The Waddell Family: A Search for Possible Flemish Roots

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

Origins and Evolution of the Name

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Heraldic Evidence

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

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

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

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

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

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

Waddells in Scottish Historical Context

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pulling Together the Evidence

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

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

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

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

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

Gavin Waddell
September 2015

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


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

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