The Armstrong Family and its Possible Flemish Origins

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

Settlement in England

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Box 1: A Lincolnshire Connection?

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

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

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

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

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

The Armstrongs in Scotland

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Box 2: DNA Analysis

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bob Armstrong
September 2014

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


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

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The blog series on Scotland and the Flemish People resumes today and postings will take place every Friday. Over the coming weeks we will be including, from time to time, postings relating to Scottish families that may have Flemish roots. The goal is to provide an opportunity for such families, or their researchers, to set out evidence – be it historical, genealogical, or genetic – bearing on their Flemish origins. If you would like to share your family research, highlighting evidence linking it back to Flanders, please contact Alex Fleming at the following EM address:

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Dowie: A Scottish Surname with Flemish Roots?

Tracing any modern Scottish family line directly back to late medieval Flanders is not easy. Fortunately, the adoption of a place name to reflect the bearer’s place of origin was common practice at that time. So whilst the surname Fleming points to the bearer or his forebears coming from the geographical region called Flanders, it is to the cities, towns and villages of Flanders that we can look for connections that root a family to a specific locality. In this posting Gary Dowie summarises research into his own family that he is able to trace back to medieval Flanders.


The vast majority of present day Dowie families appear to hail from just one extended family. This family was living in Fife, Kinross-shire and Perth from at least the early fifteenth century. Their likely ancestor was Andrew Dowy, a merchant of Perth who was alive in 1441. This finding takes the records for the surname back some 172 years earlier than the earliest reference cited by George F. Black.[1] Like numbers of other Scottish families the Dowies can now be found in many corners of the world. At issue here, and the subject of much research underlying this posting, is whether the family had originally come from Flanders.

The Flemish Connection

In 1441 Andrew Dowy appears in the records of the High Court of Holland pleading, alongside his fellow merchants from Perth, for compensation after their ship had run aground in the Meuse Estuary.[2] This reference provides the first clear evidence of a link between the Dowie family and the Low Countries. Andrew’s presence in Holland as a merchant from Perth is noteworthy, as the town of Douai in Flanders is one of the two most cited sources for the surname.[3] Douai, which is pronounced as ‘Dou-ay’ or ‘Dow-ay’ in English, lay within the County of Flanders until it was ceded to France in 1668 and now lies in the Nord Departement of the north-eastern tip of modern day France.

The Low Countries, including Flanders, was the economic power house of northern Europe during the Middle Ages and their merchants travelled far and wide to turn a profit. Flanders was famous for its cloth production and Douai was no exception.

As a merchant, Andrew Dowy was amongst the higher echelons of Perth’s small community. The burgesses and merchants ran the burgh by controlling its trade: setting commodity standards along with their prices and extracting tolls for the Crown. It is well documented that Scotland’s burghs were largely populated by immigrants from England, Flanders, France and Germany. Some burghs were renowned more than others for their particularly high concentrations of Flemings, namely Aberdeen, Berwick-upon-Tweed and Perth.[4] Perhaps it is not surprising therefore to find evidence that Flemish merchants from Douai traded and settled in Scotland from an early date.

Continental wool merchants buying sheep. Museum of the National Bank of Belgium (NBB).

Continental wool merchants buying sheep. Museum of the National Bank of Belgium (NBB).

The first recorded Douaisien merchant is William de Doway. He owned property in Berwick-upon-Tweed and was prevented from travelling to Scotland by Henry III, King of England in 1244.[5] This seems to be the result of a stand-off between Henry III and Alexander II, the Scottish King, over a (false) rumour of an anti-English alliance with the French King, Louis IX.

Further records list a John de Dowaco, (of Douai or Douay) a merchant in the employ of John de Soules, the sheriff of Berwick-upon-Tweed in 1291.[6] Also, Henry of Doway, was a juror of Berwick in 1334,[7] and a William de Ways (Deways?), a knight, was at Dunbar in 1342.[8] Just a few miles down the coast there was a wool merchant named William Dewe trading in Newcastle-upon-Tyne in 1373, perhaps a relative of the William de Doway noted in 1244.

If we are looking for evidence of Flemish merchants from Douai trading and settling in Scotland, these men provide it. For their respective toponymic surnames to then develop into the hereditary family name Dowie, at least one of them would need to have left his own male progeny to follow him. From their number it would not be unreasonable to assume that this happened.

A Move from Berwick-upon-Tweed to Perth

From 1296, the Scottish Wars of independence engulfed the extremely important border town of Berwick-upon–Tweed in a violent tug of war between England and Scotland. Both states fought for control of this strategic fortress, its lucrative trade and its tax revenues. If the English could not wrest possession from the Scots, their aim was to destroy Scotland’s pre-eminent trading port with Europe. The devastation wrought, combined with outbreaks of plague, led to depopulation and reduced the town to near ruin. Under these circumstances, it would be quite understandable for many of the town’s merchants to seek safer havens such as Perth, just 80 miles north-west by sea.

Although no hard evidence exists of a connection between these Berwick-upon-Tweed based merchant-burgesses and the Perth merchant Andrew Dowy, their dates and locations are so close that it is a possibility.

Map showing Douaisien trade and migration to Perth. © G.Dowie.

Map showing Douaisien trade and migration to Perth. © G.Dowie.

English Douaisiens

The Douaisiens in Scotland were not unique. There were many people named ‘de Douai’ who lived and settled in England from the late twelfth through to the late fifteenth century. It is quite possible that one of these Flemish Douaisiens or their English born offspring could have migrated north to Berwick-upon-Tweed or even directly to Perth during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. This was especially the case in York and the East Riding of Yorkshire, where their surname was often recorded as Doway. One early family is found in Barmston in Holderness which may have had links to the Douaisiens in Newcastle and Berwick (see the map above).

The process of first settling in England before moving up to Scotland can be seen time and again in the history of immigrant Anglo-Norman families arriving from Europe around this period. This has been very well documented by Ritchie, Barrow, Platt and Blakely.[9] Whilst these findings cannot provide a conclusive documented family tree detailing descent from father to son over many generations, it would be surprising if such a move had not happened.


The research underlying this blog posting suggests a connection between the modern Dowie family and the early Douaisiens. The Dowie family’s close association with the famous Mercer family of Perth could also be of significance as the latter had ties to the Douglas and Murray families (both of known Flemish origin). These are both families that claim they came from either Flanders or the Low Countries.[10]

The fact that Andrew Dowy had acquired a surname before 1441 suggests that it had been used by more than one previous generation of his family. This would take formation of the surname back to at least the middle of the fourteenth century – a time that is generally considered to predate the Gaelic community’s adoption of stable hereditary surnames. More importantly, with Douaisiens and their English- or Scottish-born descendants well-established at Berwick-upon-Tweed and elsewhere in England, the hereditary surname Doway was already in use.

Based purely on geography, the Gaelic route often cited in surname dictionaries as the source of the surname Dowie makes sense.[11] But significantly the research summarised here does not appear to support this and somewhat surprisingly reveals that what at first appears to be a very Scottish surname may in fact be Flemish in origin.

