A ram in the sea is said to have been an emblem on the seal of Ramsay Abbey in Huntingdon in the 11th century. When David, Earl of Huntingdon, travelled north to claim his kingdom of Scotland in 1124, he was accompanied by many young Norman noblemen keen to share in their overlord’s heritage. These may have included Sir Symon de Ramesie who received a grant of land in Midlothian from David and who witnessed several important charters, including one to the monks of Holyrood in 1140.



Branches of the clan

The de Ramesie family prospered, and by the 13th century there were five, or even six, major branches: Dalhousie (Midlothian), Auchterhouse (Angus, aka Forfarshire), Bamff (Perthshire), Forthar (Fife), Clatto (Fife) and, probably, Colluthie (Fife). Peter de Ramsay, son of Nessus de Ramsay of Forthar, was appointed Bishop of Aberdeen in 1247 and, before his death in 1256, like William de Ramsay of Dalhousie, he was a member of the king’s council in 1255 during the minority of Alexander III of Scotland. William’s son, or perhaps his grandson, also called William, appears on the Ragman Roll, swearing fealty to Edward I of England in 1296 as Ramsay de Dalwolsy, along with ten other Ramsay lairds from Angus, Fife, Midlothian and the borders.



14th century and Wars of Scottish Independence

Dalhousie later declared for King Robert the Bruce, becoming one of the signatories to the open letter to the pope, now known as the Declaration of Arbroath, which declared Scotland’s independence in 1320. He had at least two sons, William and Alexander. Alexander was a renowned knight, and for his many services he was made Sheriff of Teviotdale in 1342. This aroused the jealousy of the Clan Douglas, who claimed the office as their own. Sir William Douglas of Liddesdale fell upon Alexander with a strong force of men and imprisoned him in Hermitage Castle, where he starved to death. Alexander’s brother, William, also endured captivity when he was captured at the Battle of Neville’s Cross in 1346. The English were apparently kinder jailers than the Douglases, as William lived to tell the tale.

Sir John Ramsay of Auchterhouse fought in William Wallace’s campaign (1297-1303) and with Edward Bruce during the Scottish conquest of Ireland (1317). Sir William Ramsay of Colluthie, who was captured by the English both at Battle of Neville’s Cross (1346) and when he fought for the French at Poitiers (1356), was created Earl of Fife in 1358 by King David II.

In 1400, Sir Alexander Ramsay held Dalhousie Castle in Midlothian against a siege by Henry IV of England, and resisted so resolutely that the English were forced to withdraw.



16th century and Anglo-Scottish Wars

During the Anglo-Scottish Wars Sir Alexander’s descendant and namesake, Alexander Ramsay, was killed at the Battle of Flodden Field in 1513, when Dalhousie passed to his son, Nicolas, who was to be a staunch supporter of Mary, Queen of Scots. After Mary’s final defeat the Ramsays acknowledged her son as James VI. They were later to be handsomely rewarded for saving that monarch’s life. In 1600, John Ramsay, one of Nicolas’s great-grandsons, killed the Earl of Gowrie and his brother, Alexander Ruthven, who were apparently attempting to kidnap the king in what became known as the Gowrie Conspiracy which was led by the Clan Ruthven.



17th century and Civil War

Alexander Ramsey commanded the Scottish forces at the Battle of Kringen in 1612.

John was created Earl of Holderness and Viscount Haddington by a grateful king. George Ramsay, the new earl’s eldest brother, also attained high rank when he was created Lord Ramsay in 1618. Ramsay’s eldest son, William, opposed the religious policies of Charles I of England, Scotland and Ireland and raised a cavalry regiment for Parliament. He fought at the Battle of Marston Moor, and was part of General David Leslie’s force which surprised James Graham, 1st Marquess of Montrose at the Battle of Philiphaugh in 1645. He had been created Earl of Dalhousie in 1633.



18th to 19th centuries

The Ramsays were thereafter to continue in military and public service down to the present day. They served in all the great campaigns of the 18th and 19th centuries on the continent, in Canada, and in India. The 9th Earl of Dalhousie was Governor General of British North America from 1819 to 1828, and commander-in-chief of India from 1829 to 1832. His son, James Broun-Ramsay also served as Governor General of India from 1847 to 1856, during a period of great expansion of British interest on the sub-continent. He was created Marquess of Dalhousie in 1849, but this title died with him in 1860, although the older earldom passed to a cousin from whom the present Earl descends.

Many other branches of the family have also produced persons of distinction and rank. Admiral the Honourable Sir Alexander Ramsay, the younger son of the 14th Earl of Dalhousie, married Her Royal Highness Princess Victoria of Connaught, granddaughter of Queen Victoria. Their son, the late Captain Alexander Ramsay of Mar (Aberdeenshire), and his wife, the Lady Saltoun, chief of the Frasers, are, by the Queen’s personal wish, members of the royal family. Sir Gilbert Ramsay of Bamff, descended from Neis de Ramsay, physician to Alexander II of Scotland around 1232, was created a Baronet of Nova Scotia in 1666. Sir John Ramsay of Balmain (Kincardineshire), who was created Lord Bothwell in 1485, forfeited that title for treason in 1488 and it was later granted to the Hepburns; the Balmain Ramsays restored their fortunes by being created baronets, first in 1625 and again in 1806.




      Brechin Castle the current seat of the Earl of Dalhousie, chief of Clan Ramsay.

