Scottish clan profile: Turnbull

The origin of the Turnbull name was told by Hector Boece, in his History of Scotland. Boece tells the legend that during the Wars of Scottish Independence William of Rule saved King Robert Bruce by wrestling to the ground a bull that had charged at the King.

The Turnbull clan's dress tartan. Picture: Contributed
The Turnbull clan's dress tartan. Picture: Contributed

The King rewarded William with the lands of Philiphaugh, now part of Selkirk, and dubbed Rule “Turnebull” (the “e” was later dropped from the name). The Lands that the Turnbulls came from was settled by Vikings in the 10th and 11th Centuries, giving the Turnbulls a very Norse look and being reported to be with great size, with many having blonde and red hair and blue eyes. Because of their open defiance to the English Crown, many Turnbulls turned into Trumbull, Tremble, Trimble and Trembley (as many went to France to continue fighting the English).

It has also been suggested that Turnbull is derived from the Old English “Trumbald” or French “Tumbald”, meaning “strong and bold”, or that Robertus de Turnbulyes, who swore fealty to King Edward I of England in 1296, could be the family father.

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Clan history

The Turnbulls were one of the most turbulent of the Borders families. A Scottish nobleman, sent to see if the Turnbulls would back their claim to the throne, reported back that they had no care at all for politicians but always yearned for a fight.

Prior to the Battle of Halidon Hill in 1333, Hamish Turnbull, accompanied by a huge mastiff, approached the English host and challenged anyone to single combat. He is said to have defeated seven of His Majesty’s knights before Sir William Kerr (said to be 1/2 the size of the reported 6 foot 6 inch giant) defeated him in combat, after the Turnbull was enraged by the killing of his beloved mastiff. Though Kerr later died of his wounds, the Kerrs and Turnbulls had the most bitter blood feud of any Border War, and are considered the Scottish/English version of Hatfields and McCoys.

Major Gordon Turnbull led the vicious counter-attack on the French Cavalry by the 2nd “Scots Greys” at Waterloo. Though outnumbered some 2-1, the Scots broke Napolean’s famed cavalry, and the Greys destroyed most of Napoleans legendary Nogue’s brigade, resulting in the capture of the eagle of the 45th Ligne. According to Wellington, they had little tactical ability or nous, but fought like raging bulls.

The Turnbulls held land throughout the Borders. They were the only clan to have a bounty placed on them by the King and William Turnbull received a charter from Robert the Bruce in 1315 to land near Philiphaugh, and John Turnbull received the lands of Hundleshope from King David II of Scotland.

15th to 18th centuries

John Turnbull, nicknamed “Outwith sword”, for his fierce temper, is listed as a Scots prisoner of war in England around 1400. Many Turnbull families moved into the Cheviot Hills and into the northern lands of Northumberland depending on the politics of the day and the King of the day. Those who became “English” also changed from their Presbyterian roots to being Church of England.

Clan Motto: I Saved The King.

Clan chief: None, armigerous clan

Notable members of the clan: BBC Breakfast presenter Bill Turnbull, Russell Crowe’s paternal great grandmother was a Turnbull, author Stephen Turnbull.


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