Aberdeen and the Fleming: Part One

This is the first post in a two-part blog on “Aberdeen and the Fleming.” The second blog post will appear next Friday (March 6th, 2015). The next post will continue to examine the relationship between the burgh of Aberdeen and Flemings in Scotland.

Located along the northeastern coast of Scotland, Aberdeen has been both an important and influential player in trade and politics throughout medieval and early modern Scottish history. While the burgh of Aberdeen itself deserves further research, this blog post is not the place for such a discussion. Instead, this post will focus specifically on the interplay between Aberdeen and the Flemish peoples from the twelfth to sixteenth centuries. A brief examination of the founding of the burghs of Old and New Aberdeen and their expansion throughout this period will lead into a discussion of the activities of Flemings in Aberdeen. As many Flemings, and other continental Europeans, were attracted to Aberdeen for its role in Scotland’s export trade, Aberdeen’s position as a major international trading centre will be a prominent feature of this blog post. The presence of Flemish merchants and their trade in Aberdeen was very important for the burgh. An analysis of the influence of this trade and its merchants will conclude our discussion on “Aberdeen and the Fleming.”

The Burgh of Aberdeen

The settlement of peoples in the area, which we consider to be modern Aberdeen, is not a recent phenomenon. From at least 6,000 BC, people have founded communities within the bounds of modern Aberdeen. These early, potentially transient, communities moved around the area hunting for food on land and in, what we now refer to as, the Don and Dee Rivers.[1] The location of these early communities between the Don and Dee Rivers mirrors the later establishment of the burghs of Old and New Aberdeen, and, in turn, emphasises the early, and recurring, importance of these waterways to the development of Aberdeen. Both Old and New Aberdeen, which would later become amalgamated into our modern understanding of Aberdeen, were important burghs. While the exact date of New Aberdeen’s creation as a royal burgh is unknown, it can be placed within the reign of David I (1124-1153). The creation of New Aberdeen as a royal burgh in the middle of the twelfth century was not the beginning of its importance, rather a recognition of its import.[2] Historians E. Patricia Dennison, Anne T. Simpson and Grant G. Simpson described these twelfth-century burghs and their hinterland thusly, “Old Aberdeen was tiny, but of high status, possessor of both a cathedral and a university. New Aberdeen had the potential to become, as it did, a thriving and expanding community. The hinterland of these two important north-eastern towns may sometimes have been awkward to pass through, but it is perhaps for this very reason that the settlements scattered within it were distinctly varied in size and in origin.”[3]

The geographic location of Aberdeen also contributed to its expansion and importance in national economic and political spheres. The Don and Dee Rivers, which bordered the burgh, provided easy access to fishing and trading. The River Dee, in particular, was a principal water route in the medieval period. Ships sailed along the Dee to trade further south along the Scottish and English coast, and further afield, in Scandinavia and the Low Countries.[4] Thus, it was essential for the burgh to invest in and maintain a working harbour. The original port for Aberdeen may have been located at the sheltered mouth of the Denburn, but by the medieval period the harbour was located along the north shore of the Dee.[5] Harbour building and maintenance continued from the fourteenth century through to the sixteenth century.[6] The continuous upkeep of the harbour, throughout the late medieval and early modern period, suggests that the town recognised that having a working harbour was necessary to the success of the burgh. It was through this harbour and the burgh’s trade with the outside world that Aberdonians came into the most contact with Flemings and Flemish goods.

The population of Aberdeen grew, as did that of Scotland, throughout the medieval and early modern periods. The twelfth and thirteenth centuries were most likely periods of rapid growth in the burgh’s population size. By 1326, Aberdeen paid more tax than any other burgh in Scotland, with the exception of Berwick.[7] There is no further evidence to indicate fluctuations in the population of fourteenth century Aberdeen. It is even uncertain whether the Black Death, particularly virulent during this period, hit Aberdeen and, if it did, the extent of its damage to the population.[8] Stent rolls from 1408 state that there were 3,000 inhabitants of the burgh.[9] By the later sixteenth century, some one hundred and sixty years later, the population had risen to 5,500.  From 1640-44, the population was recorded as being 8,300, potentially double the number of inhabitants of the burgh in 1500.[10] It was only at the end of the seventeenth century that there was a period of decreased population. This was not a phenomenon specific to Aberdeen, but was experienced throughout all Scottish burghs at the beginning of the 1690s. Old Aberdeen was among one of the only towns which managed to grow during this period, from a population of 831 in 1636 to 1,800 in 1695.[11] In comparison to other major Scottish burghs, Aberdeen, at a population of 8,000, was smaller than Edinburgh (26,000), Glasgow (12,000) and Dundee (10,000) in 1639.[12] This smaller population size, relative to that of Edinburgh, Glasgow, and Dundee, does not necessarily provide an accurate reflection of Aberdeen’s importance as a port and centre of international trading.

While Aberdeen was not impacted as heavily by the plague as other large towns throughout England and Scotland, it did see some visitations of the Black Death in the late medieval period. There were no major epidemics between the first outbreak in 1349 and 1499-1500. Aberdeen only saw three epidemics from 1500-1550. These outbreaks lasted for, at most, two years. There was not another major outbreak again until 1647.[13] Michael Tyson suggests that council regulations to prevent plague from entering the town and the distance from other major towns probably helped Aberdeen to avoid more frequent epidemics during this period.[14]

A Statute from the 1514 Epidemic
“Thir statutis efter following was maid and diuisit be the provest, bailzeis, counsaile, and communitie, for the reformacioun of certane necassar thingis to be had in thar modis kirk, to the honor and fre loving o God Almyghty, the blissid Virgin, and thar glorious patrone Sanct Nicholace, and for the keeping of the toune fra strang seiknes, and specialie this contageus pestilence ringand in all partis about this burghe, and for the keeping of the townn fra the ald innemeis of Ingland … it is diuisit, statut, and ordanit, that thar be takin of all schippis that passis furtht, or is fraucht out of this burgh to Flanderis or Zeland, of euery sek of woll or skinnis sek lik, and of euery last of salmond and hidis, tuelf grotis Flanderis money, to be ressauit and vptakin of the merchandis gudes that happinnis to be input and ladnyt in the samyn schippis and to deliuerit to ane collectour thoucht expedient be the towne to ressaue the samyn, and reman in his handis, quhilk salbe responsale tharfor, to be furthcumand to by  the necessary thingis, thoucht be the haile town, to decoring of haly kirk, as said is….” (24 April 1514, Extracts from the Burgh Records of Aberdeen, p. 88)

This may well have been the case, as Aberdeen’s position as one of Scotland’s major foreign trading ports would have made it particularly vulnerable to the plague. It was that very same port which made Aberdeen vulnerable to the Black Death, that made it one of the most influential burghs in Scotland during the late medieval and early modern periods.

Flemings in Aberdeen

Why would Flemings or Flemish goods have found themselves in Aberdeen? The simplest answer to this question is trade. Aberdeen’s status as a trading centre was recognised early on in the burgh’s history. Before it was granted burghal status, Aberdeen was already an established trading settlement.[15] Foreign trade was highly sought after by Scottish monarchs in the eleventh and twelfth centuries. Queen Margaret (1045-1093) was believed to have encouraged foreign merchants to come to Scotland. There is also documentary evidence for Scotto-Flemish and Anglo-Scottish trade at the end of the eleventh century.[16] Similar to his mother, King David I of Scotland recognised the importance of trade to Scotland’s economy, though he took a different approach to foreign traders than Margaret. Ian Blanchard, Elizabeth Gemmill, Nicholas Mayhew, and Ian D. White have written that, “To protect and stimulate this trade, whilst maintaining a stable, ordered form of society, David actively intervened into the economy employing both traditional and contemporary means to achieve his ends. ‘Foreign’ merchants, who threatened to swamp the Scottish economy with their wares, were largely confined to those coastal settlements which were encompassed within a portus-system, where local burgesses had first option of buying wares from the ships which could land only at these places appointed by the crown.”[17] John R. Turner argues that Scotland’s earliest seaborne trade was with Flanders. “Privileges were granted to Scottish merchants trading with Flanders, and in 1293 and 1295, King Philip IV of France ordered Count Guy de Dampierre to accord the Scottish merchants freedom of trade with Flanders.”[18]

Count Guy de Dampierre and Scotland
Why would King Philip IV of France have had to order Guy, count of Flanders to extend trade privileges to Scottish merchants? Guy de Dampierre had a tumultuous past with Scotland and its government. In 1282, Margaret, daughter of Guy, married Alexander, eldest son of Alexander III. This marriage ended in 1284 with the death of Alexander and the subsequent return of Margaret to her father in Flanders. Scotto-Flemish trade broke down in the following ten years over the Scots inability, or unwillingness, to pay the widowed Margaret’s pension, with Guy going so far as to send procurators to the Scotland in an attempt to recover the money. A 1293 agreement renewed trade between the two regions, but included a caveat for the future seizure of goods for the debts of the Scottish king. Thus, it is understandable that Guy would have required some encouragement from the French king to extend mercantile rights and protections to Scottish merchants at the end of the thirteenth century. [20]

As one of the most accessible and safest northeastern ports, Aberdeen found itself at the centre of Scotto-Flemish trade in the twelfth century. Yet again, Aberdeen’s geographic location contributed to its success. Aberdeen dominated northern trade from the reign of Alexander I (1107-24) because it was one of the three trading centres north of the Forth.[21] The twelfth century saw a reduction in the foreign exchange price for Scottish goods in the continental market, which made Scottish goods once more highly competitive in international markets.[22] This resurgence in demand for Scottish goods attracted foreign, particularly Flemish, merchants to the ports of Scotland, creating a major export boom.[23] As Blanchard, Gemmill, Mayhew, and White have argued, the closing of the twelfth century saw the Scottish economy, and that of Aberdeen, intrinsically connected to the fluctuating international economy.[23] This would characterise the economic practices of the following centuries.

Amy Eberlin
27 February 2015

Amy Eberlin is a third year PhD student at the University of St Andrews, Institute of Scottish Historical Research and is a member of Scotland and the Flemish People Project. Her research primarily focuses upon the Scots involved in trade and diplomacy between Scotland and Flanders in the late medieval period.


[1] E. Patricia Dennison, “Introduction,’ in eds. E. Patricia Dennison, David Ditchburn and Michael Lynch, Aberdeen Before 1800: A New History, (East Linton, 2002), pp. 1-2.
[2] Dennison, ‘Introduction,’ p. 5.
[3] E. Patricia Dennison, Anne T. Simpson and Grant G. Simpson, ‘Chapter One: The Growth of Two Towns,’ in eds. E. Patricia Dennison, David Ditchburn and Michael Lynch, Aberdeen Before 1800: A New History, p. 17.
[4] Ibid., p. 16.
[5] David Ditchburn and Marjory Harper, ‘Chapter Seventeen: Aberdeen and the Outside World,’ in eds. E. Patricia Dennison, David Ditchburn and Michael Lynch, Aberdeen Before 1800: A New History, p. 378.
[6] Dennison, Simpson and Simpson, ‘Chapter One,’ p. 22.
[7] Robert Tyson, ‘Chapter Five: People in the Two Towns,’ in eds. E. Patricia Dennison, David Ditchburn and Michael Lynch, Aberdeen Before 1800: A New History, (East Linton, 2002), p. 111.
[8] Ibid.
[9] Ibid.
[10] Ibid., p. 112.
[11] Ibid.
[12] Ibid.
[13] Ibid., p. 113.
[14] Ibid.
[15] Dennison, ‘Introduction,’ p. 6.
[16] Ibid.; ed. A.O. Anderson, Early Sources of Scottish History, 500-1286, (Edinburgh, 1922), p. 68; Alexander Stevenson, ‘Trade with the south,’ in eds. Michael Lynch, Michael Spearman and Geoffrey Stell, The Scottish Medieval Town, (Edinburgh, 1988), p. 180; Reginald of Durham, Libellus de vita et miraculis Sancti Godrici, Heremitae de Finale, ed. Joseph Stevenson,(Edinburgh, 1847), pp. 28-30.
[17] Ian Blanchard, Elizabeth Gemmill, Nicholas Mayhew, and Ian D. White, ‘Chapter Six: The Economy: Town and Country,’ in eds. E. Patricia Dennison, David Ditchburn and Michael Lynch, Aberdeen Before 1800: A New History, (East Linton, 2002), p. 131; eds. Cosmo Innes and Patrick Chalmers, (Edinburgh, 1848-56), i, no. 1; eds. G. Barrow et al., Regesta Regum Scotorum, (Edinburgh, 1960-), ii, nos. 166; ed. Cosmo Innes, Ancient Laws and Customs of the Burghs of Scotland, 1124-1707, (SBRS, 1868-90), i, ‘Leges Burgorum’, cc. 8, 9, 16, 25.
[18] John R. Turner, Scotland’s North Sea Gateway: Aberdeen Harbour AD 1136-1986, (Aberdeen, 1986), p. 3-4.
[19] CDS, ii, pp. 68, 73; RPS 1293/8/3, 1293/8/4; William H. Finlayson, ‘The Scottish Nation of Merchants in Bruges: A Contribution to the History of Medieval Scottish Foreign Trade,’ (Unpublished PhD Thesis, University of Glasgow, 1951), p. 40; Alexander Stevenson, in ed. Grant G. Simpson, Scotland and the Low Countries, 1124-1994, (East Linton, 1996),‘The Flemish Dimension of the Auld Alliance,’ p. 32.
[20] CDS, ii, pp. 68, 73; RPS 1293/8/3, 1293/8/4; William H. Finlayson, ‘The Scottish Nation of Merchants in Bruges: A Contribution to the History of Medieval Scottish Foreign Trade,’ (Unpublished PhD Thesis, University of Glasgow, 1951), p. 40; Alexander Stevenson, in ed. Grant G. Simpson, Scotland and the Low Countries, 1124-1994, (East Linton, 1996),‘The Flemish Dimension of the Auld Alliance,’ p. 32.
[21] Dennison, ‘Introduction,’ p. 6. The other two trading centres north of the Forth were Inverkeithing and Perth. The locations of both of these burghs were much more southerly than that of Aberdeen.
[22] Blanchard, Gemmill, Mayhew, and White, ‘Chapter Six,’ p. 133.
[23] Ibid.
[24] Ibid. p. 135.

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Doctoral Research on Flemish Related Issues

This posting reports on doctoral research that is being undertaken on Flemish related issues at the University of St Andrews and the University of Kent. The work of three doctoral students, described below, focuses on the medieval period which saw the main influx of Flemish people into Britain in general and Scotland in particular. 

Amy Eberlin is nearing the end of her studies at the St Andrews Institute of Scottish Historical Research.  Her research focuses on the Scots involved in Scotto-Flemish trade and diplomacy from 1320 to 1513. During this period, the relationship between Scotland and Flanders was largely based on the wool trade. The exportation of wool to Flanders was an integral part of the foreign trade of medieval Scotland. The Flemings used Scottish and English wools in the production of their textile goods. While Scotto-Flemish relations are a topic of great import, little research has focused upon the individual Scots who acted as ambassadors and traders with Flanders. Amy’s research provides a new perspective on Scottish involvement in trade and diplomacy with Flanders by examining shifts in control of Scotland’s export industry, and the lives and experiences of Scottish merchants and ambassadors. In particular, she is examining what happened to trade and cultural exchange after the Flemish were banished from Scotland under legislation produced in the fourteenth century. This work is likely to be completed at the end of 2015 or early 2016.

