Origin of the clan

The surname Galbraith means Foreign Briton. The surname denoted the ethnic differences between the Gaels who migrated to Scotland in about the fifth century and the native Welsh speaking Britons of the Kingdom of Strathclyde. The Strathclyde Britons remained a distinct ethnic group from the Highland Gaels and Lowland Angles until the fourteenth century. The former capital of the Kingdom of Strathclyde was Dumbarton (”Fortress of the Britons”), in the Lennox.

In Scottish Gaelic the Galbraiths are called Breatanuich or Clann-a-Breatannuich, meaning “Britons” and “Children of the Britons”. The early Galbraiths held lands in the Lennox, in the area of Loch Lomond, north of Dumbarton. The stronghold of these early Galbraiths was on the island of Inchgalbraith in Loch Lomond. The celebrated heraldist Iain Moncreiffe of that Ilk speculated that the Arms of the Galbraiths, which bore three bears’ heads, may allude to the British name Arthur, which means bear.






The Galbraith tartan.

The man who is considered to be first chief of Clan Galbraith was Gilchrist Bretnach who married the granddaughter of the first Earl of Lennox.

The fourth chief, Sir William Galbraith of Buthernock, married a sister of “Black Comyn” who was head of the most powerful family in Scotland at the time. Sir William, however, sided against the Comyns when he had a part in the rescue the boy king Alexander III from Comyn’s control. Ultimately Sir William rose in power to becoming one of the co-Regents of Scotland in 1255. Sir William’s son, the fifth chief of the clan, Sir Arthur, supported Robert the Bruce, and also married a sister of Sir James Douglas. ‘Good Sir James Douglas’ is famous for perishing in Spain against the Saracens, while leading a small band of Scottish knights carrying Bruce’s heart to the Holy Land.

A branch of the Galbraiths held Culcreuch in Strathendrick in 1320, and before the end of that century had inherited the leadership of the clan. In 1489 the twelfth chief, Thomas Galbraith of Culcreuch, was captured by James IV and hanged.



Fall of the clan

The 17th Chief of Clan Galbraith, Robert Galbraith, Laird of Culcreuch brought ruin to the clan. Sometime before 1593 Robert’s widowed mother had married, against his wishes, the chief of the Clan MacAulay, Aulay MacAulay, Laird of Ardencaple. Galbraith’s animosity towards MacAulay was so much that Galbraith was said to have “gevin vp kindnes, and denunceit his euill-will to him  with solempne vowis of revenge“. In spring of 1593, Robert Galbraith, purchased a commission of Justiciary, (a commission of fire and sword), to pursue the Clan Gregor and “their ressetters and assisters“. Both the MacAulays and Colquhouns were suspicious of Galbraith’s real intentions, and on May 3, 1593 the lairds of the two clans complained that Galbraith had only purchased the commission under counsel from George Buchanan and that Galbraith had no intentions of actually harassing the MacGregors. It seemed more likely that the Galbraiths, allied with the Buchanans would direct their vengeance against the MacAulays and Colquhouns, under the guise of hunting and clearing the Clan Gregor from the Lennox. Ultimately Robert Galbraith’s letter of commission was taken from him. In 1612 Robert and his wife, likely from pressure from higher up, gave up possession of West Milligs, to his mother who had married MacAulay. Thus, West Milligs (which adjoined Ardencaple (modern day Helensburgh) had been held by the Galbraiths of Culcreuch since at least the mid fifteenth century, was lost to the MacAulays of Ardencaple.

In 1622, Robert Galbraith, Laird of Culcreuch, was in debt to his brother-in-law (whom he attempted to assassinate), was denounced as a rebel, and forced to give up Culcreuch Castle. Galbraith then fled Scotland for Ireland where he died ten years later, leaving nothing for his son to inherit, and his grandson the 19th Chief of Clan Galbraith was the last of his line.



Clan profile

      Clan Motto: Ab obice sauvoir - (Sweeter for there having been difficulties).

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