Scottish clan profile: Napier

Clan Napier tartan. Picture: Contributed
Clan Napier tartan. Picture: Contributed
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THE Napiers are descended from the ancient Earls of Lennox, one of the Celtic royal families of Scotland and Ireland.

Name origins

One theory as to the origins of the name is that a ‘naperer’ is a person who deals with table linen in a royal or manor house, and the original Napiers must have held that profession.

There is little evidence that this was the case in Scotland, with another origin being that one of the knights of the Earl of Lennox distinguished himself in battle while supporting William the Lion.

After the battle, the king singled him out, praising his valour by saying ‘Nae peer’.

Early history

The first recorded instance of the name is in a charter of Malcolm, Earl of Lennox at some point before 1290, in which he granted land to John de Naper in Dunbartonshire and Kilmahew. The Napiers held the lands at Kilmahew for eighteen generations, until 1820.

15th Century

The first Lord of Merchiston was Alexander Napier, a prominent merchant in Edinburgh in the 1400s. He amassed a fortune, becoming Provost of Edinburgh and obtaining a charter for the lands of Merchiston in 1436.

His son, also Alexander, became Provost like his father, rising to high royal favour.

He sustained injuries while rescuing the widow of James I of Scotland, and her second husband Sir James Stewart after they had been captured by rebels.

He was honoured by James II of Scotland in 1440, being installed as Comptroller of the Royal Household, as well as Vice Admiral of Scotland 21 years later.

His son John was killed at the Battle of Sauchieburn in 1488.

Anglo-Scottish Wars

John Napier’s heir Alexander, and his grandson, both perished at the Battle of Flodden in 1513. Another Napier was killed at the Battle of Pinkie Cleugh in 1547.

17th century

Perhaps the most famous member of the clan was John Napier, seventeenth Laird of Merchiston, who developed the Logarithm system. He was succeeded in 1617 by his son, Archibald, 1st Lord Napier who accompanied James VI and I to claim his new throne in England.

The Napiers supported the king throughout the Scottish Civil War. Lord Napier died in 1645 and his only son, Archibald Napier, 2nd Lord Napier, was forced into exile, dying in the Netherlands in 1660.

The 3rd Lord Napier, also Archibald, petitioned the Crown for a new patent to the barony and extended the succession to female heirs.

Napoleonic Wars

Three grandsons of the sixth Lord Napier served during the Napoleonic Wars. General Sir Charles Napier conquered Sind in India (now part of Pakistan) and has a statue in Trafalgar Square in London.


Merchiston Tower, the historic seat of the Clan Napier chiefs, situated in the centre of Edinburgh Napier University’s Merchiston campus.

Kilmahew Castle in Cardross, was the ancestral home of the Napiers of Kilmahew, and is now a ruin.

Other castles include Culcreuch Castle in Fintry and Lauriston Castle, in Edinburgh.

Clan chief

The current clan chief is the Rt Hon Francis David Charles Napier, 15th Lord Napier, 6th Baron Ettrick, and 12th Baronet of Nova Scotia.