Origins of the Name
The first Carmichaels could have been indigenous Britons, or they could have been among the many Norman knights who were invited to settle in southern Scotland by Kings Malcolm III and his son David I following the successful Normandy Invasion of England in 1066 (a genealogist’s report prepared for the second Earl of Carmichael speculates that the chiefly line may have descended from a knight from Mont St. Michel on the coast of Normandy). Within a few generations these transplanted Norman nobles were among the leading families of Scotland and included the Bruces, Stewarts, Hamiltons, Frasers, and Gordons, to name just a few. While the origins of the first Carmichaels will probably never be known, what is known is that some 800 years ago the residents who had settled around what became Carmichael Estate had adopted the name of their district, Caer Mychel, for their surname (King Malcom III encouraged this practice in 1056). Tinto Hill, the “Hill of Fire” (pictured above), is the highest elevation in the region at 2320 feet, and just north of it stood the prominent stone ruins of three ancient Briton hill forts, called a “caer” in the Gaelic tongue. In the year 1068, shortly after marrying King Malcolm III, Queen Margaret founded one of the first seven Christian churches in Scotland on one of these sites (caer hill, afterwards called kirkhill or church hill), dedicated to the Archangel Michael. Margaret was an extremely pious and devout Roman Catholic who converted the entire Kingdom from the ancient Culdee faith to Catholicism, for which she was canonized as St. Margaret after her death. The first survey of Christian churches in Scotland in 1116 refers to this church as Llan (church, later called kirk) Mychel (of St. Michael). Thus, “Caer Mychel” became the name of the place, and the name was adopted by the residents for their surname. The first Carmichael name of record is Robert de Carmitely, a scribes’ attempt to spell the name, who resigned claims to the patronage of the church of Cleghorn around 1220, and who is again mentioned in the Charter of Dryburgh Abbey in 1226 as Robert de Carmichael. The name evolved through a series of spellings to Carmichael as it is generally spelled today. During the fourteenth, fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, Carmichaels traveled widely. Some went to Galloway where they became kinsmen of the Stewarts of Galloway, later moving northwards and settling in Lismore and Appin as kinsmen of the Stewarts of Appin and the MacDougalls. Others went to Holland where Robert Carmichael ‘the armourer’ still has descendants known today as ‘Carmiggelts’. Further migrations to Ireland in 1690 and to the Americas from 1650 onwards resulted in the world-wide spread of the name. There are towns named Carmichael in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Mississippi, California, Saskatoon Canada, Barbados West Indies, and Australia. In 1997 the world-wide Carmichael population was estimated at over 42,000 with half resident in the United States, a quarter in the United Kingdom and 10% in Canada. A further 10% lives primarily in Australia, Ireland, Germany, Switzerland, France, Holland, South Africa and Italy.
The Carmichael lands are located in the Lowlands of Scotland, in the Clyde Valley of Lanarkshire, midway between Glasgow and Edinburgh and about 30 miles south (as shown above). The lordship of Carmichael was originally part of the vast Douglasdale lands granted to Sir James Douglas in 1321 by King Robert de Bruce. His nephew William, Earl of Douglas and Mar, inherited the lands and gave charters for portions of his holdings to his loyal allies and tenants the Carmichaels, first to William de Carmychel of Ponfeigh about 1350, then to his son Sir John de Carmychel of Carmichael about 1374, thereby making Sir John the first Baron of Carmichael Estate. The Charter was confirmed in 1414 by Archibald, Earl of Douglas, to Sir John’s brother (or son) and successor William who built a fortified castle at the site of the present Carmichael House ruins. Through later royal charters and acquisitions the clan holdings grew to over fourteen thousand acres at their peak.
The Carmichael lands included several adjoining properties owned by various branches of the family. In addition to Carmichael Estate which became the seat of the clan chiefs, the area of influence also included other Carmichael estates at Ponfeigh, Meadowflat, Eastend, Pettinain (Westraw), Hyndford, Skirling, and Mauldslie (as shown above). Carmichael Estate lies between Lanark and Biggar, being bounded by the Clyde River on the north and Tinto Hill on the south, and today it incorporates portions of the former Carmichael estates (for more information, click above on About Clan Carmichael -> Carmichael Estate). Another branch of the family acquired the lands of Balmedie in Fifeshire, north of Edinburgh, through marriage.
The Carmichaels were fine warriors and supported their neighbors, the powerful Douglas clan, in their struggles for Scottish power and in forays across the English border. The traditional hero of the family is Sir John de Carmichael of Meadowflat (later of Carmichael) who became the first chief of the clan. He was the son of the 2nd Baron of Carmichael, William Carmychel, who built the first castle on the estate around 1414. Sir John was a knight in the Scottish army sent to help the French repel the English invasion during the Hundred Years War. The French army was on the verge of collapse when on 22 March 1421, Sir John engaged the Duke of Clarence, brother of King Henry V of England, at the Battle of Beauge. During their charge with lances drawn, Sir John unhorsed the Duke, breaking his own spear in the process as depicted in a painting of the event (below). At the death of their Commander the English troops fled in disarray, turning the tide of the war. For this deed, the grateful French awarded Sir John the family crest featuring a broken spear grasped by a gauntlet (an armor-clad hand). He was appointed Bishop of Orleans in 1426 during the rise of Joan of Arc. The motto on the Clan Carmichael badge is “Tout Jour Prest” (too zhure pray), ancient French for “Always Ready”. This badge may be worn with pride by all Carmichaels, and those who bear allegiance to the Chief of the Clan.
