The Armstrong Clan



Invictus Manco ( " I Remain Unvanquished " )



Siward actually existed. Since his story and that
his progeny was almost exclusively kept alive
by oral family history, the fact of its provrn
veracity seems to lend considerable credance
to the remainder of the family traditional history
of the founding three generations.
The name Fairbairn has for over nine
centuries been acknowledged, listed,
and held as the founding sept of
Clan Armstrong.

      The Legends and traditions of this powerful Borders family hold that the first of the name was Siward Beorn ( 'sword warrior'), also known as Siward Digry ( 'sword strong arm' ), who was the last Anglo-Danish Earl of Northumberland and a nephew of King Canute, the danish King of England who reigned until 1035.  The family is said to have been related by marriage both to Duncan, King of Scots and William the Conqueror, Duke of Normandy and King of England.  The name was common over the whole of Northumbria and the Borders, and the Armstrong's became a powerful and warlike border clan in Liddesdale and the debateable borderland.


The Armstrong's are a significant border clan whose origins lie in Cumberland, south of the frontier between Scotland and England that was officially established in 1237.  The Armstrong name has a mythological origin, in that it is said their heroic progenitor, Fairbairn, saves his King of Scotland in battle, and not from a wild beast as is the case with another Border clan - the Turnbulls.  It is said, dressed in full armour, he lifted the King onto his own horse with one arm after the King's horse had been killed under him in battle.  The family crest records this act of heroism that was to be rewarded with a grant of lands in the Borders and the famous Armstrong name.

The first specific reference locating them in Liddesdale, that would become their family seat, as in 1376.  It was also the seat of their unquestioned power in the region that allowed them to expand into Annadale and Eskdale to accommodate their growing population.  it is reputed that, by 1528, they were able to put 3000 horseman in the field.

The Armstrong's relationship with subsequent Scottish Kings was turbulent to say the least.  The most notorious event in this uneasy relationship occured in 1530.  John Armstrong, known in history as 'Gilnockie', was persuaded to attend a meeting at Carlingrigg with King James V who, unknown to Gilnockie, had the malicious intent to silence the rebellious Borderers.  The ruse succeeded as Gilnockie and fifty followers were captured.  The Royal order to hang them was issued and despite several pleas for the King to lenient in exchange for obedience, it was carried out.  defiant to the last, Gilnockie said these words directly to King James V:
" I am but a fool to seek grace at a graceless face, but
had I known you would have taken me this day, I would
have lived in the Borders despite King Harry and you both."
His defiance is commemorated and echoed in the soulful popular Border ballad, "Johnnie Armstrong":
" Farewell ! my bonny Gilnock Hall
Where on Esk thou standest stout !
If I had lived but seven yeirs mair
I wad a gilt thee round about
John Murdured was at Carlinrigg
And all his gallant companie;
But Scotland's heart was ne'er sae wae
To see sae mony brave men die."


The union of the Crowns in 1603 brought an official end to the Anglo-Scottish border wars and the last of the Armstrong lairds was hanged in Edinburgh in 1610 for leading a reiving raid on Penrith.  A ruthless campaign followed as the crown attempted to pacify the borders.  The families were scattered and many sought new homes in Ulster, particularly in Fermanagh.  Armstrong is now among the fifty most common Ulster surnames.
The clan's authority resided intact at Mangerton in Liddesdale, a succession of Armstrongs retaining the ' Laird of Mangerton ' title, until 1610 when Archibald Armstrong was ' put to the horn ' as a rebel.  After this, the Armstrong lands passed into the hands of the Scotts.  There has been no trace of the Armstrong chiefs since the dispersal of the clan in the seventeenth century, but a powerful and active clan association is in existence and the Clan Armstrong Trust was estabilshed in 1978.
(Source: David Armstrong)



Return to Page - Clan Armstrong