Norman Herring

Norman Herring - Treatise on the contention that Oliphants came
down from Scotland in 1100 and not up from Normandy in 1066

Setting the question

The Oliphant entry in Crawfurd's 1716 Peerage of Scotland, page 376 (who cites Dalrymple's Collections, page 174) begins: “The ancestors of this ancient family David de Olifard was one of those barons who accompanied King David I to England, with an army to the assistance of Maud the Empress, his niece, against King Stephen, of whom ‘tis memorable that after the raising of the siege of Winchester, in the 1142, King David was so closely pursu’d that he was in a very great hazard of being made a prisoner, had it not been for the singular valour of this noble person who had the honour to rescue and bring off the King his sovereign to his immortal honour.”

Qu.1: Why did David O. throw over all his lands to save the opposition King ?

The explanation of the answer for this falls into two parts:

Misinterpretation of facts
Thomas Kington-Oliphant wrote two books: Jacobite Lairds of Gask for the purpose of discussing the 17th century links with Royal Stuarts and Oliphants in Scotland as a vehicle for putting in print much of the Gask Charter Chest, which incorporated that of the Lords Oliphant. These books begin by referring to the Oliphants as Norman, which can only be founded upon the logic that a senior landholder under the feudal system merely 30 years after the Norman Conquest was likely to have been a party to the invasion.

W. Maitland Thompson's 1886 The Scots Peerage, page 521 recognises the point that there is no mention of any Olifards in the contemporary records of the invasion but leaves his own conclusion on it open. It begins: “The Norman origin of the Oliphant family is attested by tradition, as preserved in Scalacronica (page 19, Maitland Club edition) and the roll of Battle Abbey; is corroborated by the connections in which the name occurs in earliest times; and has been generally accepted by genealogists (see J.H. Round’s: Feudal England, page 223.) "Kington-Oliphant's 1879 "Oliphants in Scotland" also quotes the traditionary list of Norman knights who fought at Hastings from Scalacronica, which lists "Oyssel et Oliffard, Maulouel et Maureward."

The Complete Peerage refers to J.H.R. stating on page 48: "In an article on the Northamptonshire Survey, which he dates Henry I to Henry II, J.H. Round (Feudal England, page 223-4) observes: "Such an entry as "In Lilleford, Willemus Olyfart v. hidas de feudo Regis Scotiae" is peculiarly suggestive. It reminds us that David Holyfard, godson of King David of Scotland, and his protector in 1141, was the founder of the house of Oliphant."

The Facts

Under closer scrutiny, the facts belie this conclusion:

the Battle Abbey Roll was drawn up some 100 years after the event, in 1166, by Duchess of Cleveland (i. p. xxiv.), at a time when David Oliphant was already back in Scotland and this series of other Oliphants had become spread around England (vide The Surnames of Scotland, page 637: .."The family continued to hold land in Northamptonshire long after the principal branch had removed to Scotland.") Additionally, it was compiled two decades after the Battle of Winchester (1141) at which David Olifard had saved the life of King David of Scotland. By so doing he would have inevitably attracted the attention of English historians to the Olifard name. They would have known that the name was not Anglo-Saxon and took it that this 'new comer’ was descended from Norman stock. The traditionary list of Norman knights who fought at Hastings in the Battle Abbey Roll is not contemporaneous and thus can not be taken to be a definitive source for such a surmise, in the face of there being no mention of any Olifards in the contemporary records of the invasion.

Thus it comes as no surprise that, in John Murray's 1889 version, there is a lengthy introduction of which the following is part: "The famous roll of Battle Abbey is believed to have been compiled in obedience to a clause in the Conqueror's foundation charter, that enjoined the monks to pray for the souls of those “who by their labour and valour had helped to win the kingdom”. The great Sussex abbey that was 'the token and pledge of the Royal Crown,' had been intended to be not only a memorial of his victory, but a chantry for the slain; and the names of his companions‑in-arms enshrined on this bede‑roll, might thus be read out in church on special occasions....It was most likely originally copied from the muster‑roll of the Norman knights, that had been prepared by the Duke's orders before his embarkation, and was called over in his presence on the field of battle, the morning after it had been fought. The list, thus composed, was inscribed on a roll of parchment, and hung up in the Abbey Minster .... As time went on it became more and more an object of ambition to own an ancestor that had come over with the Conqueror: and the monks were always found willing to oblige a liberal patron by inserting his name .... thus its value as an authority is irretrievably lost; and though the earlier genealogists and county historians often quote and refer to it, it has latterly been altogether discredited and condemned .... It is as least certain that it does not exist now: nor is it precisely known what has become of it .... Nothing, at all events, now remains to us but copies of this celebrated record. Of these there are three; one published by Leland in his "Collectanea, which was the first that ever appeared: another in Holinshed's Chronicle, dated 1577: and a third printed a few years later by Stowe and afterwards copied by Duchesne." The Duchess of Cleveland gives 4 versions altogether and the name “Olifard” or “Olifaunt” only appears on two.;

