Urquhart

Urquhart is a Highland Scottish clan. They traditionally occupied the lands in the district and town of Cromarty, a former Royal Burgh with an excellent natural harbour on the tip of The Black Isle. Chiefs of the Clan were Barons and hereditary Sheriffs of the county for hundreds of years. Today the Clan is an international body organized in part by the Clan Urquhart Association, with Clan members in Scotland, England, Wales, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and America. The current Chief, Kenneth Trist Urquhart of Urquhart, is one of four Scottish Highland Chiefs that are American citizens.

History

Linguistic origin of the name

The name Urquhart is of ancient Gaelic origin, believed to be derived from Airchartdan. This has been variously translated as “upon a rowan wood” (copses of rowan trees are common in Glen Urquhart, the Clan’s place of origin according to oral tradition) and the “fort on the knoll,” perhaps alluding to Castle Urquhart and/or the previous neolithic forts upon which it was built. Some suggest the Urquhart family derive their name from the district of Urquhart on the Black Isle, located on the north side of the Great Glen. Earlier phonetic spellings include Urchard; the name, first recorded in the 1200s in a Charter from King Robert the Bruce to allow William de Urquhart of Cromarty to build Cromarty Castle, was written down long before the development of early modern English in the 1500-1600s.

Legendary origin according to oral tradition

The apical ancestor of Clan Urquhart was Conachar Mor, founder of the Clan. According to an historical address by the current Chief,

“As legend has it, in the days when wild boar, wolves and bears still roamed the Scottish Highlands a mighty warrior named Conachar Mor ruled over a swathe of territory near Inverness, on the northwest side of Loch Ness. A scion of the Royal House of Ulster, *Conachar became a hero in the folklore of the region for his strength and valour after he and his faithful, but aged hound An Cu Mor slew a ferocious wild boar that had long terrorised the Great Glen.

It is said that Conachar and his sword lie buried somewhere in what is today Glen Urquhart, and Conachar’s feat is reflected in the boars’ heads adopted as part of the heraldic achievement of the Chief of Clan Urquhart, who regards Conachar Mor as the founder of his clan.

Clan Urquhart took its name from Airchartdan or Urchard, as Conacharís territory was named when St. Columba visited the area in the sixth century, bringing Christianity to a hitherto heathen land. Later a castle was built there, overlooking Loch Ness, Scotland’s most famous loch. Urchard became Urquhart, and the area became known as Glen Urquhart. Today the remains of Urquhart Castle stand as an imposing monument to the past and a symbol of the ancient connection between Clan Urquhart and Glen Urquhart. The castle and glen serve as constant reminders to Urquharts throughout the world that their name had its origin here.”.

Conachar Mor’s son succeeded him as O’Conachar Mor, the second Urquhart, and so on down to the first Urquhart recorded in historical documents, William de Urquhart mentioned above. It has been tenuously suggested Conachar Mor’s two other sons went on to become the founders of Clan MacKay and Clan Forbes.

16th century and Anglo Scottish wars

A Victorian era, romanticised depiction of a member of the clan by R. R. McIan, from The Clans of the Scottish Highlands, published in 1845.

During the Anglo-Scottish Wars the Clan Urquhart fought at the Battle of Pinkie Cleugh in 1547, where nine sons of the Chief died in battle. This was the last major battle between the Royal Scottish and Royal English armies. Clan chiefs from Clan Munro, Clan Hunter, Clan Colquhoun, Clan MacFarlane and Clan Farquharson also died at this battle. Because of the awful number of Scottish lives lost at the Battle of Pinkie the 10th of September is known in Scotland as Black Saturday.

17th century and Civil War

In 1649 a body of Covenanters, opposed to Parliament, assaulted and took control of the town of Inverness and Inverness Castle. Commanded by Sir Thomas Urquhart of Cromarty, Colonel John Munro of Lemlair, Colonel Hugh Fraser, and Thomas Mackenzie of Pluscardine, they then expelled the garrison and razed the fortifications. On the approach of the parliamentary forces led by General David Leslie, they retreated back into Ross-shire.

By 1651 Scottish Royalist Covenantors had become disillusioned with Parliament. The Clan Urquhart fought at the Battle of Worcester in 1651 where the Chief, Sir Thomas Urquhart of Cromarty, was taken prisoner. The Clan had always been Stuart loyalists; further, Sir Thomas was knighted by Charles II, and was an active member of the King’s court. During his subsequent captivity at the Tower of London ordered directly by Oliver Cromwell, Sir Thomas published several books in an effort to demonstrate his value to society to secure his release. In 1662 he returned to Scotland on parole to find that his estate had been ruined and pilaged. Probably as a condition of his final release, Sir Thomas spent the rest of his life in Holland. The Chiefship then passed briefly to his brother Alexander before falling to the Urquharts of Craigston, a family near Turriff in Aberdeenshire.

18th century & Jacobite Risings

The Urquharts supported Charles Edward Stewart and participated in the Jacobite Risings of 1715 and the clan chief was killed at the Battle of Sheriffmuir.

The line of the Urquharts of Cromarty died out in the 18th century but the chief of the clan Urquhart was re-established in 1959 when Wilkins Urquhart, descended from an Urquhart who emigrated to America in the 18th century, established his rights with the Lord Lyon. The seat of the clan is Castle Craig on the Cromarty Firth. It was presented to the 25th clan chief by Major Iain Shaw of Tordarroch - the Shaws had been a neighbouring clan of the Urquharts in earlier times.

Urquhart castles

Urquhart Castle sits beside Loch Ness. Another important Urquhart castle is Craigston Castle in Aberdeenshire, and the present-day Cromarty House on the hill above the Black Isle town of Cromarty was built from the stone and timbers of the former Urquhart stronghold of Cromarty Castle. The current seat of the Chief of Clan Urquhart is the ruined Castle Craig, a 15th-century tower originally occupied by the Urquharts of Braelangwell and Newhall that overlooks the Cromarty Firth from the north shore of the Black Isle.

Clan profile

“Urqwhart” tartan as published in the dubious Vestiarium Scoticum in 1845.

††††† Clan badge: Wallflower.

††††† Clan chief: Kenneth Trist Urquhart of Urquhart, 27th Chief of Clan Urquhart.

††††† Clan chief’s personal motto: Meane weil speak weil and doe weil.

††††† Clan chief’s war cry: Trust and go forward

††††† Clan septs: The current chief recognises all who bear the surname Cromarty, who believe they have a connection with the clan, as potential members of Clan Urquhart.

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