In the absence of finding any more conclusive written evidence to support either the Gaelic or Douaisien source, DNA research may one day provide a definitive answer as to the origin of the Dowie family, be it Flemish, Gaelic or something entirely different.

Gary Dowie
September 2014

Gary Dowie is a practising Chartered Landscape Architect who has worked extensively on historical restoration projects (some with financing from the Heritage Lottery Fund). He is a member of the Scottish Genealogy, Fife Family History, Scottish History, and Scottish Place-Name Societies. His genealogical research and one-name study of the Dowie family has absorbed him for many years.

This is a short abstract from an article with the same title first published in:
The Scottish Genealogist, Vol. LXI No.2, June 2014.
Available from:


[1] G. F. Black, The Surnames of Scotland: their origin, meaning, and history (New York: The New York Public Library, 1946).
[2] R. W. G. Lomarts, Memorialen van het Hof (den Raad) van Holland, Zeeland en West-Friesland, van den secretaris Jan Rosa (Leiden: Rechtshistorisch Instituut, 1882), p. 85.
[3] Reaney, The Origins of English Surnames (Fifth impression ed.) (London: Routledge, 1979); Kegan Paul & Wilson, A Dictionary of English Surnames (3rd rev. edition) (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997).
[4] Chalmers, Caledonia: or, a Historical and topographical account of North Britain… (New edition ed., Vol. II) (Paisley: Alexander Gardner, 1887), vol II.; G. F. Black, The Surnames of Scotland; Reid, ‘Trade, Traders and Scottish Independence’, Speculum vol. 29 (1954).
[5] Bain (ed.), Calendar of Documents relating to Scotland, vol. I. 1108-1272, (1881), p. 298; Innes (ed.), Registrum de Dunfermelyn (1842), p. 72, no. 120; Stevenson, ‘Trade with the South, 1070-1513′, in The Scottish Medieval Town (ed. Lynch, Spearman and Stell) (Edinburgh: John Donald, 1988), pp. 101, 104.
[6] Bain (ed.), Calendar of Documents relating to Scotland, vol. II. 1272-1307 (1884), p. 131.
[7] Ibid, vol.III. 1307-1357 (1887), pp. 202-203.
[8] Innes (ed.), Liber Sancte Marie de Melros (1837), vol II, p. 396
[9] Ritchie, The Normans in Scotland (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1954); Barrow, The Anglo-Norman Era in Scottish History (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1980); Platts, Scottish Hazard, 2 vols. (London: Procter Press, 1985-90); Blakely, The Brus Family in England and Scotland 1100-1295 (Woodbridge: The Boydell Press, 2005).
[10] Mercer, The Mercer Chronicle (London: For Private Circulation, 1866); Anderson, The Scottish Nation, vol. III. (Edinburgh and London: A. Fullerton & Co., 1863).
[11] Hanks, The Oxford Names Companion (First ed.) (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002). Bibliography, p. 183. Suggests the surname Dowie is a variant of the surname Duffy (or Duffie) – the Anglicised form of the Irish Gaelic Ó Dubhthaigh, meaning ‘descendant of Dubhthach’.

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Scotland and the Flemish People Project Workshop – 5 June 2014

On 5 June 2014, the Scotland and the Flemish People Project held a workshop at the New Arts Building of the University of St. Andrews. Attending the event were experts in varying aspects of Scottish, Flemish and Low Countries history, as well as genealogy and genetic genealogy. The workshop was made up of four informal panels led by Jan Dumolyn (Ghent), Alex Fleming, David Ditchburn (Trinity College Dublin), and Graeme Small (Durham). Each panel comprised a presentation and discussion on a specific topic related to the relationship between Scotland and Flanders.

Panel 1: Jan Dumolyn (University of Ghent) led the first panel session on ‘Flemish Settlement in Medieval Scotland.’ His presentation and the resulting discussion primarily focused on the push and pull factors for Flemish migration to Scotland. Jan began by stressing the importance of medieval Flanders, particularly its economic dominance in Northern Europe. He then argued for the influence of a demographic boom as a push factor for Flemings to move to Scotland. Between 1050 and 1350 the population of Flanders tripled to some 800,000 people. The available resources in the region were overwhelmed by such a population growth which prompted the movement of peoples to neighbouring regions. The professional skills of these Flemings were important as a pull factor for their migration to Scotland. Jan suggested that Flemings chose Scotland for its need of highly skilled professionals, particularly weavers, fullers, and shearers, and its small population size. Jan also argued that in the 16th and 17th centuries socio-economic push and pull factors were primarily responsible for the migration of Flemings to Scotland, rather than religious persecution. The issue of religious persecution as a push factor was the subject of much discussion. Silke Muylaert (Kent) supported the view that the numbers of Flemings who fled to England because of persecution was relatively small. The discussion also highlighted the need to define clearly the borders of Flanders as these had changed over the course of six centuries. It was also agreed that an analysis of Scottish toponyms would be helpful going forward.

Panel 2: Alex Fleming, a part sponsor of and researcher in the Scotland and the Flemish People project, gave the group an introduction to the work that he and others had been doing on ‘Tracing the Flemings in Scotland.’ This involved liaising with many local and family history specialists throughout Scotland (with the assistance of John Irvine). Among those who contributed to the work was Charles Rigg, who has undertaken noteworthy research into twelfth century Flemish immigrants to Upper Clydesdale. Similarly George English has made an important contribution on the issue of religious emigration from Flanders.

F. Lawrence Fleming spoke about his research on the genealogy of those with the surname Fleming. His work was inspired by the discovery of an eleventh century man named ‘de Flamande’, believed to have been a Fleming in the train of William the Conqueror and the person from which those with the present day surname ‘Fleming’ largely descend. However Jan Dumolyn argued that this is quite unlikely due to the lack of written sources, and warned against ‘argumentum ex silentio’: basing conclusions upon the absence of evidence demonstrating another explanation.

The discussion moved onto an assessment of Beryl Platts’ controversial work on Flemish origin families using heraldic evidence. Suspicion of this methodology was fairly widespread among the group. It was pointed out by Alexander Stevenson that Platts had applied the evidence to the eleventh and twelfth centuries, before heraldry had properly matured, and Michael Brown argued that heraldic relationships could be formed through landholding rather than through families, e.g. the Lindsays and the Stewarts, their overlords, used the same heraldic symbols.

On the question of immigration patterns David Dobson described how, between 1500 and 1700, a small number of Flemish immigrants in Scotland had come as two-stage migrants from cities such as Norwich and London. A correlation may be found between the names of Flemings in Edinburgh and Leith, for example, and these southern cities, using documentary evidence such as church records.

Another way of identifying the Flemish footprint in Scotland is through an examination of place names. Alex Woolf highlighted the work of his former PhD student Peadar Morgan, who compiled a database of ethnonym Scottish place names.[[1]]

Another topic of discussion was military history, which can also shed light on the Flemish footprint – mottes are believed to have been constructed by Flemings in Clydesdale, for instance. The Flemish may also have left their mark on agriculture. Flemish expertise may have been sought by lords looking to improve the cultivation of their land.