Similarly, the Pipe Rolls of Henry I quoted were written in 1130 and 1131 and The Scalacronica was written by Sir Thomas Gray in 1355, nearly three hundred years after the Norman Conquest. Both carry in consequence even less weight

The nub of the argument is that the original Doomesday Book made no mention of an Oliphant and, even when updated in 1086, it referred to the incumbent of what are known by 1124 to be David Oliphant's father's lands at Lilford, by first name only. (Vide E. Maxton Graham : ...."but nothing is known is really known beyond the fact that about the year 1124 an Olifard was in possession of Lilford, that he had three young sons, William, David, amd Thomas, and that to one of these sons the Scottish King, who had that year succeeded to the crown, stood godfather."

W. Maitland Thompson's, research unearthed no record of the name in Normandy prior to nor after 1066: He goes on: "The non-appearance of the surname in Normandy (it does not occur in J.H. Round’s: Cal. Of Documents, France) indicates it was first assumed on English soil."

The Complete Peerage refers to J.H.R. stating on page 48: "In an article on the Northamptonshire Survey, which he dates Henry I to Henry II, J.H. Round (Feudal England, page 223-4) observes: "Such an entry as "In Lilleford, Willemus Olyfart v. hidas de feudo Regis Scotiae" is peculiarly suggestive. It reminds us that David Holyfard, godson of King David of Scotland, and his protector in 1141, was the founder of the house of Oliphant."

However, it then goes on to say: ..."and in the family's possession of Lilford (which was held of the Countess Judith in 1086) we see the origin of their Scottish connexion. William "Olyfard" was of Northamptonshire, and Hugh "Olifard" of Huntingdonshire in 1130 (Rot. Pip., 31 Hen. I); while Hugh "Olifart" (of Stoke) was a knight of the Abbot of Peterborough in rather earlier days. The earliest member of the house, however, it would seem, on record is Roger Olifard, who witnessed (doubtless as his tenant) Earl Simon's charter to St. Andrew's, Northampton, granted, probably, not later than 1108."

E. Maxton Graham: page 3 similarly observes: "The first record of an Oliphant is as a witness to Earl Simon's foundation of the Cluniac Priory of St. Andrew, Northampton, between 1093 and 1100. However, the latitude of this date does therefore not preclude Roger Oliphant's presence there being only as a result of his association with King David.

Beryl Platts' 1985 Scottish Hazard confirms “The manor of Lilford, Northamptonshire, is on the river Nene. It was held at Domesday by the Countess Judith, and her under‑tenant there was her nephew, Walter the Fleming, of Wahull (now Odell).” She continues …”The first Holyford, Olifard or Oliphant of Lilford of whom we have note (according to the Victoria County History for Northampton, Vol. iii, p. 227) was Roger, who witnessed a charter to St. Andrew's Priory, Northampton, for Simon de Senlis, first husband of Scotland's Queen Maud. The date is not known, but it was probably about 1107. (Note: This is wrong as Maud, then a widow, was in fact married to David in 1100, indicating that the witnessing was for David and/or Maud, rather than Roger de Senlis.] Roger's successor at Lilford was William, and the David Oliphant born there about 1120....was almost certainly William's son." [N.B. Platt makes the link of Olifards with Flemish stock on the basis of the three crescents in the arms but Maud (in whom the link was direct) could equally as logically have conferred such honour on David Olifard under feudal patronage for saving her husband.

Ans.1a: The family was evidently not from Normandy [and, for his father to hold land so soon after the Conquest it could not have been from Harold's England either.]

