There will be no blog posting on the 27th of March due to a departmental retreat. Posting will resume on Friday the 3rd of April.

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The Barony of Kerdale and its Links with some Key Moray Families

Freskyn de Moravia, believed to be a Fleming, was the progenitor of two major Scottish families: the Sutherlands and the Murrays. Freskyn de Kerdale and his sister Margaret were directly descended from Freskyn de Moravia down a separate line. Through marriage there were close links between this line and the Douglas and Stirling families. In this blog posting that builds on an earlier one dated 21st of November 2014, James Sutherland and Mark Sutherland-Fisher report on their research on the Barony of Kerdale and these family linkages.

Freskyn de Moravia (Fresechinus fillius Ollec), who was believed to be a Fleming, was influential in Scotland during the early medieval period. New information discovered recently shows that Freskyn had settled initially in Pembroke in Wales with other Flemings, including Witsonis Flandrensis.[1] He later accompanied King David I to Scotland and was given lands in Strathbroc, West Lothian. Subsequently he helped put down an insurrection in 1130 in Moray. He was given lands in Duffus and built a fortress there.

The De Moravia family has genealogical significance for Scotland. The senior line of the family became Earls of Sutherland. A separate branch of that line contains the important Murray Earls and Dukes of Atholl. See the genealogical diagram below. Along a separate line arose the De Kerdale family, which developed links with two other significant Scottish families, Stirling and Douglas. Both of these families are believed to have Flemish roots. These family linkages are the subjects of this blog posting.

The Stivelyn or Stirling family was settled at an early date in the neighbourhood of Dunmaglas in Strathnairn in the north of Scotland (see map below). By 1234 Sir Alexander Stirling of Moray had married Marjorie de Moravia, daughter of Freskyn de Kerdale, who, as noted above, was descended from Freskyn de Moravia.

The Stirling family is one of great antiquity, having been descended from Walter de Strivelyn, who appears as a witness in a charter of Prince Henry, son of King David I of Scotland, of a grant of the church of Sprouston by John Bishop of Glasgow to the Abbey of Kelso in 1144.[2]

Freskyn de Kerdale was a patron of the church at Daviot, which was the mensal church of Bishop Bricius de Douglas, son of William de Douglas Lord of Douglasdale. At the insistence of Freskyn de Kerdale the tithes of Daviot were granted for the fabric of the Cathedral Church at Spynie, which is situated a little to the north of Elgin.[3] Hence Freskyn de Kerdale was supportive of the bishop, and therefore also the Douglas family.

When Bricius died in 1223 his successor Andrew de Moravia confirmed the previous grant, and in 1234 land at Daviot was subject to an agreement between the chaplain of Moray and Sir Alexander Stirling of Moray. Freskyn de Kerdale was avuncular noster (our uncle) to Bishop Brice. In other words, Freskyn de Kerdale was related to Bishop Bricius and his brothers.

The De Moravia family also held Petty and the lands of Croy, Kilravock and Cantray, which were distributed as marriage portions to the daughters of the family. All that remains now of the association between the De Moravia family and the area is Cantray-Freskyn. Marjorie de Moravia, widow of Sir Alexander Stirling, granted to her daughter, Isobel, the lands of Cantray-Freskin. The witness was Archibald, Bishop of Moray, who held his see during the period 1253-1258. The Murrays of Petty male line ended in a daughter, Joan, who married Lord Archibald Douglas (Archibald the Grim), Lord of Galloway, Lord of Bothwell, and Earl of Wigtown, who became 3rd Earl of Douglas.

There are several pieces of evidence to suggest a presence of the Kerdale family in Scotland some two centuries later. A James of Kerdale witnessed a charter granted at Castle Urquhart in 1342, and a Nicholissa of Kerdale in 1414 was one of the superiors of Dunmaglas in the Barony of Kerdale, which was held by Donald, Thane of Cawdor.[4]

Interestingly, the Macgillvrays of Dunmaglas were the first clan to join the Confederacy of Clan Chattan (the Confederacy allowed greater protection for its constituent clans). Petty was the original home of the Mackintoshes, chiefs of Clan Chattan. In early history the Macintoshes were Tosheachs or Chamberlains of Petty.[5]

Recent research by this author on the family tree of the Douglas/Hamilton family shows William de Douglas as being married to a sister of Freskyn de Kerdale, Margaret de Kerdale. They had six sons: Brice de Douglas, Alexander de Douglas, Archibald Lord Douglas, Henry de Douglas, Hugh de Douglas, and Freskyn de Douglas.