Alasdair MacDonald, who is working with Alex Fleming to trace Flemish families in Scotland, explained how DNA analysis can potentially be used to validate an origin. A DNA project is now well underway, hosted by the Family Tree DNA company. It is hoped that DNA testing can in due course confirm the Flemish origins of Scottish families, such as Murray, Sutherland, Lindsay and Douglas, where question marks exist at present.[[2]]

Alasdair cautioned against a populist approach to such analysis and instead stressed the need for academic rigour.

Our participants getting involved.

Our participants getting involved.

Panel 3: David Ditchburn (Trinity College Dublin) led the third panel titled ‘Trade Links and Commercial Exchange.’ He began by exploring the close business connections between the Scots and Bruges in the medieval period. David stressed the point that while Scottish historiography treats it as such, Flanders and the Low Countries are not synonymous. The overlapping jurisdictions of the Low Countries had an important impact upon relations between Scotland and Flanders. Similarly, the economics of trade were vital within the political machinations of Scotland, Flanders, England, and France in the medieval period. David highlighted the problems involved in using the customs records (Exchequer Rolls of Scotland) for reconstructing the history of Scotland’s economy. Another important topic covered in David’s presentation was the movement of Scotland’s staple between Bruges, Middelburg, and, finally, Veere in the sixteenth century. He argued that the movement of the staple was an effort to gain further trade privileges for Scottish merchants. There was a broad ranging discussion on commercial exchange with particular emphasis placed on the community of Scots in the Low Countries.

Panel 4: The final session of the day, ‘Diplomacy and Cultural Exchange, was led by Professor Graeme Small. He is an expert on the politics and culture of the Burgundian Netherlands, of which Flanders was a part.[[3]]

Graeme raised several broad cultural issues for discussion. He speculated on whether the exchange between Scotland and Burgundy in the later middle ages was essentially one way. Specifically he believed that Scotland was pulled more and more into mainstream European culture through diplomatic and cultural links with Burgundy.[[4]]

These links were enabled and made manifest by ‘conductors’ or ‘brokers’ between the two states, a notable example being Anselm Adornes, a Burgundian diplomat and counsellor of James III of Scotland.

Of particular note was the example of Mary of Guelders, niece of Philip the Good of Burgundy and queen to James II. At issue is whether, when Mary was physically transferred to Scotland, she also brought her new home more deeply into the cultural orbit of the Burgundian dukes. Graeme suggested that the establishment of Mary’s household under the Scot David Lindsay rather than under a Burgundian was symptomatic of the lack of cultural influence she exerted. However, architectural historian Richard Fawcett discussed her patronage of the Trinity College Kirk (no longer extant), as well as the remodelled presbytery of St Giles Cathedral, both in Edinburgh. Furthermore, Richard argued that the architecture of Trinity College was an example of Burgundian style with a Scottish accent: a visual representation of the cultural fusion stimulated by Mary of Guelders. The architectural theme continued with an examination of how continental styles were generally influential in late medieval and early modern Scotland. For example Stirling Castle has connections with the ducal palace of Nancy, and the telescopic form of the parish church of Dundee bears a resemblance to Low Countries structures such as Utrecht Cathedral.

This raised the question of just how influential Flemish and, more generally, Burgundian culture really was in Scotland. Many of the objects bought in and imported from the staple at Bruges were not necessarily made there, as illustrated by the movement of Robert Bruce’s Parisian tombstone through Flanders before being shipped to Scotland. Graeme stressed the need to think more broadly when considering potential cultural links, to include such institutional routes as universities, for example Leuven, which attracted several notable Scots. Furthermore, Scots were also subject to alternative cultural influences: for example David II and James I both spent formative periods at the English court.

Despite this, it is clear that Bruges exerted a powerful commercial influence as an entrepôt at which Scotland’s elites, without a developed industrial base of their own, sought the best quality luxuries available. Sources such as the ledger of Andrew Halyburton, a Scottish merchant based in the Low Countries, detail the various imports of Scottish clients. Graeme concluded by suggesting that historians need to look to the mercantile classes, and to trade, to get a fuller picture of the long-term and enduring connections between Scotland and Flanders.

Concluding Discussion: After an interesting day of lively discussion and debate, involving experts on fields as varied as social, economic, and cultural history, genealogy, art, and architecture, the workshop drew to a close with concluding remarks led by Professor Roger Mason. While many aspects of the Flemish influence in medieval and early modern Scotland had been discussed, it was agreed that place name and archaeological evidence will also be necessary in order to create a comprehensive study, with trade and commerce holding everything together. It is hoped that a more open conference will be held in late 2015 or early 2016, accompanied by a published volume of essays. Alex Fleming also requested that workshop participants be receptive to contributing to the blog series over the coming year (the blog will resume in September).

The Scotland and Flemish People Project would like to thank all of those who participated in making the workshop a success.

Post-workshop dinner at Zizzi.

Post-workshop dinner at Zizzi.

Amy Eberlin & Morvern French
20 June 2014

[1] See
[2] Further information is available at
[3] See Graeme Small, ‘The Scottish Court in the Fifteenth Century: A View from Burgundy’, in Werner Paravicini (ed.), La Cour de Bourgogne et l’Europe: Le Rayonnement et les Limites d’un Modèle Culturel (2013).
[4] See Alasdair MacDonald, ‘Chivalry as a Catalyst of Cultural Change in Late Medieval Scotland’, in Rudolf Suntrup and Jan R. Veenstra (eds.), Tradition and Innovation in an Era of Change (2001).

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The Flemings of Cumbernauld Castle

Cumbernauld Castle, the home of an important medieval Fleming family, occupied a strategic position in the centre of Scotland. In its day the castle was probably one of the largest in Scotland. Today not much can be seen of its remains but it is hoped that shortly to be commissioned archaeological research will shed light on the size and structure of the castle. This blog posting, mainly the work of Adam Smith, looks at the history of the castle and the Flemings that occupied it.

The castle and other structures

Cumbernauld castle, built by a Fleming family in the 14th century, would have been one of the largest castles in Scotland in its day, covering some 9 acres of land (see mock up below of how the castle may have looked). Likely the castle would have initially comprised a strong stone tower in the form of an L-Plan (a rectangular block with a wing projecting at the end of one of the long sides) with timber or stone outhouses attached. Today not much of it remains apart from a small section of its original wall.

Sketch of Cumbernauld Castle c. 1550 (

Sketch of Cumbernauld Castle c. 1550 (

Some of the stone from the castle was used to build Cumbernauld House (see photo below), a country house that was constructed in 1731 for John Fleming, the 6th Earl of Wigtown. The house sits on the former grounds of the castle and is a category A listed building. During the 20th century it went through a range of uses, including office space for the now defunct Cumbernauld Development Corporation. The house has recently been restored and developed into flats under strict regulations set by the current council.

