A Thousand Years of the Charteris Family

Meeting date

Lt Col John Charteris

Meeting report

Lt Col John Charteris, MBE MC, who retired from the army in 1998, was the first speaker to address Dumfriesshire and Galloway Natural History and Antiquarian Society in 2012. His subject was A Thousand Years of the Charteris Family. Arriving in England in 1066, this ancient and well-connected Norman family was rewarded with lands in Northamptonshire and Wiltshire by William the Conqueror.

The Bishop of Chartres, Robert Carnoto (the Latin form of the name), was connected to King William I and by marriage to David I of Scotland, through whom the family was granted lands at Amisfield, Dumfriesshire. Further rewards of land, reflecting changing allegiance, were granted by Edward I and Robert the Bruce. In the latter case it was in recognition of support at the slaying of the Red Comyn.

The marriage of John Charteris, a Protestant, in the 15th Century to Agnes Maxwell brought an advantageous alliance with the powerful local Catholic Herries-Maxwell family. A tower house was built bearing the respective plaques of husband and wife. Sir John Charteris later built a separate mansion house to the south of the tower.

Cullivait, which served as the dower house from 1788, has passed in and out of the family's possession. In 1958 the speaker's father repurchased the house, which is now the home of John and his wife.

Successive generations of the Charteris family have held eminent positions such as High Chancellor of Scotland and Warden of the Western Marches. Border reiving, slighting a king, hanging and a duel all feature in the story. James VI stayed at Amisfield on his way south as heir to the English throne. The misfortunes of Charles I, who earlier elevated Amisfield to barony status, caused a kinsman to attempt a plan to rescue the doomed king.

Undoubtedly the most notorious name on the family tree is that of Colonel Francis Charteris (1672–1752), card sharp, thief, libertine and scoundrel. He amassed a fortune by his trickery. Marlborough considered him more of a threat to the morale of the army than the enemy. On his death bed he even tried to bribe his way to heaven.

Archibald Charteris, by contrast, in the latter part of the 19th Century served as a church minister and Moderator of the Church of Scotland. He founded the Woman's Guild movement and the church magazine, Life and Work.

Military service has featured prominently in John's recent family history. His grandfather, as Haig's chief of Intelligence, created up to MI 15. He was mentioned in dispatches eight times and showered with honours. In 1918 he was elected MP for Dumfriesshire in a landslide victory. John himself followed his architect and soldier father into the army. He served with MI 6. His Military Cross was awarded for service in Ireland.

There is much more to discover about this amazing family in R.C. Reid's 1938 book, The Family of Charteris of Amisfield.

This informative and at times amusing canter by a gifted raconteur through only 946 years, as it emerged, was delivered in a deep, rich, commanding voice which held an audience of over seventy members spellbound and left many keen to hear more.