Clan Kerr

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Clan Kerr
Cearr, MacGhillechearr[1]
File:Clan member crest badge - Clan Kerr.svg
Crest: The sun in his splendour Or
Motto Sero sed serio (Late but in earnest)[1]
Slogan Late but in Earnest
District Scottish Borders
Plant badge Bog Myrtle
The Most Hon. Michael Kerr
The 13th Marquess of Lothian[1]
Seat Ferniehirst Castle[2]

Clan Kerr Listeni/kɛr/ is a Scottish clan whose origins lie in the Scottish Borders. During the Middle Ages it was one of the prominent border reiver clans along the present-day Anglo-Scottish border and played an important role in the history of the Border country of Scotland.


Origins of the clan

The name Kerr is rendered in various forms such as Kerr, Ker, Carr and Carre.[3] The name stems from the Old Norse kjrr which means marsh dweller, and came to Scotland from Normandy, the French settlement of the Norsemen.[3] Another variant is found on the west coast of Scotland, particularly on the Isle of Arran, taken from the Gaelic ciar, meaning dusky.[3] Family tradition asserts the Norman origin for the chiefs comes from two brothers, Ralph and Robert (also called John), who came to Roxburgh from Lancashire.[3] It has never been confirmed who was the elder, although the senior branch of the family, the Kerrs of Ferniehurst claim descent from Ralph, while their rivals, the Kerrs of Cessford descended from John.[3]

Asked how to say his name, Admiral Mark Kerr told The Literary Digest, "In Scotland the name rhymes with care. Since many of the family have come to England the pronunciation in this country rhymes with car, which we have entirely submitted to."[4]

15th and 16th century clan conflicts

The two main branches of the Clan Kerr, the Kerrs of Ferniehurst and the Kerrs of Cessford, often feuded with each other.[5] However, both Andrew Kerr of Ferniehurst and Andrew Kerr of Cessford were made Wardens of the Middle Marches,[5] the first in 1502 and the latter after the Battle of Flodden in 1513.[5] After Flodden, some of the Liddesdale clans put themselves under the Kerr of Ferniehurst's protection, but in 1523 his castle was taken by the English after a protracted defence.

The Clan Kerr feuded in particular with the Clan Scott.[6] The feud began on the 25 July 1526 when Sir Walter Scott of Buccleuch launched an attack (the Battle of Melrose) to rescue the young James V of Scotland who was being held by the Douglas Earl of Angus at Darnick just west of Melrose, and in the ensuing fight Kerr of Cessford was killed.[6] The Kerrs however took their time and in 1552 they set upon Sir Walter Scott on Edinburgh High Street and killed him.[6] The feud came to an end when Sir Thomas Kerr of Ferniehurst married Janet Scott who was the sister of the tenth Scott Laird of Buccleuch.[6]

Mark Kerr, had his lands of Newbattle and Prestongrange erected into the barony of Newbattle by a charter of 1591.[3]

17th century and Civil War

In 1606 Mark Kerr was created Earl of Lothian.[6] This title failed when his son died in 1624 without male issue.[3] In 1621 Sir Andrew Kerr of Ferniehurst was created Lord Jedburgh.[3]

The third peerage to come to the family was the earldom of Ancram, which was given to Sir Robert Kerr, a descendant of a younger son of Sir Andrew Kerr of Ferniehurst.[3] In 1616 Sir Robert Ker of Cessford, by this time spelt his surname with a single ‘r’, was created Earl of Roxburghe.[3] In 1631 Sir William Kerr, son of the Earl of Ancram, was granted a new earldom of Lothian in 1631.[3] His son was Robert Kerr who was advanced to the rank of Marquess and who also succeeded to the earldom of Ancram on the death of his uncle.[3]

During the Scottish Civil War, Colonel Kerr supported the Covenanter commander, General David Leslie, Lord Newark, and took the Clan Mackenzie's Redcastle, demolished it and hanged the garrison.[7]

18th century and Jacobite risings

Lord Mark Kerr son of the Chief Marquess of Lothian, was a distinguished professional soldier and is reputed to have had a high sense of personal honour and a quick temper.[3] He fought several duels throughout his military career but rose ultimately to the rank of general, and was appointed governor of Edinburgh Castle in 1745.[3]

During the Jacobite rising of 1745, the Clan Kerr supported the British government. At the Battle of Culloden in 1746 Lord Kerr's younger brother, Robert, Lord Kerr, who was captain of the grenadiers in Barrel's regiment, received the first charging Cameron on the point of his Spontoon, but a second cut him through the head to chin.[3] He has the dubious distinction of being the only person of high rank killed on the government side.[3] The eldest of the brothers, Mark, Lord Kerr, later the fourth Marquess of Lothian, commanded three squadrons of government cavalry at the Battle of Culloden and survived to serve under the Duke of Cumberland in France in 1758.[3]


The Kerrs have typically been associated with left-handedness, and some of their buildings, such as Ferniehirst Castle, have been explicitly designed with this in mind.[8] There is an anecdotal link between the Kerrs and left-handedness, although it is unclear whether or not present-day individuals with the surname of Kerr have a higher incidence of left-handedness than the general population[citation needed]. An article appearing in the BMJ circa 1972 confirmed that about 30% of those with the surname Kerr were left-handed as opposed to a background 10% of the population. However, a 1993 study found no statistically significant increase in left-handedness among people with the family name Kerr or Carr.[9]


Castles that have been owned by the Clan Kerr include among others:

