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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Artistic Exchanges Between Scotland and Flanders – Part 1

This is the fourth in a series of postings that look at the role the Flemish have played in shaping Scottish architecture and the arts more generally.  In this first part of two postings Professor Macmillan examines the artistic exchanges between Scotland and Flanders and is able to discern a long thread of connection winding through almost six centuries.  Part 2 will be posted next week

Reflecting on the relationship between Scotland and Flanders pan tiles and crow steps come immediately to mind as enduring witnesses, for Scotland at least, to its importance. The pan tiles and crow steps are there to be seen on many of Scotland’s oldest buildings.

Of course, after the Reformation the relationship between Scotland and the southern Netherlands was replaced with a very close relationship with the Protestant north, Holland as it became. That certainly had a profound influence on Scotland’s later history. The Dutch too use crow steps and pan tiles on their buildings, but their use on the Scottish east coast predates the emergence of Holland as a dominant influence on the nations around the North Sea. The Auld Alliance with France has also left a deep mark on Scottish culture, but France was further away and more a political ally than a trading partner. There were also important links with the Hanseatic cities of Germany, with Denmark and with Norway and indeed right around the Baltic. There were, for instance, Scottish communities in Helsingor, Cologne and Bergen and in other places, too. There still is a Scotsgaten in Bergen.  Indeed Scottish masons built the castle there. Nevertheless, the Flemish connection was I believe definitive in the creation of modern Scotland because it touched the daily life of ordinary people at a critical time in the emergence of the modern nation.

Hugo van der Goes, the Bonkils and the Trinity College Altarpiece

The importance of the relationship between Scotland and Flanders is personified in Hugo van der Goes’s portrait of Sir Edward Bonkil, one of the earliest known portraits of a Scotsman and still one of the most outstanding. Bonkil is portrayed as donor of the Trinity College altarpiece, itself the most famous surviving piece of art linking Scotland to Flanders During the period at which the altarpiece was commissioned “contacts between Scotland the Netherlands were … close on levels political, dynastic, commercial and cultural.” (Campbell and Thompson,(1)) Thus Lorne Campbell and Colin Thompson summarise the exchanges that were the background to this commission.

This link shows the Trinity College Altarpiece and provides some background material:  https://www.nationalgalleries.org/collection/artists-a-z/g/artist/hugo-van-der-goes/object/the-trinity-altarpiece-ng-1772

This posting draws in part on the research of Campbell and Thompson (1) as well as earlier work of Father David MacRoberts (2).  They provide important insights into the background of the commission. It is to an extent therefore just rearranging the furniture they and, before them, Father David MacRoberts set out in the Innes Review (2). Nevertheless, I think that it is necessary to do that to understand fully what Scotland’s relations with Flanders were in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.

The Trinity College altarpiece was commissioned most likely in the late 1470s  for the Trinity College Kirk in Edinburgh. The artist was the Flemish painter Hugo van der Goes (c.1440/45 – 1482). Sir Edward Bonkil who is presumed to have been responsible for the commission was Provost of the Collegiate Church of the Holy Trinity painted in Bruges, the altarpiece was originally a triptych— a set of three panels, two hinged and thus two-sided on either side of a wider central panel with only one painted side. Thus in its original state it would have presented five painted surfaces, three when open and two when closed. The altarpiece would have stood above the altar in the church.

The central panel is lost, presumably destroyed by the iconoclasts of the Reformation. Only the two wings remain and these, the property of Her Majesty the Queen, can be found in the National Gallery of Scotland. Painted on both sides these panels present four images. The two that would have been visible when the altarpiece was closed show, on the right Bonkil kneeling in prayer beside an organ and supported by two angels. He is facing to the left and thus kneeling to the image on the adjacent left-hand panel which shows the Holy Trinity: the crucified body of Christ supported by God the Father with a dove to represent the Holy Ghost hovering above.  The other two panels which would have flanked the main and now missing central panel and would thus have been visible when the altarpiece was open show on the left King James III and his son supported by St. Andrew and on the right James’s Queen, Margaret of Denmark supported by a saint  wearing armour who may be St Canute, sometime king and patron saint of Denmark.

It is important to resist the conviction of inferiority in Scottish art history, however. It goes like this: Scotland was remote and poor. It follows that Scots could play no part in the great events of Western art except as recipients of occasional crumbs from its table. From this perspective, unless the outcome is explicitly provincial, the presumption must be that there were no Scots involved. It is clear from the evidence, however, that commercial exchanges between Scotland and Flanders — and indeed with other places in northern Europe — were also reflected in close personal links between people of the two nations and these included links between expatriate Scots, of whom Bonkil is clearly an important example, and the artistic communities of Bruges, Ghent and Antwerp. It is also clear that within these latter exchanges there was room for the development in Scotland of a self-conscious national aesthetic seen especially in royal buildings like Stirling Castle and Linlithgow. It is also seen in grander domestic buildings like Craigevar, or Glamis, but is apparent in other aspects of life too where the evidence survives. That is not the subject of this posting, however. Nevertheless understanding the connection with Flanders, the most important area of this kind of exchange, as one perceived at the time as between equals, does help to illuminate the self-confidence of the Scots that made this possible.

Being scrupulously academic, Campbell and Thompson (1) refuse to draw the obvious conclusion suggested by the various bits of evidence that Edward Bonkil’s links with Van der Goes are representative of a broader artistic relationship between Scotland and Flanders. They rightly argue that there is no documentary proof that Bonkil sat for his portrait in Bruges, but such proof is hardly necessary when the portrait itself was so manifestly painted from the life and is correspondingly so much in contrast to the portraits of the members of the royal family in the same painting. They could not travel to Bruges and indeed their portraits were clearly not painted by the master himself. Bonkil’s portrait is therefore its own witness to his presence in the painter’s studio.

Neither is there any explicit proof of any connection between Edward Bonkil and his contemporary Alexander Bonkil who acted as emissary between Charles the Bold of Burgundy and James III and who became a naturalized citizen of Bruges. Indeed he looks in his portrait as prosperous as he must have been to occupy such a prominent position in the picture alongside the king and queen. Clearly like Alexander Bonkil, he enjoyed the royal confidence. To reverse the argument that there is no evidence to link the two Bonkils and that therefore we cannot do so, it seems highly improbable that two men with the same name enjoyed the royal confidence at the same time, but were not otherwise connected. Thus, though again not proven, it seems very likely that Edward Bonkil’s prosperity reflected his position in a family whose wealth came from trade with Flanders. As well as Alexander there were several other people with the name of Bonkil recorded as active in this area. When the population of Scotland and indeed even more so of the city Edinburgh alone was so small, it is more likely that they were members of the same family than that they were not.

The altarpiece itself is witness to the importance of this Flemish connection. It was also strikingly modern at the time. Absorbing the naturalism of Flemish painting since Van Eyck, Van der Goes nevertheless also seems to look back to an earlier kind of painting that is less naturalistic and more visionary. Not only does he reintroduce the use of gold leaf, but in the panel of the Trinity he also deliberately distorts what had become the conventional, perspectival arrangement of space to create a deliberately unreal, or in modern language, surreal vision, that is not of this world. The only comparable commission is the Portinari altarpiece in the Uffizi. The Portinari commission was also the result of important trading links between Flanders and the wider world.

The marriage of James II, father of James III whose portrait is in Van der Goes’s picture, to the Flemish princess, Mary of Guelders bears witness to the importance to both sides of the relationship between Scotland and Flanders. Mary was daughter of Catherine of Cleves, Duchess of Guelders, the great-niece of Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy, who evidently arranged the marriage. Incidentally, as this marriage also bears witness, in the fifteenth century these links were with the Duchy of Burgundy that controlled the whole Netherlands. Later political changes meant, however, that what was once Burgundian and Flemish is now Dutch or Belgian. For instance the Scottish Staple, or merchants’ colony, moved from Bruges to Middleburg in the late fifteenth century and from 1541 it was located in Veere. Neither town is far from Bruges or Ghent, but being on the north shore of the Scheldt that eventually divided the Catholic south from the Protestant north, they are now in the Netherlands. In 1564 the Scottish Staple moved again following the order of Margaret of Parma, prohibiting under the pretext of danger from the plague the importation of wool from Scotland into Flanders. (The plague she was acting to prevent was perhaps the spread of dangerous Protestant ideas, rather than the deadly disease known as the Black Death.) The Staple for cloth was consequently transferred to Emden, a small but rising port in Friesland. Initially however its presence in Bruges is important for this story.

Bening and Binning

One of the most interesting figures in these Scottish-Flemish circles in Bruges was Alexander or Sanders Bening who died in 1519. He was a member of the painters’ guild, first in Bruges, where he was sponsored by Hugo van der Goes, and later in Ghent. It has been suggested that Bening was the artist responsible for illuminating a manuscript known as the Book of Hours of Maximilian I, and so, by comparison, it is proposed he was also responsible for other similar works. What is distinctive about the group of illuminations thus identified as by the Master of the Hours of Maximilian I is that the artist who painted them was clearly very close to Van der Goes. This makes it more likely that this artist was indeed Bening who was actually related to Van der Goes by his marriage to Catherine van der Goes, a sister, or possibly a niece to of the artist. Marriages between families in the same profession were common and it is also normal to find successive generations of painters with the same name as children followed in the family profession. Alexander and Cornelia’s son, Simon, became one the most celebrated artists in the last flowering of manuscript illumination in Flanders in the sixteenth century.

Intriguingly,  we also glimpse in the records a painter called Sanders Escochois, or Sandy the Scotsman. It cannot be proved that he and Alexander Bening are one and the same. Nevertheless there evidently was at least one Scottish artist working in Flanders. There is however also circumstantial evidence to suggest that Sanders Escochois might very possibly have been identical with Alexander Bening, or at least that Bening was a Scot. Painting was a family business and there were no less than five painters called Binning (a simple variation on Bening or Benning) working in Edinburgh during the sixteenth century. Notably at least one of them, Walter Binning, worked for the court of Queen Mary in 1558 and 1561. It is certainly perfectly possible that the same family of painters had two branches, one in Flanders, the other in Scotland, or that members of the family returned to work in Scotland. It is also significant, however, that Alexander Bening’s daughter (and Simon’s sister), Cornelia, married a Scot, Andrew Halyburton. This surely strengthens the argument that Bening was also a Scot as Halyburton would most likely have chosen his wife from within the Scottish community, while Bening would have been happy to be allied to such a powerful potential source of Scottish patronage. Nor was Halyburton just any Scot.  As Conservator of the Privileges of the Scots in the Netherlands, he was in effect the Scots ambassador. Halyburton also regularly acted as agent for the king in procuring art works and indeed artists from Flanders and also further afield. In 1505, for instance, the expenses he incurred in sending Piers the painter to Scotland were reimbursed. We do not know anything by Piers the Painter, but his presence in Scotland and Halyburton’s role in arranging for him to come here is further evidence of the normality of this relationship.