Entrance of Cumbernauld House (Robert McAllen,

Entrance of Cumbernauld House (Robert McAllen,

Another interesting feature of the area around the castle was a motte and bailey castle that was constructed by the Comyn family. Today only the motte remains and this is shown in the photo below. The Cumbernauld area was originally part of the Comyn’s barony of Kirkintilloch.

Cumbernauld Motte (Texas Radio and Big Beat; No Were Made From The Original;

Cumbernauld Motte (Texas Radio and Big Beat; No Were Made From The Original;

The Fleming family and the castle

The Comyns, were one of the most powerful families in Scotland and the chief supporter of Edward I of England in Scotland during the early stages of the Wars of Independence. Robert the Bruce met John Comyn, head of the family, at Greyfrairs Kirk in Dumfries in 1306. The two argued and Bruce stabbed and killed Comyn. Robert Fleming was one of two companions to Bruce that day, and a staunch supporter of him. To provide proof that Comyn was dead Fleming cut off his head in order to “let the deed shaw”, a Fleming family motto ever since.

Robert Fleming came from the Fleming family of Biggar (the subject of a blog posting on March 24, 2014), a well-established family. Robert was the son of the Lord of Biggar. Robert died prior to Bannockburn but a grateful Bruce knighted his son, Malcolm. Malcolm was also granted the barony of Kirkintilloch and a significant amount of former Comyn land.

Sir Malcolm Fleming came under threat, after Bruce died in 1329, from Edward Balliol and Scottish lords of the Comyn faction (with the support of English king Edward III). This threat intensified following the battle of Halidon Hill in 1333 and an English invasion. But Sir Malcolm survived and his son, also a Sir Malcolm, subsequently inherited the barony. Around 1371 he turned his attention to a consolidation of the barony and centering its activities towards the more strategic Cumbernauld and away from Kirkintilloch. As a result Cumbernauld castle was built.

The castle played host to a number of royal visitors over the years, including Mary Queen of Scots. It was during her visit on 26 January 1562 that the Great Hall of the castle collapsed (while the Queen and her entourage were out hunting). 7 or 8 men were killed. The Queen visited the families of the men killed or injured in the accident. The Fleming link with Mary was very close because one of her four close companions (the four Maries) was the daughter of Lord Fleming, a descendant of Sir. Malcolm.

Early in the 17th century, following the accession of James VI as James I of England the King acknowledged the services that the Flemings had rendered to himself and family. In 1606 the Earldom of Wigton was bestowed upon John, the 6th Lord Fleming.

The end of the Cumbernauld Castle came at the hands of Oliver Cromwell’s troops some time after 1650. It was one of the fortresses in Scotland that “Cromwell knocked about a bit”.

Excavations of the castle and plans for a new archaeology project

During the period 1963-4 an excavation was carried out by the Cumbernauld History Society on Cumbernauld Castle revealing the remains of a prison and cellar, a 15th century rubbish chute and a 17th century wellhouse. When the excavation was completed it was filled in again. In 1981-2 Cumbernauld and Kilsyth District Museums excavated another part of the castle. They discovered a cobbled courtyard, the base of a circular building and part of the wall.

It is hoped that the Friends of Cumbernauld House Park will soon commission a Community Archaeology Project to investigate the belief that Cumbernauld Castle was once one of the largest in Scotland. With the previous excavations having been completed in an era when the only mode of archaeological investigation was to dig, this project will utilise modern technology, for the first time presenting a complete picture of the Castle remains which lie hidden beneath Cumbernauld House Park. This investigation, and the resulting excavations, will not permanently uncover a new historic structure, but will serve a much greater community education purpose, enabling countless people from all over the world to learn of the history of Cumbernauld Castle and a glimpse into the life of its former Fleming residents.

Adam Smith and Alex Fleming

Adam Smith is Chair of the Friends of Cumbernauld House Park and the Chair of Cumbernauld Community Development Trust.



Millar, Hugo B. The History of Cumbernauld and Kilsyth from Earliest Times. Cumbernauld Historical Society, 1980

Cumbernauld Castle – Wikipedia

North Lanarkshire Council Archives

Cumbernauld Museum

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The Flemish Influence on Scottish Language

The Scottish relationship with Flanders — whether through trade, immigration or other forms of interaction — has led, among other things, to a significant impact of the Flemish tongue on the development of the Scottish language. Today’s blog posting, mainly the work of Chris Robinson, examines this linguistic influence.

The links between Scotland and the Flemish people, in its various dimensions, have been the subject of this blog series over the last eight months and they are also the focus of ongoing research at the St. Andrews Institute of Scottish Historical Research. Suffice to say here that the relationship between the two peoples has been sufficiently deep and lasting, commencing from as early as the 12th century, that there has been a linguistic influence at play running from the Flemish language to the Scots.

The two languages are closely related, which made borrowing very easy. In her History of Scots to 1700, Caroline Macafee[[1]] tells us that the Clyde valley was systematically feudalised by Malcolm IV in the mid-12th century and a colony of Flemings was planted, as evidenced in the place-names Thankerton, Wiston, Lamington and Symington. Such settlement by craftsmen was actively encouraged up until the 16th century.

The establishment of the early Scottish burghs was an important factor in the development of the Scots language. To the linguistic mix of Norse-influenced Northern Middle English, French and Gaelic, Flemish speakers added a substantial number of words. Macafee[[1]] cites guild and kirkmaister as examples of how their linguistic influence was reflected in burghal terminology. She also points out how they would have added their weight to the restoration of non-palatalised forms of words like kirk which in English became church. Old Norse is usually given as the source of these non-palatalised forms, but, as often happens, more than one influence was at work and Flemish had a supporting role.

The Flemish tongue is essentially a form of Dutch and this leads, in terms of linguistic analysis, to a difficulty in isolating the influence of the Flemish people and their language on Scots from that of the Dutch. Attempts have been made to disentangle the relative impacts of these two people groups. In the process of compiling A Dictionary of the Older Scottish Tongue and the Scottish National Dictionary — now available as the online Dictionary of the Scots Language ([[2]] — a huge body of data on the Scots language has been brought together. From this data, David Murison[[3]], editor of the Scottish National Dictionary from 1946-76, did sterling work on extracting and analysing the influence of Dutch and Flemish.

The Flemish influence on the Scots language is felt particularly in fields where there were significant areas of contact. As might be expected, the two most important were areas pertaining to trade and cloth. But there were a number of other areas worthy of note: agriculture, weights and measures, coinage, games, war and weapons. There is also a miscellaneous set of other Flemish-rooted words that have embedded themselves in Scots. Murison’s[[3]] work is noteworthy in that it makes a distinction between the Flemish linguistic influence in the 14th, 15th, 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. The tables below have been extracted from Murison’s work.

The words in these tables do not include Flemish rooted words that made their way into both the English and Scots vocabulary. The focus here is solely on the impact on the Scots language.




Weights and Measures



War and Weapons


The heyday of the economic relationship between Scotland and Flanders was the 14th and 15th century, so it is not surprising that many of the words pertaining to trade and cloth date to this period. By the same token the more troubled 16th century saw the transmission to Scotland of Flemish words relating to war and weapons.

