This name is probably derived from the old English, ‘skrymsher’, meaning a ‘swordsman’. The family appears to have been well established in Fife long before their subsequent connection with the city of Dundee. The chiefs were later to be created constables, and then Earls of Dundee, and also hereditary royal standard bearers.
The herald, Sir Iain Moncreiffe of that Ilk, asserted that the Scrymgeours are probably descendants of the great Macduff Earls of Fife, and may have claimed their office as standard bearer from their early Celtic origins. It was customary for Celtic armies to be accompanied by sacred holy relics, usually borne by a hereditary keeper. The Scrymgeours may therefore have carried a sacred relic, possibly the pastoral staff of St Columba, which was later replaced by a consecrated heraldic banner. They were confirmed as banner bearers by Sir William Wallace and Parliament on 29th March 1298, during the struggle for Scottish independence. Scrymgeour is named as Alexander, son of Colyn, son of Carin. He was one of the first to declare for Robert the Bruce, and obtained from him on 5 December 1298 a charter confirming the rights granted by Sir William Wallace. This is the only contemporary document to have survived in which the names of Wallace and Bruce are mentioned together. Sir Alexander was captured by the English and hanged at Newcastle in 1306 on the direct orders of Edward I. He was succeeded by another Alexander, who rode as royal banner bearer at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314.
Vast lands at Glassary in Argyll came to the family around 1370 with the marriage of Alexander Scrymgeour to Agnes, heiress to Gilbert Glassary of that Ilk. The family continued to prosper, and the seventh constable of Dundee acquired the lands of Dudhope near the city in 1495. They later built a handsome castle on the lands, which was to be their seat until 1668. The Argyll estates were controlled from Fincharn, and it was from there that John Scrymgeour of Glassary marched to carry the royal banner on behalf of the chief, his infant nephew, to the fateful field of Flodden in 1513, where he was mortally wounded. The Gaelic title of the Scrymgeours is ‘Mac Mhic Iain’, and according to local tradition, Fin-charn Castle on the shores of Loch Awe was burned down by an angry bridegroom when an early Mac Mhic Iain attempted to steal his bride.
Sir James Scrymgeour received a new charter to his estates at Holyrood House on 25 November 1587. He was confirmed in all the family’s grants of honours, with lands, privileges and titles being destined to his male heirs bearing the name and arms of Scrym-geour. He was one of the commissioners sent to Denmark to negotiate the marriage of James VI to Princess Anne, and in 1604 he was appointed a commissioner to negotiate a political union with England. He died in 1612. He was succeeded by his son, John, who entertained James VI at Dudhope Castle in 1617. He was raised to the peerage by Charles I as Viscount of Dudhope and Baron Scrymgeour of Inverkeithing in November 1641. The second Viscount of Dudhope was sent with the Scottish Covenanter forces sent to assist the English Parliament against Charles I. He fought at the Battle of Marston Moor in July 1644, where he received a fatal wound. He was succeeded by his son, John, who adhered to the royalist cause, and commanded a cavalry regiment under the Duke of Hamilton in 1648 and fought at the Battle of Worcester in 1651. He escaped after the royal defeat and joined the army of General Middleton in the Highlands, eventually being captured in 1654. At the Restoration in 1660 he was rewarded with the earldom of Dundee. He died in 1668 without issue and his castles, estates and royal offices were seized by the Duke of Lauderdale upon a legal pretext. Lauderdale sent soldiers to carry off all of the Scrymgeour charters and papers from Dudhope Castle. He then had it declared that there were no lawful heirs, and the estates reverted to the Crown. He then procured from the king a grant of the titles and estates to his own brother, Lord Chattan. In 1686 the estates passed to John Graham of Claverhouse who two years later was created Viscount of Dundee. The famous ‘Bonnie Dundee’ was killed at the Battle of Killiecrankie in 1689, and his estates were forfeited, whereupon they passed to the Douglases.
The estates should have devolved on the death of the earl to John Scrymgeour of Kirkton, who was the great-grandson of the fifth Constable of Dundee. His grandson, David Scrymgeour of Birkhill, sheriff of Inverness, married Catherine, daughter of Sir Alexander Wedderburn of Blackness, Baronet, and their son, Alexander, succeeded in 1788 as heir of line of David Wedderburn of Wedderburn to that family’s title and estates. The family continued to assert their right to the ancient titles and honours bestowed upon their ancestors, and at the coronation of Edward VII, Henry Scrymgeour Wedderburn carried the standard of Scotland. His grandson succeeded in a case before the House of Lords, and was recognised as the eleventh Earl of Dundee. In 1954 he was also created a peer of the United Kingdom as Baron Glassary to enable him to take up Government office, ultimately becoming Deputy Leader of the House of Lords. His son, the twelfth Earl and present chief, has followed his father into politics in the House of Lords. The family seat is still at Birkhill north of Cupar in Fife.