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