This ancient Norman name probably derives from the town of Colvile between Caen and Bayeux in Normandy. The name first appears in Scotland when Philip de Colville is found as a witness to a charter by Malcolm IV to the Monastery of Dunfermline some time prior to 1159. He was later one of the hostages for the release of William the Lion under the Treaty of Falaise in 1174. He was granted the baronies of Oxnam and Heton in Roxburghshire, together with other lands, particularly in Ayrshire. Thomas de Colville, his son, was witness to several charters of William the Lion between 1189 and 1199. He was unjustly suspected of treason against the Crown, and was for a time imprisoned in Edinburgh Castle, but he regained royal favour and died on his own estates in 1219. His son, William de Colville, acquired the barony of Kinnaird in Stirlingshire, which remains the seat of the family to this day. He granted a lease of part of his barony to the Abbot of Holyrood House in a charter which was confirmed by Alexander II in September 1228.

E’stace, the heiress of Sir William Colville of Oxnam, was married to Sir Reginald Cheyne of Inverugie, an elderly knight who died around 1291, leaving his widow considerable wealth. She swore fealty to Edward I of England and appears on the Ragman Roll of 1296 holding lands in Aberdeen, Ayr, Banff, Forfar, Inverness and Kincardine. Nisbet in his System of Heraldry attributes the foundation of the fortunes of the Colvilles to her considerable abilities. A grant by E’stace de Colville to the Abbey of Melrose of the church at Ochiltree was later confirmed by Robert Colville in 1324, in a charter which describes him as ‘Baro baronial de Ochiltree’ – Baron of the barony of Ochiltree. The baron made donations to the monks of Kelso and in 1350 his charter to the barony of Ochiltree was confirmed by David II. Thomas Colville of Oxnam, probably a grandson of the baron, was one of the gentlemen selected to accompany Princess Margaret, daughter of James I, to France for her marriage to the Dauphin, later Louis XI, in 1436. Four years earlier, Robert Colville had stood as one of the substitute hostages for the ransom of James I necessary to secure the king’s release from English captivity.

In 1449, Sir Richard (or Robert) Colville slew John Auchinleck, a favourite of the Earl of Douglas. To avenge Auchinleck’s fate, Douglas laid waste all the lands belonging to Colville and besieged and took his castle at Kinnaird, with great loss of life. Robert Colville of Hilton fell with his king at the Battle of Flodden in September 1513. His son, Sir James Colville of Ochiltree, was appointed to the office of Comptroller of the Royal Household in 1527. He exchanged his lands of Ochiltree with Hamilton of Finnart for the barony of East Wemyss and Lochorshyre in Fife in 1530. As Sir James Colville of Easter Wemyss, he was appointed a judge of the Supreme Court. He was later accused of treason, and his estates were annexed by the Crown, but his forfeiture was recalled in 1543. Sir James Colville, third of Easter Wemyss, was a distinguished soldier who fought in France for Henry, Prince of Navarre, later King Henry IV. He returned to Scotland in 1582 along with Francis Stewart, Earl of Bothwell, loaded down with commendations from his French patrons. In 1604 he was raised to the peerage with the title of ‘Lord Colville of Culross’, which title the chiefs still bear. The second Lord Colville, who had succeeded to his grandfather’s title in 1620, died without issue in 1640. His cousin was heir to the title but did not assume it, and it remained dormant until 1723. John Colville, ‘de jure’ seventh Lord Colville, was a soldier who served at Churchill’s great victory of Malplaquet in 1709. In 1722 he made up title as heir to the second Lord Colville, but a petition to the king claiming the Peerage was referred to the House of Lords for enquiry. On 27 May 1723 the House was found in favour of Colville, who was placed on the Roll of Peers. He continued his military career and later rose to command a battalion at the siege of Cartagena in 1741, where he died. He left a large family who all followed successful military careers. The Honourable Charles Colville commanded the 21st Regiment of Foot at the Battle of Culloden in 1746, and died in 1775, having achieved the rank of lieutenant general. The Honourable Alexander Colville joined the Navy in 1731 and soon obtained his own command. In 1744 he became captain of the Leopard, a fifty-gun frigate. He was promoted to commodore, and obtained command of the Northumberland, which sailed to America in 1755. During the winter of 1759 the French laid siege to Quebec. Alexander, now Lord Colville, received orders to take his squadron to the relief of the city as soon as the St Lawrence River was free of ice. He set off as the spring thaw commenced, against the advice of local mariners, and succeeded in bringing his squadron safely off Quebec. His arrival forced the French to raise the siege and retreat. He was promoted to the rank of Vice Admiral in 1769.

Sir Charles Colville served with distinction in the Peninsular War (1808–14) and at the Battle of Waterloo. He was created a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath. His two elder brothers both died leaving no issue, and his son, Charles, succeeded to the peerage. He was Chief Equerry to Queen Victoria and Lord Chamberlain to Queen Alexandra. On 12 July 1902 he was created Viscount Colville of Culross in the peerage of the United Kingdom. Sir Stanley Colville, brother of the second Viscount, was a rear admiral and commander-in-chief at Portsmouth between 1916 and 1919. He received some of the highest honours his country could bestow, including the Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath. The present Viscount, the thirteenth Lord Colville of Culross, succeeded to the title in 1945.

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