Ferniehirst Castle, seat of the Kerrs of Ferniehirst, chiefs of Clan Kerr.
  • Ferniehirst Castle is about a mile south of Jedburgh in the Scottish Borders.[2] It is now an extended and altered tower house that incorporates work from the sixteenth century.[2] The castle was first built in 1470 and the Kerr of Ferniehirst branch of the clan were made Wardens of the Middle Marches in 1502.[2] The original entrance leads to a staircase known as the 'Left-Handed Staircase' based on a story that Sir Andrew Kerr having returned from the Battle of Flodden in 1513 and who was left handed, had his followers trained to use their weapons with their left hands.[2] The castle was sacked in 1523 by the English but was recaptured in 1549 with French help, and the leader of the English garrison beheaded.[2] In 1570 the castle was damaged in a raid when Sir Thomas Kerr of Ferniehirst, protector of Mary, Queen of Scots hoped to have her released from imprisonment.[2] In 1593 James VI of Scotland attacked the castle because of the help that the Kerrs had given to Francis Stewart, 5th Earl of Bothwell, whom the king had accused of witchcraft and treason.[2] Between 1934 and 1984 the castle was leased by the Scottish Youth Hostel Association, apart from during World War II when it was used as an army billet.[2] The Kerr Marquises of Lothian and Earls of Ancrum still own Ferniehirst Castle although they live in London.[2] The castle is said to be haunted by a Green Lady and is open to the public in July.[2]
Newbattle Abbey a later seat of the Kerrs of Ferniehirst who became Marqueses of Lothian
  • Newbattle Abbey or Newbattle Castle is a mile south-west of Dalkeith in Midlothian.[2] After the Protestant Reformation the property was given to the Kerrs of Ferniehirst and they were made Lords of Newbattle in 1591, and Earls of Lothian in 1606.[2] The feud between the Kerrs of Ferniehirst and the Kerrs of Cessford was ended in 1631 when William Kerr of Ferniehirst married Ann Kerr of Cessford and the family were made Marqueses of Lothian in 1701.[2] Many of the Newbattle buildings were demolished but some were incorporated into a fortified dwelling for the family.[2] It was remodeled down the centuries into a large mansion.[2] The eleventh Marquis of Lothian gave the building to the nation and it is now an adult education college.[2] The castle is said to be haunted with stories of a Grey Lady, said to be the spirit of a girl who was killed when she fell in love with a monk, as well as stories of spectral monks haunting the grounds.[2]
The ruins of Cessford Castle, former seat of the Kerr of Cessford branch of the clan, who were once rivals to the chiefly Kerrs of Ferniehurst.
  • Cessford Castle, a massive L-plan castle and is now a ruin.[2] The castle dates from the fifteenth century or earlier.[2] It was surrounded by a curtain wall with a second wall and ditch beyond this.[2] The castle was held by the Kerrs of Cessford who became rivals of the Kerrs of Ferniehirst.[2] Sir Andrew Kerr of Cessford fought and survived the Battle of Flodden in 1513, but Cessford Castle was damaged by the English in 1519.[2] It was besieged by the English four years later who reckoned it the third strongest fortress in Scotland.[2] The castle was torched in 1543 and sacked by the English a year later.[2] Sir Walter Kerr of Cessford was banished to France for being involved in the murder of Walter Scott of Branxholme and Buccleuch in 1552.[2] The Kerrs of Cessford were made Earls in 1616 and then Dukes of Roxburghe in 1704.[2] In about 1650 Cessford Castle was abandoned and the materials were used to build Floors Castle.[2]
Floors Castle, a later seat of the Kerrs of Cessford who became Dukes of Roxburghe.



Kerr tartan, as published in 1842 in Vestiarium Scoticum.

Clan Kerr has Three recognised tartans:

  • Kerr (Modern)
  • Kerr (Hunting)
  • Kerr (Muted)

Notes and references

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Clan Kerr Profile Retrieved 10 December 2013.
  2. 2.00 2.01 2.02 2.03 2.04 2.05 2.06 2.07 2.08 2.09 2.10 2.11 2.12 2.13 2.14 2.15 2.16 2.17 2.18 2.19 2.20 2.21 2.22 2.23 2.24 2.25 2.26 2.27 2.28 2.29 Coventry, Martin. (2008). Castles of the Clans: The Strongholds and Seats of 750 Scottish Families and Clans. pp. 305 - 308. ISBN 978-1-899874-36-1.
  3. 3.00 3.01 3.02 3.03 3.04 3.05 3.06 3.07 3.08 3.09 3.10 3.11 3.12 3.13 3.14 3.15 3.16 Way, George and Squire, Romily. Collins Scottish Clan & Family Encyclopedia. (Foreword by The Rt Hon. The Earl of Elgin KT, Convenor, The Standing Council of Scottish Chiefs). Published in 1994. Pages 184 - 185.
  4. Charles Earle Funk, What's the Name, Please?, Funk & Wagnalls, 1936.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Clan Kerr History Retrieved 11, February 2013
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 Way, George and Squire, Romily. Collins Scottish Clan & Family Encyclopedia. (Foreword by The Rt Hon. The Earl of Elgin KT, Convenor, The Standing Council of Scottish Chiefs). Published in 1994. Pages 314 - 315.
  7. Mackenzie, Alan (2006) History of the Mackenzies Chapter 9. Page 105. Retrieved 10 December 2013.
  8. Kerr (Car or Ker) scottish Retrieved 10 December 2013.
  9. Shaw, D.; McManus, I. C. (1993). "The handedness of Kerrs and Carrs". British Journal of Psychology 84: 545–51.


External links