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Clan Abercromby are a Scottish armigerous clan.


The family have an ancient connection to Fife. The earliest record of the name is found on the Ragman Roll of 1296, when William de Abercromby did homage to Edward I of England for his lands in Fife. <ref>George Way of Plean and Romilly Squire, Scottish Clan and Family Encyclopedia, 347</ref> The origins of the name are attributed to a parish name in Fife which means 'mouth of the winding stream'.<ref>David Doward, Dictionary of Scottish Surnames, 1</ref>

Despite the earlier appearance of the family on the Ragman Roll, Humphry de Abercromby (said to be the ancestor of subsequent families) was granted Harthill in Fife by a Charter of Robert the Bruce in 1315. <ref>Cavandish D. Abercromby, The Family of Abercromby, 5</ref>

The senior line of the Fife family died out in the early seventeenth century and the representation of the line passed to the house of Abercromby of Birkenbog in Banffshire. <ref> Plean, Squire, Encyclopedia, 347</ref>Nisbet stated that 'Abercrombie of Birkenbog, since the extinction of the family of that Ilk, is looked upon as Chief of that name and honoured with the title of Knight Baronet, and carries the Principall Coat of that Name'. <ref>Cavandish D. Abercromby, The Family of Abercromby, 5</ref>

Middle Ages

In 1313 or 1315 Humphry de Abercromby recieved a charter from King Robert for lands in Aberdeenshire. <ref>Cavandish D. Abercromby, The Family of Abercromby, 5</ref> When these lands are inherited by one of his sons, the branches of the family diverged.

In 1407 John Abercromby of Pitmathen (d.1430) was involved in a dispute with the Earl of Mar, known as the Wolf of Badenoch. Four years later in 1411 Abercromby considers it likely that John of Pitmathen followed the Earl to the Battle of Harlaw, against Donald, Lord of the Isles. <ref>Cavandish D. Abercromby, The Family of Abercromby, 11</ref>

Alexander Abercromby of Pitmedden (d.1505) was also active in national politics. He paid frequent visits to Edinburgh and the court of King James IV. His wife- Janet, Lady Ley, is said to have 'taken advantage of of the opportunities afforded her in these periods of residence in Edinburgh' to run up substantial debts to an Edinburgh goldsmith. <ref>Cavandish D. Abercromby, The Family of Abercromby, 14</ref>

Janet predeceased her husband, who contracted a second marriage to a younger women, Marjory Mowat.<ref>Cavandish D. Abercromby, The Family of Abercromby, 14</ref> Marjory was traditionally regarded in the family as an 'adventuress' due to this marriage.<ref>Cavandish D. Abercromby, The Family of Abercromby, 14</ref> After serving on a court of Assize in Aberdeen in June 1504, Alexander died in March 1505. <ref>Abercromby, Family, 15</ref>His second son, Sir James, was killed at the Battle of Flodden in 1513 and is recorded on the list of those dead as 'James Abercrombie of Ley, or Birkenbog'. <ref>Abercromby, Family, 15</ref>

Sixteenth Century

James Abercromby of Pitmedden (d.1546) ninth chief, was assassinated during the Regency of the Earl of Arran as a consequence of a feud with the Leslie family. James was surprised at night by the Leslies in a tower in Aberdeenshire (possibly a hunting lodge) and died along with his followers in a fire. <ref>Abercromby, Family, 22</ref>

The death of Alexander Abercromby of Ley (d.1586) at the age of thirty-eight, soon after the long awaited birth of an heir, was attributed to witchcraft or poison.<ref>Abercromby, Family, 22</ref> Four years later, two women accused of being witches- Janet Grant and Janet Clerk- were placed on trial in Edinburgh charged with 'causing the crewl murder by witchcraft of Alexander Abercrombie of Ley'. <ref>Abercromby, Family, 22</ref> Both were found guilty and condemned to be strangled and burnt at the stake on the Castle Hill in Edinburgh. <ref>Abercromby, Family, 22</ref>

Religious Discord

The history of the family of Abercromby in Banff is marked by religious discord. Their family lands had, however, previously been church lands. In 1362 the Earl of Mar confirmed to Alexander Abercromby a grant of land by the Bishop of Aberdeen. <ref> Plean, Squire, Enclycopedia, 347</ref>Andrew Abercrombie was provost of Dundee in 1513 and founded the Black Friars monastery there. <ref>Dorward, Surnames, 1</ref>