      Dalhousie Castle was the previous seat of the Earls of Dalhousie.



Other achievements

Fighting was not the only talent of this family. Andrew Ramsay, better known as the Chevalier de Ramsay, left Scotland for France in 1708. His academic excellence was soon recognized, and he became mentor to the Prince de Turenne. The King of France appointed him a Knight of the Order of Saint Lazarus, and for a time he was tutor to both the Jacobite princes, Charles Edward Stuart and Henry Benedict Stuart. Allan Ramsay, the great 18th century poet, and his son, the distinguished portrait painter, were descended from the Clan Lairds of Cockpen, cadets of the chiefly house. In 1972, Dalhousie Castle was converted to a hotel, and the clan seat became Brechin Castle in Angus.




      2003 — Dalhousie Castle in Bonnyrigg, Midlothian, was sold to Von Essen Hotels.

      1999 — Simon Ramsay, 16th Earl of Dalhousie and former Governor General of Rhodesia and Nyasoland, died on July 15 at age 84.

      1972 — Dalhousie Castle was converted into a hotel.

      1568 — Laird of Dalhousie fought alongside Mary Queen of Scots at Langside, Glasgow, where Mary’s army was defeated.

      1563 — Confirmed by the Marie Stuart Society in 2003, Mary Queen of Scots stayed at Dalhousie Castle before continuing to Roslin.

      1320 — William Ramsay became a signatory to the Declaration of Arbroath in which Scottish Barons appealed to the Pope for aid against English oppression.

      1314 — On June 24, William Ramsay joined forces with King Robert the Bruce to defeat Edward II of England at Bannockburn.

      1296 — King Edward I of England stayed at Dalhousie Castle before the Battle of Falkirk when Sir William Wallace was defeated.

      1280 — Ramsay Dalhousie (Ramsay de Dalwolsey) built the inner Keep with Vaults and the bottle dungeon.

      1140–1280 — The Ramsays acquired large estates by marriage to the heiress of the Maules, Norman mercenaries who were employed by King David and thus secured royal grants of land in Midlothian and the Carse of Gowrie.

      1140 — Simon Ramsay (Simundus de Ramseia), a French nobleman under King David, was the first to land at Dalhousie. The Ramsays became notorious border raiders and for-hire cutthroats.

      1090 — The Viking and/or his son joined King Malcolm III of Scotland, and survived by robbing the natives.

      1066 — A German Viking, the progenitor of the Ramsay clan, sailed with Duke William II to England, and fought alongside Norman troops at the Battle of Hastings. The Ramsay Black Eagle battle emblem was produced.



Dalhousie branch

The Ramsays of Dalhousie (or Dalwolsie) in Midlothian were a branch of the main line of Scottish Clan Ramsay of whom the earliest known is Simon de Ramsay, of Huntingdon, England, mentioned in 1140 as the grantee of lands in West Lothian at the hands of David I. A Sir William de Ramsay of Dalhousie swore fealty to Edward I in 1296, but is famous for having in 1320 signed the letter to the pope asserting the independence of Scotland; and his supposed son, Sir Alexander Ramsay (d. 1342), was the Scottish patriot and capturer of Roxburgh Castle (1342), who, having been made warder of the castle and sheriff of Teviotdale by David II, was soon afterwards carried off and starved to death by his predecessor, the Douglas, in revenge. Sir John Ramsay of Dalhousie (1580-1626), James VI’s favorite, is famous for rescuing the king in the Gowrie conspiracy, and was created (1606) Viscount Haddington and Lord Ramsay of Barns (subsequently baron of Kingston and earl of Holderness in England). The barony of Ramsay of Melrose was granted in 1618 to his brother George Ramsay of Dalhousie (d. 1629), whose son William Ramsay (d. 1674) was made 1st earl of Dalhousie in 1633.



Clan profile



Ramsey tartan as illustrated in the Vestiarium Scoticum of 1842.



Origin of the name

The surname Ramsay is considered to be derived from a place name in Huntingdonshire (presently Cambridgeshire) in England.



Clan chief

The current chief of Clan Ramsay is James Ramsay, 17th Earl of Dalhousie.



Clan symbolism

Clan members may show their allegiance to their clan by wearing a crest badge and clan badge. Crest badges usually contain the chief’s heraldic crest and motto which are encircled by a strap and buckle. The crest and motto within the badge are the heraldic property of the clan chief alone. By wearing such crest badges, clan members show their allegiance to their chief. The crest badge suitable for a member of Clan Ramsay contains the crest: A unicorn’s head couped Argent armed Or, and the motto ORA ET LABORA (from Latin: “pray and labour”). Another clan symbol is the clan badge, or plant badge. These badges consist merely of sprigs of a specific plant, sometimes worn behind the crest badge on a bonnet. The clan badge of Clan Ramsay is Blue Harebell.

Today there are several tartans attributed to the surname Ramsay. The most popular Ramsay tartan is derived from one titled Ramsey in the Vestiarium Scoticum published in 1842. Though the Vestiarium has been proven to be a Victorian era hoax many of todays clan tartans are derived from it. The Vestiarium provides both an illustrative plate, and a written description of the sett, however the plate and description contradict each other.



Clan septs

There have been several sept names attributed to the clan. These include: Brechin, Brecheen and Maule.

Category posts

Search the Information Centre.

Need help? See our Search Tips