An ancient Celtic family, Clan Urquhart held power over lands in the northeast of Scotland. The Clan name comes from Glen Urquhart and the spectacular Urquhart Castle on Loch Ness.
The name Urquhart comes from the 7th century name Airdchartdan, a mix of Gaelic air (by) and Old Welsh cardden (thicket or wood). A similar form of the name is recorded in an early life of the great Celtic saint, Columba. He was an Irish abbot and missionary who spread Christianity into what is now Scotland in the 6th century.
The legendary father of Clan Urquhart was the warrior of Gaelic legend, Conachar Mor. He was a scion of the royal house of Ulster who came to Scotland to fight for Malcolm III and was rewarded with Urquhart Castle on Loch Ness. He reputedly killed a wild boar of such extraordinary fierceness that no man had ever escaped from it.
Conachar’s supposed descendant, William de Urchard, is the first Chief of the Clan whose name appears in written Scottish records. He defended the Moote of Cromarty against supporters of the English Crown in the time of William Wallace, and was a staunch supporter of Robert the Bruce.
Adam de Urchard, the second Chief, became Baron and Sheriff of Cromarty about 1358, and for over three hundred years, the Chiefs of the Clan held the Barony of Cromarty as their principal seat where they erected an imposing castle overlooking Cromarty Firth.
The Urquharts were hereditary sheriffs of Cromarty from the reign of David II. One remarkable Urquhart was Thomas Urquhart of Cromarty, who sired no fewer than 25 sons. Alas, seven of his boys were killed at the Battle of Pinkie in 1547.
His great, great grand nephew was also called Thomas, and was a legendary Urquhart. He enrolled at Kings College in Aberdeen at the tender age of 11 and by the age of 30 he had become a scholar, writer of note and a soldier. He was knighted by Charles I in 1641. After the king’s defeat in the civil war he travelled on the Continent and became familiar with the works of the French poet, Rabelais. His translation of Rabelais’ work is still considered to be a masterpiece. Literary undertakings did not prevent his rejoining the royalist army, and he fought at the Battle of Worcester in 1651 where he was taken prisoner. He was imprisoned in the Tower of London, and while there published his family tree. This impressive piece of work manage to trace the origins of the Urquhart family to Adam and Eve! He was eventually released, returning to the Continent. He left this life in as much style as had lived it - in 1660 he died from laughter while celebrating the Restoration.
Captain John Urquhart of Craigston, born in 1696, became hugely wealthy, but no one was entirely sure exactly how he came by his great fortune. Although he was nicknamed ‘the pirate’ by his family, so that gives us a clue! He certainly served in the Spanish navy, and probably amassed his fortune from the prize money paid for captured enemy vessels. He narrowly escaped death at the Battle of Sheriffmuir, fighting for the Jacobite cause.
The Urquharts of Craigston rose to such social eminence that they were able to secure the services of the great Henry Raeburn to paint family portraits. Adam, son of William Urquhart of Craigston, became sheriff of Wigton. Craigston Castle is still in family hands.
Colonel James Urquhart rose for the ‘Old Pretender’ in 1715, and was severely wounded at the Battle of Sheriffmuir. In the last years of his life, he was the principal Jacobite agent in Scotland. With his death in 1741, the chiefship passed to his cousin, William Urquhart of Meldrum, a cautious Jacobite who avoided the disaster at Culloden. His cousin, Adam Urquhart of Blyth was more open in his loyalties and was a member of Bonnie Prince Charlie’s court-in-exile at Rome. The last of this line, Major Beauchamp Urquhart, was killed in the Sudan at the Battle of Atbara in 1898.
In 1959, a descendent of the Urquharts of Braelangwell, whose family had emigrated to America in the 18th century, established his right to be chief of Clan Urquhart. The title of ‘Urquhart of Urquhart’ is now held by Wilkins F. Urquhart of Urquhart, recognised as the 28th chief of the clan. His seat in Scotland is now established at the ancient Urquhart stronghold of Castle Craig on the southern coast of the Cromarty Firth which was gifted to his grand father by Major Iain Shaw of Tordarroch as a unique symbol of amity between two great Highland names.
Clan Urquhart places to visit
The clan name adorns Urquhart Castle, a stronghold that commands a spectacular location on a headland overlooking mighty Loch Ness. This is one of the largest Scottish castles in area, and its imposing walls, towers and ideal monster-spotting situation help make it one of the most-visited castles in Scotland. If you’re coming to Scotland to trace your heritage you can stand on the battlements here, look out at the mysterious waters of the loch and feel very proud indeed. Your clan has come a long way!
If you love fine architecture, this Aberdeenshire home of the Urquhart family will delight you. It was built 1604–07 by John Urquhart of Craigfintry, known as the Tutor of Cromarty, and has two grand wings joined by a beautiful elevated arch. This is surmounted by a richly corbelled parapet, which several experts have noted is one of the finest in Scotland. You can stay in Craigston Castle or even get married here! If you do, make sure you admire the glorious wood carvings in the drawing room and the many Clan Urquhart heraldic artefacts.
Soak up some spectacular Scottish scenery and get a first hand feel for Clan Urquhart history by taking a walk in the rolling Ochil Hills. Here, on a remote heathland plateau, was where Captain John Urquhart ‘the pirate’ was nearly killed fighting for the Jacobite cause at the Battle of Sheriffmuir.