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OLIPHANT. Sir William of Aberdalgie

OLIPHANT, or OLIFAND, Sir William (d. 1329) of Aberdalgie, Perthshire, was eldest son of Sir Walter, Justiciar of Lothian, under Alexander I. This office was originally bestowed on his ancestor, David de Olifand, who while a soldier in the Army of King Stephen, rescued King David I. of Scotland at the siege of Winchester Castle in 1141, and enabled him to reach Scotland in safety.

Sir William Oliphant’s name first appears as witness to a Charter of John, Earl of Atholl, some time before 1296. Being taken prisoner on the capture of Dunbar Castle in 1296, (1) after the defeat of the Scots Army by John de Warenne, Earl of Surrey. He was on 16 May committed a prisoner to the castle of Devizes, where he remained till October 1297, (2) and then only received his release on condition of Serving Edward I. beyond seas.

While at Sandwich, previous to embarkation for Flushing, he and Edward de Ramsay were allowed 12d. a day, and each of their squires 6d. (3) Subsequently Oliphant returned to Scotland, and supported Wallace in his endeavour to uphold Scottish independence.

On the capture of Stirling Castle from the English in 1299, he was entrusted with its defence by the Governor, Sir John Foulis. After a feeble attempt. to bar the progress of Edward I. in 1304, Comyn gave in, his submission to Edward, and Stirling Castle remained the sole fortress in Scotland that had not surrendered to the English King. Oliphant on being commanded to give it up, replied that, having received the custody of it from Sir John Foulis, he could not hand it over to Edward without forfeiting his oath and honour as a Knight, but if permitted would instantly go to France to inquire of Sir John Foulis what were his commands, and if they countenanced surrender he would obey them.

But Edward, according to Langtoft, being then "full grim", replied that he would agree to no such terms, and that Oliphant would retain tire Castle at his peril. (4) During the siege all the goods and chattels of Oliphant were seized by Edward and bestowed on Hubert Malherte. (5)

The siege continued for ninety days, (6) and the reduction of the Castle taxed all Edward’s ingenuity and resources. Thirteen "great engynes" were brought by him to batter down its defences, (7) the leaden roof of the refectory of St. Andrews being incited down to supply leaden balls for their use. The siege was under the immediate direction of Edward himself, who, in his eagerness to effect the fall of the Castle frequently exposed himself to imminent peril. For a long time the defenders held a decided advantage, but ultimately by the use of Greek fire and the construction of two immense machines for throwing stones and leaden balls, he made such breaches on the inner walls, and so harassed the defenders that Oliphant offered terms of surrender. It is stated that he stipulated for the freedom of himself and the garrison, but that Edward belied his troth and broke through the conditions; for "William Oliphant, the warden thereof, he threw bound into prison and kept long time in thrall". (8) The castle was surrendered on 24 July, 1304, (9) and Oliphant is mentioned as a prisoner in the Tower on 21 May 1305. (10)

From Michaelmas 1306 till Michaelmas 1307 the sum of six pounds and twenty pence, was paid for his maintenance by the Sheriffs of London to the Cornmittee of the Tower. (11)

On 24 May, 1308, Edward II gave command to the Constable of the Tower to liberate him on his giving surety for his good behaviour.

On his way to Scotland he came to Lincoln, and took out of prison four Scotsmen, who had served under him in Stirling Castle, who were to go with him on the King’s service into Scotland. (12) He was in receipt of pay from the King of England in January 1310—-11, (13) and he was appointed by Edward Governor of Perth, which held out for six weeks against Robert Bruce. Ultimately it was captured by strategem. Bruce, after retiring with his army for eight days, returning suddenly during the night, and scaling the walls at the head of his troops. The town was taken on 8 January 1311-12. when Oliphant was sent a prisoner to the Western Isles. (14) On 23 February 1311-12 the Collectors of Customs of Wool and Hides in Perth were required to pay the whole of these to Oliphant, in satisfaction of the King of England’s debt to him. (15)

Oliphant obtained his freedom at least before 21 October, 1313, when he received protection on his setting out for Scotland, and for his return to England. (16) On 26 December 1317 he received from Robert Bruce the lands of Newtyle and Nynprony. Forfarshire, to be held in full barony; also by subsequent charters, the lands of Muirhouse in the shire of Edinburgh; and by Charter of Scone, on 20 March, 1326, the lands of Ochtertyre, Perthshire. He was present at a great parliament held at Aberbrothwick in April 1320 and his seal is attached to the remonstrance then addressed to the Pope asserting the independence, of Scotland.

He was also present at a Parliament held at Holyrood on 8 March, 1326.

He died in 1329, and was buried at AberdaIgie, where the original monument to his memory is still in fair preservation. He left a son, Sir Walter Oliphant of Aberdalgie, who married the Princess Elizabeth, youngest daughter of Robert Bruce. From him the Lords Oliphant are descended.

Dict, of National Biog. Vol. 42. T. F. Henderson, 1895.


(1) Hist. Mes. Comm. 6th Report p. 690.
(2) Cal. Documents relating to Scotland, 1272-1307, entry 953.
(3) Stevenson. Documents illustrative of the History of Scotland ii 40.
(4) Chronicle p. 325.
(5) Cal. Documents
as (2) entry 1517.
(6) Chronicon Galfridi le Baker ed. Thompson p. 2.
(7) Langtoft p. 326.
(8) John of Fordoun ed. Skene 1,336 Wyntoun, ed. Laing ii. 362.
(9) Cal. Documents
— as (2) — entry 1562.
(10) ib. entry 1668 Stevenson as (3)
p. 11.
(11) Cal. Documents
as (2) 1307—57. entry 36.
(12) Rotuli Scotiae 1. 61.
(13) Cal. Documents as (11)
entry 193.
(14) Chronicle of Lanercost p. 272.
(15) Cal. Documents
— as (11) — entry 247.
(16) ib. entries 313, 339
and Anderson’s Oliphants in Scotland, 1879 pp. XII - XXI.

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