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Clan Grierson

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Clan Grierson is a Scottish chiefly family with origins in Dumfrieshire.


The personal name 'Gregor' is derived from the Greek word for 'vigilant' through its Latin translation 'gregorious'. <ref> George Way of Plean and Romilly Squire, Scottish Clan and Family Encyclopedia, 152</ref>This was a popular name in the Middle Ages. 'Grierson' is likely to be derived from this forename. <ref>Plean, Squire, Encyclopedia, 152</ref> The Griersons of Lag clamed descent from Gilbert, son of Malcolm MacGregor (d.1374) known as MacGregor or MacGregorson, but by around 1400 his descendants were called Grierson. <ref> David Dorward, Dictionary of Scottish Surnames, 125</ref> However Plean and Squire stated in 1994 that the MacGregor connection had been refuted.<ref>Plean, Squire, Encyclopedia, 152</ref> Furthermore, research by the Grierson Family website during 2010 and 2011 was unable to uncover any evidence or records to suggest a link to the MacGregors. <ref></ref> The McGregor link is said to have been a nineteenth century invention. <ref></ref> There is however evidence that some MacGregors used the name Grierson as an alias between 1603 and 1774, when their clan was outlawed. <ref></ref>

Variations of the name include: Grersun, Grereson, Greresoun, Gresson, Greerson, Greirsone, Griersone, Greirson, Grayson, Grayrson, Grier, Griere, Greer, Grear and Greear. <ref></ref> Important branches of the family include the Griersons of Chapell and of Dalgoner. <ref>Plean, Squire, Encyclopedia, 153</ref>

Clan or Family?

The Grierson family website states that there is no Clan tradition in south-west Scotland, where the family originates- and as such, there has never been a Clan Grierson. Important historical families in the area are referred to locally by the term ‘Family’ – hence the ‘Grierson Family’.<ref></ref> They argue that in recent years, the term ‘Clan’ has become synonymous with all Scottish names whether from the Highlands and Islands or from other areas of Scotland- and as a consequence many people outside of Scotland have come to believe that all Scottish families are Clans (in the Highland sense) <ref></ref>

Middle Ages

Gilbrid Macgregor received a charter from the Earl of March of lands around Dalgarnock in Dumfrieshire.<ref>Plean, Squire, Encyclopedia, 152</ref>Around 1408 the Griersons obtained the lands of Lag, also in Dumfrieshire, which became the principle seat of the family.<ref>Plean, Squire, Encyclopedia, 152</ref> In a charter dated 1420 Gilbert Grierson is descibed as 'armour bearer' to the Earl of Douglas. He married Janet, daughter of Sir Simon Glendinning, whose mother was Mary Douglas. Mary Douglas was daughter of the fourth Earl of Douglas and his wife, Princess Margaret. This royal connection secured the early fortunes of the family. <ref>Plean, Squire, Encyclopedia, 152</ref>

Lag Tower

In 1460 Vedast Grierson of Lag built a strong tower on his lands. <ref>Plean, Squire, Encyclopedia, 152</ref> His son obtained a charter from James III confirming his lands but was killed at the Battle of Sauchieburn in 1488. <ref>Plean, Squire, Encyclopedia, 152</ref> The Lairds of Lag also fought, and died, at the Battle of Flodden in 1513 along with many others. <ref>Plean, Squire, Encyclopedia, 152</ref>

Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries

Sir William Grierson of Lag was closely allied to the powerful Maxwell family and joined forces with them against the Johnstones of Annandale at the Battle of Dryfe Sands in 1593. <ref>Plean, Squire, Encyclopedia, 153</ref> He was knighted by James VI and I around 1608. <ref>Plean, Squire, Encyclopedia, 153</ref> Sir Robert Grierson of Lag (c.1655-1733) became notorious in the area for his enthusiastic persecution of Covenanters on behalf of James IIV and II. <ref></ref> He surprised an illegal Covenanting service at Kirkconnell in 1685 and in the struggle that followed many of the worshippers were killed. It was said that Grierson refused them 'decent burials'. <ref>Plean, Squire, Encyclopedia, 153</ref>

Lag's campaign for religious orthodoxy most notoriously led to the executions by drowning of Margaret McLachlan and Margaret Wilson for their religious activities in 1685. They have since been known as the Wigtown Marytrs. <ref></ref> Grierson's fortunes changed at the accession of William III and Mary II, who he considered to be usurpers. He was arrested in 1689 and held prisoner fort several months until a substantial surety was paid. <ref>Plean, Squire, Encyclopedia, 153</ref> He was imprisoned on two further occasions, once on charges of forgery. Despite being cleared of the allegations he died in ill-health in 1736. <ref>Plean, Squire, Encyclopedia, 153</ref>His sons fought on the Jacobite side during the rebellion of 1715 and narrowly escaped execution. <ref></ref>

Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries

Sarah Grierson of Lag

William Grierson of Lag was used by Sir Walter Scot as the model for Sir Walter Scott's Red Gauntlet.<ref></ref> A descendant, Colonel William Grierson of Bardennoch was a close friend of Sir Walter Scott. <ref>Plean, Squire, Encyclopedia, 153</ref> His eldest son, Thomas Grierson was a soldier who achieved distinction at the siege of Delhi in 1857 but later died of wounds gained in the process. <ref>Plean, Squire, Encyclopedia, 153</ref>The eight Baronet, Sir Alexander, was also a soldier.<ref>Plean, Squire, Encyclopedia, 153</ref> Sir Robert Grierson of Lag, tenth Baronet, served in the King's Own Scottish Borderers during the First World War. <ref>Plean, Squire, Encyclopedia, 153</ref> By the early twentieth century much of the family land had been lost.

Sir George Abraham Grierson was an linguist who devoted his career to the study of Indian languages. He published two important works, 'Seven Grammars of the Bihari Language' (1883) and Bihari Peasant Life (1885). In 1898 he began his life's work: the Linguistic Survey of India, which ran to over eight thousand pages and contained information on over 364 languages. He was knighted in 1912. <ref>Plean, Squire, Encyclopedia, 153</ref>

Twentieth Century

Dr. John Grierson (1898-1972) is regarded as the father of the British documentary film movement.<ref>Plean, Squire, Encyclopedia, 153</ref> Educated at the Universities of Glasgow and Chicago, his first film was Drifters (1929) a study of the lives of North Sea fishermen.<ref>Plean, Squire, Encyclopedia, 153</ref> He assisted in setting up the National Film Board of Canada in 1939 and made public information films during the Second World War.<ref>Plean, Squire, Encyclopedia, 153</ref> He was a director of UNESCO and then firm controller for the British Central Office of Information until 1950, when he embarked on a career in television.<ref>Plean, Squire, Encyclopedia, 153</ref>


The current chief is Sarah Grierson of Lag. She is the first woman to fulfill the role, being matriculated by the Lyon King of Arms in 2010. <ref></ref> The baronetcy could not pass to her because of the strict rules of male descent attached to such titles. <ref>Plean, Squire, Encyclopedia (updated text)</ref> There is an active Family Association and an extensive website. <ref></ref>