The Flemish and the game of golf

This blog posting, prepared by Geert and Sara Nijs, draws on the work of several golf historians who have examined the possible influences of the Flemish and their game of colf on the origin and development of Scottish golf. Flemish (and North Netherlandish) colf and Scottish golf had much in common. Players used a stick (club) to hit a (originally) wooden ball towards a target like a hole in the ground, a door, or a tree. The player who could reach that target in the fewest number of hits was the winner of the match.


The history of the Scottish game of golf has been studied more extensively perhaps than any other game. For over hundred and fifty years the history of golf has been unravelled and explained in a range of publications. Books on golf history reveal that there is a surprising difference of opinion about the game’s origin. On the one hand well-respected, mainly Scottish historians claim the one and only cradle of golf to be in Scotland. On the other hand well-respected, again mainly Scottish historians claim the cradle of golf to be in the Low Countries (and sometimes in Italy, France, and other countries). This posting is restricted to the Low Countries’ cradle claim with the main emphasis on Flanders and the Flemish.  All of the historians quoted below are referenced at the end of the text and no attempt is made in this particular blog posting to examine the veracity of their claims or to weigh the relative merits of different theories regarding the origin of the game.

Scottish golf

Golf started to be played on the east coast of Scotland, principally in the East Lothian and Fife regions. The game was mentioned for the first time in 1457 when by an Act of the Scottish parliament King James II banned golf (together with football) in favour of practising archery:

Item it is ordanyt and decretyt … (th)at ye fut bawe and ye golf be uterly cryt done and not usyt and (th)at ye bowe markes be maid at all parochkirks apair of buttes and shuting be usyt ilk Sunday … 1

The first mention of a specific ‘round’ of golf dates from 1503 when King James IV played with the Earl of Bothwell near Edinburgh.2 Subsequently numerous documents have been found that refer to the game in Edinburgh, Musselburgh, St Andrews, Montrose, Aberdeen and many other places. In 1744, the first rules for the game were written down in Edinburgh.  Playing golf remained mainly a Scottish game until the late 19th century when it began to be played in other parts of the world.

Flemish colf (Flanders, Brabant)

In the County of Flanders and the Dukedom of Brabant in the Southern Netherlands, colf was mentioned for the first time in 1261 by the Flemish poet Jacob van Maerlant in his poem ‘Merlijn’s Boec’ (Merlin’s book3):

          Vnde gaff den rikesten enen slach
          Van den dorpe dat he lach
          Mit ener coluen vor zine schene

(A rough translation of the above extract from Maerlant’s poem is: “…and hit the richest boy of the village with a colf against his shin”)

Many documents from the 15th and 16th centuries refer to the game played in Brabant (Brussels, Antwerp, Malines, etc.) and Flanders (Brugge [Bruges], Gent [Gand], Kortrijk, etc.). The history of Flemish and Brabant colf in the 17th century has never been fully researched.

‘Dutch’ colf (Northern Netherlands)

In the County of Holland in the Northern Netherlands, the same game seems to have been played in Loenen aan de Vecht in 1297 to celebrate the lynching of Gerard van Velsen, the murderer of the Count of Holland a year before.4,5,6 In the subsequent four centuries there were many documents relating to the game that were found in Veere, Dordrecht, Haarlem, Leiden, Amsterdam and other places. The first, more or less official colf course was assigned to the colvers of Haarlem by Count Albrecht of Holland in 1389.7,8 Official rules for the game were never written down. Colf ceased to exists at the beginning of the 18th century to be succeeded by an indoor version called ‘kolf’ which is still played today but only in a small part of Holland.

Flemish colf and Scottish golf

The oldest reference in golf history books to a possible Flemish/Northern Netherlandish connection to Scottish golf highlights the fact that the two games have identical names: colf (noun), colven (verb) and golf (noun), golfing (verb).  Some historians are of the opinion that because of the much older name of colf the Flemish/Northern Netherlandish people must have introduced their game into Scotland before the 15th century, where it became known as Scottish golf.9

When William, Duke of Normandy, set sail with his army in 1066 to conquer Britain he was accompanied by a group of Flemish knights. These knights played a prominent role in defeating the Anglo-Saxon King Harold. Many of these knights were rewarded by the new king with estates and fiefs often near the borders with Wales and Scotland to defend England against the Welsh and Scots. Reportedly these Flemings continued to play their game of colf which is said to have been very popular at that time in Flanders.10

When David I became king of Scotland in 1124, his wife Maud, of Flemish descent, followed him as his queen. They were accompanied by a large retinue of Maud’s Flemish kinsmen.11 Some golf historians believe that these Flemings continued to play their game of colf as they were gradually absorbed into Scottish society. When in 1154 King Henry of England expelled all aliens as encroachers on English trade, many Flemings sought fortune and refuge in Scotland.12 They were well received in Scotland because of their skills as wool merchants and professional weavers. It could well be that these Flemish incomers played Flemish colf too. Some historians believe that over the course of time the Flemish game of colf evolved into the Scottish game of golf.

That golf developed on the east coast of Scotland in the 15th century, and not on the west coast is, according to some historians, due to the fact that fishermen from Flanders and Holland when fishing for herring in the North Sea found refuge in the harbours of East Scotland. While waiting for favourable winds to return home they killed time by playing ‘mit der coluen’ (colf). The Scots began to play the game also, sewing the seeds of Scottish golf.13


Scottish traders crossed the Channel regularly to do business with their counterparts in the Low Countries. As this painting shows, already in the 17th century golf was a good context in which to discuss business. – Adriaen van de Velde, 1668; National Gallery, London

Over the centuries there have always been close commercial relations between the Flemish and Scottish peoples.  In the course of commercial interchange it is probable that those who played the game exchanged information about the rules, the use of different clubs and balls, etc. Many documents show that in the 16th and 17th centuries large numbers of hair-filled leather balls were exported to Scotland to replace the wooden balls. On several Netherlandish paintings with colf players clubs can be recognised as ‘Scottish cleeks’.14

In the Scottish golf game the target in a match is a small hole in which the ball has to be putted15. The first Scottish reference to such a hole target can be found in the ‘Vocabula Latinæ Linguæ’ written by David Wedderburn from Aberdeen in 1633.16,17


One of the oldest Flemish illuminations with colf players putting a ball into a small hole. It could well be that the Flemish introduced such a target into Scottish golf. – ‘Golf Book of Hours’ by Simon Bening from Brugge (Bruges). Add MS 24098, detail from folio 27 recto, c.1540; © The British Library Board

In Flanders such target holes were in use already in the 15th century judged by several illuminations in books of hours and paintings and drawings from the 16th and 17th centuries. Written evidence can be found in the ‘Tyrocinium Linguæ Latinæ’ from Petrus Apherdianus from 1545.18 Some historians are of the opinion that the Flemish colf target predated its introduction into the Scottish golf game.19

Among the other theories historians have developed to explain the spread of the game from continental Europe to Scotland relates to the exploits of Scottish mercenaries. According to this theory it could have been possible that the Scots were confronted with the colf game on the continent when they fought with the French against the English in the Hundred Years’ War.  On the eve of the battle at Vieux Baugé in 1421 during the Hundred Years’ War between France and England, some Scottish soldiers were playing a ‘French’ ball game during a ceasefire.20 The game is considered to be the game of crosse, a variant of Flemish colf. The soldiers enjoyed the game so much that when they returned to Scotland they took the game with them where it developed into golf. Scottish soldiers campaigned in France between 1420 and 1457 being the period in which it is suggested that golf developed in Scotland.21


There is documented evidence, supported by paintings of the period, that in the 14th century a “one stick and ball” game was played in both Flanders and the Netherlands.  There is also some documented evidence that such a game was played in Scotland in the 16th century. One possibility therefore is that over the course of time the Flemish introduced aspects of their game into the Scottish game that evolved into the game of golf as it is played today.  Another possibility is that comparable stick and ball games evolved independently in Flanders, the Netherlands and much later in Scotland.  With the flow of people in the context of the commercial relationship between the three countries it is possible that there was an exchange of knowledge about the game that led to adaptations in the way it was played.

Geert and Sara Nijs
November 2015

Geert and Sara Nijs are amateur historians who have specialised in the ancient history of the games of Flemish/Netherlandish colf/kolf, the Franco/Belgian crosse/choule, the Italian/French game of pallamaglio/mail/pall mall and Scottish golf. They are members of the European Association of Historians and Collectors (EAGHC), the British Golf Collectors Society (BGCS), the American Golf Collectors Society (GCS), and the Association Patrimoniale du Golf Français (APGF). Their publications include: ‘CHOULE – The Non-Royal but most Ancient Game of Crosse’ (2008) and its revised French edition ‘Jeu de Crosse – Crossage A travers les âges’ (2012), ‘Games for Kings & Commoners’ (2011), ‘Games for Kings & Commoners Part Two’ (2014) and ‘Games for Kings & Commoners Part Three’ (2015), the final part of the trilogy.

For more detailed information about the history of the continental golf-like games and Scottish golf see their website where you also find their email address.


  1. National Archives of Scotland, PA5/6
  2. National Archives of Scotland, E21/6
  3. The verbatim text of the original manuscript of Jacob van Maerlant; source Ludo Jongen, medievalist at Leiden, The Netherlands, 2009
  4. Article in the Magazine of Education ‘Nieuwe bijdragen ter Bevordering van het Onderwijs en de Opvoeding’, Hendrik Breuninghoff; March 1870
  5. ‘De Volksvermaken’, Jan ter Gouw; Haarlem, De Erven F. Bohn, 1871
  6. ‘Golf – History & Tradition’, David Stirk; Ludlow, Excellent Press, 1998
  7. Noord-Hollands Archief, Haarlem, The Netherlands
  8. ‘Tafereel der Stad Haarlem en derzelver Geschiedenis: van de vroegste Tijden af tot op de tegenwoordigen toe’, Volume 4, Cornelis de Koning; Haarlem, A. Loosjes, 1808
  9. ‘Games for Kings & Commoners’ Part Three, Geert & Sara Nijs; Saint Bonnet en Bresse, Editions Choulla et Clava, 2015
  10. ‘Golf & Kolf Seven centuries of history’, Jacques Temmerman; Gent, Snoeck-Ducaju & Zoon, 1993
  11. ‘The Flemish Influence Upon Scotland’, Annette Hardie-Stoffelen;
  12. See 11
  13. ‘Early Golf’, Steven J.H. van Hengel; Naarden, Strengholt, 1982
  14. See 13
  15. ‘Games for Kings & Commoners’ Part One, Geert & Sara Nijs; Saint Bonnet en Bresse, Editions Choulla et Clava, 2011
  16. National Library of Scotland, L.C.445(2)
  17. ‘A Swing Through Time – Golf in Scotland 1457–1744’, Olive M. Geddes; London HMSO, 1992
  18. University Library, Gent, Belgium
  19. ‘Games for Kings & Commoners’ Part Two, Geert & Sara Nijs; Saint Bonnet en Bresse, Editions Choulla et Clava, 2014
  20. ‘Scottish pageant’, Dr Agnes Mure MacKenzie; Edinburgh, Oliver & Boyd, 1946
  21. ‘A History of Golf – The Royal and Ancient Game’, Robert Browning; London, A & C Black, 1955

Further reading

  • ‘Scottish Hazard: The Flemish Nobility and their Impact on Scotland’, Volumes 1 & 2, Beryl Platts; London, Proctor Press, 1985 & 1990.
  • ‘Flemish Settlement in Twelfth-Century Scotland’, Lauran Toorians; Revue belge de philologie et d’histoire, Volume 74, 1996
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Migration from Scotland before 1700

Virtually all of the material posted on this blog to date has focussed on the migration to Scotland of people thought to have Flemish roots and their subsequent influence on the country. In this posting David Dobson explains why there was also migration from Scotland before 1700. Among the emigrants were some people carrying the name Fleming (other family names will be examined in due course).

Migration to Continental Europe

Emigration from Scotland has been a feature of Scottish demography since the medieval period. In the nineteenth century Scotland had one of the highest levels of emigration in Europe relative to its population, only exceeded by Ireland and Norway. Scottish emigration to European destinations began to become significant in the seventeenth century and was caused by a number of factors. Scotland was then a poor country on the fringe of Europe and many of those settling abroad were economic migrants heading for opportunities in the burgeoning cities of the continent. A significant number were soldiers of fortune – mercenaries attracted by opportunities in continental armies. Some were political or religious refugees seeking sanctuary, while others were scholars advancing their education in continental universities. Scots merchants, factors, and pedlars could be found throughout north-west Europe by 1700.

The Scottish Reformation of 1560 turned Scotland into a Protestant country and contributed to an exodus of Catholics, albeit on a small scale, to locations which remained loyal to Rome, such as Poland or France. In the seventeenth century the religious policies of the Stuart kings led to the Covenanter risings and subsequent emigration of Presbyterians to Ireland, the Netherlands, and America. On the Continent the Thirty Years War, which was mainly fought in Germany, attracted thousands of Scottish soldiers, mainly to enrol in the service of Sweden, and many of whom later settled in Germany as well as in Scandinavia and the Baltic lands. Similarly the Dutch Revolt against Spanish rule led to substantial numbers of Scottish soldiers being recruited to aid their Calvinist brethren in their struggle. These soldiers were mostly formed into the Scotch Brigade in the service of the United Provinces which existed for nearly two hundred years. Many of these soldiers later settled in the Netherlands. A similar situation could be found in France where Scots had formed elite corps such as Les Gardes de Corps Écossaises or Les Gens d’Armes Écossaises, which formed the king’s bodyguard. The Hundred Years War between France and England brought many Scots soldiers to France to oppose the English. In the aftermath a number of Scots were granted lands and titles and settled there. The French universities and seminaries also attracted young Catholic Scotsmen. Considerable trade developed between France and Scotland that resulted in Scots merchants and factors settling in French ports, such as Bordeaux, as well as in Paris.

