City slicker clan chief the Oliphants forgot

A MILLIONAIRE City banker has triumphed over his Perthshire farmer cousin in a long-running battle over the right to be declared Clan Chief of one of Scotland’s most ancient families.

Laurence Blair Oliphant, whose ancestors fought alongside William Wallace and Bonnie Prince Charlie, has been honorary head of the family since he inherited their Blairgowrie home from his father.

The 57-year-old hosts the Blairgowrie Highland Games each year, visits schools to give lectures on Scottish history and has travelled the world as an ambassador for the Oliphants.

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But he was ousted from his position last week by London-based financier Richard Oliphant, following a 16-year trawl through the family records which showed he was the rightful holder of the title.

Richard Oliphant, who comes from Skye but was educated in England, was confirmed as Clan Chief by the Court of the Lord Lyon in Edinburgh, which adjudicates on matters of heraldry and chivalry - the last permanent court of its kind in Europe.

But Laurence Oliphant last night told Scotland on Sunday it was unlikely he would let the matter rest. Locals also pledged their support, saying Laurence Oliphant had done an enormous amount for the area.

The dispute began in earnest last year when Richard Oliphant, a 49-year-old father of two, lodged a petition with the Lord Lyon saying he was the rightful head of the clan, which can be traced back to Norman times.

Confusion over the leadership of the clan arose after a split in the 16th century into rival sides, the Oliphants of Gask and the Oliphants of Condie, each headed by their own chieftain.

In his quest to be declared clan chief, Richard Oliphant hired acclaimed genealogist Hugh Peskett, noted for tracing former US President Ronald Reagan’s family tree back to Ireland.

After 16 years of trawling through documents, the genealogist unearthed proof that Laurence Oliphant was descended from the female side of the clan. That meant Richard Oliphant - as the most senior representative of the male bloodline - was the overall Clan Chief with the title ‘Oliphant of that ilk’.

The Lord Lyon, Robin Blair, said in a statement: "I have granted a petition which was presented by Mr Richard Oliphant to be the Chief of the Oliphant Clan. The decision is open for challenge within a 20-year period if someone comes forward with better evidence and presents it before the court."

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The former chief said he had not been officially notified of the Lord Lyon’s decision. He said: "I received a registered letter over a year ago informing me that the petition for the position had been made, but after that I didn’t hear a thing.

"I had expected - perhaps naively I realise now - that someone from the Court of the Lord Lyon would have contacted me and asked me to put forward the evidence from my side of the family.

"I had always thought that my side - the Gask side of the Oliphants - were the senior branch of the family. That was what was decided in the last court case back in the 19th century.

"I am turning it over in my mind, but the matter is certainly not done and dusted as far as I am concerned."

Laurence Blair Oliphant, who is married with three children, farms the 780-acre Ardblair Estate, near Blairgowrie, and rents out holiday cottages in the historic grounds. His son Charles, 27, and daughter Amelia, 25, are currently in America - as the honorary chieftain and chieftainess of a Highland Games in California.

The new chief last night praised the distant cousin he had ousted for the hard work he had done for the clan.

Richard Oliphant said that while he is now the chief, Laurence Oliphant retains the lesser rank of chieftain for his side of the Oliphant family.

He said: "There was no recognised or official chief of the Oliphant clan before my claim, and therefore it was not a challenge to anyone else’s title.

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"I like Laurence. He has done a tremendous job for the clan and there is no rift between us.

"Being the head of the clan is like being the bow of a ship: you are at the head but part of the rest too.

"What would be the point in being the head of a family if you are not going to be supported and recognised by them?"

In the past, Oliphants fought alongside William Wallace at the siege of Stirling Castle and with King James IV at the Battle of Flodden.

Laurence Oliphant’s four-times great-grandfather was aide-de-camp to Bonnie Prince Charlie during the 1745 Jacobite risings. The name Oliphant is said to derive either from Elephant, meaning great strength, or from the Norman French name Olifard.

Despite the ruling of the Lord Lyon, locals in Blairgowrie said the news was a "shame" and that they would continue to put their full support behind Laurence Oliphant.

Bob Ellis, the Scottish National Party councillor for Blairgowrie, said: "I fully support Laurence, as I am sure the rest of the area will all do as well, because he and his family have done so much for Blairgowrie. I think that it is a shame."

Colin Moodie, a committee member of the Blairgowrie Highland Games, said: "Laurence is an extremely popular and generous gentleman, who is highly respected and very well liked in the area. This will certainly not stop him from being the Chieftain of the Highland Games."

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