The Clan Chisholm
Feros Ferio - 'I am fierce with the fierce'
EARLY YEARS – It is most likely that the first de Chesholme was one of the knights of William the Conqueror, arriving in England in 1066. Scottish society, in the 150 years following the Norman conquest was a crucible in which two dynamic cultures, Celtic and Anglo-Norman were increasingly intermingled.
Out of this the fiercely independent Scots character was formed. David I, the youngest of the three sons of Malcolm Canmore and Saint Margaret – the sister of Edgar Atheling – grew up at the Norman court, where his sister had married Henry I. David had a policy of gaining the allegiance of Norman knights by giving them tenancies in areas under his jurisdiction.
According to clan tradition one of these knights was de Chesholme. By the end of the thirteenth century the de Chesholmes were prominent in David’s early territories around Roxburgh and Berwick. By the early fourteenth century Alexander de Chesholme was called ‘Lord of Chesholme in Roxburgh and Paxtoun in Berwickshire. His son married the daughter of another border laird, Sir Robert Lauder of the Bass. In 1329 Sir Robert became Justiciar of the North and Constable of the royal stronghold, Castle Urquhart, and acquitted himself so well he was given lands near Elgin and Nairn. Robert Chisholm’s son inherited these lands from his wife. Through successive marriages tenure of Erchless, Lovat (which later passed to the Frasers by marriage), Beauly, Struy, and Crochail in Strathglass were added to the patrimony of the Chisholm.
STRATHGLASS – A clan legend states that the lands in Strathglass were acquired around 1400. Although many chiefs lived at Erchless, they took their title from Comar in Strathglass which they held outright – Erchless remaining a tenancy till much later. On the 13th March 1538 James the V of Scotland confirmed the land grant of Knockfin, Comarmore, Easter and Wester InverCannich, the two Breakachies and the woods and forests of Affric, Coulavie and Breanulich to John Chisholm – the new barony of Comarmore! The seat of Clan Chisholm was originally at Comar House and then at Erchless Castle, which was sold in 1937.
RELIGION & JACOBITISM – Following the Reformation in 1560, the Chisholms remained firmly Catholic and indeed the Perthshire Chisholms supplied three successive Bishops of Dunblane. In the following century the clan chiefs became Protestant, although tolerant of the Catholic faith amongst their followers. Despite their religious conversion, the clan under Roderick Chisholm (XXI) rose in support of the Catholic “Old Pretender” in the Jacobite uprising of 1715. This resulted in their estate being forfeited but was returned in 1743.
Wary of losing his land again, in 1745 the clan chief declared his support for neither side. Following his lead, the clan as a whole did not support the Jacobite army. However, individual Chisholms did join Bonnie Prince Charlie, including Roderick Og, the youngest son of the chief who was killed along with thirty of his clansmen at Culloden – two other sons were captains in Cumberland’s army. Retribution for supporting Bonnie Prince Charlie was swift. Raiding parties were sent throughout the Highlands seeking out those who had supported the Prince. Strathglass suffered from a number of bloody incursions by Cumberland’s troops.
THE CLEARANCES – In the late 1700s and early 1800s many clansmen emigrated, some voluntarily, others encouraged by periods of increased rents and more ultimately by forced clearances at the behest of their own chiefs. Alexander Chisholm (XXIII) who died in 1793 had long resisted the temptation to remove his clan folk and lease his lands to southern sheep farmers. In this he was supported by his wife Elizabeth Wilson and daughter Mary. On his death the title passed to William (XXIV) his half-brother who in 1795 married Elizabeth MacDonnell whose mother had earlier cleared Glengarry to make way for sheep. With William being in poor health his wife took to managing the estate and like her mother was a keen ‘improver.’
Before Alexander died however he had arranged that should his wife outlive him she could have the option of a stated annuity or the rents from several of the townships on the Chisholm estate. She opted for the latter which saved a number of tenants from eviction until after her death in 1826. In the interim however large numbers were driven from other parts of the glens during the period 1801-1811 many of whom emigrated to the colonies in America.
William had died in 1817 and was succeeded by his son Alexander (XXV) who along with his mother continued the clearance of Strathglass once the leases on the remaining townships had lapsed.
A NEW LINE – The direct male line of the Chisholms ended with the death of Roderick Chisholm (XXVIII) in 1893 at the age of 24. As a result the arms of the Chisholm family passed to the descendents of Alexander Chisholm (d.1793) through his daughter Mary who had married James Gooden of London. The current Clan Chief is Andrew Francis Hamish Chisholm of Chisholm (pictured left) thirty-third Chief of Clan Chisholm.
SHA wish to acknowledge the Clan Chisholm Society as a source of information for this page.
Please visit the website of the International Clan Chisholm Society for further information.