The story often told of the origins of the surname Marjoribanks, and even supported by respectable authorities, is that Marjorie, daughter of King Robert the Bruce, brought into her marriage with Walter Stewart in 1315 lands in Dumfriesshire which became known as “Marjorie’s Banks”; unfortunately no such lands formed part of Marjorie’s dowry. An alternative explanation is that lands in the area of Ratho (which undoubtedly were Marjorie’s) were granted to an early Marjoribanks in the 16th century; this is true enough, but the surname had already been current for at least 50 years.
This attractive myth was almost certainly invented by a junior branch of the Marjoribankses (represented now by Marjoribanks of Lees)in the 17th century to bolster their claim to gentility. The reality is perhaps more mysterious. The first known Marjoribanks, Philip “de Merioribankis de eodem,” i.e. “Marjoribanks of that Ilk,” appears in 1485 as the holder of the “five merklands of Merioribankis of ancient extent.” He was probably a Johnstone who distinguished himself from the many other Johnstones of the area by adopting this patronymic. There have been many explanations of the origin of this place name (it is now Marchbank Farm in the parish of Kirkpatrick Juxta near Moffat); it may even have been adopted as a token of respect to Marjorie, since the Bruces at one time owned land in the area. But this is a problem which may never be convincingly solved.
Most people who bear the name now pronounce it MARCHBANKS and it has been spelled that way by some branches of the family since the 17th century. Some people spell it Marchbank or Marshbanks. Some have abbreviated it to Banks.
The chief and hereditary head of the family, who traces his ancestry to the original owners of the Marjoribanks lands, is Andrew Marjoribanks of that Ilk, who now lives in Greenock, Scotland.
His great-great-great-great-great-great grandfather, Thomas Marjoribanks, whose arms were registered in 1673, was recognized by the Lord Lyon, the chief herald of Scotland, as “Representer of Marjoribanks of that Ilk.”
Ilk, in Scotland, means “the same” and Andrew Marjoribanks is entitled to style himself Andrew Marjoribanks of that Ilk, meaning “Andrew Marjoribanks of the same,” a simpler way of saying “Andrew Marjoribanks of Marjoribanks.”
His coat of arms bears a gold cushion and a red, star-shaped spur rowell. The supporters are a clergyman and a lawyer and the crest is a griffin. The motto,Et custos et pugnax, can be translated “Both a guardian and a fighter.”
These arms are the personal prerogative of Marjoribanks of that Ilk and may not properly be displayed by any other person.
All members of the family, however, may display the badge which appears at the head of this article, consisting of the chief’s crest surrounded by a belt inscribed with the motto.
It appears that we Marjoribanks can, in all probability, trace our descent back to Johnstone of Annandale through Gavin Johnstone of Esby, who, according to Edgar’s History of Dumfries (1915), was born about 1410; his younger son William inherited Marjoribanks. While it is not quite clear from the context whether William was Gavin’s son or younger brother, there is a gap of no more than two generations before Philip “de Merioribankis de eodem,” whom we claim as the first known Marjoribanks of that Ilk, and William Johnstone of Marjoribanks appear as witnesses to a charter concerned with Johnstone lands in Elsieshields.
Philip is known to have had a son William (possibly the same as the William just mentioned), who was also in turn “de eodem,” but died relatively young. William’s son Robert had a son, yet another William (suggesting a succession of grandsons), who predeceased his father; soon afterwards, in 1556, Robert passed on his rights in Marjoribanks to his uncle Thomas of Ratho.
The evidence that Philip and his descendants thus derive from Johnstone of Annandale is thus strong and, while not conclusive, has been generally accepted by both families.
There are many hundreds of Marjoribanks kin in the United States — the exact number is impossible to determine — and many of them are descendants of George Marjoribanks who was captured by the English at Preston during the rebellion of 1715 and was transported to Virginia. As soon as he arrived in the New World, he changed the spelling of his name to Marchbanks. He and his wife Ann had four sons and three daughters and many Americans trace their ancestry to this branch of the family. Others my be descended from Marchbankses who arrived later from Scotland.
The late William Marjoribanks of that Ilk, the father of the present chief, felt that, “although we are a bit thin on the ground compared with the McLeods, the Grants and the Campbells and the rest, perhaps some of the people who bear the ancient Scottish name of Marjoribanks might like to form a society of their own.”
For that purpose, with the help of Robert Marjoribanks of Ottawa, Canada, as editor, he launched The Marjoribanks Letter in 1987, a two-page annual periodical that was sent to all Marjoribankses, Marchbankses and Marshbankses throughout the world whose addresses could be gleaned from telephone books and city directories.
By the Spring of 1988, 111 Marjoribanks households had been identified in Scotland, England, Canada, Australia and New Zealand and the United States and it was decided that there was`sufficient interest to call a meeting to discuss the formation of a family organization.
On June 4, 1989, some fifty members of the family met in Edinburgh under the chairmanship of Andrew Marjoribanks, then Younger of that Ilk. They decided unanimously that the new organization would be known simply as The Marjoribanks Family, and that it should be open to anyone, “regardless of name or spelling who considers himself or herself to be a member of the family, or who has a strong interest in the family, its origins and its history.”
Another General Meeting was held on June 9, 1990, at the Marchbanks Hotel, Balerno, Midlothian, at which a draft constitution and by-laws were formally approved, an executive committee was elected, and The Marjoribanks Family officially came into being.
The Family now meets regularly at different locations to transact business, renew acquaintance, and to visit sites of historical family interest.
An active Historical and Genealogical Committee has prepared charts outlining the origins of some of the principal branches of the family and the members welcome inquiries. The Marjoribanks Letter continues to be published and distributed to members. The Marjoribanks Journal deals with the history and genealogy of the family and is published for members who have a special interest in those subjects.
At a General Meeting which was held on July 25, 2009 in Edinburgh, a new constitution was put forward by John Marjoribanks, brother of the chief. This constitution, among other things, changed the name of the group to the Clan Marjoribanks Society. This constitution was circulated to members and accepted by more than two thirds of those returning their resolutions and came into effect retrospectively on 25th July 2009.