One of the most important destinations for Scottish emigrants in the early modern period was Poland, which by the middle of the seventeenth century was the home of around 30,000 Scots. Some had arrived as Catholic refugees, many others as economic migrants attracted by opportunities offered there by the existing social system. Society was divided between the aristocracy and the peasantry, with the gap between them filled by merchants and craftsmen from the Netherlands, Germany and Scotland. Some of the Scots that settled in centres such as Gdańsk/Danzig or Kraków were former soldiers in the service of Sweden and Poland, who became wandering merchants or cramers. The shipping links that existed between Danzig and east coast Scottish ports such as Aberdeen facilitated emigration. Emigration to Poland and the southern Baltic began to decline from around 1650 in favour of locations to the west of Scotland.

Scottish emigration to the Scandinavian lands of Norway, Denmark, Sweden, and Finland was largely, though not completely, by soldiers of fortune seeking employment generally under Gustavus Adolphus but also under the Danish kings. Those who survived the campaigns of the Thirty Years War were often granted land and encouraged to settle. As well as soldiers, the Scandinavian kings also recruited seafarers. Merchants and craftsmen, mainly from burghs in eastern Scotland and the Northern Isles, moved to Scandinavia attracted by economic opportunities there.

The emigration of Scottish merchants to the German lands was relatively small scale and they tended to concentrate in seaports such as Hamburg, Bremen, and Lübeck. However the Thirty Years War did bring thousands of Scots soldiers to Germany and a number settled there and in other neighbouring lands in Central Europe. Scottish Catholic families often sent their sons for education to locations such as Würzburg and Ratisbon (modern Regensburg), some of whom were ordained as priests.

Scotland has had strong economic and social links with the Low Countries since the medieval period. Scottish merchants and craftsmen could be found in centres such as Veere, Bruges, Rotterdam, Amsterdam, and Middelburg. After the Reformation the links concentrated on the United Provinces, especially Holland and Zealand. Scots soldiers and sailors served in the armies of the Netherlands and in their fleets, as well as those of the Dutch East India Company and of the Dutch West India Company in the Early Modern Period. The universities of the Netherlands, such as Leiden, attracted students from Scotland. Holland was a place of refuge for many Presbyterians escaping the religious policies of the Stuart kings of the seventeenth century. Probably Rotterdam had the greatest concentration of Scots, where by 1700 around one thousand Scots were resident.

Migration to Ireland and the Americas

During the seventeenth century the emphasis of emigration from Scotland gradually changed from east to west. Increasingly Ireland and the Americas became the preferred destinations.

While there had been some movement of people between Scotland and Ireland for centuries, it only became substantial in the seventeenth century. In the late sixteenth century there had been an influx of Highlanders into Ulster to support the native Irish in their struggle with the Tudor English, but it was the Union of the Crowns in 1603 that led to mass migration from Scotland to Ireland. In 1606 two Ayrshire lairds, James Hamilton and Hugh Montgomery, began to settle thousands of Lowland Scots in County Down and County Antrim. The success of this venture persuaded King James VI of Scotland, now King James I of England, to commence the Plantation of Ulster mainly by Lowland Scots. By the end of the seventeenth century around 100,000 Scots or people of Scottish descent had settled in Ireland, a considerable figure when compared to the estimated population of contemporary Scotland of one million.

The final destination for emigrants from Scotland was the Americas. Links can be traced back to 1600 and the voyage of the Grace of God of Dundee to Newfoundland in 1600. However, settlement did not occur until the 1620s and the foundation of Nova Scotia. A settlement was established at Port Royal on the Bay of Fundy and existed until King Charles I ordered that it be abandoned and returned it to the French in 1632. Another settlement on Cape Breton had a very brief existence, basically as there was a prior claim to the territory by the French. Scots, however, were able to settle within the English settlements along the east coast of America, from New England south to the Carolinas. Many of the Scots arrived there in chains, mostly as prisoners of war but also some petty felons taken from the tollbooths of Edinburgh. The Wars of the Three Kingdoms, 1638-1651, resulted in prisoners captured at Dunbar and Worcester being transported to the colonies for sale to the planters there. Prisoners were also taken with the Scottish Quakers who moved to East New Jersey to avoid persecution in the 1680s. Around the same time a group of Presbyterians established a settlement south of Charleston, South Carolina, to avoid persecution but also to trade. However, this colony was overrun by the Spanish within a few years.

Scotland had trading links with the West Indies from 1611 and this too led to settlement by factors, merchants and planters. Here also was where prisoners were transported to and sold off. The ill-fated Scots colony at Darien was designed as a trading settlement with access to both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. However, it was located in territory long claimed by Spain and in the face of a Spanish siege and lack of support from England it was abandoned in 1700. Around 3,000 emigrants left Scotland bound for Darien and only a handful returned. Many died on the Darien Expedition, but some survived and settled within English colonies in the West Indies, such as Jamaica, and along the American coast as far north of New York. By the end of the seventeenth century it is reckoned that 7,000 Scots had settled in the Americas.

Fleming Family Emigration

Thousands of Scots clearly emigrated to European and American destinations in the years prior to 1700. Some of them must be, at least in part, of Flemish origin. Unfortunately there is no comprehensive list identifying Scots abroad. However, a number can be identified from their surnames. Take the basic surname of Fleming, for example. Henry Fleming was a Scot and a Colonel of the Swedish Army fighting in Germany during the 1630s. Among the Scots in Königsberg, East Prussia, was a ‘J. Flehman’ in 1648. In Germany a P. Fleming from Kirkoswald, Ayrshire, entered the Monastery at Ratisbon in 1669. In the Netherlands there were a considerable number of Scots including two ministers, father and son: Robert Fleming, who was minister of the Scots Kirk in Rotterdam from 1677 until his death in 1694, and his son also named Robert Fleming, minister of the Scots Kirk in Leiden from 1692 to 1695, then in Rotterdam from 1695 to 1698. Sir Alexander Fleming, an Ensign, married in Holland during 1637. A John Fleming was a merchant in Rotterdam in 1692. A Charles Fleming studied at the Scots Colleges in Paris and Douai in the 1680s. The surname Fleming appears in the early records of Virginia, mostly in the 1650s, which suggests that they may be some of the prisoners-of-war transported there around 1650. One such is a Patrick Fleming who by 1662 was a planter there. Among the Covenanter prisoners taken to Carolina in 1684 was a John Fleming from Stirlingshire. The Register of Testament of the Commissariat of Edinburgh has the testaments of a couple of seafarers, Alexander Fleming and George Fleming, who died on the Darien Expedition of 1698-1699. Several Flemings are recorded in Irish records of the seventeenth century, most of whom had settled in County Donegal, some from before 1630. James and Richard Fleming were among the defenders at the Siege of Londonderry in 1689. A James Fleming, described as Scotch-Irish, studied at Glasgow University in 1636, while several Flemings studied at Trinity College, Dublin, in the late seventeenth century.

The above list is but the tip of the iceberg as many more Flemings who settled abroad are as yet not identified. Much more work is required, especially regarding those Scots who settled on the Continent in the early modern period.

David Dobson

November 2015

Dr Dobson is currently a Post Doctoral Research Fellow at the University of Edinburgh and an Honorary Research Fellow with the Institute of Scottish Historical Research at the University of St Andrews. His research interests are focused mainly on the Scottish diaspora as well as Scottish history in the early modern period. His publications include Scottish Emigration to Colonial America, 1683-1783 (Georgia, 1994, 2004); Scottish Trade with Colonial Charleston, 1683-1783 (Glasgow, 2009), and over 125 historical and genealogical source books (Baltimore, 1983- 2013).


The material set out in this blog posting was based on the following books authored by Dr Dobson:

[1] Scottish Emigration to Colonial America, 1607-1783 (University of Georgia Press, 1994)
[2] Scottish German Links, 1550-1850, 2nd ed. (Baltimore 2011)
[3] Scots in Poland, Russia, and the Baltic States, 1550-1850, 2 vols. (Baltimore, 2000, 2008)
[4] Scots-French Links in Europe and America, 1550-1850 (Baltimore, 2011)
[5] Scots-Dutch Links in Europe and America, 1575-1825, 2 vols. )Baltimore 2004, 2011)
[6] Scots-Scandinavian Links in Europe and America, 1550-1850 (Baltimore, 2005)
[7] Scots-Irish Links, 1575-1725, 9 vols. (Baltimore 1994-2012)

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Guns and Gunpowder in Late Medieval Scotland: Influences from Flanders

Among the materials that came to Scotland across the North Sea from Flanders in the medieval period were munitions of various types. In this extract from the November/December 2015 edition of History Scotland magazine, available now from, Morvern French describes some of the most notable instances of this type of import.

The Early History of Gunpowder

The first known mention of gunpowder is in the Wujing Zongyao (Collection of the Most Important Military Techniques), a Chinese treatise written in 1044 detailing a substance used to propel incendiary and explosive bombs. Knowledge of gunpowder weaponry was probably transmitted to Europe through the Islamic world, which knew gunpowder as ‘Chinese snow’ or ‘Chinese salt’.

The first European recipe for gunpowder is believed to be that of Roger Bacon, in his Epistola de secretis operibus artis et naturae, et de nullitate magiae (Letter on the Secret Workings of Art and Nature, and on the Vanity of Magic) of the mid-13th century. In it Bacon revealed that one should take seven parts of saltpetre, five of charcoal, and five of sulphur, ‘and thus you can make thunder and lightning, if you know the means’.

Soldiers of high rank were at first sceptical of this new technology as it brought them into greater danger of death than had traditional weapons. Expensive plate armour was no protection against gunfire, and the advantages of social status on the battlefield were effectively swept away. Nobles were much less likely to be spared in exchange for a ransom payment, and instead could be killed or wounded by an anonymous enemy gunner.

Flemish Munitions in Scotland

By around 1400 guns were used in nearly every European military engagement, at both battles and sieges, eventually coming to replace archery as the primary artillery weapon. The most significant early use of guns by the Scottish army was at James I’s unsuccessful siege of English-held Roxburgh in 1436, for which he ordered the purchase of bombards and aliis instrumentis et apparatibus bellicis (other instruments and equipment for war), and hired specialist gunners and artillery workers from Germany.

James is likely to have used at Roxburgh the brass bombard brought to him from Flanders in 1430, which contemporary chronicler Walter Bower recorded as bearing the following inscription:

For the illustrious James, worthy prince of the Scots.
Magnificent king, when I sound off, I reduce castles.
I was made at his order; therefore I am called ‘Lion’.

Bombards were large cannon (from the Greek kanun or the Latin canna, meaning ‘tube’) measuring as much as 5.2m in length and weighing as much as 16,400kg. They fired stone cannonballs weighing up to 386kg. Although today we might think of ‘cannon’ as a synonym of ‘bombard’, the word in fact applied to all gunpowder weapons, as did the word ‘gun’.

An account of the Burgundian siege of the French city of Bourges in 1412 gives us an idea of the destructive potential of bombards. The attackers…

…caused a cannon called Griette, which was bigger than the others, to be mounted opposite the main gate. It shot stones of enormous weight at the cost of large quantities of gunpowder and much hard and dangerous work on the part of its expert crew. Nearly twenty men were required to handle it. When it was fired the thunderous noise could be heard four miles away and terrorised the local inhabitants as if it were some reverberation from hell. On the first day, the foundations of one of the towers were partially demolished by a direct hit. On the next day this cannon fired twelve stones, two of which penetrated the tower, thus exposing many of the buildings and their inhabitants.

The weaponry holdings of the Scottish monarchy were upgraded substantially upon the marriage of James II to Mary of Guelders, daughter of Arnold, duke of Guelders and great-niece of Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy and Count of Flanders, at Holyrood on 3 July 1449. The Treaty of Brussels outlining the alliance with Burgundy bound the parties to assist each other against aggressors, for which Mary’s dowry would come in very useful. Philip arranged for a large collection of weaponry, five galleys worth, from his own arsenal to be sent to James via Antwerp. The Burgundian territories of the Low Countries were considered a European centre for the production of gunpowder weaponry, as well as a major entrepôt for the redistribution of guns and their paraphernalia. Much of the saltpetre imported into Scotland, for example, would have come from the Baltic states via Bruges or Antwerp.

Mons Meg (Historic Scotland).

Mons Meg (Historic Scotland).

The details of the ducal weaponry gift still survive in the form of a list written by Berthelot Lambin, controller of Philip the Good’s artillery, preserved in the Archives de la Côte-d’Or. The inventory lists artillery pieces such as 22 veuglaires de fer et 64 chambres pour lesdiz veuglaires (22 iron veuglaires and 64 chambers for those veuglaires), 46 coulevrines de fer (46 iron culverins), as well as powder and stone shot for their use.

Veuglaires were medium-sized cannon which were generally between 1.22 and 1.83m in length, which varied widely between 48 and 3,584kg in weight, and which fired stone cannonballs of between 1 and 14.5kg. Such medium-sized weapons would eventually become the most common type of non-hand-held type of gun in the early modern army, as they were used for both sieges and battles.

Culverins were the smallest type of gun, measuring from 15 to 122cm in length, weighing between 6 and 23kg, and firing lead instead of stone balls. The culverin was the original hand-held gun, and its use was limited to the battlefield. The Burgundian ducal arsenal was one of the most advanced in Europe, as shown by the inclusion of this type of gun. They were much easier to transport than were larger artillery weapons and were more effective in battle, so much so that later in the 15th century it became mandatory for every Burgundian army unit of 8,400 men to contain 600 coulevriniers.

In 1457 there appeared in Scotland from Burgundy the great bombard Mons Meg, now on display at Edinburgh Castle. With an overall length of 4.04m and a weight of 6,040kg, Mons Meg is remarkably similar to the Flemish bombard Dulle Griet, the largest complete surviving bombard in the world, now in Ghent. The two cannon are of similar dimensions and of the same construction, both being of wrought iron bars welded and held together by iron rings, and with a three-stepped ring at the muzzle. All of these elements point to a strong case for Mons Meg and Dulle Griet being made by the same manufacturer: Jehan Cambier, the artillery maker of the duke of Burgundy.

