Galbraith Origins

The first recorded chief of the Galbraiths appears in the 12th century, he married a daughter of Alwyn Og, son of Muireadhach, 1st Earl of Lennox. The fourth chief Sir William Galbraith married a daughter of the Black Comyn, he was one of the Co-Regents of Scotland in 1255. His son Sir Arthur married a daughter of Sir James Douglas and fought with Bruce.

The chiefship passed out of the main line to the Galbraiths Strathendrick, a cadet branch at the end of the 14th century. The Galbraiths were always closely linked to the Earls of Lennox and lent their support at the time when James I returned to Scotland from England and murdered his own kinsmen. The chief at the time is said to have aided in the raid of Dunbarton in 1425 and afterwards fled to Kintyre and Gigha escaping from the King. The 12th Chief, Thomas again took up arms with Lennox after the murder of James III in 1488, however after the defeat of Talla Moss, Thomas was captured and hanged in 1489. Andrew, the 14th Chief also partook with the Lennoxes when they attempted to rescue the young King James V from the Douglases in 1426.

During the 16th century the 17th Chief of the Galbraiths, Robert, was renowned for his misdeeds, including the attempted murder of his brother-in-law to whom he owed money and the abuse of his power to pursue the Clan Gregor to attack the chief of MacAulay who had married his widowed mother against his will. Finally he was denounced a rebel and fled to Ireland sometime before 1642. His heir James, 18th chief was the last traceable member of the line. The Galbraiths who moved to Gigha held the island for the MacDonalds of the Isles till after 1590 but later took their protection.

Thanks to James Pringle Weavers for the following information:

GALBRAITH: Rendered in Gaelic, "Mac a' Bhreatnnaich" (son of the Briton), this description is in accord with the fact that the name is associated from an early date with the ancient kingdom of Strathclyde which had its capital at Dumbarton ('The fortress of the Britons'). It is conjectured that their early chiefs were of the royal house of Strathclyde and by such ancestry they had close affinity with, or married into, the family of the Celtic Earls of Lennox. In the 13th century they appear frequently in Lennox charters, at which time their stronghold was the island of Inchgalbraith in Loch Lomond. In the same century the chief married the sister of the powerful 'Black Comyn', but took part against him in the removal of the young Alexander III from his grasp. His son, the next chief, married a sister of 'The Good Sir James' Douglas, renowned for taking Bruce's heart on crusade. A branch of the family acquired the Castle and lands of Culcreuch near Fintry in Stirlingshire about 1320 and later that century this line inherited the chiefship. Culcreuch therafter became the principal 'duthus' and a few cadet families became established in the surrounding area, notably at Balgair and Blackhouse. Although the 13th chief was hanged by the King in 1489 they remained a 'clan' until 1622 when the chief, having made a life-threatening gesture against his brother-in-law to whom he was in debt, was denounced a rebel. He sold up and went to Ireland leaving the line represented by Balgair and Blackhouse. The chief's departure may have caused some of his kin to align themselves with neighbouring clans such as the Buchanans and Macfarlanes. Earlier, following the defeat of an uprising in the Lennox, some Galbraiths settled in Macdonald lands in Kintyre where they founded the houses of Drumore and Macrihanish. Some also settled on Gigha, which they held from the Macdonalds until after 1590, and this might explain why Galbraiths are sometimes given as 'septs' of Clan Donald.

Our thanks to Glenn Smith for the following information:

Robert C. Galbraith of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and V. Scott Galbraith of Monrovia, Maryland, were two of the driving forces that organized the Clan Galbraith Society of North America back in 1980. They apparently found various references that showed the Galbraiths as a sept of MacDonald and/or MacFarlane. Robert C. Galbraith wrote several letters to the Scottish authorities for clarification on this issue and the replies were photocopied and published in The Red Tower, Summer 1981 issue (quarterly publication of the Clan Galbraith Society) as follows:

Letter dated 27 November 1980, from the Court of the Lord Lyon, H.M. New Register House, Edinburgh, Scotland. The Lyon Clerk and Keeper of the Records was Malcolm R. Innes. This letter was addressed to Robert C. Galbraith, National Convener, Pittsburgh, PA, U.S.A.

