The origins of the Elliot family are uncertain, possibly due to a catastrophic loss of familial records in the fire which destroyed their castle at Stobs, in the early 18th century. More recently, DNA evidence, and linguistic examination of ancient French archives have suggested that the Elliots were of Breton origin, and first arrived on British shores during the Norman Conquest at the Battle of Hastings in 1066. Come the early-14th century, the sentencing of Hermitage Castle founder William de Soulis, for treason against King Robert I, left a power vacuum in Liddesdale. As a resolution, the Bruce resettled the Elliot Clan (staunch supporters of his) from their then home in Angus, to Liddesdale, thus marking the start of Elliot presence in Borders history.
Over the ensuing centuries, the Elliots made a name for themselves as one of the foremost families of reiving renown, becoming arguably as powerful as the Armstrongs, with whom they shared the valley of Liddesdale, reputedly the ‘bloodiest valley in Britain’. Their original seat was at Redheugh Tower, the strategic position of which overlooked the main crossing point of the Hermitage Water. From the top of the tower, the Elliots would have had a clear view up and down the Hermitage Water valley, through which they later constructed a stretch of pele-towers to operate as an early-warning system. The family added to Redheugh with the constructions of Minto House, the seat of the Elliot Earls of Minto (now demolished), and of Stobs Castle, seat of the Elliots of Stobs. These were but the seats of the family’s various branches, however, and throughout Liddesdale the Elliots built around one-hundred further towers to act as signal stations, armouries, and defensive garrisons.
Notorious and successful reivers, the Elliots played a significant role in one particularly renowned episode of Borders history. In October 1566, John ‘Little Jock’ Elliot (also known as ‘Jock o the Park’) was pursued by James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell, when he failed to appear at Hermitage Castle alongside other leaders of the Elliot clan. Reputedly, ‘Little Jock’ and the Earl of Bothwell fought at close quarters on the Billhope Burn. He apparently struck Bothwell thrice, while being stabbed twice in the chest himself. Some say ‘Little Jock’ later died of his wounds, however he seems to appear in later historical records, so this is uncertain. Certainly, he died sometime before 1578. Bothwell, on the other hand, was taken back to Hermitage, gravely wounded. He recovered there, but not before being visited by Mary Queen of Scots, in an episode which would be used against both Bothwell and she in the trials which led to their executions.
Initially allied to the Scott Clan, supporting Sir Walter Scott, ‘Wicked Wat’, 1st of Branxholme, 3rd of Buccleuch, in the Battle of Melrose, 1526 – thus opposing the Douglases and Kerrs. However, in 1565 a deadly feud arose between the Elliots and Scotts, leading to a bloody battle, before the two clans came to terms.
The Elliot Clan’s heraldic symbol is a raised fist holding a sword, and their motto is Fortiter et recte (‘Boldly and rightly’).