Morvern French is in the second year of her studies at the St Andrews Institute of Scottish Historical Research.  She is focusing on Flemish material culture in Scotland, c.1300-c.1550.  While wool was exported to Flanders from Scotland, the reverse flow of imports often took the form of high value goods. Her work has been influenced by anthropological theory, particularly that of gift exchange. Flemish objects exchanged as ‘gifts’ by Scottish elites – including tapestries, paintings, and munitions – tell us about the high status of these objects and also that of the identity of the giver. This approach to specifically Flemish objects is new to historical research. Morvern has also examined archaeological evidence in relation to Scotto-Flemish trade in urban and rural communities.

Silke Muylaert is in her third year of studies at the University of Kent.  Her focus is on the so called “stranger churches” in England.  These are churches that were established, following a granting of permission by English king Edward VI (in 1550), for strangers fleeing religious persecution in the Low Countries. By 1562 the Dutch speaking church in London, for instance, had between one thousand and two thousand members (mainly émigrés from Flanders).  Stranger churches—Flemish, Dutch, Walloon and French–were subsequently established in about a dozen other towns in England. Silke’s thesis is a comparative study of the churches’ reactions to the reformation and rebellion in the Low Countries. While Silke’s work focuses only on England, it is nonetheless helpful to the Scotland and the Flemish People Project in that it identifies the important phases of religious persecution related immigration to Britain.  However, there is no record of stranger churches having been established in Scotland.

Alex Fleming
February 2015

Alex Fleming is a sponsor of, and researcher in the Scotland and the Flemish People Project.  He is also the editor of the project blog.

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The Flemish on the Firth of Tay – Part 2

In this second of two postings David Dobson examines the evidence for a Flemish presence in the area around the Firth of Tay.  Last weeks posting examined the nature of the trading link with Flanders and how this may have led to a presence of people with possible Flemish surnames in Dundee.  This week the focus is on the presence of Flemish in Perth and its hinterland.

Flemings in Perth

Perth, which was established as a Royal Burgh in 1125, has a number of royal charters and other documents dating from 1205, however the bulk of the burgh records do not predate 1500.  Research on Flemish links of the medieval period is difficult, though there are records for the early modern period.

Flemings were encouraged to trade and preferably settle in Scottish burghs, one such was Baldwin, the king’s client (representative) in Perth. David I evidently favoured Flemings as a people likely to bring about the economic and social benefits to his burghs. Burghs were semi-autonomous in that they had a degree of self-rule, which was by a burgh council elected by the burgesses.  The burgesses were about ten per cent of the male inhabitants and were mainly merchants and craftsmen.  A Flemish immigrant would have to become a burgess to enable him to vote, trade, or operate a business within the burgh, though he could be an employee.  Burgess rolls should be able to identify Flemish immigrants or their male descendants, however in the case of Perth and Dundee they do not exist prior to the sixteenth century.   However there is fragmentary evidence from the medieval period of Flemish settlement in Perth and Dundee and possibly their rural hinterlands. An early immigrant from Flanders was a Flemish lorimer, or maker of military harnesses, who was persuaded by King David I to settle in Perth. At that time it was a burgh of strategic importance, one where land routes intersected, with a bridge over the Tay, a port, a castle, and a royal residence at nearby Scone.


In Perth, the paucity of medieval documents hinders research into Flemish migration. There are, however, some useful sources.  For example, the Perth Guildry Book dates from 1452, which records the activities of the local merchants.  This source was recently transcribed and published.  The merchant guild of Perth was established in 1209.  Among the foreigners admitted to the Perth Guildry was Anselm Adornes and his son. Adornes was a leading merchant in Bruges, who on a number of occasions acted as the Envoy to Scotland of Charles the Bold, around 1470.

The Perth Guildry records show a decline in Perth’s overseas trade from the mid sixteenth century onwards.  Other east coast ports also experienced a decline as the port of Leith increasingly dominated Scottish imports and exports.  A case before the Dean of Guild Court in Perth on 14 April 1468 records the name of a Flemish smith  – The quhilk day comperit befor the alderman, the dene of gild and the hale brethir of gild, Christofer Merschale, a Fleming and a smith, and procurators til Bernard Deynaert and resavit fra Johne Bunche, burgess of the burgh of Perth, a pyp of merchandis of Henry Cantis, burgess of Edinburgh, and qwitclamis the saide John thariof now and forever more’.

The Guildry Book also records the following men being admitted as burgesses and guild brothers – Robert Clynk, a wright, in 1582, William Clink, a maltman, in 1583, Thomas Cossinis, a webster, in 1582, Gabriell Stoyyker, a weaver in 1582; John Crab in 1488; Andrew Crab in 1498; Alan Eustace in 1488; Tomas Fluthman in 1488 ‘pro una libra grossorum Flandree vel pro uno nobelo aught de le Ros in Scotia’.; Stevin Merschale in 1453; Thomas Merschale a weaver in 1459; and William Shepman in 1467.  Most of them, if not all of them, bear names that could be Flemish.

Another Flemish immigrant in Perth, according to the National Archives for Scotland [NAS.GD79.2.17] was Martin de Ghent who was a burgess of Perth, and father of William de Ghent who subscribed to a charter in 1458. He may be the father of John Gent, also a burgess and guilds-brother of Perth, described as a wine and spice merchant, presumably importing stock from Flanders, in 1479.

As elsewhere the prime export from Perth, at least in the medieval period, was wool and wool-fells. Much of the exports from Perth came from nearby monasteries such as Coupar Angus and Balmerino as noted in last weeks blog posting.  Trade with continental Europe was subject to interruptions caused by war at sea or on land, by the forces of England, France, the Low Countries, Flanders, and Spain.  Another threat to trade was pirates or privateers, as well as shipwrecks.  In 1369 a ship, the Magdeleyn, with a cargo of wool, hides, etc, bound from Scotland to Flanders but wrecked off Waynflete. Perth merchants like John Mercer, whose ships were constantly trading between Perth and Flanders in the 1370s, had such dangers to contend with. In 1405 there was a complaint by merchants of Perth and Dundee that two vessels trading between Flanders and Scotland were captured by English pirates. In 1412 safe conduct was granted to Thomas Simpson, John of Perth, and Gilbert Johnston, with six servants to come to England to search in Hull for goods taken at sea.

The Exchequer Rolls of Scotland do not provide the detailed information on Flemish trade and possible settlement that would be helpful to this project, though there are occasional references such as Taskynus merchant of Bruges 1327 [ER.I.77], Lambert Poulin Flemish merchant 1328 [i.93]; Bedyn Wolf and Laucius de Castro Flemish merchants at inverkeithing 1328 [i.95]; Claes Ondestolis, Flemish merchant, at Perth, 1328 [i.97]; Claes de Tore, a Flemish merchant at Berwick 1328 [i.173]; John Raynerson and John de Hazel de Slus 1329, [i.211]; John Woolcopper, Flemish merchant, 1329, 9i.239]; Peter Machaenae and Peter de Fhalle Flemish merchants 1331 9i.371]; Christian Clerk from Flanders, 1341 9i.3531]; Peter Buste [ii.51]; Adam Meteneye [ii.79/90/]; Paul Meteneye [ii.80]; John Pres [ii.131]; John of Oudecorne [Iii.133]; Denis of Munt,[ii.214], and other Flemish merchants.

The port books of the seventeenth century are far from comprehensive and confirm that trade with Flanders had seriously declined while trade with the Netherlands became of prime importance.

The most rewarding source of data on the Flemish or their descendants in Perth Archives is the Burgh Register of Deeds of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.  The Register of Deeds is generally concerned with commercial documents but occasionally other items such as indentures, marriage contracts, charter parties, and so on.  There is a substantial number of which the principal party to the deed bears what seems to be a Flemish surname.  The entries refer to people bearing the surname Biggert in 1593, Bishop between 1569 and 1663; Clink between 1567 and 1639 [there was a Jan Clink in Ghent in 15th century]; Ghent between 1569 and 1584; Gerard in 1594; Goldman between 1585 and 1501; Frisken between 1596 and 1677; Fleming, many; Lufrend in 1588; Merschale many; Stoyyker between 1583 and 1589, and others.

In the pre-Reformation period it was common for wealthy burgesses and also the trades and the guildry to provide support to the church in various ways, such as establishing an altar. This happened in Perth where, for example In 1504 Robert Clerk, a burgess of Perth, founded an altar to St Severus of Ravenna in Perth parish church. The Deacon and brethren of the weavers were to maintain the altar. In 1515 the chaplain of Trinity Altar was a Master David Spalding. Considering the involvement of Flemings to weaving and that Clerk can be a Flemish surname as well as an English or Scots one there may be a Flemish link. According to Marion L Stavert in her research on the Perth Guildry penalties imposed on guild merchants for operating on the Sabbath included fines paid to the altar of the Holy Blood in Perth.  She believed that the cult of the Holy Blood had its origins in Bruges and that local merchants had brought it to Scotland.  The cult in Perth dates from around 1430 when a John Spens endowed an altar in the parish church.

In 1601 the Convention of Royal Burghs of Scotland recruited skilled textile craftsmen from Flanders with the aim of improving the skills and the quality of the Scottish workforce and the product. These workers were allocated to various burgh councils in Scotland. Perth was allocated Jacques de la Rudge, a camber and a spinner, Jacob Peterson, a shearer, and Abigail van Hort or Houte, a spinner. [It is noteworthy that Jacques le Rouge, a cloth-maker from Maesen, France, arrived in Edinburgh via Norwich in 1601]

Among the Henderson of Fordell papers in the National Archives of Scotland [NAS.GD172.2052] is an inventory of household goods and silk goods in ‘the fleming’s house’ delivered to Patrick Grant on the fleming’s departure to Antwerp around 1640.

Flemings in Rural Tayside

There seems to have been small-scale Flemish settlement in the hinterland of Dundee and Perth.  The main centre appears to have been in the vicinity of the Abbey of Coupar Angus, once in the old county of Angus or Forfarshire and currently in Perthshire. In the medieval period Baldwin the Fleming was granted land near Forfar now known as Flemington (see blog posting by John Irvine on February 21, 2014).  Baldwin seems to have been granted other lands, his main settlement being in Aberdeenshire.  Flemings also may have settled in the vicinity of Crieff in the early seventeenth century.

The Abbey of Coupar Angus seems to have distinct links with Flanders, initially through trade but also later by people of Flemish origin as tenants.  The participation of Coupar Angus Abbey in the wool trade dates from 1225 when King Henry II authorised the Abbot of Melrose to send a vessel to Flanders with wool and other merchandise; and a similar licence was granted for a vessel of the Abbot of Coupar Angus 1. The surviving charters of the abbey do not contain anything indicating Flemish immigration, however leases of property do exist, albeit for a limited period, but these do identify tenants of Flemish origin leasing abbey lands.  These people are unlikely to be first generation immigrants however.

In 1446 a John Auldcorn was granted a lease of the Mill of Keithock.  It is feasible that he was descended from John of Oudecorne, a Flemish merchant, noted in the Exchequer Rolls of Scotland around 1350. Other families with likely Flemish origin included Thomas Cant and David Cant in Little Perth from 1450; John Fleming and his son John Fleming in Balmile 1517-1542; Agnes Fleming in Cowbyre 1550; William Spalding in Grange of Errol 1472; Walter Spalding a monk in 1500; Andrew Younger [Flemish Joncker] in Cotyards, 1509, and several Spaldings. There were also Youngs in the area such as John Zong and his wife Anne Bauvany. He was the servant of the abbot and leased a house in 1511.

N D Mackay2 in his book ‘Aberfeldy, Past and Present’ wrote of the local flax industry and described the factory containing ‘the looms of the lace makers from Flanders’ which implied immigration from Flanders to Aberfeldy in the late eighteenth century.  However further research established that in fact an Andrew Spalding, a lint and linen manufacturer, who had served an apprenticeship at the Linen Manufactory in Haddington, had founded the factory at Aberfeldy around 1750.  He had been instructed in the Dutch methods of weaving by a Dutchman, followed by several years practical experience in Holland. Spalding may well be a member of the Spalding of Ashintully family, one known to be of Flemish origin.

According to the author of ‘The History of Crieff’, ‘ it was John Drummond, second Earl of Perth, who first brought the Flemish weavers into Strathearn between 1611 and 1662; and this is all the more likely, because his kinsman, Sir Patrick Drummond, was conservator for the Scottish trade in the Low Countries at that period.  It is known that there was a Waulk or Fulling Mill close to Drummond Castle’.

By the middle of the seventeenth century Perth is reckoned to have had a population around 5000.  The evidence does indicate that a proportion of them were of Flemish origin.

David Dobson
February 2015

Dr. Dobson is currently a Post Doctoral Research Fellow at the University of Edinburgh and an Honorary Research Fellow with the Institute of Scottish Historical Research at the University of St Andrews.



(1) Joseph Bain, Bain’s Calendar of Documents relating to Scotland in the Public Record Office, [London, 1881]

(2) N.D. Mackay, Aberfeldy, Past and Present, [Aberfeldy, 1954]

Ecclesiastical Annals of Perth to the period of the Reformation, [Perth 1885]

Charters of the Abbey of Coupar Angus, Vol. 1, 1166-1376 [Edinburgh, 1947]

  1. Cowan, The Ancient Capital of Scotland, [London, 1904]

C Rogers, Rental Book of the Cistercian Abbey of Coupar Angus, [London, 1879]

Marion L. Stavert, Perth Guildry Book, 1452-1601, [Edinburgh, 1993]

‘Rentale Dunkeldense’ being the accounts of the bishopric 1505-1517 [Edinburgh, 1915]

The Exchequer Rolls of Scotland

Register of the Privy Council of Scotland

  1. Miller, Scottish Forfeited Estates Papers, 1715; 1745. [Edinburgh, 1909]

Alexander Patterson, The History of Crieff, [Edinburgh, 1912]



Edinburgh City Archives

Perth and Kinross Archives

National Archives of Scotland

University of St Andrews Library

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The Flemish on the Firth of Tay – Part 1

This posting is a continuation of our series on the Flemish influence in different parts of Scotland. Having examined the Flemish around the Firth of Forth (blog of 26th of September and 3rd of October 2014), David Dobson now examines the area around the Firth of Tay. In this first of two postings the focus is on trade with the Tay ports, especially Dundee, where surname evidence of Flemish settlement is explored. This posting complements that prepared on the Dundee area by John Irvine (21st of February 2014). Next week Part 2 will concentrate on Perth.

The Trading Background

Flanders was probably the most economically advanced location in northern Europe in the medieval period. Its economy was based, though not exclusively, on the production of textiles. The textile industry required wool as its raw material, much of which was acquired from England and Scotland. At the same time its growing urban population required foodstuffs. Scotland supplied herring, cod, salmon, wheat, wool, wool-fells, hides, and skins, and in exchange received high quality cloth, wine, and a wide range of manufactured goods. Bruges was the greatest market in northern Europe and the site of the Scottish staple until 1477. Scottish merchants or factors would have been based at the staple port of Bruges until it moved to Middelburg and later Veere, both in Zeeland.

