Melville Clan

Melville Clan Crest: A ratch-hound's head erased Proper, collared Gules.

Melville Clan Motto: Denique Coelum (Heaven at last).

Melville Clan History: From the Barony of Malaville in Normandy, Galfridus de Melville lived in the reigns of David I, Malcolm IV and William the Lion, and was the first Justiciary of Scotland. He had three sons: Gregory, whose daughter and only child married Sir John Ross of Halkhead and inherited the lands of Melville, the barony of which remained with the Ross family until 1705; Philip, ancestor of the Melvilles of Glenbervie, and Walter, grandfather of Sir John de Melville,  who rendered homage to Edward I in 1296, and whose lineal descendants are the Melvilles of Raith and the barons Melville.

John Melville, fourth laird of Raith (near Kirkcaldy) inherited his Fife estates in 1502, and in 1526 was appointed Master of the Artillery for life. Despite being an early convert to protestantism, he was close associate of James V, who appointed him Captain of the Castle of Dunbar in 1540. On 3 December 1548, Sir John was arrested and accused of treasonable communication with the English invaders, and was executed ten days later. He had a large number of children from his two marriages, several of whom had prominent careers. The estate of Raith was inherited by the eldest, John, fifth of Raith. The lands of Murdocairnie in Fife went to the second son, Sir Robert, who enjoyed a long and distinguished career under Queen Mary and James VI, as did the third son, James (‘of Halhill’, 1535-1617), and the seventh, Andrew (‘of Garvock’, c.1545-1617). James served the young Mary, Queen of Scots, first as a page at the French court, and from 1564 in Scotland, where Andrew was also in the queen’s personal service from 1567. Andrew remained in her service after she was imprisoned in England. Both Andrew and James later went on to serve James VI. In 1570, James inherited the estate of Halhill in Fife from his ‘father adoptive’, the lawyer Henry Balnaves.

Sir Robert of Murdocairnie was Scottish Ambassador to England in 1562, and he was made Keeper of the Palace of Linlithgow in 1567. He was treasurer-depute of Scotland between 1583 and 1596, and became a privy councillor in 1583, resigning that office in favour of his son Sir Robert of Burntisland in 1600. In 1589 he had served as chancellor-depute during the king’s six months’ absence in Norway and Denmark. In May 1594 he became an extraordinary Lord of Session, as Lord Murdocairnie, and was replaced on the bench by his son Sir Robert in 1601. In 1616,  Sir Robert of Murdocairnie was elevated to the peerage as Lord Melville of Monimail. He died, aged 94, in December 1621.

His successor was his only son, Sir Robert of Burntisland, 2nd Lord Melville of Monimail, who died childless in 1635. He had decided the title should go to John, seventh of Raith, great-grandson of the man executed in 1548, who duly became 3rd Lord Melville.  He died in 1643, and was succeeded by his son George, fourth Lord Melville, who in 1660 went to London to welcome Charles II. A staunch protestant, George aided the Duke of Monmouth in putting down the Covenanters. From 1683, the prospect of seeing the throne go to the Catholic James, Duke of Albany, meant that the 4th Lord Melville sided with Monmouth and William, Prince of Orange. Following William’s accession to the thrones of Scotland and England, he became Secretary of State for Scotland in 1689, then Lord President of Council in 1696. George Melville was created first Earl of Melville in 1690, but deprived of his office in 1702.

Thanks to George Melville’s 1655 marriage with the granddaughter of the 1st Earl of Leven, the latter title eventually passed to George’s son and heir David. As a result, when David succeeded his father as 2nd Earl of Melville, he had already been 3rd Earl of Leven since 1681.

David, 3rd Earl of Leven, and 2nd Earl of Melville, was Commander-in-Chief of the Army in Scotland and a Commissioner for the Union of the Scottish and English parliaments. A distinguished military family, one son of the 5th Earl was killed in the American War of Independence, while two other sons achieved the rank of General. Alexander, 7th Earl of Melville, became an Admiral in the Royal Navy. The 11th Earl of Melville, and 12th Earl of Leven was a Colonel in the Lovat Scouts.

Sir James Melville of Halhill (1535-1617) was the author of a celebrated set of political Memoirs of His Own Time, written for his sons James and Robert. The first edition of the Memoirs (1683) was heavily rewritten by the author’s great-grandson, George Scot of Pitlochie (1643-1685); his mother was Elizabeth, daughter of the second Sir James of Halhill, who married Sir John Scot of Scotstarvet in 1638 or 1639. An accurate transcription of the manuscript was finally published by the Bannatyne Club in 1827. Sir James’s younger daughter, Elizabeth Melville, Lady Culross, was a writer of spiritual poetry. In 1603, she became Scotland’s first woman to see print, with her mini-epic Ane Godlie Dreame. A volume of her selected poems, edited by Jamie Reid Baxter, was published in 2010, and a flagstone inscribed with a quotation from Ane Godlie Dreame was unveiled in Edinburgh’s Makars’ Court in June 2014 by Professor Germaine Greer.

The reformer, academic, polemicist and Latin poet Andrew Melville (1545-1622) belonged to the line of Melville of Dysart. Born at Baldovie in Angus, he studied in France and Geneva. On returning to Scotland in 1573, he carried out educational reforms first at Glasgow University, and then St Andrews University. His unflinching advocacy of the presbyterian system of Church government brought him into regular conflict with the Crown, culminating in his imprisonment in the Tower of London between 1607 and 1611, after which he was banished to France.  His nephew James Melville (1556-1614), minister of Kilrennie in Fife, was a prolific writer of vernacular prose and poetry, including an Autobiography and Diary. Like his uncle, he was a fervent presbyterian and ended his life in enforced English exile.Thomas Melville (1726-53) studied divinity at Glasgow University and wrote Observations of Light and Colours. Arthur Melville (1855-1904) was born in Angus and became a distinguished painter in watercolours and oils. The American novelist Herman Melville (1819-1891) was the great-great-grandson of Rev.Thomas Melville (d.1769), minister of Scoonie, in Fife, himself second in lineal descent from Sir John Melville of Carnbee, also in Fife.  The novelist’s father, Allan Melville, was keenly aware of his Scottish connections, amongst whom he chose, rather spuriously, to include both the Melvilles of Raith and Monimail, and the reformer Andrew Melville,  and visited various titled Melvilles in 1818.

Surname distribution in Scotland: The Melville name is most commonly found in Perth and Kinross (Perthshire and Kinross-shire), the Kingdom of Fife, Dundee City and Angus (formerly Forfarshire).

Places of Interest: Melville Castle, which stands at the heart of the ancient Barony of Melville, was entirely rebuilt in 1786. It was acquired by the Dundas family through marriage to Elizabeth Rannie, whose father had purchased the estate. Although having no direct kinship with the Melvilles, Henry Dundas (1742-1811),  the British Prime Minister William Pitt's Treasurer of the Navy, Home Secretary, President of the Board of Control for India, and First Lord of the Admiralty, took the title of Melville for his viscountcy. Balgonie Castle, Leven, Fife, had fallen into disrepair until it was extensively restored by its current owner. It is today available for conferences and weddings. Melville House, near Monimail, was built in 1697 for the 1st Earl of Melville, to whom Halhill Tower  had been adjudicated in 1664.  Since it spoiled the view from Melville House, it was demolished and no trace whatever remains. However, mausoleum of Sir James Melville of Halhill (d.1617), ornamented with a poem attributed to his daughter Elizabeth, still stands in the kirkyard of Collessie near Monimail. It was restored from an extremely ruinous condition in 2004. Rossend Castle, which towers over Burntisland Harbour, was the home of both the 1st and 2nd Lords Melville of Monimail and then of the second Sir James of Halhill;  it was saved from demolition in 1972, and restored in 1975 by a local architects’ practice, which continues to use the building as their office. One of the painted ceilings from Rossend Castle, with the initials RM, can be seen in the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh. Glenferness House at Nairn is the home of the earls of Leven & Melville.

Clan Melville membership certificates.