Dear Sir, I have your letter of 18th November regarding the chiefship of the Galbraiths. I confirm that there are at present no claimants for the undifferenced Arms of the Head of the family of Galbraith. I think there is no doubt that the Galbraiths are recognized as a separate and independent family with their own Chief or Head and are not regarded as a sept of MacDonald or MacFarlane.

The second letter from the Court of Lord Lyon was dated on 28 January 1981:

......if you look at the back of "Scotland of Old" by Sir Iain Moncreiffe of that Ilk and Don Pottinger, you will see that the undifferenced Arms of Galbraith of Culcreuch are shown thereon. I know that certain tables show the Galbraiths being a sept or dependent of MacDonald or MacFarlane, and while one or two families of Galbraith may have been so dependent, I think it is incorrect to assume that all were so........

The Lyon Clerk was probably receiving letters from other clans during this same time period, so there must have been an ongoing discussion of this issue. Robert C. Galbraith wrote to the Court of the Lord Lyon again on February 16, 1981 concerning the same subject. The third letter of reply from the Lyon Clerk was dated on 25 February 1981:

Dear Sir,
Thank you for your letter of 16th February. I note all you write regarding "The Clans, Septs and Regiments of the Scottish Highlands." I think it would not be safe to regard everything that was written in such a large compendium as being authoritative, and certainly the information given therein is, I do not think, in no way regarded as being the final word on the matter. I think you can take it that the Lyon Office regards the family of Galbraith as a separate family.

Yours faithfully,
Malcolm R. Innes

It appears this issue was resolved in 1980, so I am concerned that certain references are still showing the Galbraiths as a sept. Perhaps we should be sure these letters from the Court of the Lord Lyon receive wider circulation in the Scottish community.

Glenn Smith
P.O. Box 1332
Muskogee, OK 74402-1332


At least two different spellings have been found on the Clan Galbraith motto. This article was compiled to see if anyone could add new information concerning the different versions of the Clan Galbraith motto. Lord Strathclydes' family used the motto " AB OBICE SUAVIOR " which is said to be "Gentler Because of the Obstruction." The Galbraith-Culcreuch Association also used this same version of the Clan Galbraith motto on their letterhead and correspondence.

The Clan Galbraith Society uses AB OBICE SAEVIOR as the official motto.

The Galbraith-Culcreuch News Review (1980) contained an article written by Professor John D. Christie of Fintry, Stirlingshire, Scotland. He mentioned that there were two different spellings and explained how the Latin term " AB OBICE SAEVIOR " - Fiercer Because of the Obstruction - was found in the writings of Ovid. The change of the spelling to " AB OBICE SUAVIOR " changed the motto to mean "Gentler because of the Obstruction."

Professor Christie continued: "While working on the Galbraith motto, it occurred to me that Ovid's original ab obice saevior, (fiercer because of the obstruction), would itself unaltered have made a good and typically Scottish motto, with the proud or "touchy" implication - "if you try to thwart me, you'll find me all the fiercer a foe."

"I would be most interested to learn of the historical origins of the Clan Galbraith motto. One suspects there is some traditional anecdote to account for the acceptance of the device of a muzzled bear, and the declaration in the motto that the family is gentler now that it has been restrained (presumably by a check imposed from outside). Otherwise it would seem to be a surpassingly humble, not to say "humiliated" motto. The implication of the "gentler" is that previous to the muzzling (whatever that symbolizes), the family was fierce but now is tamed."

"The Galbraith motto now means "Gentler because of the obstruction" and as it accompanies a device of a bear wearing a muzzle, presumably the obstruction is this muzzle. The Latin word obex, however, seems at first sight to be a rather improbable word for the composer of the motto to have chosen for muzzle. Obex (stim, obis-) properly means something thrown in the way (to obstruct progress), and this scarcely describes a muzzle or its function. The common Latin word for a muzzle is capistrum, which could as easily have been used. Why then was ab obice chosen instead?

There must have been some special reason for going out of the way to use this particular, less than appropriate word."