After its forfeiture by Archibald Douglas, Earl of Moray, in 1455, the land of Strathnairn was for some time in the hands of the crown. Then it was owned by the Ogilvies of Banff and later was sold to Sir John Campbell of Cawdor in about 1535.

Archibald Douglas, the eldest son of William de Douglas, possessed Hailes in Midlothian (before 1198). This was close to the Freskyns in Strathbroc in West Lothian. Moreover, the ecclesiastical rank held by Douglas’ brother Brice as prior of Lesmahagow (near Douglasdale) suggests a residence in the south of Scotland before the move of Freskyn and the Douglas brothers to Moray.

The evidence to date points to the fact that Freskyn of Kerdale was a Laird in Moray and that he was a near relation of the Douglas family. Several seals, belonging to persons of the name of Stirling, are appended to the Deeds of Homage commonly called The Ragman Rolls, which were exacted by King Edward I of England (1272-1307) from the Scottish barons in 1292 and 1296 and are preserved in the Chapter House, Westminster. The box below discusses Sir John Stirling and the nature of his seals.


The seals of Sir John Stirling, around the year 1296, are quite different from those depicted on the traditional Stirling family shields and arms, and carry many of the hallmarks of both the Douglas and Moray shields. This extract from the book Stirlings of Keir elaborates further on Sir John Stirling and his seals.

“His estates lay in Moray; he might therefore have naturally assumed that Three Stars of Moray as arms of dependence, but why should he add to these the three stars of Douglas, unless they were arms of alliance, and through the female line he claimed a common ancestry? That common ancestry, so far as known, could only be through Freskyn de Kerdale, who was, on the one hand, the uncle of Bishop Bricius de Douglas, and on the other, the father in law of Sir Alexander Stirling, the progenitor of Sir John Stirling. The testimony of Sir John Stirling’s seal may therefore be added in support of what was formally stated in reference to Marjorie de Moravia, widow of Sir Alexander Stirling, being also the daughter of Freskyn de Kerdale, and strengthening the probability that he was a member of the De Moravia family, perhaps a grandson of the first Freskyn (Fresechinus fillius Ollec), who migrated from Pembroke in 1130 to Strathbrock in West Lothian and then to Duffus in Moray.

The Seal of Sir John Stirling of Moray, attached to the Ragman Roll of 1296, figured in The Stirlings of Keir by William Fraser. His seal differs from all other Stirling seals and the arms of the Stirlings of Calder. These are a black bar of three Buckles on a white shield that shows a Flemish influence to Alost”.

Shields of the the Stirlings of Keir and the Stirlings of Cadder

Source: Taken from the Folio of the Heraldic Manuscript of Lord Lyon Sir David Lindsay, Folio Copy of his manuscript of the Stirlings of Keir and the Stirlings of Cadder.

Shield of John Stirling of Moray

Source: Taken from a woodcut of Sir John Stirling of Moray that shows the three Douglas stars on the top of the shield and the three Moray stars on the bottom.[6]

The seals of Sir John Stirling of Moray (Johannes de Strivelyn) bear six mullets, three, two, and one, as appears from an annexed woodcut. Alexander de Striveling acquired lands in Moray before 1234 by marriage with a daughter of Freskyn de Kerdale, a near relative of the family de Moravia. Sir John was the son of that marriage. The mullets borne by him were the arms of the Moray family, and either through the intermarriage of his father, or from his being a vassal of that family, he assumed the mullets as arms of alliance or dependence. Thus there are three mullets (stars) for Douglas along the top of the woodcut and the three mullets (stars) of Moray below.

Research by the author suggests that the Barony of Kerdale covered an area from Dunmaglas (modern day Dunmaglass), stretching as far as Daviot and taking in Strathnairn. The shaded area in the map below represents the likely extent of the Barony of Kerdale.

