The legend concerning John Stark is one which comes from the Stark family. In 1920 a small booklet was written by Ira G. Stark of Greensburg, Indiana. Titled, The Muirhead Alias Stark Family, the book gave the following account of the legend that had been handed down through generations of the Stark family.(7.4)
|“In 1480, a young man, John Muirhead, bodyguard of King James III of Scotland, and the second son of the then Laird of Lachop, of Kumbernauld estate, while the king and he were hunting with hounds on his father’s estate, seeing the king in hazard of his life from the attack of an angry bull, sprang from his horse, caught the bull by the horns and all but broke his neck. For his bravery in saving the king’’ life he was given a new name - Stark - meaning strength, won a coat of arms and the motto: ‘When your ancestors first set foot on this island six hundred years agao, Stark meant strangth un German Gaul. Your name shall be called Stark and all your posterity, and your arms, a ragged bull’s head, with dexterous hands holding it by the horns, and drops of blood dripping from the right hand, and your estate shall be Killermont-on-Clyd, by Glasgow, Scotland.’”|
It would appear that Ira G. Stark might have gotten the legend from the book, Collection of most remarkable accounts that relate to the families of Scotland, by Sir George MacKenzie of Rosehaugh, (Kings Advocate 1636 - 1691). An excerpt from that book states:(7.5)
|STARK beareth azur a chevron argt. between three acorns in chief or. and a bulls head erased of ye 2nd. in base. These of ye name are descended of one John Muirhead, 2nd. son of ye Laird of lachop, who at hunting one day in ye forest of Cumbernauld seeing King James ye 4 in hazard of his life by a bull hottly w’th ye hounds, stept in betwixt ye King and ye bull and griping ye bull by ye horns, and by his strenth almost wrung ye head from him, for which he was called Stark and his posteritie after him, and bears ye rugged Bull’s Head in theire armes. Ye old sword of ye family has on it Stark alias Muirhead. Motto: Fortiorum fortia facta (i.e. The deeds of strong men are stronger.)|
C.R. Stark, in his book, The Aaron Stark Family included the following information, although valid reference to the source of the information was not provided.(7.6)
|The family of Stark is derived from that of Muirhead of Lachop, who are derived from Muirhead of that ilk of Bothwell and can be authenticated to the 6th century. As now prepared and authenticated, the pedigree begins in Muirhead of that ilk of Bothwell 1100 descending by Primogeniture until in the reign of Robert 2nd. of Scotland 1347 Muirhead etc. was created Laird of Lachop. Following the same rule in 1480 John Muirhead 3rd. son of the then Laird of Lachop by reason of his bravery was named John Stark, Stark in ancient Gallic meaning strength, and was given the estate of Killermont. The name then appears as John Stark of Killermont. Following down by primigeniture [sic] we find John Stark of Killermont in 1635 noted as a zealous Covenanter. His grandson John Stark of Killermont was the first one to depart from the custom by calling his eldest son Archibald. Said Archibald married Eleanor Nichols of Londonderry, Ireland, and moved to America in 1720.|
The John Muirhead who is the subject of this legend would have had to have been the oldest son of William and Mariota (Hamilton) Muirhead, John, was born circa 1443 and who died in 1513 at the Battle of Flodden - if the dates given in the above reference are accurate - despite the fact that the legend states ‘the second son to the Laird of Lachop.’
The legend of John Muirhead being granted the new name of Stark, though, is one that is not found anywhere except within the Stark family and the books quoted above.
George Way of Plean and Romilly Squire in their book, Scottish Clan & Family Encyclopedia note that the family of Stark are associated with the Robertson Clan in a list of families and the clan they are traditionally associated with; but the entry for the Robertson Clan makes no mention of the name Stark. The Muirhead family/clan is not mentioned at all in the book. George F. Black, in his book, The Surnames Of Scotland - Their Origin, Meaning, And History, included the name of Stark, but did not mention the legend of John Muirhead/Stark. Black cited only one reference to the surname in the period prior to the 1500s: “The lands of Estirbalbretane were leased to Richard Starke in 1376...” There is no mention of a John Stark in the 1480s. The next reference that Black cites was that of William Starke being a tenant in Catalstaris in 1540. Black cited Burke’s Landed Gentry in noting that “...the family of Stark claims descent from Alexander Robertson of Strowan who died in 1506 or 1507.”
From the lack of any corroborating evidence within these references, it would appear that the legend of John Muirhead receiving the new name of John Stark by saving the life of King James III is simply a fanciful Stark family tradition. But the excerpt from the Seventeenth Century book, Collection of most remarkable accounts that relate to the families of Scotland, cannot be dismissed so easily. The arms described are definately those of the early Muirheads with the differencing of the addition of ‘a bull’s head erased of ye second in base.’
Eugene William Stark, in his website devoted to the Stark Family made the following statement:(7.7)
|Although the idea of one of our ancestors receiving his name through a demonstration of strength in bull wrestling makes a good story, and I suppose there is no harm in that, I personally find the following alternative account more plausible:
Tradition accounts for the migration of the Stark name from Germany to Scotland in 1495 when the Dutchess of Burgundy widow of Charles the Bald, sent a large body of German soldiers under General Martin Swart to join the invasion of England in the support of the claim of one of the Pretenders to the throne of Henry VII. The invaders were defeated on the Plain of Stoke, and those who survived fled to Scotland and were protected by the Scottish king. Among the German soldiers were men named Stark, who remained in Scotland after this disastrous campaign, and are supposed to be the ancestors of the family from which General John Stark descended.
7.4 The Muirhead Alias Stark Family, by Ira G. Stark 1920.
7.5 Descendants of John (Muirhead) Stark of Lauchope House, website.
7.6 The Stark Family website, by Eugene William Stark. http://www.gendex.com/users/stark/family_history.
7.7 ibid. Eugene W. Stark included the notation with this information that it was derived from the Stark Family Association Yearbook for 1941, p 39.