Clan Carruthers

Clan Carruthers: The Border Reiver Clan of Irving of Bonshaw

Clan Badge – Irving of Bonshaw ©

Carruthers and Irvings

As our close neighbours and sometime allies the Irvings/Irvines, have worked, fought and lived closely with our family for many hundreds of years and like the Carruthers, were great supporters of Robert the Bruce.

As is the case with many border families, marriges have occured between both of our clans e.g. In 1634 John Carruthers 2nd of Isle, married Jean, daughter of Francis Irving of Murrayes, in 1675 Willam Carruthers 1st of Denbie, younger brother of John Carruthers 9th of Holmains, married Blanch Irving, Daughter of Francis Irving of Braes, and in 1750 Col. John Carruthers, 5th of Denbie, of the Honorable East India Company, Deputy Lieutenant of Dumfriesshire, Justice of the Peace, married Mary, daughter of Dr J Irvine (Irving) of Spittlefields, Edinburgh and Wyseby Dumfriesshire.

The Carruthers, and in fact the Irving histories depicts an incident that occured in 1563, albeit with slightly different slant as the reasons why;  it is documented that on May 19, 1563, John Carruthers of Holmends (properly Holmains or Howmains), George and William his sons, Edward Irvine of Bonshaw (Chief of Clan Irvine, Close Allies of the Carruthers), David Irvine of Robgill, and several others of their accomplices, were indicted for hurting Kirkpatrick of Closeburn (Chief of Clan Kilpatrick), and slaying several persons whose names were given; but the indictment appears to have been departed from. The circumstances, at least from the Carruthers viewpoint, were not recorded but the wounding of Closeburn and the slaying of several of his relatives and retainers was. It is documented that: Holmains and his followers were summoned before Justice Ayre, Sir James Hamilton of Crawfurdjohn being surety for the execution and indorsation of the Letters. The surety, however, failed to execute, not of malice pretense, but deliberately on the advice of John Maxwell of Terregles, the Warden, in the hope of coming to an agreement betwixt both parties. It seemes it was Closeburn, who having amicably settled his differences with Holmains, petitioned the Crown not to enforce the penalty of 1,000 merks, clearly showing how cheap life was in those times that a finacial payment could be made to resolve a manslaughter charge.

Drum or Bonshaw

It is interesting to note that there are two distinct, legally recognised but separate Scottish Clans, each with their own chief, both with the same name, both recognised by the Lyon Court and both from the same root. This has occured on other occasions in Scotland and the Frasers, Campbells and Macdonalds immediately spring to mind.

iu.pngIn this instance the Irvines of Drum are from Aberdeenshire in the North East of Scotland, headed by their Chief; David Charles Irvine of Drum, 26th Baron and Chief of the Name and Arms of Irvine of Drum.

iu-6.jpegThe Irvings/Irvines of Bonshaw on the other hand are Border Reivers from Dumfriesshire in the Scottish Borders. Their Chief; is Captain Robert A. S. Irving RN (Rtd), Chief of the Name and Arms of Irving of Bonshaw. It is this clan and family who are our historic neighbours; the Irvings/Irvines of Bonshaw, that this blog covers.

Confirmation of the Chief of Clan Irving of Bonshaw

Irvings of Bonshaw Crest

Accepting the effort it entails, we must congratulate Clan Irving for the success in attaining official status as a clan. Less than 4 years ago and after going through the same arduous process that Clan Carruthers are now currently following, to have a Chief recognised, their clan had a Chief confirmed by the Lord Lyon. The Lyon is the only authority who mat legally recognise a Scottish Clan Chief.

The Lyon Court makes the recording of the dignity of a chiefship acknowledged by attestation. This involves a formal petition being made to Lyon Court along with supporting proofs, genealogies and formal documentation. It is a lengthy process, not without expense and requires detailed and thorough research often involving accredited members of ASGRA, the Association of Scottish Genealogists and Researchers in Archives and legal representation of the highest order.

It is also important to add that the Clan Irving have been great supporters of Carruthers as we follow in their footsteps to achieve official clan status.

