although there are earlier refences to his grandfather as Lord Oliphant. In 1491 he was an ambassador to France and he subsequently became keeper of Edinburgh Castle.

The fourth Lord Oliphant was a staunch supporter of Mary, Queen of Scots and a member of the inquiry which acquitted the Earl of Bothwell of the murder of Lord Darnley, Queen Mary’s second husband. The fourth Lord attended the queen’s wedding and fought for her at the Battle of Langside in 1568. 


The Oliphants remained devoted to the Jacobite cause and the ninth Lord Oliphant was imprisoned for his part at Killiecrankie in 1689. During the rising of 1715 he was accompanied by Oliphant of Bachilton, Oliphant of Condie and Oliphant of Carpow, as well as the ninth Lord’s his cousin, Laurence Oliphant of Gask, who was also to play an active role in the campaign of Charles Edward Stewart in 1745. After the defeat at Culloden both Gask Oliphants were exiled in France.

The daughter of Laurence the Younger was the songstress Carolina, later called Lady Nairne.

Laurence the Elder’s sister married their cousin. This was Laurence Oliphant of 5th of Condie. His son (Laurence Oliphant, 6th of Condie) worked with Gask’s brother, James, to raise funds for the campaign of 1745. The 6th laird of Condie built up large estates in Perthshire although, after his death, these were later spread amongst those appointed guardians of his son.

The current Oliphant Chief is descended from this Condie branch of Oliphants, in the male line. This branch were noteworthy in the 19th and 20th centuries, producing an Ambassador, a Chairman of the Hon. E. India Company, two Generals, an Admiral, a Chief Justice of Ceylon as well as two MPs and a president of the Madrigal Society who wrote words for the chorale of marriage of King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra. 

Although there have been many, another branch, the Oliphants of Rossie produced a Postmaster General of Scotland and Betty, founder of the Canadian National Ballet School. 

The Oliphants had numerous castles, houses and places of Clan interest all over Scotland, with the fourth Lord holding lands in 7 counties including Broxburn and Muirhouse near Edinburgh, a quarter of Caithness, Kellie in Fife and various grants around Perthshire.

There is a wealth of Clan memorabilia held by an Oliphant Chieftain at Ardblair Castle, a Blair seat near Blairgowie in Perthshire in addition to that held in the Chiefly line.