The Scotland and the Flemish People blog is suspended over the holidays, and will return on Friday the 6th of February 2015.

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John, 5th Lord Fleming

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

In support of the imprisoned queen: 1567-72

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Charles Rigg

December 2014

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


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

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

[iii] Ibid, p. 120

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

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

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

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

[viii] Alison Weir, pp. 344-345

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

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

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

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

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

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

[xv] Gordon Donaldson, p. 74

[xvi] Gordon Donaldson, p. 59

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Mary Fleming and Mary Queen of Scots

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


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

Janet Fleming and James IV. Images: Wikimedia Commons.

Janet Fleming and James IV. Images: Wikimedia Commons.

Life in France: 1547–61

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

William Maitland. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

William Maitland. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mary Fleming in Perspective

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Charles Rigg
December 2014

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


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

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

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

The Trading Relationship

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Morvern French
November 2014

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


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

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Exploring the Relationships Among Some Key Flemish Families

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

Some key families and their relationship

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

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

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

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

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

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


DNA Testing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sutherland Heraldic Tree


Notable Flemish men and their places of settlement

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

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

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

Freskyn de Moravia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[14] Ibid.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[22] Ibid.

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

[24] Ibid.

[25] Ibid.

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Encouraging Flemish Weavers to come to Scotland

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

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

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

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

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

Act in Favour of Flemish Craftsmen
Legislation: private act

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alex Fleming and Morvern French
November 2014

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

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

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Artistic Exchanges between Scotland and Flanders – Part 2

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

The Book of Hours 

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

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

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

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

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

Ecclesiastical Architecture 

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

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

John Medina and his Legacy 

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

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

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

19th and 20th Century Artistic Exchanges 

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

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

Prof. Duncan Macmillan
November 2014

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

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Artistic Exchanges Between Scotland and Flanders – Part 1

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

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

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

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

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

This link shows the Trinity College Altarpiece and provides some background material:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bening and Binning

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

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

Other ecclesiastical art

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

Prof. Duncan Macmillan
October 2014

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Haddington St Mary exterior view

Haddington St Mary

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

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

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

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

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

Richard Fawcett

October 2014

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

Suggestions for further reading

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Changing Definitions of Flanders and the Netherlands – Part 2

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

Roman and ecclesiastical provinces

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

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

The Franks and their successors

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

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

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

Burgundians and Habsburgs

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

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

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

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

Morphing identities and names

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

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

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

Alexander Stevenson
October 2014

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


[1] Fritz Heichelheim and others, A History of the Roman People (6th edn, Pearson, 2014), 204, 267, 268, 321, 412, 414; (map of Belgica and Germania, c.70AD); (map of the late Roman Empire, which is defective in that it fails to extend Belgica Prima to the Rhine).

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

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

[4] Heichelheim, 478.

[5] Wickham, 112-13.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[13]Pirenne, 93-5, 139-42;

[14]; Pirenne, 411-13; Aubert Miraeus, Opera Diplomatica et Historica I (2nd edn., Louvain, 1723), 472-6 (quotation at 472).

[15] Joan Blaeu, Atlas Maior: Belgica Regia & Belgica Foederata, ed. Benedikt Taschen (Taschen, 2006), 1-2, 50-1, 58-9;


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




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