Grant of Freuchie and of Grant

Introduction

The origins of the great Grant clan, in common with many others, are subject to much dispute, partly because the imaginative and the ambitious have been so keen to thrust deep into the "mists of antiquity" for their first named ancestors, partly because the effects of politics on kinship in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries are generally misunderstood. A couple of centuries ago it became almost a routine boast to claim foreign ancestry for Scottish clans, to the extent that Skene protested:

"We have shown it to be invariably the case, that when a clan claims a foreign origin, and accounts for their possession of the chiefship and property of the clan by a marriage with the heiress of the old proprietors, they can be proved to be in reality a cadet of that older house who had usurped the chiefship, while their claim to the chiefship is disputed by an acknowledged descendant of that older house." (The italics are the editor's.)

But this was too strong. Recent research suggests that clan heiresses were often presented to Flemish and Norman incomers during the reigns of David I and his grandsons, thus allowing many clans to claim both Flemish or Norman blood in the male line and a long Celtic descent on the distaff side. Clan Grant may be one of these.

The traditional accounts stressed the clan's rank as one of the principal branches of the Siol Alpine of which Clan Gregor is chief, and claimed descent from a 12th-Century Gregor Mór MacGregor. The name was said to be derived from the moor called Griantach or Sliabh-Griantais ("Plain of the Sun"), part of the Grants' Strathspey territories, and the Chief's crest, a burning hill proper, was held to represent the Baal-teine, a fire raised in honour of the sun by the Druids whose scanty remains are scattered across the moor.

A Celtic descent of the Grants cannot be refuted, but the possibility of a Grant heiress being given to an incomer of Flemish or Norman origin is intriguing, particularly in respect of the Grants' connections with the Bissets, an influential and powerful family believed to have been brought into Scotland by William the Lion (the king who succeeded his brother Malcom IV, grandson of David I). They prospered and held extensive lands in the counties of Berwick, Aberdeen, Banff and Ross, but in 1242, following a tragic mixture of murder, arson and treason, they lost much of their influence and a little later the three co-heiress daughters of their Ross-shire lands took their divided property into the families of de Fenton and de Graham (these two thirds destined eventually for the Frasers of Lovat), and of de Bosco (the part that eventually went to the Roses of Kilravock).

The Grants' connections with the Bissets may have begun in 1246 with the marriage of William le Grand to a Bisset heiress who brought him both the lands of Stratherrick in the Scottish highlands (the first Scottish site known to be occupied by Grants) and a manor in Nottinghamshire (in Central England). The Grants were then well established in Central-Eastern England, a region once the focus of the Flemish interest. The town of Grantham still carries their name, and the River Cam that runs through Cambridge was then known as the River Grant.

Some historians have commented on the dissimilarity between the arms of the Representer of the Grants in England (Argent three lions rampant and a chief Azure), and of the Chief of the Grants in Scotland Gules three antique crowns Or), while others emphasise the significance of the Grant arms in Scotland being so similar to those (Argent three antique crowns Gules) said to be quartered by the Frasers of Lovat for the Lordship of Lovat that came down to them from the Bissets with the daughter of Sir David Grahame of Lovat. (A change in the basic coat when moving across the border into a different kingdom was not uncommon. The Representer of the Bissets in England bore Azure semé of bezants, while their Chief in Scotland bore Argent a bend Gules.) The arms of the Bissets of Lovat or of Beaufort (in the 13th century they were the same family) are, however, open to conjecture. In later years Nisbet noted Bisset of Beaufort as Azure a bend Argent, while in Balfour's MS they are reported to be Azure a bend sinister Argent. (Forman's Roll and Workman's MS both record Bisset of that Ilk as bearing Argent a bend Gules.) Moncreiffe's notes mention an earlier version of the Grant arms with the field Azure instead of Gules, but at this period the tincture of the field could be changed for cadency (to indicate a different branch of the family).
Some writers did believe that the Grants and the Bissets were of the same stock, alleging that the armorial similarity of the "Grant crowns" and the "Bisset of Lovat" crowns was sufficient evidence, but friendship could be grounds enough for related coats to be adopted in those early days of heraldry. The friendship between Sir John Bisset of Lovat and Sir Laurence Grant, Sheriff of Inverness, and Robert Grant is recorded in a charter of 1258, and there was the Bisset marriage in 1246 that took the first Grants to Stratherrick. While it must remain a possibility that the Grants and the Bissets do spring from the same family, Norman-French or Flemish, as did, for example, the Setons and the Oliphants in the same area of Central-Eastern England, on balance the heraldic evidence does not support it. Primarily this is because there is no solid evidence that the Bissets of Lovat ever bore the "Lovat crowns" either as their principal coat or quartered with the Bisset bend.

To examine the early known generations of the Grants we should now look at the records begun by Sir Robert Douglas of Glenbervie in 1764, amended by John Philip in 1813, edited by Sir James Balfour Paul in 1908, and revised (as identified by the dark blue text) by the present editor with the notes of Sir Iain Moncreiffe of that Ilk and of Harry Pirie-Gordon of Buthlaw.

 




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