The name Arbuthnot originates from the ancient lands of Arbuthnot in Kincardineshire. These lands came in to the possession of the Swinton family through the marriage of Hugh, to the daughter of Osbert Olifard (or Oliphant) ‘The Crusader’. THe lands were granted to Olifard by William the Lion around 1175 and the family adopted the name. Early documents refer to the area as ‘Aberbothenoth’, and this has been translated as either the ‘mouth of the stream below the noble house’ or ‘meeting of the small stream with the river’.
The first record of the family using the name Arbuthnot is in 1355 with Philip de Arbuthnott.
The Arbuthnot’s most infamous moment came around 1420 when Phillips son Hugh was part of a gang implicated in the murder of the local sheriff John Melville of Glenbervie, Melville was a strict authoritarian and his hard line had made him extremely unpopular with many local lairds. The Duke of Albany, Regent of Scotland at the time no doubt tiring of the stream of complaints was alleged to have said “sorrow gin that sheriff were sodden and supped in broo”. The Lairds of Mather, Arbuthnott, Pitarrow and Halkerton took his comments all too literally with alarming results!
Inviting the sheriff to hunt with them in the Forest of Garvock they arranged an ambush. He was reputedly killed by being cast into boiling water. once the Sheri had been well and truly poached each conspirator took a drink from the resulting broth. Arbuthnott was pardoned for his involvement and died in 1446.
Alexander Arbuthnot, was a leading figure in the Church of Scotland becoming Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in 1577. in 1583 after pressure from the assembly he complained to James VI of Scotland about various ‘popish practices’ still permitted by the King. The king did not take this complaint too well however and he was held at St Andrews under house arrest. The downturn in his fortunes leading to an untimely death later that year.
The Arbuthnot family fortunes however rose again when Sir Robert Arbuthnott was made 1st Viscount of Arbuthnott and Baron Inverbervie by Charles I of England no doubt in an attempt to gain some support north of the border.
Another Arbuthnot who’s fortunes were improved by royal association was Dr John Arbuthnot. In this case however it was more to do with being in the right place at the right time. While visiting Epsom races in 1705 Prince George of Denmark, husband of Anne of Great Britain was taken ill. Dr Arbuthnot was rushed to attend to him, the prince fortunately recovered and Arbuthnott was appointed a royal physician. His position gained the confidence and friendship of the queen and many leading figures including Dr Samuel Johnson who said of him; ‘a man of great comprehension, skilful in his profession, versed in the sciences, acquainted with ancient literature and able to animate his mass of knowledge by a bright and active imagination’
The eighth Viscount of Arbuthnott was Lord Lieutenant of Kincardineshire and a representative peer for Scotland in Parliament from 1818 to 1847. John Arbuthnott, 16th Viscount of Arbuthnott, became chief after his father’s death in 1966. During the Second World War he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, and in 1985 the Order of the British Empire with a CBE. In 1997 he was created a Knight of the Thistle. The 16th Viscount died on the 14th of July 2012 at the age of 87. His son, The Rt Hon. Keith Arbuthnott, became the 17th Viscount of Arbuthnott, as well as Clan Chief.
This Arbuthnot land has been in the hands of the same family for more than twenty-four generations up to the present Viscount of Arbuthnott. Arbuthnott House lies just a few miles south-west of Stonehaven.