This well known Border surname - the Norman Fortenbras - is an instance of a surname assumed from a personal attribute - strength of arm. The name was not uncommon in the north of England in the latter half of the 13th century, and at a later period the Armstrongs were a numerous and warlike clan in Liddesdale and the Debatable Lane. An act passed by the Scottish Parliament in 1587 'for the quieting and keeping in obedience of the inhabitants of the Borders, Highlands and Isles' containing a roll of 'the clans that have Captains, Chiefs and Chieftans as well on the Borders as the Highlands', proves that so long ago as the sixteenth century Border families were described as clans, and one of the most important of these families was the Armstrongs. There was a traditional story that the progenitor of the clan was a Fairbairn, an armour bearer of a king of Scotland who went to the assistance of his master when the king had his horse killed under him in battle. Fairbairn, grasping the king by the thigh, set him on his own horse. For this service the king granted Fairbairn lands on the Borders, and gave him the name Armstrong. Early records of the name include Adam Armstrong who was pardoned at Carlisle in 1235 for causing the death of another man, and William Armestrangh served on an inquisition in the same city in 1274. Richard Harmestrang made a loan to King David at Calais in the year 1342.The Armstrongs of Gillnockie were the principal branch of the clan, and John Armstrong of Gilnockie in the early part of the 16th century was captured, through a stratagem, by King James V. and, with over thirty of his followers, was hanged at Carlingrigg. The Gaelic Name is Mac Ghillie-laidir. It has long been a matter of doubt when the bearing of coats of arms first became hereditary and it was not until the Crusades that Heraldry came into general use. Men went into battle heavily armed and were difficult to recognise. It became the custom for them to adorn their helmets with distinctive crests, and to paint their shields with animals and the like. Coats of arms accompanied the development of surnames, becoming hereditary in the same way.
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