The Interlocuter from the Lyon Court

Arms of the Lord Lyon King Of Arms

Court of the Lord Lyon

Interlocutor of the
Lord Lyon King of Arms
the Petition of

Chief of the Name and Arms of Irving of Bonshaw

of date 8 November 2013

Edinburgh, 25 August 2014. The Lord Lyon King of Arms, having considered the foregoing Petition and arguments for the Petitioner, (Primo) RECOGNISES the Petitioner in the name, style and dignity of Robert Alec Snow Irving of Bonshaw, CHIEF OF THE NAME AND ARMS OF IRVING OF BONSHAW for aught yet seen; and (Secundo) GRANTS WARRANT to the Lyon Clerk to prepare Letters Patent maintaining, ratifying and confirming to the Petitioner and his heirs bearing the name of Irving of Bonshaw the following Ensigns Armorial, videlicet:-Argent, three holly leaves Proper. Above the Shield is placed an Helm befitting his degree with a mantling Vert doubled Argent, and on a Wreath of the Liveries is set for Crest an arm gauntleted holding a branch of holly consisting of seven leaves all Proper, and in an Escrol over the same this motto “HAUD ULLIS LABENTIA VENTIS”.

On a Compartment strewn with holly leaves below the Shield are set for Supporters two snow leopards rampant guardant Proper; and upon a Standard four yards in length with rounded end, having Azure, a St Andrew’s Cross Argent in the hoist, tierced of three liveries Vert, Argent and Vert, is depicted his said Crest twice along with his Motto “HAUD ULLIS LABENTIA VENTIS” in letters Or upon two transverse bands Sable; and for Pinsel, four and a half feet long by two feet in height, Argent bearing his Crest within a strap Vert buckled and embellished Or inscribed with the Motto “HAUD ULLIS LABENTIA VENTIS” in letters Or all within a circlet Vert bearing the Petitioner’s title “Irving of Bonshaw” in letters Argent and in the fly an Escrol Vert bearing in letters Argent the Motto “HAUD ULLIS LABENTIA VENTIS”, And Grants Warrant to the Lyon Clerk to matriculate the same in the Public Register of All Arms and Bearings in Scotland.

The Decision

Chief of the Name and Arms of Irving of Bonshaw

The Arms of the Chief of the Name and Clan Chief Irving of Bonshaw
Arms of the Chief of Irvings

The Lord Lyon’s decision confirmed the Chief’s entitlement to the coat of arms of the Irvings of Bonshaw recorded by William Irving of Bonshaw c. 1672 in Volume 1, folio 335 of the Public Register of All Arms and Bearings in Scotland which are recorded in the following terms:

William Irwine of Bonshaw Bears argent three holin leaves proper. Above the shield ane helmet befitting his degree mantled gules doubled argent Next is placed on ane torse for his crest ane arme g…[gauntleted] holding ane branch of hollin consisting of seven leaves all proper. The motto in ane escroll Haud ullis labentia ventis.

The Lord Lyon granted the Chief for supporters “Two snow leopards rampant guardant Proper”, an allusion to the fact that the Chief’s father Robert Irving Snow changed his name to Irving of Bonshaw to inherit the estate of Bonshaw under the Trust Disposition and Settlement of his grandfather Colonel John Beaufin Irving of Bonshaw. In addition the Lord Lyon granted the Chief a standard and pinsel.

Bonshaw Tower

Bonshaw Tower

Bonshaw Tower is the historic seat of Clan Irving and although an Irving currently owns it, they are not of the chiefly line nor are they recognised as chief of that name.

The tower itself sits in what was to become the Parish of Irving in and around Kirtledale itself. It is situated close to the English border near the Kirtle Water, overlooking the battle site of Kirtle in 1484.

The Battle of Kirtle, was initiated because William, 8th Earl of Douglas attempted to form a rebellion by against the Scottish throne. After his murder his brother James and 9th Earl attempted to depose the king (James II). He was defeated at Arkinholme in 1455 and fled to France. On his return to Scotland with a small following, he was defeated at the Battle of Kirtle.

Interestingly the eldest brother of Archibald Carruthers, Sir Simon Carruthers was killed that day. Sir Simon was heir apparent to Mouswald and the Carruthers Chiefship, he was also Warden of the West March at the time. Thomas went on to become 7th of Mouswald and 2nd Baron.

Allegedly, although built in 900 AD, the tower didn’t come into the hands of the Irving’s until the late 1200’s. It acted as a defensive base during the feuds that constantly occurred in the borders at the time. A clan and family comparable in size to the Elliots and Carruthers, they played a pivotal role in Scottish Border Reiver history and were one of the 17 unruly clans along with Carruthers named in the 1587 Act of the Scottish Parliament.

