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The Pringles of Whitsome



One branch of the Pringles were the descendants of the family of Whitsome, Berwickshire, afterwards designed of Smailholm and Galashiels. Robert Hop Pringle of Whitsome is mentioned in a donation to the monastery of Soltray, confirmed by King Alexander III. For their support of the Bruce family, in their competition for the crown, the Pringles of Whitsome were deprived of their lands by King John Baliol, who conferred them upon John de L'yle, confirmed by a charter from King Edward 1 of England, l3th October 1295. After the battle of Bannockburn, the lands were restored to Reginald Hop Pringle of Wbitsome, by charter from Robert Bruce in 1315. During the brief and shadowy sovereignty of Edward Baliol, after that monarch's death, by a mandate from King Edward III of England, they were ordered to be delivered up to "Walter de Insula," son of John de L'yle. They were restored, in 1336, to Thomas Hop Pringle of Whitsome, who, in 1363, had a safeguard to go into England, with his son and twelve persons in their retinue.


The Pringles of Whitsome (1) were adherents of the house of Douglas, and held the office of scutifer, or squire, to the earls of that name. Robert Hop Pringle of Whitsome was present, in that capacity, with James, second earl of Douglas, at the battle of Otterbourne in 1388, where the earl was slain. From Archibald, third earl of Douglas, lord of Galloway, styled the Grim, he got a charter of the lands of Smailholm, Roxburghshire, in 1408, as well as a grant of the lands of Pilmuir and Blackchester in Lauderdale, which remained for nearly three centuries in possession of the family. From the Douglases also, who were then lords of Ettrick forest, he got the forest steadings of Galashiels and Mosalee, which were held by the Pringles in kindly tenants till the forfeiture of the Douglases in 1455. They were subsequently held by them as kindly tenants of the crown till 1587, when they were feudalized by charter and sasine. It was this Robert Pringle who built the tower of Smailholm, a large square building, now entirely ruinous, and originally a border keep, situated among a cluster of rocks on an eminence in the farm of Sandy-knowe. The apartments rise above one another in separate floors or stories, and mutually communicate by a narrow stair. A wall surrounds the building, enclosing an outer court, and being defended on three sides by precipice and morass, the tower is accessible only by a steep and rocky path on the west. At the farm of Sandy-knowe, which was leased by his paternal grandfather, Sir Walter Scott spent some years of his boyhood. In a note prefixed to the ballad of "The Eve of St. John," he says that he wrote that ballad in celebration of Smailholm tower and its vicinity and in the epistle preliminary to the third canto of Marmion, he notices the influence which the place had exerted on his tastes. In 1406, Robert Pringle of Smailholm, which became his designation after the erection of the tower, had a safe-conduct from Henry IV., to go to England, and in 1419 he had another, from Henry V., with John Wallace, to pay the ransom of James de Douglas, who succeeded his grand-nephew as seventh earl of Douglas, November 24, 1440, and was called James the Gross. The laird of Smailholm accompanied Archibald, fourth earl of Douglas, duke of Touraine, (the Douglas of Shakspere,) on his famous expedition to France, in 1423, and was slain, with him, at the battle of Verneuil, the following year. (See vol. ii. p.43.)


His son and successor, Robert Pringle of Smailholm, is said to have been the person who erected a drawbridge of a very peculiar construction over the Tweed, a river long remarkable for the very few bridges it possessed, at a small hamlet about a mile and a half above Melrose, called from the circumstance, Bridge-end. It is thus described by Sir Walter Scott, in "The Monastery," from the account of it in Gordon's Itinerorium Septentricacie: "Two strong abutments were built on either side of the river, at a part where the stream was peculiarly contracted. Upon a rock in the centre of the current was built a solid piece of masonry, constructed like the pier of a bridge, and presenting, like a pier an angle to the current of the stream. The masonry continued solid until the pier rose to a level with the two abutments upon either side, and from thence the building rose in the form of a tower. The lower story of this tower consisted only of an archway or passage through the building, over either entrance to which hung a drawbridge with counterpoises, either of which, when dropped, connected the archway with the opposite abutment, where the farther end of the drawbridge rested. When both bridges were thus lowered, the passage over the river was complete."


Sir Walter Scott says in a note that the vestiges of this uncommon species of bridge still exist, and that he often saw the foundations of the columns when drifting down the Tweed at night, for the purpose of killing salmon by torchlight. A stone, taken from the river, bore this inscription:

"I, Robert Pringle of Pilmore stede,

Give an hundred nobles of gowd sae reid,

To help to bigg my brigg ower Tweed."

