Gryme, a Scottish leader, whose daughter married Fergus II, King of Scots, is said to have been the military leader to
have defeated the Romans. When the Romans built the Antonine Wall from Abercorn on the east coast to Dunbarton on the
west, it is told how the Scottish leaders, and Gryme in particular, infuriated that they and their people should be penned
into the northern part of their kingdom, attacked the wall in great force and levelled it to the ground. Part of the wall
thus levelled has been known ever since as " Gryme's Dyke," or in later years as " Graeme's Dyke."
Although this account sounds wonderfully romantic, no direct evidence exists to support any of this story. But
then no hard evidence exists to support any of the various theories as to the origin of the family.
The origins of the Graemes and Grahams has been hotly debated in the past, largely because on the one hand, the Graemes
and the Grahams would dearly like to see their history stretch back as far as possible and most importantly, include the destruction
of the first Roman Wall, Antonine Wall by Gryme, who the family has always claimed to be their ancestor. On the other
hand, many historians have invested personal prestige in reaffirming that the Graemes, Grahams and many other families throughout
Britain are of Norman origin.
The basis for the claims that the origins of the Graemes and Grahams are to be found in Normandy is largely because of
the use of the prefix 'de' as in William de Graham. This assertion can be discounted pretty quickly because there just
never were any families of that name or anything like it anywhere in Normandy. The French prefix is easily explained
as all thing French were admired in Scotland at the time and therefore adding the word 'de' was done by most with aspirations
of sophistication. In other words, everybody was at it and a French-sounding name at the time did not mean that a family
came from Normandy.
Documents that have only recently come into our possession, strongly suggest that the original spelling was Grame and
that this spelling was sometimes, though not often, used by the family even after the Battle of Culloden.
This fact is of great embarrassment of the many historians who have placed the origins of countless families in Normandy,
when in reality these were local names that had been 'normanised' to make the family sound as if they were of (fashionable)
Norman origin. The 'de' in William de Grame or Graham was possibly added by a clerk at a far later date to indicate
a person of higher status. The family would have almost certainly have spelt the name Grame at that time and there is
strong evidence that the name Graham did not appear in Scotland until well after the establishment of the House of Montrose.
Many early histories must be regarded as being extremely suspect and many were nothing more or less than fanciful speculation
and vanity publishing, dressed up as works of great learning.
Napoleon once famously stated "History is a pack of lies that everyone agrees upon." and one of the most dangerous
falsehoods for anyone trying to understand where the various peoples that came to the British Isles came from, is to believe (as
did I and generations before me learnt at school as a matter of faith) that Anglo Saxon culture and language came to
Britain after the Romans had left. Although we now know the opposite to be true, this 'fact'is still taught in some
Firstly, we now know that the DNA of the vast majority of the people living in Britain today dates back at least 3,000
Secondly, many Anglo Saxon place names refer to features such as harbours, estuaries and lakes that disappeared completely
long before the Romans arrived.
This knowledge is based upon modern techniques such as carbon dating peat from drowned woodlands and being able to extract
DNA from bones found in ancient graves. Without this knowledge, historians up to just a few years ago had
always assumed that either something or somebody was Anglo Saxon, or it was around when the Romans where here or before.
It could not be both. We now know that the English language and culture pre-dated the arrival of the Romans by a significant
So, remembering this, let us keep a completely open mind about any possible origin for the Graemes and Grahams.
Some things we can knock down pretty quickly, as they cannot stand any closer inspection, but many possibilities remain.
Stories of a Norman family called les Grames or de Graham seem extremely unlikely, as no other trace of the family is
to be found anywhere. Also there is good evidence that the Grames were active in Scotland well before the Norman invasion
of England, so far to the South.
The other idea that can be discounted almost as quickly as it can be voiced is the idea that the family were English
and based on the word Gragham or grey home. There was indeed a family called Gregham and there may have been a cadet
of that family that at some time spelt their names Graham at some time, but there is absolutely no evidence of this family
name being used in Scotland before 1057, when the first written mention is made of a Graham or Grame in Scotland.
The date 1057, refers to an inscription on a stone found in the ruins of a Falkirk church establishing the foundation
of the monestary in 1057 and also refers to a 'Graham' as having destroyed the Antonine Wall. This is of course
the 'wrong' spelling, if the original spelling is to have been 'Grame.'