James B. Sutherland and J. Mark Sutherland-Fisher
March 2015

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


[1] Pipe Roll Henry I, Michaelmas 1130 (Loughborough, 2012), pp. 107, 136.
[2] Archibald C. Lawrie (ed.), Early Scottish Charters, prior to A.D. 1153 (1905), p. 137, CLXXV Liber de Calchou, no. 382. Bannatyne Club Edition, p. 307.
[3] Charter 1206-1223: Episcopus ad instantian Freskini de Kerdal cocedit ecclefiam de Deventh(Daviot) ad fabrican ecclefie Cathedralis.
[4] William Fraser, The Douglas Book (Edinburgh, 1885), and The Thanes of Cawder (Spalding Club), p. 5.
[5] George Bain, The Lordship of Petty (1925), ch. III, p. 18.
[6] A copy of this woodcut is shown in William Fraser, Book of The Stirlings of Keir (Edinburgh, 1859), p. 14.

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The Fleming Family Charter Collection

This posting discusses the recent discovery of a set of medieval charters relating to the Fleming family of Biggar and Cumbernauld. It is hoped that these charters will in due course shed new light on this Fleming family and its influence in Scotland.


The Fleming family charter collection was donated to the University of Toronto’s Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library in 2014. Eric Robertson, the donor, is a private individual who is a collector, particularly of Scottish material. The charters have been in his possession for many decades. He acquired them as a young man from an Edinburgh bookseller.

The charter collection pertains to the Fleming family associated with Biggar and Cumbernauld. Readers of this blog will be familiar with this particular family as it has had a noteworthy influence on Scotland’s history. Blog postings authored by Charles Rigg, dated the 5th and 12th of December, examine the relationship between two members of this family — Mary Fleming and John, 5th Lord Fleming — and Mary, Queen of Scots. An earlier posting by Charles Rigg, dated the 24th of March 2014, highlights the involvement of these Flemings in the Biggar area in the 12th century.

Subsequently the family moved to Cumbernauld Castle during the 14th century, and continued to be associated with that area until Oliver Cromwell destroyed the castle in 1650. This was the subject of a blog posting written by Adam Smith and dated the 19th of May 2014.

The Nature and Significance of the Charters

The collection comprises 60 charters, written in Latin, that date from the 14th to the 17th century. Little is know about the exact content of the charters at this point. This will only become clear once they have been digitised and examined.

The documents are believed to be, for the most part, land charters that would have governed the change of ownership of land. The charters had been created in a range of different places. Edinburgh is the main location but others include Glasgow, Aberdeen, Scone, Biggar, Cumbernauld Castle, and even Paris.

The parties to the charters also vary widely. Almost all of the charters have, as one of the principal parties, a member of the Fleming family. The other parties are wide-ranging but include royalty such as David II, Robert III, James III, James IV, Charles II, and Mary, Queen of Scots. A copy of one of the charters is shown below.

Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, University of Toronto.

Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, University of Toronto.

There is interest among academic and local historians in the content of the charters. Such charters could not only potentially shed light on issues of land ownership, but also on the relationships between the principal parties to the agreements. Even the red wax seal pendants attached to the charters can provide information of interest to historians.

Just how significant this find may be for Scottish historical research is difficult to assess at present but moves are afoot to make their content more broadly available.

Next Steps

The Thomas Fisher Rare Books Library plans to digitise the charters over the coming months. They will then be made available to the St Andrews Institute of Scottish Historical Research. How these documents will be translated, examined, and made available to researchers and the public at large is currently under discussion.

Anne Dondertman and Alex Fleming
March 2015

Anne Dondertman is Associate Librarian for Special Collections and Director of the University of Toronto’s Thomas Fisher Rare Books Library.
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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Aberdeen and the Fleming: Part Two

This week’s post is the second and final instalment of PhD student Amy Eberlin’s look at the trade relationship between Aberdeen and Flanders in the Middle Ages.

The thirteenth century was a period of economic conservatism for Aberdeen. Unlike other Scottish burghs, Aberdeen’s economy was primarily dominated by the Low Countries. While Dundee and Leith diversified their commercial contacts, Aberdeen remained reliant upon trade with the cloth-producing Low Countries, particularly Flanders and Artois, for the continued success of their export trade. David Ditchburn and Marjory Harper argue that this was due to the importance of wool to Aberdeen’s trade: “Wool remained a much more important element in Aberdeen’s trade than it did in the trade of other towns and the main market for wool remained the cloth-producing towns of the Netherlands. And it was still in the Low Countries that Aberdonians acquired most of their imports.”[1] The importance of the Low Countries to Aberdonian trade, and to that of Scotland more widely, did not diminish after the thirteenth century.

