Outside the small circle of the nobility and great landed families, few individuals or their kin are well recorded in Scottish medieval history, but the obscurity surrounding the origin of the Elliots, who suddenly make their appearance as a distinct clan with a chief in the late fifteenth century, is unusual even by the sparse standards of such records. This lack of information can probably be traced to the destruction of the old castle at Stobs in a fire in 1712, when all the family documents, with a single exception, were burnt.
According to family tradition, the Ellots (as the name was then spelt) came from Angus at the foot of Glenshie, and moved to Teviotdale at the time of Robert the Bruce. It is true that to move from the north to the Borders, as suggested by the Elliot tradition, would be considered as exceptional. However, in 1320 there occurred in Liddesdale an event of some note which might lend credence to the tale. In that year, William de Soulis, one of the most powerful nobles in Scotland, whose family had for nearly two hundred years held the Lordship of Liddesdale, was convicted of treason against Robert the Bruce and imprisoned for life. All his lands were forfeited. Two years later Liddesdale, together with the great Borders fortress of Hermitage Castle, was made over to Bruce’s illegitimate son, Robert. On the occasion of so sudden and dramatic a change in the lordship, it would scarcely be remarkable for Bruce to ensure his hold on the strategically important frontier region by encouraging the settlement of a loyal and tested clan – such as the Ellots – in the district.
It is known from a Berwickshire pedigree that Ellot of Redheugh was living in the early 1400s. John Elwalde from Teviotdale is recorded in 1426. Robert Ellot of Redheugh appears as the tenth chief in 1476, and from that time the formal history of the clan can be said to have begun. In 1470 he built a strong tower on a cliff overlooking the ford on Hermitage Water. This was one of about one hundred strong towers belonging to the Ellots which were dotted around Liddesdale, which they shared with the Armstrongs, another of the great Borders riding clans.
They fought at Flodden where Robert, thirteenth chief, was killed along with James IV and the flower of Scottish nobility. In 1565 a deadly feud developed between the Ellots and their neighbours, the Scotts. Scott of Buccleuch, ancestor of the present duke, executed four Ellots for the minor crime of cattle rustling. Three hundred Ellots rode to avenge their kinsmen. The losses on both sides were heavy, but the Scotts thought better of matters, and came to terms with the Ellots. Their next opponent was James Hepburn, the great Earl of Bothwell and future husband of Mary, Queen of Scots. In a skirmish around Hermitage Castle Bothwell was wounded, and in reprisal a royal force of nearly four thousand men devastated the lands of the Ellots and their neighbours in 1569.
The Union of the Crowns in 1603 marked the beginning of the end for the border reivers. There were many summary executions, and around this period many Borderers accepted the offer of a new life in Ulster during the plantation, when much of the province was colonised. Robert Elliot of Redheugh went into exile in Fife, leaving his broad lands in Liddesdale. It was around the 1650s that the ‘i’ was introduced into the name of Ellot.
Sir Gilbert Elliot of Stobs became chief in 1673. He was created a Baronet of Nova Scotia by Charles II in December 1666.
The third Baronet remodelled the old Tower of Stobs into a mansion house around 1764, although it was subsequently rebuilt after a fire. His second son, Augustus, was a distinguished soldier who was rewarded for his spirited defence of Gibraltar in 1782 with a peerage. He was created Lord Heathfield, but this title became extinct within one generation. Another branch of the chiefly family acquired the lands of Minto in 1703. This line has produced some persons of distinction, and were created baronets in 1700. Sir Gilbert Elliot of Minto was a diplomat who served first in Corsica, then in Vienna, finally becoming Governor General of Bengal. He returned from India in 1813 to be created Earl of Minto and Viscount Melgund. The present Earl of Minto is prominent in local government in the Borders, although the magnificent mansion house of Minto has had to be demolished. The estate of Stobs also passed from family hands at the turn of this century. For a time the chiefs resided in America, but in 1932 the tenth Baronet reclaimed the ancient holding of Redheugh where he died in 1958. The present chief is the daughter of Sir Arthur Elliot, eleventh Baronet and twenty-eighth chief. There being no bar to female succession to a Scottish chiefship, she assumed her father’s seat on the Council of Chiefs, but the baronetcy passed to a male heir.