The first known appearance of the Carmichael tartan shown above was in 1907, when Carmichael of Arthurstone sealed a sample in the Collection of the Highland Society. It is recognized as the authorized tartan of Clan Carmichael by virtue of its being registered in the Lyon Court Book dated 1984.
Upon establishing themselves in their lands as a clan, the Carmichaels produced a succession of notable descendants, of whom a few will be briefly highlighted. The first chief, Sir John Carmichael of broken spear fame, introduced the chief’s personal arms (Ensigns Armorial, pictured) to commemorate his accomplishment at Bauge. Sir John had three sons: John, who inherited Meadowflat and became Provost of St. Andrews; Robert, whose son John acquired the Balmedie lands in Fifeshire through his marriage to the widow of the Earl of Angus; and William who succeeded his father as the second Chief of Carmichael. William’s son George became Bishop of Glasgow.
Catherine Carmichael, daughter of Sir John Carmichael of
Meadowflat, captain of Crawford Castle, became the mistress of King James V. The king built the castle of Crawfordjohn in Clydesdale in 1528 for her, and as a place for them to meet undisturbed. She bore him a son, John Stewart (6th Earl of Bothwell), and a daughter Mary, who were half-brother and half-sister to Mary, Queen of Scots.
In 1546 Peter Carmichael of Balmedie took part in the slaying of the infamous Cardinal Beaton in his castle at St. Andrews, reportedly striking the Cardinal repeatedly with a dagger. He was one of a group of four conspirators, and for his crime he was sentenced to the galleys, serving at the oars with the reformer John Knox who brought Protestantism to Scotland. Peter was later imprisoned but escaped, disguised as a friar mendicant.
Sir John Carmichael, known as “the most expert Borderer”, was chief from 1585 until he was murdered in 1599. John was a favorite of James VI and was knighted at the coronation of James’ Queen Anne, and was subsequently sent on a diplomatic mission to England. He was captain of the King’s Guard, Master of the Stables, warden of the west marches, and a Privy Councilor. He was later ambushed and shot after arresting some Armstrongs during a disturbance in the lands between Annan and Langholm. Sir John’s brother Archibald Carmichael of Edrom prosecuted the murderer who was hung.
Sir James Carmichael was created a Baronet of Nova Scotia in 1627 and raised to the peerage as the first Lord Carmichael in 1647. His son, William, married Grizel, daughter of the Marquess of Douglas, and their son John succeeded his grandfather as second Lord Carmichael. In 1701 Lord John was created Earl of Hyndford, Viscount of Inglisberry and Nemphlar. The five succeeding Earls of Hyndford all held high offices of state and often served in the army. However, their loyalties shifted with the times. The first Lord Carmichael was a staunch supporter of Charles I but his son William, although knighted by the king in 1633, took the side of Parliament, along with his brother Sir Daniel. He commanded the Clydesdale Regiment at Marston Moor in 1644 and at Philiphaugh the following year, where the royalist forces under the Marquess of Montrose were defeated. The remaining brothers, Sir James Carmichael of Bonnytoun and Captain John Carmichael, were Royalists. The former fought at the Battle of Dunbar in 1650, and the latter was killed at Marston Moor, where he must have taken the field against his elder brothers. The third Earl, known in the family as ‘the great Earl’, was a staunch supporter of the Hanoverians, and was an ambassador in the service of George II. He was also noted as an agricultural improver, laying out large sums to plant trees and gardens and to improve the soil. He built Carmichael House in 1734 (click the Carmichael Estate link on the left for more information).
Andrew, the sixth Earl of Hyndford, served in the American War of Independence as an officer in the 16th Light Dragoons. He died unmarried in 1817 when the family titles and honors became dormant and the great estates of Carmichael passed to Sir John Anstruther of Anstruther, Baronet, who descended through Lady Margaret Carmichael of Carmichael, the first-born child of the second Earl of Hyndford. For one hundred and sixty-three years the Carmichael-Anstruthers were the proprietors of Carmichael and made it their seat until the death in 1980 of Sir Windham Carmichael-Anstruther, eleventh Baronet.
Other distinguished Carmichaels include William, the first US Ambassador to Spain; Amy, the prominent missionary and Christian writer; Hoagie, the extremely popular songwriter and star of movies and television; and Ralph, a highly respected big band leader and a pioneer of modern day Christian popular music. The 13th US President, Millard Fillmore, married a Carmichael..