Sir Walter Scott quotes the first line as

"I, Sir John Pringle of Palmer stede."

It is certain that the bridge belonged to this family of the Pringle; and the money here mentioned may have been spent in repairing it, but the original builder of it, according to accounts likely to be more correct, was that "sore saint to the crown," David I., to afford a passage to his abbey of Melrose, and to facilitate the journeys of the devout to the four great pilgrimages of Scotland, namely, Scone, Dundee, Paisley, and Melrose. By his wife, Elizabeth, daughter of Sir James Dishington of Ardross, Fifeshire, Robert Pringle of Smailholm had four sons and three daughters. Over the doorway of the old house of Galashiels belonging to the family, the following inscription, under the date 1457, was cut, which is supposed to have reference to this lady:

"Elspeth Dishington builted me,

In syne lye not;

The thynge thou canst not gette

Desyre not."

The eldest son, David Pringle of Smailholm, was, after the forfeiture of the Douglases, as we learn from the Exchequer Rolls of 1456, appointed cursor or ranger of the ward of Tweed, an office, held also by his son and grandson. In 1467 he was succeeded by his son, James, who appears to have been ranger from 1457 to 1495. Besides David his heir, he had a son, William, progenitor of the Pringles of Torwoodlee, and another, John, ancestor of the Pringles of Blyndlee.


David Pringle of Smailholm and Galashiels was ranger of the ward of Tweed for ten years. In 1505, Alexander, Lord Home, great-chamberlain of Scotland, became ranger or chamberlain of the whole of Ettrick Forest. In 1510 David Pringle obtained a charter of the lands of Redhead and Whytbank, which had been occupied by the ranger of the ward of Tweed pro officio cursoris, and these lands are still in possession of the family. He and his brother, William, are subscribing witnesses in the sasine of Margaret, queen of James IV., in her jointure lands of Ettrick Forest, 1st June 1505. He was twice married. By his first wife he had a son, David, younger of Galashiels and Smailholm, who, with four of his sons, was slain at Flodden, and a daughter, Isabella, wife of Sir David Home of Wedderburn, and mother of the seven spears of Wedderburn. By his second wife, Margaret, daughter of Thomas Lundie of Lundie, Fifeshire, he had, with two daughters, a son, James of Woodhouse and Whytbank, from whom the Whytbank family are descended, of whom afterwards.


John Pringle, youngest son of David, slain at Flodden, succeeded his grandfather on his death in 1535. This John Pringle of Smailholm and Galashiels fought at Pinkie in 1547, and afterwards, with George Pringle of Torwoodlee and William Pringle of Wolfhousebyre, was surety to the English for 100 gold nobles, the ransom of Hugh Rose of Kilravock, taken in that battle. He died about 1566. By his wife, Margaret, daughter of Sir James Gordon of Stitchell and Lochinvar, he had three sons and one daughter. His eldest son, Andrew Pringle of Galashiels and Smailholm, made an entail of his estates in 1585, the year of his death. He bad two sons, James his heir, and Robert of Howlatstown, on Gala Water, and a daughter, Isabella, married to George Pringle of Blyndlee.


The elder son, Sir James Pringle of Smailholm and Galashiels, was, in 1610, bailie of the regality of Stow, and, in 1622, be had a commission under the great seal as sheriff principal of Ettrick Forest. He was knighted by James VI, and being much about court, and living extravagantly, be was compelled to alienate a considerable portion of his estates. In 1623, he and George Pringle of Torwoodlee were commissioners to the Estates for the county of Selkirk. He died in 1635. He had four sons and as many daughters. Jean, his eldest daughter, married Hugh Scott of Deuchar, who got possession of the estate of Galasbiels, having claims upon it. From him are descended the Scotts of Gala.


The two eldest sons having predeceased him, Sir James was succeeded by his third son, John, designed of Smailholm, but his inheritance was small, and even of that portion of the property which came to him, being encumbered with debt, be was ultimately deprived through legal diligence, by Sir Hugh Scott of Harden. John Pringle died in 1650, and his youngest brother, George, having predeceased him, Robert Pringle of Howlatstown, youngest son of Andrew Pringle of Smailholm and Galashiels, and brother of Sir James, became the male representative of the family. He died, without issue, in 1653, when the male representation devolved upon James Pringle of Whytbank, great-grandson of James Pringle of Woodhouse and Whytbank above mentioned.