Other ecclesiastical art

Nor is the Trinity College altarpiece the only survivor from this exchange although it is undoubtedly the most notable. We cannot, for instance, now tell where the original painting came from that included the portrait of Bishop William Elphinstone of Aberdeen. The portrait only survives in a copy of a fragment of a much larger original, but it was evidently an ambitious painting in the Flemish style. In 1505, Bishop George Brown imported Flemish altarpieces for the chapel of the Three Kings in St Mary’s Dundee and for one of the chapels in Dunkeld Cathedral. Father David McRoberts quotes an account of similar altarpieces at Pluscarden Abbey which is also specific about their being made in Flanders: “Twa tabirnaclez in ye said abbay that is to say ane to yie hie alter and ane oyer to our Lady alter to ye making in Flandris.” Archbishop of St Andrews, William Schevez, commissioned the magnificent medal that bears his portrait and his arms from a Flemish artist of great skill. The consensus is that it was Quentin Matsys. There is also a small number of surviving illuminated books that appear to have been commissioned in Flanders for Scottish individuals or institutions. Dean Brown’s Book of Hours, for instance, is one of the most personal of these. We know he went to the Netherlands on his way to Rome and as the book includes his portrait it does itself bear witness to his presence in the artist’s studio. The book was evidently not finished in time for him to bring it home complete. The later miniatures seem to have been added after his return by a less skilled hand. The Perth Psalter was evidently made also in the Netherlands expressly for St John’s Kirk in Perth as it includes a dedication to that church. The same church also has a beautiful Flemish brass chandelier, a rare survivor of the havoc that John Knox’s preaching in the same church wrought throughout Scotland. The Epistolary of Aberdeen Cathedral was commissioned in Antwerp by Bishop Gavin Dunbar in 1527 and there can be no doubt that there were once many more such books as these and that they are but rare and chance survivors of what was once the normal furnishing of at least the better-off Scottish churches.

Prof. Duncan Macmillan
October 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 art critic of The Scotsman and is also the author of Painting in Scotland: the Golden Age (1986), Scottish Art 1460-1990 (1990, Scottish Book of the Year in 1991, enlarged edition in 2000, Scottish Art 1460-2000) and Scottish Art in the 20th Century (1994, Scottish Arts Council Book Award). His most recent book is Scotland’s Shrine: the Scottish National War Memorial published in 2014. He has also written a number of monographs on Scottish and European artists including Will Maclean, Stephen Campbell, Elizabeth Blackadder and Victoria Crowe.


  1. Colin Thompson and Lorne Campbell, Hugo van der Goes and the Trinity College Altarpiece, NGS, Edinburgh, 1974
  2. David MacRoberts, Notes of Scoto-Flemish artistic contacts, Innes Review, X, 1959
  3. Duncan Macmillan, Scottish Art 1460-2000, Edinburgh 2000
  4. M.R.Apted and S.Hannabus, Dictionary of Painters in Scotland 1301-1700, Edinburgh 1978
  5. Robert Brydall, Art in Scotland: its origins and progress, Edinburgh, 1889
  6. John Gifford, The Buildings of Scotland, Fife, London 1988
  7. Miles Glendinning, Ranald MacInnes and Aonghas MacKechnie A History of Scottish Architecture, Edinburgh, 1996
  8. Angels, Nobles and Unicorns, National Museum of Antiquities of Scotland, Edinburgh, 1982
  9. Illuminating the Renaissance: The Triumph of Flemish Manuscript Painting in Europe, Royal Academy, London, 2003
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Scottish Architectural Debts to Flanders in the Later Middle Ages

This is a third in what will be a series of blog postings examining the role the Flemish played in shaping Scotland’s architectural and artistic heritage.  The first two, dated December 6th and 13th 2013, focussed on the pan tiles and crow steps that are a well know feature of Scotland’s coastal towns and villages.  In this posting Professor Richard Fawcett examines the role of the Flemish in what he terms “the formation of Scottish ecclesiastical architectural taste”.

Later medieval church architecture in Scotland is the result of a fascinating synthesis of ideas brought together from a wide range of sources. The long wars with England that had such a devastating impact on Scottish creativity for much of the fourteenth century resulted in a reluctance to re-establish the close architectural links that had existed between the two countries throughout the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Instead, amongst much else, we find Scottish patrons and their masons looking to those parts of Continental Europe with which they had the closest ongoing contacts for at least some of their inspiration, as they worked out a fresh approach to meeting their architectural needs.

The best-documented Continental debts are to France. The work of the Paris-born mason John Morow in the early fifteenth century, for example, can be traced at Melrose and Paisley Abbeys, at Lincluden Collegiate Church and at Glasgow Cathedral, on the basis of the inscribed account of his works at Melrose. We also have records of contributions by several French masons to the magnificent palaces built or enlarged for James V.

The contributions of masons from the Low Countries, and from Flanders in particular, are less well documented. Nevertheless, the architectural evidence suggests that their buildings were a significant factor in the melting pot of ideas, and some masons were evidently brought to Scotland to work. Support for this can be found at the very end of our period in the work of a craftsman with the name of Peter Flemisman, who carved statues for the exterior of Falkland Palace in 1538-9. Further support comes after the Reformation, when Lawrence the Fleming was one of two masons recruited by the municipality of Edinburgh at Middelburg in 1599, after being heavily plied with drink.

The admiration in which Flemish works of art were held by Scottish patrons is, of course, well attested, as illustrated by the retable that Bishop George Brown bought for the high altar of his cathedral at Dunkeld in the early sixteenth century, and it is very likely that many of the imported artefacts for which Andrew Halyburton acted as an agent had their origins in Flanders. From other sources we learn that in some cases Flemish craftsmen had to be prepared to travel to Scotland to fit their works into their intended location, as in the troubled case of the stalls of Melrose Abbey that were ordered from the carpenter Cornelius van Aeltre of Bruges in about 1433.

So far as architecture is concerned, a taste for Netherlandish works is apparent in the presence of a number of features in Scotland’s major late medieval churches that can be most satisfactorily explained by an emulation of buildings that had been seen by potential patrons in the course of their travels through the Low Countries. But here it must be made clear that those admired buildings were located not only in Flanders, but in the neighbouring counties of Zeeland and Holland, and possibly further afield as well. This is hardly surprising when we remember the movements of the Scottish staple, the main channel for commercial contacts between the Scotland and the Low Countries: although it was located at Bruges for much of the later middle ages, it was also for periods at Middelburg and Veere.

One of the most impressive results of the architectural contacts between Scotland and the Low Countries is the west tower of the church of St Mary in Dundee, which was probably nearing completion when a bell was donated in 1495. Its most unusual two-stage design, in which the upper stage is set back within a traceried parapet punctuated by pinnacles, has its ultimate origins in the vast tower of Utrecht Cathedral. That tower was to be copied on a smaller scale in considerable numbers of churches in Holland. There was also to be a simpler variant at the church of St James in Bruges, though that has a different visual impact since it is at the centre of the building, and on balance it is more likely that it was the towers of Holland that were being copied at Dundee.

Another feature that was to be favoured in a number of later Scottish churches, and whose adoption was probably a result of contacts with the Low Countries, was arcade piers of cylindrical form. An early case of the revived use of such piers in the Netherlands may be seen in the choir of Mechelen Cathedral as rebuilt after a fire in 1342, and since Mechelen had been acquired by the counts of Flanders in 1333 it can be regarded as to some extent Flemish. However, the city was enveloped within the duchy of Brabant, and it was perhaps from churches in that duchy that the idea was imported into Scotland. The reason for suggesting that lies in the fact that, in one of the earliest cases of the use of such piers in Scotland, at Aberdeen Cathedral, there are also crossing piers of a type that is particularly associated with Brabant. Those piers have a large cylindrical core, to which four substantial semi-cylindrical shafts are attached, and they find one of their closest reflections in the tower piers of Brussels cathedral.

Nevertheless, if there is uncertainty about whether or not the masons responsible for Dundee’s tower and Aberdeen’s piers were looking to Flanders or to elsewhere in the Low Countries, at a number of other churches there are elements that appear more likely to be a result of taking ideas from Flanders. Two examples that will be briefly touched upon here are the ceiling of King’s College Chapel in Aberdeen and the west front of the collegiate church of Haddington St Mary.

Haddington St Mary exterior view

Haddington St Mary

King’s College has one of two almost identical timber barrel ceilings in Aberdeen, the other, which is now lost, having been at St Nicholas’ parish church in New Aberdeen. The former dates from around 1506, and the latter from about 1495. These ceilings are of arched profile, with a decorative cross-pattern of ribs that imitates structural ribs in stone vaulting.

What marks out the Aberdeen ceilings as different from other Scottish ceilings is the use of bosses at the rib junctions in the form of long sprigs of foliage, a type of boss that was particularly favoured in Flanders. Amongst the earliest examples are those on the timber vault of the town hall in Bruges, which was constructed in 1402. But they continued in vogue for an extended period, and they can also be seen on the timber ceilings of St Giles’ Church in Bruges, where Scottish artisans staying in the city had a chapel. Bearing in mind that Bishop William Elphinstone, whose patronage was behind both ceilings, is known to have been familiar with Bruges, and that he had imported equipment for use in building King’s Chapel from the Low Countries, the likelihood of borrowings from Bruges seems clear.

The west front of Haddington Church stands out amongst the entrance façades of the great burgh churches for its unusual sophistication. The central part of the front is framed by strong buttresses capped by pinnacles, and the processional entrance is through a pair of round-arched doorways within a round-headed embracing arch. Immediately above this is a large window that is subdivided into two parts by unusually massive sub-arches, and running over the window, at the base of the gable, is traceried parapet.

The closest Scottish parallels for the form of the door and the massive sub-arches of the great window are to be seen in the tower of St Mary’s church in Dundee, which it has already been said must very probably owe its design to prototypes in the Netherlands. Parallels for other elements in the design of Haddington’s entrance front can be found elsewhere in the Netherlands. But one of the buildings with a façade that must have demonstrated the closest similarities for the design as a whole was the church of the Dominicans in Bruges, which has been almost completely lost, but is known in some detail from a number of engravings.

More examples of likely Scottish architectural debts to the Low Countries could be offered, particularly in the use of certain types of window tracery. It should be stressed, however, that the process of building up these debts appears to have involved copying individual elements and grafting them onto the native stock, rather than attempting to adopt the architectural vocabulary of another nation in its entirety. But enough has been said to demonstrate the likelihood that inspiration drawn from the Low Countries, including Flanders, must have been a significant contributor to the pool of ideas involved in the formation of Scottish ecclesiastical architectural taste in the last century and a half before the Reformation.

Richard Fawcett

October 2014

Professor Richard Fawcett, OBE, PhD, FRSE, FSA, spent most of his career working in the Inspectorate of Ancient Monuments of Historic Scotland, where he was involved in the conservation and presentation of many of Scotland’s most significant medieval buildings. He now teaches in the school of Art History of the University of St Andrews 

Suggestions for further reading

Cosmo Innes (ed.), The Ledger of Andrew Halyburton (Edinburgh, 1867)

Grant G. Simpson (ed.), Scotland and the Low Countries, 1124-1994 (East Linton, 1996)

Richard Fawcett, ‘Architectural Links Between Scotland and the Low Countries in the Later Middle Ages’, in E de Bièvre (ed.), Utrecht, Britain and the Continent (British Archaeological Association Transactions XVIII, Leeds, 1996), 172-82

Marjan Buyle, Thomas Coomans, Jan Esther and Luc Francis Genicot, Architecture Gothique en Belgique (Editions Racine, 1997)

John G. Dunbar, Scottish Royal Palaces (East Linton, 1999)

Richard Fawcett, The Architecture of the Scottish Medieval Church, 1100-1560 (Yale University Press, 2011)

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Changing Definitions of Flanders and the Netherlands – Part 2

It is important when examining the relationship between Scotland and Flanders to define clearly the borders of the latter, as these changed over time. The definition of Netherlands has likewise changed significantly over time. Alexander Stevenson’s posting last week focused specifically on Flanders. In this week’s posting the focus is on overarching jurisdictional changes that have transformed definitions of both Flanders and the Netherlands. The text begins in the Roman period and moves through the Frankish phase, to the Burgundians and Habsburgs, and on to the present day.