Map of Irving Lands ©

History of the Irvings/Irvines (copyright

Much of what has been written about the history of the Irvings & Irvines in the Lowlands you will find in “The Book of the Irvings &c” by Colonel J.B. Irving in 1907 and this publication draws on many differing sources for its content

However, modern day research has uncovered some inaccuracies and rather obvious embellishment of the historical facts from a principal source referred to as “The Original of the Family of the Irvines or Erinvines”, by Dr Christopher Irvine M.D., so-called Historiographer Royal of Scotland.  Dr Christopher Irvine (c.1620-1693) was a prolific author, writing a number of books mostly on medical matters of the day, yet apparently he wrote the aforementioned short family history in 1678.  An original of this publication has yet to be found as an extensive search of public libraries and private collections has yielded nothing other than a leaflet on Scottish place names.

We should not let this detract from the colourful history of the Border Irving & Irvine Clan.  This article attempts to keep to the known historical facts and touches on some of the misconceptions.

The tradition starts with the statement that the Irvings of Bonshaw are descended from Duncan of Eskdale, a younger brother of Crinan, father of Duncan I of Scotland.

One should point out that there is no known fact or evidence to support this or indeed any conjecture of Irving history up to the time of the 11th Century.  So we shall leave out the distracting assertions made by the aforementioned Dr. Irvine.

When Malcolm Caennmor introduced the parish system towards the end of the 11thcentury, the Irving lands in Kirtledale became the parish of Irving, retaining its identity until the end of the 16th century when it was split into the parishes of Annan and Kirkpatrick-Fleming.  The Irving lands during the 11th century were extensive, stretching from Annandale to Liddesdale.

Chiefly Arms of Irving of Bonshaw

David I (1124-1153 AD) granted feudal superiority of Annandale in 1124 to the Norman family De Brus who retained it until accession of Robert De Brus, Earl of Carrick, to the throne of Scotland in 1306.  The Irvings became vassals perhaps for the first time in their history, initially under De Brus and then for more than four centuries, finally achieving independence under the Johnstons. Robert De Brus was a guest at Bonshaw Tower in 1298 when he fled the English court of Edward I and there is a cave in the Kirtle cliffs at Cove, within which Robert De Brus was hidden on more than one occasion.

The tradition extends to the story of a ‘William De Irwyn’, second son of the chief of the Irvings at Bonshaw, being taken into the service of Robert De Brus, holding various offices in the Royal Household, and ultimately being rewarded with part of the Forest of Drum in 1323 and free barony for his devotion to duty – the Irvines of Drum

The story suggests that the Irvines of Drum are descended from the Irvings at Bonshaw as a consequence.  Due to the geographical, economic and historical isolation between the Irvines & Irvings in the Highlands and those in the Lowlands, the common-sense conclusion is that they are two separate Clans sharing a common Name.  This is not an uncommon situation as can be shown with some of the notable Clans in the Highlands.

In fact, Lyon Clerk at The Court of the Lord Lyon states that “ there are two distinct families, Irving of Bonshaw and Irvine of Drum.  Each has a person who is recognised in the respective name (Irvine of Drum, Irving of Bonshaw) and who has been granted arms.”  In his Interlocutor dated 25thAugust 2014 the Lord Lyon confirms this position – a judicial decision that cannot be altered.

The next mention historically of the Irvings is not for another two hundred years.

In July 1484, at the battle of the Kirtle, where the Duke of Albany and the Douglases were routed, the Master of Maxwell was killed and just across the Kirtle water from Bonshaw Tower, the Merkland Cross marks the spot.


(Sir Simon Carruthers, Warden of the West March and heir apparent to Mouswald, was killed that day fighting on the on the side of the Crown)

Scottish Clans map.jpg
Clan Map of Scotland ©

During the 16th century the Irvings of Bonshaw played a leading part in Border warfare and in national politics under the chiefship of Edward Irving of Bonshaw (1555-1605).  It was during this century that a feud existed between the Johnstons and Irvings on one side and the Maxwells with their supporters on the other.

At the battle of Solway Moss in 1542, Christopher Irving of Bonshaw commanded the light horse, surviving the battle and continuing the resistance against Henry VIII.  From 1543 through to 1548, there were continued border clashes between the English Wardens, the Earl of Lennox, Lords Dacre and Wharton in particular, and the Scottish forces.  In one conflict, Christopher Irving of Bonshaw led a running battle with English forces from Durisdeer down Nithsdale but eventually getting caught in a flanking attack by the English and incurred heavy losses.  Having been taken prisoner, he renewed his former oath in true Borderer style and was later released.

IMG_0354(Again another Carruthers heir apparent was killed in the Battle of Solway Moss. John Carruthers of Holmains, the elder brother of George, met his demise there fighting under Lord Robert Maxwell.)