This leaves a three interesting possibilities - (1) the stone was placed into the walls of the church at a much
later date, (2) the family used different spellings on and off at different times, or (3) there were two or more families,
each with a different spelling of the name. Whichever we believe, the family cannot look to that stone as proof of their
living in Scotland as early as 1057 and at the same time insist that the name was spelt without the letter 'h.'
As all documentary evidence points to the family only using the spelling 'Grame,' the stone must have been added to that wall
at a later date.
Allied to the 'Gregham' theory is the Grantham theory. Grantham is a small market town in Lincolnshire
and Graham is reported to have been a corruption of the name Grantham. The theory goes that William de Graham was in
fact a way of saying 'William of Grantham' and that the family first settled in Scotland in 1125.
This remains a distinct possibility, except then we have to answer the question, who were the Grames that were knocking
around Scotland before that and what happened to them?
Some 200 years later, all members of the Graeme-Graham family who signed the Declaration of Arbroath in 1320 had their
names listed as 'Graham' and that is the earliest use of that spelling that I have been able to find in Scotland for any member
of what was to become the houses of Montrose or Inchbrakie. Prior to that, the spelling was consistently without an
'h' and usually 'Grame.'
One of the things that puzzles many is the variety of spellings of the name Graeme and-or Graham. We must remember
that standardised spelling is a modern, Twentieth Century invention. Even I learnt at school that the word 'show' could
also be spelt 'shew' as late as the 1950's. So it is little wonder that the Graemes and the Grahams also spelt their
names Grame, Gram, Grym and Grayme, not forgetting the Gaelic version of the name, Greumach or Greum.
Louisa Graeme (Orr and Sable - The Book of the Graemes) was of the opinion that the earlier spelling of the name was
Grame and many earlier spellings were Grame, Gryme, or Graeme (see the end of sketch 36 in her book). Graham seems
to have developed later. That would suggest that the original name and spelling was swamped by a similar English name
and it is interesting to note that documents held publicly that refer to or originate from the Graemes of Inchbrakie (none
of whom have ever spelt their names with an H) or more often than not referred to as Graham of Inchbrakie, as the official
clerks were instructed to anglicise all Scottish names.
And whilst we are on the subject of language, the question often arises of the origins of the name Inchbrakie.
Inch is a Scots word and means pasture or field. For a time it also meant to measure land and therefore came
to mean measure in general - and gave us the English word for one-twelfth part of a foot. Brakie is a small stream.
So there you have it: Inchbrakie simply means the field with a stream.
In reading Louisa Graeme's book of the Graemes, you will notice that the older documents and letters are written, not
in English, but in Scots. Until very recently, two languages were widely spoken in Scotland, Gaelic in the North and
Scots in the South. Robbie Burns, who counted the Graemes of Inchbrakie amongst his patrons, wrote his poems in Scots
and Scots was the working language of the noble and the educated, who also often had a good knowledge of French
and Latin. English was forced upon the Scots as a direct result of losing the Battle of Culloden to such as extreme
extent, that the English clerks did not understand that the Gaelic word 'Mac' meant 'son of' and 'Nic' meant daughter of.
So all the daughters of a family were called Mac-So-and-so in all official records.
Both English and Scots are Saxon languages, but an English speaker would no more have been able to understand a Scots
speaker than a German today can understand Dutch. That is to say, they are very closely related and there are many words
common to both, but idiom and pronunciation are very different.
So where did the Graemes and the Grahams come from? My guess is that they were a part of the indigenous population
that settled what is today Scotland at the end of the last ice age. Recent DNA analysis of the population of the UK
has shown us that most people today are descended from the very first settlers and that Danes and Normans interbred with the
British population a great deal less than the History books had always supposed. Given their largely East coast location,
this would possibly make them of Pictish origin, but I shall not make the mistake of assuming things simply because they fit
some preconceived ideas. So let it remain just a guess.
I am sometimes asked about the 'Graeme Clan' so let me clear it up once and for all, the Graemes, Grahams etc., are not
a clan and there is absolutely no evidence anywhere that I have seen that they at any time adopted the Scots clan structure
of 'kinsmen' usually sharing the same name, but not necessarily directly related to one another. Although some of the
Grahams of Montrose and the Grahams of Montieth have chosen to call themselves a clan and attend clan meetings wearing those
relatively modern English inventions, the modern, skirt-like kilt and the clan tartan, it does not make the Graeme family
into a clan. It is however all good fun and all power to them!
It is also as good an excuse as any to take on board some decent single malt and generally have a good time!