The origin of this name is territorial, from the lands and barony of Cranstoun in Midlothian. The lands may have been named from the Anglo–Saxon for ‘place of the crane’, a bird which appears both on the shield and as the crest of this noble family. Another suggestion is the ‘tun’ or ‘dwelling place’ of Cran or Cren, which both appear as forenames in Saxon chronicles. Elfrick de Cranstoun was witness to a charter by William the Lion to the Abbey of Holyrood. He also appears in a deed between Roger de Quincy and the Abbot of Newbattle around 1170. Thomas de Craystoun is recorded, in the reign of Alexander II, as making a donation of lands near Paiston in East Lothian to the Church, for the welfare of his soul and those of his ancestors and successors. Hugh 
de Cranstoun appears on the Ragman Roll of Scottish barons swearing fealty to Edward I of England in 1296. Randolphus de Cranston, son and heir of ‘dominus de eodem’, made a donation to the Abbey of Newbattle in 1338. Thomas de Cranston received a charter to his lands of Cranston from David II.

The Cranstons of that Ilk prospered until the late sixteenth century, when they became embroiled in the volatile contemporary political situation. Thomas and John Cranston, descendants of the house of Cranston of that Ilk, were among those accused of treason in 1592 for assisting the Earl of Bothwell in his attack on the Palace of Holyrood House. In June 1600 Sir John Cranston of that Ilk was indicted for harbouring his kinsmen, forfeited traitors, and only obtained a stay of the proceedings against him on the intervention of the king. On 23 August 1600, another Thomas Cranston, the brother of Sir John Cranston, was executed at Perth for complicity in the Gowrie Conspiracy to kidnap James VI. Sir John Cranstoun of Morristoun, captain of the Guard to James VI, was raised to the peerage with the title of ‘Lord Cranstoun’ on 17 November 1609. Around the same time the Reverend William Cranstoun was minister of Kettle in Fife. He was a staunch Presbyterian who resisted the attempts of the king to introduce bishops into the Scottish Church. He fell into great disfavour with the authorities, and they attempted to prevent him preaching. He was in the middle of a sermon when the king’s commissioners charged him to cease, advising him that another had been appointed to preach in the church. Cranstoun, nothing daunted, replied, ‘But the Lord and his Kirk have appointed me, therefore, beware how you trouble this work’. He continued his sermon without interruption but he was formally ‘put to the horn’, i.e. declared in contempt and an outlaw. On 10 May 1620, John Spottiswood, Archbishop of St Andrews, convened a full ecclesiastical court and Cranstoun was deprived of his charge despite his advanced age and obvious sincerity.

The third Lord Cranston supported the royalist cause in the civil war and fought at the Battle of Worcester in 1651 where he was taken prisoner. He languished in the Tower of London and his estates were sequestrated, save for a small portion which the Commonwealth allowed to his wife and children for their support. William, fifth Lord Cranstoun, sat in the last independent Scots Parliament where he was a supporter of the Treaty of Union. George Cranstoun, a descendant of the fifth Lord, was an eminent lawyer and judge. He had originally been intended for a career in the army, but after studying law he became an advocate and, ultimately, Dean of the Faculty of Advocates in 1823. In 1826 he was elevated to the Bench, taking the title, of ‘Lord Corehouse’. He was an excellent scholar who was particularly well versed in the classics, and a friend of Sir Walter Scott, with whom he had studied at Edinburgh University. He entertained the great author at his seat of Corehouse in Lanarkshire. James, eighth Lord Cranstoun, was a distinguished officer in the Royal Navy who commanded HMS Bellerophon in a squadron of only seven ships which was attacked on 17 June 1795 by a French fleet three times larger. After a running battle which lasted more than twelve hours, the French were completely defeated, and eight ships of the line were destroyed. Lord Cranstoun was later appointed Governor of Grenada, but before he could set foot upon the island, he died, it is believed of lead poisoning, in 1796. The peerage became extinct in 1813.

Lieutenant Colonel Alastair Cranstoun of that Ilk and Corehouse was recognised as chief in 1950. He was a distinguished soldier and holder of the Military Cross, and was military attaché in Lisbon. He died in 1990, when he was succeeded by the present chief who still lives at Corehouse.

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