Pointers to an alternative conclusion

The Victorian writers all recite details which point, albeit unwittingly, to an alternative conclusion:

E. Maxton Graham: page 1 (et al): William of Malmesbury describes King David as "coming to England to get the Scottish rust rubbed off".

King David was born in 1088 and Mackie's 1910 "Dumferline=born Princes & Princesses" says of David I: "He had other training for kingly service besides his supervision of the province of Cumbria. He was evidently a favourite brother of his sister Matilda, who had married Henry I., and having won the confidence and affection of Beauclerc, the fine scholar, he spent a considerable part of his early manhood at the English Court. There he married Matilda, the daughter and heiress of Waldeof, Earl of Huntingdon and Judith, who was niece of the first King William [the Conqueror], and through her became Earl of Huntingdon."

Thomas Kington-Oliphant describes King David's marrying Matilda as widow of a Simon de Senlis (or, St. Liz) in 1100, by when he would have been 20.

Basis for the conclusion that the Olifards had come from Scotland with David I.

Both their presence in Scotland and their link with the royal family of Scotland are supported by the fact that an Olifard was recorded as having been in the Mearns in the year 1012 in Glenbervie (vide Jervise hereunder.) That Olifard presence in Scotland can not be explained by the Norman invasion 54 years later some 500 miles to the South.

The baronial lands of Kincardine, where the royal palace of Kincardine was ultimately built, were close by to Glenbervie and held by the Kings of Scotland. In 'Memorials of Angus and the Mearns' Jervise (p.93) observes:- ……Hew Hassa, a German by birth, came to this country and married Germuda Dervise, the heiress of Glenbervy, the last of whose descendants fell at the battle of Barrie in 1012, while attempting to expel the Danes from Scotland. Helen, the last of the Hassas, Married Duncan Oliphart, a captain or soldier of the Mearns (Mernie Decurio), and from Margaret, his great-grand-daughter, sprung the present family of Arbuthnot. Walter Oliphart, the son of Helen Hassa, had by Matilda, daughter of Sinel, thane of Angus, an only son called Osbert, who fell in the Holy Wars with Godfrey of Boulogne, whose only daughter married James Melville, an Hungarian noble, and his son Hew married Gernarda, daughter of Macpender, thane of the Mearns, who murdered Duncan II, in 1095.

The Olifards it seems owned at least three tracts of land in the area:-

Glenbervie, which passed to the Melvilles through a daughter (with whom the Oliphant tartan was "lumped" by authorities on tartan but only after Vestiarum Scotium and, whose chiefs to this day have a quartering of the Oliphant arms in theirs.)

Arbuthnot, which went in tocher for marriage to Hugh de Swinton, progenitor of the Arbuthnots.

Part of the baronial lands of Kincardine. It is not known when the Olifards first acquired the lands in the barony of Kincardine, although it is possible that they owned them before inheriting other lands from Helen Hassa, since Duncan Oliphart was in the county already. Also it is not known whether the lands of Arbuthnot came into the Olifard family through Helen Hassa or not.

The 'Oliphants In Scotland' ties up the relationship between David Olifard, Osbert Olifard and Walter Olifard, thereby further substantiating that David came from the stock of the hereditary sherrifs of the Mearns and not from Normandy:

Page iv - last paragragh and corresponding foot note ..."Fortunately we are left in no doubt as to his son and heir, since Walter Olifard is so styled in a charter"....

Page v ..."Isaac de Banevin, also testified that in the time of Hugo, Bishop of St. Andrews (1178 - 1188).....that Osbert gave him the lands that he had received from the king, and these lands he held for six years, partly in the time of Osbert, and partly in the time of Walter Olifard who succeeded him"...;

It is possible that there were two Walters at this time, but as the author goes on: "Osbert Olifard never returned from the crusade, but was succeeded within a few years by his nephew Walter."

Thus Osbert and David were brothers. Walter had sons of his own, and yet the lands all passed through the female line and the hereditary sherriffdom died with Osbert, suggesting that Walter's position was purely that of caretaker until Osbert's daughter married.

We know that David Olifard was close to the King and it is too great a co-incidence that an altogether different line of Olifards might have been close to David I's followers, however the last lines of the same page clearly state that Osbert recognised an old acquaintance. It is most probable that he was David Olifard's brother.