In the earlier period the transmission mechanism was primarily through Flemish traders and immigrant Flemish weavers domiciled in Scotland. In the later period the influence may have come through Scottish mercenaries fighting in Northern Europe and bringing words back to Scotland.

There are major difficulties in separating out the influences of the Germanic languages on Scots. The Scandinavian languages, Low German, Dutch, and Flemish, have all played their parts, and it is not always clear whether a Scots word comes from one or more of these languages or whether it was there in Old English from the start. Too often the answer is a definite ‘don’t know’. However, the work of Murison[[3]] in separating out words of Flemish origin and relating them to their semantic fields and date of borrowing can help to focus the range of possibilities for the etymologist. Through their words, he brings to life the speakers and their daily business and demonstrates in parallel the economic and linguistic contribution of Flemings to Scotland.

Chris Robinson and Alex Fleming

Chris Robinson is the current Director of Scottish Language Dictionaries and guest lecturer at the University of the Highlands and Islands. She also teaches postgraduates at the University of Edinburgh.


[1] Macafee, Caroline (2005) The History of Scots to 1700 in Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd.
[2] Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd.
[3] Murison, David. “The Dutch element in the vocabulary of the Scots” in Edinburgh Studies in English and Scots, ed. A. J. Aitken, A. McIntosh,and H. Palsson (London, Longman, 1971).

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The Flemish of Glenshee, Part 2: The Easter Bleaton Settlement

The blog posting dated the 25th of April set out evidence pointing to the existence of a community of Flemish people in Glenshee during the later Middle Ages and early modern period. In this posting David Strachan examines the ruined settlement at Easter Bleaton, in the south of Glenshee, that local oral tradition suggests was occupied by Flemish people.

The Settlement

The fermtoun of Easter Bleaton in Glenshee (NO 144 586) is a substantial settlement well known to Scottish archaeologists as a result of a series of oblique aerial photographs taken by the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS) in 1987, and which first appeared in their North-east Perth: an archaeological landscape of 1990[[1]] along with results of a detailed survey of the structures.[[2]] The map below shows the position of the Easter Bleaton settlement.

Easter Bleaton

Despite these images being widely used in publications and talks to illustrate what at that time was being referred to a Medieval or Later Rural Settlement or MOLRS, the site remained unprotected until, in my role as Area Archaeologist, I proposed to Historic Scotland that the site be treated as one of national importance, and as a result the site became a Scheduled Monument in 2003.

The monument comprises the well-preserved remains of a deserted settlement of post-medieval date, a well-preserved fermtoun in pasture on a west-facing terrace at about 300m OD, at the foot of Knockali and immediately above the floor of Glenshee. The settlement extends over a distance of some 800m from north to south and includes at least fifty-two buildings, their walls reduced to the lowest courses or to stone footings, and a series of related structures including four kilns and a series of five retting ponds. The RCAHMS survey suggests at least eight separate units, possibly reflecting the properties of individual tenants. The photograph below shows a portion of the remains of the settlement.

Photo credit: Alexander Fleming.

Photo credit: Alexander Fleming.

The surviving remains appear as ‘Up(per) Bleaton’ on Stobie’s map The counties of Perth and Clackmannan of 1783,[[3]] and the settlement type is consistent with the transition from pre-Improvement nucleated townships to the dispersed farmsteads of the post-Improvement era. Improvements in the late 18th century saw significant changes in the way the uplands were used, and the end of the old settlement patterns of ferms/fermtouns. These were replaced by more regularised field patterns and a dispersed pattern of single farms. Remarkably little else is known of the site, however.

The evidence presented in the blog posted on the 25th of April suggests that there were families of Flemings and Spaldings (both families of Flemish origin) living in the south of Glenshee around the time that the settlement was inhabited, and reportedly Easter Bleaton appears a number of times in documentation referring to people with the name Fleming or Spalding.

The Wider Picture

Perth and Kinross Heritage Trust, in partnership with Northlight Heritage, is in the third year of a project to explore the archaeological heritage of Glenshee. While the focus of the Glenshee Archaeology Project is the early medieval turf longhouses that survive there, and in Strathardle, the project will also attempt in the longer term to draw together settlement patterns throughout Glenshee from the Bronze Age until the present. In addition to our excavations at Lair in Glenshee, the project has commissioned a study of the place names of the glen, and is working in partnership with Stirling University to produce an environmental history of the glen based on the study of pollen cores.

David Strachan
May 2014

David Strachan is Manager of the Perth and Kinross Heritage Trust.

[1] The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland. North-east Perth: an archaeological landscape. 113. No. 258. Bibliographic reference; RCAHMS. 1990.

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The Flemish of Glenshee, Part One

This is the third of a series of blog postings that examine the Flemish footprint in different parts of Scotland.  This one — prepared mainly by John Ballantine — focuses on Glenshee, an area that is situated in Perthshire in the foothills of the Highlands. On the face of it Glenshee seems an unlikely place to find a settlement of late medieval/early modern Flemish.

Most of the Flemish immigrants that have been traced so far as part of the Scotland and the Flemish People project have been found in the border areas with England, the larger Scottish cities, and the east facing coastal towns.  Identifying a group of Flemish in one of the Perthshire glens is therefore a matter of some intrigue.

There appears to have been a good number of people of Flemish origin in Glenshee from early in the 17th century until the industrial revolution took hold. In Scotland this began in late 18th century and early 19th century, and created an incentive for people to move from the rural areas such as Glenshee to cities like Dundee that could offer better employment opportunities.

If the local oral tradition is correct, the Flemish have also left a quite significant footprint on the slopes of the glen. Specifically, there is the remnant of a settlement, at Easter Bleaton in the south of Glenshee, that local people believe to have been occupied by the Flemish, possibly in the 17th and 18th centuries.  This settlement, and its possible Flemish links, will be the subject of Part 2 of this blog, which will be posted shortly.

Evidence of a Flemish Presence

It is difficult to find documentary evidence of a Flemish presence in Glenshee before the 17th century, although an interesting essay by Tod[[1]] points to Flemings in areas bordering the glen from the 16th century onwards. However during the 17th and 18th centuries there is much evidence of a Flemish presence in Glenshee, especially in the vicinity of Easter Bleaton.

For instance, there is a record of a Fleming and a Spalding paying rent for land around Easter Bleaton during the 1640s[[3]].  Later there is reference to a David Fleming’s testament registered in 1738 and another David Fleming’s testament in 1779. Both were from Easter Bleaton.[[1]]

Also J. Arnold Fleming[[4]] tells us: “Robert Fleming owned Glenshee, Bletoun, in the parish of Rattray.  There is a bond in his name dated 3rd June, 1600, and mentioned in P.C. Reg. vol. 649.  Sasine of Moness was granted to Alexander Fleming whom failing to Robert Fleming of Bletoun.  David Fleming was laird of Easter Bleaton on 6th July 1738.”

