Clan Armstrong

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Clan Armstrong
Clann Mac Ghillielàidir[1]
Clan member crest badge - Clan Armstrong.svg
Crest: An arm from the shoulder, armed, Proper[1]
MottoInvictus maneo (I remain unvanquished)[1]
RegionScottish Borders
Armstrong of Mangerton arms.svg
Clan Armstrong has no chief, and is an armigerous clan
Historic seatMangerton
Last ChiefArchibald Armstrong of Mangerton

Clan Armstrong is a Lowland Scottish clan of the Scottish Borders.[2] The clan does not currently have a chief recognised by the Lord Lyon King of Arms and therefore it is considered an Armigerous clan.[2]


Origins of the clan[edit]

Traditional origins[edit]

According to the legend and tradition, the first of the name Armstrong was Siward Beorn (sword warrior), who was also known as Siward Digry (sword strong arm).[2] He was said to be the last Anglo-Danish Earl of Northumberland and a nephew of King Canute, the Danish king of England who reigned until 1035.[2]

Recorded origins[edit]

The Armstrong name was common over the whole of Northumbria and the Scottish Borders.[2] The Armstrongs became a powerful and warlike clan in Liddesdale and the Debatable Lands.[2] Historian George Fraser Black lists Adam Armstrong in 1235 as being pardoned for causing the death of another man.[2] Black also records Gilbert Armstrong, steward of the household of David II of Scotland, as ambassador to England in 1363.[2]

15th, 16th and 17th centuries[edit]

Armstrong tartan

In around 1425 John Armstrong, brother of Armstrong of Mangerton in Liddesdale built a strong tower.[2] The Armstrongs were able to raise three thousand horsemen and were said to be at one point in control of the debatable lands.[2] In 1528, Lord Dacre, who was the English Warden of the Marches, attacked the Armstrongs' tower but the Armstrongs retaliated and burned Netherby.[2] The power of the Armstrongs was seen by James V of Scotland as a threat to his own authority.[2] According to tradition, James tricked John Armstrong of Gilnockie to a meeting at Hawick where the king hanged the Armstrong laird without further ado.[2] King James continued his treatment of the Armstrongs when they failed to support him in 1542 at the Battle of Solway Moss.[2]

In 1603 the Union of the Crowns brought an official end to the Anglo-Scottish Wars of the Borders.[2] In 1610 the last of the Armstrong lairds was hanged in Edinburgh for leading a raid on Penrith, England.[2] This was followed by a ruthless campaign by the Crown to pacify the Borders.[2] As a result, families were scattered with many of them seeking new homes in Ulster, particularly in County Fermanagh.[2] Armstrong is now amongst the fifty most common names in Ulster.[2] There has been no trace of the Armstrong chiefs since the clan was dispersed in the 17th century.[2]

Modern clan history[edit]

Amongst the many distinguished Armstrongs are Sir Alexander Armstrong who was an Arctic explorer, and also Neil Armstrong who was the first man to walk upon the Moon,[2] taking with him a piece of the Clan Armstrong tartan.[3][4] The Armstrong Baronets are descendants of Gilnockie.[5] Comedian Alexander Armstrong is a descendant.[6] Although there has been no trace of the Armstrong chiefs since the clan was dispersed in the 17th century, there is a powerful and active clan association and the Clan Armstrong Trust was established in 1978.[2]


Gilnockie Tower, a Clan Armstrong tower

Castles owned by the Clan Armstrong have included amongst many others:

  • Gilnockie Tower, also known as Hollows Tower, a couple of miles north of Canonbie in Dumfriesshire.[7] It was apparently built in 1518 but there was probably an earlier stronghold on the site.[7] It now houses a Clan Armstrong Centre.[7]
  • Mangerton Tower, one mile south of Newcastleton, which is near to the English border.[7] Nearby is the Minholm Cross, which was erected in about 1320 to commemorate the murder of Alexander Armstrong in Hermitage Castle.[7]


It is unknown if any of the early Armstrongs spoke Gaelic, but Gaelic-derived place names such as Auchenrivock can be found in the Esk River valley, and the language persisted in Galloway, Carrick and the Western Borders well into the seventeenth century, so it is possible.[8] The name of the Armstrong stronghold itself, Gilnockie, is from the Scottish Gaelic Geal Cnocan meaning 'Little White Hill'.[9][10]

The Armstrong name is sometimes rendered in Gaelic as follows:

  • MacGhillielàidir (Surname)
  • Clann 'icGhillelàidir (Collective)

These Gaelic names appear frequently in modern clan literature, but they are neologistic and are rarely used by Gaelic speakers. However, Armstrong has been historically associated with the Ulster Gaelic name, Mac Tréan-Labhraidh, a branch of the Ó Labhradha family. Tréan-Labhradh means strong-speaking but it is thought that the name was misunderstood as meaning strong-arm, and Armstrong was adopted as a convenient Anglicization.[11] Mac Tréan-Labhraidh would translate as Mac Treun-Labhraidh in Scottish Gaelic. Other common associated names include variations on Traynor, Treanor, Trainor, McCreanor, MacCrainor; which all derive from the Irish Gaelic name, Mac Threinfhir, meaning son of the strong man. After the Plantation of Ulster many Armstrongs (mainly those who were Catholic) adopted the Traynor surname.

Among the best-known Gaelic-speaking Armstrongs was Dr Robert Armstrong of Perthshire, who compiled an authoritative early Gaelic-English dictionary, published in 1825.[12]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Clan Armtrong Profile Retrieved 19 October 2014.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v Way, George and Squire, Romily. (1994). Collins Scottish Clan & Family Encyclopedia. (Foreword by The Rt Hon. The Earl of Elgin KT, Convenor, The Standing Council of Scottish Chiefs). pp. 352 – 353.
  3. ^ Goddard, Jacqui (20 July 2009). 40 years on Armstrong recalls 'step for mankind'. The Scotsman (Edinburgh). Retrieved 20 July 2009 from
  4. ^ Phillips, Iain Zaczek Charles (2009) The Complete Book of Tartan. Lorenz. Retrieved 2 June 2010.
  5. ^ A Genealogical and Heraldic Dictionary of the Peerage and Baronetage of the British Empire, 1852 Burkes Peerage and Baronetage 1852. Retrieved 12 December 2014.
  6. ^ "Interview: Alexander Armstrong on bringing variety back to Saturday night TV". The Scotsman. 26 July 2011.
  7. ^ a b c d e Coventry, Martin. (2008). Castles of the Clans: The Strongholds and Seats of 750 Scottish Families and Clans. pp. 14 – 15. ISBN 978-1-899874-36-1.
  8. ^ Lorimer, W. L. (1949) "The Persistence of Gaelic in Galloway and Carrick."Scottish Gaelic Studies 6(2), pp. 114–136.
  9. ^ Johnston, James B (1903). Place-names of Scotland. Edinburgh: D. Douglas. p. 120.
  10. ^ Johnson-Ferguson, Edward (1930). "Place Names: Canonbie, Eskdalemuir, Ewes, Langholm and Westerkirk". Transactions of the Dumfriesshire and Galloway Natural History & Antiquarian Society. 3 (17): 136.
  11. ^ Matheson, Robert E. (1901) Varieties and Synonyms of Surnames and Christian Names in Ireland. Dublin: Stationery Office, pg. 10.
  12. ^ John Reid (1832) Bibliotheca Scoto-Celtica. Glasgow: John Reid, pg 58

External links[edit]