David II’s capture at the Battle of Neville’s Cross in 1346 greatly impacted the ways in which Scotland dealt with both England and Flanders. Yet, it was this same situation which pushed Scotland’s merchants to the forefront of political life. Much of the revenue intended to pay off David II’s ransom came from the export duties of staple goods, such as wool, woolfells, and hides. This meant that the merchants of Scotland, the primary contacts in the exportation and importation of goods, gained an increased level of influence. “In 1357 the representatives of seventeen burghs met to choose delegates to discuss the ransom with the English. John Crabbe and William de Leith of Aberdeen were among those selected. In a parliament of 1367, when a small committee was chosen to carry on parliamentary business while the rest of the members returned home, men from Aberdeen were among those who remained.”[2] It is unsurprising that these Aberdonian merchants chose to remain, as Aberdeen had particularly strong trading links with continental Europe. Its rural hinterland produced wool, woolfells, and hides, while the burgh provided fish, particularly salmon, for export.[3] Fourteenth century burgh statutes from Aberdeen reflect this interest in maintaining a successful economy based upon trade. The majority of these statutes dealt with the strict regulation of burgh trade, in turn protecting the considerable economic interests of the burgh in their trading.[4] The restrictions governed the quantity, quality, and selling of goods in the market. Goods had to be brought to the market on the same day, the proper tolls paid, and publicly displayed to give the townspeople an equal opportunity to purchase the goods.[5] The membership of Aberdeen’s merchant guild also reflected the importance of overseas trading to the burgh. By the fourteenth century, the guild became focussed upon international trade. Its membership was restricted to those who exported the staple goods of wool, woolfells, and hides, and excluded craftsmen from its ranks.[6] Scottish overseas merchants and traders emerged as major players in local and national politics during the fourteenth century. In Aberdeen, they were loath to become any less significant over the following centuries.

The fifteenth century saw piracy greatly threaten the success of Scotland’s export trade. This was not a new threat and had impacted the exportation of Scottish goods to continental Europe for centuries. The threat of piracy was as much of a danger to trade as actual pirates. Scottish merchant vessels would take refuge in friendly ports to escape having their ships and goods seized and plundered by pirates.

An Early Example: 7 September 1326

“Commission of inquiry into the case of John de Wygemore, Archibald de Craberry, and other Scottish merchants, who, when they with some scholars and merchandise in a Flemish vessel bound to Flanders, through fear of pirates, were brought for safety into Scarborough by William Punche, an English mariner, along | with John Stuffe of Aberdeen, another Scottish merchant who had likewise taken refuge there from the pirates from another vessel, were all arrested by the sheriff of York and the guardians of Scarborough, and put in prison.” (CDS, iii, pp. 161-162)

As David Ditchburn has argued, the “condemnatory thrust of historical argument” about Scottish piracy overlooks the vulnerability of Scotland’s export trade, as most of it was imported or exported by sea.[7] This made Aberdeen and its trade particularly vulnerable to the dangers of piracy. References to Aberdonian merchants seeking restitution from the English crown for the illegal seizure of goods bound for Flanders can be found throughout the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.[8] The Scots were, by no means, innocent of their own acts of piracy. “… Scottish piracy led not only to the long-running dispute with the Hansa, but also to protracted, though never simultaneous, interruptions in Scottish trade with the three Netherlandish counties of Holland, Zeeland and Flanders between 1409 and 1427.”[9] The fifteenth century, and its first decade in particular, was characterised as a period of acute insecurity in the North Sea. Merchants who traded in the North Sea region, irrespective of their nationality, had all suffered considerable losses during this period. The Scots, and their acts of piracy, contributed to this “atmosphere of insecurity.”[10] For Aberdeen, the fifteenth century saw Edinburgh and its port in Leith dominate overseas exports. This was a stark contrast with Aberdeen’s former contribution to Scotland’s wider export trade. “In the 1390s, in terms of the total customs dues accounted for at the exchequer, Aberdeen handled the third largest volume of trade, but by the 1400s Aberdeen’s receipts were outstripped by those collected at Edinburgh, Perth, Dundee, Linlithgow, and frequently Haddington too.”[11] Facing the continuing threat of piracy and a diminishment in its contribution to Scotland’s export trade, Aberdeen was no longer at the forefront of Scotland’s trade with Flanders.[12]

From its very start, Aberdeen has been intimately connected, through its river and seaside location, to Scotland’s export trade with continental Europe. Flemings, like John Crabbe (as discussed in the 15 November 2013 blog post), were attracted to Aberdeen for its central role in Scotland’s economy and its production of staple goods, particularly wool. While Edinburgh eventually surpassed Aberdeen in the 1500s as the dominant trading burgh of Scotland, the importance of Aberdeen’s harbour in the present day speaks to the burgh’s continued influence in the Scottish economy. The economic import of medieval Aberdeen was based upon its function as an international trading centre, which dealt with the goods and merchants of the Low Countries, particularly Flanders. It was in this, at time tumultuous, trade relationship where we observe the many connections between the Fleming and Aberdeen.