Looking more broadly at the area, there is a history of the Baron Robertsons of Straloch in Strathmore that tells of a Fleming with a wadset (mortgage) on the Baron’s Mains of Inverchrosky in Strathardle—which is close to Glenshee— giving unwelcome financial advice to the Baron in the early years of the 17th century.[[2]]
Then, in 1706, The Duke of Atholl had a list made of men able to bear firearms and other weapons. The list included six Flemings from the Glenshee area.[[5]]
There are more records for the Glenshee – Strathardle area during the 18th and early 19th centuries, including parish records and the 1841 census that shed light on the presence of Flemings. They appear at various locations around Glenshee, including Westertown in Blacklunans, Easter Bleaton, Dalrulzion, and Soilzarie. Interestingly, many of the Fleming families found in the glen during the 18th century are believed to be unrelated.

One family of Flemings from the area—that of Robert Fleming, the financier — see box below — went on to have a significant local and indeed global impact.

A Local Fleming Family of Note

One account suggests that Donald Fleming, who came from the Blair Athol area, was one of Lord George Murray’s Athollmen who fought on the side of Prince Charles Edward Stuart in the Jacobite uprising of 1745-46. After defeat at the Battle of Culloden, and the cleansing that followed, he may have sought the safety of Glenshee, where he had relatives. Another version of events is that Donald was born in the Dulruzion area of Glenshee to one of the Fleming families living there in the 1720s.[[6]] Donald subsequently farmed the area for a number of years. His son John took over the farm some time before 1841 and his other son, Robert, also farmed in the area.

Robert’s grandson, also a Robert Fleming, went on to become one of the shrewdest investors of his generation. His advice was sought by companies and financial institutions in Britain and abroad. He was instrumental in the formation of the first investment trust in Scotland. He became a financier of international renown, founding an international investment bank that bore his name for over a century.

Robert’s brother, John, became Provost of Aberdeen and its MP. He was subsequently Knighted. Robert, in turn, was grandfather to Peter Fleming, a renowned explorer, and Ian Fleming, the author of James Bond.

Glenshee was a special place for the Fleming family even after the later generations had moved away. It became a place of welcome refuge from town life. [[7]]

Another Flemish origin family that occupied these areas was the Spaldings.

One notable Glenshee-Strathardle member of this family was Colonel David Spalding who in 1576 took an army to fight in Flanders for the King of Spain. After seven years he returned with his plunder and built Ashintully Castle in the parish of Kirkmichael. In the early 1700s the family followed the Jacobite cause, lost its lands and dispersed (footnote A).

By 1841 many of the Glenshee-Strathardle Flemings and Spaldings had left the area. Remaining in the area were eleven Fleming families and four Spalding families. Between 1700 and 1799 in the parishes of Alyth and Kirkmichael there were 95 bans and marriages for Flemings and 51 for Spaldings.[[7]]

At the time of the 1841 census, these people were involved primarily in farming and related activities.

From Whence They Came

It seems unlikely that people came directly from Flanders and settled in Glenshee. One possibility is that they were descendants of the prominent Aberfeldy family, the Flemings of Moness or of their tenants or servants who may have adopted the family name. The Flemings of Moness were probably, in turn, a branch of the Flemings of Biggar family that later moved to Cumbernauld and built a castle there. Moness is some 30 miles from Glenshee.

A further possibility is that the Glenshee Flemish were immigrant weavers who originally settled in or near Perth, Dundee, or Aberdeen, and they or their descendants subsequently migrated to Glenshee. These three towns have good access to the sea and would have had a trading link with Flanders (see also blog dated the 21st of February 2014). The oral tradition of the area is that the Easter Bleaton settlement (see upcoming blog posting) comprised Flemish people who were fleeing religious persecution in Flanders.

The Spaldings were originally Flemish/Frisian settlers in Lincolnshire. They arrived during the period of Anglo Saxon settlements of eastern England. It is known that some of the Spaldings moved by sea to Scotland. A Spalding is recorded in 1294 as a magistrate in Aberdeen. Other family groups are known to have moved south from the Dee valley into Glenshee and perhaps a number of Spaldings did likewise.

But what would have been the attraction of Glenshee to the incoming Flemish people? The south end of the glen, where most of the Flemish appear to have settled, has gentle rolling hills and a fertile valley that would have been ideal for farming of various types, especially sheep. There is also a plentiful supply of fresh water.  Some of the earliest Flemish settlers would likely have been sheep farmers.  They may also have brought their aptitude for weaving into play in the glen.

John Ballantine and Alex Fleming
April 2014

John Ballantine is a local genealogist with a special interest in the families of the Blacklunans area in the south of Glenshee.

[1] Tod, Donald A. The Flemings of Athol and Glenshee.  An essay held in Dundee University Library. 1927
[2] Robertson, Rev. James. “The Barons Reid-Robertson of Straloch”. 1887
[4] Fleming, J. Arnold. Flemish Influence in Britain (vol 2, p.378), Jackson, Wylie & Co. (1930)
[5] The Athol Archive. Blair Castle. Perthshire.
[6] Smith, Bill. Robert Fleming 1845 – 1933.  Whittingehame House Publishers, 2000
[7] Stout, George A. Robert Fleming and the Dundee Merchants.  Friends of Dundee City Archives. Publication No. 1. 1999


[A] Flemish families were not the only ones that moved into Glenshee.  The glen appears to have been settled by new clans and families throughout the medieval period. One clan who moved from Deeside in the north was the Chattan Shaw – Farquharson clan . Members of this family became prominent landowners in Glenshee. Some like the Rattrays came from the south, whilst others, like the McGregors, came from the west.

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Baldwin and the 12th Century Incomers to Upper Clydesdale Revisited

For many years it was thought that Baldwin of Biggar was the same person as Baldwin the Fleming and that the latter was the progenitor of the Fleming family in Scotland. It is an important debate in that the Fleming line in question gave rise to the Earls of Wigtown, who have played a significant role in the history of Scotland. In this blog posting Charles Rigg examines the debate over whether they are the same person or two separate ones and other evidence relating to the 12th century ‘Flemish settlement’ of Upper Clydesdale. The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the St. Andrews Institute of Scottish Historical Research.