A truce between England and Scotland in 1550 gave many a Border Clan the opportunity of renewing old feuds.  In 1554, the Kirkpatricks slew a younger son of Christopher Irving of Bonshaw.  The Irvings bided their time until 1563 when Edward Irving of Bonshaw, the new laird, slew the Chief of the Kirkpatricks of Closeburn. The

In 1564, at a meeting of the Scottish Privy Council on 21st December, the marriage of Christopher, the son of Edward Irving of Bonshaw, and Margaret, daughter of Johnston, was forbidden by resolution.  The objection at the time was due to the increasing influence and power held by the Irving-Johnston alliance in the West Marches.  Two years later the marriage took place with little consequence to either Clan.

Border Reiver.png
Border Reiver

During 1566, the Irvings fell out of favour with Queen Mary, having given her support in her early struggles, so, in true Borderer style, they changed sides and joined the then Regent Moray.  Three years later, Moray appointed one of Bonshaw’s younger sons, Edward, as Governor of Annan.

In 1570, the Earl of Sussex raided Dumfriesshire with 4,000 men, damaging many towers and castles, Bonshaw being one of them.  Over the next few years during the Regencies of the earls of Mar and Lennox, the Irvings fell into and out of favour.  One chief, Edward Irving of Bonshaw, spent a short time in prison (1572) but was released.

During 1585-1586, the Irvings and Johnstons were at war with the Maxwells.  This seemed to have been started by the Maxwells raiding Johnston territory but culminated with a peace treaty with Johnston handing over the lands of Irving to Maxwell.  The Irvings had no intention of complying with these terms and when Maxwell claimed Kirkconnel for example, he met with defiance from William Irving, a son of the laird of Bonshaw, and retreated.  On 16th June 1585, Maxwell laid siege to Bonshaw but retreated with no result.  Maxwell made two further attempts during 1585 at taking Bonshaw without success.

Early in 1586, the Irvings and Johnstons, backed by the Grahams of Netherby, took Maxwell and his ‘police force’ by surprise, captured and held him prisoner even though he was seriously wounded.  In May, a force of Maxwells, Douglases and others raided Kirtledale.  Later in the same year, feuds were set aside whilst the Borderers joined together to oust the Regent Arran.

During the last decade of the 16th century, there was an ongoing feud between the Bells of upper Kirtledale and the Irvings of lower Kirtledale.  This may well have been started by the shooting of “Fair Helen of Kirkconnel”, the date of which is uncertain.

In December 1593, the Irving-Johnston alliance, under Sir James Johnston of Lochwood met the Maxwells at Dryfe Sands.  The battle that followed was notable in that it was the last Clan battle to be fought in Scotland.  The result is that the Irving-Johnston forces inflicted a crushing defeat on the Maxwells with Lord Maxwell being slain on the field.  The Maxwells never fully recovered even to this day.

IMG_0355 copy(Notably, during the Johnston – Maxwell feud, Carruthers of Dormont were occasional supporters of Johnston and Carruthers of Holmains supported Maxwell)

iu-4.jpegAfter the end of the 16th century, life on the Borders quietened down considerably but the Clan history continues.

During the Civil War in the middle of the 17th century, the Irvings supported the Royalists and anti-Presbyterians.

Between 1672-1677, the general registration of armorial bearings of the nobility of Scotland, William Irving of Bonshaw registered the ancient armorial achievement of Irving of Bonshaw, these being: “…..bears argent three hollin leaves proper above the shield ane helmet befitting his degree mantled vert doubled argent next is placed ane torse for his crest ane arm gauntleted holding ane branch of hollin consisting of seven leaves all proper.  The motto is ane scroll Haud Ullis Labentia Ventis”.

IMG_0354(In 1672 and for the same reasons, John Carruthers 9th of Holmains and 5th Baron, also registered the chiefly arms of Holmains with the Lord Lyon, from which every other legal Carruthers arms are now taken and granted, with two differences).

The next notable historical mention is of the birth of Colonel Paulus Aemilius Irving in 1714 at Bonshaw, he entered the Army and in 1759 was i/c of 15th Regiment of Foot under General Wolfe during the capture of the Heights of Abraham at Quebec.  He later became Governor of the Province of Quebec.  His son, General Sir Paulus Aemilius Irving was created “Baronet of Woodhouse and Robgill”; the title became extinct in 1852 with the death of the third baronet.

John Irving, younger of Bonshaw, was appointed Collector of Land Tax for Dumfriesshire in 1732 and a Commissioner for Supply in 1741.  He took no part in the Rebellion of 1745, but William Irving of Gribton and his eldest son James, Edward Irving of Wysebie and John Irving of Whitehill were all reported for aiding Prince Charles.