Dulle Griet (author's photo).

Dulle Griet (author’s photo).

Although powerful siege weapons, bombards were difficult to transport, liable to become bogged down, laborious to load due to the large projectiles and amounts of gunpowder required, and they took a long time to cool down before reloading. They also had a tendency to fracture and burst, or to be destroyed by enemy fire. Although large bombards remained in use, from the mid-15th century they began to be replaced by smaller, often hand-held, weapons.

Gret dolour throu all Scotland

James II was killed at the siege of Roxburgh after one of his own cannon exploded near him. 16th century historian Robert Lindsay of Pitscottie wrote that James was so heartened by the arrival of the earl of Huntly that he ordered his gunners to discharge a volley, and a fragment from the broken gun severed the king’s thigh bone, causing him to die from blood loss. In the Auchinleck Chronicle it is recorded that James ‘unhappely was slane with ane gun the quhilk brak in the fyring / for the quhilk was gret dolour throu all Scotland’. Despite the king’s unfortunate demise, his forces succeeded in taking Roxburgh Castle.

By the end of the 15th century guns had made redundant the type of weaponry traditionally viewed as ‘medieval’: swords, bows and arrows, and even plate armour. Guns had come to be an essential part of military readiness. Acts of Parliament in 1535 and 1540 ruled that those with land valued at £40 were to own one culverin, and those with land valued at 100 marks (a mark being 2/3 of a pound) were to have two. Those affected were also required to possess the necessary powder, bullets, and men capable of using the guns. Early arguments against the lethal potential of guns had largely diminished as European rulers competed with each other to maintain the most impressive arsenals as symbols of their power, often looking to Flanders as the source of their weaponry.

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

Further Reading

David H. Caldwell (ed.), Scottish Weapons and Fortifications, 1100-1800 (Edinburgh, 1981)
Kelly DeVries, Guns and Men in Medieval Europe, 1200-1500: Studies in Military History and Technology (Aldershot, 2002)
Kelly DeVries, Medieval Military Technology (Peterborough, ON, 1992)
Katie Stevenson, Chivalry and Knighthood in Scotland, 1424-1513 (Woodbridge, 2006)

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The Family of Innes of Morayshire

The last two blog postings addressed the question of settlement of Flemings in the Moray area in the later middle ages. Continuing with the Moray theme Mairin Innes reviews the history of the Innes’s that lived in the area in the middle of the 12th century and examines the evidence for and against the family having Flemish roots.                                                         


The Canmore King David I reigned from 1124 and had taken as his Queen, Maud, who was of Flemish descent.  David was enamoured with the culture of the Normans and Flemish who had successfully invaded and conquered Saxon England in 1066.  Less than one hundred years later the King of England, Henry II, expelled many of the Flemish.  Those who came north to Scotland were welcomed by David, who sought to change the face of Scotland to a more enlightened and prosperous one, and also extend the establishment of bishoprics, abbeys, and priories, based on the model of Norman culture as it was in England.  With that goal in mind David gave power and prestige to the Flemish elite who joined his ranks in return for their services and loyalty, and offered similar prospects to any native chieftains in Scotland who would join him, as he extended his influence throughout the land 1.

A Flemish origin for the Innes family?

Morayshire was an independent and ancient province but this did not stop David I and his successors from replacing uncooperative Moravian chieftains with their own loyal followers.  Under David’s rule, communities such as Elgin began to grow and prosper.  This medieval community is described by Lachlan Shaw, Bishop of Moray from 1734 until 1774, in his history of the local area.  He tells us that:“The houses of Elgin, as was the case at this time in all the towns of both England and Scotland, were chiefly built of wood, and comprised several grades of dwellings. These are referred to in different Deeds in the Register of Moray by the terms ‘mansions,’ ‘edifices,’ ‘huts,’ or ‘bothies.’  We find that from an early period several of the barons and clergy in the neighbourhood, as well as some of the officers of State, possessed ‘burgage’ property in Elgin and Tofts of land in the town were granted by David – a practice continued by his grandson Malcolm IV…” One such person was Berowald the Fleming, Lord of Innes2, appointed by the King, to oversee security of the castle at Elgin, under the stewardship of a knight… “Malcolm IV, King of Scotland granted by charter in A.D 1160, the lands of Innes to Berowald the Fleming, the condition of the tenure being the service of …one knight (unius militus) in my castle of Elgin (en castello meo de Elgin),”2a

This was a strategic move by the ruling class to secure the lands Malcolm IV, grandson of David I, held in Moray and it became a standard practice to bestow charters or other favours to various knights, nobles or thanes – providing they abided by the conditions of service to protect the King and his assets – for not all in the land welcomed the changes brought about by his grandfather.  Despite the opposition however, suffice it to say at this time that Scotland’s 12th century ruling classes continued to be influenced by the Norman/Flemish culture and sought to introduce it, and its church, to as many areas of Scotland as possible. This is why it is believed that in 1160 A. D., Berowaldus Flandrensis, thought to be of Flemish origin, came to inherit land and position in Elgin, and whose descendants assumed the surname Innes, [de Ineys, Yneys, de Insula] after the lands given to Berowald – as he is often later referred to.

Some however believed that Berowald was not Flemish, but Moravian, in which case his descendants would not be of Flanders, but of Moray.  One such person was Duncan Forbes whose work is described in the box below.

The first known genealogy regarding the descendants of Berowald the Fleming was by Duncan Forbes of Culloden. Forbes had married Mary [Marie] Innes daughter of Sir Robert Innes, and he was much impressed with his wife’s family, which was the catalyst for his work. Forbes goes into great detail dissecting the wording of the Latin Charters recorded in his work, and it is his conclusion that Berowald of Flanders is not Flemish but ‘of Innes’ in Moray, ie that he was Moravian.  In his work Forbes states that: “As to the first supposition anent Berowald being a stranger, I cannot be of that opinion, for all his being designed Flandrensis in the wreat; because, wher ther were no surnames, he might have had that as a too-name, for his having once made a voyage to Flanders; as to this day it is amongst all wher Irish prevails in Scotland…”.  Forbes adds: “In one word, had this Berowald been really a Flandrian or Fleeming born, it is possible but he would have called himself wither after his family, as Montgomery, Barclay, and many others do, or at least, after the particular town he came from, as the Chartres and Bethunes do? But to call himselfe of Flanders, as if he were prince of it, or Flandrensis, as if he were a begger or a run-away from it, is what, I am sure, Berowald never meant to brag of in his charter; and so leaves it (in my sense) utterly impossible that a man of his import could have any more from Flanders but a nick-name, because he was once there.  For, had he trewly been a Fleeming, he had no more suffered himselfe to be barely named so, than Drummond, Ruthven, or Sinclare would barely let themselves be named Germanus, Italus, or Gallus…” Forbes concludes: “I am positive of the opinion, that whatever Malcolme it was that gave the charter, yet Berowald who took it was no stranger, but heretor from his predecessors of that same estate of Innes and Etherurecard [aka Nether Urquhart] (which is all the lands betwixt the Spey and Lossy). And that finding a custome then beginning of takeing wreat upon lands from the King, he did what he saw others of his quality do, and took the charter before spok of, from one of the Malcolmes, upon that estate which he and his predecessors had always possest befor there was wreat…”3.  Forbes believed there was some confusion as to whether the Malcolm in the Charter was Malcolm the IV, or Malcolm the Maiden.  Forbes continues to examine the early history of the descendants of Berowald the Fleming and the next significant date in the genealogy of this family is January 1226 A.D. in the reign of Alexander II.  In a charter of that date it is confirmed that Berowald had a son John, who had a son Walter (who was the first to assume the surname de Ineys). Forbes sets out the “exact coppie” of the charter, in Latin in Familie of Innes, followed by the Attestation of the Charter by the then Bishop of Moray, Galwinus Dunbar, Clerk of Register. 3a

Lachlan Shaw, mentioned above, also concluded, like Duncan Forbes, that Berowald was not Flemish but Moravian. He used the argument that the Innes paternal arms were similar to the families of Morays [Murrays], Sutherlands and Brodies and for that reason concluded Berowald must be Moravian.  However the balance of academic thinking today suggests that the families of Murray and Sutherland were not native to Moray, but descended from Freskin, believed to be a Flemish knight or nobleman who came to Moray circa 1150’s.  This therefore undermines Shaw’s conclusion.  [The Brodies were an ancient family in Moray whose origins are as yet unknown.]

Others such as James MacVeigh, a 19th century Scottish historian, chose to remain neutral on the subject regarding the origins of Berowald, opting instead to focus on his grandson and says; “Berowald’s grandson, Walter, was the first that assumed the surname of Innes from his lands, and thus was the first progenitor of all the Inneses in Scotland 4.”

Another more recent, but lesser known 20th century publication by Robert Innes-Smith, compiled with the assistance of Malcolm Innes of Edingight, then Lord Lyon of Arms, notes that: “Throughout the 12th century ties were forged between Scotland and Flanders” and “…a new and vigorous aristocracy was imported into parts of the country.5 Innes-Smith, like Lachlan Shaw, points out the similarity of the paternal arms of Innes to the families of Murray and Sutherland but believes they are of Flemish descent.  Innes-Smith provides visual information listed in the form of photo-copied illustrations of the original documents, provided to him by the Lord Lyon of Arms, regarding Berowald the Fleming and some of his early descendants in Moray5a, and he further lists their connections to Elgin and the near-by priory of Pluscardine, 5b.

Despite the arguments of Forbes and Shaw that Berowald Flandrensis was a native Moravian, the belief that he was Flemish has persisted.  Three examples supporting this view are:

1) Notices of Archaeological Publications, The Royal Archaeological Journal, Vol. 49, Royal Archaeological Institute: 1892, (p. 428) cites the work of Cosmo Innes, once a leading antiquarian, advocate and professor of civil history at the University of Edinburgh,……who subscribes to the theory that; “Berowaldus Flandrensis, is one of those strangers who were found along the shores of the Moray Firth about the middle of the twelfth century, and who superseded some of the least powerful of the ancient Celtic Maormors….His name shews that he could not have been of Celtic origin, and his existence is vouched by a charter of Malcolm the IV.” Innes is further quoted as saying that “Forbes has laboured, though with small success, to establish the Scottish origin of Berowald.”

2) Flemish Settlements in Twelfth-Century Scotland; by Lauran Toorians – Revue Belge de Philologie et d’histoire, 1996, Vol.74, Issue 74-3-4, pp 659-693.  Regarding the establishment of Flemish settlements in Scotland: “In Moray all we have is the one Berowald the Fleming, to whom Malcolm IV gave Innes and Nether Urquhart in the sheriffdom of Elgin. …In Moray, the Flemish character of this settlement is hard to define.  Only Berowald is stated explicitly to be a Fleming.  Berowald had earlier held land in West Lothian, where he left his name in Bo’Ness, (Berowalds-toun-ness).”

3) The Use of the Name Scot in the Central Middle Ages, pdf by Matthew H. Hammond, page 39“…there were many individuals described as either Flandrensis or le Flamang, but only one family, the descendants of Berowald the Fleming, appears to have adopted the ethnonym as a surname.” (Hammond 2005, 109-10, RRS I no. 175; Familie of Innes, 52-53; Moray Reg. no. 83)

The origins of the name Innes and its variants

Notwithstanding the adoption of the Innes name by Berowald there is still the question of where the name Innes (and its variants) came from. When and how the Lands of Innes situated between the rivers Spey and Lossie in the former province of Morayshire came to be, is still speculative at best.

Frank Adam in his book, The Clans, Sept, & Regiments of the Scottish Highlands contends that Berowald [the Fleming], who received the Barony of Innes in 1160 from Malcolm VI, describes the place name as meaning ‘greens’ and says Berowald… “seems to have acquired it, by marriage with a daughter of its former chieftain, descent from the native Moravienses6.” Adam does not provide any sources for this statement.

In Ireland the name is found originally as Innis or Inis.  It is topographic, a descriptive place-name which in the form of Innes is used to this day in Scotland as both a surname and a forename.  It is pronounced ‘In-ish’ in the Irish Gaelic, with the emphasis on the first syllable. This surname did not reach North America until the 16th century, and after the 18th century, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand.  Some of the variants are:  Ineys/Eneys, Inness/Inneis, Ennis, Ines/Inez, Innice and Inies.  It is probable many of these versions are due in part to variations in spelling or pronunciation, or errors by record takers.   There are bound to be unrecorded descendants of the very first generations however not all the variations will be of this family.  There will be some who are unrelated but who have in the distant past perhaps taken their surname from the place of Innes, or adopted it as a family name.

The Book of Irish Families, Great & Small, by Irish author Michael C. O’Laughlin notes: “that one should be aware that the Scots name of Innes, bears no relationship to Ennis.”7 As a surname it is unclear if it is related, but as the topographic Inis it is.  In Ireland the name goes back many centuries and loosely means ‘island’.  There are two islands in Eire, of a chain of three known as the Aran Islands off the coast of Galway.  One is Inis Oirr [Inis Mor, aka Inishmore], dating back to 1500 /1000 B.C, and the other is Inis Meain.  In Northern Ireland is found Inis an Roin (Inisharoan), meaning seal island.  In Ireland Inis is also connected with islands mentioned in folklore. Inis Meic Uchen is one of two isles mentioned in the tale of Cano, son of Gartnan, with the other isle being Inis Ane, the site attributed to a battle between the men of Tyrone and the men of Alba [Scotland].

Some believe the surname Innes/Innis to be Gaelic, and refer to Aonghus [Angus] an 8th century Scottish King, from which the family of Mcinnes or Macinnes claim their origin, and who refute the connection to Innes.  It is interesting to note that on the island of Inis Mor, in Ireland, is also found the pre-historic fort, Dun Aonghusa [ie. Hill of Angus.]

