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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Update on the Scotland and the Flemish People Project

We welcome our blog readers back for the new university semester with a brief update on the status of the Scotland and the Flemish People Project.

Concluding Conference

The planning for the international conference—that will take place on Thursday, June 16th and Friday, June 17th, 2016 in St Andrews—is well underway.  The search for sponsorship of the event has now been completed.  We are grateful to the Government of Flanders, the P F Charitable Trust and the Wyfold Charitable Trust for their generosity in supporting the conference.

As noted in our blog dated May 15th the conference will be open to the general public. It will be of interest to academic and local historians, family historians, genealogists, and genetic genealogists.  There will be two tracks within the conference so that participants will be able to choose the sessions they want to attend.

A website that will handle registration for the conference is under construction at present and we will notify all readers of our newsletter and blog as soon as it is goes live.  An organizer for the conference will shortly be appointed and announced.

Some key speakers have already been identified but there is still time for readers of this blog posting to suggest topics that might usefully be addressed.  Please let Alex Fleming ( know if you have ideas you would like to share with us.

The Fleming Family Charter Collection

As noted in our blog dated March 13th, Mr. Eric Robinson made a donation to the University of Toronto’s Thomas Fisher Rare Books Library of sixty medieval charters pertaining to the major Fleming family of Biggar and Cumbernauld. As evidenced by our later blog post, these charters are already shedding new light on this fascinating medieval Fleming family. The University of Toronto library has now completed the digitisation of the charters and they will shortly be made available to researchers in the University of St Andrews Special Collections section. Grants from the P F Charitable Trust and the Wyfold Charitable Trust will permit the translation of the charters. We much appreciate this support.

The Blog

We have developed a pipeline of topics for the blog through to Christmas, including some family studies as well as a number of other intriguing issues. We will then in the New Year suspend the blog as a vehicle for reporting on research and use it solely to announce new information on the upcoming conference.

Dr. Alex Fleming
September 2015

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

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The Formation of the Fleming Surname

Last week’s posting examined the formation of surnames in Britain with a special emphasis on Scotland.  In this second posting, George English looks more specifically at the origins of the Fleming family name.

Toponymics of Nationality and the Surname Fleming

Fleming was a surname which indicated the nationality of its original bearers i.e. natives of Flanders.[1] The name Fleming reflects a Norman French form of the Old French flamenc. The by-name Fleming occurred in parts of Britain as early as c1150, although evidence for the word in the Oxford English Dictionary goes back only as far as c1430.

There are two main groups of people to consider regarding the adoption of the hereditary surname of Fleming: the knights who came over with William the Conqueror, and their descendants; and, other Flemish immigrants, particularly from lower classes, who came to Britain from the 11th century onwards.

The knights essentially became the land-owning or upper class in the society of the day. It is generally agreed that the first people to adopt the surname Fleming in Britain were the grandsons of Erkenbald Flandrensis from Rouen in Normandy. He was a companion of William the Conqueror, who was given extensive lands in Cornwall and Devon. The grandsons included Baldwin, who went to Scotland in 1147 or 1148; others who went to Wales and Ireland; and some who stayed in England.

The theory has been proposed that practically all the Flemings of the British Isles descend from Erkenbald Flandrensis.[2] If this were true, it would mean that almost every other Flemish immigrant who came to Britain without a hereditary surname, adopted a surname other than Fleming.

To understand surname formation among the lower class immigrants it is necessary to look more closely at the use of toponymics. Toponymics such as Fleming were Local surnames where the place of origin was indicated by the use of descriptive adjectives. The surname was evidence that the people had migrated from their place of origin to the place where they became described as the English, Scots or other national group.[3]

There are many toponymics denoting nationality including: English, Inglis, Scott, Irish, Welsh, Walsh and Wallis, with Gales (le Galeys, le Waleis, central and northern forms of Fr waleis ‘Welshman, Celt’). Sayce and Seys are from Welsh sais ‘Saxon, Englishman’.[4] Surnames from French and other Continental places include: French, Al(l)mand, Almond, Allamand and Alliment from OFr alemaund ‘Ger­man’, Tyas, Tyes (OFr tieis ‘German’), Den(n)es, Denness (OFr daneis) and Dence, Dench (OE denisc ‘Danish’) ‘the Dane’.