In 1765, William Irving of Bonshaw entailed the estate.  In 1770, he built the new mansion which now forms the main living quarters.  He died two years later leaving an only son, a minor at six years of age.         

John Robert studied law and in 1793 was admitted to the Faculty of Advocates where he was taught by Alexander Irving, Lord Newton, of the Irvings of Newton (a cadet branch of the Irvines of Drum) who was Professor of Civil Law at Edinburgh University from 1800-1826.  By the time he died in 1839, having led a colourful life, the Bonshaw estate was in decline.  He left two daughters, from one the Winter-Irvings (Australia) are descended.  His successor, the Reverend John Irving, disentailed the estate in 1853 and on his death Robert Nasmyth Irving (1827-1894) succeeded to the estate but wasted most of his life away from Bonshaw, leaving it heavily mortgaged; he died in 1894, unmarried and with substantial debts.  It is he who is regarded by Colonel J.B. Irving in his book as “the traitor” and referred to in his book by his initials “RNI”.

John Beaufin Irving III (1844-1925).jpg
Col. John B. Irving, Laird of Bonshaw 1894-1926

Colonel J.B. Irving (1844-1925) was the exact opposite of his predecessor.  On Robert Nasmyth Irving’s death in 1894, he was given sasine of Bonshaw, in other words he inherited the Tower & House and what was left of the estate, as lawful heir of succession.

(Colonel J.B. Irving was, as can be seen from his photograph,  a Brigadier in the Royal Company of Archers, which is a ceremonial unit that serves as the Sovereign’s Bodyguard in Scotland. This is a role it has performed since 1822 during the reign of King George IV when the company provided a personal bodyguard to the King on his visit to Scotland. 

It is currently known as the Queen’ss Bodyguard for Scotland, and is located in Edinburgh, the capital city. The Royal Company of Archers has a long history in Scotland as a body, being initiated in 1676 to celebrated both the recreation and talent of local archers. As a body established by the Monarch, the Company has a long history of unique prizes, influential supporters, and ceremonial roles.)

He was succeeded by his youngest and surviving son, Captain Sir R.B. Irving (1877-1954), KB, OBE, RD, DL, who had a long and distinguished career at sea, fought at the Battle of Jutland and commanded the ‘Queen Mary’ in 1936.  He was granted a knighthood in 1943 and retired in 1944.Having succeeded to the Bonshaw estate on the death of his father in 1925, and his mother died the following year, Captain Sir R.B. Irving devoted much of his time at Bonshaw in preserving the estate.  He died in 1954 without issue and his successor and next “heir at law” was Commander G. R. I. Irving RN (1895-1970).

Commander G.R.I. Irving RN inherited the remainder of the estate in 1954.  When Commander Irving inherited, he was in his sixtieth year, previously a WWII Royal Navy serving officer based at Alexandria, Egypt.  His son, now retired as a senior Royal Navy officer, was only 24 years of age at that time, unmarried and just had started on his considerable sea service in the Royal Navy.

Within a few years of inheriting and after a few years of trying to rent out the house and estate, he took the decision to sell, but only to an Irving.  Eventually Mr. & Mrs. E. Keys-Irving Straton-Ferrier, who were living in Australia at the time, purchased the property.  They were descended from the Irvings of Wysebie, a branch of the Clan which went to Australia in the early 1900’s.  Within a few years of taking possession of the Bonshaw property her husband passed away.  As time went on, Mrs. Keys-Irving Straton-Ferrier herself died, and her son and his wife, who were living there with her, decided they needed to move on.

Drs J. B. & M.A. Irving purchased the Bonshaw property in 1986 and as of 2005 their eldest son became the owner.  Bonshaw Tower and House is now still owned by an Irving, although distantly related within a cadet branch of the Clan – the Irvings of Dumfries.

NB: Please note that all historical and genealogical articles on the history of the Irving/Irvines are sourced from and referenced through publicly accessible and original archive material by professionally accredited ASGRA researchers.

(All comments in itialics in the body of the history were made by the CCSI).

Tartan: Irving of Bonshaw

It only remains to say that, if you are a Border Reiver of Irving or Irvine descendent, the clan society webpage is well worth a visit – as your representative clan society as recognised by the Chief of the Clan himself.

Clan Carruthers Society WP footnote grey





2 thoughts on “Clan Carruthers: The Border Reiver Clan of Irving of Bonshaw”

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.