Saturday, 1 April 2017

The Ogilvy Name, Near and Far

Although this post is mostly devoted to the fortunes of the Ogilvy family in its various guises, at home and abroad, we can start with a salutary warning about the dangers faced by that creature which was dangerous in itself, the Scot Abroad.  Although the widely travelled Scot seems a bit of a cliché in historical terms,  from the Middle Ages onward the Scot did turn up in strange places, at different times, in guises like the itinerant traders who settled in Poland or the soldiers (mercenary and otherwise) who served in France, Sweden and further afield.

   Some odd things befell these emigrants on occasion.  Take for instance the incident at the court of Tsar Boris Godunov in 1599.  One of the latter’s associates was entrusted with the construction of a new fortress and began boasting that he was in fact as powerful as the tsar in his own area.  The hapless man, Bogdan Bel’skii, was dragged back to Moscow and   Tsar Boris had a Scots officer named Gabriel perform a humiliating punishment on his underling:  if front of the court Bogdan had his huge bushy beard ripped out by the handful by the hapless Gabriel.  This Scot may have been a certain Gabriell Elphingstone, a 'valiant Scottish captain', who migrated to Russian from Swedish service.  A band of Scots and English who were unwise enough to laugh about the drunken antics of Tsar Ivan the Terrible in a previous generation were punished, when Ivan heard about the insult, by being made to pick up five or six bushels of peas from his floor, one at a time.  But afterwards they were given a good drink and sent on their way.  Life was evidently strange in Russia in those times. 

   Conspicuous among the Scots who sought their fortunes or merely livings abroad were the Ogilvy family.  Although the name had its origin in Glen Ogilvy in the Sidlaw Hills, the family of course spread itself out in Scotland at an early date.  There was an early settlement of the Ogilvy family in Aberdeenshire and Banffshire for instance.  One native of the latter was the Catholic martyr St John Oglivie, executed for his faith in Glasgow in 1615.  He was educated in Germany and Moravia and travelled in Belgium and France before seeking leave to return to his native land where he met his death. 

   One Ogilvie who certainly was from Angus was George Ogilvie who hailed from Muirton near Kirriemuir.  He served the Hapsburg crown and was based in Moravia.  A son of the fifth laird of Airlie, he probably raised men for continental military service in his native county in the 1620s.  The lure of fighting abroad was not so much for adventure as an economic necessity to stave off starvation or at least poverty.  Records from Dundee in 1527 show that Ogilvie was rounding up ‘ydlle and maisterlesse men’ in the burgh to fight abroad.  George Ogilvie himself served first in Scandinavia before moving further south and he became a highly respected and successful military commander. 

   Less fortunate than George Ogilvie was the Scots lady recorded in Kiedjany, Lithuania, in 1635.  She was a certain Mrs Ogilbina (Ogilvy), who was a recipient of alms.  Who she was and what happened to her are unknown.  Other far-flung members of this family are recorded, but in bare records which give little detail of their lives.  A little girl named Katarzyna Ogilvy was baptised on 13 March 1640 in Wilno (Vilnius); her father is named as Jakub.  Her brother Andrzej was baptised on 25 November 1644, while another brother, Alexander, was baptised on 26 May 1648.  Among the military Ogilvys recorded in the same region is Wilhelm Ogilvie, a lieutenant in the private forces of the Radziwill family in the 1660s.  In the following century there was George Benedict Ogilvie, a Field-Marshall of the Polish-Saxon army, who served in the years 1701-10.  In 1790 Captain John Ogilvy was a captain in the Polish army.  Some sources state that a full 50% of the population of Kėdainiai, one of the oldest Lithuanian towns, was Scottish in origin at one stage and they remained a distinct community into the 19th century. 

   Another concentration of Scots was in the eastern Polish region of Podlachia, home to many Scots in the 17th century.  A Father Gall from Parish informed W. Cramond that

a great body of Ogilvies emigrated en masse [there]...They are said to have done to enjoy the free exercise of their religion.  It is certain that a colony of Ogilvies is there now, and has been there for a long period.  And, curiously enough, I met an English gentleman in Paris some years ago who assured me that the statement was correct, for he knew all that country well.  I asked him simply whether he knew any Scottish families settled there.  ‘Yes,’ he answered, ‘and they are all Ogilvies.’

   Cramond’s informant Father Gall noted a number of Ogilvys in the records of St Nicolas Platz, Prague, including :

Jacobus, Lord Ogilvy, spouse of Joanna de Forbes.Patrick Ogilvy, ‘dominus de Muirton’, husband of Isabella Murray, who died at Danzig in October 1712, aged 62.Isabella Joanna, Baronissa de Ogilvy, wife of Julius Weickardum of Heussenstein.Georgius Benedictus Liber Baro de Ogilvy. Plus around ten others.

   At least another dozen people of the name of Ogilvy/Ogilvie can be found in the records of Prussia and other parts of eastern Europe.  One of the later individuals was Thomas Ogilvie, who died at Riga in 1836. 
  At this stage it is worth mentioning, as a pedantic point, that the original form of this family name was Ogilvy (with a plural Ogilvys), though an early variant was Ogilvie(s).  Another, less common mutation is Ogilby.  One individual who sported the latter name was a ‘cunning Scot’ named John Ogilby , the mysterious author of Britannia, an atlas of England published in 1675.  Ogilby was reckoned to have been born in Edinburgh, though his father took him to London at an early age.  It later transpired, through a chance meeting with the son of the Earl of Airlie, James Ogilvy, who was imprisoned in the Tower of London in the 1650s.  Ogilby was informed that he was the secret son of the earl and had been born in Airlie Castle.

Glen Ogilvy


Bajer, Peter Paul, Scots in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, 16th-18th Centuries, The Formation and Disappearance of an Ethnic Group (Leiden, 2012).

Cramond, W., The Scottish Antiquary or Northern Notes and Queries, Vol.  VII.

Dobson, David, Scots in Poland, Russian and the Baltic States, 1550-1850 (Baltimore, 2000).

Worthington, David, Scots in Hapsburg Service, 1618-1648 (Leiden, 2004).

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