The son of Anna Abercromby, daughter of the 'Grand Falconer' and Patrick Leith, Alexander Leith (b.1628)- became a convert to Catholicism. He trained as a priest in the Scots College at Douai in France and later became a Jesuit priest in Brussels. <ref>Abercromby, Family, 63</ref>

A similar path was followed by his nephew, Thomas Nicolson (1646-1718) son of his mother's sister Elizabeth. Nicholson studied at the University of Glasgow and afterwards entered the Scots College at Douai, becoming a Catholic priest. He became a bishop in Paris and returned to Scotland in 1694 as first Bishop and Vicar Apostolic in Scotland since the Reformation. <ref>Abercromby, Family, 64</ref> Due to the illegality of Catholicism at the time he was forced to live in hiding for many years under the name of Bruce.<ref>Abercromby, Family, 64</ref>

David Abercromby was another Jesuit who studied abroad and returned to Scotland to oppose Protestantism but instead converted and published a tract against papal power in 1682. <ref>Plean, Squire, Encyclopedia, 347</ref>

Seventeenth Century

Birkenbog House

In 1637 Alexander Abercromby of Birkenbog (1584-1666) the twelfth chief, succeeded as a child after the death of his grandfather. <ref>Abercromby, Family, 56</ref>At the age of eighteen he married Elizabeth Beton and perhaps though the influence of his wife's family at court acquired the office of Grand Falconer.<ref>Abercromby, Family, 56</ref>He was knighted by James VI in his youth.<ref>Abercromby, Family, 58</ref> Until 1630 he appears frequently in the Privy Council records so is likely to have attended court.<ref>Abercromby, Family, 58</ref> In later life he was known as a Puritan and Covenanter, associated with leading figures in those movements.<ref>Abercromby, Family, 58</ref>

His son, Alexander the Younger, was created a Baronet of Nova Scotia by Charles I. <ref> Plean, Squire, Encyclopedia, 347</ref><ref>Abercromby, Family, 58</ref> Despite this he but despite this became a fervent Covenanter, opposed to episcopalianism in Scotland. <ref> Plean, Squire, Encyclopedia, 347</ref> Alexander the Grand Falconer took a less prominent part in these struggles due to his advanced age by this time. <ref>Abercromby, Family, 58</ref> Alexander the Younger's journey from royalist to covenanter has been attributed to 'the autocratic temper' and inflexible line of policy' of Charles I.<ref>Abercromby, Family, 58</ref>

The Marquess of Montrose responded by quartering troops on Birkenbog during his royalist campaign. <ref> Plean, Squire, Encyclopedia, 347</ref> This followed the defeat of Covenanting troops at the Battle of Auldearn in Morayshire, for which Abercromby, as Sheriff of Banffshire had raised troops. <ref>Abercromby, Family, 67</ref> Birkenbog was 'sacked and much damaged' by Montrose and his troops. <ref>Abercromby, Family, 68</ref>

Although Sir Alexander became a Justice for the Shire of Aberdeen in 1663<ref>Abercromby, Family, 71</ref> he had been financially ruined by war as well as a series of marriages and a large number of children.<ref>Abercromby, Family, 77</ref> By 1681 his estates were in the hands of trustees.<ref>Abercromby, Family, 71</ref> The family estates in Aberdeenshire were dispersed, leaving only Birkenbog. <ref>Abercromby, Family, 71</ref>

His son, Sir James Abercromby of Birkenbog (b.1688-1734) declared loyalty to William of Orange in 1696, but in the aftermath of the failure of the Darien Scheme turned to Jacobitism. <ref>Abercromby, Family, 84</ref> He took part in the Rebellion of 1715 <ref>Abercromby, Family, 91</ref>and as a result spent time imprisoned, afterwards retiring from public life. The family suffered further misfortunes when Sir James' eldest son died in military service and another at sea. Other sons emigrated, such George Abercromby, who eventually settled in Mexico.<ref>Abercromby, Family, 91</ref>Further lands at Birkenbog were sold to pay debts.