Baldwin from the perspective of 25 years ago

If I had been asked 25 years ago to write a supporting information pamphlet on ‘Baldwin and the 12th century incomers to Upper Clydesdale’, I would have been able to state unequivocally the Flemish character of Baldwin and the other 12th century incomers to Upper Clydesdale. My sources of references would rely heavily on the research and writings of Scottish medieval historians, A.A.M. Duncan, G.W.S. Barrow, and Graham Ritchie; but also archaeologist Christopher Tabraham, and specialists in the Flemish in Scotland, J. Arnold Fleming and Beryl Platts. In addition, from the 19th century, the works of Scottish historian George Chalmers, genealogist John Burke, and local historian William Hunter, would illuminate some of the thinking that influenced these later writers. From these points of references the following profile would take shape:

  • The first proprietor of Biggar of whom we know anything was Baldwin Flamingus, who, as was the usual custom of the period, took the title of Biggar from his lands.[[1]]
  • He was the younger son of Stephen Flandrenis of Bratton, Devonshire and was regarded as one of the most distinguished of the militant Flemings expelled by Henry II. He was an outstanding and renowned leader among the Flemings.[[2]]
  • The first record of him in Scotland was as a witness to a charter dated 1150 by Bishop Robert of St. Andrews.[[3]]
  • He was given the onerous sheriffdom of Lanarkshire by David I and kept that office under David’s successors, Malcolm IV and William the Lion.[[4]]
  • As lord of Biggar, he was the most important of a group who settled within a distance of ten miles of each other, giving their names to these villages – Crawfordjohn (John, stepson of Baldwin); Roberton (Robert); Lamington (Lambin, brother of Robert); Wiston (Wice); Symington (Simon Loccard); and Thankerton (Tancred).[[5]]
  • Baldwin had his castle built in Biggar on a grand scale, with a summit area measuring 32m by 20m; in contrast, his countrymen built more modest mottes, none exceeding 3 m in height.[[6]]
  • The Flemish character of the colony has long been recognized because the names of the settlers echoed with the Fleming names in Pembroke, in particular Wizo and Tancred.[[7]]
  • The arrival of these incomers was part of a systematic attempt by David I (1124-53) and Malcolm IV (1153-65) to implant a new and foreign aristocracy and gentry in which Baldwin was perhaps the organiser.[[8]]
  • It was from the cathedral church of Glasgow that the king took land for these incomers.[[9]]
  • Baldwin’s descendants abandoned the name they received from the locality (Biggar) and resumed the one derived from their nationality (Fleming) at the beginning of the 14th century.[[10]]

A more recent perspective on Baldwin

25 years on, the above profile requires careful reconsideration. A comparison of Duncan’s Edinburgh History of Scotland (1975) to Richard Oram’s New Edinburgh History of Scotland (2011), suggests a shift in interpretation. Duncan refers to the ‘Flemish Baldwin of Biggar’ as ‘lord of Biggar’ and the ‘most important of a group’ who settled within a distance of ten miles of each other in Upper Clydesdale.[[11]] In contrast, Oram appears less willing to acknowledge the Flemishness of Baldwin, referring to him only as ‘Baldwin of Biggar’ and is cautious in going no further than stating that the incomers to Upper Clydesdale were ‘probably of Flemish background’. On the question of Baldwin’s possible role in being the locator or populator responsible for finding these incomers, Oram reminds us of the ‘absence of documentary proof’ (my italics).[[12]]

In actual fact, such a difference of opinion is not new. As early as 1864 archaeologist George Vere Irving cast doubts on the assumption that ‘Baldwin of Biggar’ was the same person as the ‘Baldwin the Fleming’ who witnessed the 1150 charter. By tracing the male line started by Baldwin of Biggar down to the death of Nicholas of Biggar, about 1292, he was able to show two things. Firstly, Nicholas died without any male heirs, leaving behind a widow, Marie, and two heiresses, Margerie and Alde, as wards granted by Edward I of England to Robert, Bishop of Glasgow.[[13]] The significance of this is that it brought the male line started by Baldwin of Biggar to an end, something missed by Chalmers, Burke and to a certain extent Hunter. Secondly, the Fleming line was started with the marriage of a Patrick Fleming to one of Nicholas’ heiresses, most likely Margerie, the elder daughter. What we know about this Sir Patrick Fleming of Biggar is that he was the second son of Sir Robert Fleming, loyal supporter of Robert de Bruce, and younger brother of Malcolm, Earl of Wigtown.

Tracing Baldwin’s ancestry through to Nicholas and the beginning of a new male line is helpful in dismissing the argument put forward by George Chalmers in 1824 that at the beginning of the fourteenth century, Baldwin’s ancestors abandoned the name they received from the locality (Biggar) and resumed the one they derived from their nationality (Fleming). It is also helpful in reminding ourselves that there is no evidence to assert that ‘Baldwin of Biggar’ and ‘Baldwin the Fleming’ were one and the same person but from two different families.

More recently, Lauran Toorians in his reappraisal of 12th century Flemish settlements in Scotland highlighted the fact that we can only name with confidence two incomers to Clydesdale as being Flemings, Lambin and his brother Robert, as they were actually named as Flemings.[[14]] The case for adding Baldwin was not totally convincing and for the others, like Wico or Locard, it can only be said that they were ‘possible, but unproven Flemings.’[[15]] In other words, with the exception of Robert and Lambin, there is no hard evidence that these incomers to Upper Clydesdale were Flemings.

So where does this leave my revised information pamphlet on Baldwin and the 12th century incomers to Upper Clydesdale?

Baldwin – A revision

The research and writings of the past 25 years from medieval historians Richard Oram, Andrew Barrell, Lauran Toorians, and D.G. Scott provide some important sources of reference which need to be taken into account. Additionally, by accepting Irving’s well researched findings against those of Hunter’s completely unreferenced local history, a different profile takes shape:

  • The first proprietor of Biggar was Baldwin of Biggar.[[16]] Unfortunately, no charter exists to inform us when exactly he was granted the lordship of Biggar, what land was involved and under what terms.
  • The first record of Baldwin appears in 1162 when he is named as sheriff of Lanark.[[17]] This was an important position which carried the responsibility of ‘raising military forces, collecting crown revenues, conducting inquests and assizes, and administering justice’.[[18]]
  • We also know that his landed interest was not restricted to that from the king as he held land from fitz Allan to the west of Biggar which Baldwin then granted to Hugh of Pettinain; and his lands extended further west as a later charter gave notice that Baldwin, Sheriff of Lanark, gave to the Church of St Mirin, the parish and lands of Inverkip church.[[19]]
  • Two other incomers to upper Clydesdale at this time were Flemings, Lambin the Fleming and his brother Robert the Fleming, who gave their names to Lamington and Roberton.[[20]]
  • In addition to Lambin and Robert, other settlers to upper Clydesdale who gave their names to local villages were John, stepson of Baldwin, at Crawford John, Simon Locard at Symington, Tancred at Thankerton, and Wice at Wiston.
  • Within that group Wico may have become more powerful than the others as he was in a position to grant to Kelso Abbey the parish church of Wiston and the chapels of Roberton, Symington and Crawfordjohn in the reign of Malcolm IV.[[21]]
  • The person responsible for bringing these incomers to this area that was formerly part of the kingdom of Strathclyde was probably Baldwin of Biggar, who was given the task to find colonists willing to develop the land and keep routes open.[[22]]
  • Baldwin’s line of succession can be traced to Nicholas of Biggar, either a great-great-grandson of Baldwin or a great-great-great-grandson,[[23]] who held lands in the Garioch, Aberdeenshire, an area with strong Flemish connections.[[24]]
  • The death of Nicholas in 1292 brought the male line started by Baldwin to an end as he died without any male heirs.[[25]]
  • A new line was started when Patrick Fleming married a daughter of Nicholas of Biggar.[[26]]


The above throws up the need to look afresh at two distinct lines of enquiry. The first relates to Baldwin himself; the second, to the 12th century colony of incomers that arrived in Upper Clydesdale.

