The name Urquhart is considered to be of Gaelic origin and has been variously translated as ‘by a rowan wood’ or ‘fort on a knoll’. The Urquhart family derive their name from the district of Urquhart which can be found in the old locality of Cromarty, on the north side of the Great Glen. This was originally Airchart, a place that was recorded in the life of saint Columba.
Although Craig Castle is the traditional seat of the clan, nearby Urquhart Castle is far better known, holding a majestic position by the shores of Loch Ness. Urquhart castle was once owned by Conachar of the royal house of Ulster who travelled to Scotland to aid king Malcolm III. There is a legend that Conachar was attacked by a wild boar but was saved by his hunting dog, who died saving his master. It is suggested that this is commemorated in the wild boar on the Urquhart arms.
Traditionally springing from a seafaring tribe, they are of minor importance in Scottish history but certainly of ancient origin. In fact, the writer Sir Thomas Urquhart compiled his own genealogy and described himself as being 143rd in direct descent from Adam and Eve.
William de Urchard is said to have defended the Moote of Cromarty in the time of William Wallace against supporters of the English claim to the crown. From the reign of David II of Scotland the Urquhart chiefs were hereditary sheriffs of Cromarty.
The family history of erudition and learned pursuits is epitomised by Sir Thomas Urquhart, who was a renowned writer of the seventeenth century and considered one of the most eccentric geniuses in Scottish history. He travelled Europe, collecting written works and on his return was taken prisoner by the English. While imprisoned in the Tower of London he published the first book of Rabelais, one of the world’s masterpieces of translation. He died in 1660, supposedly during a fit of laughter while celebrating the Restoration.
Captain John Urquhart of Craigston was a man of considerable wealth but the origins of his fortune are dubious.
His family referred to him as ‘the pirate’. He served with the Spanish Navy and this is probably where he amassed his fortune, from
the prize money that was paid for captured enemy vessels. He narrowly escaped death in 1715 Battle of Sheriffmuir, fighting on the side of the Jacobites. The Urquhart of Craigston family became of such social eminence that they were able to get the great Henry Raeburn to paint their family portraits.
Colonel James Urquhart was one of the principe Jacobite agents in Scotland and was also at Sheriffmuir where he was wounded. After his death in 1741 the chief title passed to his cousin William Urquhart of Meldrum, William, although a Jacobite was wary of the 1745 rising and avoided Culloden.
The last of this line was Major Beauchamp Urquhart who died in 1898 at the Battle of Atbara in Sudan. In 1959 Wilkins Fisk Urquhart, a descendant of a branch of the clan known as the Urquharts of Braelangswell established his right to be chief of the Clan Urquhart.
The chief of the clan is now his grandson; Wilkins Fisk Urquhart of Urquhart, younger. He resides in America.