There seems to be some misconceptions amongst members of the Clan Napier, and amongst others who are not Napiers that the Napiers should really be called Scotts or should be considered a sept of the Clan Scott. Let me try to explain how this is not so. It really all boils down to the laws of inheritance and the passing of titles through the female members of the family.
This passing of a title through the female line is not uncommon, nor is the changing of names on inheriting a title. It has applied to the royal families of Scotland, England, the United Kingdom of Great Britain, and many European countries, for centuries. As can be seen from the genealogical table below, only one male title-holder who had descendants, had to change his name, from Scott to Napier. That was Francis Scott/Napier. The sixth Lord Napier (i.e. the sixth holder of the title), who inherited the title from his grandmother.
Since the sixth Lord Napier the title has always passed to direct heirs-male of the body of the titleholder, and will do so for at least the two generations following the present Lord Napier, the fourteenth. So, at the end of day, only one man changed his name from Scott to Napier, and this was a legal requirement in order to inherit the peerage.
Although Francis, sixth Lord Napier, took his father’s surname of Scott at birth, he still had Napier blood in his veins, from his grandmother who was born a Napier, and changed his name to Napier when he inherited the title. I think that it is this change of name that has caused Scotts to think that Napiers should really be part of Clan Scott.
The whole problem only arises because of the custom in Scotland, and most of the western world, of children taking the surname of their father. Surnames are a relatively modern convention, having started in Scotland only about the 12th century, and probably about the same time in other countries. The word surname really means additional (sur from the Latin word super) name (or noun), and was a word which gave an added description to the given/personal name of a person. It was often related to the job a person did, or where he/she came from, and sometimes how they looked. In small communities personal names were sufficient and patronymics were generally all that were required in addition. In many parts of the world, even today, surnames are a rarity. Iceland is a good example, where the telephone directories show given names. In patriarchal societies, inheritance is through the male line, whereas in matriarchal societies, inheritance is through the female line. One could argue that one way is as good as another, or have both methods. In the end, does it really matter?
The article below is © Charles Napier, Morningside, Edinburgh, President of the Clan Napier Society. 30 March 1997, revised 30 January 2002. See also the Clan Napier Web site at
Some of Clan Napier at the Clan March at the climax of the Scottish Homecoming in Edinburgh, 2009
John Napier of Merchiston (1550 - 1617). He is best known as the inventor of logarithms but also invented the so-called "Napier's bones" and made common the use of the decimal point in arithmetic and mathematics.
This fascination/obsession that we seem to have with our lineage and ancestors can get out of hand. While it is nice to know who our ancestors are, if it becomes an obsession, it can be dangerous. Therefore, all we Napiers should not take this matter too seriously, but those of us who are not descended from the sixth Lord (sixth holder of the title) can rest easy in our beds knowing that we probably have more Napier blood in our veins than those who are.
Here are the holders of the title Lord (or Lady) Napier in the Peerage of Scotland, from the second Lord to the sixth Lord, following the above rules of inheritance.
Archibald, became second Lord Napier in 1645, married Lady Elizabeth Erskine, and had family:
(1) Hon Archibald Napier, became third Lord Napier in 1660, died unmarried in 1683
(2) Hon John Napier, killed in naval action in 1672, died without issue.
(3) Hon Jean Napier (died 1679), sister of Archibald, married Sir Thomas Nicolson of Carnock and had one son.
(3a) Thomas Nicolson/Napier, became fourth Lord Napier in 1683, died unmarried in 1686.
(4) Hon Margaret Napier, second sister of Archibald, married John Brisbane c1676. Inherited the title as Baroness Napier of Merchiston in 1686 and died in 1706. Margaret and John Brisbane had family:-
(4a) Charles Brisbane, died in infancy in 1678.
(4b)John Brisbane/Napier, became Master of Napier in 1686, joined Royal Navy, died 1704 unmarried.
(4c) Elizabeth Brisbane/Napier, became Mistress of Napier in 1704 and died in September 1705. She married (1699) William Scott, eldest son of Sir Francis Scott of Thirlestane. They had family:
(4c-a) Francis Scott/Napier. Born 1702, he became the sixth Lord Napier (sixth holder of the title) on the death of his grandmother in 1706. He inherited the Baronetcy of Scott of Thirlestane on the death of his father in 1725 (hence the quartering of the Napier and Scott arms in the present Lord Napier’s Arms). He married twice. First, Henrietta, third daughter of the first Earl of Hopetoun, by whom he had five children; second, Henrietta Maria Johnston of Dublin, by whom he had seven children.
(4c-a-a) William Napier, eldest son of Francis, sixth Lord Napier and his first wife, became the seventh Lord Napier on the death of his father in 1773; and others.
(4c-b) Margaret Scott, died young.
(4c-c) Agnes Scott, married (1719) Walter Scott of Harden
(4c-d) Anne Isabella Elizabeth Scott, born August 1705, died young.
(5) Hon Mary Napier, died unmarried in 1680
I should point out that if what happened in Lord Napier’s family makes the Napiers a sept of the Scotts, then the Scotts should really be categorised as septs of the Stewarts. Why? When Anne, Countess of Buccleuch, who succeeded her sister to the title in 1661, married James Fitzroy, Duke of Monmouth, the illegitimate son of Charles II, in 1663, he assumed the surname Scott. His children retained the surname Scott and their descendants succeeded to the title of Duke of Buccleuch, the Chief of the Clan Scott. So I suppose you should say that the Scotts are a sept of the “Fitzroys” or more properly the Stewarts, as that was Charles II’s surname.
As a postscript, I should mention the Nova Scotia Baronetcy. As I said above, this was subject to the inheritance limitations of only being passed on to heir males of the body of the title-holder. Archibald Napier, third Lord Napier, was also Sir Archibald Napier of Merchiston, Bart., and when he died this title, the Nova Scotia Baronetcy, went into abeyance because he did not have any heirs-male. The title remained dormant until 17 March 1817, when the title was assumed by William John Milliken Napier, who convinced the Lord Lyon King of Arms that he was the heir-male of Sir Archibald Napier, the first holder of the title, by being descended from Robert Napier of Culcreuch, the second son of John Napier by his second wife, and half-brother of Archibald, first Lord Napier. The present-day holder of this title now resides in the Republic of South Africa, and has done so for some considerable time.