Early history of the Elliot Clan

Some two years ago during a visit to Ilkley’s twin town of Coutances, I happened to mention the name Elliot to a French friend, a retired surgeon of Breton origin, only to meet his insistence that this was a Breton name. Sure enough, as a plunge into French archives quite clearly showed, not only Elliots, Eliots and Alliots, but people bearing names of what had hitherto been treated as its Scottish variants, known for some time and commented on by George MacDonald-Fraser in his book “The Steel Bonnets.” Elliot turns out to be a variant, of a much older Breton name, but what is clear is that we now have an answer for MacDonald-Fraser. The fact that Elliot is a co-variant makes it exclusively a Breton toponym variant. There is no other source of the name.

The rest of the story is down to the digital revolution, and the DNA project. French records of birth revealed lots of Elliots, Eliots, Alliots (a co-variant, which means that some Alliots ended up as Elliots and some Elliots ended up as Alliots!) still living in main clusters in Brittany. Their distant Elegoët cousins’ name was Anglicised as Elligott, Ellacott and Ellicott. Digitisation of old Scottish maps showed that there was a town whose name was pronounced as Eliot, near the foot of Glen Shee, just as Scott of Satchells said, although its strange charter spelling of Alyth was restored to later maps. Clearly, however, Eliot ( also spelt Elieht and Elyeht) was just how the locals had pronounced it from the 13th century right through to when the 16th-18th century cartographers asked for the town’s name.

All Elliots (all spellings) fought at Hastings in 1066, and in the west country in 1069, where their ‘seigneurs’ were given massive lands. The claim that the Eliots of St Germans were Anglo-Norman was never based on more than guesswork. Many Normans, Bretons, like the first Stewart, Walter fitzAlan of Dol, Flemings like the Douglases and Murrays, and Picards like the Comyns and Balliols, were brought to Scotland by the Norman tutored Canmore kings during the 12th -14th centuries. The Canmores needed their own tank regiment – or the feudal equivalent.

Then finally, the DNA project showed that nearly forty per cent of all samples revealed Celtic-Brittonic ancestry.

— Keith Elliot Hunter, QPM, BA

Walter d’Elliot (d’Alyth), of The Brae ( forfeited 1306) and of Redheugh — the early history of the Elliots, a Scoto-Breton Border Clan circa 1314 x 1320

by Keith Elliot Hunter QPM, BA

Introduction

The town of Elliot was their antiquitie,
Which stands in Angus, at the foot of Glenshie;
With brave King Robert Bruce they hither came;
Which is three hundred and eighty years agone;
In West Teviotdale* these gentlemen did dwell,
They were twelve great families, I hear my goodsir tell;
Their chief was a Baron of renown,
Designed Reid-heugh, which is now called Lariston

Scott of Satchells. Quoted by the Dowager Lady Eliott and Sir Arthur Eliott.
*The name often used to include Liddesdale.

A combination of modern science and the digital revolution now gives today’s generation more insight into its ancestry than could hitherto be attained, except by lifetimes – available to professional historians – spent poring through many archives. A great deal of new evidence, now electronically accessible, most of it corroborative, has made it clear, beyond any reasonable doubt that:

  • Elliot and its many variant names, which drew comment from the late George MacDonald Fraser in his colourful history of the Border Reivers, The Steel Bonnets, are of Breton origin;
  • All Elliots and bearers of variant names of Breton origin, first arrived in England as participants in theNorman Conquest of 1066 and they left behind the ancestors of the many Elliots living in Brittany today;
  • The claim that the Eliots of St Germans are of Anglo-Norman origin has always been based on nothing more than an unsubstantiated assumption;1
  • DNA sampling has revealed that nearly forty per cent of Elliots (all spellings) tested, are of Celtic-Brittonic origin ( as opposed to Celtic-Gaelic);
  • The history of Elliot involvement in the wars of Scottish independence, with high casualty rates, demonstrated by their appearance in various sources, points to the likelihood that the occurrence of Germanic and other DNA haplogroups among Elliots, is the result of a number of adoptions born to Elliot mothers, whose men were killed in battle;
  • Pronunciation of the name led on both sides of the Channel to two versions: Alliot and Elliot, before their spelling was settled along geographic lines, and according to prevalent local and regional clerical preferences, at a time when there was no standardisation of phonetic spelling and scriptores applied a ‘take your pick’ approach to use of the Roman alphabet;
  • The initial spelling choice made by one or more early scriptores, was based on the long accepted Elliot variant name Dalliot, or more accurately d’Alliot, which they spelt variously as Alyth, Alight and Alyght, where the letter y was used not as the vowel i, but as a semi-vowel, standing for io;
  • When successive 16th and Perthshire region of Glen Isla and Glen Shee, they were told that the name of a town, whose medieval spelling has been restored to modern maps, its kirk and its forest, were, firstly, Elyeht or Elieht, and lastly, by the time phonetic spelling was becoming more accurate, ELLIOT;
  • Walter d’Alyth ( pronounced d’Elliot – since there is no reason to question what the cartographers were told) was the baron ‘of renown’, of The Brae, which can be seen just to the north of Alyth on larger scale OS maps, who forfeited these lands in 1306, when supporting Robert the Bruce;
  • The Brae was given to the Balliol supporter Adam Brunyng, before it was inherited by his son, substitute justiciar, John Brunyng, who came over to Bruce’s side;
  • This led to the need for Bruce to make a compromise ( as he had to do with other lands) when rewarding his supporters with confiscated lands in the aftermath of his victory at Bannockburn, a challenging one for the Elliots, since Liddesdale was of great strategic importance to Bruce.2
  • The name Elliot (spelt as Ellot, but given the prevalent use of French, probably always pronounced as Elliot – as the cartographers found out) was brought to Liddesdale, but the name Elwald, a common name, was given to the chieftain;
  • Elwald could never have been a precursor to Ellot, (pronounced as Elliot?) as opposed to the other way round, and a morphological evolution from one to the other was impossible;
  • Whatever the explanation for this ‘charter name’ was – a typical Breton attempt to take a native name, a name with which, again typically, the clerks took liberties or even a nickname, like the Flemish mercenary Berowald ( Clan Innes) – surviving documents show quite clearly that both names were used contemporaneously, and often interchanged.