The religious orders in both Scotland and England increasingly developed sheep farms and exported wool and sheep fells to the Low Countries. In Scotland this began along the Tweed Valley, the Merse (an area near the border with England), and at abbeys such as Melrose, which shipped wool etc. via the port of Berwick-upon-Tweed. From the twelfth century burghs were being established in Scotland, these came in different types – burghs of barony, regality, and royal burghs. Only Royal Burghs could participate in overseas trade, such burghs including Perth and Dundee.

Burghs grew up at important route intersections, at or near river-mouths, on strategic sites. Examples included Perth, Dundee and Stirling, established by 1200. Flemish merchants and craftsmen were encouraged to settle in these burghs. The rise of the textile industries in Flanders and elsewhere in the Low Countries generated a demand for wool from Scotland, and soon a regular trade developed.

This demand was not only satisfied by lay merchants and farmers but also by the church. The Cistercian monks in Scotland – soon followed by other religious houses as well as lay entrepreneurs – entered the wool trade. For example, by 1255 Coldingham Abbey in Berwickshire was exporting wool. These exports would have gone via the port of Berwick-on-Tweed, possibly through Flemish merchants there, men such as William of Arras. The Flemish merchants had their factory or Red Hall in Berwick, as did German merchants in the fourteenth century. In the late thirteenth century the Cistercian order at Balmerino, as well as at Coupar Angus, derived income from wool and woolfells, much of which was presumably exported to Flanders. Such exports might have been expected to go through the nearby burgh of Dundee, however the Cistercians had special arrangements.


Professor A. A. M. Duncan believed that the Cistercian monasteries had stores at Berwick and also in Perth to which wool, woolfells, and hides were sent by nearby Cistercian monasteries before being shipped abroad.[1] In the case of Perth, the monasteries included Coupar Angus and Balmerino. This certainly happened in the thirteenth century. Religious houses traded directly with the continent, or possibly via London, and so bypassed urban merchants in centres such as Dundee and Perth.

Smaller landowners, in contrast, would have sent their produce to Flanders via local merchants or factors. Such merchants in the fifteenth century included Andrew Halyburton, a well-documented trader in Dundee and the Low Countries. It is not clear from the surviving records how long the monasteries retained the privilege of trading directly with markets on the continent. The Exchequer Rolls of the period are not detailed enough, and only give overall figures and destinations of exports.

Flemish factors do not seem to have been based in Scotland, however, as restrictive practices by the burghs and merchant guilds kept the transactions in the hands of the burgesses. In the case of Dundee this practice was enforced by royal charter. A charter of King Robert the Bruce, dated 4th of March 1327, granted the burgesses of Dundee rights similar to those of Berwick. Only Dundee burgesses could buy wool or skins in Forfarshire, while foreign merchants could only trade within the shire of Forfar via Dundee burgesses. Dundee burgesses had first choice of any imports, and foreign merchants could only act as wholesalers, with all goods to be weighed and measured at the Tron (a public weighing facility usually found in the market square).

King David II renewed the burgh charter in 1359, again giving Dundee burgesses the monopoly of buying wool, skins and hides within the shire of Forfar, but extended to purchasing all sorts of goods at the market of Cupar in Fife. Dundee’s hinterland, over which it had a monopoly of trade, included Coupar Angus, Kirriemuir also possibly Arbroath and Forfar. There were boundary disputes between Dundee and Montrose to its north and Perth to its west.

Dundee and Perth squabbled over trading rights on the River Tay until in 1402 the Regent of Scotland, Robert Duke of Albany, decreed that Dundee had jurisdiction over any ports between Invergowrie and Barry on the north and also on the opposite side of the river, while Perth had control over the upper Tay.

Scotland is known to have attracted immigrants from Flanders, especially in the medieval period but to a lesser extent in the early modern period. Recent research, reported in earlier blog postings, has established the presence of Flemish people and their descendants in burghs and ports along the Firth of Forth. In this first of two postings an attempt is made to identify people of Flemish origin in the burghs of Dundee and its hinterland.

Possible Flemish Surnames in Medieval Dundee

Surnames can be used to identify immigrants, however the use of surnames in Scotland only began in the twelfth century and then only among the landowning class. The use of surnames by the bulk of the population only became common by the seventeenth century. Before then many people were known by their Christian names together with that of their occupation, or place of origin, physical description, or by patronymics.

It is likely that the first Flemish settlers arrived without surnames and their descendants later adopted the Scots surnames. This could account for the lack of Flemish surnames in Scotland in the medieval period. However, Flemings arriving in the late medieval period or the early modern period would have brought their Flemish names. The use of ‘Fleming’ to differentiate an immigrant may have been used initially, and subsequently became an established surname in Scotland. Surnames can therefore be used to a limited degree as a tool to identify people of Flemish origin, as many of the first wave of immigrants arrived without surnames and later their descendant followed the Scottish practice. This does underestimate the size of Flemish immigration.

Researching into medieval Dundee suffers from the lack of records. This was recognised as early as 1661 when the magistrates claimed

that upon the occasion of the intakeing of the burgh of Dundie be the English in the year 1651 the charter kist of the forsaid burgh wes broken up by the English souldiers and all the writs taken out of the samen and many of them brunt and destroyed and verie few if them gotten bak agane’. [Acts of the Parliaments of Scotland vii, p. 353]

Similarly, the old parish records, which are usually a good source of information on people, only exist from 1645 for Dundee. The burgh records of Dundee as well as the various trades records exist from the early modern period, that is after 1500, to varying degrees. They identify people bearing Flemish names who are presumably immigrants or the descendants of immigrants. Take for example the Dundee Burgh and Head Court books, which in the mid-1550s identify people whose names suggest a Flemish origin, including Jhonkyn Crole, Jhonkyn Jak, Jhon Morkart, and Henrick Copmans. A feu charter of 1540 in favour of John Jackson, a burgess of Dundee, refers to Jenkin Costerer’s lands in Dundee, while witnesses include Jacob Rolland, William Weddell, James Cure, William Spalding, and Master William Spalding, a notary public.

The Spaldings, a family of known Flemish origin, are mentioned in an indenture of 1443 between the Abbot of Lindores and the burgh of Dundee, which refers to the tenement of Thomas de Spalding and David de Spalding in Market Street, and also to David Wilde, James Elye, Nicholas Elye, and Walter Spanyke. ‘The Compt Buik of David Wedderburne, merchant of Dundee, 1587-1630’ identifies various cargoes between Dundee and Flanders, for example in 1621 he sent 40 ells of plaiding and 300 merks in gold aboard James Croyes ship to exchange for 800 barrels of beans or onions; and in 1594 he sent a cargo of salmon, plaiding an ox hide, and linen cloth to be sold in Flanders. The Dundee Shipping Lists in 1580 identify imports from Flanders as wine, onions, soap madder, canvas, and onion seed, destined for specified Dundee merchants.

Minutes of Dundee Town Council do not exist prior to 1553, however there is a list of provosts and bailies from 1286. Among them are a few bearing surnames which may be Flemish. Galfrid Ayre was a bailie in 1375. The surname is probably derived from the Flemish town Aire, between St Omar and Bethune, founded around 850. David de Spalding was a bailie 1435 to 1442, James Elgy a bailie 1415 to 1418, and possibly Robert Templeman a bailie between 1380 and 1404.

‘The Burgh Laws of Dundee’ is a source of much information on early Dundee, including data on the nine trades of Dundee. The following men seem to bear Flemish surnames. The Glover trade, founded in 1516, was witnessed by a John Air. The Lockit Buik of the Tailor trade lists Wat. Cor and Jenkin Croll in 1567. The Bonnet-maker trade mentions a George Wanent in 1529, and a John Willand, a master a freeman in 1679. The Weaver trade had a Deacon of the Brabenders named Thomas Cappone in 1589, and a Thomas Coppein in 1597. Among members of the Mason trade were John Mustart, a master and freeman in 1659, and Robert Wandles, a master and freeman in 1659. Robert Wanless and his son James Wanless were of the Maltmen trade in 1623. Barte Zung was Deacon of the Waulkers in 1581, and Gabriel Somer was Deacon of the Cordiners in 1603.

‘The Wedderburn Book’, a history of a family of importance in Dundee, mentions some residents of possibly Flemish origin, for example Peter Imrie, son and heir of the late Peter Imrie, in 1596. According to George F. Black, the first of that name was Emeric, a Lombard of Flanders, who was spoiled (financially ruined) by John Crabbe of Berwick in 1329.[2]

Alexander Maxwell’s ‘Old Dundee prior to the Reformation’ contains much useful data, including a list of burgesses dated 1553, some of whom bore surnames of Flemish origin: Thomas Cant, Andrew Planetre, George Spalding, Macus Schang, John Els, Jonkin Smyth, John Weland, Ginkin Croil, Robert Widder, Andrew Juste, Brandon Als, John Erskin, James Roch, and Henry Piper. The Dundee Burgess Roll, as contained in the Lockit Buik, has a number of surnames of likely Flemish origin, for example Ademan, Aldcorn, Aitkin, Boyack, Brabener, Brand, Butchart, Coppine, Cox, Goabard, Goldman, Honeyman, Just, Luf, Millard, Moyses, and others.

On the 3rd of October 1605, Jacques, a Fleming, complained to the Privy Council of Scotland that while William Spence, a burgess of Dundee, had been put to the horn for failing to pay a debt, he was still at liberty. [Register of the Privy Council of Scotland VII, p. 36] (William Spence was admitted as a merchant burgess of Dundee, 27/9/1582, by right of his father David Spence.)

‘The Exchequer Rolls of Scotland’, alias ‘Rotulli Scarrarii Regum Scotorum’, volume XIX, 1557-1567, has an entry on page 350 – ‘et pro customes certorum victualium transportium a portu de Dundie ad partes Flandrie per Simonem Stark et ejus consortes, mercatores Flandrie…’ which reveals that a Simon Stark and his partners, Flemish merchants, were shipping grain from Dundee to Flanders around 1560. It is not clear whether Simon Stark was Flemish or Scottish.

The Bishop of Dunkeld purchased wares though his agent David Fourous, a burgess of Haddington. In 1508 he purchased a tabernacle for the church in Dunkeld which was shipped through the port of Dundee.

Memorandum that my Lord hes delyverit apon this compt to the said David the sowm of fywe pundis the schillingis for the fraucht of the said tabernacle of Dounde out of Flaundris to the firth and about fra the firth to Dounde. And for sex knarholt burd to be dellyverit to Schir Johne Cormanno in Dounde in my Lordis name for the altar of Sanct Georgis Kyrk in Dounkeld, xxiiii s.

In 1601 the Convention of Royal Burghs of Scotland recruited skilled textile craftsmen from Flanders with the aim of improving the skills and the quality of the Scottish workforce and the product. These workers were allocated to various burgh councils in Scotland. Dundee was allocated Claus Losseir, a shearer, Cornelius Dermis, a weaver, and Henri de Turque, a weaver. Nothing has been found on their subsequent life in Scotland. (Henri de Turk was a cloth-maker from Maesen, France, later in Norwich, who arrived in Edinburgh in 1601.)

By the middle seventeenth century Dundee had around 10,000 inhabitants and was one of the biggest burghs in Scotland. A number of them were clearly of Flemish descent, but the lack of data makes it impossible to estimate the proportion.

David Dobson

February 2015

Dr Dobson is currently a Post Doctoral Research Fellow at the University of Edinburgh and an Honorary Research Fellow with the Institute of Scottish Historical Research at the University of St Andrews. His research interests are focused mainly on the Scottish Diaspora as well as Scottish history in the early modern period. His publications include Scottish Emigration to Colonial America, 1683-1783 (Georgia, 1994, 2004); Scottish Trade with Colonial Charleston, 1683-1783 (Glasgow, 2009), and over 115 historical and genealogical source books (Baltimore, 1983-2013).


[1] A. A. M. Duncan, Scotland: The Making of the Kingdom, The Edinburgh History of Scotland Volume One, (Oliver & Boyd, 1975).
[2] George F. Black, The Surnames of Scotland: their Origin, Meaning and History (New York, 1946).
Alexander Maxwell, Old Dundee prior to the Reformation (Dundee, 1891).
Charters of the Abbey of Coupar Angus, Vol. 1, 1166-1376 (Edinburgh, 1947).
S. Cowan, The Ancient Capital of Scotland (London, 1904).
Charters, Writs and Public Documents of the Royal Burgh of Dundee, 1292-
C Rogers, Rental Book of the Cistercian Abbey of Cupar Angus (London, 1879).
‘Rentale Dunkeldense’, being the accounts of the bishopric 1505-1517 (Edinburgh 1915).
The Exchequer Rolls of Scotland
Register of the Privy Council of Scotland
A. Miller, Scottish Forfeited Estates Papers, 1715; 1745 (Edinburgh, 1909).
The Compt Buik of David Wedderburne, merchant of Dundee, 1587-1630


Edinburgh City Archives
Perth and Kinross Archives
Dundee City Archive
National Archives of Scotland
Dundee Central Library

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John, 5th Lord Fleming

In this, the second of Charles Rigg’s postings, he examines the relationship between John, 5thlord Fleming, and Mary Queen of Scots. Taking the two postings together it is clear that the Fleming family was very close to Mary and that it remained that way throughout the queen’s turbulent reign.



When James, fourth lord Fleming, died in France in 1558, he left behind a wife, Barbara, the eldest daughter of the powerful Duke of Chatelherault, head of the House of Hamilton, and a young daughter. His younger brother, John, fifth lord Fleming, succeeded to the title, and quickly established himself as part of an inner circle at court that included his brother-in-law, the sixth lord Livingston, and the fifth lord Seton.[i] All three were brothers to one of the queen’s Four Maries, and this partly may explain why these lords rose to prominence.

John, lord Fleming and Mary’s Personal Rule: 1561-7

It did not take lord Fleming long to establish a close relationship with his cousin queen following her return to Scotland in August 1561. Not only had she visited him at his Cumbernauld home but also organized his wedding feast at Holyrood which took place the following May when he married Elizabeth Ross.

As part of the queen’s inner circle he was frequently at Holyrood palace where, as one historian highlighted, its architectural layout ‘enabled monarchs to withdraw to the remoteness of their private apartments and render them inaccessible if they wished’.[ii] In the case of Mary, this is what happened: the largely Protestant council met on the ground floor while the queen more often preferred not to attend. She opted to spend her time with ‘those close to her in her household and at court, like lord Seton and the Flemings, who were never members of the council, and Bothwell, who was, but only attended rarely’.[iii]

Despite this, in a letter to Cecil dated June 3, 1565, Randolph expressed surprise that Fleming had sided with the queen in support of her intended marriage to Darnley.[iv] The wedding took place at the end of July and was followed by the earl of Moray’s abortive rebellion against the queen. In what became known as the Chaseabout Raid, so called because no pitched battle took place, Fleming nailed his colours firmly to the queen’s side by joining his brothers-in-law, Atholl and Livingston, as three of the eleven lords on her side.

