Origins of the name

Wars of Scottish Independence: The origin of the Turnbull name was told by Hector Boece, in his “History of Scotland.” Boece tells the legend that during the Wars of Scottish Independence William of Rule saved King Robert Bruce by wrestling to the ground a bull that had charged at the King. For this feat, the King rewarded William with the lands of Philiphaugh, now part of Selkirk, and dubbed Rule “Turnebull” (the “e” was later dropped from the name). The Lands that the Turnbulls came from was settled by Vikings in the 10th and 11th Centuries, giving the Turnbulls a very Norse look and being reported to be with great size, with many having blonde and red hair and striking blue eyes. Because of their open defiance to the English Crown, many Turnbulls turned into Trumbull, Tremble, Trimble and Trembley(as many went to France to continue fighting the English), and as they went to Northern Ireland (where many still are today including the President of N.Ireland), America, Canada and Australia.

Competing theories suggest that Turnbull is derived from the Old English “Trumbald” or French “Tumbald” (meaning “strong and bold”), or that Robertus de Turnbulyes, who swore fealty to King Edward I of England in 1296, could be the family father.

Despite the dispute over the origin of the Turnbull name, historians agree that:

      Robert the Bruce awarded lands in Philiphaugh to William Turnebull.

      William Turnebull assumed a bull’s head as his heraldic symbol with the motto, “I Saved The King” — both of which have been incorporated into the Turnbull Clan crest.

      The name Turnebull was not recorded before 1315, when William was awarded the aforementioned lands in Philiphaugh — and following this time, use of the Rule surname dwindled while use of the Turnebull surname increased.

The Turnbulls were to become one of the most turbulent of the Borders families. A Scottish Noblemen, sent to see if the Turnbulls would back their claim to the throne, report back that they had no care at all for politicians but always yearned for a fight anytime. Prior to the Battle of Halidon Hill in 1333, Hamish Turnbull, accompanied by a huge mastiff, approached the English host and challenged anyone to single combat. He is said to have defeated Seven of his Majesty’s Knights before Sir William Kerr (said to be 1/2 the size of the reported 6 foot 6 inch Giant) defeated him in Combat, after the Turnbull was enraged by the killing of his beloved Mastiff. Though he(Kerr) later died of his wounds, the Kerrs and Turnbulls had the most bitter blood feud of any Boarder War, and are considered the Scottish/English version of Hatfields and McCoys.

Major Gordon Turnbull led the vicious Counterattack on the French Cavalry by the 2nd ‘Scots Greys’ at Waterloo. Though outnumbered some 2-1, the Scots Broke Napolean’s famed cavalry, and the Greys destroyed most of Napoleans legendary Nogue’s brigade, resulting in the capture of the eagle of the 45th Ligne. According to Wellington, they had little tactical ability or nous (common sense), but fought like Raging Bulls. This was taken as a compliment to their leader, whose son, brother and three cousins rode into battle, with all five wounded and one dying. James Hamilton, overall commander of the Greys and the other Scottish cavalry regiment(who were supposed to form a reserve), ordered a continuation of the charge to the French grande batterie. Though the Greys had neither the time nor means to disable the cannon or carry them off, they put very many out of action as the gun crews fled the battlefield. Some historians note that this action had a very direct outcome on the Battle itself.

Two Turnbulls are Scottish recipients of the Victoria Cross, the highest and most prestigious award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces. The most famous being James Youll Turnbull, who single-handedly held a position for 24 hours, against almost a full regiment of Germans, with a Machine Gun. Each time the British tried to send reinforcements, they were wiped out due to the open ground exposing them to a deadly crossfire. The ground was held by Turnbull singlehandedly, and this story became renowned for the Biritish people in the dark days of WW1. He unfortunately died the next day while leading a Brigade of Highlanders on a Grenade attack, which eventually turned the tide of the deadly stalemate where some 50K soldiers on both sides became casualties.

Winston Churchill himself wrote on this defense in his book stating: On 1 July 1916 at Leipzig Salient, Authuille, France, Sergeant Turnbull’s party captured a post of apparent importance to the enemy who immediately began heavy counter-attacks, which were continued throughout the day. Although his party was wiped out and replaced several times, Sergeant Tumbull never wavered in his determination to hold the post, the loss of which would have been very serious. Almost single-handed he maintained his position, displaying the highest degree of valour and skill in the performance of his duty. Later in the day he was killed while engaged in a bombing counter-attack. The Germans were said, after seeing the Body of Turnbull in his Uniform Kilt, to call him and all Scots “The Devils in Dress” and “Ladies from Hell!”

The Turnbulls held land throughout the Borders. They were the only Clan to have a bounty placed on them by the King. William Turnbull received a charter from Robert the Bruce in 1315 to land near Philiphaugh, and John Turnbull received the lands of Hundleshope from King David II of Scotland.



15th to 16 Centuries

John Turnbull, nicknamed ‘outwith sword’, for his fierce temper, is listed as a Scots prisoner of war in England around 1400. William Turnbull held a papal appointment in 1433 and this same name appears as one of the canons of Glasgow Cathedral in 1452. Stephen Tournebulle represented Scottish interests at the University of Orleans at the beginning of the sixteenth century. William Turnbull, Bishop of Glasgow, procured from the pope a charter to establish a university in the city in 1450. The bishop’s vision was realised when the University of Glasgow was founded in 1451.



Turnbulls in the New World

Famed Confederate General Samuel McGowan’s Mother was a Turnbull. He commanded a brigade in A.P. Hill’s famous “Light Division” and was wounded several times. Ezra Warner’s book, Generals in Gray, claims that “McGowan’s career and reputation were not excelled by any other brigade commander in the Army of Northern Virginia.” His First Cousin was Maj.Thomas Turnbull who was in Charge of the Battery that held its ground in the Legendary Pickett’s Charge. Thomas stayed loyal to the Union and was forever outcast from the rest of the Family as 17 Turnbull’s served for the Confederacey. Thomas survived the War and later was discharged from the Army for being to favorable to the Southern Whites during reconstruction by the Radical Republicans under his chief and Mentor Hancock who also was dismissed as the head of reconstruction in Texas.

John B. Gordon’s maternal Grandmother was a Turnbull according to his book:Reminiscences of the Civil War.In it he tells how his Ancient Scottish Warrior Traits and Instincts helped him becoming the Leader of Robert E. Lee’s legendary Army of Northern Virginia. Though he had no formal Military Education, he was to become the Souths most Daring of Generals rising from a Private to Lt.General. He has the remarkable achievement of never losing a battle or an attack that he led himself. He later became the Hero of Georgia and the Most beloved man in the South after the Civil War. Robert E. Lee stated to many that General Gordon’s courage was of the Highest order and that with his quick, keen, shrewd intelligence made him the most brilliant and successful soldier in 1865.

William Turnbull, a noted nineteenth-century American ornithologist, was born in Midlothian in 1820. Herbert Turnbull, who died in 1961, was a distinguished mathematician responsible for major contributions to the study of algebra.

Stephen Turnbull is an author who writes about medieval Japan and its people. He has had great success from his books selling over 6 million.

Isaiah Richard Turnbull M.D., Ph.D. is an extensively published expert and researcher on inflammation and sepsis. He lives in St. Louis where he is a resident surgeon at Barnes-Jewish Hospital.

More recently, Jack Turnbull lived in Stanley, Northumberland where he was a coal miner. He passed away in 2000.

David Turnbull, a Systems Administrator in Albany, NY, currently resides in Schenectady, NY (1981-present).




      Fatlips Castle

      Barnhills Tower

Bedrule Castle

Barnshills Castle

Fulton Tower

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