We should now accept that Irving was right in advancing the theory that the line started by Baldwin ended with Nicholas; indeed, it is a view that both Hunter and Arnold Fleming believed to be far from improbable.[[27]] What is needed is a fresh look at the evidence relating to Baldwin in order to produce a narrative that describes his background and sphere of influence.

On the colonization of Upper Clydesdale, there is a need to remind ourselves that there is a list of ‘mainly possible, but unproven, Flemings’ who ‘formed a closely knit community consisting of people who had numerous relationships of all sort with one another, and who were actively involved in other areas with important settlements, as in Moray, Cunningham and Annandale’.[[28]] Again, there is a need to re-examine the evidence and acknowledge the limitations of it in writing a narrative covering the 12th century colonization of Upper Clydesdale.

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. As one of the project’s interpretative design team he is especially interested in re-assessing the evidence relating to Baldwin of Biggar and the 12th century incomers to Upper Clydesdale.

[1] William Hunter, Biggar and the House of Fleming (1867), 465.
[2] J. Arnold Fleming, Flemish Influence in Britain, vol. 11 (Glasgow 1930), 13.
[3] R.L.G. Ritchie, The Normans in Scotland (Edinburgh, 1954), 375.
[4] Beryl Platts, Scottish Hazard:The Flemish Nobility and their impact on Scotland, vol. 1 (Proctor Press 1985), 152.
[5] A.A.M. Duncan, Scotland:The Making of the Kingdom (Edinburgh, 1978), 137.
[6] Christopher J. Tabraham, ‘Norman Settlement in Upper Clydesdale: Recent Archaeological Fieldwork’ in Transactions of the Dumfriesshire and Galloway Natural History and Antiquarian Society, (1977-78), 127.
[7] G.W.S. Barrow, The Kingdom of the Scots: Government, Church and Society from the Eleventh to the Fourteenth Century (London, 1973), 290; and Ritchie, 376.
[8] Duncan, 137.
[9] Barrow, 290.
[10] George Chalmers, Caledonia, or an account, historical and topographic, of North Britain, from the most ancient to the present times (1824).
[11] Duncan, 137.
[12] Richard Oram, Domination and Lordship: Scotland 1070-1230 (Edinburgh University Press, 2011), 316.
[13] George Vere Irving, The Upper Ward of Lanarkshire, Described and Delineated (1862), 305-6.
[14] Lauran Toorians, ‘Twelfth-century Flemish Settlement in Scotland’, in Grant Simpson (ed.) Scotland and the Low Countries 1124-1994 (Tuckwell 1993), 4.
[15] Toorians, 7-9.
[16] Irving, 304.
[17] RRS, 1, nos 184, see Barrow (ed.), 197.
[18] A.D.M. Barrell, Medieval Scotland (Cambridge University Press 2000), 34.
[19] Ritchie, 375.
[20] Toorians, 7-8.
[21] J.G.Scott., ‘The Partition of a kingdom: Strathclyde 1092-1153’ in Transactions of the Dumfriesshire and Galloway Natural History and Antiquarian Society (1997), 34. See also Barrow, 289.
[22] Oram, 316.
[23] The forty year gap between mention of Hugh of Biggar and Nicholas of Biggar raises a question as to whether Nicholas was the son or grandson of Hugh. See Irving, 305.
[24] John Davidson, Inverurie and the Earldom of The Garioch (A.Brown & Co, 1878), 21.
[25] Irving, 305; Rot. Scot, i, 14a; see also F. Lawrence Fleming, The Ancestry of the Earl of Wigton and Other essays relating to the family history of Flemings (Paragon, 2011), 90.
[26] Irving, 307.
[27] Hunter, 467; Arnold Fleming, 19.
[28] Toorians, 9.

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The Other Flemish Origin Families in Scotland: Next Steps

Some of the key issues that the project team would like to address over the next 2 years relate to the Flemish origin families in Scotland that do not carry the name Fleming, or what we call here “the other Flemish families”.  In this posting we show the current list of such families and discuss next steps in validating their Flemish origins.

The Other Flemish Families

Over the past eighteen months a regularly updated list of “probable” and “possible” Flemish origin families has been kept.  The list contained the name Fleming and its numerous variants but most families on the list were what might be called the “other Flemish families” in Scotland

Some family names have been found in relevant books/documents and others have been communicated to us by family members or family history specialists.  This list has been published in earlier blog postings (dated 27 September and 8 November 2013), but the current list—Box 1 below—differs from the earlier one in that it excludes the Fleming name but also:

  1. It includes some new families that have been communicated to us recently, and excludes some that have already been found to be non-Flemish, and
  2. It eliminates the distinction between “probable” and “possible” because the Flemish origins of some names on the original probable list have been questioned.  Accordingly all names are considered, for now, to be “possible”.


Box 1: Other Possible Flemish Origin Families in Scotland
Balliol/Bell and variants
Binnie/Binning and variants
Bremner/Bremmer and variants
Crawford and variants
Dewar/De War
Hazel and variants
Preynne/Prain and variants
Waddell, Woodall and variants

Next Steps

Over the next two years we plan to make contact with as many as possible of the above families—or people familiar with them—in order to document work that has already been done to identify their origins.  We are hoping to be able to examine for specific families the results of genealogical/family history research as well as any genetic genealogical analyses that have been carried out to date. Other information we would like to glean is when the family may have come to Scotland, where the family settled, and if possible what they did. We would publish the findings as a series of blog postings.

As a second strand of our investigations we want to encourage as many male members of the above families as possible to test as part of our Y-DNA project.  This will help us discern any common ancestors among participating families and also possibly determine, as genetic science advances, whether a family had its roots in Flanders.  Details of how to join the Y-DNA project are shown in Box 2 at the end of this posting.

We would like to enlist your support in this work.  So if you have have any information of the type mentioned above about any of the listed families (or indeed any other families not in the list but which you believe may have a Flemish origin), please contact Alex Fleming at the following Email address:


Box 2: DNA Testing for the Scotland and the Flemish People Project

The DNA test involves a simple swab on the inside of the cheek. There are two levels of test for genealogical research. If you are interested in getting tested we recommend you purchase the 37 marker Y-DNA test as the minimum for surname research which may well identify distant relatives within Family Tree DNA’s extensive database. The 67 marker test provides extra data and will help us in our analytic work.

This test may give you an indication of your “deep ancestry” by matching with other participants who have been found positive for advanced “deep ancestry” markers. These advanced markers can be ordered at a later date if required. The test kit can be obtained direct by contacting Alasdair Macdonald or via the join tab at There is a small discount by ordering through either route (£13-£20 or $20-$30).

The project is administered by Alasdair Macdonald from the University of Strathclyde (Department of Genealogical Studies). He is a leading authority in Scotland on DNA. Should you have any questions please contact Alasdair at Alternatively feel free to contact co-administrator Alex Fleming

Alex Fleming

March 2014

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