Early History

The progenitor of the name Oliphant (or any of its variants; Olivent, Olifard, Holifard, Holifarth, Olyphant, Olifant, etc.) in Scotland, was a Donal Holifard or Holifarth, who was shipwrecked on Scotland's east coast (near present kincardineshire.) The name possibly derives from the Norse name Olaf.

Very little is known about this Donald Holifard however, he is considered to be a nobleman, as he was important enough for a ship to be sent out to find him. It is said that He was certainly of Norwegian stock and it might be assumed that his initial intentions were to be a party to Harold Haarfager's invasions of Scotland during this period. However, it is said that as a man of importance, he was well received by the King of Scotland (believed to be King Donald I,) and treated with respect. He was, it seems, taken in by a local family and fell in love with their daughter. When a ship was sent from Norway to rescue him, he declined to go.

One of Donald Holifard's descendants, Roger Olifard, was the Sheriff of the Mearns (an area including what is now Kincardineshire and Angus on Scotland's east coast) by the late 10th Century. Three of Rogers decendants are recorded in a number of places. One history drawn up by Sir John Cunninghame, where he says that in the days of Donaldus Septimus (King Donald Ban,) there is evidence of a worshipful man of great powers, named Sir Donald Oliphant, who assisted King Duncan in his wars in anno 1094, and was succeeded by Sir Duncan and Sir Malcolm Oliphant in the reigns of King William and Alexander respectively. Duncan Olifard, perhaps the same Knight that is mentioned above, was mernie decurio (a soldier of the Mearns.) Duncan married Helen Hassa (the daughter of Hew Hassa (of Germanic stock) who had become the Thane of Glenbervie (a Thane being a pre-feudal title. e.g. the Thane of Cawdor in Shakespeare's MacBeth,) through his marriage to the Glenbervie heiress (the last male heir having died expelling the Danes from Scotland at the battle of Barrie in 1012,) and thus received the Thanage of Glenbervie. Duncan's son, Walter, married Matilda (the daughter of Sinell, Thane of Fife,) who bore him at least two sons: Osbert, a strong warrior known as "the Crusader", who fell in the Holy Wars fighting under Godfrey de Boulogne, and is accredited by some with the fall of Acre, and David.

An Osbernus Olifardus (Osbert Olifard) is mentioned circa 1046 in the cartulleires of the monastery at St. Wandrille in Normandy and it is unclear whether this Olifard had been there for generations or simply stopped off on the way back from the crusades. For a more detailed examination of the likely origins, see the treatise by Richard Oliphant of that Ilk entitled "Norman Herring."

The first recorded Oliphant landholding in England was at Lilleford in Northampton by the family of David Olifard, who is commonly held to be the progenitor of the clan. In 1141 he was granted lands at Crailing and Smailholm both in Roxburghshire, Scotland by King David I of Scotland who had risen from being the Earl of Huntingdon following the deaths of his own elder brothers. David Olifard was granted these lands for saving his godfather's (David I's) life at the Battle of Winchester in that year. David Olifard also had a brother called Osbert, which name may have emanated from his namesake in Normandy one hundred years before. David was also made Chief Justiciar of the Lothians, second only in rank in Scotland after David I's brother, who was Chief Justiciar of Scotia (the Highlands.) David Olifard's son Sir Walter Olifard, the second Justiciar, in 1173 married Christian, the daughter of the Celtic Earl (Mhormair) of Strathearn in 1173. Her dowry was the lands of Strageath however, ten years later in 1183 they were exchanged for others at Aberdalgie, which became the principal Oliphant seat for over four hundred years.

The father of David was possibly born in the Mearns, where he held lands and lived. Through the Oliphant Clan's position as hereditary Sheriff of the Mearns and, their resultant relationship with Scotland's royal family, who were placed nearby in the palace of Kincardine, he would logically have been part of the entourage who went down to Northamptonshire with the future King (David I) when the latter married into lands in Huntingdon. In line with feudal practice, Oliphant was granted land nearby at Lilford, to keep a loyal watch over his royal master's interests. At Lilford, he had three sons, William, Thomas and David (which last David I of Scotland stood godfather to and who gave him his name.)

David I (right) with his grandson and succesor, Malcolm IV

Before his death, Henry I made the English lords and barons pledge to accept his daughter Matilda, as their queen. They all did so, including David Olifard and David I of Scotland, who as well as being the King of Scotland, was the Earl of Huntingdon and was thereby bound by the feudal system to the English monarch. After Henry's death, the English lords set Matilda aside and placed Stephen, her cousin, on the throne. David I, in devotion to both his word and his niece Matilda, marched with a large army into England to place Matilda back on the throne. He lost the battle of the Standard, but continued on, helping Matilda's cause at every available opportunity, even going to Rome to enlist Papal support. However, once the tide again turned against Matilda, David was forced to flee to Winchester Palace. At Winchester, David Olifard was a party to the siege of the Palace (acting under his oath of fealty to the English sovereign Stephen.) David Olifard, on seeing his godfather David I losing and in mortal peril, changing sides and threw in his lot with his original liege-lord and provided a disguise for David I, enabling them both to escape back to Scotland together. This act may have been founded, along with his loyalty to the Scottish monarch, on his assumption that, as a recent addition from Scotland to the power struggles in England amongst Norman knights, he would not have survived long in Northamptonshire anyway.

In reward for this life saving service to Scotland's greatest king, David Olifard was made Justicary of the Lothians (and thereby third in rank in Scotland after the King's brother, who was Justicary of Scotia in the North. David Olifard received the lands of Smailholm and Crailing in present day Roxburghshire although Crailing may have been acquired through marriage to a daughter of Berengaria Engain who was the previous owner and who lived in Northamptonshire. In addition David was given the barony of Bothwell. From this powerful position which he established descended the Clan Oliphant.

The Olifard name was transformed into Olifart, then Olifaunt, and finally Oliphant, being the then French name for the great beasts encountered on the Crusades. The name was associated with these powerful creatures (further by their being incorporated as supporters in the chiefly Oliphant arms,) which may be the reason that the powerful family of Olifard took it on (the name is sometimes still used in Scotland as a forename denoting "great strength").
(For more information and sources on the early origin of the Oliphant Clan, see the treatise entitled 'Norman Herring'.)

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