In Scotland, Innis and Innes are in the Scots Gaelic descriptive words for ‘haugh’ land, that is land commonly found between two or more burns or rivers or land formed where a river or burn join.  It can also include the meaning of a river meadow or raised marshy ground bounded by water.  In the case of Innes in Moray, the land was between two rivers, the Spey and the Lossie, part of which was called Nether Urquhar.  Nether in old Scots means ‘lower of two places, or roads’.  The Gaelic place-name Innis [Inis] in Ireland is also found in Scotland from the west coast of Renfrewshire, to Argyll and the Western Isles, north into Caithness & Orkney, south and east to the southern borders of Sutherland, across Ross-shire, and south into Stirlingshire. It is found mainly along routes once traversed as early as the 6th to 9th centuries by Celtic priests, and others who came to live along these same routes.  Along the Moray coast in Scotland it is spelt as Innes. Most scholars appear to agree that the name Innes/Innis is of Gaelic origin.  The box below contains several examples taken mainly from Watson8 and Black9.

[i] Innis Chonnel – name of a 13th century castle situated on a small island on Loch Awe

[i] Innis Choinnich – Haugh of Kenneth, at the mouth of Loch nan Ceall in Mull

[iii] Coille Innis na Sine – a pre-historic settlement situated on haugh land, river Meig near Scardroy, Ross-shire – Canmore [ancient route between the western isles and ross]

[i] Innis a’ Chomair – haugh land or meadow of the confluence near the head of Strathruedale, Ross-shire,

[i] Innis a’ Phiuir – aka Inchfuir, a meadow at Pitfour, Kilmuir Easter, Ross-shire

[i] Coille Innis na Circe, east Sutherland near Glencassley Castle

[i] Innis ma Cholmdig – aka Colmoc’s isle, from an Irish saint – also known as Inchmahomenear, Menteith, Aberdeen

[i] Innis nan damh/Inshindamff – stag or ox meadow (ie meadow of the stag, or ox) in the Oykell district – Kincardine

[i] Innis Chalainn – haugh land by the river Calann above Tyndrum, Stirlingshire,

[i] Innse Orc, a former name for the Orkney Isles and Innse Cat, the Cat Isles – now Caithness, are the most northerly of old usages of innis.

[ii] Originally called Innis Cailleach – island of nuns, this place name was later known as inischailly & Inche-chaille  ‘wooded island’.

A footnote in the History of the Province of Cat10, is worth repeating here: “it is in the sense of ‘haugh’ that ‘innis’ appears most widely in Scottish topography. Even in early usage there was probably a tendency to this meaning.  Temporary islands are often formed by flooding, or by the forking of streams, and from this to river-side haugh, meadow, the translation is easy…  It may be noted in passing that ‘innis’ is rendered into the Latin of the charters, etc., by ‘insula,’’ even where it has never meant anything other than ‘haugh’, a habit which sometimes has given rise needless searchings of antiquarian hearts”.

There are two other words of similar meaning. One is Eilean which is Gaelic for island or isle (Eilean Donan is the most known) but it can also mean river meadow or meadow prone to flooding.  The other is Inch, the anglicised version of Innis, which is found throughout Scotland as a place-name but is also often associated with a Saint. Inchinnin in Renfrewshire, Inchcolm on St. Columba’s Isle and Inchmarnock on St. Marnock’s Isle—see the box below—are only three of many.

St. Marnoch {aka Marnan], was venerated by the early family of Innes at the church in Aberchirder. Cosmo Innes in Familie of Innes suggests that: “The church of Aberchirder …is the resting-place of Saint Marnan, a bishop and confessor of the 7th century.  There the saint’s well and his bed of stone were … {held} in remembrance and there in the old time his relics were honoured, and his head especially…on every Lord’s day throughout the year to be washed…the clergy suppliantly praying the while, and tapers burning…The Inneses succeeding to the thanes of Aberchirder were votaries of Saint Marnan”11. This interesting paragraph is very telling at a time when the reigning Kings were expounding all things Flemish and Norman, including the church and its way of worship. Here was a family, said to be of Flemish descent, venerating a Celtic Saint of Aberchirder, whose first thane received the charter for the lands of Aberchirder from “the Lord of the Isles, the grandson of Countess Eufam [Euphemia] of Ross and her first husband, Walter Lesly.” [Leslie].

An interesting note by 1828 Scottish editor David Dick12 suggests that “Inchinnan – a long narrow island in Cart water where it joins Gryffe, an island, likewise peninsula – Yneys (Welsh) or Innis (Gaelic).” The author attributes the translation as being either the Welsh (Brythonic) “Yneys”, or (Goidelic) Gaelic “Innis”.


Although not a large ‘clan’, the family of Innes, like most other clans in Scotland, went through moments of great tumult.   For a time this was an influential family that played both a positive, and at times a negative role in Scottish history.  The family eventually held land and positions of influence, not only in Moray, but in Caithness, Sutherland, Ross-shire, and southeast Scotland.  Its marriages and alliances to families such as Fraser, Douglas, Gordon of Huntley, Stewart, Athol, Forbes, Sinclair, Ross, Mackenzie, Leslie, and others were often advantageous to their survival.  Studies appear to agree the surname Innes is of Gaelic origin, and certainly pre-dates the arrival of Berowald the Fleming, who is said to have had considerable rank, held land, and gave his name to Bo’Ness [Berowalds-toun-ness], West Lothian before he arrived in Elgin. There remain some unanswered questions. Did the lands of Innes of Moray evolve from the Irish Gaelic, Inis, or is it possible that the alternate spelling Yneys pre-dates even that time?  Is it remotely possible Berowald the Fleming married the daughter of a Moray Chieftain?  And was Berowald indeed from Flanders as the balance of informed opinion seems to suggest?  There is still no definitive answer to this last, important question.  Although DNA analysis will not answer all these questions it will bring us hopefully closer to the truth and provide an answer to that last question. Could it be, that after 885 years of recorded genealogical history in Scotland, the genetic code of the Family of Innes of Moray was forged across the water – in medieval Flanders?

Mairin Elizabeth Innes
October 2015

Mairin Elizabeth Innes is the Granddaughter of Campbell Innes who was a collegiate head and historical archivist from McGill University in Canada.   Mairin is an artist, writer/researcher, and amateur family/social history researcher.  She has recently retired from a position with North Lanarkshire Council and assisted dedicated staff responsible for the preservation of archival information.



(1) Celtic Scotland: A history of Ancient Alban by William F. Skene, D.C.L., LL.D., Vol. 1, History and Ethnology, 2nd Edition: Publ, Edinburgh: David Douglas 1886: Chap. VI, pp. 308, 309; & Chap. VIII, p 469.
(2) The History of the Province of Moray, by Lachlan Shaw, New Edition – In Three Volumes, Enlarged and Brought down to the Present Time, by J.F.S. Gordon, Publ. Hamilton, Adams, & Co., London & Thomas D. Morison, Glasgow. 1882, written circa 1760: Vol. 3, p.67.
(2a) Ibid, Vol. 3, p. 80 – from the Notorial copy of Crown Charter by Malcolm IV to Berowald the Fleming 25 December 1160 – Now: NRAS110 Bundle 1928
(2b) Ibid, Vol. 1, pp. 314-315
(3) Ane Account of the Origin and Succession of the Familie of Innes, Gathered from Authentick Wreats, by Duncan Forbes of Culloden, Member of Parliament for Inverness, compiled in 1698, published by the Spalding Club in 1864 with an Introduction & commentary by Cosmo Innes dated at Inverleith, May 1864.
3a) Ibid, Crown Charter of confirmation by Alexander II granting to Walter, son of John, son of Berowald the Fleming the lands of Innes & Easter Urecard (Urquhart)…dated 1226, 20th January (Now at NRAS1100/Bundle 1929.
(4) The Scottish Nation; or the Historical and Genealogical Account of all Scottish Families and Surnames, by James MacVeigh, Vol. 11 – Dal-Mac, 1889, pp. 534-536.
(5) The House of Innes: The Story of a Family, by Robert Innes-Smith, self-published, 1990 – p. 6
(5a) Ibid, pp.6 & 7.
(5b) Ibid, pp. 8 – 12
(6) The Clans, Septs, & Regiments of the Scottish Highlands, by Frank Adam – originally published in 1908, this book has been re-published and re-edited many times since then by various publishers & editors
(7) Book of Irish Families, Great & Small, by Michael C. O’Laughlin, publ. Irish Roots Café, 3rd Ed. 2002, online: p. 82.
(8) Surnames of Scotland: Their Origin, Meaning, and History, by George Fraser Black, – Birlinn ed. 2011
(9) The Celtic Place names of Scotland, by William J. Watson, Publ. by The Northern Counties Printing & Publishing Co. Ltd. Edinburgh: Norman Macleod, 1904.(10) The History of the Province of Cat (Caithness and Sutherland) From the Earliest Times to the Year 1615, by the Rev. Angus MacKay, M.A., Ed. Rev. D. Beaton, Wick, Publ. Peter Reid & Coy., Ltd, 1914, p. 156
(11) Charters and Notes: Familie of Innes, a Commentary, by Cosmo Innes, p.p. 72-73, Publ. Spalding Club, 1894.
(12) The Paisley Magazine, by David Dick, Ed. No. 1, Vol. 1, January 1828, p. 627, under the heading: A Few Local instances of the Celtic Derivitives of the Local Placenames in Renfrewshire.

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The Flemish in Moray, Part Two

In last week’s blog posting David Dobson looked at the ancestral roots of some of Scotland’s major Flemish origin families and their presence in the Moray area.  This week’s posting examines evidence of other Flemish people living and working in the area.

New religious orders

The introduction of new religious orders into the Province of Moray may have brought some Flemings, religious or lay people, to settle in or around the abbeys and monasteries that were being established. This seems to have happened elsewhere, for example at Coupar Angus.

David I founded the Benedictine Priory of Urquhart in 1136 and the Cistercian Abbey of Kinloss in 1150. Alexander I brought monks from Val des Choux in Burgundy to establish Pluscarden Priory.  He also brought Franciscans to Elgin and Dominicans to land north of the royal castle.  Elgin Cathedral was established in 1224. Some people with possible Flemish names, linked with the religious houses of Moray, are set out in the box below.

Robert Keith in his work on the See of Moray refers to likely Flemish settlers such as Brice, who was bishop there in 1203, ‘this bishop’s mother was sister to Friskinus de Kerdal of Kerdal on the river Spey…’

King William the Lion [1165-1214] granted a charter when in Elgin to Geoffrey Blund, a burgess of Inverness.  Among the witnesses to the charter was William son of Freskin.

In 1303 John de Spalding, was canon of Elgin, and prebendary of Duffus1

Elsewhere in Scotland the monks relied on the production and export of wool to Flanders for their income.  However there is no obvious reference to this trade in S. R. MacPhail’s research into Pluscardyn2. The only positive link to Flanders is the supply of two tabernacles from there around 1508.

Elgin and Forres

Flemish immigrants were initially to be found in the burghs and other urban settlements.  They were generally merchants, craftsmen, soldiers and churchmen.  The medieval burghs of Moray, namely Elgin and Forres, were relatively small and little documentary evidence, such as burgh records, have survived from the medieval period. Therefore there are no burgess lists, court records, apprentice rolls, which have very useful in identifying early Flemish settlers elsewhere in Scotland.

However, according to one source 3 the people described in the following box were tenants of the Bishop of Moray in 1565, all of who bear surnames that could be from the Low Countries.

In the barony of Spynie: John Umfray; David Bonar;    Thomas Peterkin in the brewery; Thomas Umfray; and, Alexander Hatmaker in Elgin.

In the barony of Kinnedor: James Wisman; Richard Wisman; the relict of Alex Wisman; Andrew Kemp in Muirton; Robert Cant in Muirton; and, John Brabiner in Aikinhead;

In the barony of Birneth: Robert Malies; Thomas Genot; James Runsiman in Innerlochthie; John Junkin; William Rounsiman; James Cant; Archibald Puggat in Whitfield; James Puggat there; and, Thomson Brabener in Easter Kelles.

In the barony of Raffort: Thomas Howffald; Thomas Runciman in Bracoht; Andreas Mawcie in Granroquhy, and Gilbert Weland.

In the barony of Kilmyles: Helen Fleming.

Elgin4 was a royal burgh since the reign of David I, with a merchant guild since 1268 granted by Alexander III. During the 12th and 13th centuries it was an important centre of government, with the cathedral of the diocese of Moray founded 1224. However details of social and economic life missing for the 12th and 13th centuries, though some evidence from fourteenth century onwards. It was an economic backwater with an export trade mainly of salmon, wool, skins, and hides. Elgin suffered through the lack of a good port, depending on small local havens as exits for its exports of wool and cloth. This problem was alleviated in 1700 when a harbour built at Lossiemouth.

No formal burgess roll of Elgin exists, though a partial list exists from 1541. It contains no obvious Flemish surnames, except possibly Alexander Culback in 1636; Robert Blenshell in 1690, and George Junken in 17045.

Forres was founded before the reign of William the Lion, [1165-1214].  The nearby Kinloss Priory meanwhile was established by Alexander II in 1226.  The export trade of Forres went though the port of Findhorn. But as many early records have vanished there is no way of establishing the existence of Flemings there or any trading links with Flanders, though it might be assumed that Kinloss Abbey would have been engaged in the wool trade.

The only settlements of any consequence in Moray were Elgin and Forres.  Regretably, the burgh records prior to 1500 do not exist.  However miscellaneous local records mention the following surnames which may be those of people of Flemish, or possibly Brabant origin in Elgin: Brander; Brabner; Bremner; Gadderer; Junken; Mellis; Purse; Wink; and, Wyseman.

Scotland Map - Dobson Blog

Elgin is not close to the sea, with the nearest ports being Lossiemouth and Burghead. The bishop had a harbour at Spynie that is known to have participated in overseas trade by 1234.  This continued until 1400 when silting occurred. In 1393 the Earl of Moray permitted the burgesses of Elgin freedom from customs duties on good exported through his harbour at Speymouth. Soon malt, salted fish, wool and cloth were being shipped to continental destinations, and in return silk, wine, and ironware were imported. An example of manufactured imports is the 14th century Flemish flagon, found in an Elgin close, now in the local museum.