[1] Confirmed personally by the earl of St Germans, Peregrine Eliot.

[2] In his “Robert Bruce” (Eyre & Spottiswoode) 1965,G W S Barrow used the description ‘prodigals’ for those who came to the support of Bruce late in the day. In some cases lands were restored to them, hence the need for compromises in the land settlement following Bannockburn.

This is just the introduction of the early history research. The entire document will eventually be converted to web page format but until then:

8 Responses to Early history of the Elliot Clan

  1. Johul Eliot April 19, 2015 at 8:56 am #

    How eliot or elliot name spared in yhe philippine,and i want to involvedin the elliot’s DNA projecy

    • Keith Elliot Hunter July 1, 2015 at 12:05 pm #

      Hello Johul,

      You first need to know about the history of your father’s family. The spelling of your surname suggests (subject to what you know) that your male ancestors in direct line may have been English, not Scottish. While all Elliots ( no matter how their name was spelt, Eliot, Elliot, Eliott or Elliott), were closely related in 1066, at the time of the Norman Conquest of England, those, who, like many of the Norman, Flemish and other Breton knights and barons, profited from their importation into Scotland by the Scottish kings, became more distantly related, with a separate Scottish identity, The Elliot name was, over a long time, taken by infant males, probably mostly orphans, fathered by men of different ethnicities, marrying into the clan. The Scottish clan system allowed for this, and it is doubtful whether the same thing could have happened in England. While the name ‘Eliot’, spelt with only one L and one T did appear on early Scottish maps, it did not survive for long. The Scottish spellings became exclusively Elliot, Eliott and Elliott. The opposite happened in the English south-western counties, where there were several Breton settlements after the Norman Conquest. There the name was often spelt as Ellyot, but by the 17th century, the name had started to be always spelt as Eliot – your spelling. This does not necessarily mean that your ancestry in the male line was English, since there may have been a change in the spelling of your name imposed by people in authority in the Phillipines. National identify is not just a matter of ethnic origins, it is largely a product of culture. Ethnicity had little to do with the forging of a Scottish identity during the Scottish Wars of Independence, in which the Scottish Elliots participated.

  2. susan sargent March 2, 2015 at 5:20 am #

    What are you saying? That all Elliott’s are French?

    • Keith Elliot Hunter March 27, 2015 at 12:42 pm #

      Not at all. In 1066 the vast majority of Bretons were descendants of British tribes who crossed the Channel around the end of the 6th century, and colonised the Armorican peninsula, in what became Brittany. At the time of the Norman Conquest it is highly probable that a much higher percentage than now of Elliots, Alliots, Elegoets (who became Eligotts and Ellacotts) were of Celtic-Brittonic ancestry. The intrusion into the clan of a variety of germanic haplotypes would have been the result of the adoption of a number of Elliot daughters’ sons, orphaned when their husbands of Norman (Scandinavian), Flemish/Frisian and Scandinavian ( i.e. North Germanic) origin were killed in battle during the long wars of Scottish independence. Don’t forget that the Scottish kings turned to Norman, Breton, Flemish and other knights and barons to bring feudalism into Scotland. The Elliots brought down from the north into Liddesdale a clan structure, and their chieftains were described as chieftains, not as lairds or lords. It was clan custom or rule that sons of clan daughters involved in ‘mesalliances’ ( marriage etc. to men of lesser noble status) took the clan name. What proportion were illegitimate we will never know.

  3. Evan Elliott November 25, 2014 at 7:54 am #

    It says that DNA testing points to a Celtic-Brittonic origin, but the inhabitants of the Isle of Briton were all Brythonic south of the Picts at the time of the Roman invasion. What points to a Breton origin?

    • Keith Elliot Hunter December 20, 2014 at 12:53 am #

      Brittany was colonised by British migrants who crossed the sea and occupied the Armorican peninsula around the sixth century AD, probably under pressure from the Saxon invaders. The Elliots were in effect returning to their ancestral homelands.

    • Keith Elliot Hunter March 27, 2015 at 12:54 pm #

      Lots of corroborative evidence – not just Breton telephone directories with loads of Eliots and Elliots in them. One of the most striking pieces of evidence is the discovery that not only Elliot is a Breton name, but several other names hitherto treated as variants of Elliot, e.g. Eligott, Ellacott, Alliot, Ellot, Allot, are also found today in Brittany. When these and other corroborative pieces of evidence, like the finding of other people of Breton ancestry (not leas the Stewarts) in Scotland, are put together with the finding that the most salient Elliot DNA haplogroupe is Celtic-Brittonic, the evidence of Breton origin becomes overwhelming. What is surprising is that this should come as a surprise! Nor should the finding of Germanic haplotypes come as a surprise, when proper attention is paid to the history of Scotland and the introduction by its kings of feudalism in the hands of Norman, Breton, Flemish mercenaries, barons and knights, (lots of them) during the 12th and 23th centuries. Perhaps some swotting up of Scottish history should have been a pre-requisite of the Elliot DNA project.

  4. Bonnie Patterson September 18, 2014 at 1:18 am #

    How do I get involved in the Elliot’s DNA project? I believe I am a descendant of “Reds Elliot”

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