Later, Sir William Oliphant, himself a descendant of David Olifard who was at the Battle of Winchester owned land in the barony of Kincardine. This was prior to the royal link by marriage of William's son Walter to Elizabeth, daughter of Robert the Bruce. (It is probably more than coincidence that Sir William's son, like that of Duncan Oliphart and Helen Hassa was named Walter.) Jervise cites (p.85): "The first mention of any portion of the barony of Kincardine belonging to a subject, occurs in the time of The Bruce, when Sir William Oliphant had confirmation charters of the lands of Morehouse in Edinburghshire, in exchange for the "clausura parci de Kyncardin in le Mernis." In other words The Bruce was exchanging lands owned historically by the Oliphants which he wanted in return for lands near Edinburgh.

However, it is left to George Kinnear in Glenbervie the Fatherland of Burns to put the seal on it with the evidence from Glenbervie tombstones. Chapter III page 11 begins:

At the time of the visit of King Edward 1. the Castle of GIenbervie belonged to a branch of the old family of Melville. Many barons of that name did homage to Edward, and among these was " Johannes de Maleuill miles," who probably was “John De Malevill, Chevalier, the laird of Glenbervie." His submission took place at Lumphanan in Aberdeenshire on the 21st of July, 1296; and at the same time and place “John of Stowe," parson of the Kirk of Glenbervie, also submitted.

In the burial vault of the Glenbervie family, standing in Glenbervie Kirkyard, and which formed the chancel end of the old kirk, there are two interesting monuments. The inscription on one of these records the brave deeds and matrimonial alliances of the lairds of Glenbervie from 730 A.D., and also describes their connection with the Douglas family. The monument,. which seems to have been renewed, bears the date 1680. It contains, in addition to a long list of the lairds and ladies of Glenbervie, some curious mortuary emblems, and also the armorial bearings of the family of Hassa, Olifart, Melville, Affleck, and Douglas. The inscription is remarkable in that it perpetuates the name. of “Bell‑the‑Cat, " given to the fifth Earl of Angus. It gives us at least a traditional view of the family history, which in its later details is not erroneous.

The inscription is in contracted Latin and is as follows:-

“Hic jacent, in spe bonae resurrectionis, Glenbervii Comarchi, infra designati, et secundum cognomina singulis classibus divisi, ab anno 730"‑ “Hugo Hassa, Germanus, illinc hue perigrinatus ubi, praeclaris meritis postquam insignis apparuisset, Germunda Dervies, Glenbervii heretrice nupta, sub hoc primum tumulo cum conjuge, liberisque suis obdormit. Horum posteri continuerent in annum 1004." ‑ " Helena, ultima Hassarum soboles." ‑ " Duncanus Oliphantes, Mernii Decurio, interfecto Donaldo et Waltero Hassaeis, fratribus praedictae Helenae, Clara pugna a campo in Barry expulsando Danos, Helenae heretrici nuptus, Glenbervio succedit, gignitque heredem Walterum, filiamque Margaretam, cum agris, nunc Arbuthnott designatis. Ortus inde est Robertus, a presente vice comes, secundus de eodem nomine princeps." – “Walterus duxit uxorem Matildem Sinelli angusiae thani filiam. Osbertus, horum filius, Aegidiam Hay, Arrollii filiam, militiae studens, cum Godfredo Bulionio in Syriam perrexit, relicta filia unigenita heretrice, in proelia occisus. Nupta 1057, Jacobo Malvill. Hungaria nobili orto, cui peperit filium Hugonem, matrimonio Gerardi Macpendarii, Mernii thani, filiae datum. Horum posteri continuerunt in annum 1440." ‑ " militi, filio secundo Archibaldi Comitis Angusiae, vulgo Bell‑the‑Cat, Guilelmo Duglasio, a Bredwood, Jacobum patrem heretricis a Glenbesvy, nuptae, Elizabeta Malvil, nupta Johanni Afflect, de codem peperit."