The seventeenth century port books of Inverness, are not restricted to the burgh of Inverness as the precinct covered former Spey ports which could have been used by merchants in Moray.  However by that period Leith dominated the overseas trade of Scotland and any direct trade was limited.  Among the ships known to have traded between Inverness and Flanders was: the James of Inverness, master John Watson, which arrived from Bruges, 5 May 1666 with cargo6; the Susanna of Leith, master John Gillis, from Inverness to Flanders with a cargo of salmon, on 1 September 16697; and, the St Anna of Bruges, master Francois de la Poor, from Inverness with a cargo of salmon, 15 September 16738.

The registers of sasines of the various burghs and sheriffdoms date from the sixteenth century. The Register of Sasines for the Sheriffdom of Elgin, Forres, and Nairn between 1617 and 1700 contain mention of a number of individuals, some of whom bear or possibly bear Flemish surnames.  These include – James Air, burgess of Elgin, and his spouse Margaret Yewny9, Hierom Badoun, son of John Badoun in Findhorn10, William Cowbane, merchant in Elgin11, John Fimester, in Pitgownie12, also several Branders, Godsman, Hatmaker, Junkin, Kemp, Lafreis, Milvert, and a Genevieve Petow.


As noted in the blog posting dated November 21, 201413 Freskin de Moravia, a Fleming, came to the area south of the Moray Firth in the middle of the 12th century and there is evidence of settlement there by his descendants (Sutherlands and Murrays) as well as the Innes family.

Although a limited degree of Flemish settlement did occur in Moray in the later medieval period there is no evidence of any subsequent migration.  Trade with Flanders, which normally generated some settlement, was minimal due to the lack of a good quality harbour.  The sparse records available do contain a few Flemish surnames but whether they are descendants of the first Flemish settlers or individuals, who have moved from other parts of Scotland is not clear.

David Dobson
October 2015

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



{1}  ‘An Historical Catalogue of the Scottish Bishops down to the year 1688’, [Robert Keith, Edinburgh, 1824]
{2} ‘The History of the Religious House of Pluscardyn”, [S.R. MacPhail, Edinburgh, 1891]
{3}  ‘Registrum Episcopatus Moraviensis’, [Edinburgh, 1837]
{4}  ‘The Scottish Burgh Survey of Elgin’, [Historic Scotland, Edinburgh, 1982]
{5}  ‘The Records of Elgin, 1234-1800’, Volume II, [Spalding Club, Aberdeen, 1908]
{6} National Archives of Scotland.E72.11.1
{7} National Archives of Scotland, E72.11.3
{8} National Archives of Scotland, E72.11.3
{9} National Archives of Scotland, RS28.1.207
{10} National Archives of Scotland, RS28.IV.53
{11} National Archives of Scotland, RS28.111.110
{12} National Archives of Scotland, RS28.IV.58

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The Flemish in Moray, Part One

In this blog posting, as well as in next week’s, David Dobson examines the Flemish presence in the Moray area. Many of our readers who carry the name Murray, Sutherland, Duffus and Innes will be familiar with their possible ancestors, Freskin and Berowald, described below; but for others this posting offers an insight into an important medieval Flemish presence in the northern part of Scotland.


The Flemish connection to the old Celtic Province of Moray dates from the reign of King David I (1124-1153). A rebellion in Moray was suppressed by the king’s forces, led by two Flemish knights. The lands of the rebel lords in the Laigh of Moray were forfeited to the crown and subsequently granted to loyal subjects, including those who had successfully defeated the rebels in 1130.

Among those acquiring land were the two Flemings, Freskin and Berowald. The evidence reveals that they had already been settled with lands in the Lothians. Freskin, who was granted the lands of Duffus, already held Strathbrock in West Lothian; while Berowald, who was given Innes and Nether Urquhart, already held what is now Bo’ness in West Lothian.

There were, in all probability, other Flemings, retainers or similar, who accompanied Freskin and Berowald to settle in the old Celtic Province of Moray. However, this migration occurred before the adoption of surnames by the majority of the population, thus making it difficult to identify them as Flemish. At the same time the king settled people of English and Norman origin in the region.


Freskin is thought to have links to the Flemish settlers in Clydesdale. His descendants in Moray were the progenitors of such prominent families as Sutherland, Murray, and Duffus.

Freskin was a Flemish soldier of fortune who was rewarded for his services to the Scottish crown by King David I, through the grant of the lands of Straloch in West Lothian. Freskin was among the knights and retainers sent north to quell a rebellion in the Province of Moray.

Their success led to a migration of Norman, English and Flemish people north, to the lands forfeited by the rebels. Freskin and his family moved north to the Province of Moray in the 1120s, obtaining the important lordship of Duffus, and the lands of Roseisle, Inchkell, Macher, and Kintray, lying between the burgh of Elgin and the Moray Firth.

This was the foundation of three important families in the region – the Murrays, the Sutherlands, and the Duffuses. Freskin built a motte and bailey timber castle at Duffus, on the shores of Loch Spynie, by 1150. This was later replaced by a stone castle during the fourteenth century, the ruins of which can be visited today. Duffus was adopted as the surname by a branch of the descendants of Freskin.

Freskyn possibly had at least two sons – Hugh, the ancestor of the Sutherlands, and William, the progenitor of Murray and Duffus.

In 1150 Freskin was entertaining David I at the time the king was in the neighbourhood supervising the building of Kinloss Abbey, when Freskin died and was succeeded by his son William. William witnessed a charter granted at Perth by King Malcolm IV granting the land of Innes, Morayshire, to Berowald the Fleming in 1160. He witnessed other charters granted in Morayshire. It is possible that he may be related to the William Freskyn, sheriff of Invernaryn recorded in 1204. One of Freskyn’s great grandsons, Andrew, became bishop of Moray and was present at the foundation of Elgin Cathedral in 1224.

In 1197 King William the Lion granted the lands of Sutherland to Hugh, another son of Freskin. Soon his family adopted the territorial name as their surname, thus becoming the Sutherlands.

Through marriage the castle of Duffus passed into the hands of the Cheynes. By 1350 it was owned by a branch of the Sutherland family also descended from Freskin.


The other Flemish knight that settled in Moray was Berowald, from whom were descended the following:

According to the Barony of Innes Writs, 1225-1767,[1] the family of Innes is derived from Berowald, a Fleming who was granted the lands of Innes in Morayshire in 1160 by King Malcolm IV. On 25 December 1160, the king granted a charter to Berrowald Flandrensis, granting him the lands of Innes and Easter Urquhart, in the Province of Elgin. In return he had to supply one soldier for the garrison of the royal castle of Elgin and he was also granted a house and toft in Perth.[2]

On 20 January 1226 a royal charter granted by King Alexander II to Walter, son of John, son of the above Berrowald, of the above lands of Innes and Easter Urquhart. Walter then adopted the place name as his surname, so establishing the family of Innes. The place name Innes is derived from a Gaelic word signifying ‘island’. On 25 March 1539 King James V confirmed Alexander Innes of that Ilk and his heirs in the lands of Innes, which together with various lands in Morayshire and Banffshire were formed into the free barony of Innes.[3]

David Dobson

October 2015

Dr Dobson is currently a Post Doctoral Research Fellow at the University of Edinburgh and an Honorary Research Fellow with the Institute of Scottish Historical Research at the University of St Andrews. His research interests are focused mainly on the Scottish diaspora as well as Scottish history in the early modern period. His publications include Scottish Emigration to Colonial America, 1683-1783 (Georgia, 1994, 2004); Scottish Trade with Colonial Charleston, 1683-1783 (Glasgow, 2009), and over 125 historical and genealogical source books (Baltimore, 1983- 2013).


[1] The Barony of Innes Writs, 1225-1767 (The Scottish Records Society, Edinburgh, 1948).

[2] Registrum Episcopatus Moraviensis (Edinburgh, 1837).

[3] The Register of the Great Seal of Scotland, vol. III, charter 1957 (Scottish Record Society, Edinburgh, 1984).

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DNA Project Update

This week’s blog posting has been prepared by Janet Flandrensis who co-administers the DNA Project associated with the Scotland and the Flemish People Project. The posting reviews the current status of the DNA Project and some of its initial findings.  There is also a discussion of next steps and details are provided on how to get DNA tested as part of the Project.


The DNA project associated with the “Scotland and the Flemish People Project” began in 2013 as an important complement to the ongoing historical and family history research.  The host company for the project is  Family Tree DNA (FTDNA).  At the outset one of the goals of the DNA Project was to confirm the geographic origins of participants with potential Flemish origins in Scotland.  Another was to determine whether all people surnamed Fleming descended from one early Flemish immigrant or if some families adopted the surname after arrival in Scotland1.

A number of families with surnames that may have Flemish origins were identified from various sources and this primary list has been added to over time as research has raised new possibilities.  The goal has been to get people from all of the primary families to test under the DNA Project.  This Project has focused mainly on Y-DNA that is passed only from father to son. In Box 1 below the primary list of families (along with variants on their names) is set out and alongside each name is the number of people who have tested to date.  The box also contains a secondary list of names, not derived from research sources, which has been provided by the general public and tested under the project2.

List of possible Flemish origin surnames
Abernethy (0), Anstruther (0), Armstrong (1), Baird (3), Balliol (0), Bart (0), Beal, Beale (1), Beaton (2), Bell, le Bel (8), Bennie (0), Binnie, Binning (0), Bishop (1), Boswell (0), Bremner (1), Brodie (0), Browning (0), Bruce (0), Cameron (1), Campbell (6), Cant (1), Clemmet (0), Clow (0), Comyn (0), Cox (1), Crawfurd (1), De War (0), Deurs (0), Dewar (0), Douglas (4), Dowie (0), Erskine (0), Flamang, Flamank, Flament, Flammang, Flement (0), Flanderensis (0), Flanders (0), Flemish (0), Flemyng, Fleeming (0), Fleming (18), Flemming (1), Flockhart (0), Flucker (2), Frame (9), Frisken (2) Frizall (0), Graham (4), Hally (0), Hamilton (1), Hazeel, Hazel, Hazell (0) Henman (0), Holm (0), Houbron (0), Innes (0), Junker (0), Kessen (0), Kettle (0) Leith (0), Leslie (1), Lindsay (3), Lochore (0), Montgomerie (0), Morran, Morrens (0), Mortimer (0), Murray (9) Mutch (0), Oliphant (0), Petrie (0), Plender (0), Plenderleith (0), Prain, Prayne (0) Pren, Prenn, Preynne (0) Pundler (0), Roche (0), Roy (0), Seton (0), Spalding (0), Stein (0), Stewart (8), Stirling (1), Sturman (0), Sutherland (4), Swankie (0), Vermont (0), Waddell (1), Weddell (1), Woodall (0), Younger, Young (3)

A number of other people with names not on the primary list, but who believe they may have Flemish roots, have tested under the project. Such names that have been placed on a secondary list include: Ayres (1), Ballard (1), Bailey (1), Barton (1), Blackburn (1), Brookes (1), Bryson (1), Clarke (1), Cline (1), Clough (1), Collard (1), Conrad (1), Cuthbertson (1), Drennen (1), Eckman (1), Ellis (1), Ellison (1), Foster (1), Gilman (1), Gouin (1), Davies/Grannigan (1), Hall (1), Harkness (1), Henry (1), Highland (1), Hill (1), Irwin (1), Ames (1), Kerrick (1), Kimsey (1), Lankford (1), Lapinel (1), Lockhart (1), Logan (1), Loggie (1), Lynn (1), Martin (1), Matthews (1), McCarty (1), McCluskey (1),  Mercer (1), Merville (1), Moffat (1), Moore (1), Morrow (7), Napier (1), Nelson (1), Nutt (1), Parker (1), Pate (1), Patterson (1), Pettit (1), Posey (1), Redgate (1), Redmond (1), Reeves (1),  Retherford (1), Sheret (1),  Shewan (1), Skupin (1),  Spinken (1) Sitton/Sutton (1), Stamper (1),  Starling (1), Stoddard (1),  Stuart (1), Szczepanik (1), Teles (1), Tanner (1),  Tennent (1), Thormalen/Graham (1),  Urich (1),  Van Felkner (1), Walker (4), Waldron (2), Warden (1), Warren (1), Watt (1), Watts (1), Weyant (1), Whitfield (1), Williamson (1), Wilson (3), Wright (1).

For purposes of analysis it will also be possible to draw on the results from other projects on the FTDNA database.


DNA and the Haplogroups

The Science of Genetic Genealogy and DNA Testing is constantly improving.  The Haplogroup can be thought of being a people group or a clan. This is a key concept that will in due course help in comparing Scottish family DNA with that of families in Flanders. A number of new tests have been developed over recent years to more finely determine which Haplogroup and subgroup people fall into. There are now multiple subgroups in each Haplogroup.

The original Haplogroup tree has been revised over the past few years as new more accurate modes of testing have been introduced and as new mutations (changes) have been found in test results.  Each branch of the tree is identified by an upper case letter and a series of letters and numbers. Information about these changes, various tests, Haplogroups and Subgroups, Migration Charts, detailed scientific information and links for other projects can be found via links on the main Family Tree DNA (FTDNA) website.

Haplogroup R:  The bulk of the participants for the Y–DNA project are of Haplogroup R or a subgroup of it. Haplogroup R is a major branch of the Y –DNA Haplogroup tree originating in Central Europe and eventually spreading throughout Continental Europe and branching further across the Channel to Britain and Ireland and onto the colonies. Haplogroup R subgroups have expanded over time3. The Haplogroup R Chart can be viewed at this link. There are 122 participants of Haplogroup R in the project.

Haplogroup IHaplogroup I is the next most important group in the sample and this branch of the human family also came from Continental Europe to Britain and Ireland but these are probably of Viking ancestry. The migration trail of Haplogroup I is completely different from Haplogroup R as it tracks further north in Europe and then came south and over the Channel and onwards to the New World, including the British Empire and colonies. Historical research and archaeology has already confirmed that the Vikings both invaded and raided all over parts of Continental Europe, Britain, and Ireland so it is not surprising to find evidence of possible Scandinavian origins in the results of the DNA project3. The Haplogroup I chart can be viewed at this link.  There are 37 participants of Haplogroup I in the project.