Amy Eberlin
March 2015


[1] David Ditchburn and Marjory Harper, ‘Chapter Seventeen: Aberdeen and the Outside World,’ in eds. E. Patricia Dennison, David Ditchburn and Michael Lynch, Aberdeen Before 1800: A New History, (East Linton, 2002), pp. 386-387.
[2] Elizabeth Ewan, ‘The Age of Bon-Accord: Aberdeen in the Fourteenth Century,’ in ed. J.S. Smith, New Light on Medieval Aberdeen, (Aberdeen, 1985), p. 34.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid., p. 38.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Ibid., p. 40; ed. P.J. Anderson, Charters and other Writs illustrating the History of the Royal Burgh of Aberdeen, (Aberdeen, 1980), no. 3; ed. W.C. Dickinson, Early Records of the Burgh of Aberdeen, 1317, 1398-1407, (1957), p.104); Elizabeth Ewan, ‘The Burgesses of Fourteenth Century Scotland: A Social History,’ (Unpublished PhD Thesis, University of Edinburgh, 1984), pp. 128-130.
[7] David Ditchburn, ‘Piracy and War at Sea in Late Medieval Scotland,’ in ed. T.C. Smout, Scotland and the Sea, (Edinburgh, 1992), p. 35.
[8] Two examples can be found in CDS, iv, pp. 33 and 229.
[9] David Ditchburn, ‘Bremen Piracy and Scottish Periphery: The North Sea World in the 1440s,’ in eds. Allan I. Macinnes, Thomas Riis, and Frederik Pederson, Ships, Guns and Bibles in the North Sea and Baltic, c. 1350-1700, (East Linton, 2000), p. 3.
[10] David Ditchburn, ‘The pirate, the policeman and the pantomime star: Aberdeen’s alternative economy in the early fifteenth century,’ Northern Scotland, 12 (1992), pp. 19-34.
[11] Ibid., p. 25.
[12] This does not mean that interactions between Flemings and Aberdonians, either in Scotland or Flanders, stopped in the fifteenth century. Indeed, the relationship between the two regions continued into the many following centuries with Flemings appearing in the Extracts from the Council Register of the Burgh of Aberdeen, 1570-1625, Aberdeen Shore Work Accounts, 1596-1670, and in the Aberdeen Burgess Lists.

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Aberdeen and the Fleming: Part One

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

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

The Burgh of Aberdeen

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

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

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

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

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

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

Flemings in Aberdeen

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

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

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

Amy Eberlin
27 February 2015

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


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

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Doctoral Research on Flemish Related Issues

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

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

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

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

Alex Fleming
February 2015

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

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The Flemish on the Firth of Tay – Part 2

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

Flemings in Perth

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Flemings in Rural Tayside

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

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

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

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

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

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

David Dobson
February 2015

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Exchequer Rolls of Scotland

Register of the Privy Council of Scotland

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

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



Edinburgh City Archives

Perth and Kinross Archives

National Archives of Scotland

University of St Andrews Library

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The Flemish on the Firth of Tay – Part 1

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

The Trading Background

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Possible Flemish Surnames in Medieval Dundee

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

David Dobson

February 2015

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


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


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

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John, 5th Lord Fleming

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

In support of the imprisoned queen: 1567-72

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Charles Rigg

December 2014

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


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

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

[iii] Ibid, p. 120

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

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

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

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

[viii] Alison Weir, pp. 344-345

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

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

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

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

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

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

[xv] Gordon Donaldson, p. 74

[xvi] Gordon Donaldson, p. 59

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Mary Fleming and Mary Queen of Scots

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


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

Janet Fleming and James IV. Images: Wikimedia Commons.

Janet Fleming and James IV. Images: Wikimedia Commons.

Life in France: 1547–61

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

William Maitland. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

William Maitland. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mary Fleming in Perspective

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Charles Rigg
December 2014

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


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

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