Fleming, Fleeming, Fleeman, Flamank and Flament, with five other variants, as well as Brabant, Braban, Brabon and Brabham (Flemish Brabant), with Brabazon and Brobson (AFr bra-bancon ‘a native of Brabant’, result from the early medieval inter­course between Flanders and neighbouring Brabant, and England and Scotland. This was so common that in the four­teenth century an English form of the name developed by the addi­tion of -er to the name of the Duchy, Braba(y)ner, which survives as Brabiner, Brabner, Brebner and Bremner. Less commonly, these surnames were local in form: de Brabayn, de Flandria, the latter still in use as Flanders or Flinders.[5]

If virtually no Flemish immigrant, other than the descendants of Erkenbald Flandrensis, adopted the surname Fleming, this would be a substantial deviation from what applied to all these other nationalities. It would require some special circumstances that applied to Flemish immigrants but not to those from other nationalities. No such reason has been found.

The situation is complicated because people did not adopt their surname through a formal system. Lack of records is one of the main difficulties in deciding when an early surname became hereditary.

Immigrants included servants in noble households, teachers and skilled workmen such as weavers, traders and merchants. A major research project has compiled a database of over 64,000 names of people known to have migrated to England between 1330 and 1550. Of the 21,538 people for whom a place of origin was recorded, 1,178 came from Flanders.  Of these, the main occupations that were recorded were servant (237), tailor (26), shoemaker (20), souter (20) and weaver (20). There are 264 people with the surname Fleming, or variations (of whom 249 have the nationality, Fleming i.e. Flemish). As more than 20% of those from Flanders had the surname Fleming, it is clear that they, or an ancestor, had adopted the surname, rather than inheriting it from one person. Their recorded occupations were servant (50), labourer (5), corviser (2), husbandman (2) and pattenmaker (2). It is inconceivable that such a large number of servants were people from the upper classes who had fallen on hard times.[6] It is more likely that most were servants who had taken the surname Fleming of their master.

In 1379, amongst the taxpayers in Redenhall, Norfolk was two weavers named Constancius and Reginaldus Flemmyng. Their distinctive first names suggest they had recently arrived from Flanders.[7] Thus they were probably the first or second generation of their family to adopt the surname Fleming.

The Hereditary Surname Fleming in Scotland

Surnames started to come to Scotland during the reign of King David I (1124-53). David grew up in England at the court of Henry I and absorbed the Anglo-Norman values of the English nobility.  So, the ruling Norman elite was influential in Scotland too, and surnames arrived no more than a generation or two later than occurred in England.[8]

The process of name formation began with some Lowland landowners in the late 12th century. But the fashion took longer to take hold than in England and was not generally completed until at least the sixteenth century. The surnames and by-names used were similar in character to those across the border in England, where the dialect and culture had much in common. Gaelic surnames varied locally and between class. They were little known further south until after 1746 and the Battle of Culloden.[9]

Fealtic surnames were much more common in Scotland, where they were a feature of the Clan system, than in England. A man, and his family, would take the name of the chief of a clan to show their fealty and service to him, in return for protection, even though they had no blood relationship.

The earliest Fleming in Scotland was Baldwin of Biggar, the grandson of Erkenbald Flandrensis.[10] In 1155, Henry II passed a decree expelling all Flemish people from England. This increased the number of Flemings in Scotland. In addition, Malcolm IV invited others to come.[11]

Some Flemish families took Scottish place-names as toponymics, like the Douglas, Murray and Leslie families, while others merely used the generic term Fleming.[12]

The People of Medieval Scotland database (see Appendix below) records 57 people with the surname Fleming between 1140 and 1314.[13] Almost all of these are from the upper classes. There are too many for it to be likely that they all were related.

The first name recorded was Mainard the Fleming, who was the provost of St. Andrews in the mid 12th century. He had been brought north from Berwick-on-Tweed to supervise the layout of St Andrews.[14] It is unlikely that he was descended from Erkenbald Flandrensis. By that time, there were four distinct communities in St Andrews – Scots, English, French i.e. Normans and Flemish.[15]

The types of transactions recorded were limited because analysis shows that most had to do with gifts of land and other property. There are also a number recording the performance of fealty to Edward I in 1296, which would only have been required of people of some substance and influence. There are a number of blood and close relationships recorded:

Michael Fleming, father of Marsilius
Berewald Fleming, father of John; grandfather of Walter
Bernard Fleming, uncle of Nicholas
Simon Fleming, son-in-law of Richard; father of Hugh and Simon
Robert Fleming, husband of Matilda
Michael Fleming, son of Michael Fleming; father of Alexander II, king of Scots
Archibald Fleming, son of Michael
Robert Fleming, brother of Michael

In 1347, all Flemings were banished from Scotland.[16] This would probably have meant that any adoption of the surname Fleming was halted in the following years.

