Origins of the Clan

There is some debate about the origin of the name Napier. One theory holds that a “naperer” is “a person in charge of table linen in a royal or manor house” and that the original Napiers must have been “naperers” from England or France. The other theory is that the name Napier is a derivative spelling of “Nae Peer.” In 1625, Sir Archibald Napier of Merchiston, the first Lord Napier, presented an affidavit to the College of Heralds, in which he described this origin of the name Napier, as having been bestowed by the king (probably Alexander II) on one Donald Lennox in recognition for acts of bravery. He states:

After the battle as the manor is everyone advancing and setting forth his own acts the King said unto them “Ye have all done well but there is one amongst you who hath Na peer,” and calling Donald into his presence he commanded him in regard of his worthy service and in augmentation of his honour to change his name from Lenox to Napier, and gave him the lands of Gosford and lands in Fife and made him his own servant, which discourse is confirmed by sundry of my old evidencies and testimonies wherein we are called Lenox alias Napier.                                                                                                                                                                              


Wars of Scottish Independence



Merchiston Castle or Merchiston Tower as it appeared in the early 1800s, was home to John Napier, and is now at the center of Napier University’s Merchiston campus.

The earliest reference to Napiers in Scotland is in the charter of Malcolm, Earl of Lennox, granting lands at Kilmahew in Dumbartonshire to John de Naper, sometime around 1290. During the Wars of Scottish Independence this John Napier was probably one of the few defenders of Stirling Castle during the Siege of Stirling Castle who were forced to surrender to the English led by King Edward I of England in 1304.



15th Century

Another branch of the clan appeared in Merchiston, near Edinburgh. The first Laird of Merchiston, Alexander Napier, obtained a charter to the lands of Merchiston in 1436. The Napiers of Merchiston would produce Provosts of Edinburgh, numerous admirals and generals, as well as John Napier, the 8th Laird of Merchiston, inventor of logarithms. Merchiston Castle in Edinburgh still stands, as centerpiece to Napier University’s Merchiston campus.

John Napier of Rusky, the 3rd Laird of Merchiston was killed, in service to the king, leading the Clan Napier at the Battle of Sauchieburn on June 11, 1488.



16th Century & Anglo-Scottish Wars

During the Anglo-Scottish Wars Sir Alexander Napier, the 5th Laird of Merchiston, led the clan when they fought at the Battle of Flodden Field in 1513, but he was there slain.

Alexander Napier, the 6th Laird of Merchiston died when the Clan Napier fought against the English at the Battle of Pinkie Cleugh in 1547.



17th Century & Civil War

During the Civil War Archibald Napier, 9th Laird of Merchiston, fought in the Battle of Philiphaugh in 1645. He was over 70 years of age.

The Kilmahew Napiers were the progenitors of most of the Napiers in the United States, when, sometime between 1650 and 1655 a Patrick Napier, who is recorded, in 1649, as being an apprentice to Dr Alexander Pennycuik, surgeon-general to the Scottish Army at the Battle of Dunbar (1650), emigrated to America. After the Civil War, Archibald Napier, 2nd Lord Napier supported the Royalist rising of 1651 to 1654.

The Napiers held lands at Kilmahew for 18 generations. The estate was sold in 1820.




      Kilmahew Castle, Cardross, Dunbartonshire, is the ancestral home of the Napiers of Kilmahew. It is now a ruin.

      Merchiston Castle, Edinburgh, is the ancestral home of the Napiers of Merchiston. It is the centre of the Merchiston Campus of Napier University.

      Other castles built or owned by the Napiers include Culcreuch Castle (Fintry, Stirlingshire) and Lauriston Castle (Edinburgh).



John Napier, 8th Laird of Merchiston, inventor of logarithms.



Notable Napiers

      John Napier, 8th Laird of Merchiston – inventor of logarithms

      General Charles Napier - A statue of him still stands in Trafalgar Square.

      Admiral Charles Napier – or “Black Charlie,” who served during the Napoleonic Wars.

      Robert Napier, Baron of Magdala – was awarded an hereditary peerage for his efforts to rescue British diplomats in Abyssinia.

      Robert Napier – a marine engineer often considered the “father of Clyde Shipbuilding.”

      Francis Napier – chaired the Napier Commission in 1883.




The Clan Napier does not possess a coat of arms. In Scotland it is primarily individuals that are granted coats of arms. The arms of the Clan Chief, or to give him his full title, Chief of the Name and Arms of Napier are: Quarterly, 1st & 4th, Argent, a saltire engrailed cantoned of four roses Gules, barbed Vert; 2nd & 3rd, Or, on a bend Azure, a mullet pierced between two crescents of the Field, within a double tressure flory counterflory of the Second (see article on heraldry). The current Chief is Francis Nigel Napier, 14th Lord Napier, who is the only person permitted to use these arms.

The original arms of Napier (as seen in the picture of John Napier on this page) were: Argent, a saltire engrailed between four roses gules, barbed vert. These arms bear striking similarity to the arms of the Clan Lennox (see origin of the clan, above, for explanation). The arms of the current chief are the Napier arms quartered with a differenced version of the Scott coat of arms, added when the Napier family absorbed the Scott Baronetcy of Thirlestane (see Lord Napier).




The Western Australia Police Pipe Band, a Pipe band based in Perth, Australia, has worn the Napier tartan since 1966.


Clan Napier



“Sans Tache” (Without Stain)


can be seen here

Clan chieftain

Major the Right Honourable Sir Francis Nigel Napier, KCVO, K St J, DL, Hon. D Lit. 14th Lord Napier, 5th Baron Ettrick, and 11th Baronet of Nova Scotia.


Clan Napier webpage


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