"Now, Ovid's Metamorphoses was possibly the best known classical Latin poem in the Middle Ages and Renaissance, and it would be very familiar to the many accomplished Scottish classicists of the period to which the composition of the motto probably belongs. (There are in fact four manuscripts of Ovid's major works dating from the 12th-13th centuries still preserved in Scotland.)" ....."The third book of Ovid's Metamorphoses (lines 568-571), where Ovid describes a dammed river thus:"

sig ego torrentem, qua nil obstabat eunti, lenius et modic strepitu decurrere vidi; at quacumque trabes obstructaque saxa tenebant, spumeus et fervens et ab obice saevior ibat.

("So have I myself seen a river, where nothing barred its course, flow on quite smoothly and with no great noise; but whatever logs and boulders were piled up in its way to hold it back, it would continue on its way, foaming and boiling, fiercer because of the obstruction.")

Here "obice" is used by Ovid with nice exactitude; a river dam is precisely "something thrown in the way to obstruct progress. This leads one to believe that the composer of this motto took Ovid's striking and original phrase, ab obice saevior (fiercer because of the obstruction) and by the simple change of just two letters (substituting ua for ae) cleverly produced the motto ab obice suavior, carrying exactly the opposite meaning (gentler because of the obstruction), which he wanted in order to describe the effect of the muzzle on the bear. He, no doubt, felt that the slight inappropriateness of obice for a muzzle was justified by the neatness (one might almost say wit), of his adaptation of Ovid's phrase, which would be recognized and relished by most of his contemporaries who were well educated in the classics."

Can anyone add to this explanation? Please contact the Clan Galbraith Society, or


By Glenn Smith

There were other GALBRAITH family members in Scotland who did not live in castles with nobility, but were members of the middle class, or working men of their day. When we look for our Scottish heritage, some of us fail to seach the other records for possible family members.

Clan Galbraith member David Dickinson contributed copies of the Rolls of Edinburgh Burgesses and Guild Brethren to the CGANA library. As I reviewed the list of Galbraiths mentioned in this record, my curiosity got the best of me. How did people obtain these positions, and just exactly what role did the burgess and guild brother play in early Scotland? This article was compiled to share answers to those questions.

In sixteenth and seventeenth century Scotland there were many towns, or burghs, but none with the population as we know today. It is estimated that Edinburgh, the largest of them all at the beginning of the sixteenth century, had a total population of about 16,000, and by the end of the seventeenth century, it had grown to something like 30,000 inhabitants. Most of the larger burghs belonged to a group known as the royal burghs. They were privileged communities granted rights by the king to develop trade both in Scotland and with other countries. Other "burghs of barony" were extremely small, typically with about a hundred inhabitants, and did not have the trade privileges of the royal burghs.

All burghs had some rights of self-government. For instance they could elect baillies, make by-laws, and organize themselves into merchant guilds and craft guilds. But only the royal burghs had the right of separate constitutional representation, and could send representatives to Parliament.

The institutional structure of the burghs was divided into burgesses and non-burgesses. Only the merchants and craftsmen were the burgesses in each town, and all others were known as "unfreemen", without any rights in town government. The class of non-burgesses was made up mostly of the unprivileged poor, a class that made up the bulk of the population of any large town. They had no rights as citizens and left few records, so little is known of the majority of this group of people. Some were journeymen who worked for wages for the masters of the craft guilds, while others were the drovers, carters, porters, and coalmen. There was also a number of "ale-sellers" (often the poorest widows who had no other way to make a living), water carriers and milk vendors. Generally speaking, for most of the unfreemen, the unprivileged poor, life was lived very close to destitution.

Many of the unfreemen were the casual unskilled labourers and the servants of the burgesses. Their wives and daughters were among the maids, of which there were many in this period of time. One report shows there were 492 maid-servants distributed among 548 households in central Edinburgh, along with 115 male servants and 144 apprentices.