In early life, James Pringle of Whytbank served for some years in France as an officer in the Scottish guards. He and James Murray of Philiphaugh represented the county of Selkirk in the Estates in 1633. For his adherence to the cause of King Charles I., he was heavily fined by the committee of Estates in 1646. He greatly improved his estate, and added several lands to it, both in Selkirkshire and Mid Lothian. He married in 1622, Sophia Sebuner, a Danish lady, maid of honour to Anne of Denmark, queen of James VI., on which occasion, we are told, "her majesty presented her with her portrait, enamelled on mother of pearl, and set with small rubies and emeralds, suspended by a massy gold chain, a relic still preserved by the family." On his death in 1667, he was succeeded by his only son, Alexander Pringle of Whytbank, who, in 1652, was sheriff principal of Selkirkshire. Warmly attached to the Presbyterian form of church government, he was a frequent member of the ecclesiastical courts. He died in 1695, without issue, and was succeeded by John Pringle, grandson of his father's next brother, George Pringle of Balmungo, Fifeshire, a major in the army of Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden, who, after serving, with considerable reputation, during the Thirty years' war, returned home, having married one of the daughters of Sir Patrick Ruthven, a general in the same service, created by Charles I., earl of Forth in Scotland, and Brentford in England, (see vol.11. p.254). His only son, the Rev. John Pringle, minister of Fogo, described as an elegant scholar, was father of John Pringle of Whytbank, who succeeded his father's cousin in 1695, and died of a fever in 1703, at the age of 25. He had a son, Alexander Pringle of Whytbank, who died in 1772, and was succeeded in his lands of Whytbank by his eldest son, Lieutenant John Pringle. The latter served on the staff of his relative, the Hon. General James Murray, commander of the British forces in Canada, after the death of General Wolfe. Lieutenant Pringle died in Canada in 1774, when his next brother, Alexander Pringle, then in the civil service of the East India Company on the Madras establishment, became proprietor of Whytbank. He returned to Scotland in 1783, and some years afterwards repurchased from the duke of Buccleuch the family estate and residence of Yair in Selkirkshire, which had been sold, with some other portions of his lands, by his father. At Yair be built a new mansion house, and devoted a considerable part of his attention to the improvement of his estates. He commanded the Selkirkshire volunteers, until that corps was disbanded at the peace of Amiens, March 27, 1802. The same year he was appointed vice-lieutenant of Selkirkshire, on the establishment of that office by act of parliament. He was Sir Walter Scott's neighbour at Ashestiel, when he went there to reside in 1804, and in the second Epistle of Marmion he is mentioned as

"The long descended lord of Yair."

An extract of a letter from him to the author of Marmion, on the publication of that poem in 1807, is given in Lockhart's Life of Scott, (page 184, 8vo edition). in 1812, Mr. Pringle obtained the patent office of chamberlain of Ettrick Forest. He died in 1827. By his wife, Mary, daughter of Sir Alexander Dick of Prestonfield, be had, with six daughters, five sons; three of whom, namely, John Alexander Pringle of Castledykes, the second son; William Alexander Pringle, the third; and David Pringle, the youngest, were in the Bengal civil service, and Robert Keith Pringle, the fourth son, was in the Bombay civil service, and afterwards became chief secretary to the government at that presidency.


The eldest son, Alexander Pringle of Whytbank, studied at Cambridge, and was admitted an advocate at the Scottish bar in 1814. In July of the following year with Scott of Gala, he accompanied Sir Walter Scott to the field of Waterloo, and leaving him in Paris, he made a tour in Switzerland. He continued to practise as an advocate till 1830, when, at the general election which followed the death of George IV., he was elected M.P. for Selkirkshire. After the dissolution in 1831, he was re-elected. At the general election, after the passing of the Reform Act in 1838, he was defeated by Pringle of Clifton, by a majority of nine. Re-elected in 1835, by a large majority, he again sat for the county in 1837 and 1841. In the latter year he was appointed one of the lords of the Treasury, in the ministry of Sir Robert Peel, and also a commissioner of Revenue Inquiry. In July 1845 he resigned office, as he could not give his support to the ministerial measure for increasing the endowment of the Roman Catholic college of Maynooth. In January 1846, he was appointed principal keeper of the General Register of Sasines in Scotland, when he retired from parliament. In 1830 he had been appointed vice-lieutenant of the county of Selkirk. He died 2d September 1857. He married his cousin, Agnes Joanna, daughter of Sir William Dick of Prestonfield. His only son, Alexander Pringle, succeeded to Whytbank



1. It is claimed that 'there never were any Pringles of Whitsome'. James Pringle writes that this longstanding and ongoing error was stated by Alex Pringle in 'The Records of the Pringles or Hoppringills of the Scottish Border', which was published in 1933 at the end of the chapter 'That Ilk or Torsonce' pages 29 to 31.  Read more>>>


See also:  Hop Pringles



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