Apart from the surname Scott, other toponymics denoting nationality in Scotland include Welsh, Inglis and Bremner. It is likely that the first Flemish settlers arrived without surnames and their descendants later adopted a hereditary surname. It is not until the 15th century that a significant number of people with the surname Fleming appear in records. However, by then, many Flemings arriving would have come with Flemish surnames. Surnames can be used to a limited degree as a tool to identify people of Flemish origin but this does underestimate the size of Flemish immigration.[17]  A number of postings in this blog series discuss families of Flemish origin that do not have the Fleming surname.


The adoption of the hereditary surname Fleming by the descendants of Erkenbald Flandrensis in various parts of Britain, including Scotland, is well documented. His descendants are likely to account for a large number of Flemings alive today. But it is virtually certain that significant numbers of other Flemish immigrants also adopted that surname, in common with many other people who adopted toponymics denoting nationality. There are a number of strong indicators of this but the lack of records for the period makes it difficult to find unequivocal examples of proof. It is to be hoped that the ongoing DNA work being carried out in association with the Scotland and the Flemish People Project will shed further light on the topic in due course.

George English
May 2015

George English is a director of the Family History service Research Through People ( He has undertaken extensive genealogical and historical research and published work in United Kingdom, United States and Europe. He can be reached at 9 Glebe Avenue, Mauchline, Ayrshire, KA5 6AF or by email at

Appendix Surname FLEMING in People of Medieval Scotland Database

12th Century
Mainard Fleming Grieve of St Andrews Grant of tofts. Royal moneyer.
Baldwin Fleming Confirmation of Loquhariot church by King Malcolm.
Theobald Fleming Gift of the land above Douglas.
Michael Fleming Father of Marsilius. Gift of forest of Furness etc.
Berewald Fleming Grandfather of Walter, father of John. Donation of Innes, toft.
Bernard Fleming Uncle of Nicholas Fleming.
Nicholas Fleming Nepos of Bernard Fleming.
Marsilius Fleming Son of Michael Fleming.
Jordan Fleming Gift of half ploughgate; toft & croft in Orde.
Simon Fleming Brother of Simon; father of Hugh. Gift of ploughgate in Kennethmont.
Richard Fleming Father-in-law of Simon. Gifts etc – Melrose, Arbroath, Kelso.
William Fleming Gifts etc – Forfarshire, Kelso.
Everard Fleming Gifts of land etc.
13th C -1333
Michael Fleming Sheriff of Edinburgh.
Robert Fleming Husband of Matilda. Gifts of toft & croft.
Matilda Fleming Wife of Robert Fleming. Gift of toft & croft.
Simon Fleming Son-in-law of Richard Fleming. Arbroath Abbey Agreement.
Michael Fleming Son of Michael Fleming. Father of Alexander II, king of Scots. King’s clerk.
Archibald Fleming Son of Michael Fleming. Grant of succession of land of Gilberton.
John Fleming Son of Berewald Fleming.
Walter Fleming Son of John Fleming. Succession of Innes. Toft.
Thomas Fleming Steward of Seton (10m E of Edinburgh).
Hugh Fleming Brother of Simon Fleming.
Alexander Fleming Settlement of dispute between Chapter of Moray and Alan Durward.
John Fleming Dominus (Lord/Sir), knight.
Hugh Fleming Son of Simon Fleming. Gift of lands of Dalnottar etc.
Bartholomew Fleming Knight. Gift of toft, land ‘Rauengille’. build chapel of Wardhouse.
Stephen Fleming Baillie of Carrick, justiciar of Lothian. Inquest.
Patrick Fleming Quitclaim of Eddleston, Peeblesshire.
Walter Fleming Dominus (Lord/Sir).
William Fleming Dominus (Lord/Sir) of Stanhouse.
Adam Fleming Quitclaim of land on The Ness in Berwick.
Peter Fleming Donation of Bishop Richard. Landholder.
R. Fleming Agreement: bishop of Aberdeen & Alan Durward.
Duncan Fleming Obligation to pay £20. Dominus (Lord/Sir).
William Fleming Burgess of Dumbarton. Gift of Dalquhurn.
R. Fleming Quitclaim of toft in villa of Dumfries.
Robert Fleming Brother of Michael. Lord of Wardhouse. Gift of land.
Michael Fleming Brother of Robert. Gifts: Montrose etc. Fealty.
Simon Fleming Gift of land in Tranent. Agreement: Paisley Abbey & John. Kt.
William Fleming Of Barochan, RNF. Obligation to pay £20. Fealty.
Robert Fleming Kt. Dispensation by pope of Affrica Lichen marriage.
William Fleming Gift of two pennylands in Argyll.
Alan Fleming Performance of fealty to Edward I, king of England.
Patrick Fleming Co. Dumbarton. Fealty. Dominus. Sworn man.
Walter Fleming Co. Lanark. Fealty to Edward I.
William Fleming, Fermer of Dumbarton. Fealty to Edward I.
William Fleming Of Seton. Fealty to Edward I.
John Fleming Fealty to Edward I. Inquest into death of le Rous.
Copin Fleming Acknowledgement of debts owed to him. ERA.
John Fleming English Royal Administration (ERA).
Walter Fleming In 1296 plea roll of English army for abbot of Lindores.
Matthew Fleming Witness to gift of 6 marks.
William Ridel Lord of Flemington. ERA (prisoners).
William Fleming Steward of Lennox. Witness to gift.
B[…] Fleming ERA (prisoners).