The next division of burgesses was between the merchants and craftsmen, who were organized into merchant guilds and craft guilds. A man could become a burgess in several ways: normally he had to pay a sum of money to the corporation, and to prove that his name was on the apprenticeship books of the town. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, most new burgesses were either the sons, or the sons-in-law of existing burgesses. Sons could follow their fathers paying a smaller entry fee, and serving a shorter apprenticeship than strangers. Those who married the daughter of a burgess (provided in Edinburgh that she was a "clene virgine swa repute and haldin") gained the same concession. This rule made sure the daughters of merchants and craftsmen were at a premium in the marriage market. Others, not so lucky in birth or love, had to pay a higher entry-fee and to wait for a longer period after they had finished their apprenticeship before they were qualified.

For example, in Glasgow, the hammermen's guild required the apprentice to serve seven years in return for his food and clothing, followed by two more years when he received only his food, along with a very small wage. At the end of this time he made his "essay", or sample of his workmanship (it might be a highlander's sword-hilt for an armourer, or a horse-shoe and eight nails for a black-smith), which had to be tested and approved by three "essay masters." Then, upon payment of burgesses' fees, he could become a freeman with permission to work as an independent master. But, to attain the full dignity of "guild brother" he had to work for another four years, of which the first two must be without assistance from apprentice or servant. Then he could pay additional fees and enter the guild. This thirteen-year period of training and probation limited new potential craftsmen as much as the high entry fees.

The merchant's guild had their own restrictions, which made it more difficult for a stranger to enter their trade and guild. For example, the Edinburgh council passed an act in 1565, that none were to be admitted to the merchant guild "except they be of honest, discreitt and gud conversation" and possessed "movable guds worth one thousand merks of frie geir": for the "handie lawborer using his craft" the qualification was five hundred merks. Such controls effectively excluded mere journeymen, servants and common labourers from the qualifications of town citizenship in the largest burghs. There was not much chance a young man would ever have that amount of money to enter these guilds.

Among the burgesses, the merchants provided the socially and politically dominant inner group, holding themselves above the mere craftsman in a variety of different ways. A good example of this attitude was when the Edinburgh merchant guild admitted a skinner in 1588, they compelled him not only to renounce his craft, but also to promise that his wife and servants would use "no point of common cookery outwith his house," would not carry "meat dishes or courses through the town," and would not appear in the streets with their aprons on. Evidently his wife had been doing a little catering on the side, and while it might be socially acceptable in a skinner's family, it was definitely not acceptable in a merchant's.

The first purpose of the merchant guild was to maintain a monopoly. They spent most of their time bringing charges and prosecuting unprivileged men from selling or peddling petty amounts of goods. The second purpose of the guild was to provide organization by which the merchants could dominate the town council. Corruption followed in the wake of this sought after privilege. Town contracts went to the provost's friends, and most councils were notorious for their graft. The craftsmen fought repeatedly and often riotously against this practice, though they never managed to dislodge their enemies from the majority of their influence.

The town craftsmen, who formed the second and socially inferior half of the burgess class, had began to organize themselves by 1450. By 1600 Edinburgh and Glasgow both had fourteen "incorporated trades." The Guilds were as small in membership as they were in number. Most guilds reportedly had from twenty to forty members. The purpose of their guilds, like those of the merchants, was primarily to uphold the rights of a small group of privileged citizens from the dangerous pretensions of unfreemen. When the blacksmiths, goldsmiths, saddlers, armourers, and other metal workers of Glasgow petitioned in 1536 for permission to incorporate, they grounded their application on the "great hurt and damage" suffered by other honest burgesses from the work of unqualified men. They spent much of their time searching out "dishonest work," preventing the neighboring towns from flooding their market with competitive goods, and stopping merchants from employing unfree smiths on private business.

Despite these efforts, few of the craftsmen ever died rich, or could afford in their lives the standard of comfort the merchants came to enjoy. It was rare for a craftsman to ever be financially able to purchase a small estate, or put money out to loan. To many craftsmen the main benefit of the guild must have been not the opportunity it gave for gain, but the defense it gave against becoming a pauper. The records show every craft collected regularly for the families of poor distressed members. Some guilds even ran an alms house, and helped pay for a deceased member's respectable burial. You could not rise very high as a hammerman or a cordiner (shoemaker), but neither could you fall all the way to the bottom of society.

