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Nithsdale


(Strathnith, Stranith)

A historical perspective, drawn from the Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland: A Survey of Scottish Topography, Statistical, Biographical and Historical, edited by Francis H. Groome and originally published in parts by Thomas C. Jack, Grange Publishing Works, Edinburgh between 1882 and 1885.

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Nithsdale, the western one of the three great divisions of Dumfriesshire, takes name from its being drained and traversed by the river Nith. It anciently comprehended the whole basin of the Nith, together with some tracts beyond that basin; and it was then, for some time at least, called Strathnith or Stranith. Its limits varied at different times, and seem never to have been exactly defined. At present it excludes all the parts of the Nith basin within Ayrshire and Kirkcudbrightshire, yet is understood to include tracts in Dumfriesshire exterior to that basin, and drained by Lochar Water. But it is not a political division of territory, and does not require to be precisely defined. Its chief features, from the boundary of Dumfriesshire with Ayrshire down to the influx of the Nith into the Solway Firth, have already been noticed in our account of the river Nith. The soil of the greater part of its arable lands is light and dry; capable, except in frost and snow, of being ploughed at any period -during winter; and well-fitted for an early reception of seed. In most of the other two divisions of the county the soil is wet, and, when ploughed early in winter, is so apt to run into grass, and to have corn sown on it choked, that it cannot, without imprudence on the part of the husbandman, receive the seed till spring. One plough on a far, in Nithsdale will, in consequence, turn up nearly as much ground as two will in the wet parts of the other districts. Owing to so important a difference, the Nithsdale farms are, in general, much larger than those of Annandale and Eskdale.

In the reign of David I., Nithsdale, then called Stranith, was held by a Celtic chief of the name of Dunegal, from whom genealogists trace the descent of the celebrated Randolph, Earl of Moray. Four sons of Dunegal seem, after his death, to have shared his extensive possessions of Stranith; only two of whom Randolph and Duvenald - can now be traced. Randolph, the eldest son, obtained the largest share, and, as head of the family, was superior of the whole, transmitting the designation of -Lord of Stranith to his posterity. He married Bethoc, the heiress of lands in Teviotdale, and gave his name Randolph as a surname to his descendants. Thomas Randolph, his grandson, who was sheriff of Roxburgh in 1266 and chamberlain of Scotland from 1267 to 1278, married Isabel, eldest daughter of Robert Bruce, Earl of Carrick, and sister of Robert Bruce, the restorer of the monarchy. Their son was the famous Sir Thomas Randolph of Stranith, who, for his eminent services, obtained from his uncle the earldom of Moray, the lordship of Annandale, and other estates. Duvenald, the younger son of Dunegal of Stranith, appears to have obtained the barony of Sanquhar, the lands of Morton, and some other possessions in Upper Nithsdale; and he was probably the Duvenald who, along with Ulric, led the men of Galloway at the Battle of the Standard in 1138, and fell in the conflict. His descendants assumed, in the 13th century, the surname of Edgar from the name of his son; and they continued in the 14th century to hold various lands in Dumfriesshire. Richard Edgar, during the reign of Robert Bruce, possessed the castle and half the barony of Sanquhar, with some adjacent lands; and Donald Edgar obtained from David II. the captainship of the clan Macgowan in Nithsdale.

Other considerable families were possessed at an early period of lands in the district. Sir John Comyn held the manors of Dalswinton and Duncow; whilst the progenitors of the Lords Maxwell possessed Caerlaverock, and held out its ancient castle against many a stout siege. Under Robert II. Nithsdale obtained new superiors. Sir William Douglas, natural son of Sir Archibald Douglas, Lord of Galloway, wedding Giles, the daughter of the king, received with her a grant of Nithsdale, and was constituted sheriff of Dumfries. His only child, his daughter Giles - called `the Fair Maid of Nithsdale,' who inherited her father's lordship and sheriffdom - married, first, Henry Sinclair, Earl of Orkney, and next, in 1418, Alexander Stewart, the son of James, who was the brother of Robert II., and had obtained from Robert Bruce the lands of Durisdeer. Her son, by her first marriage, was William, Earl of Orkney, who inherited Nithsdale and the sheriffship of Dumfries, but who, in 1455, was induced to resign them to James II. for the earldom of Caithness. Sir Robert Crichton of Sanquhar in 1457 is styled Vicecomes de Nithsdale, and again in 1459 sheriff of Nithsdale; and his son Robert obtained in 1464 from James III. a confirmation of the sheriffship, and in 1468 a grant of the office of coroner of Nithsdale. The two offices of sheriff and coroner, between the Restoration and the Revolution, passed into the possession of the Douglases of Drumlanrig. This family - whose eventual identification with the Scotts of Buccleuch has placed under the shadow of the united ducal coronets of Buccleuch and Queensferry such magnificent portions of Nithsdale, Eskdale, Teviotdale, Ettrick-forest, and other districts in the Border counties - continued to hold the offices till the abolition of hereditary jurisdictions. In 1620, Robert, eighth Lord Maxwell, was created Earl of Nithsdale. William, fifth Earl, taking part with the Pretender in 1715, was attainted, and condemned to be beheaded; but, through the address and courage of his Countess, the Lady Winifred Herbert, a daughter of the Marquis of Powys, he made an extraordinary escape from the Tower.

An accompanying 19th C. Ordnance Survey map is available, or use the map tab to the right of this page.

Note: This text has been made available using a process of scanning and optical character recognition. Despite manual checking, some typographical errors may remain. Please remember this description dates from the 1880s; names may have changed, administrative divisions will certainly be different and there are known to be occasional errors of fact in the original text, which we have not corrected because we wish to maintain its integrity. This information is provided subject to our standard disclaimer

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