Even though the project is very small the greater number of participants within R and I Haplogroups compared to the number of participants in other Haplogroups is a typical pattern found in the results of other surname and geographic projects based on the areas of Continental Europe, Britain, and Ireland, and particularly the lowlands of EU including Flanders.

Haplogroups E, G, and J: There are a few unusual Haplogroups such as E, G and J in the project but these are essentially outliers. These three Haplogroups have completely different migration trails to the Haplogroups noted above. They are not as numerical within Continental Europe, Britain and Ireland as the R & I Haplogroups and according to official Haplogroup Charts and Maps originated as more ancient branches of the Human Family3

Haplogroup G in Scotland is believed to represent the earliest inhabitants of the country, although some may have arrived with the Romans and later invaders.  Haplogroups E and J are commonly thought to be more recent incomers to Scotland (last 1,000 years). The charts for these Haplogroups can also be viewed at the Eupedia Genetics link. The number of project participants in each of the three Haplogroups are shown in brackets:  E (3), G (2), and J (6).

The technical Box 2 below explains how recent developments in DNA testing are shedding additional light on the Haplogroup tree and on ethnic origins.

Recent Developments in DNA Testing

Advanced DNA tests: Advanced tests will need to be used if the goal of discerning a baseline DNA signature for Flanders is to be reached and if the lineages that arrived with the Flemish in Scotland are to be identified. Traditional DNA testing with a relatively few markers could only give people a predicted position on the Haplogroup tree. More recent techniques have allowed project participants to have more markers tested and also reveal mutations that are already on the Y tree or reveal a new mutation. This allows for an even more precise location within the subgroups of the major Haplogroup or an extension of the branch if a totally new SNP. This confirmed position on the tree is their so-called Terminal SNP. Each time a new SNP is discovered it is added to the Haplogroup tree and individuals who have it can be sub grouped accordingly.

The 2015 Y Haplogroup Tree can be found at this link and it is updated regularly. The Big Y is an accurate but expensive newer test for determining deeper ancestral links and new paternal line branches detected by the Terminal SNPS. Only 28 project members have had the Big Y Test and despite the cost it is hoped that more will do so in the future. Most members have had a 12, 25, 37 or 67 Y marker test to date.

MT DNA & Family Finder Results: The focus of this DNA project is, as noted above, the male Y-DNA and this will be the basis for the analytic work that will take place in due course. However, at least 61 members of this Project have had the MtDNA Test and 94 members have the Family Finder Test. The Mt DNA test traces the individual’s maternal ancestry using the DNA in his or her mitochondria. MtDNA is passed down by the mother to all children be they male or female. Tests will show basic maternal ancestry reaching far back in time and the MtDNA Haplogroup allocation will reveal the ancient migration path of direct maternal ancestors. Both men and women can have the MtDNA test. The Family Finder Test gives a more detailed ethnicity makeup for an individual participant. These two types of test could yield extra information that could shed light on Scottish family connections with Flanders.

There are a wide variety of surnames in the MtDNA Section of the Project and Haplogroup H is the most numerous with 26 members followed by U – 14 and T with 9. The remainder are distributed across various branches of the Mtdna haplogroups tree which include Haplogroups A, C, H, I, J, K, L, M, R, T, U and V . The Haplogroup Tree can also be found at FTDNA and further details of participants in the MT DNA Results Section2.

Testing the Fleming Family

Regarding the single person origin of the Fleming family there are not enough Fleming participants in the project at present to arrive at a definitive conclusion. Some Flemings within the project have distant cousin matches with surnames that are of possible Flemish origins or with other members of a Fleming family branch in another project.

More work needs to be done however to draw on the results of other Fleming surname studies, for instance the Ancestry Fleming Surname Project that has been discontinued.  This did point to DNA links between various Fleming families. Comparisons need to be made with the Fleming6 and the Appalachian Fleming Projects7. It may also be worthwhile checking the DNA results of the Flanders Geographic Project at FTDNA8, the Belgium Walloon9 and Brabant and Benelux Projects10 & 11.

Conclusions and next steps

The overall distribution of Haplogroups in the project is broadly as might be expected for a project of this type with most participants’ ancient ancestors being located in Continental Europe well before a migration to Scotland3&4

The key issue of whether families on our lists have Flemish roots is something that will be addressed later in the life of the project when a suitable benchmark of DNA in Flanders has been identified. The Model Flemish DNA Haplotype is probably in Haplogroup R (R-M269) or a related subgroup5.

It is going to be important to get more participants in the project so as to be able to yield statistically significant results that shed light on the issues that the project is hoping to address.

There will also need to be greater collaboration with other similar projects so that the results of the various projects can be compared.  This will help shed further light on the origins of the Fleming family and on the linkages between the other main Flemish origin families in Scotland.

Looking ahead, steps will need to be taken to:

  • secure more funding to be used within the DNA project,
  • encourage participants to initially test more markers (at least the 67 marker STR Test),
  • encourage participants to confirm their Haplogroup Allocation with Terminal SNP testing, or to consider taking tests like the Big Y or an appropriate SNP backbone test.

If readers of this posting wish to join the Project here are instructions for doing so. The DNA test involves a simple swab on the inside of the cheek. It is recommended that you purchase at least the 67 marker Y-DNA test as it will help identify your distant relatives within FTDNA’s extensive database as well as providing data that will help us in our analytic work.  The test kit can be obtained direct by contacting Alasdair Macdonald at or via the join tab at Obtaining a test kit in this way could be much cheaper than the regular FTDNA pricing set out in the Notes on Pricing below.

Janet Flandrensis
October 2015

Janet’s interest in genealogy dates back to 1980.  She has been an Administrator of a DNA Fleming project at and more recently at FTDNA.

Notes on Prices

This note sets out approximate prices for the main DNA tests. The 37 Marker Y Test is $169 (£112), the 67 Marker Y Test is $268 (£178) and the 111 Marker Y Test is $359 (£239). The BIG Y is $595 (£396) and the MtDNA—small HVR1 and HVR2—is  $69 (£46) or for a MyDNA full sequence $199 (£132).  The Family Finder Test is $99 (£66). Haplogroup SNP backbone packs vary in price from $79 (£52) to more than $110 (£73).  All specials are advertised at FTDNA and Coupons are promoted occasionally for a variety of tests.  It is important to check for discounted prices before ordering. This link explains the Big Y test and its pricing.

Information on how to switch test results from another company to FTDNA can be obtained from Janet Flandrensis at the EM address noted above.

(7)Appalachian Fleming Project
(9)Belgium Walloon

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The Waddell Family: A Search for Possible Flemish Roots

In this first blog posting of the new academic year Gavin Waddell explores the possible Flemish origins of the Waddell family. This is part of a series of guest postings focussing on Flemish origin Scottish families. A range of published evidence is examined in this posting, with some heraldic analysis pointing to a Flemish root. The author believes that the evidence to date is not concrete enough to yield a definitive conclusion and is awaiting the results of the DNA component of the Scotland and the Flemish People project to provide corroboration.

Origins and Evolution of the Name

There are several theories on the origins of the name. The most authenticated is based on George F. Black’s Surnames of Scotland: Their Origin, Meaning and History.[1] He writes that the name and its many variants – Wadel, Waddell, Waddle, Weddel, Weddell, Woddell, Vedal, and Vidal – derive from the family of de Wedale, who were probably Norman and took their name from their lands at Wedale, the old name for the parish of Stow in Midlothian. Black’s book points to a clear evolution of the name as evidence by the box below.

As can be seen in Black’s book, the name Waddell has a substantial entry. He lists individuals with variants of the name in chronological order as follows: Adam de Wedale in 1204, Stephen de Wedale in 1221-24, Thomas de Wedal in 1280, Laurence de Wedale (Lavrenci d’Vedal) in 1296, Symone de Wedale (Symon de Wedehale) in 1296-1327, Adam de Wedale in 1309, Roger de Wedale in 1312, Thomas de Vedayle in 1344, William Waldale in 1359, Thomas of Wedale in 1370, Sir Thomas of Wedalle in 1372, Henricus de Wedale in 1395, Robert Wedalle in 1405, Henry of Wedale or Wedalle in 1400-01, Robert of Wedal in 1424, Robert of Wedale in 1421, Weddale in 1453, Veddal in 1515, Weddell in 1525, Thomas Wadel in 1555, Thomas Vedell in 1557, Woddell in 1598, Veddel in 1604, George Vodell in 1610, Mungo Woddell in1613, Wooddell in 1644, George Woddell in 1672, Mr Richard Waddle in 1682, Alexander Weddell in 1725, and William Waddale in 1793. From this list of 35 variants from the 13th century to the 18th century, the evolution of the name from de Wedale to Waddell would seem indisputable.

Modern researchers such as heraldic scholar Beryl Platts, however, suggest that these ‘Normans’ were, in fact, Flemish, as she argues in her book The Origins of Heraldry.[2] In the face of accepted heraldic study, Platts posits that all heraldic symbols derive from the seals of the officials at the court of Charlemagne and not from shields used in battle by the Normans, and that the Scots noblemen were the descendants of these officials.

Another possible origin comes from A Dictionary of English and Welsh Surnames,[3] in which Charles Wareing Bardsley states that the surnames Wadehelle and Wadelle derive from the geographical locality of Odell or Wadelle in Bedfordshire, and are first recorded in the Domesday Book in 1087.

Because of this, another theory has been posited by Freda Bingley, née Waddell. Odell was the Bedfordshire domain of the Wahull family. Of the de Wahull descent, Burke’s Extinct and Dormant Peerages has this to say; “Walter de Flanders came into England with the Conqueror and held considerable estates in the counties of Bedford and Northampton of which Wahull (now Wodhull or Odhull) in the former shire was head of the barony”.[4]

Based on the Danish Baron Wedell-Wedellsborg’s correspondence with the author, there is also the possibility that the family is of German or Danish origin. There are certainly Wedell-Wedellsborgs in Denmark and Wedell-Jarlsbergs in Norway – barons and counts of that name. The present Danish Baron Wedell-Wedellsborg has given the author the lineage of his family who descend from the von Wedels family, taking their name from Wedel, the town in Kreis Pinneberg by the River Elbe, just north of Altona, near Hamburg in Germany. The earliest known bearers of this version of the name were three brothers – Heinrich, Hasso and Reinbern – who witnessed a letter of Count Albert of Orlamundes in 1212. The family has maintained its original properties of Wedellsborg in Denmark, Jarlsborg in Norway, and Evenburg and Godens in Germany.

There are French families with similar names: de Vidal from Orleans, de Widil barons of Lorraine, Vedelli of the Languedoc, and Vidal of Toulon. The similar sounding names of Vital and de Widuile listed in Anthony Camp’s My Ancestors Came with the Conqueror turn out, on closer inspection, to be irrelevant.[5]

Heraldic Evidence

The recorded arms of the Waddells and its variant spelling, from early sources, using the usual heraldic terms, are:
1. Azure a saltire chequy Argent and Sable cantoned with four buckles Argent.[6]
2. Gules a saltire chequy Argent and Azure between four buckles Or. Motto, ‘MARCH ON’.[7]
3. Quarterly, 1st and 4th Or a bend chequy Sable and Argent; 2nd and 3rd Or three buckles Azure. (This
is almost identical to the Monteith arms but the tinctures or colours are different.)[8]

Waddell arms as recorded in the Workman Manuscript (Workman’s MS). Azure, a saltire chequy Argent and Gules cantoned between  with four bucles argent.

Waddell arms as recorded in the Workman Manuscript (Workman’s MS). Azure, a saltire chequy Argent and Gules cantoned between with four bucles argent.

Alerted to the possibility by Beryl Platts that a large proportion of the Scottish nobility may in fact have been Flemish, this author contacted her primarily to find out if the de Wahull/Odell/ Wadelle armorial clues may have some bearing on the origins of the Waddells. Her reply was surprising. She dismissed a connection with the de Wahulls, saying, “Had the Wedales been connected with Wahull, they must have borne the famous Seton crescents,” which they did not: in Scotland the de Wahulls used the name of Seton.

She does, however, pick up on the similarity of the Wedale and Monteith arms, saying, “the second daughter of Maurice the 3rd Earl of Menteith from Oudenaarde in Flanders married Walter Stewart who used the Stewart arms of the fess chequy and later Earls of Menteith used the chequered device of the Stewarts – but changed it from a fess to a bend”.

She clearly saw a Flemish link in the Waddell arms: “It therefore follows that the heraldry of the Waddells shows that your family must have been allied to those whose arms you bear”. These are the Monteiths, the Stewarts of Bonkyl, the Malets, and the Stirlings, all of whom have Flemish antecedents. A further interesting comment she makes is that “the arms of Lennox were argent a saltire gules between four roses, a pattern which suggests an affinity with the saltire and buckles of Waddell”.

Waddells in Scottish Historical Context

The earliest members of the family recorded in Scotland are mostly high-ranking churchmen and a few important landowners, but one cannot assume that any of them were related except where specifically stated, particularly bearing in mind the Catholic Church’s insistence on celibacy.

Several medieval Waddells had international connections, travelling to France, Italy, Switzerland, and the Low countries. They also travelled “in the footsteps of the apostles”, that is on pilgrimage to the tombs of Peter and Paul in Rome, and possibly even to Jerusalem on Crusade. This, perhaps, indicates roots or traditions inherited from the time of Charlemagne, taken up later by the Flemish court.

The Flemish came to Scotland during different phases from the 12th to the 17th centuries. The de Wedales must have been in one of the earliest of these, as the first time the name is mentioned is in the reign of William the Lion in about 1175.[9] They were, therefore, either from the families that came from England during the time of William the Conqueror, or in the train of David I when he came with his followers to Scotland to reign from 1124. The de Wedales were probably minor nobility, not craftsmen, as so many of the later Flemish immigrants tended to be.