In this time period the unfreemen sometimes included affluent house-holders such as the chamberlains, the advocates, writers, and notaries of the legal profession. Many of these, however, were honored by the town and were made burgesses gratis, a status which conferred citizenship on them. Thus, the records show that James GALBRAITH, writer in Edinburgh, obtained the status of Burgess gratis in 1685. He was evidently very successful, as he later purchased the Balgair estate. This is apparently the same man, as he was the only one listed as a "writer" in the records of burgesses. Galbraiths of the Lennox states that "James Galbraith, writer in Edinburgh, bought the lands of Balgair in 1687." Mr. Galloway further concluded that James Galbraith of Balgair (1687) was descended from Robert Galbraith, the brother of Andrew Galbraith, 8th of Culcreuch, and 14th Chief of the Galbraith Clan.

The earliest record found of a burgess named Galbraith in Edinburgh was the year 1538, when Thomas GALBRAITH was made burgess in the right of his wife Mariota, daughter of William Dic or Dick. So it appears Thomas Galbraith married the right girl, and as the son-in-law of a burgess, his entry into the dominant inner-group of merchants was made much easier.

This Thomas Galbraith, who became a burgess in 1538, cannot be identified at this time. He was possibly the son of one of the several different Galbraith lairds, and his birthdate might be estimated sometime about 1510-1515. The merchant apprentices during this period were most often the sons of lairds, or of merchants from other burghs. The craftsmen apprentices were usually the sons of other craftsmen, of sailors, or even of workmen.

During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, several Galbraiths were merchants, and craftsmen in the town of Edinburgh. The following names were taken from the copies made by the Scottish Record Society, of the Rolls of Edinburgh Burgesses, 1406-1700. Printed by J. Skinner and Co., LTD., 1926. Contributed to CGANA by David Dickinson, Vancouver, B.C. [Any additions I have made to these records will be found in brackets.]


Year -- Date - - Name - - Description

1538, May 31 - Thomas Galbraith, merchant, in right of wife Mariota, dau. of William Dic [Dick].
1560, Dec 27 - William Galbraith, merchant, in right of wife (blank) dau. of (blank) Lawsoun.
1561, Feb 24 - Johnne Galbraith, F.C. [no additional info]
1563, Dec 1 - Robert Galbraith, B., merchant, eldest son of umq. Thomas Galbraith.
1573, Sep 11 - Edward Galbraith, merchant, in right of his father Thomas Galbraith.
1580, May 4 - Omphray Galbraith, B. and F., tailyeor, as p. [apprentice] to Wm. Leche, tailyor.
1582, Jul 25 - James Galbraith, tailyeor, as p. [apprentice] to Johnn Barclay, taileor.
1582, Aug 29 - Valentine Galbraith, B., mt. [merchant]
1588, Oct 16 - Johnn Galbraith, B., cordiner, be r. of wife Sybilla, dau. to Henry Quhyte, cordiner,
1588-9, Jan 22 - Frances Galbraith, servant to the kingis majestie, be right of wife Agnes, dau. to Jerome Bowy (sumlier to his majestie), B. and G., and the dewtie thairof givin to himself for guid service done and to be done be him to the guid town.
1601, Jul 14 - Johnne Galbraith, B., merchant. (hagbute), as s. of Robert Galbraith, merchant.; John Wilkyne, merchant., souerty for extents.
1606, Feb 26 - Valentine Galbraith, mt. [merchant] B. before the decreit arbitrall (cotslatt)
1608, Jan 27 - Johne Galbraith, B., tailyeor (hagbute) by right of wife Kathreine, dau. to Edward Kyncaid, B.
1615, Jan 11 - Robert Galbraith, B., merchant, (hagbuit); James Braidfoote, mt., souertie for residence.
1619, Sep 22 - Robert Galbraith, B., cuik, servitor to my lord of Newtoune, advocat to our souerane lord (hagbuit), by act of C. of dait
1633, Jun 23 - Robert Galbraith, B. and G., servitor to the Prince his hienes (C.I. Banquet)
1654, Aug 26 - Edward Galbraith, B., as son of Thos. Galbraith, B.
1664, Dec 21 - George Galbraith, B. and G., mt, as p. to Thomas Leishman, mt., B. and G. (20 Dec. 1643)
1665, Apr 12 - Alexr. Galbraith (Galbryt), B., tanner.
1674, Jan 21 - John Galbraith, B., tanner in Pottsburgh, by r. of umq. father Alexander Galbraith, tanner.
1678-79, Jan 2 - Johnne Galbraith, B. draper.
1681, Apr 13 - John Galbraith, B. and G., present servitor to Sir John Wauchop of Niddery, gratis, by act of C. of 8 Apr. 1681.
1685, Jun 4 - James Galbraith, B. and G. wrytter, gratis.
1687, Aug 3 - Hugh Galbraith, B. and G., as p. [apprentice] to dec. George Galbraith, mt. [merchant] B. and G.
1698, Nov 30 - John Galbraith, B., pirriwigmaker, by act of C. of 25 inst.
1700, Mar 22 - James Galbraith, B. stabler, by act of C. of this date.