Roman and ecclesiastical provinces

Like other countries in Europe, the origin of our names for the present states of Belgium and The Netherlands dates back to the Roman Empire. After itsconquest by Julius Caesar, Gaul was soon divided into three provinces. The most northerly of these was Gallia Belgica (Belgic Gaul), with a provincial capital initially at Rheims but for much of the Roman period at Trier. In the later first century AD, the frontier area to the south and west of the lower reaches of the Rhine and Meuse was removed from Belgica to form the separate province of Germania Inferior (Lower Germany), with a provincial capital at Cologne. There was further reorganisation throughout the Roman Empire at the end of the third century. Belgica was split in two to form the provinces of Belgica Prima and Belgica Secunda, with capitals at Trier and Rheims respectively. Germania Inferior was renamed Germania Secunda; the other German province, Germania Superior (Upper Germany), with its capital at Mainz, wasrenamed Germania Prima and separated from Germania Secunda by the extension of Belgica Prima to the Rhine.[1] All collapsed in the fifth century, with the decay of the Roman Empire.[2]

They were revived as ecclesiastical provinces under the Carolingians, in the eighth and ninth centuries, with very similar common boundaries west of the Rhine to those in Roman times. Belgica Secunda, the archdiocese of Rheims, was essentially unchanged. It comprised what later became the counties of Flanders, Artois and Hainault, the south-west of the duchy of Brabant (including Brussels, but not Louvain), Antwerp, Mechelen, Picardy, part of the Île-de-France to the north of Paris, and much of Champagne. Germania Secunda, the archdiocese of Cologne, expanded to the north and east to include all of what are now The Netherlands and NW Germany, since these lands were also within the Frankish empire.[3] Thereafter, as relates to what are now France and the Benelux countries, the boundaries of Belgica Secunda, Germania Secunda and Belgica Prima barely altered in the Middle Ages.

The Franks and their successors

The Franks, though their name is now associated with France, were a Germanic people. Towards the end of the Roman Empire, they had been encouraged to settle as foederati(allies) in Germania Secunda and the north of Belgica Secunda, to hold back other barbarians.[4] Tournai – later the see of the bishop whose diocese comprised the greater part of the late medieval county of Flanders – was the capital of the Frankish warlord Clovis, who united the Frankish tribes in the late fifth century, conquered most of Gaul, and was later noted as the first king of France.[5] When the Frankish empire was partitioned in 843, the northern and north-eastern frontier of West Francia (France) was established on the southern edge of marshes in the Scheldt delta and along the River Scheldt.[6] That remained the border of the French kingdom until the end of the Middle Ages. It also formed the northern and eastern boundaries of the medieval diocese of Tournai (adjoined on the east bank by the diocese of Cambrai, covering the north of the archdiocese of Rheims outside the kingdom of France, and to the north by the diocese of Utrecht, in the archdiocese of Cologne).

Over time, the other Frankish kingdoms were reunited within the Holy Roman Empire. While France became a hereditary monarchy, the emperor was elected as king of the Germans (confusingly, ‘Romans’ was soon substituted for ‘Germans’): only when crowned by the Pope did he formally become Emperor. Of the six electors believed in the late Middle Ages to have elected the emperor since Carolingian times (three ecclesiastical, three lay), the representatives of the western provinces were the archbishops of Cologne, Mainz and Trier. De jure, these six electors were also the emperor’s principal advisers.[7] Theoretically, the Peers of France fulfilled a similar function in the French kingdom; there were originally twelve peers (six ecclesiastical, six lay), including the archbishop of Rheims (premier peer) and the count of Flanders.[8] The origins of the Electoral College and of the Peers of France are lost in the mists of time. Both bodies originated before the thirteenth century.

Until the late twelfth century the kings of the French were weak, while the German emperors were strong. The position then reversed. Whereas the territories of the Empire became increasingly autonomous, the principalities within the French kingdom were steadily brought within royal jurisdiction until the mid-1290s.[9] The Anglo-French wars thereafter derailed this drive to create a unified kingdom. Marriages now became a particularly important tool of the French kings to stabilise relations in border areas, with some terrible results. The worst of these were the claim it gave to the English kings Edward III and Henry V to the French crown – which Edward III promoted in part to legitimise a Flemish revolt against a Francophile count of Flanders[10] – and the opportunities it provided for a cadet branch of the French royal family to establish an independent power base.

Burgundians and Habsburgs

The first Valois duke of Burgundy was remarkably astute, and the marriages he arranged transformed his fortunes and those of his heirs. Philip the Bold was King Charles V of France’s youngest brother and chief supporter. His marriage in 1369 to Margaret de Male, heiress to the counties of Flanders and Artois, two other French counties and a quasi-French county (the free county of Burgundy – the Franche-Comté) was intended to consolidate French royal control in these areas. He had been given the duchy of Burgundy in 1363 by his father (after the extinction of the earlier ducal line) and he took his principal title from that; but, after the death of his father-in-law in 1384, the greater part of his revenues came from Flanders. His wife’s aunt was the childless duchess of Brabant and Limburg. His eldest son, John the Fearless, succeeded him as duke of Burgundy in 1404, and became count of Flanders, Artois and Burgundy on the death of his mother the following year. The second son, Anthony, inherited the marquisate of [Antwerp] and lordship of Mechelen from his mother and became duke of Brabant and Limburg on the death of his great-aunt in 1406. Philip the Bold also arranged marriages between his family and that of the ruler of the counties of Hainault, Holland and Zeeland. When Anthony’s line died out in 1430, the only acceptable heir to Brabant, Limburg, Antwerp and Mechelen was John’s son, Philip the Good (1419-67). When the Hainault, Holland and Zeeland line also failed, about the same time, he inherited these too (through his mother).[11]

Although these territories had separate institutions and were divided between France and the Empire, Philip the Good and his heirs were determined to form them into a separate, unified state. They also added to their territories by purchase and conquest. There was much resistance within the territories themselves to the imposition of overarching controls, and hostility from France and Germany. The Valois dukes of Burgundy established some federal institutions for their northern territories – a great council consisting of senior officials who moved around with their court, an intermittent parliament, the States General in the 1460s, and a treasury and court of appeal in Mechelen in the 1470s – but failed to achieve more. Only later did Brussels become a permanent overall seat of government.

Philip’s son, Charles the Rash was killed in 1477, when attempting further conquests aimed at joining his northern territories with the two Burgundies. In the same year his only child Mary (1477-82) married Maximilian, the heir of the Emperor and himself later Emperor, and lost the duchy of Burgundy.[12] Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor (and, through his mother, king of Spain), their grandson (1506-55), sealed a treaty with the king of France in 1526 that transferred to him sovereigntyover Artois, Flanders and the Tournaisis. This formalised his unilateral incorporation of all three into what was termed the Burgundian Circle of the Empire in 1521. He also forced through a unified succession law, the Pragmatic Sanction of 1549, which finally guaranteed the continuation of a common inheritance ‘in all our said patrimonial and hereditary lower lands and Burgundy’ (en tous nosdits Pays patrimoniaux et héréditaires d’embas et de Bourgoigne).[13] In other words, there was then no generally agreed term for what are now called de Nederlanden in Dutch, les Pays-Bas in French, and the Low Countries or Netherlands in English.

Under the Pragmatic Sanction, what were by then seventeen provinces, and the Franche-Comté, passed to Charles V’s son Philip (named after his paternal grandfather and Burgundian ancestors), who also inherited Spain. Philip persuaded the Pope in 1559 to agree to a fundamental ecclesiastical reorganisation in all but two of the Seventeen Provinces (the then detached provinces of Limburg and Luxembourg). Aimed at suppressing the heresy of Protestantism, it cut ties to the archdioceses of Rheims and Cologne and created a separate and greatly enlarged episcopal hierarchy ‘in that part of Lower Germany’.[14] As late as the 1660s, Blaeu republished a 1608 map of the Low Countries with the Latin title, Novus XVII Inferioris Germaniae Provinciarum Typus (‘New Map of 17 Provinces of Lower Germany’). He included it at the beginning of a volume of his Atlas Maior titled Nederlanden in Dutch, Belgique in French and Belgica in Latin editions. The volume is in two parts, royal and federal:[15] a remnant Roman Catholic state in the south, ruled by a Spanish king but formally still part of the Holy Roman Empire; an independent confederation of Protestant provinces in the north. Torn apart in the Eighty Years War (1568-1648), they are now usually called in English the Spanish Netherlands and the Dutch Republic.[16]

Morphing identities and names

As the provinces established a shared identity, separate from the Empire, Belgica seemed a suitably classical collective name. Albeit most of the north was in the former Roman province only very briefly under the Emperor Augustus, and much of the rest had soon been incorporated in Germania Inferior. The geographical associations of the latter also changed over time. The old Roman province had become Germania Secunda, the archdiocese of Cologne. By contrast, in the Middle Ages, Germania Inferior was adopted as a general term for all the north German lands. Translated into the vernacular as Nederduitsland, Niderdeetslant and variants of these, it was generally abbreviated to Nederland, Niderlant and the like– the abbreviated vernacular term for the south German lands was Oberlant.[17] The omitted duits is the origin of our word Dutch. This English form originally meant German; its first occurrence in the OED with its present meaning is dated 1568. Duits is still the Dutch word for German. Since Nederland was the form latterly used in common speech in the northern provinces, its hold was too powerful to break. It was retained as the abbreviated name of the Dutch state; while the plural Nederlanden became a term for the provinces in general; and Dutch-speakers’ word for their language is Nederlands.

Belgica had little traction in the Germanic-language northern provinces, but French and Latin forms were commonly used in the multilingual Habsburg south. There Belgica was an appropriate name. The southern provinces had all been part of the Roman province of Belgica (at least for about a century in the first century BC/AD), and much of the country – including Flanders, which was never in Germania and was incorporated in the Empire only in 1521 – had continued to be in Belgica, ecclesiastically, until 1559.

The south remained in the Holy Roman Empire until conquered by the French revolutionaries in 1794; direct rule having switched from the Spanish to the Austrian Habsburgs in 1714 without other institutional change.[18] Reunification of the northern and southern provinces, in a United Kingdom of the Netherlands, followed in 1815; but in religion, culture and associated sympathies they had drifted so far apart in the intervening centuries that the south broke away in 1830 to form the present Kingdom of Belgium. The French name was unchanged; België was adopted as the Dutch-language version; and Belgium, always widely used as an alternative classical form and the usual form in the eighteenth century, superseded Belgica.[19] The subordinate structure was largely unchanged until 1980. Then (as noted in the previous posting) a linguistically-based federal structure was established in Belgium, overlying the old provinces, with Flanders as the regional name for the entire Dutch-speaking north of the country.[20]

Alexander Stevenson
October 2014

Alexander Stevenson is a retired senior civil servant. He is a historian by training and has a special interest in the Low Countries. In 1982 he completed a PhD thesis on medieval Scottish links with the Low Countries, primarily Flanders, which he is currently reworking for publication.


[1] Fritz Heichelheim and others, A History of the Roman People (6th edn, Pearson, 2014), 204, 267, 268, 321, 412, 414; http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Germania_70.svg (map of Belgica and Germania, c.70AD); http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/19/Roman_Empire_about_395.jpg (map of the late Roman Empire, which is defective in that it fails to extend Belgica Prima to the Rhine).

[2] Chris Wickham, The Inheritance of Rome: A History of Europe from 400 to 1000 (Allen Lane, 2009), 83-88.

[3] Roger Reynolds, ‘The organisation … of the Western Church, 700-900’ in New Cambridge Medieval History (NCMH), II (Cambridge, 1995), 587-93; Pouillés de la province de Reims, ed. A Longnon, (2 vols. , Librairie Klincksieck , 1907-8), passim.The archdioceses of Trier and Mainz also crossed the Rhine, Mainz extending through central Germany and almost as far north as Hamburg.

[4] Heichelheim, 478.

[5] Wickham, 112-13.