The descriptive notes of individual Waddells set out in the box below are based on Black’s Surnames of Scotland. The notes give a sense of the significance of the family in medieval Scotland, with a number of the people identified being clerics.

Gilis de Wedala, c1173
Probably the first mention of a member of the family is in the reign of William the Lion, but the date is not recorded. Two undated charters following one dated 1173, and therefore probably around the same date, are witnessed in the first charter by Gilis de Wedala and the second by Gilis d’Wadale – obviously the same man. In each case he is the last to sign. The charter is one from The Muniments of Melrose Abbey and possibly for the lands of Hartesheud (Hartside) and Edmundeston (Edmonstone) in Lothian from the king to the bishop of St Andrews. Other signatories are Walter, archdeacon of St Andrews and the abbot of Newbottle, Geoffrey, abbot of Duns, Robert abbot of Scone, Alexander abbot of ‘s.cruce’ (Holyrood), and Roger abbot of Dryburgh, all very high ranking men in the church, but most surprising of all is, third from the end in the first charter, Ada de Dunbar, King William’s natural daughter and wife of Gospatrick, 5th Earl of Dunbar.

Adam of Wedale, 1204
If the date of the above charter is correct, it predates the previously accepted first mention of the Waddells by Black in 1204, that is Adam of Wedale, “outlaw of the King of Scotland’s land”.[10] Here Adam and his brother Walter of Neweton (Newton), Adam of Gordon, William Lurnache, and others have taken refuge in “Halielande”, modern day Lindisfarne, and King John of England commands the sheriff of Northumberland to detain them. That Adam was of some importance can only be surmised from this information.

Laurence de Wedale, 1296
In the Calendar of Documents relating to Scotland there is the following reference: “Laurence de Wedale of Roxburghshire rendered homage to Edward I, King of England, in 1296.[11] His seal bears an eight rayed figure and the inscription S’ Laurenci d’Vedal. This seal, which is still preserved in the National Archives at Kew, might have more significance than it at first appears: an eight-rayed figure or octofoil in early Flemish heraldry was a mark of cadence for the ninth son. See Platts’s Origins of Heraldry.

Symone de Wedale, 1296
Symone de Wedale was abbot of Holyrood from 1296 to 1327 and consecrated bishop of Galloway at Westminster in 1327, with “professional obedience to York”.[12] These bishops recognised the metropolitan authority of the bishops of York from 1128 until 1355, when Symone died, after which no bishop is known to have offered formal obedience to York. The see was in practice subject to direct papal authority. Symone was a man of considerable importance: even King John II of France petitioned for a plenary indulgence on Symone’s behalf, which was granted by Pope Innocent IV in 1354. Recent research in 2007, funded by Historic Scotland, identified from their remains six bishops buried at Whithorn Priory, Bishop Symone amongst them. Symone’s grave contained a gilded and enamelled crozier dating from 1175, silver altar vessels, and brocade threads and gilded sequins from a headdress, demonstrating the sumptuous apparel that such a man as Simon would have worn.

Adam de Wedale, 1309
Adam de Wedale, monk of Newbotyl (Newbattle), was a witness in the proceedings against the Knights Templar in 1309. The fact that Adam’s testimony is still on record must mean that it was of significance in the suppression of the Order of the Knights Templar, whose high handed and aggressive attitude to the local people had long been a negative force in and around Balantradoch, or Temple as it is now known, taking its name from the Order. The term ‘forester’ which was used to describe Adam would mean he managed the forests rather than worked as a woodsman.

Thomas de Wedale, Alan de Wedale, and John de Wedale, 1329
Of the Scottish scholars at the University of Paris in the Middle Ages there were several de Wedales who are described at some length in William Courtenay’s recent book, Parisian Scholars in the Early Fourteenth Century. For Thomas de Wedale he makes the following entry: “At Paris in 1329-30, living in the rue de la Buscherie with six socii. Scottish scholar probably belonging to the family of that name from the diocese of St Andrews”.[13]

Thomas of Wedale, 1370
“Thomas of Wedale was one of an inquest at Berwick on Tweed.”[14] This could also be the same Thomas mentioned in the Calendar of Documents Relating to Scotland under Edward III in court proceedings: “King of England there, Thomas of Wedale”.

Sir Thomas of Wedalle, 1372
“Sir Thomas of Wedalle, Knight of Scotland, had a writ of passage at the Port of London … Fiat for a writ of passage abroad for Sir Thomas of Wedalle, at the Port of London for Zeland with an esquire, a vallet [sic], 100 marks sterling and his ‘hernoys’ and also a safe conduct for two years for Sir Thomas and his six horsemen on return to pass through England”.[15]

Henry Wedale, 1401
“Henry Wedale ‘the Duke of Albany’s man’ petition to the king for safe conduct … from Castle of Menteath (Menteith)”. Henry was of considerable importance during the duke of Albany’s regency of Scotland.[16]

James of Wedale, 1403
“James of Wedale, King’s macer, annuity paid.” This was considered a high office at the Scottish court, where he carried the mace, the symbol of royal power, at the head of ceremonial processions. James has 28 entries in the Exchequer Rolls, receiving a substantial annuity from the king, and dying in 1421.

Robert Wedalle, 1405
“Safe conduct and protection for Robert Wedalle Esquire of Scotland, now in England, to go with four attendants, horse or foot, to Scotland on his affairs and return to England, till Martinmas.”

Isabella de Weddale, 1439
Isabella de Weddale, eldest daughter and heiress of John de Foresta, resigned the lands of Duncanlaw to Edmund Hay, brother to David Hay of Yester.[17]

James de Wedale, 1439
“At Edinburgh, 16th November 1440, James II, confirmed the charter by Isabella de Forest … co-heiress of the late John de Forest, granted with consent of James de Wedale, her son and heir, to Edmunde Hay brother of David de H., Lord of Yester, the lands of Wendene, in the barony of Duncanlau (Duncanlaw) dated at Bele (Biel) 4th February 1438”.[18] “James de Wedale inherits the lands of Wendene in the barony of Duncanlaw”.

Sir Robert of Wedale, 1441
Sir Robert was perhaps the most distinguished of all the Catholic clergy of the name of Waddell. He is described as a ‘priest’, a ‘Cistercian monk’, and a ‘monk and master of works’. He and Robert Livingston were joint masters of works at the building of Linlithgow Palace from 1434, thought at the time to be the most magnificent building in Scotland.[19] He was appointed abbot of Culross in 1435. In 1441 “Robert de Wedale [was] excommunicated for being a Schismatic but restored by the Bishop of St Andrews.”[20]

Agnes de Wedale, 1442
Agnes de Wedale was the prioress of the Cistercian monastery of Manuel in the diocese of St Andrews, in the vicinity of Linlithgow. Manuel was the ancient name for Haining or Almond Castle, later one of the principal estates of the Livingstons acquired from the Crawfords in 1554. It seems too much of a coincidence that Agnes, connected with the Livingstons and her allowance paid for from the revenues of Linlithgow, was not closely related or at least connected to Sir Robert of Wedale, Master of Works at Linlithgow and abbot of the Cistercian abbey of Culross.[21]

James Weddale, Laird of Blythe, 1493
Letters of Commission were granted by James IV to the inhabitants of Lauderdale. Under the heading “Felony done to the Laird of Blythe”, the following entry is described: “James Spotiswoode, junior, and Robert Steill came into the King’s will for the forethought felony done to James Weddale of Blyth. The Laird of Spottiswood became cautioner to satisfy the parties. Amerciated (fined) L.3 for each”.[22]

John Weddell, the Parson of Flisk, 1508-40
John Weddell (called de Weddale, Vedal, Weddell, and Waddell at different points in his career), known as the Parson of Flisk, and one of the first Lords of Session from 1508 to 1540, was rector of St Andrews University and one of the judges at the trial of Patrick Hamilton, who was the first martyr of the Protestant cause. John was a man of considerable importance in Scottish history and is quoted many times in his long career as a Senator of the College of Justice and thus appears in many documents. After 1523 he is more commonly referred to as Lord Flisk.[23]

Pulling Together the Evidence

Unfortunately, because so many of the recorded medieval Waddells were churchmen, there are not many early recorded Waddell marriages that could provide links to other families with Flemish roots. However, in 1439, as mentioned earlier, Isabella de Weddale appears in a contract with David de Haia (Hay) de Yester. This Isabella, née de Foresta, was the eldest daughter of John de Foresta, and her son James de Weddale was named in a charter in which Edmund de Haia and David de Hay also feature. The Hays are believed to have Flemish roots.

Another example is in 1524, when the king confirmed a charter to Johannis Cadder (Calder) living in the Monklands, together with his present wife, Alison Weddell, signed at the Abbey of Newbattle (His late wife was Mariot Crawford). Has this got a Flemish connection?[24]

Despite the few recorded Waddell marriages, the intermarriage of Flemish families with each other seems, according to Beryl Platts, endemic at this period. She, in her analysis of the Waddell arms, indicates this with her references to the liaisons between the Waddells, the Monteiths, the Stewarts, the Malets, and the Stirlings.

Taking all the evidence cited above, there is a possibility that the Scottish Waddells have Flemish roots. However, at this stage there is no concrete proof. The armorial work of Beryl Platts, and the suggestions she makes about the significance of the Waddell arms, is the strongest supportive evidence. But even this in Platts’ view could be conjecture.

DNA analysis may in due course bring the search for the origins of the Waddells to closure. Waddells from Scotland, Ireland, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the USA, were tested in order to compare result across families. All the families are of the same haplogroup, R1b1a2, but this appears to cover a fairly wide area of northern Europe. This author has now joined the Scotland and the Flemish People DNA project.

Gavin Waddell
September 2015

Gavin Waddell was educated in Scotland and began his interest in family history in the early 1950s as a teenager in Dundee Library, with the discovery of Black’s The Surnames of Scotland. This fired an interest that has continued ever since, culminating in a book titled A History of the Waddells of Scotland. He is a professional in the field of fashion design and, among other things, he has run three of Britain’s foremost fashion schools and performed the role of assessor, external examiner, and advisor to many of the country’s leading colleges and universities.


[1] George F. Black, The Surnames of Scotland (New York, 1946).
[2] Beryl Platts, Origins of Heraldry (London, 1980).
[3] Charles Wareing Bardsley, A Dictionary of English and Welsh Surnames (New York, 1901).
[4] Bernard Burke, Extinct and Dormant Peerages (London, 1866).
[5] Anthony Camp, My Ancestors Came with the Conqueror (London, 1990).
[6] An illuminated Manuscript of Scottish Arms of the time of Queen Mary, Advocates Library, Edinburgh, 31.4.2, p. 109.
[7] Pont’s Manuscript (1624).
[8] Gentleman’s Arms (c. 1628).
[9] Liber Sante Marie de Melros, Old Muniments of Melrose Abbey, vol. II.
[10] Joseph Bain (ed.), Calendar of Documents Relating to Scotland, vol. I (Edinburgh, 1881), p. 56.
[11] Ibid., vol. II, pp. 210, 555.
[12] James Raine (ed.), Historical Papers and Letters from Northern Registers (Longman, 1873).
[13] William Courtney, Parisian Scholars in the Early Fourteenth Century (Cambridge, 2006).
[14] Calendar of Documents Relating to Scotland, vol. IV, p. 32.
[15] Ibid., p. 194.
[16] Ibid., pp. 570, 584.
[17] John Thomson (ed.), The Register of the Great Seal of Scotland, vol. II (Edinburgh, 1989), p. 210.
[18] Ibid., p. 211.
[19] John Ferguson, Linlithgow Palace, Its History and Tradition (Edinburgh, 1910), pp. 50, 62, 262.
[20] Papal Letters.
[21] From an article dated 16 March 1790 by Falkirk journalist ‘Jo Scotland’.
[22] Robert Pitcairn, Criminal Trials, vol. I (Edinburgh), pp. 15, 16.
[23] John Brunton, Historical Account of the College of Justice (Edinburgh, 1832).
[24] Register of the Great Seal of Scotland, vol. III, f.239.

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Update on the Scotland and the Flemish People Project

We welcome our blog readers back for the new university semester with a brief update on the status of the Scotland and the Flemish People Project.

Concluding Conference

The planning for the international conference—that will take place on Thursday, June 16th and Friday, June 17th, 2016 in St Andrews—is well underway.  The search for sponsorship of the event has now been completed.  We are grateful to the Government of Flanders, the P F Charitable Trust and the Wyfold Charitable Trust for their generosity in supporting the conference.

As noted in our blog dated May 15th the conference will be open to the general public. It will be of interest to academic and local historians, family historians, genealogists, and genetic genealogists.  There will be two tracks within the conference so that participants will be able to choose the sessions they want to attend.

A website that will handle registration for the conference is under construction at present and we will notify all readers of our newsletter and blog as soon as it is goes live.  An organizer for the conference will shortly be appointed and announced.

Some key speakers have already been identified but there is still time for readers of this blog posting to suggest topics that might usefully be addressed.  Please let Alex Fleming ( know if you have ideas you would like to share with us.

The Fleming Family Charter Collection

As noted in our blog dated March 13th, Mr. Eric Robinson made a donation to the University of Toronto’s Thomas Fisher Rare Books Library of sixty medieval charters pertaining to the major Fleming family of Biggar and Cumbernauld. As evidenced by our later blog post, these charters are already shedding new light on this fascinating medieval Fleming family. The University of Toronto library has now completed the digitisation of the charters and they will shortly be made available to researchers in the University of St Andrews Special Collections section. Grants from the P F Charitable Trust and the Wyfold Charitable Trust will permit the translation of the charters. We much appreciate this support.

The Blog

We have developed a pipeline of topics for the blog through to Christmas, including some family studies as well as a number of other intriguing issues. We will then in the New Year suspend the blog as a vehicle for reporting on research and use it solely to announce new information on the upcoming conference.

Dr. Alex Fleming
September 2015

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

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The Formation of the Fleming Surname

Last week’s posting examined the formation of surnames in Britain with a special emphasis on Scotland.  In this second posting, George English looks more specifically at the origins of the Fleming family name.

