Scottish clan profile: Kerr

DERIVING from the Old Norse ‘kjrr’ meaning ‘marsh-dweller’, the Kerr clan have been prominent in the Borders since before the Middle Ages.

Modern Kerr tartan. Picture: Celtus

Rendered in various forms including Kerr, Ker, Carr and Carre, the name arrived in Scotland from Normandy, the French settlement of the Norsemen. There is a Scottish variant found on the west coast, taken from the Gaelic ‘ciar’ meaning dusky but family tradition has it that the name comes from two Norman chiefs, Ralph and Robert, who were brothers.

The pair came to Roxburgh from Lancashire, and although the older of the two has never been established, the Kerrs of Ferniehurst claim descent from Ralph while the Kerrs of Cessford appear to be descended from Robert.

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15th and 16th Century

The two main branches of Clan Kerr often fought with each other, and it wasn’t until the early 1500s that the two clans were brought together.

Andrew Kerr of Ferniehurst and Andrew Kerr of Cessford were both made Wardens of the Middle Marches - the latter after the Battle of Flodden in 1513 and the former in 1502.

Although some of the Liddesdale clans put themselves under Kerr of Ferniehurst’s protection following Flodden, 10 years later his castle was taken by the English.

Clan Kerr and Clan Scott had a tendency to feud with each other, with the touchpaper being lit in July 1526 when Sir Walter Scott of Buccleuch launched a daring attack to rescue the young James V of Scotland, who was being held captive by the Douglas Earl of Angus at Darnick, west of Melrose.

In the ensuing fight, Kerr of Cessford was killed, and in 1552 the Kerrs hit back and killed Sir Walter Scott on Edinburgh’s High Street (the Royal Mile as it’s known today).

The feud ended when Sir Thomas Kerr of Ferniehurst married Janet Scott - sister of the tenth Scott Laird of Buccleuch - and Mark Kerr had his lands at Newbattle and Prestongrange erected into the barony of Newbattle thanks to a 1591 charter.

17th Century and civil war

In 1606, Mark Kerr was made Earl of Lothian but the title failed when his son died in 1624. Three years previously, Sir Andrew Kerr of Ferniehurst had been named Lord Jedburgh.

The earldom of Ancram gave the clan its third peerage, granted to Sir Robert Kerr a descendant of a younger son of Sir Andrew.

In 1616, Sir Robert Ker of Cessford - who by this time had dropped one ‘r’ from his surname - was made Earl of Roxburghe, and in 1631 Sir William Kerr, son of the Earl of Ancram, was granted the new earldom of Lothian.

His son Robert advanced to the rank of Marquess, and succeeded to the earldom of Ancram following his uncle’s death.

During the Scottish Civil War, Colonel Kerr supported Covenanter commander General David Leslie (Lord Newark), and took Clan MacKenzie’s Redcastle, demolishing it and hanging the garrison.

18th Century and Jacobite rising

Lord Mark Kerr, son of the Chief Marquess of Lothian, was a highly-thought of professional soldier, reputed to have a high sense of personal honour, and a quick temper. He fought several duels during his life, rising to the rank of general.

He was appointed governor of Edinburgh Castle in 1745.

The Clan supported the British Government during the Jacobite rising that same year. At the Battle of Culloden a year later, Lord Kerr’s younger brother Robert Lord Kerr - captain of the grenadiers in Barrel’s regiment - gained the dubious distinction of being the sole person of high rank killed on the Government side after he was killed by members of the Camerons.

The eldest of the brothers, Mark Lord Kerr - later fourth Marquess of Lothian - commanded three squadrons of Government cavalry during the battle, surviving to serve under the Duke of Cumberland in France, 1758.


Rather strangely, the Kerrs have long been associated with left-handedness, and some of their buildings have been designed with this in mind. An article in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) around 1972 carried the astonishing statistic that about 30 per cent of Kerrs were left-handers as opposed to 10 per cent of the population as a whole.

However, a study in 1993 found no evidence of an increase in left-handedness among those with the surname Kerr, or Carr.

Clan motto: ‘Late but in Earnest’


Clan Kerr have a large number of castles and stately homes.

Ferniehurst Castle, built around 1740 to hold the gate for Scotland and to serve as a base for military raids and cattle-lifting forays. It commands the road the Otterburn and Newcastle and although acting as a youth hostel for 50 years during the 20th century, it has been converted back into a residence.

Newbattle Abbey near Edinburgh became a secular lordship for the last Commendator, Mark Kerr, 1st Earl of Lothian in 1587.

Floors Castle, on the outskirts of Kelso was built in the 1720s and is the seat of the Duke of Roxburghe.

Roxburgh Castle, which lies just across the Tweed from Floors Castle.

Castle Holydean, which was all but destroyed in 1276, with very little of it now remaining.

Cessford Castle, a vast ruined L-plan castle lying between Jedburgh and Kelso and Kirk Yetholm.

Nisbet House, a 17th-century tower house south of Duns.

Kersland Castle, another tower house near Dalry in Ayrshire.

Current clan chief

The current clan chief is the Most Honourable Marquess of Lothian, aka Baron Kerr of Monteviot aka Michael Ancram, the Tory Party politician who was shadow secretary of defence between May and December 2005.