[6] Réné Poupardin, ‘The Carolingian kingdoms (840-877)’ in Cambridge Medieval History, III (Cambridge, 1922), 23-8. Though this volume is mainly long superseded, Poupardin provides a particularly good description of the circumstances and terms of the Treaty of Verdun. He also comments on the long-term instability to which this partition gave rise, because of the incoherence of the transient middle kingdom.

[7] Len Scales, The Shaping of the German Identity: Authority and Crisis, 1245-1414 (Cambridge, 2012), 277-8. These origins are mythical. There were originally more German electors; at some point the king of Bohemia joined their number, and remained an elector when the German electors were reduced to six in the thirteenth century, but he was not a hereditary imperial office holder, unlike the others: id., 272-6; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prince-elector.

[8] Though lacking references, Wikipedia has a good summary: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peerage_of_France. The early Capetian kings were elected by the rulers of the six great fiefs, which in the thirteenth century were to be noted as the lay pairies: Robert Fawtier, The Capetian Kings of France: Monarchy and Nation, 987-1328, trans. Lionel Butler and R J Adam (Macmillan, 1960), 48-9, 60-1. The count of Flanders traditionally carried the sword of Charlemagne – the only tangible link the French kings had with the great Frankish emperor – in the French coronation ceremony (recently noted by Neil MacGregor in the Radio 4 broadcast, Germany: Memories of a Nation: the Battle for Charlemagne).

[9] Fawtier, passim; Eckhard Müller-Mertens, ‘The Ottonian kings and emperors’ in NCMH, III (Cambridge, 1999), 233-66; Hanna Vollrath, ‘The western empire under the Salians’ and Benjamin Arnold, ‘The western empire, 1125-1197’ in NCMH, IVii (Cambridge, 2004), 38-72, 384-422; Michael Toch, ‘Welfs, Hohenstaufen and Habsburgs’ in NCMH, V (Cambridge, 1999), 375-404.

[10] Jonathan Sumption, The Hundred Years War I: Trial by Battle (paperback edn., University of Pennsylvania Press, 1999), 291-4.

[11] Richard Vaughan, Valois Burgundy (Allen Lane, 1975), 14-22. The other two French counties (Nevers, adjacent to the duchy of Burgundy, and Rethel, near Rheims) were inherited by the third son of Philip the Bold and Margaret de Male, and thereafter descended through his sons. At the beginning of the fifteenth century, the government of Brabant had insisted on their duchy remaining separate and on their duke speaking the local Dutch dialect. That was not possible in 1430. As Philip the Good spoke Flemish, a closely related Dutch dialect, he was acceptable in a way that his two younger male cousins were not.

[12] Id., 95-123, 194-226; Henri Pirenne, Histoire de Belgique III: de la mort de Charles le Téméraire a l’arrivée du duc d’Albe dans les Pays-Bas (1567) (3rd edn., Maurice Lamertin, 1923), 181-206.

[13]Pirenne, 93-5, 139-42; http://fr.wikisource.org/wiki/Pragmatique_sanction_de_1549.

[14]http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seventeen_Provinces; Pirenne, 411-13; Aubert Miraeus, Opera Diplomatica et Historica I (2nd edn., Louvain, 1723), 472-6 (quotation at 472).

[15] Joan Blaeu, Atlas Maior: Belgica Regia & Belgica Foederata, ed. Benedikt Taschen (Taschen, 2006), 1-2, 50-1, 58-9; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atlas_Van_Loon.


[17] Scales, 467-8; Willem Frijhoff and Marijke Spies, Dutch Culture in a European Perspective: 1650: Hard-Won Unity, trans. M. Scholz (Palgrave Macmillan, 2004), 59-61.




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Changing Definitions of Flanders and the Netherlands – Part 1

One of the difficulties encountered in analysing the relationship between Scotland and Flanders is that the borders of the latter have changed significantly over time. The purpose of this posting, prepared by Alexander Stevenson, is to examine some of the factors that have led to these changes. Another posting that places this evolution in Flanders’ borders within its wider territorial context will follow next week.

Origins and early growth of Flanders

When first mentioned, in 831, the pagusFlandrensis(‘the Flemish district’) was a large coastal district around Bruges, much of it marshland, which would later become the Franc or Liberty of Bruges. It was given in the 860s by the first West Frankish (French) king to Baldwin, a local warlord who had abducted, married and had a son by the king’s daughter Judith. Baldwin already held the district around Ghent. Charles the Bald also gave him other lands to the north-east of Ghent and between Ghent and the pagusFlandrensis, as well as the district of Ternois, around Thérouanne and Saint-Omer. Medieval chroniclers defined this as the origin of the county of Flanders and specified Baldwin as its first count.[1]

Baldwin II (879-918) took advantage of instability caused by Viking raids in the late ninth century to regain lands lost after his father’s death in 879, to take control of the districts between his northern lands and Ternois, and to take coastal lands down to the Canche. In combination, the districts under the count’s control soon acquired the plural name of Flanders (Flandriae – Vlaanderen in Flemish/Dutch though the Latin name for the county was later the singular Flandria, la Flandre in French). His son Arnulf (918-65) extended his rule by conquest across all of the land from the present course of the Scheldt down to Amiens on the Somme. Much of this was lost after his death. Thereafter, the boundary of Flanders never extended beyond the Authie. Most of the French-speaking south of Flanders fragmented into numerous autonomous lordships and counties, which were mainly recovered in the course of the eleventh century. The small, long-lasting counties of Boulogne, Saint-Pol and Guines were, however, established in the south-west, which owed allegiance to the counts of Flanders in the twelfth century but were substantially independent. The eastern limit of the county of Flanders was reached in the eleventh century. Baldwin IV (988-1035) took advantage of temporary weakness in the Holy Roman Empire to obtain the land around Valenciennes. His son Baldwin V (1035-67) followed a similar policy. Though he lost Valenciennes, he crossed the Scheldt further north and seized the south-western corner of Brabant. This and reclaimed marshes facing the island of South Beveland in Zeeland, which had been acquired in the tenth century (the Vier Ambachten – ‘Four Offices’), were thereafter termed Imperial Flanders.[2] The corresponding term for the rest of the county was Crown Flanders.Flanders c1300 (V2)

As most of the counts in the eleventh and twelfth centuries were remarkably capable and ruled for many years, the county was strongly and judiciously governed. This stability led to a population explosion, the establishment of major towns where woollen-cloth manufactures rapidly developed on a large scale, and widespread emigration, because insufficient employment was available on the land. It was then that Flanders acquired a very strong identity, which spanned both its Flemish- and French-speaking regions.[3] Whereas natives of other parts of the French kingdom and their descendants were commonly known abroad as Franks (Franci in Latin), natives of Flanders were usually termed Flemings (from the Flemish Vlamingen, Flandrensesin Latin) – though Flemish settlers in general, as opposed to individuals, were included within the term Franci in twelfth-century Scottish charters.[4]

The zenith of comital power and prestige was reached under Count Philip d’Alsace (1168-91, co-ruler with his father from 1157), who ruled much of Picardy, by right of his wife, as well as Flanders. Godfather of King Philip II (Augustus) of France, he was the young king’s guardian in 1179-80, after King Louis VII was paralysed by a stroke. Lacking children of his own, Philip d’Alsace organized the marriage of the young king to his niece – Isabella, daughter of the count of Hainault – in 1180, while Philip was still under his control. He also provided as a dowry the southern part of Flanders, the subsequent county of Artois, with the proviso that it was to remain under his control during his lifetime.[5]

Territorial changes and the centrality of relations with France

When Philip d’Alsace died, Philip Augustus took Artois in the name of his son, later King Louis VIII.[6] Though now separate, Artois probably continued to be viewed abroad as Flemish. Two of Flanders’ most important towns, Arras and Saint-Omer were in the new county, but they retained close links with Flanders. Saint-Omer and Arras were two of the main markets for Scottish wool in the late thirteenth century;[7] as they must have been earlier, because in the eleventh and twelfth centuries they were the two most successful towns in Flanders.[8] And so they must have remained since both continued in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries to be major producers of the types of cloth that were made from Scottish wool.[9]

Philip Augustus also removed the Tournaisis from the count of Flanders’ control. Thereafter the bishop of Tournai held the Tournaisis directly from the French crown until 1521, though the diocese was entirely Flemish, apart from the small territory of the Tournaisis; the appointment of the bishop similarly came under the French king’s control.[10] The bishops of Arras and Thérouanne, whose dioceses spanned the rest of Crown Flanders, likewise came under royal control, as both were based in Artois.

French language and culture dominated the upper strata of Flemish society between the eleventh and thirteenth centuries.[11] A profound backlash followed. Relations between Flanders and France became increasingly strained after the outbreak of an Anglo-French war in 1294, leading to a rebellion by Count Guy de Dampierre (1280-1305) in 1297. In subsequent campaigns, King Philip IV (the Fair) occupied Flanders and confiscated the remaining predominantly French-speaking area, including the major towns of Lille and Douai. Of the seven principal towns of twelfth-century Flanders, only Bruges, Ghent and Ypres were left within the residual county. The Flemish language became a national touchstone in the early fourteenth century, and with it an enduring antipathy towards France, particularly in Ghent. Ties to France that had greatly increased in the thirteenth century were largely severed. When comital relations with the French king strengthened and jeopardised English interests, the English government fomented major rebellions, from 1339 to 1349 and from 1379 to 1385, both based in Ghent.[12]

To counter English influence, King Charles V of France used the good offices of Margaret, countess of Artois, daughter of King Philip V of France and mother of Count Louis de Male of Flanders (1346-84), to arrange the marriage in 1369 of Louis de Male’s daughter and heir to Charles’s brother, Duke Philip of Burgundy. The catalyst for the marriage was an agreement to return the lands and towns confiscated by King Philip IV in 1304.[13] This was followed in 1382 by Louis de Male’s inheritance of Artois on the death of his mother. Though it formally remained a separate county thereafter, Louis de Male established a unified treasury and state archive for Flanders and Artois at Lille in francophone Flanders, which was retained by his Burgundian successors; the latter also appointed a single governor for both counties.[14] Later Burgundian territorial expansion and changes will be outlined in the blog posting next week, as these overlay, but did not supplant, Flemish institutions.

Shifting borders and definitions of Flanders

Insofar as Flanders itself is concerned, the most dramatic changes came with the Counter-Reformation. There were large Protestant populations in most of the Flemish towns, which increasingly agitated against Roman Catholicism, leading to occupation by a Spanish army in 1567 and open revolt.[15] In the following Eighty Years’ War, many thousands emigrated from Flanders, most fleeing to the northern Netherlandish provinces controlled by their co-religionists.[16] When dykes were broken in the war, the far north of Flanders facing the Scheldt delta was flooded; residual islands and a narrow peninsula were held by the Protestants, who afterwards drained the flooded lands. As its name implies, Zeelandic Flanders is now in the Dutch province of Zeeland.[17]

At some point, by association, Flanders became a general term not only for the county itself but also for neighbouring territories. How early this happened is unclear. As Hollanders and Zeelanders spoke very similar Germanic dialects to that of northern Flanders, it may have been common practice in medieval Scotland to call them Flemings. Scottish documents usually refer only to Flanders until the late sixteenth century, despite the fact that from the later fifteenth century onwards most Scottish traffic was with other Netherlandish provinces.[18]

In the most famous and widely distributed atlas of the seventeenth century, the Atlas Maiorpublished in Amsterdam in the 1660s, Joan Blaeu commented that in Western Europe the Netherlands were then widely known as Flanders. This, he explained, was because historically most countries mainly had dealings with Flanders; though he noted that in Germany the usual term was Holland,[19] as by then it also was in Scotland.[20]

In 1980 Flanders became the official name of a ‘Flemish [Dutch-language] community’ and region spanning northern Belgium. This was based on a common identity that had developed in opposition to the French language and culture formerly dominant in the Belgian establishment. It overlies much older distinctions, which are retained in the names of subsidiary provinces. Most of the late medieval county of Flanders is now divided between the provinces of East and West Flanders, with Ghent and Bruges respectively as provincial capitals.[21] The northern fringe of the old county was taken by the Dutch in the Eighty Years’ War. Also in the seventeenth century, the south was conquered by the French: Artois in the Thirty Years’ War; French Flanders in the second half of the century. Old francophone Flanders, Artois and what used to be a Flemish-speaking area from the Aa to the Lys (Leie in Dutch) are now in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region of France, which has Lille as its regional capital.[22] Tournai and the Tournaisis, which were tightly bound to medieval Flanders, are now in the ‘French[-language] community’ of Belgium, the region of Wallonia and the province of Hainaut.[23]

Alexander Stevenson
October 2014

Alexander Stevenson is a retired senior civil servant. He is a historian by training and has a special interest in the Low Countries.  In 1982 he completed a PhD thesis on medieval Scottish links with the Low Countries, primarily Flanders, which he is currently reworking for publication.