Toponymics of Nationality and the Surname Fleming

Fleming was a surname which indicated the nationality of its original bearers i.e. natives of Flanders.[1] The name Fleming reflects a Norman French form of the Old French flamenc. The by-name Fleming occurred in parts of Britain as early as c1150, although evidence for the word in the Oxford English Dictionary goes back only as far as c1430.

There are two main groups of people to consider regarding the adoption of the hereditary surname of Fleming: the knights who came over with William the Conqueror, and their descendants; and, other Flemish immigrants, particularly from lower classes, who came to Britain from the 11th century onwards.

The knights essentially became the land-owning or upper class in the society of the day. It is generally agreed that the first people to adopt the surname Fleming in Britain were the grandsons of Erkenbald Flandrensis from Rouen in Normandy. He was a companion of William the Conqueror, who was given extensive lands in Cornwall and Devon. The grandsons included Baldwin, who went to Scotland in 1147 or 1148; others who went to Wales and Ireland; and some who stayed in England.

The theory has been proposed that practically all the Flemings of the British Isles descend from Erkenbald Flandrensis.[2] If this were true, it would mean that almost every other Flemish immigrant who came to Britain without a hereditary surname, adopted a surname other than Fleming.

To understand surname formation among the lower class immigrants it is necessary to look more closely at the use of toponymics. Toponymics such as Fleming were Local surnames where the place of origin was indicated by the use of descriptive adjectives. The surname was evidence that the people had migrated from their place of origin to the place where they became described as the English, Scots or other national group.[3]

There are many toponymics denoting nationality including: English, Inglis, Scott, Irish, Welsh, Walsh and Wallis, with Gales (le Galeys, le Waleis, central and northern forms of Fr waleis ‘Welshman, Celt’). Sayce and Seys are from Welsh sais ‘Saxon, Englishman’.[4] Surnames from French and other Continental places include: French, Al(l)mand, Almond, Allamand and Alliment from OFr alemaund ‘Ger­man’, Tyas, Tyes (OFr tieis ‘German’), Den(n)es, Denness (OFr daneis) and Dence, Dench (OE denisc ‘Danish’) ‘the Dane’.

Fleming, Fleeming, Fleeman, Flamank and Flament, with five other variants, as well as Brabant, Braban, Brabon and Brabham (Flemish Brabant), with Brabazon and Brobson (AFr bra-bancon ‘a native of Brabant’, result from the early medieval inter­course between Flanders and neighbouring Brabant, and England and Scotland. This was so common that in the four­teenth century an English form of the name developed by the addi­tion of -er to the name of the Duchy, Braba(y)ner, which survives as Brabiner, Brabner, Brebner and Bremner. Less commonly, these surnames were local in form: de Brabayn, de Flandria, the latter still in use as Flanders or Flinders.[5]

If virtually no Flemish immigrant, other than the descendants of Erkenbald Flandrensis, adopted the surname Fleming, this would be a substantial deviation from what applied to all these other nationalities. It would require some special circumstances that applied to Flemish immigrants but not to those from other nationalities. No such reason has been found.

The situation is complicated because people did not adopt their surname through a formal system. Lack of records is one of the main difficulties in deciding when an early surname became hereditary.

Immigrants included servants in noble households, teachers and skilled workmen such as weavers, traders and merchants. A major research project has compiled a database of over 64,000 names of people known to have migrated to England between 1330 and 1550. Of the 21,538 people for whom a place of origin was recorded, 1,178 came from Flanders.  Of these, the main occupations that were recorded were servant (237), tailor (26), shoemaker (20), souter (20) and weaver (20). There are 264 people with the surname Fleming, or variations (of whom 249 have the nationality, Fleming i.e. Flemish). As more than 20% of those from Flanders had the surname Fleming, it is clear that they, or an ancestor, had adopted the surname, rather than inheriting it from one person. Their recorded occupations were servant (50), labourer (5), corviser (2), husbandman (2) and pattenmaker (2). It is inconceivable that such a large number of servants were people from the upper classes who had fallen on hard times.[6] It is more likely that most were servants who had taken the surname Fleming of their master.

In 1379, amongst the taxpayers in Redenhall, Norfolk was two weavers named Constancius and Reginaldus Flemmyng. Their distinctive first names suggest they had recently arrived from Flanders.[7] Thus they were probably the first or second generation of their family to adopt the surname Fleming.

The Hereditary Surname Fleming in Scotland

Surnames started to come to Scotland during the reign of King David I (1124-53). David grew up in England at the court of Henry I and absorbed the Anglo-Norman values of the English nobility.  So, the ruling Norman elite was influential in Scotland too, and surnames arrived no more than a generation or two later than occurred in England.[8]

The process of name formation began with some Lowland landowners in the late 12th century. But the fashion took longer to take hold than in England and was not generally completed until at least the sixteenth century. The surnames and by-names used were similar in character to those across the border in England, where the dialect and culture had much in common. Gaelic surnames varied locally and between class. They were little known further south until after 1746 and the Battle of Culloden.[9]

Fealtic surnames were much more common in Scotland, where they were a feature of the Clan system, than in England. A man, and his family, would take the name of the chief of a clan to show their fealty and service to him, in return for protection, even though they had no blood relationship.

The earliest Fleming in Scotland was Baldwin of Biggar, the grandson of Erkenbald Flandrensis.[10] In 1155, Henry II passed a decree expelling all Flemish people from England. This increased the number of Flemings in Scotland. In addition, Malcolm IV invited others to come.[11]

Some Flemish families took Scottish place-names as toponymics, like the Douglas, Murray and Leslie families, while others merely used the generic term Fleming.[12]

The People of Medieval Scotland database (see Appendix below) records 57 people with the surname Fleming between 1140 and 1314.[13] Almost all of these are from the upper classes. There are too many for it to be likely that they all were related.

The first name recorded was Mainard the Fleming, who was the provost of St. Andrews in the mid 12th century. He had been brought north from Berwick-on-Tweed to supervise the layout of St Andrews.[14] It is unlikely that he was descended from Erkenbald Flandrensis. By that time, there were four distinct communities in St Andrews – Scots, English, French i.e. Normans and Flemish.[15]

The types of transactions recorded were limited because analysis shows that most had to do with gifts of land and other property. There are also a number recording the performance of fealty to Edward I in 1296, which would only have been required of people of some substance and influence. There are a number of blood and close relationships recorded:

Michael Fleming, father of Marsilius
Berewald Fleming, father of John; grandfather of Walter
Bernard Fleming, uncle of Nicholas
Simon Fleming, son-in-law of Richard; father of Hugh and Simon
Robert Fleming, husband of Matilda
Michael Fleming, son of Michael Fleming; father of Alexander II, king of Scots
Archibald Fleming, son of Michael
Robert Fleming, brother of Michael

In 1347, all Flemings were banished from Scotland.[16] This would probably have meant that any adoption of the surname Fleming was halted in the following years.

Apart from the surname Scott, other toponymics denoting nationality in Scotland include Welsh, Inglis and Bremner. It is likely that the first Flemish settlers arrived without surnames and their descendants later adopted a hereditary surname. It is not until the 15th century that a significant number of people with the surname Fleming appear in records. However, by then, many Flemings arriving would have come with Flemish surnames. Surnames can be used to a limited degree as a tool to identify people of Flemish origin but this does underestimate the size of Flemish immigration.[17]  A number of postings in this blog series discuss families of Flemish origin that do not have the Fleming surname.


The adoption of the hereditary surname Fleming by the descendants of Erkenbald Flandrensis in various parts of Britain, including Scotland, is well documented. His descendants are likely to account for a large number of Flemings alive today. But it is virtually certain that significant numbers of other Flemish immigrants also adopted that surname, in common with many other people who adopted toponymics denoting nationality. There are a number of strong indicators of this but the lack of records for the period makes it difficult to find unequivocal examples of proof. It is to be hoped that the ongoing DNA work being carried out in association with the Scotland and the Flemish People Project will shed further light on the topic in due course.

George English
May 2015

George English is a director of the Family History service Research Through People ( He has undertaken extensive genealogical and historical research and published work in United Kingdom, United States and Europe. He can be reached at 9 Glebe Avenue, Mauchline, Ayrshire, KA5 6AF or by email at

Appendix Surname FLEMING in People of Medieval Scotland Database

12th Century
Mainard Fleming Grieve of St Andrews Grant of tofts. Royal moneyer.
Baldwin Fleming Confirmation of Loquhariot church by King Malcolm.
Theobald Fleming Gift of the land above Douglas.
Michael Fleming Father of Marsilius. Gift of forest of Furness etc.
Berewald Fleming Grandfather of Walter, father of John. Donation of Innes, toft.
Bernard Fleming Uncle of Nicholas Fleming.
Nicholas Fleming Nepos of Bernard Fleming.
Marsilius Fleming Son of Michael Fleming.
Jordan Fleming Gift of half ploughgate; toft & croft in Orde.
Simon Fleming Brother of Simon; father of Hugh. Gift of ploughgate in Kennethmont.
Richard Fleming Father-in-law of Simon. Gifts etc – Melrose, Arbroath, Kelso.
William Fleming Gifts etc – Forfarshire, Kelso.
Everard Fleming Gifts of land etc.
13th C -1333
Michael Fleming Sheriff of Edinburgh.
Robert Fleming Husband of Matilda. Gifts of toft & croft.
Matilda Fleming Wife of Robert Fleming. Gift of toft & croft.
Simon Fleming Son-in-law of Richard Fleming. Arbroath Abbey Agreement.
Michael Fleming Son of Michael Fleming. Father of Alexander II, king of Scots. King’s clerk.
Archibald Fleming Son of Michael Fleming. Grant of succession of land of Gilberton.
John Fleming Son of Berewald Fleming.
Walter Fleming Son of John Fleming. Succession of Innes. Toft.
Thomas Fleming Steward of Seton (10m E of Edinburgh).
Hugh Fleming Brother of Simon Fleming.
Alexander Fleming Settlement of dispute between Chapter of Moray and Alan Durward.
John Fleming Dominus (Lord/Sir), knight.
Hugh Fleming Son of Simon Fleming. Gift of lands of Dalnottar etc.
Bartholomew Fleming Knight. Gift of toft, land ‘Rauengille’. build chapel of Wardhouse.
Stephen Fleming Baillie of Carrick, justiciar of Lothian. Inquest.
Patrick Fleming Quitclaim of Eddleston, Peeblesshire.
Walter Fleming Dominus (Lord/Sir).
William Fleming Dominus (Lord/Sir) of Stanhouse.
Adam Fleming Quitclaim of land on The Ness in Berwick.
Peter Fleming Donation of Bishop Richard. Landholder.
R. Fleming Agreement: bishop of Aberdeen & Alan Durward.
Duncan Fleming Obligation to pay £20. Dominus (Lord/Sir).
William Fleming Burgess of Dumbarton. Gift of Dalquhurn.
R. Fleming Quitclaim of toft in villa of Dumfries.
Robert Fleming Brother of Michael. Lord of Wardhouse. Gift of land.
Michael Fleming Brother of Robert. Gifts: Montrose etc. Fealty.
Simon Fleming Gift of land in Tranent. Agreement: Paisley Abbey & John. Kt.
William Fleming Of Barochan, RNF. Obligation to pay £20. Fealty.
Robert Fleming Kt. Dispensation by pope of Affrica Lichen marriage.
William Fleming Gift of two pennylands in Argyll.
Alan Fleming Performance of fealty to Edward I, king of England.
Patrick Fleming Co. Dumbarton. Fealty. Dominus. Sworn man.
Walter Fleming Co. Lanark. Fealty to Edward I.
William Fleming, Fermer of Dumbarton. Fealty to Edward I.
William Fleming Of Seton. Fealty to Edward I.
John Fleming Fealty to Edward I. Inquest into death of le Rous.
Copin Fleming Acknowledgement of debts owed to him. ERA.
John Fleming English Royal Administration (ERA).
Walter Fleming In 1296 plea roll of English army for abbot of Lindores.
Matthew Fleming Witness to gift of 6 marks.
William Ridel Lord of Flemington. ERA (prisoners).
William Fleming Steward of Lennox. Witness to gift.
B[…] Fleming ERA (prisoners).

A There are no entries for surnames starting FLAND e.g. Flandrensis or FLAM e.g. Flamang, Flameng.


[1] Black, George F. (2004) The Surnames of Scotland. p. 268.

[2] Fleming, F. Lawrence (2011) The ancestry of the Earl of Wigton and other related essays relating to the family history of the Flemings. Rotherstorpe: Paragon. pp. 36, 43, 69, 132.

[3] McKinley, Richard A. (1990) A History of British Surnames. p. 28.

[4] Reaney, Percy H. (1967) The Origins of English Surnames. p.54.

[5] Ibid. pp. 73-74.

[6] England’s Immigrants 1330-1550. Research project funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council. Available online

[7] Redmonds, George, King, Turi and Hey, David (2011) Surnames, DNA, and family history. p. 21.

[8] Davis, Graeme (2010) Research Your Surname and Your Family Tree. p. 105.

[9] Redmonds p. 54.

[10] Whyte, Donald (2000) Scottish Surnames.

[11] Black, p. xviii.

[12] Hammond, Matthew H. (2005) A Prosopographical Analysis of Society in East Central Scotland, circa 1100 to 1260. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow. p. 104. Available online

[13] People of Medieval Scotland 1093-1314. Database of all known people of Scotland between 1093 and 1314 mentioned in over 8600 contemporary documents. Available online

[14] David Dobson. The Flemish on the Firth of Tay – Part 2. Scotland and the Flemish People. Available online.

[15] Davis. p. 105.

[16] Letters to the Chamberlain of Scotland and other officials, 12 November 1347. Regesta Regum Scottorum, VI, Acts of David II [Edinburgh, 1982].

[17] David Dobson. The Flemish on the Firth of Tay – Part 1. Scotland and the Flemish People. Available online.

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