A There are no entries for surnames starting FLAND e.g. Flandrensis or FLAM e.g. Flamang, Flameng.


[1] Black, George F. (2004) The Surnames of Scotland. p. 268.

[2] Fleming, F. Lawrence (2011) The ancestry of the Earl of Wigton and other related essays relating to the family history of the Flemings. Rotherstorpe: Paragon. pp. 36, 43, 69, 132.

[3] McKinley, Richard A. (1990) A History of British Surnames. p. 28.

[4] Reaney, Percy H. (1967) The Origins of English Surnames. p.54.

[5] Ibid. pp. 73-74.

[6] England’s Immigrants 1330-1550. Research project funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council. Available online

[7] Redmonds, George, King, Turi and Hey, David (2011) Surnames, DNA, and family history. p. 21.

[8] Davis, Graeme (2010) Research Your Surname and Your Family Tree. p. 105.

[9] Redmonds p. 54.

[10] Whyte, Donald (2000) Scottish Surnames.

[11] Black, p. xviii.

[12] Hammond, Matthew H. (2005) A Prosopographical Analysis of Society in East Central Scotland, circa 1100 to 1260. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow. p. 104. Available online

[13] People of Medieval Scotland 1093-1314. Database of all known people of Scotland between 1093 and 1314 mentioned in over 8600 contemporary documents. Available online

[14] David Dobson. The Flemish on the Firth of Tay – Part 2. Scotland and the Flemish People. Available online.

[15] Davis. p. 105.

[16] Letters to the Chamberlain of Scotland and other officials, 12 November 1347. Regesta Regum Scottorum, VI, Acts of David II [Edinburgh, 1982].

[17] David Dobson. The Flemish on the Firth of Tay – Part 1. Scotland and the Flemish People. Available online.

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Surname Formation in Britain

This is the first of two postings, authored by George English, that address the issue of how surnames became established in Britain, with particular reference to Scotland. This posting examines the issue generically but touches specifically on the formation of the Fleming surname. This latter issue is addressed in more depth in next week’s posting.


Flemish immigrants have been coming to England, Scotland and other parts of Britain since the early 11th century. Many of the early settlers came without a hereditary surname and took on the surname Fleming, its variants, or another surname.

In the 1881 census, Fleming was the 91st most frequent surname in Scotland; 619th in England; and 704th in Wales. In the 1901 Census, Fleming was the 129th most frequent surname in Ireland.[1] So the surname Fleming was adopted by a number of immigrants in all these countries. Today Fleming is the 86th most common surname in Scotland.[2]

This posting investigates how hereditary surnames emerged in Britain, particularly in Scotland. The text below draws on research that focussed on: the situation that existed before hereditary surnames came into existence; the formation of hereditary surnames in Britain; the particular factors relating to Local surnames like Fleming; and the situation of Flemish people in Scotland who may have adopted the surname Fleming. A significant difficulty in deciding when an early surname became hereditary is the absence of documentation, in particular before the mid 12th century, and for ordinary people.