[1] The most accessible accounts in English are: David Nicholas, Medieval Flanders (Longman, 1992), 13-17; Jean Dunbabin, France in the Making, 843-1180 (Oxford, 1985), 68-9.

[2] Nicholas, 17-20, 39-51; Dunbabin, 69-74, 207-11; Frans Beekman and others, Geschiedenis van Zeeland: Prehistorie – 1550 (WBooks, 2012), 107.

[3] Nicholas, 56-70, 97-123; Dunbabin, 141-3, 212-3, 269-74, 318-23.

[4] Early Scottish Charters Prior to 1153, ed. Archibald Lawrie (McLehose, 1905), passim; Regesta Regum Scottorum, I-II, ed. G W S Barrow (Edinburgh, 1960 & 1971), passim.

[5] Nicholas, 71-3, 85-9; Dunbabin, 323; Hans van Werweke, Eeen Vlaamse graaf van Europees formaat: Filips van de Elzas (Fibula-Van Dishoek, 1976), passim; Gérard Sivéry, Philippe Auguste (Perrin, 2003), 47-57.

[6] Robert Fawtier, The Capetian Kings of France, trans. Lionel Butler and R J Adam (Macmillan, 1960), 111-14.

[7] Patrick Chorley, ‘The cloth exports of Flanders and northern France during the thirteenth century: a luxury trade?’, Economic History Review, 2nd series, XL (1987), 349-80; Recueil de documents relatifs à l’industrie drapière en Flandre (1re. partie): des origines à l’époque bourguignonne,  ed. Georges Espinas and Henri Pirenne (4 vols, Librairie Kiessling, 1906-24), I, 196, 237, III, 234-58.

[8] Nicholas, 105, 117-21, 132.

[9]Simonne Abraham-Thisse, ‘Le commerce des draps de Flandre en Europe du nord: faut-il encore parler du déclin de la draperie flamande au bas moyen âge?’ in Drapery Production in the Late Medieval Low Countries: Markets and Strategies for Survival (14th-16th Centuries), ed. Marc Boone and Walter Prevenier (Garant, 1993), 167-204.

[10]Henri Pirenne, Histoire de Belgique I : des origines au commencement du XIVe siècle (5th edn, Maurice Lamertin, 1929), 224-5.

[11] Nicholas, 80-96, 139-49.

[12] Ibid., 186-201, 209-25, 227-31.

[13] Françoise Autrand, Charles V (Fayard, 1992), 531-4; Richard Vaughan, Philip the Bold: The Formation of the Burgundian State (Longman, 1962), 4-6.

[14] Ibid., 16, 128-32; Richard Vaughan, Valois Burgundy (Allen Lane, 1975), 111-13.

[15] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beeldenstorm; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Causes_of_the_Dutch_Revolt.

[16] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dutch_Revolt.

[17] http://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Staats-Vlaanderen; http://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zeeuws-Vlaanderen (note particularly the two Blaeu maps of 1645).

[18] Acts of the Parliaments of Scotland: General Index, ed. Cosmo Innes and others (HM Register House, Edinburgh, 1875), 543-4; Extracts from the Burgh Records of Aberdeen, 1398-1629, ed. John Stuart (2 vols, Spalding Club, 1844 & 1848), passim; Index to Extracts from the Records of the Burgh of Edinburgh, 1403-1589, ed. James Marwick (Scottish Burgh Record Society, 1892), passim.

[19] Joan Blaeu, Atlas Maior : Belgica Regia & Belgica Foederata, ed. Benedikt Taschen (Taschen, 2006), 57.

[20] Acts of the Parliaments of Scotland: General Index, 643-4. But Low Countries was the usual term from the 1570s to the 1640s: id., 800-1.

[21] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flemish_Community; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flemish_Region.

[22] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nord-Pas-de-Calais. Much of the old county of Hainault was also seized by Louis XIV. The coastal county of Boulogne was already French, having been absorbed into the French royal domain in 1501. The county of Guines was taken by the English soon after the capture of Calais in 1346, absorbed into the Pale of Calais, and retaken by the French with Calais in 1558. Saint-Pol remained a separate county until the old order was abolished in the French Revolution, sometimes under Burgundian and Habsburg suzerainty, but mainly under French rule.

[23] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Communities,_regions_and_language_areas_of_Belgium.





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The Flemish on the Firth of Forth – Part 2

This is the second of two postings that examines the evidence of a Flemish presence in the vicinity of the Forth estuary. In this posting David Dobson and Alex Fleming examine the issue in relation to the north of the Firth of Forth, specifically the coast of the Kingdom of Fife around to the Tay Estuary.

During the medieval and early modern periods there was a strong presence of people of Flemish origin in the area immediately to the north of the Firth of Forth, the present day Kingdom of Fife. The connections with Flanders have taken a number of forms. Flemish herring fishermen have long fished in the waters off the Firth of Forth and used Fife (and Lothian) ports. Fife ports were also much used in Scoto-Flemish trade. Then, in the early modern period, Flemish weavers were brought to Fife and many made their homes in the area. The Flemish footprint can be seen to this day in the architecture and medieval structures in Fife.


Fishing and the Fife Ports

The Fife linkage with the Low Countries in general and Flanders in particular may go back to the 9th century, but in the 11th and 12th centuries there was a marked increase in commerce. During the reign of David I (1124-1153) the Firth of Forth was frequented by fishermen from a range of countries. The harbours of the Isle of May were often used but they were small and could not accommodate many boats, and so the fishermen took shelter in harbours on the mainland in Fife (and the Lothians). These harbours included Crail which reportedly was where the Dutch, and possibly the Flemish also, learned the mode of curing herring.

By 1375 a herring industry had been established in Flanders,[1] taking advantage of the development of preservation techniques, notably pickling. Except for a short period (1395-98, when it was discouraged) the industry grew well and was positively encouraged by the Flemish authorities around 1419. Thereafter it thrived and herring was sold on to third countries. However by the middle of the 16th century the Flemish scarcely caught enough to provide for their own consumption. Nonetheless in the 17th century Flemish boats were still fishing for herring in Scottish waters, as evidenced by the strange event described in Box 1 below.

Box 1: An Odd Incident

“In August 1627, some Spanish ships, laden with money for the use of the troops in Germany, having taken the route by the Orkneys, encountered some hundred Flemish busses [a type of fishing vessel] engaged in fishing, which fled from them, and a portion of them took refuge in the Firth of Forth, in which on a summer evening, they appeared to the number of threescore, advancing in the form of a half n-moon. Great was the alarm along the coasts. In Edinburgh proclamation was made that all the inhabitants should take arms, and muster on the shore to resist the threatened invasion. Cannon were trailed down to the Castle, and every preparation made to give them a warm reception, until, at ten P.M. word came that they were only herring busses.”

Extracted from Rev. Walter Wood.[2]


For a period in the middle ages the export of wool to Flanders provided an important stimulus to the Scottish economy. Cloth manufacturing in Flanders (and Artois) began in the 12th century and demand for Scottish wool was significant until the late 14th century.

Much of the wool exports would have gone through the ports of Berwick, Leith, Dundee, Perth and Aberdeen. However trade with Flanders through the Fife ports would have been quite extensive.

In the 14th and 15th centuries Cupar exported more wool than any other town in Fife. Initially the exports went out of “port of Eden” on the Eden Estuary. Indeed some Cupar merchants owned ships and Paula Martin tells us that “In the early 15th century, for example, goods belonging to the King were transported from Flanders in a Cupar-owned ship, and in 1465 Cupar merchants were sending money home from Bruges”.[3] Cupar and nearby Dairsie (until World War 1 named Osnaburgh after a type of coarse linen or cotton originally imported from Osnabrück in Germany) were both centres of weaving.

Within the Forth itself ports such as Kirkcaldy, Burntisland and Dysart became more important during the 17th century as the size of trading vessels grew. Imports from Flanders would have included iron and cloth of various types, while exports to Flanders may have included coal (for brewing and smelting) and salt (for curing).

As noted in last week’s blog posting Flemish weavers, following an Act of Parliament in 1587, were brought to Scotland to provide what in modern parlance would be called “technical assistance” to the local population. Fife was the beneficiary of such assistance and there are a number of references in the literature to weaving in the Kingdom. The weavers had, according to Rev. Walter Wood, “come to exercise their craft in making serges, growgrains, fustians, bombesies, stemmingis, berjes, covertors of beds etc”. Furthermore “they are allowed to remain five years; to bring over at least thirty websters, walkers, and litstairs, and to take Scots boys and maidens as apprentices”.[2]

In the mid to late 17th century Campbell identifies some eight apprentice weavers in Crail with names that appear to be Flemish. See Box 2. He also finds weavers in Burntisland and Dunfermline.[4] Another author noted the location of a former workshop of a Flemish weaver in Anstruther.[5] Flemish weavers would also have lived in other Fife towns.

Box 2: Crail

The small fishing village of Crail features quite significantly in Fife’s association with Flanders. Its strategic position where the Forth Estuary spills into the North Sea is doubtless part of the reason. As noted above, its harbour would have played host to Flemish fishing and trading vessels from the 12th century onwards.

J. Arnold Fleming highlights further Crail connections with the Flemings. Robert III, in the 14th century, grants a William Fleming land in the vicinity of Crail.[6]

Fleming also points to the bells in Crail Parish Church (1520) and the Town Hall (1614) being of Flemish origin. Some would dispute this, however. It is also noteworthy that the Parish Church in Crail had a priest called Fleming officiating there in 1361.

In the 17th century Campbell identifies some 18 families, with possible Flemish names, engaged in a range of trades in the village: bakers, hammermen, shoemakers, tailors, weavers, and wrights.[4]

There is evidence of other areas of Flemish expertise being deployed in Fife. For instance, there was a Peter Flemishman, a stone carver from the Low Countries, who was employed in the construction of Falkland Palace during the 1530s.

In the East Neuk of Fife in the 17th century, Dobson finds a number of possible Flemish men who were skippers or seamen in the coastal ports of Cellardyke, Pittenweem and Anstruther.[7] Flemings also appear to have been involved in a range of other trades across Fife.[4]

During the reign of Phillip II – the late 16th century – a Flemish vessel (from Brabant) was wrecked off the coast of Fife and the sailors reportedly settled in Buckhaven.

Architecture and Structures

The settlement of Flemish people in Fife is reflected in local architecture, early town planning, and some important medieval constructs.

Many of the old houses found in harbour towns, with crow step gables facing on to the street and pantiled roofs, are modelled on houses in the Low Countries. The blog postings entitled Crowsteps in Fife – The Flemish Connection (6th and 13th of December 2013) discuss the Flemish influence on local architecture in the East Neuk of Fife. A similar influence can be discerned in the architecture of the village of Culross, which is further upstream on the Forth. Furthermore, Dunbar would also have exhibited a Flemish architectural influence. The Scottish Burgh Survey noted that in Dunbar by 1830 there were “very few remaining of that Flemish description which stood with their dove-tailed gables to the street”.[8]

There was an even earlier impact of the Flemish on St. Andrews, specifically in the 12th century. Mainard the Fleming was brought north from Berwick-on-Tweed by King David I to supervise the layout of the city. This can be seen in the street plan of the old burgh, and possibly some of the houses with their ‘lang rigs’. See the blog posting in this series entitled The Influence of Mainard the Fleming on the character of St. Andrews (18th of October 2013). St. Andrews gradually became a busy ecclesiastical and commercial center (see Box 3 below) with linkages to Flanders.

Box 3: St. Andrews

There were a number of factors underlying the commercial development of the town. As noted by Lyon, “The reputed sanctity of the spot, the progress of the religious buildings, the increasing number of monks, and, above all, the multitude of pilgrims who resorted hither from all parts to adore the relics of the patron Apostle, must have greatly contributed to the increase of its trade”.[9]

Most of the merchants were reportedly foreign. The foreigners included the English and French as well as the Flemish. They lived both inside and outside the town.

The harbour was a hive of activity. Goods such as wool, skins, salted fish, horses, sheep, and oxen were exported. Imports included fine linen and silks, gold, silver, carpets and tapestry, wine, olive oil, drugs, arms, armour and cutlery. Some of this trade was with Flanders.

Nearby at Leuchars is the site of the 12th century Leuchars Castle of which only the motte has survived. In the medieval period Leuchars was owned by the De Quincy family, which Dr George F. Black claims has its origin in Quinci, Maine, France.[10] However Professor Geoffrey Barrow believes that the de Quincis came from Cuinchy near Béthune in the Pas-de-Calais and that they were tenants of the de Chokes in Northamptonshire before settling in Scotland.[11] The de Chokes originated in Chocques near Bethune and were one of a group of Flemish families settled in Northamptonshire. It appears that a family of Flemish origin were settled in Leuchars. The de Quincis were there from the 12th century.

J. Arnold Fleming identifies a number of other important Flemish families in Fife.[6] There was Robert Burgon, a Flemish leader, who obtained grants of land from David I. There was also a William Flandrenses who witnessed a charter by William III to the monks on the Isle of May. Simon Flandrensis, or Simon the “Flemen” was a witness to the foundation grants to the Abbey at Lindores (near Newburgh). At the same time Walter Flameng appears as the agent of the monks, while another Fleming, Everardus Flandrensis, seems to have been closely associated with the erection of the Abbey. Malcolm Fleming, son of Bartholomew Fleming, is also mentioned in charters pertaining to the Abbey.


A Flemish influence in Fife can be discerned as far back as the 12th century, and an inflow of immigrants would likely have taken place gradually from that time onwards. It would appear that immigration from Flanders also occurred in the 16th and 17th centuries but it was small scale and much less than occurred in the earlier, medieval period.

Sources for the later period point to a good number of people with Flemish origins residing in Fife. Some would have been new immigrants and others would have arrived in earlier periods. Some carry the name Fleming but there is a range of other names that appear to be of a Flemish origin.

It is appropriate perhaps to end with this quote from Wilkie:

“The phlegmatic Flemings were more concerned with commerce than with war; and the combination of shrewdness with imagination, or a power of concentration on the work in hand (however prosaic) with a love of beauty and of life in the open which is a characteristic of the folk of Fife, is largely due to the infusion of Flemish blood into the Celtic”.[12]

David Dobson and Alex Fleming
October 2014


[1] Charles Cutting, Fish Saving – A History of Fish processing From Ancient to Modern Times (London 1955).
[2] Rev. Walter Wood, East Neuk of Fife: its History and Antiquities, Geology, Botany and Natural History in General (Edinburgh 1862), p. 129.
[3] Paula Martin, Cupar – the History of a Small Scottish Town.
[4] A. J. Campbell, Some Fife Apprentices and Freemen, 1524-1899.
[5] George Gourlay, Anstruther, or Illustrations of Scottish Burgh Life (Cupar, 1888).
[6] J. Arnold Fleming, Flemish Influence in Britain, Vol. 1, (Glasgow, 1930).
[7] David Dobson, Directory of Seafarers of the East Neuk, 1580-1800 (St. Andrews, 2008).
[8] Scottish Burgh Surveys.
[9] Rev. C. J. Lyon, History of St. Andrews, episcopal, monastic, academic and civil (Edinburgh, 1843).
[10] George Black, The Surnames of Scotland: their Origin, Meaning and History (New York, 1946).
[11] Geoffrey Barrow, The Kingdom of the Scots (London, 1973).
[12] James Wilkie, The History of Fife from the Earliest Times to the Nineteenth Century (Edinburgh and London, 1924).
[13] A. J. Mackay, History of Fife and Kinross (Edinburgh, 1896).
[14] W. Stephen, History of Inverkeithing and Rosyth (Aberdeen, 1921).
[15] Burntisland: Early History and People (Edinburgh, 1948).
[16] Exchequer Rolls of Scotland, 1350-1379, 1502-1507.

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The Flemish on the Firth of Forth – Part 1

This is the first of two postings that examines evidence of a Flemish presence in the vicinity of the Forth estuary. In this posting David Dobson explores the issue in relation to areas bordering the south of the Firth of Forth (the Lothians). Next week’s posting will focus on the area north of the Forth, that is, the coast of the Kingdom of Fife.


The Firth of Forth has had links with Flanders since the medieval period. Through the various ports along the Fife and Lothian coast raw materials, especially wool, wool-fells (fleeces), hides, coal, and fish were shipped to markets in Flanders, while manufactured commodities were imported from the more technically advanced industries in cities such as Ghent and Bruges.

Emigration, both short-term and permanent, occurred between the two countries. There seems to have been substantial immigration of Flemish people in the medieval period. However in the early modern period, say between 1500 and 1700, Flemish immigration was of smaller scale. Often skilled workers were brought in to expand and improve the indigenous industries, some directly from the continent, while others were two stage migrants arriving from centres such as London and Norwich. Latterly they tended to be religious or political refugees escaping persecution in the Low Countries. A significant number of immigrants brought skills important to the development of the textile industry in Scotland. Others brought advanced techniques relevant to the construction industry or were craftsmen. Flanders was then one of the most economically advanced regions of Western Europe and itself attracted migrants from neighbouring countries such as Scotland.

Bruges was for a time the Staple Port through which imports and exports to or from Scotland were required to pass. This resulted in Scots merchants and their servants settling in Bruges. In 1578 Veere (or Campvere) became the Staple Port of the Scots. However the port books reveal that although Scots vessels did use the Staple Port, they increasingly sailed to or from other ports in the region such as Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Middelburg, Nieuwpoort, Ostend, and Dunkirk. From time to time trade was disrupted by wars between England, France, and the Low Countries, and also by attacks by pirates and privateers.

Originally Berwick-on-Tweed was the main Scottish port exporting wool and wool-fells to Flanders but after the town was absorbed into England such exports were generally shipped through ports on the Forth, especially Leith. While trade with Flanders occurred from ports along the east coast as far north as Aberdeen, this blog posting concentrates on the ports in the Lothians (see map below).


The best source of information on trade with Flanders comes from the port books, mainly located in the National Archives of Scotland, Edinburgh. Unfortunately there is no complete run of them for the seventeenth century. More comprehensive records only commence in 1742. The port books for Leith and Bo’ness have been sampled for the second half of the seventeenth century and reveal that Flanders was like an emporium supplying a wide range of manufactured goods and food stuffs including iron, pots, thimbles, brass, silk, rope, thread, mirrors, apothecary ware, tobacco, sugar, fruit, confectionery, wine, dyes, paper and whale bones. There was no evidence of Flemish factors (import agents) being based in Scots ports and it appears that the trade was conducted between local burgesses and the supercargo (on-board cargo or trading agent) or skippers.

Looking at a much earlier period, in 1436 the royal household imported various luxury goods from Flanders, including jewellery, velvet, tapestry, armour, spices, silk girdles, signets and seals. King James V purchased a mare that was shipped back to Scotland from Flanders in 1541. In 1577 the Conservator of the Scots Nation in Flanders purchased books there on behalf of King James VI. During England’s wars against the Dutch, Flemish ports such as Bruges, Ostend and Nieuwpoort supplied goods to Scottish markets formerly obtained in Holland.

Scottish exports to Flanders through ports on the Firth of Forth comprised a limited range of raw materials and semi-processed goods including coal, wool, fleeces, hides, salt, herring and salmon.

The Low Countries were a major market for Scottish coal, until the mines at Liège were developed and undercut the Scots in price (around the sixteenth century). Also, duty on Scots coal was higher than on English coal in the Netherlands and that had an impact on Scots exports. Much of the Scots coal was destined for the breweries of Rotterdam. This city acted as an entrepôt and supplied Scots coal to the Flemish market. Coal wasn’t the only mineral sought by continental workshops – lead was eventually exported. Continental prospectors were authorised by King James V to prospect and extract minerals in Scotland in 1527. Judging by their surnames, some may have been Flemings, such as Gerard Sterek, or Erasmus Schetz. Another such was Aert Bronkhorst, who arrived in Scotland around 1579 to prospect for gold but later became a court painter until his death in 1610.

Settlement along the South of the Forth

Evidence of Flemish settlement along the south of the Forth in the Early Modern Period (late 1500s and early 1600s) is generally difficult to establish. It is possible, however, to identify people with special skills that the local and central government of the day attempted to attract in order to promote industrial development. The most important industry to benefit from Flemish skills was textiles. Religious persecution in the Low Countries resulted in refugees, including some craftsmen from Flanders, settling in Britain.

In Scotland a number of craftsmen set up business in the Canongate, a burgh adjacent to Edinburgh. Canongate was where the aristocracy and major landowners had their town houses near to the Holyroodhouse and the royal court, so providing an affluent market. Flemish craftsmen were also employed in the maintenance or construction of royal buildings such as Edinburgh Castle, but whether they remained there is not clear. By way of example Bartholomew Fleming was a mason employed in Edinburgh Castle in 1639. In 1599 Edinburgh Town Council, faced with a major repair to the roof of St Giles Cathedral, sent to Flanders for skilled workmen and material, the implication being that the necessary skills were not available locally.

In order to operate a business in a Scottish burgh it was necessary to become a burgess. Some Flemish immigrants can be identified through burgess rolls, for example Abraham van Soun, a goldsmith from Flanders, was admitted as a burgess of Edinburgh in 1587 by right of his wife Janet, daughter of Edinburgh burgess Alexander Gilbert, also a goldsmith. Another was Philipe van der Straeten, a merchant from Bruges, who was admitted as a burgess and guild brother of Edinburgh in 1684.

In order to expand and improve on the skills of local textile workers the Convention of Royal Burghs decided to recruit people from Flanders and from the Flemish communities in England. In 1601 Edinburgh Town Council despatched Alexander Hunter, an Edinburgh merchant, to persuade Flemish ‘clothmakers’ to settle in Scotland. and the later In June he returned with seven Flemings, mainly from Maesen in Flanders, six to make ‘seyis’ (a type of worsted) and the seventh to make broadcloth. One immediately decided to return to Flanders; others were to be allocated to work in Dundee, Perth, Ayr and Edinburgh. A further twelve Flemings from Norwich arrived in Edinburgh in July. These were led by a Gabriel Bischop, a manufacturer of broad-cloth and stuff, and brought ‘their wyffis, bayrnis, geir, and warklomes’ (wives, children, gear, and work looms). Those based in Edinburgh were allocated premises by the Nor’ Loch, but later the House of Correction was used. The poor people living there were taught textile manufacturing skills. As part of the contract the Flemings requested to have their own church and also asked that a Flemish brewer be brought over to establish a brewery. Whether these conditions were fulfilled is not clear.

Surname Analysis

A method that can be used to identify immigrants to the area around the Firth of Forth is analysis of surnames found there. When dealing with Flemish immigration one must keep in mind that many surnames used in Flanders are identical to those found in the Netherlands, and also among the Huguenot refugees, who were mainly French Protestants bearing French surnames. There were possibly also some Flemings with French surnames. However, as relatively few Dutch immigrants settled in Scotland it can be assumed that the vast majority bearing Dutch surnames were in fact Flemish.

Edinburgh and Leith were the most likely burghs to have attracted Flemish people, such as David Jonking, a merchant, 1610; Jacob Jamart, a merchant, 1674; Andrew Grosser, a burgess, 1599; and William Yungar, a cordiner, 1573. Clement Toures was a glass-wright in Edinburgh in 1616 Peter Frank, a smith in Edinburgh Castle, 1625, and Francis van Gent a burgess of the Canongate in 1702.

In 1681 Peter Bruce, a German engineer resident in Scotland, established a playing card and carver making business in Leith. He went to Holland and Flanders to recruit skilled workmen then petitioned the Privy Council to prohibit the import of playing cards, which was granted.

Thomas McGowran claimed in his book Newhaven on Forth that in Newhaven when the shipyard there declined following the the death of King James IV at the Battle of Flodden in 1513, many foreign wrights remained in the town and intermarried with the local fisher folk and ‘imparted a strange style of dress, custom and architecture’. The Newhaven fishwives continued thereafter to wear traditional dress reminiscent of that of the Low Countries.

Mrs George Cupples in her book Newhaven – its Origins and History claimed that the village had first been colonised in the fifteenth century from a Flemish fishing settlement on the Isle of May, later supplemented by refugees from the Netherlands. She emphasised how much the fisher folk of Newhaven resembled their Flemish and Dutch equivalents in respect to the women’s dress, complexion, and physique.

J. Arnold Fleming in his book Flemish Influence in Britain indicates that there were Flemings in the Dunbar area from the fourteenth to the sixteenth centuries. A good number of them were priests or schoolmasters in the parish of Pinkerton. Other pieces of evidence of a Flemish presence there are set out in the book, including the intriguing lawsuit of John Fleming, Prebendary of Pincartoun, versus William Fleming of Bord, for a certain sum claimed as owing to him by the said William Fleming on 20th March 1478.

There is evidence of a Flemish presence in a number of church records, such as the baptismal records of the Church of Scotland. There was a suggestion of a Flemish church being established in Edinburgh around 1601 but if it existed no trace has been found of it or its records. The Church of Scotland was Calvinist like the Flemish Reformed Church, and this facilitated the integration of the Flemish immigrants into the local church. The baptismal register of Edinburgh that covers the period 1595–1607 contains a number of entries that may pertain to Flemish, or possibly Dutch, immigrants.

A number of men from Forth burghs, who had gone to the Low Countries to work, were married to Flemish women and some of them may have returned to Scotland. Among them were Jonas Mabon from Edinburgh, who married Maycken van Haelemis from Tielt, Flanders, in Leiden in 1604; Henry Drommel, a smith from Kinkell, Fife, who married Elizabeth Dobble from Bruges in Leiden, 1604; and Alexander Simmons, a soldier from Anstruther, who married Marieken Jansen from Brussels in Dordrecht, 1588.

Flemish mercenary soldiers are known to have served in Scotland – James IV’s ship ‘The Great Michael’ had both French and Flemish gunners aboard in 1513. Flanders had a good reputation for manufacturing guns, for example Mons Meg in Edinburgh Castle was built in 1449 on the orders of Phillip the Good, Duke of Burgundy, and sent by him to King James II of Scotland from Flanders. Robert Hector, a gun-maker in Edinburgh, sent his son to Flanders in 1541 to serve an apprenticeship as a gun-maker. Other possible Flemings in the same calling were Josias Rikker, a gunner in Edinburgh Castle in 1540, and Peter Sochan, a gunsmith in Edinburgh around 1680.

Cases brought before the Scottish courts provide an insight into economic links between Flanders and Scotland. In 1686 the High Court of the Admiralty of Scotland deliberated on the complaint between George Clark, a merchant in Edinburgh, and Francis de Mallendar, a merchant in Bruges, concerning an unpaid debt. In August 1649 a ship, loaded with Spanish wine and salt, was captured by three privateers while sailing from Rotterdam to Leith. It was owned by Thomas Fleming, an Edinburgh merchant.

Town council records sometimes provide evidence of links between Scotland and Flanders. For example on 31 August 1666 Edinburgh Town council received a petition from George Monteith, merchant, to the town council for a testimonial to be sent to the burgomaster of Bruges that George was brother to John Monteith, who died in Bruges. Both were sons of Robert Monteith, merchant, and his wife Marion Sydserf. The Leith port books record George Monteith, a merchant, importing goods from Flanders in the 1660s.

The Firth of Forth was an avenue for trade between Flanders and Scotland in the medieval and early modern periods. This commercial interchange has, in turn, led to some settlement in the towns and villages bordering the estuary. The evidence presented here focuses on the south side of the Forth but additional evidence pertaining to the north side (Fife) will be presented next week.

David Dobson
September 2014

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).

Research Resources

- Michael Fry, Edinburgh: a History of the City (London, 2009)
- C. E. Green, East Lothian (Edinburgh, 1907)
- Edinburgh, 1329-1929 (Edinburgh, 1929])
- J. Harrison, History of the Monastery of Holy Rood and the Palace of Holyroodhouse (Edinburgh, 1919)
- J.C. Irons, Leith and its Antiquities (Edinburgh, 1897)
- South Leith Records, 1588-1700, 1700-1850 (Edinburgh, 1911, 1925)
- Thomas McGowran, Newhaven on Forth (Edinburgh, 1985)
- J. Ferguson, Linlithgow Palace (Edinburgh, 1910)
- David Dobson, Mariners of the Lothians (St Andrews, 1993)
- B. Webster, Acts of David II – King of Scots (Edinburgh, 1982)
- Accounts of the Lord High Treasurer of Scotland, 1538-1541 (Edinburgh, 1907)
- New Mills Cloth Manufactury, 1681-1793
- Exchequer Rolls of Scotland, 1350-1379, 1502-1507
- Scottish Burgh Surveys
- Fleming, J. Arnold, Flemish Influence in Britain, vol. 1 (Glasgow, 1930)

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The Armstrong Family and its Possible Flemish Origins

This is the second in a series of postings focusing on Scottish families that may have Flemish roots. In this posting Bob Armstrong explores the possibility of a Flemish origin for the Armstrong family. He identifies a number of apparent links between Flanders, Cumberland, Lincolnshire and Scotland that give credence to a Flemish origin for the Armstrongs. Evidence from Y-DNA analysis is also brought to bear on the issue.

Settlement in England

While there is no firm genealogical evidence linking the Armstrong family to Flanders there are some close linkages with other families that do appear to have clear Flemish roots. The most compelling can be discerned in northern England, specifically the Cumbrian region.

The earliest known record of the Armstrong surname can be found in a Cumbrian charter of the 1220s.[1] The first bearer of the epithet was named Adam and he lived in Ousby, once known as Ulvesby, near Penrith. ‘Adam Armstrang de Ulvesby’ and his kinsmen were forest officials and clerks in the county. Adam held a moiety (half share) in the village, either due to his being a blood relation of Patrick de Ulvesby, a major figure in the region, or as part of a dowry.[2]

In King Henry III’s time, William de Ulfsby (Ulvesby) and William de Percy are recorded as holding over three hundred acres of land in Torpenhow, Cumberland.[3] However research suggests that they may be the same individual. In 1196, a son of Adam de Ulvesby was recorded paying taxes in Bamburgh, Northumberland, a county where the Percies were dominant.[1] The earliest Percies were said to be of Norman stock; however the male line died out in the 12th century. The surname was adopted by Josceline de Louvain, a Fleming, when he wed Agnes, Baroness Percy.[5]

Records show that several villages that lay within three miles of Ousby had Flemish connections. Kirkland and Skirwith were both held by the Fleming family, while in 1159, Peter de Brus of Skelton, Yorkshire possessed Edenhall.[6] A branch of the Setons, thought to be Flemings, obtained holdings in neighbouring Gamblesby and Blencarn. Patrick de Ulvesby also had an interest in the latter village.[7]

Two villages that lie less than a dozen miles to the south of Ousby are also of interest because of their Flemish connection: King’s Meaburn and Mauld’s Meaburn. The twin hamlets occupied an area known anciently as Medburn. Hugh and Maud de Morville once held the villages, but Hugh’s involvement in Thomas Becket’s murder in 1170 led to him losing them. Hugh’s sister wed William de Veteripont, whose surname had Flemish origins (see below).

Mauld’s Meaburn seems to have taken its name from Maulde, Flanders which was held by Gerbod de Maulde in the 1050s. Beryl Platts, an expert on Flemings in Britain, believes that Maude Moolte was in fact Maud de Maulde, a daughter of Gerbod the Fleming, who became 1st Earl of Chester circa 1070.[8] Maulde lies five miles south of Wattripont, Flanders, the latter being the probable pre-Norman source of the Veteripont surname.

In 1203 King John granted the sheriffwick of Westmorland to Robert de Veteripont in perpetuity.[9] Flemings appear to have dominated the office of sheriff in both Cumberland and Westmorland during the 13th century. John Armestrang obtained an exemption from being made sheriff of Westmorland in 1271.[10] Alan Armestrang stepped into the breach in 1289, followed by Gilbert de Brunnelvesheved in 1290, Thomas de Hellebek in 1291, and Thomas de Hollebek in 1293.[11]

Interestingly, there is a Hellebecq located six miles west of Enghien, Flanders (Enghien/Engayne is a surname that appears frequently in 12th century Cumbrian documents). There is also a Hollebeke some dozen miles north-west of Lille, and nine miles from Bailleul. A John de Bailol (sic) was appointed Sheriff of Cumberland in 1248, while a village called Holobec (now Holbeach) is mentioned in the Domesday Book, close to Moulton, Lincolnshire (see Box 1).

The above evidence points to a concentration of people of Flemish origin in parts of northern England, with the “Armstrongs” linked closely to them.

Box 1: A Lincolnshire Connection?

As noted above the first substantive mention of the name Armstrong was found in Cumbria. However, there is some circumstantial evidence to suggest that the ancestors of the first Armstrongs had settled in Lincolnshire, perhaps as early as the 11th century, and that they were again in the company of a number of other Flemish origin families.

There was a history of Flemish movement from Lincolnshire to Cumberland during William Rufus’ reign (1087 – 1100). Professor Richard Sharpe, in his 2005 ‘Norman Rule in Cumbria’ lecture, believes that settlers from Spalding, Lincolnshire were among those sent by Rufus to colonise Carlisle (the Spalding surname is also thought to have Flemish roots).[12] Sharpe’s mention of Spalding is of interest to Armstrong researchers as it sits three miles from Moulton. Sir Thomas de Multon was a powerful Lincolnshire landowner who took his surname from the town. He became chief forester of Cumberland. The Armstrongs were employed in administering forest affairs in the county’s Inglewood Forest, so had close contact with the Multons. It is possible the Armstrongs were part of the Multons’ entourage when they departed from Lincolnshire.

A number of Flemings seem to have occupied the post of chief forester of Cumberland. Robert d’Estriviers and Randulph Engayne were two early holders. Estriviers appears to have been originally derived from Trivieres near Mons, Flanders, while the Engaynes may have originated in Enghien, fifteen miles north of Trivieres. The Morvilles, who reputedly came from near St. Omer in Flanders, held the office before it passed to the Multons.[13]

The Lincolnshire Multons’ close neighbours, Fulk and Lambert de Oiri of Whaplode, are mentioned in the Praestita Rolls as members of King John’s large Flemish contingent that campaigned in Ireland in 1210.[14] Lambert de Oiri was a parcener (joint heir) of Thomas de Multon in the Spalding area.

In the 14th century, Armstrongs inhabited Corby Glen, fifteen miles west of Spalding. A piece written in 1927 by Lincolnshire historian Arthur Abbott claimed the Armstrongs hailed from Tweeddale.[15] Lincoln was one of the few towns allowed to control the wool trade – a business traditionally dominated by Flemings. Bytham Castle, situated four miles south of Corby Glen, was held by Drogo de Beuvriere in 1086. Drogo was a Fleming, thought to have hailed from Labeauvriere, twenty miles west of Lille.[16] His surname is said to have evolved into Briwere or Brewer in later years.

The Armstrongs in Scotland

The first Armstrong recorded in Scotland is William Armstrang, in 1328 a burgess of Berwick, then part of Scotland.[17] The Armstrong surname can also be found in a 1376 document concerning one Alyxandir Armystrand of Mangerton in Roxburghshire.[18] The chronicler Froissart mentioned a knight by the name of Sir John Armstrong fighting for Douglas and the Scots at the Battle of Otterburn in 1388.[19] In 1398 Alexandir Geffry and Davy Armstrang were named as ‘borrowis’ (pledges) for the Earl of Douglas.[20]

The most eminent Armstrong recorded in Scotland during the 14th century was Gilbert, canon of Aberdeen in 1343.[21] In 1363 he was given letters of safe conduct in order to study at Oxford University.[22] He also served as Steward to King David II, and was an ambassador of some renown.[23]

Gilbert Armstrong was a provost in the diocese of St Andrews, Fife, between 1362 and 1373. The bishop of St. Andrews during that period was William de Landallis. Saint-Brice-de-Landelles, Normandy is sometimes cited as the origin of the bishop’s surname. However Landelies near Trivieres, Flanders may be an earlier candidate, particularly as several figures of authority in St Andrews were of Flemish stock.

Elsewhere, a Freskums de Landeles of Roxburgh was named in the Ragman Roll.[24] Freskin is thought to have been a Flemish Christian name: the ‘kin’ suffix reputedly first appeared in late 12th century Flanders. A Robert de Landeles witnessed the document that saw Torpenhow, Cumberland, being willed to Robert de Stuteville – land which later passed to the Ulvesby/Percy family.[25]

The Armstrongs of the 16th and 17th centuries had a less savoury reputation than that of their ancestors. The practice of reiving (plundering goods and livestock) led to the clan’s power reaching its zenith in the 1520s. Countless documents are available naming many of the most notorious Armstrong border reivers and their kin. They also, however, built numerous peel towers in Dumfriesshire and Roxburghshire, an activity that supports the notion of the Armstrongs having Flemish blood in them as the Flemings were renowned castle builders.[26]

Heraldic evidence is also suggestive of an Armstrong-Flemish link. Two of the earliest memorials erected in honour of the 16th century Armstrong lairds of Mangerton and nearby Whithaugh, Roxburghshire, feature a chevron and three fusils.[27] Later Armstrong graves bore an embowed (bent) arm, or three embowed arms. Some branches of the Leith clan, believed by Platts to be of Flemish stock, had almost identical coats of arms to the Armstrong lairds.[28] Robert Leith of Overbarns, Aberdeenshire was one such case.[29] In 1343, Gilbert Armstrong received an income from the canonry of Mortlach, fifteen miles from Overbarns.[30] Overbarns skirts the perimeter of Whitehaugh Forest. The Armstrongs of Roxburghshire occupied the similarly named Whithaugh Tower.

Platts states that the Setons were relatives and close neighbours of the Edinburgh Leiths.[31] Two Seton brothers, both Brus adherents, were executed in 1306 during the period of Anglo-Scottish strife. As a result they lost their Cumbrian holdings near Ousby for their perceived treasonous behaviour. One of the brothers was Sir Christopher de Seton, a man of great stature who is said to have wielded a sword measuring nearly five feet in length.[32] A similar weapon adorns the Armstrong lairds’ memorials at Mangerton and Whithaugh.

Port Seton, a Seton holding, lies ten miles east of Leith. Four miles south of the port stands Ormiston. Author W. A. Armstrong named ‘Black Ormiston’, a Teviotdale Armstrong, as being implicated in the murder of Darnley, husband of Mary, Queen of Scots. Ormiston is thought to have sought refuge with the Armstrongs of Whithaugh following the killing.[33] Stodart’s Scottish Arms, 1370-1678 depicts one Philpe Ormestonn’s shield, which bears a striking resemblance to the Armstrong memorials.[34]

Some researchers believe that the Pennington and Mulcaster families were actually branches of the Percy family and therefore shared a common Flemish ancestor. Alicia, niece of John de Mulcaster of Cumberland, is mentioned in the Close Rolls of 1304.[35] She was the widow of Thomas de Soules, a member of the infamous Soules family who were Lords of Liddesdale until the 1320s.[36] Sir Robert de Brus held the lordship in 1332, followed by Sir Archibald Douglas in 1333. Liddesdale became the main Armstrong power-base in the 14th century and endured as such well into the 16th century.

The Multon family, once of Lincolnshire, held Egremont, Cumberland in the 13th century. Platts states that Egremont was named for the lords of Aigremont who were peers of Lille.[37] Platts describes a seal, belonging to the 1237 castellan of Lille, as showing ‘a shield vair, embellished in his case by a dexter arm’.[38] A key question here is whether this could be the source of the Armstrongs’ embowed arm emblem.

Box 2: DNA Analysis

DNA research appears to support some of the theories discussed above, although far more testing is required before any definitive claims can be made.
Armstrong mainstream Y-DNA falls under the large R1b haplogroup that encompasses much of Western Europe. In recent years, the Armstrongs were designated as R-P312**.

In 2013 Professor Jim Wilson, founder of BritainsDNA, discovered a new SNP (these form part of the male Y-DNA signature) called S389 that was relevant to the Armstrongs. The Armstrong mainstream was categorised as having its origins from among the Beaker Folk (c.2800-1800 BC). One of the areas that the Beaker Folk inhabited was Flanders.

Some other testees who also fall under the R-P312** umbrella include Gordon, Desharnais, Crosby, Clayborne and Kirkpatrick. The latter three are of interest as their names reflect locations in Cumbria and Dumfriesshire, close to areas heavily populated by Armstrongs during various periods in history. The Desharnais testee has 17th century links to a village on the outskirts of Lille.

A Ross testee matches some of the Armstrong mainstream Y-DNA group at a level that suggests a 99% likelihood of a shared common ancestor in the 1200s. It’s possible the Ross testee is a descendant of Piers de Ros (born c.1082), who once inhabited Drogo de Beuvriere’s Holderness stronghold.

Piers’ descendants had numerous links to the Percy, d’Albini, Stuteville, and Brus dynasties, whose activities impacted on the lives of the first Armstrongs. It may be that a descendant of Piers de Ros gained the epithet ‘Arm Strong’: the family were ardent jousters, so a nickname reflecting strength might be expected. Robert de Ros and Nicholas de Stuteville were among the Flemish knights named in the 1210 Prestita Roll.

In summary, many of the surnames explored above, found in Cumberland in the 12th and 13th centuries, mirrored place names found within twenty miles of Lille, Flanders. Strong links existed between the Flemish families in Lincolnshire, Cumberland and Scotland, with marital bonds (the Flemish law of nobilitas) protecting their shared heritage. While it cannot be conclusively proven at present that the Armstrongs had a Flemish progenitor, there is good circumstantial evidence to support this theory.

Bob Armstrong
September 2014

Bob Armstrong has been a co-administrator of FTDNA’s Armstrong Surname Group for the last seven years. His interest in genealogy began nearly forty years ago and he regularly writes research articles for the Armstrong Clan Association magazine.


[1] J. E. Prescott, The Register of the Priory of Wetherhal, charter nos. 183, 186, pp. 292-295.
[2] W. G. and R. G. Collingwood (eds), Transactions of the Cumberland & Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society, N.S. 22, p. 46.
[3] William Hutchinson, The History of Cumberland and Some Places Adjacent, vol. 2 (1794), p. 353.
[4] Magnus Rotulus Pipe, Anno 1196, Ric. I, Burg of Baenburc.
[5] G. A. Brenan, History of the House of Percy, vol 1, p. 14.
[6] W. Farrer (ed.), Early Yorkshire Charters, vol. 2 (1915), p. 13.
[7] W. G. and R. G. Collinwood (eds.), Transactions of the Cumberland & Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society, vol. 22, p. 66.
[8] Beryl Platts, Scottish Hazard, vol. 2 (1985), p. 134.
[9] Calendar of Patent Rolls 4, John.
[10] Calendar of Patent Rolls, Henry III, vol. 6, 25th March 1271.
[11] List of Sheriffs of Carlisle, Cumberland and Westmorland. Photocopied at the Public Record Office, Kew.
[12] Richard Sharpe, ‘Norman Rule in Cumbria, 1092-1136′. Lecture delivered to Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society on 9th April 2005.
[13] Beryl Platts, Scottish Hazard, vol. 2 (London, 1990), p. 109.
[14] Rotuli de Liberate Praestitis, King John, p. 225.
[15] Rev. Arthur Abbott, History of the Parishes of Irnham and Corby (1927), p. 93.
[16] Johan Verberckmoes, Flemish Tenants-in-Chief in Domesday England (1988), p. 727.
[17] Calendar of Inquisitions Micellaneous (Chancery), vol. 2, no. 1671, p. 411.
[18] Registrum Honoris de Morton, vol. 1, app no. 17, ‘Extentus Terrarum Vallis de Lydell, c1376′.
[19] Jean Froissart, Chronicles of England, France and Spain and adjoining Countries, book 3, chapter 124.
[20] Calendar of Documents Relating to Scotland, Ric. II, Nov 6 1398, p. 512.
[21] Calendar of Entries Papal Registers: Papal Letters, vol. 3, 1342-1362, p. 79.
[22] Rotuli Scotiae, vol. 1, 877a-878b.
[23] Exchequer Rolls of Scotland, vol. 2, 1359-1379, pp. i-li.
[24] J. Bain (ed.), Calendar of Documents Relating to Scotland, vol. 2, p. 200.
[25] W. Farrer and C.T. Clay, Early Yorkshire Charters, vol. 9 (1952), p. 125.
[26] Lise Hull, Britain’s Medieval Castles (2006), pp. 13, 19.
[27] R. R. Stodart, Scottish Arms, 1370-1678, vol. 2 (1881), p. 254.
[28] Beryl Platts, Scottish Hazard, vol. 1 (1985), p. 166.
[29] Alexander Nisbet, A System of Heraldry, vol. 1 (1816), p. 213.
[30] Calendar of Entries Papal Registers: Papal Letters, vol. 3, 1342-1362, p. 79.
[31] Beryl Platts, Scottish Hazard, vol. 1 (1985), pp. 172-4.
[32] George Seton, A History of the Family of Seton, vol. 2 (1896), p. 615.
[33] William A. Armstrong, The Armstrong Borderland (1986), p. 126.
[34] R. R. Stodart, Scottish Arms, 1370-1678, vol. 1 (1881), p. 21.
[35] Calendar of Close Rolls, 32 Edw. I.
[36] Thomas Cockburn-Hood, The House of Cockburn of That Ilk (1888), pp. 165-6.
[37] Beryl Platts, Scottish Hazard, vol. 1 (1985), p. 150.
[38] Ibid., p. 164.

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