His conspicuous support for the queen almost cost him his life in March 1566 when he found himself at Holyrood on the night of the Rizzio murder. He, like Atholl and Livingston, left unceremoniously out of a rear window in fear of their lives as they believed the conspirators also sought them out as being the queen’s staunchest supporters. Following Mary and Darnley’s own escape from the palace, Fleming, with Bothwell, Huntly, Seton and Livingston, joined up with them and safely escorted the royal couple to Dunbar.

By this time, Fleming had begun to detest Darnley both in his behaviour towards the queen and to himself. On one occasion, Darnley requested that Fleming, along with lords Livingston and Lindsay, join him in going to mass. Darnley took their refusal badly and ‘gave them all evil words’, threatening to confine them to their chambers before forcibly making them attend.[v] On another occasion, when Fleming found himself in the company of Darnley on the Isle of Inchkeith in the Firth of Forth, the English diplomat Drury reported that he witnessed Darnley doing something so disgusting that he could not bring himself to describe it.[vi]

Fleming was also aware of Darnley’s part in the Rizzio affair and would have witnessed first-hand the tension between the queen and her husband as they made their escape from Holyrood. It was also recorded that some of the lords who supported Mary no longer spoke with Darnley, while others ‘especially Lord Fleming’ were openly critical of his behaviour towards the queen.[vii]

Despite his open contempt for Darnley, Fleming was not involved in his murder at Kirk o’Field in 1567. However, he appeared to support Mary’s fateful decision to marry his cousin Bothwell (left). Fleming’s name appeared on a list of those who signed the Ainslie Tavern bond showing support for Bothwell’s plan to marry the queen.[viii] He was also a witness to the signing of the marriage contract and then attended the wedding along with a small handful of nobility, including his brothers-in-law Maitland and Livingston.


The marriage was not popular amongst the Scottish nobility and Scottish people but Fleming continued to remain loyal to the queen. His non-appearance at her side at Carberry Hill has not been fully explained but a letter from Hamilton to him on the preceding day and his subsequent actions are clear indications where his loyalties remained.[ix] Following Carberry, when the queen decided to hand herself over to the mercy of the nobles who confronted her, Fleming and Seton met briefly with Bothwell on his escape north and then abandoned him to make his escape.

In support of the imprisoned queen: 1567-72

Fleming was one of the queen’s supporters who signed a bond calling for her release from Loch Leven castle a fortnight after Carberry Hill. It was not successful and a defiant Fleming refused to attend the coronation of James VI and the December parliament. He returned to Dumbarton castle where he had been governor since 1565 and it was here he was ensconced when Mary made her dramatic escape from Loch Leven.

Fleming left Dumbarton to be at Mary’s side at Langside where they observed the humiliating defeat of her army. It was then left to Fleming, Livingston and Herries, to accompany Mary on her three-day journey south to Solway. Once the party reached England, Fleming was entrusted with the mission to seek military assistance from France. This task he was unable to fulfil as he was intercepted in London by Cecil and prevented by Elizabeth from carrying it out.

Fleming then appeared in York as one of Mary’s commissioners at her first trial. Afterwards, he returned to Scotland to find that his lands had been forfeited on the instructions of the regent Moray and the Scottish parliament. Undaunted, he headed for Dumbarton where he resisted all attempts to surrender the castle to Moray.

The death of Moray brought Fleming no respite: his tenants in Biggar, Thankerton and Glenholm were forced to pay large sums of money and, in Cumbernauld, the deer were destroyed to create hardship for his people. Eventually, in 1571, Dumbarton was taken but Fleming was able to escape and head for France. There he was able to organise some military support for Mary but the ships were wrecked off the coast of England.

However, he did manage to get back to Scotland and Edinburgh castle, the remaining stronghold with allegiance to the deposed queen. It was here that Fleming was fatally wounded in rather bizarre circumstances on 5 July 1572. An accidental shot from a French soldier ricocheted into his knee; he remained in the castle until he was taken by litter to Boghall castle in Biggar where he died on 6 September.


What made John, 5th lord Fleming, stand out from all the other Marian lords, was his unwavering support for the queen. He supported Mary’s marriage to Darnley; joined her forces in the Chaseabout Raid; escorted her to Dunbar after the Rizzio murder; signed the Ainslie Bond, the Mary-Bothwell marriage contract and attended the wedding. Fleming then escorted Bothwell north after Carberry; signed the bonds for Mary’s release from Loch Leven; stood by the queen’s side at Langside; accompanied her on her flight to England; sought foreign aid to restore her position in Scotland; attended Mary’s first trial as one of her commissioners; refused to surrender Dumbarton Castle; and died from a wound sustained while still giving service to the queen’s failing cause in 1572. He certainly deserves to be ranked as one of ‘Mary’s most faithful friends’.[x]

What is less easy to establish is why he was so driven in this support for Mary. Perhaps, as one historian has suggested, Fleming retained Catholic sympathies and supported the queen for religious reasons.[xi] If that was the case, it raises questions as to why he resisted the queen’s request to take mass in February, 1656.[xii] This response from Fleming suggests that no matter how lukewarm he might have been in his allegiance to the reformed church he had no desire to see Scotland abandon it and we must look beyond religious reasons to understand his unwavering support over 20 years for the queen.

Another suggestion has been that Fleming was motivated by reward and personal ambition. Certainly he received various gifts from the queen, normally addressed to ‘her devoted and loyal cousin’. These ranged from twenty chadders of oatmeal to a third of the rents of Whithorn Priory.[xiii] He was also appointed to the almost hereditary position of Lord Chamberlain at the end of June 1561 and then, in 1565, to that of governor of Dumbarton castle. Fleming recognised, that in the context of the Marian civil war, Dumbarton castle gave him the fetters of the kingdom in his hand, a claim based on accessibility to French overseas supplies and domination of the Clyde.[xiv] But this, and an unusually generous pension, must have fallen short of any expectations of receiving an earldom as was reported to have been the queen’s intention in the summer of 1565.[xv] Perhaps the rapidity of the events which followed the queen’s marriage to Darnley overtook her; but it did not diminish Fleming’s support.

The key to understanding Fleming’s allegiance stems from kinship and marriage connections. Close family links were established from the very beginning of the queen’s life when her aunt and John Fleming’s mother, Lady Janet Fleming, became her governess. That family connection was further cemented through two of his sisters: Mary, as one of the Four Maries, and Margaret, as one of her principal ladies-in-waiting. A third sister, Agnes, married lord Livingston, brother to another of the Four Maries, and this brought together the queen, the Flemings and the Livingstons.[xvi] The queen placed considerable weight on these family ties and when she wrote to Elizabeth in 1568, she proudly referred to John as ‘my cousin Lord Flemying a faithful subject’. Fleming’s actions on her behalf during the civil war would suggest that he too valued that family connection.

Charles Rigg

December 2014

Charles Rigg, the author of this blog posting, is a Trustee of Biggar Museums. At present the Trust is involved in a £2million project to relocate two museums to a new purpose built site in July 2015. One of the centerpieces of the museum is the story of the Flemings and Mary Queen of Scots.


[i] Keith Brown, Noble Power In Scotland From the Reformation to the Revolution (2011), p. 182

[ii] Jenny Wormald, Mary Queen of Scots: Politics, Passion and a Kingdom Lost (2001), pp. 120-121

[iii] Ibid, p. 120

[iv] Caroline Bingham, Darnley: A Life of Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, Consort of Mary Queen of Scots (1995), p. 102

[v] Antonia Fraser, Mary Queen of Scots (1973), p. 273

[vi] Alison Weir, Mary Queen of Scots and the murder of Lord Darnley (2008), p. 100

[vii] Roderick Graham, An Accidental Tragedy:The Life of Mary Queen of Scots (2008), p. 210

[viii] Alison Weir, pp. 344-345

[ix] Arnold Fleming, Flemish Influence in Britain (1930), p. 210; Antonia Fraser, p. 363

[x] Gordon Donaldson, All the Queen’s Men (1983), p. 59

[xi] Julian Goodacre ‘Queen Mary’s Catholic Interlude’, in Michael Lynch, ed., Mary Stewart: Queen in Three Kingdoms (1988), p. 164

[xii] Gordon Donaldson,  p. 78; n.17, CSP, ii,335

[xiii] Arnold Fleming, pp. 184 &192-3

[xiv] Jane E.A. Dawson, Scotland Re-formed, 1488-1587 ( 2007), p. 275

[xv] Gordon Donaldson, p. 74

[xvi] Gordon Donaldson, p. 59

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Mary Fleming and Mary Queen of Scots

One of the best-known Flemings in the history of Scotland is perhaps Mary Fleming, one of the Four Maries that accompanied Mary Queen Of Scots. Even to this day Mary Fleming’s life is celebrated in the Scottish towns of Biggar and Cumbernauld. Both towns have long associations with the Fleming family. In this blog posting, Charles Rigg examines Mary’s life and her relationship with Mary Queen of Scots.


When Malcolm, 3rd Lord Fleming died on the battlefield of Pinkie in September 1547, he left behind a widow, two sons, and five daughters. His widow, Lady Janet, was the illegitimate daughter of James IV, making her a half-sister to James V and an aunt to Mary Queen of Scots. She also enjoyed the friendship and respect of Mary of Guise, the queen’s mother, who entrusted her in 1548 with the responsibility of taking the five year-old queen to France and remaining with her in the important role of governess, a position more like the principal lady-in-waiting than a teacher.[1]

Janet Fleming and James IV. Images: Wikimedia Commons.

Janet Fleming and James IV. Images: Wikimedia Commons.

Life in France: 1547–61

Mary Fleming, the youngest of Malcolm’s daughters, was very close in age to Mary Queen of Scots and traveled with her to France. As first cousins, they were introduced to each other from an early age and were certainly together in 1547 when the queen spent some three weeks in the security of the island of Inchmahome, in the lake of Menteith.

Also on that journey were three other Maries: Beaton, Seton and Livingston, who made up the queen’s celebrated Four Maries. The next 13 years of their lives were spent growing up in France, although not always in the company of the queen. It was decided that it would be in the best interests of the Scottish queen if she immersed herself in the life of the French court, so the Four Maries were sent to the convent of the Dominican nuns of Poissy, near St Germain, to be educated, before being allowed to attend the queen as maids-in-waiting.

For Mary Fleming, these must have been happy years, spoiled only by two incidents. The first involved her vivacious mother, who caught the roving eye of the French king, Henry II, and became pregnant in December 1550. Rather foolishly, she made no secret of the fact she was carrying the king’s child and was ordered, most probably by Mary of Guise, to return to Scotland to have the baby.

The second incident was more serious and dampened what should have been a happy occasion at the wedding of Mary Queen of Scots to the dauphin Francis in 1558. James, Mary Fleming’s brother, who had inherited the title of Lord Fleming on the death of his father, Malcolm, was one of eight Scottish commissioners sent to attend the marriage. Unfortunately, he never returned home as he became ill after the wedding celebrations and died in Paris.

It was not long before accusations were made back in Scotland that Fleming had been poisoned; suspicion of foul play stemmed from the fact that another three commissioners had also mysteriously died. However, these accusations originated from John Knox and the Protestant lords, who opposed the French development. If there had been any substance to these allegations it is unlikely that in November the Scottish Parliament and the returning commissioners would have endorsed the crown matrimonial being granted to Francis.[2] A more likely explanation can be found in a letter from Queen Mary to her mother in which she makes reference to an epidemic that was particularly virulent at Amiens and the channel ports at the time.[3]

Two years later, Mary met her mother once again as she returned to France with her son, Henry. By this time her half-brother was nine years old and made very welcome by the French court. He remained in France, where he was made Abbot of La Chaside-Dieu and became Prior General of the Galleys; he died in 1586 from a wound sustained in a quarrel. It is less clear as to what happened to Lady Janet but it is presumed that she died before 1564.

Return to Scotland and the Personal Rule of Mary Queen of Scots: 1561-7

After thirteen years in France, and at the age of nineteen, Mary Fleming returned to Scotland. Her life, like that of the other Maries, was inextricably linked with the fortunes of the queen whom they served, and following the early death of Francis from an ear infection in 1561, Mary Stuart decided to return to the country where she was still queen.

Mary Fleming and the other three Maries traveled in the same galley as the queen. Historians have commented that Fleming was the ‘belle of the quartet’ although there are no paintings of her or the others to validate that opinion.[4] What is known is that at the Twelfth Night festivities of 1564 she stole the show after finding a bean in her cake which allowed her to become ‘Queen for a Day’. Contemporary accounts described Fleming’s appearance, in a gown of silver cloth covered in jewels, as dazzling.[5] 450 years later that occasion is still celebrated annually in Biggar.

Historians have also claimed that Mary Fleming enjoyed a special place amongst the Four Maries in the queen’s affections. Perhaps this explains why, in the spring of 1563, it was to Fleming that the queen turned to share her bedroom. This followed the Chastelard scare, when the French poet was found hiding under her bed. The next day he was ordered to leave the court, but foolishly repeated his folly a second-time at St Andrews. There was no leniency for him on this occasion and he was executed after a public trial.

An unlikely marriage to William Maitland of Lethington: 1567-73

It was not until January 1567 that Mary Fleming became the third of the Maries to marry, but what was surprising was her choice of husband – William Maitland of Lethington, the queen’s Secretary of State. Maitland was a widower, 18 years Fleming’s senior, and his romantic pursuit of her over two years provoked much comment and amusement at court on what seemed an unlikely pairing.[6]

William Maitland. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

William Maitland. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Maitland did not always enjoy the queen’s trust. He had both disapproved of Mary’s second marriage, to Henry Stewart, Lord Darnley, and then involved himself in the Rizzio murder. But by 1567 he was sufficiently back in the queen’s favour for her to approve the wedding, although this might have been influenced by a perceived need to use Fleming to keep a close eye on a man she still did not entirely trust.[7]

Only a month after their wedding at Stirling’s Chapel Royal, Darnley was murdered at Kirk o’ Field, and three months later the queen married James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell. Despite being one of the few to attend that wedding, Maitland abandoned the queen almost immediately; his wife also went with him, leaving the queen distraught at her departure.

Mary Fleming, or Lady Lethington as she was now known, must have been tormented by the dramatic events that unfolded after she and her husband parted company from her cousin, the queen. As wife to Maitland, she now had dual loyalties, but she may have played a part in eventually persuading him to return to Mary’s side. During Mary’s imprisonment at Loch Leven an engraved ring was sent from either Maitland or his wife to the deposed queen, with the words engraved in Italian: ‘He who has spirit enough will not want force’. It was taken at the time to be a promise of future support from Maitland.[8]

That support took some time in coming: it was not until after the battle of Langside and the first trial of Mary at York that Maitland began to shift his position, moving away from the queen’s half-brother James, Regent Moray and back to Mary. On returning to Scotland he joined Kirkcaldy at Edinburgh castle, but it eventually fell in May, 1573. By then an ailing man, virtually unable to walk, he was held prisoner in Leith to await trial for treason.

His wife’s devotion was reflected in her decision to leave their two children at home in Haddington and join him. On the 9th of June Maitland died before he was brought to trial. There was still the gruesome possibility that his dead body be propped up at a posthumous trial as was sometimes the Scottish custom, but due to the intervention of his wife that was avoided. Mary wrote to Cecil, Queen Elizabeth’s chief advisor, asking for support. It brought a response from the queen, who sent a strongly worded letter to Regent Morton advising him against such action.

Mary Fleming’s sisters and Mary Queen of Scots: 1567-87

Mary never saw Mary Queen of Scots after 1567. In contrast, her sister Agnes, who was married to Lord Livingston, played an increasingly significant role in the deposed monarch’s life during her years in captivity in England. She was with her when Mary was first held at Bolton and also joined her at Tutbury, where it was recorded that Lord and Lady Livingston were ‘the greatest personages’ about Mary in 1569.[9] However, it was not possible for Agnes to remain with her cousin indefinitely and in 1572 she returned to Scotland to see her own children. Scotland at this time was under the regency of the Earl of Morton, and he imprisoned her in Dalkeith Castle for allegedly communicating secret messages between the queen and her allies in Scotland. After a period of two months she was released.

Mary Fleming’s other sister, Margaret, must have been as devastated at the turn of events as any of her family. She had been by the queen’s bedside at the time of the birth of Prince James in June 1566, when the queen was in labour for 20 hours; at one stage Margaret, who was thought to have the powers of casting spells, attempted to transfer Mary’s labour pains to another lady-in-waiting at the birth, Lady Reres. While there is no record to tell us if Margaret was successful in this, we do know that she was a lady-in-waiting at court and received the second highest remuneration.[10]

Margaret was married at this time to her third husband, John Stewart, the powerful Earl of Atholl, a staunch Roman Catholic who had voted against Scotland becoming Protestant in 1560. He provided loyal support to Mary in the challenging circumstances of being a Catholic queen in a Protestant country, and was one of the four earls to regularly attend her court. But his support ended in the aftermath of Darnley’s murder. He expected the queen to actively hunt down the perpetrators of the crime and bring them to justice; he did not expect her to marry Bothwell only three months later, the person popularly believed to have been behind the crime. These actions persuaded Atholl to abandon Mary and become part of an unlikely alliance of Catholic and Protestant lords at Carberry: he then signed the warrant for the queen’s indefinite imprisonment at Loch Leven Castle.

Despite this, we have evidence that Margaret did not abandon her imprisoned cousin and in 1570 sent her an expensive piece of jewellery. The jewel was intercepted by the English, and sent Queen Elizabeth into a frenzy because it included an inflammatory inscription: ‘Fall what may fall, the Lion (of Scotland) shall be lord of all’.[11] It would appear that even fifteen years later Elizabeth had neither forgotten nor forgiven this when Margaret offered to come with her daughter and stay with Mary at Tutbury Castle. Mary was thrilled at the prospect, but Margaret and her small retinue were refused permission by Elizabeth.

Something similar may have happened to Mary Fleming following Mary Seton’s announcement to seek retiral through ill-health in 1581. Mary Queen of Scots once again sought Mary’s services, but either Elizabeth prevented it or there was reluctance on Mary Fleming’s part to leave her second husband, George Meldrum of Fyvie.

It was on the 8th of February 1587 that Mary Queen of Scots was executed at Fotheringhay Castle, after almost nineteen years as a prisoner in England. None of the Four Maries or sisters of Mary Fleming were present. Mary Fleming lived until about 1600.

Mary Fleming in Perspective

There were many moments of great significance and drama in the life of Mary Queen of Scots that Mary Fleming witnessed at first hand: court life in France; the wedding to the Dauphin (April 1558); the French coronation (July 1559); sorrow at the death of Francis II (December 1560); the journey back to Leith (August 1561); the reception of John Knox; the intrusion of Chastelard (1563); the wedding to Darnley (1565); the murder of David Rizzio (March 1566); the growing tension between Mary and Darnley; the baptism of the future James VI at Stirling (December 1566); the queen’s reactions to Bothwell’s attentions; and Mary’s wedding to Bothwell (May 1567). Few would have been better placed to have written an insightful biography of Mary’s life, from childhood to the end of her personal rule. The same could not be said for the remaining 20 years of the queen’s life, when Mary Seton’s constant presence up to 1583 contrasted with Fleming’s complete absence.

Undoubtedly Mary Fleming was more a close witness than a key player in the dramatic events of the queen’s personal rule. However, there has been a suggestion that she might have played a part in procuring for her husband the Casket letters, then doctoring them by forging the queen’s writing and signature.[12] The content of these letters was damaging for the queen as it claimed to provide evidence of her love for Bothwell and complicity in Darnley’s murder. A similar accusation has been made against Mary Beaton, who at that time was in dispute with the queen over some jewels and whose hand-writing was closer to the queen’s than Mary Fleming’s.[13] But, as Antonia Fraser has argued, ‘there is no proof against Mary Beaton or indeed Mary Fleming except the merest supposition’.[14]

Signature of Mary Fleming. Image: M. H. Armstrong Davison, The Casket Letters (1965).

Signature of Mary Fleming. Image: M. H. Armstrong Davison, The Casket Letters (1965).

Signature of Mary Beaton. Image: M. H. Armstrong Davison, The Casket Letters (1965).

Signature of Mary Beaton. Image: M. H. Armstrong Davison, The Casket Letters (1965).

Signature of Mary Queen of Scots. Image: M. H. Armstrong Davison, The Casket Letters (1965).

Signature of Mary Queen of Scots. Image: M. H. Armstrong Davison, The Casket Letters (1965).

Charles Rigg
December 2014

Charles Rigg, the author of this blog posting, is a Trustee of Biggar Museums. At present the Trust is involved in a £2million project to relocate two museums to a new purpose-built site on the main street. The museum is due to open in July 2015. One of the centrepieces of the museum is Mary Fleming, who was closely associated with Biggar.


[1] Rosalind K. Marshall, Queen Mary’s Women (2006), p. 42.
[2] Antonia Fraser, Mary Queen of Scots (1973), p. 102.
[3] John Guy, Queen of Scots: The True Life of Mary Stuart (2004), pp. 89-90.
[4] Fraser, Mary Queen of Scots, p. 215.
[5] Thomas Randolph spoke glowingly of her in a letter to Cecil, 15th of January 1563. Arnold Fleming, Flemish Influence in Britain (1930), pp. 194-6.
[6] Sir William Kirkcaldy of Grange suggested that a Protestant like himself was more suitable to be pope than Maitland was of being Fleming’s suitor.
[7] Marshall, Queen Mary’s Women, p. 212.
[8] Fraser, Mary Queen of Scots, p. 388.
[9] Report from Nicholas White to William Cecil, 26th of February 1569, quoted in Marshall, Queen Mary’s Women, p. 182.
[10] Marshall, Queen Mary’s Women, p. 166.
[11] Marshall, Queen Mary’s Women, p. 167.
[12] M. H. Armstrong Davison, The Casket Letters (1965), pp. 245-6; Fraser, Mary Queen of Scots, p. 446.
[13] Fraser, Mary Queen of Scots, p. 446; Marshall, Queen Mary’s Women, pp. 146-7.
[14] Fraser, Mary Queen of Scots, p. 446.

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Imports from Flanders in the Medieval Period: Urban and Rural People

This posting reports on the results of research undertaken by Morvern French on the trade relationship between Scotland and Flanders in the medieval period. Drawing on archaeological evidence, Morvern suggests that much of the imports from Flanders would have been luxury goods destined for the wealthy elites of society, rather than for ordinary people. The needs of urban and rural communities were met primarily by domestic sources.

The Trading Relationship

Before his death in 1153 David I had established thirteen burghs in Scotland, the burgesses of which were granted monopolies on the export of the staple goods of wool, woolfells, and hides. The development of a network of these privileged trading centres, particularly on the east coast, ushered in a period of booming international trade and prosperity, signifying the beginning of the transition of Scotland from a rural economy to an organised and regulated mercantile system.

Scottish international trade was primarily based in the Flemish city of Bruges, with which Scottish merchants made periodic staple agreements, obliging them to export their staple goods to Bruges alone. The earliest surviving agreement dates from 1359, and the last to 1470. In 1407 Duke John the Fearless of Burgundy, also Count of Flanders, appointed a commissioner to defend the rights of Scottish merchants in Flanders – a role that came to be known as Conservator of Scottish Privileges in the Low Countries – showing the high value placed on Scottish trade.

As well as importing Flemish cloth, ceramics, and woodwork, among other manufactures, Scottish merchants were able to purchase at Bruges goods from much of the known world, e.g., furs from Sweden and Russia, precious metals from Bohemia and Hungary, wine from France and the Rhineland, silks from Italy and Spain, and sugar, spices, and alum from North Africa and Asia Minor.

This relationship between Scotland and Flanders is traditionally viewed as one of interdependence: the highly industrialised Flemish textile industry required the vast quantities of wool that Scotland supplied, while predominantly rural and pastoral Scotland needed to import manufactured goods. Flanders’ textile industry was booming in the thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries, at which point Scotland is considered to have reached the peak of its medieval prosperity. In such an economic climate it might be expected that Scottish demand for manufactured goods was met primarily by continental imports.

Contemporary accounts strengthen this view. In the fourteenth century John of Fordun credited David I, initiator of the burgh mercantile system, with bringing to the country ‘outlandish wares’ and replacing Scottish primitiveness with continental sophistication:

He it is that has enriched thy harbours with outlandish wares, and gathered together the wealth of other countries for thine enjoyment. He it is that has turned thy hairy cloaks into costly garments, and has covered thy nakedness of old with purple and fine linen.[1]

Fellow chronicler Jean Froissart, also in the fourteenth century, wrote that:

When the English make inroads thither, as they have very frequently done, they order their provisions, if they wish to live, to follow close at their backs; for nothing is to be had in that country without great difficulty. There is neither iron to shoe horses, nor leather to make harness, saddles or bridles; all these things come ready made from Flanders by sea; and, should these fail, there is none to be had in the country.[2]

Records such as the Treasurer’s Accounts and the Exchequer Rolls detail the vast quantities of Flemish products imported for the Crown, Church, and aristocracy, including tapestries, jewellery, munitions, illuminated manuscripts, decorative tiles, and silken fabrics. Such objects were discussed by Duncan Macmillan in blog posts dated the 31st of October and 7th of November. However, such objects were for the most part restricted to the elites of society, for whom the records were written. The best way to find out about the material culture of ordinary town and country people – unrepresented in the historical record – is to look at the archaeological evidence.

Urban archaeological sites have yielded great quantities of material due to continuous occupation over many centuries. The earliest burghs were established by David I in the twelfth century. Perth is an especially good example due to the extensive excavations carried out there during the 1970s.[3] There is also archaeological evidence for rural people, who made up about 90% of the Scottish population in the medieval period, but disproportionately less than for urban sites as the latter are more commonly excavated.

By concentrating on two types of manufacture perceived as traditional Flemish imports – textiles and pottery – it is apparent that Flemish imports made up only a small proportion of the material environment of ordinary people.


Outside of Perth the textile finds are fairly negligible, but this town is a good case study in what the average east coast burgh in Scotland would have had available to it. The excavation has produced the largest group of medieval textiles in Scotland: 411 samples in total, 403 of which are from the period 1100-1350. Most of the samples are woollen – there’s no linen as it doesn’t survive well – and there are also 31 silk samples, showing that the group includes the property of wealthier burgh inhabitants. Out of a total of 411 samples, none have been definitively identified as Flemish products. The emphasis given to Flemish cloth imports in the documentary records, regarding the elites of society, is not borne out in the archaeological record of the town.

One of the twill textile types excavated has been identified by John Munro as a possible example of the ‘Hondschoote’ serges produced in Flanders and Artois.[4] Most were excavated from late thirteenth and early fourteenth century contexts, when they were at peak production in the Low Countries. However, there are only 87 of these samples. Even if they were Flemish, they were not widespread among the urban population.

Sample of a possible Low Countries fabric. Courtesy of Perth Museum & Art Gallery, Perth & Kinross Council, Scotland.

Sample of a possible Low Countries fabric. Courtesy of Perth Museum & Art Gallery, Perth & Kinross Council, Scotland.

There is also a wide range of excavated, material evidence beyond the textile samples, many of which has been found in occupational contexts. For example spindle whorls (fitted onto spindles to maintain the speed of the spin) have been uncovered at various urban sites including Perth, Dundee, Aberdeen, and St Andrews, as well as at rural sites such as Hallhill near Dunbar and Springwood Park near Kelso. Their location in occupational areas and the excavation of drop spindles, which are more portable than spinning wheels, suggest that spinning was carried out in and around people’s homes while they carried out household chores.

These initial stages of cloth production were often carried out in domestic environments by women, and therefore were of lower status than the finishing stages, such as dyeing, carried out by men. Such people were of little concern to those who produced written documents. Early burgh legislation in 1205, for example, referred to the manufacture of dyed or sheared cloth in Perth: processes carried out by men in industrial rather than domestic environments.[5]

There is further evidence that manufacturers in Scotland were capable of performing skilled processes: traces of dyes such as indigo (blue), madder, and kermes (both red) have been identified within the fabric samples from Perth, of which 30% of the total were dyed. Although this does not prove the use of these dyes within the town, the seeds of dye plants such as weld or Dyer’s Rocket (yellow), bog myrtle (yellow), gipsywort (black), bur-marigold (bright orange), and yellow flag (grey-blue/black) were identified. Additional textile tools from Perth include wool combs and heckle combs (used to disentangle wool and flax before spinning) drop spindles, a tenter hook (used to prevent shrinkage on fulled cloth), and a flax breaking mallet.

The cloth that was excavated in Perth was generally of poor quality. However, it is arguable that this was due to the success of the export trade in good quality wool, with the poorer wool remaining in Scotland, and not an indication of an undeveloped textile industry. We know from the handbook of Florentine merchant Francesco Pegolotti that charges for packing, transport, and foreign tolls depended on quantity rather than quality, so it made sense for merchants to export the highest quality wool to make the biggest possible profit.[6] The best wool was therefore sold to Flemish cloth producers and the remainder was available for use on the home market.

Scottish cloth was even exported to Flanders, where it was sold to urban people: the same type of people who were buying it in Scotland. It posed a threat to Flemish manufacturers, causing the Dukes of Burgundy and the Drie Steden – Bruges, Ghent and Ypres – to institute various bans on it. In 1497 Philip the Fair exempted Scottish textiles from a general ban, describing them as ‘of little value… by which the poor and miserable folk are principally clothed.’[7]

Based on the evidence discussed it is arguable that Scottish textile manufacturers, capable of performing various skilled processes, were part of a north-western European ‘textile industrial zone’, rather than one in which Flanders was absolutely pre-eminent.


The documentary evidence for pottery production is extremely limited. There are a few references to potters in sources such as the Treasurer’s Accounts; for example, in the early 1500s money was paid ‘for pottis, [to] the pottair of Bothuile’.[8] The scarcity of written references is surprising given that Scottish wares were being manufactured from at least the twelfth century. The majority of evidence for this is material. In Perth – from 75-95 High Street – over 40,000 sherds were excavated. Foreign imports usually make up no more than 5% of pottery assemblages, although within that Flemish products often make up the majority of imported fabrics.

Kiln sites have been discovered in Scotland, but not enough to account for the vast amounts of pottery found in the burghs and in the countryside. This is because of the rural nature of the pottery industry. It needed clay and water, generally found outwith urban areas, and fire, which was a safety and pollution hazard within towns. This had the double effect of removing producers from the remit of burgh record keepers and removing them from urban sites, which are more likely to be excavated.

Seven kilns for the production of White Gritty ware, manufactured from twelfth to fifteenth centurues, have been excavated at Colstoun near Haddington, although more are believed to exist based on the many local variations in this fabric type. Two rural kiln sites have been identified for Scottish Redware, manufactured from the mid thirteenth to fifteenth centuries: at Stenhouse, Stirlingshire, and at Rattray, Aberdeenshire, of which the latter had at least two kilns, each capable of firing up to fifty vessels at a time. Local variants, however, have been excavated at almost every east coast burgh, as well as in Dumfries and Galloway and Strathclyde. Redwares have also been found at Colstoun, the White Gritty kiln site, and these sherds varied from those found only 20km away, suggesting a highly localised pottery industry spread throughout rural areas and supplying nearby communities.

Some Scottish potters were influenced by Flemish imports. For example, in Perth’s Redware variant known as Perth Local, there are examples of imitation: this jug has an impressed shell pattern, a green glaze and a purple wash: features typical of Low Countries Highly Decorated Wares, a high-end Flemish redware. However, these are exceptions and for the most part Perth pottery shows little outside influence.

Perth Local jug. Courtesy of Perth Museum & Art Gallery, Perth & Kinross Council, Scotland.

Perth Local jug. Courtesy of Perth Museum & Art Gallery, Perth & Kinross Council, Scotland.

Courtesy of Perth Museum & Art Gallery, Perth & Kinross Council, Scotland.

Courtesy of Perth Museum & Art Gallery, Perth & Kinross Council, Scotland.

Archaeologist Derek Hall has noted that ‘the medieval trade that is best represented in the archaeological record may have been considered so lowly that it is virtually invisible in the historical record.’[9] The apparent absence of potters can be explained by their operation outwith urban areas and outwith guilds, which caused them to be passed over by burgh record keepers. It is clear, though, from the physical remains that Scotland was self-sufficient in pottery production from an early stage.


The archaeological evidence has shown that rather than Flemish and other imports dominating textile and ceramic assemblages, Scottish crafts make up a majority of finds in both urban and rural areas. This is despite a notable absence of these industries from the written record, primarily due to their operation outwith burgh control and often physically outside the burgh.

Although Bruges provided a ready market both for Scotland’s exports and its imports, these imports were not required on as great a scale as has been suggested. Despite high levels of elite imports of Flemish products, for the majority of people – even those in the east coast towns with strong trading links with Flanders – their material environment was primarily made up of Scottish products from the foundation of the burghs in the twelfth century.

Morvern French
November 2014

Morvern is a second year PhD student at the University of St Andrews, and a contributor to the Scotland and the Flemish People project.


[1] W. F. Skene (ed.), John of Fordun’s Chronicle of the Scottish Nation II (1993), p. 237.
[2] Jean Froissart, Chroniques, bk. II, ch. 160. Quoted in P. Hume Brown (ed.), Early Travellers in Scotland (Edinburgh, 1973), p. 11.
[3] The High Street finds for Perth are catalogued in four published fascicules: Perth High Street Archaeological Excavation 1975-1977 (Perth, 2010-2). There is also copious archaeological material to be found in the Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland.
[4] J. Munro, ‘Three centuries of luxury textile consumption in the Low Countries and England, 1330-1570: trends and comparisons of real values of woollen broadcloth (then and now)’, in M-L Nosch and K. Vestergard (eds.), The Medieval Broadcloth: Changing Trends in Fashions, Manufacturing and Consumption (Oxford, 2009), p. 8.
[5] G. W. S. Barrow (ed.), Regesta Regum Scottorum II: The Acts of William I, King of Scots 1165-1214 (Edinburgh, 1971), pp. 430-2, no. 467.
[6] Francesco Balducci Pegolotti, La Pratica della Mercatura (Cambridge, MA, 1936), pp. 258-69.
[7] Louis Gilliodts-van Severen (ed.), Cartulaire de l’ancienne estaple de Bruges (Bruges, 1904-6) II, p. 314, no. 1302.
[8] Thomas Dickson et al (eds.), Accounts of the Lord High Treasurer of Scotland (Edinburgh, 1877-1978) II, p. 361.
[9] Derek Hall, ‘The Scottish Medieval Pottery Industry: A Pilot Study’, Tayside and Fife Archaeological Journal 4 (1998), p. 166.

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Exploring the Relationships Among Some Key Flemish Families

As noted in earlier blog postings it is not just people carrying the name Fleming that have Flemish origins in Scotland. There are a number of other families that are believed to have such origins. In this posting James B Sutherland and J. Mark Sutherland-Fisher examine an important set of families thought to have Flemish roots, specifically the Douglas, Sutherland, Murray, Innes and Brodie families. The text below examines the relationship among these key families as well as to other families that have taken the name Fleming.

Some key families and their relationship

The Armorial bearings of Flemish families in Clydesdale, West Lothian and Moray show a family relationship among the families of Baldwin of Biggar, Sutherland, Douglas, Murray, Innes, and Brodie.  These families have had a significant impact on Scotland’s history and so it is important to explore the linkages between them.

Professor Duncan in his book Scotland the Making of the Kingdom spoke of the “remarkable Flemish Settlement in the Upper ward of Lanarkshire.” [1] He considered the Fleming, Baldwin of Biggar  (Baldwin Flamingus) Sheriff of Lanarkshire, to be the leader of this group which also included his step-son John of Crawford, his vassal Hugh of Pettinain, also Lambin the Fleming, and his brother Robert the Fleming. [2] The group also included Flemings named Simon Locard, Tancred and Wice (or Wizo).

In 1130 Freskyn de Moravia, who held land at Strathbrock in West Lothian, was given the task of securing the turbulent area of Moray by King David I of Scotland. [3] He moved up the east coast and eventually settled at Duffus in Moray where he built a substantial motte and bailey castle. [4]

His son William was confirmed in lands in Strathbrock and Duffus. William had three sons, the first son Hugh de Moravia became Lord of Sutherland in about 1211,and in turn his son William became 1st Earl of Sutherland by about 1235. [5] The second son, William De Moravia, became Chief of the Murrays and Lord of Petty in Moray and through an Oliphant heiress became Lord of Bothwell in Clydesdale before 1253. [6] Sir Walter Murray, 1st Lord of Bothwell, was co-Regent of Scotland in 1255. The third son, Andrew de Moravia, became Parson of Duffus.

Berowald the Fleming head of the Innes family who was in Bo’ness (Berowalds-toun-ness)West Lothian not far from Freskyn’s original lands was also later involved in putting down rebellions in Moray. [7] Professor Duncan also indicates the distribution of forfeited lands in the Laigh of Moray among these families. Thus far, the available evidence is strongly suggestive of a Flemish settlement in the area running along the south shore of the Moray Firth. [8]

Freskyn was a witness to charters giving Berowald the lands of Innes and Nether Urquhart by King Malcolm IV. Freskyn’s sister or daughter/niece married William de Duglis of Douglasdale and her son Archibald married a daughter of John of Crawford who was linked to Baldwin of Biggar. Of her other sons Bricius de Douglas became Bishop of Moray 1203, Alexander, Henry and Hugh de Douglas all became Canons of Spynie in Moray. Freskyn de Douglas Parson of Douglas Parish was later appointed Dean of Moray. [9] The sons of both families acted as witnesses to a number of land charters in favour of the other.  Professor Duncan, when discussing the de Moravia family, suggests that their early history requires further study for there can be no doubt that they were closely related to a Clydesdale-Flemish family which by 1200 had taken the name Douglas from its lands. [10]


DNA Testing

Within the Douglas DNA Project, there is a group known as Douglas 2a. Currently there are four men within this group who have a paper trail of descent from William de Duglis (1174-1213) and the early Douglas chiefs among the Earls of Morton.

Freskyn de Moravia is considered founder of both the Sutherland and Murray families with Ollec identified as Freskyn’s father by the late Sir Ian Moncrieffe. [11] William de Duglis is identified as founder of the Douglas family with Theobald the Fleming named as his father by Platts.

Within the Sutherland DNA Project a group of fifteen men (20% of the entire project and by far the largest group) have shown a link establishing that they share a common ancestor no further back than around 20-24 generations but in some cases as recently as 8-12 generations. Within the group at least one member has a clear paper trail line of descent from Freskyn de Moravia. Work continues on placing the others on the extended family of the Dukes, Earls, Lairds and Chiefs of Clan Sutherland. They almost all currently trace their earliest ancestry to one Parish in Caithness and/or one Parish in Moray overwhelmingly dominated by the Forse and Duffus lines of the De Moravia family of Sutherland. [12] This group is known as Sutherland 0.3 The Moray Firth Group.

Alexandrina Murray who runs the Clan Murray project compared the Sutherland 0.3 Moray Firth group and the Douglas 2a group and found that they are an almost statistically perfect match. Over a range of 67 markers there is only one mutation. This result of 67/1 establishes that the Sutherland 0.3 Moray Firth group and the Douglas 2a group share a single male common ancestor.

Beryll Platts has suggested that the armorial bearings of these Scottish families already indicated a link back to the Counts of Boulogne, well known to be Flemish in origin.[13] Freskyn and others were believed to be related through the female line to Eustace II, Count of Boulogne who led the right wing of the Norman army at the Battle of Hastings. He was also brother-in-law to Edward the Confessor whose death without issue sparked the succession crisis leading to the Norman invasion of 1066. His son Eustace III married Princess Mary, daughter of Malcolm III Canmore and Margaret Atheling (great-niece of Edward the Confessor). This made Eustace III brother-in-law of David I. We know that David encouraged a number of young men to accompany him on his return to Scotland and the group would inevitably have included young male cousins of his brother-in-law Eustace III attracted by the offer of land and power.

During the course of the intervening 900 years since the arrival of the De Moravia family on the southern shores of the Moray Firth, and the De Duglis family in Lanarkshire, some 25-30 generations have passed. Using the Tip Reports for James Brown Sutherland in Scotland one of the Sutherland 0.3 Moray Firth group, the common ancestor is around 900 years ago. Both groups share the SNP P-312 and Haplogroup R1b1a2a1a1b pointing to possible Flemish origins.

There is no evidence of a link among the various Douglas, Murray and Sutherland families in the male line since the time of Freskyn De Moravia. Given that both the Sutherland group and the Douglas group come from a number of different families for at least 350 years, the chances of a male Sutherland fathering a variety of sons who took the name Douglas without it being recorded somewhere, or vice versa is so small as to be negligible. Marriages have inevitably have taken place involving female descendants but those marriages would have no impact on the yDNA trail.

The only likely conclusion is that the Sutherland 0.3 Moray Firth group represent the yDNA of Freskyn de Moravia and the Douglas 2a group represent the yDNA of William de Duglis both alive in the 12th century and that they themselves shared a paternal grandfather or great grandfather whose wife or mother was a member of the House of Boulogne. [14]

Within the Sutherland Family, the last Earl in the male line was the 9th Earl of Sutherland. The title then passed, not without dispute, to his sister Elizabeth and her Gordon cousin and husband from whom the line of Earls descended. [15] In the late 18th century the title then passed, once more not without dispute to the infant Elizabeth and on her marriage the line passed into the English Leveson-Gower family where the ducal title remains. On the succession and subsequent marriage of the current Countess Elizabeth, the title passed into the Janson family but by convention the current Countess and her immediate heirs have assumed the surname Sutherland.

The De Moravia male lines of descent from Freskyn continue to the present day through the cadet branches of the family founded by younger and illegitimate sons of the first 8 Earls. The Sutherland of Duffus line descends from the younger son of the 4th Earl. The Sutherland of Forse line descends from the younger son of the 5th Earl.  The Sutherland of Kilpheddar line descends from a younger son of the 8th Earl. Further as yet unidentified lines may descend from the 6th and 7th Earls. Mark Sutherland-Fisher, Genealogist of Clan Sutherland, has for many years been researching the family of the Earls, Dukes, Lairds and Chiefs of Clan Sutherland. Much of his research has involved updating the work of the Clan Historian Emeritus Daniel J J Sutherlandwho compiled the most comprehensive family tree some 30 years ago. [16] He has received considerable assistance from Malcolm Sutherland, author of A Fighting Clan and authority on Sutherland men bearing military commissions. [17]

It must be remembered that the lineage and lines of descent from Freskyn of Moravia are among the most studied and argued upon in Scotland. In the Sutherland Peerage Case 1771, the House of Lords, and those genealogists and historians appointed by them and by Counsel for the 3 parties contesting the Scottish Honours of Sutherland, examined in the most minute detail the land charters, titles and records of the Sutherland family.

The heraldic tree shown below displays, in schematic form, the relationships between the various families of Flemish origin examined above.

Sutherland Heraldic Tree


Notable Flemish men and their places of settlement

If one looks at the Flemish in Pembrokeshire in Wales, they seem to have been deliberately planted there to form a buffer between Anglo-Norman invaders and the native Welsh. In Moray, Clydesdale and West Lothian meanwhile they were welcomed as new settlers without traditional ties to the region, to break old alliances of the native population or earlier rulers.  The men discussed below played significant roles in their respective families and they settled in various parts of Scotland.

Theobaldo Flamatico, probable father of William de Dugliss who held land in Douglasdale 1174, was founder of Clan Douglas. There was a family of the Theobalds who were hereditary castellans of Ypres between 1060 and 1127. Sir Robert Douglas states categorically that the Theabold’s son, William, married a sister of Friskin de Kerdale or Freskin of Moray. His heir Archenbald married a daughter of Sir John Crawford the remaining sons went to Moray to support their uncle there.

Ollec, a Flemish Knight, held land in Pembrokeshire in Wales (see Moncrieffe), now deceased, said in his book Highland Clans that Ollec was the father of Freskyn, founder of Clan Sutherland. [18] Freskyn had estates at Strathbrock in West Lothian and Duffus in Moray, his ultimate descendants are the Earls of Sutherland and the Murray Dukes of Atholl. See box below.

Freskyn de Moravia

There is much interest in the Sutherland Clan in its founder—Freskyn de Moravia–and the tracing of his history through old charters, heraldry, and documentation. The key books that address Freskyn’s life are authored by Barrow, Black, Duncan, Lawrie, Ritchie and Moncrieffe and are referenced at the end of this posting. [19] This literature suggests that there is a connection between certain Flemings in Wales and Scotland. An important question for research has been to verify that Freskyn’s father was Fresechinus Fillius Ollec that was suggested by Moncrieff.

Before exploring this issue, it is important to understand the links between the known Flemings in Clydesdale, brought there by Baldwin of Biggar, and the Sutherland, Murray and Douglas families. What became clear was that two of the Flemings that came with Baldwin—Witso (or Witzo) and Tancred—were known to have settled in Pembroke in Wales and built castles there after 1105 in the time of King Henry I of England (1100-1135) son of William the Conqueror.

Witso gave his name to the village of Wiston in Wales, five miles north-east of Haverfordwest, as well as to Wiston near Biggar in Clydesdale where, during the reign of King Malcolm IV of Scotland, he gave the Manor of his church and its two independent chapels to Kelso Abbey. Tancred (or Thancred) also built a castle at Haverfordwest soon after 1108 and gave his name to Tancredston in Wales as well as Thankerton near Biggar in Scotland also in King Malcolm’s reign.

A study of the English Pipe Rolls corroborates a link between the Flemings. Pipe Rolls, sometimes called the Great Rolls, are a collection of financial records maintained by the English Exchequer or Treasury. The earliest of these Pipe Rolls date from the 12th century and they record not only payments made to the government but debts owed to the crown and disbursements made by royal officials. A review of Pipe Roll 31 for Henry I (page 136) revealed information on Witso. In searching for Witso, who was confirmed as Witsonis Flandrensis, a reference to Fresechinus Fillius Ollec was found on the same page. The translated text also has reference to Fresechin, son of Ollec rendering a debt of 20s for a false claim. This provides final documented proof that Ollec is Freskyn’s father and that they were settled in Pembroke in Wales before Freskyn moved to Strathbock in West Lothian with King David I of Scotland and then on to Duffus in Moray by 1130 where he was involved in putting down an insurrection.

It is possible that Ollec may have come with Eustace II of Boulogne and the Fleming contingent of the Conquerors army at the Battle of Hastings 1066 and then later moved to Wales, and that Fresechinus Fillius Ollec was living in Pembroke with other Flemings, specifically Witso and Tancred.

Baldwin Flamingus of Biggar, reportedly the younger son of Stephen Flandrensis of Bratton Devonshire, was regarded as one of the most distinguished of the militant Flemings expelled by Henry II. His stepson was founder of the Crawford Clan at Crawfordjohn. Johns father was Reginald a younger son of Alan of Brittany Earl of Richmond, Reginald died young and his widow married Baldwin of Biggar. The first record of Baldwin was as witness to a charter dated 1154 by Bishop Robert of St Andrews. He was given the onerous Sheriffdom of Lanarkshire in 1162 by King David I and kept that office under Malcolm IV and William the Lion. Balwin’s son Waldeve was captured at Alnwick in 1174.

William de Moravia, son of William, son of Freskin, was founder of Clan Murray thereafter the chiefs of the Murrays became Lords of Petty and Lords of Bothwell. The Lords of Petty were also great soldiers and their descendants assisted Sir William Wallace so they were great patriots of Scotland.  Sir Andrew Murray, 4th of Bothwell was killed in 1333 along with his kinsman Kenneth 4th Earl of Sutherland against English invaders at Halidon Hill. The Lordship ended up with the 3rd Earl of Douglas.

Berowaldo Flandrensis, founder of Clan Innes, came from Boness in West Lothian and was given lands in Moray at Innes and Easter Urquhart by Malcolm IV at Perth in 1154. The award was in recognition of his good services in putting down rebellious natives of Moray and one of the charter witnesses was Freskyn. Boness was no more than eight miles from Freskyns West Lothian holding at Stratbrock and Innes is rather less from his fortress at Duffus. The existence of Berewald is confirmed by a charter to his grandson Walter de Ineys, granted in 1226: Alexander Dei gratia Rex Scotorum, etc. sciant non concession et hae charto confirmasse Waltero filio Johannis filii Berowaldo Flandrensis Inees.” (Innes Familie, Page 53)

The Brodie arms are similar to Innes it has been suggested by Platts that there is a link to the modern dutch word broeder (brother) or and that the first Brodie was a vital link in Freskins military watch over the waters of the Moray firth. [20] This cannot be proved as Lord Lewis Gordon burnt all the old records and charters in an attack on their castle in 1645. However, in George F. Black’s The Surnames of Scotland, we find Michael de Brothie had a charter from King Robert I in 1311 of the lands of Brodie as his father’s heir. [21] Thomas de Brothy was a juror at a court in Inverness 1376-7 (Family of Innes) and John de Brothy appears in 1380 as witness in a matter between the Bishop of Moray and Alexander Stewart Lord of Badenoch. [22]

Other Flemings who appeared in Clydesdale settled within ten miles of each other. The person responsible for bringing them into this area was probably Baldwin of Biggar. His descendants later married into the Fleming family.

  • Wice (or Wizo) left his name in Wiston in Wales five miles northeast of Haverfordwest and in Clydesdale, Scotland. During the reign of Malcolm IV he gave the church of his manor and its two independent chapels to Kelso Abbey. [23]
  • Tancred or Thancred built a Castle at Haverfordwest soon after 1108 and left his name at Tancredston in Wales also at Thankerton in Scotland he came there in Malcolm IV’s reign.
  • Lambin the Fleming held Lamington as an estate from the crown. [24]
  • Hugh of Pettinain was a vassal of Baldwin of Biggar of Boghall Castle.
  • Robert the Fleming of Roberton was the brother of Lambin
  • Simon Loccard at Symington who accompanied Douglas to Spain with Bruce’s Heart. [25]

November 2014
J. Mark Sutherland-Fisher and James B. Sutherland

J Mark Sutherland-Fisher is a Company Director and Clan Sutherland Genealogist. He is also a project member of the Sutherland DNA Project and is engaged in upgrading and revising the original Genealogy of Clan Sutherland. James B Sutherland is a retired Company Director and local family genealogist. He is a project member Sutherland DNA Project and has compiled articles, both historical and genealogical, for the Clan Sutherland Magazine.    

The authors have also furnished comments on the summary of the Workshop that took place in June 2014.  These comments can be seen by clicking on the comments section of the blog posting titled Scotland and the Flemish People Project Workshop and posted on July 3, 2004.



[1] A. A. M. Duncan, Scotland The Making of the Kingdom The Edinburgh History of Scotland Volume One, Oliver & Boyd  (1975) Pages 137, 138, 189.

[2] W. Hunter, Biggar and the House of Fleming (1867) Chapter XXII Page 465; Richard Oram, Domination and Lordship, Scotland 1070-1230, New Edinburgh History of Scotland, Vol 3, (2011) pp 316,318,319; Richard Oram, Domination and Lordship Scotland 1070-1230, New Edinburgh History of Scotland, Vol 3, (2011) pp 316, 318, 319.

[3] J. D. Mackie, A History of Scotland, Pelican Books, second edition revised (1978), p. 42; Alasdair Ross, The Kings of Alba c. 1000-c. 1130, Birlinn Ltd (2011), p. 143.

[4] Richard Oram, Domination and Lordship Scotland 1070-1230, New Edinburgh History of Scotland, Vol 3, (2011) pp. 316, 318, 319.

[5] Sir Ian Moncrieffe & Hicks The Highland Clans (1967), pp 176, 222.

[6] George Bain, The Lordship of Petty Nairnshire Telegraph Office (1925) p. 13.

[7] Beryl Platts, 2 Vols Scottish Hazard -The Flemish Nobility in Scotland (Procter Press 1985), Vol 1, pp. 165, 170.

[8] A.A.M. Duncan, Scotland The Making of the Kingdom The Edinburgh History of Scotland Volume One, Oliver & Boyd  (1975) pp. 137, 138, 189.

[9] Richard Oram, Domination and Lordship Scotland 1070-1230, New Edinburgh History of Scotland, Vol 3, (2011) pp. 316, 318, 319.

[10] A.A.M. Duncan, Scotland The Making of the Kingdom The Edinburgh History of Scotland Volume One, Oliver & Boyd  (1975) pp. 137, 138, 189.

[11] Sir Ian Moncrieffe & Hicks The Highland Clans (1967), pp 176, 222.

[12] Daniel J.J. Sutherland, A Short History of Clan Sutherland; The Families of Sutherland of Forse and Duffus, 12th-19th Century. (Private Copy).

[13] Beryl Platts, 2 Vols Scottish Hazard -The Flemish Nobility in Scotland (Procter Press 1985), Vol 1, pp. 165, 170.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Malcolm Sutherland, A Fighting Clan Sutherland Officers 1250-1850, Avon Books (1996).

[16] James T. Calder, History of Caithness from the Tenth Century Aberdeen University Press (1973), p. 113.

[17] George F. Black The Surnames of Scotland Their Origin, Meaning, and History New York Public Library, Fourth Reprinting (1974), p. 621.

[18] Sir Ian Moncrieffe & Hicks The Highland Clans (1967), pp 176, 222.

[19] Professor G.W.S. Barrow, The Kingdom of the Scots. Second edition. Edinburgh University Press 2003; George F Black The Surnames of Scotland Their Origin, Meaning, and History New York Public Library, Fourth Reprinting (1974), p. 621; A.A.M. Duncan, Scotland The Making of the Kingdom The Edinburgh History of Scotland Volume One, Oliver & Boyd  (1975) Pages 137,138,189; Sir. Archibald C. Lawrie, Early Scottish Charters Prior to AD 1153. James Maclehose & Sons for University Press, Glasgow 1905; R.L. Graeme Ritchie. The Normans in Scotland. R & R Clark Ltd for University Press Edinburgh 1954; Sir Ian Moncrieffe & Hicks The Highland Clans (1967), pp 176, 222.

[20] Daniel J. J. Sutherland A Short History of Clan Sutherland; The Families of Sutherland of Forse and Duffus, 12th-19th Century. (Private copy); George F. Black The Surnames of Scotland Their Origin, Meaning, and History New York Public Library, Fourth Reprinting (1974), p. 621.

[21] George F. Black, The Surnames of Scotland Their Origin, Meaning, and History New York Public Library, Fourth Reprinting (1974), p. 621.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Lauren Toorians, Flemish Settlements in Twelfth-Century Scotland with added appendix Handlist of Flemings in Scotland in the twelfth and thirteenth century (copy of conference paper) (1992) pp 683,689,691.

[24] Ibid.

[25] Ibid.

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Encouraging Flemish Weavers to come to Scotland

It is perhaps little known outside academic circles that the Scottish Parliament passed a law in July 1587 that encouraged Flemish weavers to come to Scotland. This posting reproduces and comments briefly on that Act of Parliament.

The Scottish Parliament passed an Act in July 1587 that gave legal encouragement to the bringing of Flemish weavers to Scotland. The box below contains the text of the Act.

Weaving – as well as the related crafts of spinning, combing, shearing, fulling, and dyeing – were common in Scotland during the medieval period, with both urban and rural manufacturers catering to the textile demands of ordinary people. This produce was typically of low quality, but was produced on a large enough scale in the later Middle Ages for it to be exported to Flanders – the hub of northern European textile manufacture – to clothe the urban poor.

The Flemish textile industry, the keystone of the region’s medieval economy,[A] was known for its production of high quality fabrics, including Bruges satin, Lille worsted, and Ypres grosgrain. This success was driven from the twelfth to early fourteenth centuries by the fact that its raw materials included high quality Flemish wool, as well as that of Scotland, England and Ireland. Indeed, as early as Roman times woollen cloth, made by the Flemish in Arras, was marketed in Asia Minor.

The Flemish textile industry had many ups and downs over the subsequent four centuries but Flemish weavers retained a reputation for high quality workmanship. The law passed in Scotland in 1587 was motivated by a desire to, in modern parlance, keep more of the “value added” associated with wool production in Scotland. Importing Flemish craftsmen to Scotland was seen as a way to foster a skills transfer to local apprentices.

Act in Favour of Flemish Craftsmen
Legislation: private act

[2]Our sovereign lord and three estates of this present parliament, upon the humble supplication of John Garden, Philip Fermant and John Banko, Flemings, strangers and workmen, having consideration that the said strangers are come within this realm to exercise their craft and occupation in making of serges, grograms,[3] fustians,[4] bombasines,[5] stemmings,[6] baize, coverings of beds and others appertaining to their said craft and for instruction of the said lieges in the exercise of the making of the works, and have offered to our said sovereign lord and whole commonwealth of this realm the experience and sure knowledge of their labours, which will tend to a perpetual flourishing of the said craft within this realm; therefore, our said sovereign lord and three estates aforesaid have thought reasonable and expedient and for the common good of the realm have agreed and concluded with the said craftsmen and strangers aforesaid upon the particular heads and articles following: that is to say, the said craftsmen shall remain within this realm for the space of five years at the least after the date hereof, and shall bring within this realm the number of 30 persons of weavers, fullers and such others as may work and perform the said work, as also one dyer or more for dyeing and perfecting of their said works, and that they and their servants, fullers, weavers and dyers to be brought home by them shall make and perfect their items and pieces of works according as the same are, or have been, made in Flanders, Holland or England, keeping length, breadth and quality according to the rule and style of the book of the craft aforesaid, presented before his majesty by the said craftsmen, seen, considered, allowed, marked and authorised by his highness and delivered in keeping to the superintendent of the said craft and keeper of his highness’s seal thereof after-specified.

Item, the said craftsmen are obliged by this act to take no apprentices but Scottish boys and maidens of this realm, and before any others, the burgesses’ bairns of Edinburgh to be preferred and accepted upon the conditions following, to wit, to be apprentices by the space of five years and that the said strangers shall teach their apprentices some part of their craft, whereby their labours may be worth their meat and clothing within the space of half a year after their entry; and thereafter the said masters shall instruct them in the whole points of their said craft within the space of five years and shall hide no part thereof from them; and also shall furnish them reasonably in meat, drink, clothing, bedding, washing and wringing, for the which causes to be performed by the said strangers to their apprentices during the said space of five years, the said apprentices and each one of them shall pay to their masters for each one of their apprentices the sum of £40 Scots money [for each man child and £20 for each maiden];[7] also the said strangers are obliged by this act not to suffer any persons of their own nation and vocation to beg or trouble this country for poverty, and that they shall subsist them by their works and furnishing according to the order observed by their nation in England, and the price of the said seals to be paid by the buyers of the said stuff.

Item, to the effect that his majesty’s lieges be not deceived nor prejudiced by the said strangers’ insufficient work, but that the same work and every piece and parcel thereof shall be as sufficient as any other similar stuff that is made in the said countries of Flanders, Holland or England, according to the rule and form of the book of the said craft produced and marked as said is, therefore, his majesty, with advice aforesaid, has appointed, constituted and ordained an honest and discreet man, Nicholas Uddard, burgess of Edinburgh, to be visitor and overseer of the said craftsmen, whole works, items and pieces and to try the sufficiency thereof, and to keep his highness’s seal, stamp and iron for marking thereof, for the which seal and furnishing of irons and lead thereto, as also the timber and looms whereupon they tax the said stuff, the said Nicholas shall have such duties as is contained within the said book and as is commonly used to be paid for that in Flanders, Holland or England; which office his majesty, with advice aforesaid, gives and conveys to the said Nicholas during his lifetime, and by this act exempts him from all taxes, watching, warding and other charges and impositions whatsoever as freely as the said strangers are exempt from them, and that for good considerations moving his majesty.