The translation of the above is ‑" Here lie in the hope of a happy resurrection, the lairds of Glenbervie mentioned below, and classified according to their surnames from the year 730. Hugh Hassa, a native of Germany, who settled in this country, where his eminent merits raised him to distinction, married Germunda Dervies, heiress of Glenbervie, and was the first that slept in this tomb, where his wife and children repose by his side." Their posterity continued until 1004. "Helena was the last of the Hassa family.” “Duncan Oliphant, sheriff of the Mearns (Donald and Walter Hassa, the brothers of the foresaid Helen, having been killed in a famous battle fought in a plain at Barry, against a host of Danish invaders) having married Helen, the heiress of Glenbervie, succeeded to the property, and begat Walter, his heir, and a daughter named Margaret, on whom he bestowed the lands now called Arbuthnott. From her was descended Robert, the second Viscount from the present, and the first of that name. Walter married Matilda Senelli, daughter of the Thane of Angus. Their son, Osbert, married Aegidia Hay, daughter of Errol and being an ardent soldier, went with Godfrey of Bologna to Syria, where he was killed in battle, leaving as his heiress an only daughter who in 1057 married James Melvil, a Hungarian noble, to whom she bore Hugo, who married Geruarda, daughter of Macpender, Thane of the Mearns. Their posterity continued to the‑year 1440." ‑ " Elizabeth Melvil, having married John Affleck of that ilk, bore to him James, father of the heiress of Glenbervie, who married Sir Williain Douglas of Bredwood, second son of Archibald, Earl of Angus, commonly called Bell‑the‑Cat."

Ans.1b: David Olifard's family was too powerful a presence in Northamptonshire (he, a godson to King David,) to have been an adopted feudal henchman of the King's and the connection is close enough to point to longer and earlier association. Socio-Political logic explains why no Oliphants appeared in England any earlier than David's own there in 1100 in that, the feudal system of the time would have almost certainly have necessitated that King David install his own loyal subjects, brought down from Scotland, to safeguard his interests during his absences in his own kingdom.

The inconsistency
Douglas' 1813 Peerage of Scotland refers to Caledonia, I. 515 and cites Dalr. Ann.I. 96 as David having begun the battle in Stephen's army and Maxton Graham's 1910 Oliphants of Gask quotes John of Hexham's chronicle: ...."The King of Scotland having lost all his men barely escaped, and made a precipitous retreat to his own kingdom; for a certain godson of his, David Holifard, a comrade of those who beseiged the city of Winchester, secreted him, so that those who were in eager search of the King did not discover him."

Qu.2: Why then was David O. on the side of those besieging the city?

Mackie (page 36) gives the fullest pointer to an explanation: "When the friend of his youth and early manhood, Henry I. of England, and his loved sister Matilda lost their son, the Prince William, who was drowned when crossing the English Channel, the able and powerful English Sovereign made his nobles pledge themselves to accept his daughter Matilda as Queen after his death. As the Earl of Huntingdon, and therefore an English nobleman as well as King of Scotland, David took the oath. Some time after the death of their royal master, the English nobles set aside Matilda and made Stephen, her cousin and her father's nephew, King. David, in devotion to his niece and in fidelity to his oath felt bound to interfere, and at the head of a large army he marched into England." David lost the Battle of the Standard, but (J.B.M. continues): "David continued as opportunity afforded to assist the cause of his niece, and when during a brief revival of her good fortune she entered London as Queen, he joined her there. When the tide turned against her, he narrowly escaped capture during the flight to Winchester. A Scotsman, David Oliphant, who was in the service of Stephen, recognised his Scottish master, and showed his patriotic fidelity by giving him a disguise and assisting him back to Scotland."

As uncle-in-law by marriage, David later settled his differences with Stephen and Mackie continues: "As the result of successive negotiations Cumbria was left with King David, and his son, Henry, was assigned the Earldom of Northumberland, doing homage only for the Earldom of Huntingdon."

Ans.2: David's family was resident at Northampton and King David up North revolutionising Scotland (vide Mackie.) When the most powerful nobles had elected to replace Matilda with Stephen despite their oath taken to Henry I to accept Matilda, David Olifard's family would have had to comply or be ousted. Since Stephen was a nephew of King Henry I, it may not have been such a bitter pill to swallow. However, once he had seen that his godfather had set himself to oppose this restatement of affairs, he was obliged to save him and return to Scotland with him.