Guild Members - Edinburgh Treasurer's Accounts
(mentioned in records)
1556-57 - John Galbrayth and James Galbrayth, quariours
1556-57 - James Galbraith and Thomas Galbrayth, quariours
1558-59 - Johnne Galbraith, quarior

Edinburgh Records - Dean of Guild
(mentioned in records)
1557 - Cristell Galbrayth
1560 - Cristell Galbrayth, "shops above the Kirk"
1562 - Christofer Galbrayth
1565 - Crystell Galbrayth - "Goldsmythis Shoppe";

Accounts of Deans of Guild - Edinburgh

1563-64 - Robert Galbrayth, Merchant, made Burgess in right of his father Thomas Galbraith.
1563-64 - Edward Galbraith, merchant, made Burgess by right of his father Thomas Galbraith.
1566, Aug. - John Farquhar, merchant, was made burgess and gyld brother the 3rd day of August 1566, by right of his wife, Isobell Galbraith, daughter of Thomas Galbraith.

From these records we find many other Galbraith family members in old Scotland. More research is necessary, but you can almost see what appears to be members of the same family. Thomas Galbraith, who became a burgess and merchant in 1538, after his marriage to Mariota, daughter of William Dick. Twenty-five years later, what appears to be his eldest son, Robert Galbraith, who became a burgess in 1563. Then Edward Galbraith, mentioned as a son of Thomas Galbraith, merchant, and then perhaps his son-in-law John Farquhar, in 1566 was made burgess in right of his wife, Isobell Galbraith, daughter of Thomas Galbraith. The entry of 1601, John Galbraith, merchant, as son of Robert Galbraith, could be the son of Robert, and grandson of Thomas, 1538.

The following mention was found about Sir William Dick :

"Sir William Dick, provost of Edinburgh and incomparably the richest merchant Scotland ever saw before the age of the Glasgow tobacco lords, was quixotic enough to lend the whole of his immense fortune of over half a million pounds Scots to the Covenanting army in 1639, and as a consequence died in deep poverty. Sir Walter Scott in a vivid passage recounts the folk memory of the Edinburgh citizens who watched with wonder as the sacks of silver dollars were emptied into carts from his counting house to pay the troops encamped at Duns. His piety won Puritan approval even as it cost him every penny he had."
[Source- A History of the Scottish People 1560-1830. T.C. Smout, 1969.]

This event occurred about 100 years after Thomas Galbraith, son-in-law of William Dick, became a burgess in 1538. This Sir William Dick was possibly a grandson, or great-grandson of Thomas Galbraith's father-in-law.

Additional research in the early records may be productive in learning more about these Galbraith family members. The Clan Galbraith Society maintains a library containing records of every mention we have found on the various families throughout the world. This is an organization of volunteers who are preserving the history and heritage of this family name. You can help by becoming a member and by contributing records to our library. For membership information contact the Clan Galbraith Society secretary at: