Elphinstone Part 2: Connecting Isobel Elphinstone of “Selims” to Clan Elphinstone

Elphinstone Coat of Arms

In Part 1 of this post I laid out how a probable transcription error from the family Bible of Dr Gustavus Brown had made it difficult for his ancestors (like us) to trace back into a specific branch of the Elphinstone Clan of Scotland. Assuming this theory to be true, we can assume Dr. Gustavus Brown is descended from the Elphinstones of Selmys (a.k.a. Selims, Selmes, Selms). The question then becomes: can we find evidence of this connection with his grandmother Isobel Elphinstone – wife of George Mitchelson?

I believe I have. But first, a quick recap of the main branch of Clan Elphinstone is in order since it bears on the path of the Selmys branch as well.

As was briefly discussed in the prior post, Clan Elphinstone is first recorded in the 1200s:

The name first appears in about 1235 in East Lothian in a deed by Alanus de Swinton in which a mention is made of the name ‘de Elfinstun’.

From the family genealogy for Clan Elphinstone, the succession from this original John de Elphinstone is as follows (note, dates are not exact to those found in the family genealogy which gives periods has head of the Clan for these early ancestors, not the birth and death year):

Elphinstone Family Book Volume 1
Elphinstone Family Book Volume 2

  • John de Elphinstone (circa 1220-1270)
  • Mr. John Elphinstone (circa 1243-1295)
  • John of Elphinstone (circa 1275-1340)
  • Alexander of Elphinstone (circa 1300-1363)
  • Alexander of Elphinstone (circa 1328-1399)
  • Sir William Elphinstone [Knight] (circa 1348-1399)
  • William Elphinstone (circa 1368-1424)
  • Sir Alexander Elphinstone [Knight] (circa 1388-1435)
    • Brother: Henry Elphinstone (circa 1395-1477)

As I noted in the last post, Sir Alexander Elphinstone died in The Battle of Piperdean Sept 10, 1435. He gave his life in service of the King of Scotland. His brother Henry took over has head of the family, but lost the ancestral lands in East Lothian to his niece Agnes Elphinstone Johnstone (only child and heiress to Sir Alexander Elphinstone).

Before we leave Henry Elphinstone it is important to remember that his second son – Laurence – became the first Elphinstone of Selmys. I will pick up that part of the story again a bit further down.

Henry, his son James and his grandson Sir John began to build the barony of Elphinstone in Stirling based on lands they had at the time and more acquired by Sir John. James married Isabell Bruce, illustrating once again how this Royal Scottish family was amongst the most powerful and famous of Scotland. But he died before Henry, so when time came to succeed Henry it was Sir John Elphinstone – his grandson – who was next in line. Sir John spent his life building up the Barony of Airth (or Erth) as the new Barony of Elphinstone.

So the lineage of the main line of the family continues as follows:

  • Henry Elphinstone (circa 1395-1477)
  • James Elphinstone (circa 1425-1475)
  • Sir John Elphinstone (circa 1452-1508)
  • Lord Alexander Elphinstone (circa 1480-1513)

We pause again because the story of Alexander Elphinstone, First Lord of that ilk, is fascinating. The cliff note version of his story goes as follows.

Early in his young life Alexander’s father, Sir John, contracted with the head of Clan Erskine for marriage between the two families. It was a complicated set of conditions that never actually took place, though subsequent generations did see the two families bonded by marriage.

Fate had a very different storyline in mind. Alexander was officially attached to the Court of King James the 4th of Scotland. In a charter by the King, Alexander is noted as one of the King’s family servants. King James of Scotland was joined in marriage to Margaret Tudor. Margaret was the eldest daughter of King Henry the Seventh of England and the Princess Elizabeth Plantagenet, eldest daughter and heiress of King Edward the Fourth of England. When Margaret arrived in Scotland to be married she had in her entourage one Elizabeth Harlow, one of the maids of honor.

Queen Margaret and King James became very attached to both Alexander and Elizabeth, to the point they seemed to have pushed for their marriage and showered the couple with all forms of lands and prestige. Apparently the two families were very close, with the Elphinstones helping the King and Queen through the loss of two of their children.

The story takes up many pages in the family genealogy of the Elphinstones, so I won’t go into detail here. But due to their closeness to the Queen and King of Scotland, the holdings and prestige of the Elphinstones grew immensely. Some of the royal largess was stated to also be in remembrance of Sir Alexander, the one who gave his life at the Battle of Piperdean. Ultimately, this led to this Alexander becoming the First Lord Elphinstone.

Unfortunately, this Cinderella story ends sadly in the next large battle with England – the Battle of Flodden. Both King James the 4th and Sir Alexander Elphinstone died at Flodden. This snippet comes from the Elphinstone genealogy “The Elphinstone Family Book of the Lords Elphinstone, Balmerino and Coupar”:

The two armies arrived near Flodden. When the battle began the Scots fought with great bravery and obstinacy against their more numerous foes. The number slain on both sides was great, but on the side of the Scots nearly all the nobles engaged in the battle fell. The Scots were defeated. King James the Fourth fell with his nobles. The battle was fought on 9th September 1513.

In the battle, Lord Elphinstone, who in stature and appearance resembled the king, by agreement personated him on the battlefield, and was followed by the chief of the nobility who mistook him for King James. He also, although defended by the nobles, fell in the battle. The English afterwards came upon his body, and like the Scots mistook it for that of the king, and carried it to Berwick. Thus, like his ancestor of Piperdean fame of the same name, Alexander, Lord Elphinstone, fell fighting the battles of his country.

I mention this in detail because it marks the second time the family had to deal with the loss of its titular head. This time, though, the heir-designate was only 2 years old. Thankfully the King had decreed all those who might fall in battle would have their lands and holdings passed on to their heirs without any question. So it turns that Alexander Elphinstone, 2 year old son of Lord Alexander, became the 2nd Lord Elphinstone.

So continuing the lineage we have:

  • Alexander Elphinstone, 2nd Lord (1510-1547)
  • Robert Elphinstone, 3rd Lord (1530-1602)
  • Alexander Elphinstone, 4th Lord (1553-1638)
    • Brother: Sir John Elphinstone [Knight] (1553 – 1614)

I must note we are now approaching the time period when Isobel Elphinstone, grandmother of Dr. Gustavus Brown, is going to be born (circa 1640). This brings us to the point where the main branch of the Elphinstone line will intersect the secondary branch of Selmys/Selmes. As stated up at the beginning, the Selmys/Selmes branch began back with Henry Elphinstone, who became the head of the families primary holdings when Sir Alexander Elphinstone was killed at Piperdean back in 1436.

According to the family genealogy, Henry’s second son Laurence gained Selyms/Selmes by:

He held the lands of Newlands, part of which he conquest from the “commonitie” of Selmes, and part from John Graham.

To recap, Selyms/Selmes is 7 miles southwest of Edinburgh next door to Kirknewton [click to enlarge]:

Elphinstone Enclaves

As can be seen, Selmys/Selmes is quite distant from the primary family enclave in Airth, and the older ancestral lands in East Lothian.

The descendants of Laurence Elphinstone of Selmys is as follows:

  • Laurence Elphinstone of Selmys (circa 1432-1477)
  • Andrew Elphinstone of Selmys (circa 1462-1512)
  • William Elphinstone of Selmes (circa 1482-1515
    • Brother: Andrew Elphinstone of Selmes (circa 1485-1529)
    • Brother: Sir Alexander – entered the Church

Another note is in order here. As can be seen the first Andrew Elphinstone of Selmes dies around 1512, and his oldest son William is given sasine to:

… the lands of Easter and Wester Selmes, Newlands, Reidcraig, with half the lands of Morton, with the manor and pertinents, on 7th January 1513.

Per the Elphinstone genealogy. But William dies in 1515. The family properties are then transferred to his brother Andrew:

On 3rd November 1515 he [Andrew] received sasine of the lands of Easter and Wester Selmes, Reidcraig, Newwark, Hilend, Blakrawes, the Ohymmeis of Morton, and half the town of Morton, as brother and heir of Mr. William Elphinstone, provost of Bothwell.

Andrew dies in 1529. While survived by his younger brother Sir Alexander now in Aberdeen, the properties do not pass to him since he as entered the church. The Selmys/Selmes line of Elphinstone passes to Andrew’s two children: William and Marion:

William Elphinstone of Selmes received a precept of sasine by dare constat of James, Earl of Morton, as son and heir of Andrew Elphinstone of Selmes, of the lands of Easter and Wester Selmes and Reidcraig, on 26th March 1530. Sasine of the lands followed on the precept in April 1530.

Clearly the Elphinstones had learned to establish multiple options for succession of lands and holdings since their loss of the East Lothian enclave in the mid 1400s. But William (circa 1505 – 1590) would prove to be a challenge.

William had no male heirs and apparently only a daughter named Giles. Around 1555 there is a flurry of sasines between William Elphinstone of Selmys/Selmes, his sister Marion and the 3rd Lord Robert Elphinstone in Airth. The first round transfers the Selmys/Selmes lands first to 3rd Lord Robert, and then another passes them to Robert’s 2nd oldest son John. This happens when John is only 2 years old in 1555.

It looks like by 1555 the Elphinstones were trying to establish a stronger hold on all these properties. It must have been clear William was not going to produce any more offspring. The resulting solution is for Sir John Elphinstone, son of the 3rd Lord and brother to the 4th Lord Elphinstone, to marry his cousin Giles Elphinstone daughter of William of Selmys/Selmes.