Patrick Abercromby (b.1656) third son of the Laird of Fetterneir, a branch of the House of Birkenbog, became a distinguished doctor. <ref>Plean, Squire, Encyclopedia, 347</ref> He graduated from St. Andrews University in 1685. Both Patrick Abercromby and his brother, Francis enjoyed favour under James IIV. Francis was made a peer with the title 'Lord Glassford', although this was limited to his own lifetime.<ref>Plean, Squire, Encyclopedia, 347</ref>

Patrick Abercromby travelled on the Continent and became a Catholic, contributing to his appointment as personal physician to King James. After a period in exile he returned to Scotland and became a historian, publishing a translation of the rare French work ‘L’Histoire de Ia Guerre d’Ecosse,’ 1556, under the title of ‘The Campaigns in Scotland in 1548 and 1549' and later ‘The Martial Achievements of the Scots nation, And of such Scotsmen as have signalized themselves by the Sword’ (1711, 1715). <ref>http://www.electricscotland.com/history/nation/abercromby.htm</ref>

Later History

Subsequent Baronets of Birkenbog were Members of Parliament representing Banffshire. Sir Robert Abercrombie was MP for Banffshire between 1812 and 1818. <ref>http://thepeerage.com/p2602.htm</ref> During the nineteenth and twentieth centuries the Baronets were Lord Lieutenants of Banffshire and Aberdeenshire. <ref>http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abercromby_baronets</ref> The title became extinct with the death of Sir Ian Abercromby, 10th Baronet, in 2003. <ref>http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abercromby_baronets</ref>

Birkenbog Castle

The family seat at Birkenbog, sometimes known as Birkenbog Castle, burned down in 1790. <ref>Cavendish D. Abercromby, The Family of Aberdcromby, , 1</ref> It is thought to have comprised of a thirteenth or fourteenth century tower. In a deed of 1636 it is referred to as 'The Tower, Foralice and Manor Place of Birkenbog'. <ref>Abercromby, Family, 2</ref> The family did not rebuild the Castle as they were about to inherit a further property at Forglen. <ref>Abercromby, Family, 2</ref> Parts of the Castle survive incorperated into the later farmhouse on the site. <ref>http://landedfamilies.blogspot.co.uk/2013/02/abercromby-of-birkenbog-and-forglen.html</ref>

Abercromby of Tullibody

The arms of Abercromby of Tullibody as shown in Alexander Nisbet's System of Heraldry (1722)

A younger son of the first Baronet of Birkenbog had obtained estates in Tullibody in Clackmanannshire, and this branch of the family produced notable jurists and soldiers. <ref>Plean, Squire, Encyclopedia, 347</ref> Sir Ralph Abercromby (b.1734) was a military reformer who was credited with the restructuring of the army which eventually defeated Napoleon. <ref>Plean, Squire, Encyclopedia, 347</ref> In 1795 he was appointed commander in chief of the British forces fighting the French in the West Indies, and led a successful campaign which led to the gain for the British Empire of the Island of Trinidad. <ref>Plean, Squire, Encyclopedia, 347</ref>

His most famous campaign was in Egypt, where he defeated the French at the Battle of Alexandria. It was however something of a pyrrhic victory as General Abercromby was killed during the fighting. As a recognition of his efforts his widow was created a peeress in her own right as Baroness Abercrombie of Aboukir and Tullibody. <ref>Plean, Squire, Encyclopedia, 347</ref> His younger brother, Sir Robert Abercrombie was also a highly decorated general. He was later to hold the post of governor of Edinburgh Castle for almost thirty years. <ref>Plean, Squire, Encyclopedia, 347</ref> Alexander Abercrombie (1745-1795) was a lawyer who was raised to the bench as Lord Abercromby <ref>http://www.electricscotland.com/history/nation/abercromby.htm</ref>

A son of Sir Ralph, James Abercrombie, was a barrister and Whig politician who was speaker of the House of Commons between 1835 and 1839. On his retirement of from the House of Commons he was made Lord Dunfermline, and in 1841 was elected Dean of Faculty of the University of Glasgow. <ref>http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Abercromby,_1st_Baron_Dunfermline</ref> The various peerage titles are all now extinct. <ref>Plean, Squire, Encyclopedia, 347</ref>