Before Hereditary Surnames

There were no hereditary surnames in Britain in 1066 when the Norman Conquest took place. Most Normans lacked a hereditary surname then, apart from some nobles, who had had such a surname for a generation or more.[3] The Normans had originated in Scandinavia. In AD 911 Vikings were given land in northern France in return for token obedience to the Frankish crown. The local term for the Norsemen evolved into the word ‘Norman’.

The most common way of naming in most of medieval Europe was by the use of a by-name, that is a surname that describes an individual in some way. The Scandinavians, unlike the Anglo-Saxons, had a habit of using the same personal name in different generations and branches of the same family. The result of this custom was that in time there were so many men bearing the same name that it was found necessary to distinguish them by a nickname or by-name descriptive of some physical charac­teristic, some habit or a reference to some particular incident.[4]

Another example was the to-names prevalent in the fishing towns and hamlets on the northeast coast of Scotland. All local people were descended from a few common ancestors, so to-names were used to distinguish them from each other. In Buckie, there were twenty-five George Cowies, including: George Cowie, doodle; George Cowie, carrot; and, George Cowie, neep.[5]

By-names – both English and Scandinavian – were found in England before the Conquest.[6] Most medieval by-names were straightforward: a father’s name, a home village, an occupation, or perhaps some notable personal characteristic. Examples of Norman by-names were Roger de Montgomery and Roger de Toeni.[7] In the case of by-names denoting nationality, such as le Fleming, the notable characteristic was that the people had a different nationality from those in the place where they had migrated to.

The Growth of Hereditary Surnames in Britain

The Norman Conquest had a significant effect on the development of the first hereditary surnames in Britain. In 877, Emperor Charles II had sanctioned the heredity of fiefs in the Capitulary of Quierzy-sur-Oise. This led gradually to the adoption of hereditary surnames in northern France, which some Normans brought with them to England in the years following the Conquest.[8] Some who came with William the Conqueror had a name that referred to where they came from. William had enlisted 60 Flemish knights and some of these bore the name le Fleming and variations of the name. That name would have been given to them in Normandy. There would have been no need when they were living in Flanders as it would not have distinguished them from the rest of the native people.

The development of hereditary surnames was a long and complex process. There were marked regional variations and differences between one social class and another. The change was propelled by a variety of forces, including the feudal system, literacy, fashion and convenience.[9]

All surnames fall into one or other of four classes (alternative terms in brackets):

1. Local Surnames (Locational, Locative, Toponymic, Territorial, Landed) e.g. Wood, Sutherland, Scott.
2. Surnames of Relationship (Patronymic, Fealtic) e.g. Wilson, Robertson, MacDonald.[10]
3. Surnames of Occupation or Office (Occupational, Official, Trade) e.g. Smith, Taylor, Hunter.
4. Nicknames (Descriptive, To-Names) e.g. Noble, Brown, Campbell, Cruickshank.[11]

Fleming is a Local Surname, which is the largest class of surname. Local surnames include a wide range of types of place. Such surnames accounted for up to 50% of all surnames in many areas.

The Table below shows an analysis of the distribution of classes of surnames in some English counties, cities and towns.[12] This has been constructed from various sources between 1066 and the early 14th century. The main source is the Subsidy Rolls which were records of taxation in England made between the 12th and 17th centuries. By their nature, these were primarily confined to prosperous householders.

This limits the analysis to an extent because many surnames, particularly of lower class people, were seldom recorded. However, the general findings are probably correct. These show that 40% of surnames in London, Sussex and Lancashire were local surnames. The average was around 1/3 across England. Clearly therefore there are many precedents for the formation of a surname like Fleming.

In the north of England, e.g. Yorkshire and Lancashire, a larger proportion of the men than elsewhere had no surname.[13] Surnames began to come to Scotland in the mid 12th century but were not in general use until many years later.[14]

Why Did Surnames Become Hereditary?

