The name comes from the old barony of Dunbar, now in East Lothian. The name Dunbar itself comes from the Gaelic "dun" meaning "fort and "barr" meaning "summit". The lands were granted by King Malcolm III to the Earl Gospatric who had lived further south in Northumberland in the 11th century but had been forced to flee by William the Conqueror. Earl Gospatric in turn was descended from Crinan, the thane of Dunkeld whose grandfather was probably Duncan, lay-abbot of Dunkeld who died in 965.
Patrick of Dunbar married a daughter of King William the Lion in 1184. A later Patrick "Black Beard", 8th Earl of Dunbar, was one of those who competed for the crown of Scotland in 1291 when King Edward I of England volunteered to mediate in the argument. Later, the 9th Earl of Dunbar sheltered King Edward II at Dunbar after the flight of the English king from the field of Bannockburn in 1314.
During the 14th century, the 10th Earl enlarged his estates and became one of the most important nobles in Scotland. He accompanied the Earl of Douglas in his raids into England and fought at the Battle of Otterburn in 1388 in which the Scots defeated Henry Percy, (Hotspur) but with the loss of the Earl of Douglas. But he fell out with the Douglas family when they disrupted his plans for his daughter to marry the son of King Robert III.
In the early 15th century, the 11th Earl of Dunbar became so powerful that he became perceived as a threat to King James I and he was imprisoned on a trumped up charge of treason so that the king could take over the large Dunbar estates. The last Earl died in exile in England in 1455.
In 1368 the Dunbars obtained lands of Glenkens and Mochrum in Dumfries and Galloway and the Dunbars also appear in Caithness around the middle of the 15th century, descended from the Dunbars of Westfield in that county. The present chief of the Dunbars is from the Mochrum line.
There have been a number of other Dunbars who have walked across the pages of Scottish history. In 1337, Agnes, Countess of Dunbar, known as Black Agnes, conducted a sturdy defence of Dunbar Castle while her husband was absent. She was the daughter of King Robert the Bruce's friend, Thomas Randolph, Earl of Moray. She calmly dusted the stones off the battlements with her 'kerchief whenever the besieging cannons of the Earls of Salisbury and Arundel crashed into the castle walls. The siege lasted 19 weeks and was eventually abandoned. In the 16th century, the Archbishoprics of both Glasgow and Aberdeen were both held by Gavin Dunbars from the Mochrum line. The Archbishop of Glasgow was a tutor of King James V and became his Lord Chancellor.
Perhaps the best known member of the family was William Dunbar (1460-1513) who was a court poet to King James IV. While much of his poetry was composed by royal command, he also managed to include advice to his monarch! His works were meant to be read out loud and Sir Richard Burton listed Dunbar's "Lament for the Makaris" as one of his three favourite poems. William Dunbar may have died at the Battle of Flodden with his king.
In 1694, Sir James Dunbar of Mochrum was created a Baronet of Nova Scotia and in his coat of arms he was allowed to use supporters "Imperially Crowned". The present line of Dunbar clan chiefs was established in a celebrated court case in 1990 which went all the way to the House of Lords.
The Dunbar clan motto is "In promptu" which means "In readiness".
There is a Dunbar clan Web site here>.
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