And his majesty, willing to gratify the said strangers for their good offices aforesaid, has granted and, by this act, grants to the said strangers and workmen a patent place within the burgh of Edinburgh, or within any other burgh within this realm, where they shall remain upon the ordinary market days of the said burghs to sell their made items and pieces of stuff to the lieges of this realm, providing that they shall sell no wool nor worsted before the same be put in work; also that the burgh where they dwell and use their craft shall appoint them sufficient places to set up trees, draw and dry their stuff and other needful things for their craft, upon reasonable payment, according to the order of their said book.

Item, his highness, with advice aforesaid, by this act, exempts the said strangers, their companies, servants and apprentices from all taxations, subsidies, tributes, impositions, watching, warding, taxing and other charges whatsoever within burgh or beyond the same, and ordains that the magistrates of the burgh of Edinburgh and others where they shall remain to make them burgesses of their burgh and grant them the liberty thereof freely during their remaining; and also his majesty grants to them the liberty and privilege of naturalisation and to be as free within this realm during their remaining as if they were born within the same, and that their lawful bairns shall possess the said privileges as if they were naturalised or born Scotsmen.

Also his majesty ordains the provost and bailies of Edinburgh and of the other burghs where the said strangers shall happen to make residence to furnish and deliver to each one of the said three workmen a sufficient work loom to begin their work and no further.

Item, it is permitted that strangers may buy the said persons’ items of work in the open market only, and also that they may choose to themselves within the said burgh of Edinburgh and liberty thereof, or any other burgh of this realm, a convenient place for the use of water to them and their servants and to a fuller and dyer, according to their said book; and that their servants and apprentices that shall come within this realm shall be exempt from all exactions as said is, and also shall be reimbursed and paid of their expenses and passage coming by sea by the magistrates of the burgh where they shall arrive and make residence, they being always craftsmen able to exercise the said vocation.

It is also granted by his majesty, with advice aforesaid, that the said Flemings craftsmen and their companies, when they are a sufficient number and shall require a kirk and minister to be the kirk of their nation, that the same shall be permitted to them upon their expenses reasonable for maintaining of the kirk and sustaining of a minister thereat as they can agree with the parties, providing that they and their congregation of the said kirk shall be subject to the discipline and profession of the kirk of Scotland and to the ecclesiastical and civil laws thereof.

And likewise, it is permitted by his majesty that the said craftsmen may bring within this realm and maintain within the same a wright of their own country for making of their work looms, who shall be exempt and possess their liberties aforesaid as themselves.

And for the better furtherance of this good and godly enterprise, his majesty, with advice aforesaid, gives and assigns to the said three strangers and their companies the sum of 1,000 merks money of this realm, to be paid to them of the first and readiest of the goods which shall happen to be made by them for the duty of his majesty’s custom, which shall be received of each item and piece of their work and labour; and that to be paid after the said number of 30 workmen be brought in and planted within this realm.

Item, his majesty, with advice of the said three estates, declares and ordains that each item and piece of the said craftsmens’ work shall pay to his highness, by the workers thereof, for his majesty’s custom of the same, such customs and duty as is paid for that in Flanders, Holland or England, according to the said book and value of the said stuff as shall be given in table to the said Nicolas Uddard, whom his majesty also by this act constitutes receiver of the said custom and duty during the space aforesaid.

And the said strangers and workmen presently within this realm, or that shall happen to come within the same to the effect aforesaid, shall be bound and obliged to present themselves before the provost, bailies and council of the said burghs before they be admitted to possess the privileges above-written, and there give their oaths for observing of the laws of this realm, spiritual and temporal, and for due obedience to his majesty and his successors, their judges and officers, their superintendent and overseer according to the laws of this realm, and that they shall remain within this realm at their work and shall not vacate from there during the said space of five years and further during their remaining within this realm.

[1] National Archives of Scotland, PA2/13, ff.143v-145r. Records of the Parliaments of Scotland: http://www.rps.ac.uk/
[2] ‘P.’ written in margin. Sections are numbered in Acts of the Parliaments of Scotland, but not in the manuscript.
[3] A coarse fabric, usually of silk mixed with mohair or wool, and stiffened with gum.
[4] A coarse cotton or flax cloth.
[5] A twilled or corded material, of silk and worsted, or cotten and worsted, or worsted alone.
[6] A woollen cloth used to make hose or sometimes furnishings.
[7] This interpolation, written in the margin and authorised by the signature of the clerk register, replaces the deleted clause ‘as is commonly given with the apprentices of crafts within Edinburgh’.

There are a number of interesting features of the law. Most worthy of note, perhaps, are the following:

  • The crafts that were encouraged included the making of serges, grograms, fustians, bombasines, stemmings, baises and coverings of beds. These items are defined in the footnotes to the law. What distinguishes them is that they are all high quality items that would require the application of specialized skills.
  • The law provided for 30 people to be brought to Scotland that could include weavers as well as fullers and dyers. These craftsmen were required to be in Scotland for at least 5 years.
  • The workmanship was expected to be of the same quality as that found in Flanders, Holland or England.
  • The craftsmen’s skills were to be transferred through the employment of only “Scottish boys and maidens of this realm” and preferably “the burgesses’ bairns of Edinburgh”.
  • When there was sufficient numbers of craftsmen and their family members in Scotland the law provided for the provision of a kirk and minister. Reasonable expenses of the minister and kirk were to be covered. There is no evidence that such a kirk was ever established in Edinburgh or beyond.

Clearly Flemish weavers came to Scotland as a result of this initiative and evidence of their existence and activities have been found and reported in earlier blog postings.

Alex Fleming and Morvern French
November 2014

Morvern is a second year PhD student at the University of St Andrews, and a contributor to the Scotland and the Flemish People project.

[A] David Nicholas, Medieval Flanders (Longman, 1992).

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Artistic Exchanges between Scotland and Flanders – Part 2

In this second of two postings Professor Macmillan further examines the artistic exchanges between Scotland and Flanders. The narrative begins where last week’s posting left off – a discussion of the Trinity College altarpiece that dates to the early 16th century – and ends in the present era.

The Book of Hours 

After the Trinity College altarpiece, discussed in last week’s posting, the most important work to survive from these exchanges with the Scottish-Flemish circle was the Book of Hours of Mary Tudor. Another piece of royal patronage, it was James IV’s present to his wife at their marriage in 1504. This beautiful book was previously attributed to Simon Bening. That attribution has now been challenged. Nevertheless, the work is close enough to his style for it to be clear that it is a product of the artistic circle to which Simon Bening and his father belonged and which, it seems, was also closely linked to Scotland.

The Book of Hours is especially remarkable for the evidence of the detailed oversight of the commission, or perhaps the close link it demonstrates between the artist and the king’s agent responsible for the commission. Given the date this agent is very likely to have been Andrew Halyburton. Indeed the book is notable for its Scottish detail. This includes separate portraits of the king and queen at prayer. The king’s portrait is pointedly modelled on the portrait of his father on the Trinity College altarpiece. In that painting, however, James III and his son are presented by St Andrew, patron saint of Scotland, to whichever divine personage was originally in the missing central panel. Here the king is kneeling before an altar, but is supported by St James, his name saint, not St. Andrew. St Andrew does also appear, however. He is represented, full-length, in the left hand panel of an altarpiece, displayed on the altar in front of the king. Like the Trinity College Altarpiece, though much smaller, this altarpiece is a triptych. The right hand panel is not visible, but the central panel, and the image to which the king is kneeling, is a striking half-length of Christ as Salvator Mundi. 

The small size of this painting suggests that what the artist has portrayed here is the king praying at his private devotional altar. There is no reason to suppose that the picture displayed on it was an actual altarpiece, but it is surely indicative of the kind of painting that would have furnished the royal chapels in Scotland.

Pilgrimages were often an act of penance, so perhaps the choice of St James, the pilgrim saint, in this miniature, rather than St Andrew, the national saint, reflects the king’s own sense of the need for penance for what he felt was his complicity in his father’s death. He built Cambuskenneth Abbey as an act of contrition on a site near where his father died and was reputed always to have worn a heavy chain beneath his clothes. Certainly the very striking miniature in this book of a Scottish royal funeral would seem to be connected with that event. These Scottish references were clearly specified as part of the commission for the book. So too is the inclusion in the secondary decoration of numerous thistles for James and daisies or margeurites for Margaret. There are also, however, a number of landscapes of lochs and mountains included in this secondary decoration. These too might have been part of the commission, but perhaps it could also be an artist living in a flat country thinking of the hills of home. Certainly it seems that long before Walter Scott, the artist has characterised Scotland as the land of the mountain and the flood. This beautiful book is therefore an important example of Scottish royal patronage of artists in Flanders, but perhaps it also bears witness to the close relationship between the two communities, not only by the fact of its being commissioned, but in its detail too.

The two great acts of royal patronage that reflect the closeness of the relationship between Scotland and Flanders are this Book of Hours and the Trinity College altarpiece to which, as we have seen, the miniatures in the book make direct reference. No other work of similar importance survives, though from the evidence given above it is clear that such things existed. It also seems likely that the presence of Piers the Painter early in the sixteenth century was not the only occasion on which artists came from Flanders to work here. Robert Brydall describes a letter in the correspondence of Sir George Bowers from much later in the century reporting the difficulty experienced by an unnamed Flemish painter in securing sittings with the young King James VI in Stirling Castle during the turbulent events of the Regency of James Douglas, Earl of Morton. We do know that Arnold Bronckhorst painted the king for Regent Morton. He was Dutch, but the account quoted by Brydall may refer to him. It would have been easy to confuse a Dutch painter and Flemish painter at that point in history. Nevertheless, even if it is a mistake, it still suggests that Flemish was the expected nationality of an immigrant painter. These are evidently artists working for the court.

Ecclesiastical Architecture 

There are also monuments that bear witness to the relationship between Scotland and Flanders at a more humble level. Thus, like the pantiles and crowsteps, they reflect the way in which this connection was not just for the court and the nation’s grandees, but for the ordinary people in Scotland, at least in the coastal towns of the east that traded regularly across the North Sea. Older church towers in Fife, like St Salvators in St Andrews, Kilrenny Parish church, or the old church of Anstruther Wester are very simple. Their effect depends on mass, proportion and very spare but telling decoration; but in the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries one or two examples of an altogether more flamboyant model appear. The spire of Cupar’s old church, for instance, though dating to 1620, bears a striking resemblance to Flemish models. Its precarious pinnacles at the four corners of the tower and blind balustrade half way up the spire are in fact very close to the same features on the church of Our Lady of Bruges, though of course much smaller.  The Tron steeple in Glasgow follows a similar pattern at much the same date. The balustraded parapet and waterspouts of the Tolbooth Tower attached to Pittenweem Church, dating from 1588, also seem to reflect a similar influence, though its asymmetry is nevertheless distinctively Scottish.

Inevitably, however, the connection with the Catholic Southern Netherlands diminished rapidly as the reformed religion became established in Scotland. Nevertheless the tower of Cupar church indicates that the connection endured well into the seventeenth century. Indeed, though it is not part of the main topic of this posting, it is worth recalling that one of the most ambitious pieces of patronage of a Flemish artist anywhere, the ceiling of the Banqueting House painted by Rubens, was commissioned by Charles I, a Scottish-born king. Van Dyck too enjoyed extensive patronage from Charles and his court, including a good many of its Scottish members.

John Medina and his Legacy 

Notably, too, it was again a Flemish painter, John Medina, who brought an international style back to Scotland at the end of the seventeenth century. Medina was born in Brussels in 1659, son of a Spanish army captain, and trained there with François Duchatel. He came to Scotland as a visitor in 1694, but was so successful that he returned with his family to settle in Edinburgh. So it was a Flemish painter who sowed the seeds of the remarkable artistic renaissance of Scottish painting in the eighteenth century. Medina was knighted and naturalised as a citizen of the independent kingdom of Scotland during the last sitting of the Scottish Parliament before the Union of 1707. He died three years later in 1710.

The portraits of the Fellows of the Royal College of Surgeons are among the most notable of Medina’s achievements. The series also includes his own self-portrait, added at the request of the surgeons. Its inclusion is an indication of the esteem that he enjoyed, but it also significantly places him in the company of fellow professionals, among his peers in fact. Another self-portrait that he painted in which he presents himself in character as the greatest of the ancient Greek painters, Apelles, painting Campaspe, mistress of Alexander the Great, makes the same point. In this self-image, he asserts both the status of the art he practises as a profession, not a mere craft, and his own standing as practitioner in a great tradition. It was an important example for his fellow artists in Scotland, and during the following decades they moved decisively from the relatively humble position of craftsmen to become masters of a proud profession.

Nor was this Medina’s only legacy. William Aikman was his apprentice and Allan Ramsay followed Aikman, close friend of his father, Allan Ramsay the poet. The antiquarian David Laing also recorded a tradition that the brilliant colouring and free handling seen in the painting of the Runciman brothers, John and Alexander, was learnt from ‘a very old man trained in the Rubens tradition’. This is not supported by any other evidence, but might nevertheless reflect the value to them of the example of several of Medina’s vividly painted subject paintings acquired by Sir John Clerk from the painter’s estate and still at Penicuik House. A century later, David Wilkie certainly did learn from the example of Rubens, especially in the exquisite way he used colour in his later drawings.

19th and 20th Century Artistic Exchanges 

During the nineteenth century, too, looking for a language suitable for the new self-image of Scotland created by Sir Walter Scott, architects remembered the old connection with Flanders. For the winning design for the monument to commemorate Scott, George Meikle Kemp turned to Antwerp Cathedral and Brussels Town Hall for inspiration. The civic architecture of fifteenth-century Flanders also became a favourite model for buildings intended to embody a new commercial self-confidence in Scotland, and the civic pride that went with it. Glasgow City Chambers is the most remarkable (and most expensive) example of this. Modelled on the great town halls of Brussels, Antwerp or Ghent, it even seeks to surpass their opulent display of civic grandeur. Nor were humbler artistic connections completely forgotten. E. A. Hornel spent three years studying at the Antwerp Academy between 1882 and 1885, and the acquisition by the Museum of Fine Arts in Ghent of James Guthrie’s Schoolmates further bears witness to the continuing mutual awareness between the Scots and what by then had become the Belgian school.

Finally, a touching footnote to this long story: in one of many self-portraits, the artist John Byrne holds a label inscribed with the words ‘Ceci n’est pas un Autoportrait.’ It is a personal homage to the great Belgian Surrealist painter, René Magritte, and to his famous painting Ceci n’est pas un Pipe. In 1967 John Byrne, apparently trapped in a dead-end job in a carpet factory, wrote a despairing letter addressed simply to M. Magritte, Belgium. It was almost a surrealist gesture, but nevertheless the letter reached its destination and Byrne received a touching and thoughtful reply in which the Belgian Surrealist connected the mystery in his own paintings with the mystery of life and death in ‘a mysterious universe.’ Magritte’s words became a text for Byrne’s own career as a Surrealist painter and so perhaps it links Byrne back to Hugo van der Goes in a long thread of connection between Scotland and Flanders winding through almost six centuries.

Prof. Duncan Macmillan
November 2014

Duncan Macmillan is Professor Emeritus of the History of Scottish Art and former Curator of the Talbot Rice Gallery at the University of Edinburgh. He is author of Scottish Art, 1460-2000 and art critic of The Scotsman.

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