An alternative origin of Olifards
It is not disputed that the name Olifard developed at the time of the crusades to imbue it with the strength and power of the Olifaunt (the pachydermous animal immortalised in the poem The Horn of Roland, where the horn was called Olifant and was made from elephant ivory) encountered in Palestine which was also taken into the Oliphant arms.

Maitland Thompson says (page 521) "The original form is Olifard, Latinised Olifardus" and then notes ...."it appears thus in the Pipe Roll of 1130, page 85 of print. The few occurrences of the name with the prefix de are explicable as clerical errors." i.e., given that the name did not appear in Normandy.

Qu.3: Whence then did the name derive?

The former name of Olifard is most closely linked orthographically with the Scandinavian name of Olaf, which reflects that a Scandinavian nobleman named Olifard was shipwrecked on the Kincardine coast in the 9th Century who was important enough for a it to be on record that a boat was sent out to find him (source: .)

As stated, WMT further reflects that the surname was not used in Normandy and surmises that it was first used on English soil. Although Normandy is so named for the earlier conquest by Norsemen and Olaf could conceiveably have come thence, it is unlikely that, hundreds of years later, it would be resurrected as a surname at the time of the Norman invasion. JMT also suggests that it could have derived from the first name of a Norman family founder. However, since it already was used in Scotland at this time, it is more logical that the name had simply been continuously alive North of the border and had come down thence.

Ans.3: Scandinavia

Further Research: Vide pedigrees of barons wanting to marry, now in combined Papal records


The Peerage of Scotland - 1716 by George Crawfurd, Esq, printed for the author: sold by George Stewart, at the Book and Angel in the Parliament Close ......recites that David O went to England with David I...

Caledonia - 1807 to 1824 by George Chalmers (I. 515)

The Peerage of Scotland - 1813 by Sir George Douglas of Glenbervie, printed by George Ramsay and Company for Archibald Constable and Company, Edinburgh : Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, and Brown; White, Cochrane, and Co.: John Murray; and Richard Rees, London .....recites that David was godson to David I ab initio....

The Baronage of Angus and Mearns - 1855 by David MacGregor Peter

Memorials of Angus and the Mearns - 1861 by Andrew Jervise pub. Adam & Charles Black, Edinburgh

Jacobite Lairds of Gask - 1870 by T.L. Kington-Blair-Oliphant published for the Grampian Club by Charles Griffin & Co, Stationer's Hall Court, London

The Oliphants in Scotland - 1879 printed for T.L. Oliphant of Gask by Robert Anderson, Glasgow a large selection of the Gask charters now in the National Library of Scotland.......

Feudal England - 1895 by J.H. Round (3rd pub. by Sonnenschein & Co Ltd, 25 High St, Bloomsbury, London 1909)

Oliphants of Gask - 1910 by E. Maxtone Graham published in London by James Nisbet & Co, 22 Berners Street and printed at Edinburgh Press, 9 and 11 Young Street

Dumferline=born Princes & Princesses - 1910 by J.B. Mackie, F.J.I. published by Dumfermline : Journal Printing Works

Glenbervie the Fatherland of Burns - 1910 by George Kinnear pub. John Menzies & Co, Edinburgh and Glasgow

The Lands of the Scottish Kings in England - 1915 by Margaret Moore M.A. pub. George Allen & Unwin, Ruskin House, Museum Street, London WC

The Scots Peerage - 1886 by W. Maitland Thomson (copy)

The Complete Peerage (copy)

Victoria County History for Northampton, Vol. iii, p. 227 (copy)

The Surnames of Scotland - 1946 by George F. Black (copy)

Scottish Hazard - 1985 by Beryl Platts [ISBN 0 906650 01 X]

Quoting from

Earl Simon's charter to St. Andrew's, Nothampton, granted, probably, not later than 1108.

Rot. Pip., 31 Hen. I - also Pipe Roll of 1130

Battle Abbey Roll - c. 1166 by Duchess of Cleveland

The Scalacronica - 1355 by Sir Thomas Gray (Maitland Club edition)

John of Hexham's chronicle

William of Malmesbury - 1870 edited from autographed manuscript by N.E.S.A. Hamilton published by Longman, London

Dalrymple's Collections

Calendar of Documents Preserved in France Illustrative of the History of England and Ireland. Ed. John Horace Round. London: G. Eyre and A. Spottiswoode, 1899

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