Although the lands of Arbuthnott or Aberbothenoth,were occupied and documented well before the 13th century, Hugh de Swinton is credited as the true current family ancestor. He came north from Berwickshire, married, settled, and changed his name to "Arbuthnott" in 1190. His successors (37 generations), continue to live on the land known as Arbuthnott in the Mearns (Kincardineshire) in north-east Scotland.
The heritable title of Viscount Arbuthnott, was granted in 1641 to Robert, 18th Laird, in a vain attempt by Charles I to win him over from the Covenanters.
The archives at Aberdeen University, which can be visited by appointment, houses early family correspondence which is political in nature. Examples of its contents include a letter to the Laird of Arbuthnott from James, Earl of Arran, Governor of Scotland, stating that an English army was preparing to invade Scotland, and summoning Arbuthnott and his friends to Edinburgh on 13 Apr, with 40 days provisions, 13 Mar 1549/ 50; and a letter to the Laird of Arbuthnott from James VI, summoning him to a meeting at Halyruidhous on 24 Nov to assist in putting “sum spedie ordour to the reformation of sindre thinis that ar amiss bayth in religioun and politie “, 14 Nov 1588.
The Archive also houses a charter of King James V under the great seal granting to Robert Arbuthnott and his heirs the lands and barony of Arbuthnott, 16 May 1542; instrument of resignation of the barony of Arbuthnott 159; the precept of sasine by King James VI in favour of Robert Arbuthnott of the lands and barony of Arbuthnott, 7 November 1591; the charter of King James VI to Robert Arbuthnott for the lands of Arbuthnott 1591, with transcript c. 1800; the precept of sasine and charter of King James VI and I to Robert Arbuthnott for the lands of Arbuthnott 1616 and Estate papers , which relate principally to the baronies of Arbuthnott and Fordoun, and to lands lying in the parishes of Ecclesgreig, Fordoun, Arbuthnott, Bervie, Garvoch and Glenbervie.