Which brings an interesting twist to the remaining descendents of the Elphinstones of Selmys/Selmes. They can trace their heritage back to the ruling line of Elphinstone twice. Once in the 1400s with Henry, son and brother of the head of the clan who became the titular head after the battle of Piperdean, and then again with Sir John in the late 1500s who was son and brother to the head of the family as well.

So recapping and continuing the lineage down to the connection to Isobel Elfoston:

  • Andrew Elphinstone of Selmes (circa 1485-1529)
  • William Elphinstone of Selmes (circa 1505-1590)
  • Giles Elphinstone of Selmes, who marries Sir John Elphinstone of Baberton and Selmes (1553- 1614)
  • James Elphinstone of Selmes (1592-1613)
    • Brother: John Elphinstone of Selmes (circa 1595-1630)
    • Brother: George Elphinstone of Selmes (1600-1651)

Sadly, the marriage of the cousins Elphinstone to retain the holdings of Selmys/Selmes and other nearby properties did not withstand a generation. Their eldest son James died around the time of his father, Sir John.  The 2nd eldest son John took over the land and holdings of Selmys/Selmes, but he too died without children in 1630. Selmys/Selmes passed to the 3rd brother George, who according to the family genealogy died April 1651. It is not clear if he had any offspring or not from the family genealogy.

But one interesting entry jumps out. When George Elphinstone of Selmes passed, a council was appointed to deal with the holdings. It looks like the Elphinstones had either lost or given up on Selmys/Selmes. But a name appears in the record, one well known to descendents of Dr. Gustavus Brown:

George Elphinstone of Selmes died in April 1651. At his death ” a committee of neighbours ” took charge of his personal effects. Robert Mitchelsone, bailie of Dalkeith, as creditor under two bonds and obligations for 1000 merks each, dated respectively 14th and 25th June 1650, was appointed his only executor-dative. As such, Mitchelsone gave up his testament-dative, which contains no reference to any descendant or relative of the deceased. The Earl of Morton, whose family was superior of Selines from an early time, acquired by purchase the property of Selmes, uniting it to the superiority; and Selmes still forms part of the estate of the present Earl of Morton.

As written in Dr. Gustavus Brown’s bible, his grandmother Isobel Elfoston (Elphinstone) married George Mitchelson, grandson of the house Middleton near Dalkeith [click to enlarge].

Brown Bible Citation

It is probably safe to assume Robert Mitchelson was either the father or grandfather to George Mitchelson – Dr. Brown’s grandfather. And from the records of the area we find that Isobel and George had a marriage contract entered in 1649:

Text: Elphinstone (Elphingstoun, Elphistoun) Isobel; George Mitchelsone of Nonland 04 Oct 1649
Book: A Register of Marriages performed by me.–R. F. (Marriage)
Collection: Midlothan: Edinburgh – Register of Marriages, 1595-1700

It would seem as George Elphinstone’s health began to fail he negotiated with Robert Mitchelson a marriage bond for his daughter (possibly one of the two mentioned above). Isobel and George were probably still under age (if not under 10 years old). But by around 1670 they would have a daughter Jean Mitchelson, who would marry Gustavus Brown the elder on Mar 17, 1687 (per records). Dr Gustavus Brown would be born 2 years later, and in 1708 set sail for America and become marooned there.

And this completes the trace from Dr. Gustavus Brown (and his ancestors) into the family of Elphinstone.

Henry Elphinstone to Alan Jeffries

See Part 1 for the rest of the branch

Addendum: Records at the Scottish National Archives show Isobel had a sister Ann who married a Thomas Buntein. Thomas Buntein was charged by another George Elphinstone of Selmes:

Petition of George Elphinstoun of Selmes, son of deceased George Elphinstoun of Selmes, to Committee of Estates, complaining of conduct of Thomas Buntein, his brother in law, who bribed two troopers in Major General Brown’s regiment to steal a bond relative to petitioner’s title to suceed his father as heir male, 23 May 1651.


Petition of George Elphinston, son of George Elphinston of Selmes, deceased, to Commissioners of Parliament of England met at Leith, in similar terms to petition in no. 2 supra, but also mentioning that petitioner was born illegitmate and later legitimated, n.d.


Indictment against William Stevinsone, sometime trooper in General Major Broune’s regiment, now in Edinburgh, Thomas Bontein, merchant in Edinburgh, and others, for stealing a bond from George Elphinstoun, son of late George Elphinstoun of Selmes, as narrated in petition in no. 2 supra.
With related papers.

From these records it would seem there was a last male heir to Selmys/Selmes, but possibly not one in good standings with the family for them to continue to fight for the lands.

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