This name comes from the lands of Sandilands in Clydesdale. The family who were later to bear the name, may originally have fled to Scotland from Northumberland in the reign of Malcolm III. Sir James de Sandilands distinguished himself in the wars against the English, and was rewarded with a royal charter to his lands by David II. He married Eleanor, the only daughter of Sir Archibald Douglas, Regent of Scotland, who was the widow of Alexander Bruce, Earl of Carrick. Sandilands received from his brother-in-law, Lord Douglas, the lands of Calder in Lothian. Sir James was killed at the Battle of Halidon Hill in 1333. His son, James Sandilands of Calder, was one of the hostages sent to England for James I, who was only returned to Scotland two years before his death. He was heir presumptive to the Douglas estates and should have inherited them on the death of the second Earl of Douglas, but they went instead to George, Earl of Angus, Douglas’s natural son. James was succeeded by his son, John. The Sandilands found themselves in opposition to their Douglas relatives as they were unshakeable in their loyalty to James II. John Sandilands and his uncle, James, were assassinated at Dumbarton by Patrick Thornton on the orders of the Douglas faction. James Sandilands then inherited the estates and married an heiress, Margaret Kinlock of Cruvie. One of their sons, James Sandilands of Cruvie, established the line later to become Lords Abercrombie.
Sir James Sandilands of Calder, a friend of the Protestant reformer, John Knox, was also preceptor of the powerful religious and military Order of the Knights of St John, whose headquarters were at the Priory of Torphichen in West Lothian. When the Order was suppressed, he managed to obtain a grant of much of its lands on payment to the Crown of ten thousand crowns in gold and an annual rent of five hundred merks. Previously, the preceptors had sat as peers in Parliament under the title of ‘Lord St. John of Torphichen’, an interesting case of a title belonging to an office and not hereditary in any one family. Sir James kept his seat in Parliament, being created Lord Torphichen. He died without issue, and the new title devolved on James, the grandson of his elder brother, who succeeded as second Lord Torphichen.
The first Lord’s half-brother, Sir James Sandilands of Slamannan, was a Gentleman of the Bedchamber to James VI and later keeper of Blackness Castle. The second Lord had four sons, two of whom were to succeed to the family title. John, the fourth Lord, although a supporter of Charles I strongly advised against the plan known as the Engagement, which sought to invade England in 1648 to rescue the king, in return for certain conditions, after he had been handed over to Parliament by the Scots army. The plan was ill-conceived, and ended in disaster.
James, seventh Lord Torphichen, took his seat in Parliament in 1704 and was a supporter of the Treaty of Union. He served in the army on the Continent only returning to Scotland at the outbreak of the rising of 1715. He fought at the Battle of Sheriffmuir. In 1722 he was appointed by George I one of the Commissioners of Police. His eldest son was wounded during the campaigns of 1745 against the forces of Bonnie Prince Charlie, the ‘Young Pretender’, and he later died of consumption. His second son, Walter, who had embarked upon a career in the law, succeeded to the title while sheriff of Midlothian. James, the sheriff’s son, was a colonel in the Coldstream Guards and was elected a representative peer to the House of Lords from 1790 to 1800. He was succeeded by his first cousin, James, from whom the present Lord Torphichen, who still lives at Calder, is