The rise of surnames was heavily influenced by the Norman Conquest. William the Conqueror was accompanied by knights and other volunteers from various parts of wes­tern Europe, including Flanders. Some of these had hereditary surnames but most did not. There were also archers and mercenaries who fought at Hastings, few of whom had such a surname. Some of the knights received their reward in land and their names are recorded in the Domesday Book. Ten Flemings are listed in the Domesday Book.[15] Some land-owners took names from the district from which they had come, while others adopted by-names from the names of places on their newly-acquired English estates. For example, Robert de Stafford adopted that name because of his large holdings in Staffordshire, although he was the son of Roger de Toeni (who came from Flanders). There were some new settlers who had probably had a hereditary surname for a generation or more – for instance William de Warrenne – named after a small settlement in Seine-Maritime.[16]

After the Conquest immigrants included a steadily increasing number of attendants in noble households, teachers, and skilled workmen, traders and merchants. Their names were seldom noted until records became more frequent in the 13th century.[17]

The development of the feudal system was a driver in the adoption of hereditary surnames. It became important that the king should know exactly what service each knight owed. Lawyers and officials made sure that the parties to payments both to and by the exchequer – e.g. for transfers of land or those con­cerned in criminal proceedings – could be clearly identified. Mon­asteries drew up surveys with details of tenants of all classes and their services. Later, many people were assessed in the Subsidy Rolls. The upper classes, which were mostly illiterate, were those with whom the officials were chiefly concerned. They were the first where sur­names became numerous and hereditary.[18] Surnames were seldom allocated by officials but began as by-names.[19]

The move from an oral to a written culture in the medieval period was important in the adoption of hereditary surnames. For most people, a surname was not needed when the spoken word was the main form of communication.[20] Fashion became a large factor in the spread and speed of adoption of surnames. When others had surnames, it became something that people felt they had to have.

When Did Surnames Become Hereditary?

Surnames gradually became hereditary over the 300 years following the Norman Conquest. In England, family names were first intro­duced by the Norman barons, some taken from their French fiefs, but also from the name of an ancestor or from a nickname. The system was found useful by officials and lawyers who gradually extended it to men who held no land. But for the middle and lower classes, fashion and convenience were key influences. From the 12th century there was a steady increase in the growth of family names among land-holders. Peasants started to develop fixed surnames about 1225 and they were in fairly general use about 100 years later. The north of England was slower to follow this.[21] In Scotland, it took even longer, particularly in the northern or Gaelic areas.

The variety of names steadily increased as new immigrants came in from northern France, Flanders and other parts of Europe.[22]

Surname Formation for People from Flanders

A turning point was when immigrants from Flanders started coming to Britain already having a hereditary surname as opposed to just a by-name or other description. The earlier immigrants would have adopted their family name after coming to live in Britain. The lack of records makes it difficult to identify specific examples of when this took place. An indication of when hereditary surnames may have been generally adopted in Flanders is given by an analysis of the mention of merchants from Flanders in the 14th century in the Exchequer Rolls of Scotland.[23]

Vol. 1, p.77, ref. to ‘Taskyno, mercatori de Brudgis’ in Berwick, 1327.
Vol. 1, p.93, ref. to ‘Lamberto Povlyn, mercatori Flandrensi’ possibly in Edinburgh, 1328.
Vol. 1, p.95, ref. to ‘Beydyno Wlf et Lancio de Castro, mercatoribus Flandrie’ in Inverkeithing, 1328.
Vol. 1, p.97, ref. to ‘Clays Onterlotis, mercatori Flandrie’ in Perth, 1328.
Vol. 1, p. 173, ref. to ‘Clays de Tore, mercatori Flandrensi’ in Berwick, 1329.
Vol. 1, p. 211, ref. to ‘Johanni Raynerson, mercatori Flandrensi’ and ‘Johanni de Hayel, opidano del Slus’, 1329.
Vol. 1, p. 239, ref. to ‘Johannis Wolcopper, mercatori Flandrie’, 1329.
Vol. 1, p. 371, ref. to ‘Petri machenarum et Petri Dafhalle, mercatorum Flandrie’ in Berwick, 1331.
Vol. 1, p. 531, ref. to ‘Cristiano Clerico de Flandria’, 1343.
Vol. 2, p. 51, ref. to ‘Petro Buste, Flemynge’, 1360.
Vol. 2, pp. 79, 90, 91, 128, refs. to ‘Ade Metten Eye, burgensi de Bruges’, 1361, 1362, 1364.
Vol. 2, p. 80, ref. to ‘Pauli Metten Eye’, 1361.
Vol. 2, p. 263, ref. to ‘Jacobo Paulo Meteney, in Flandria’, 1366.
Vol. 2, p. 131, ref. to ‘Johanni Pres, mercatori Flandrie’, 1364.
Vol. 2, p. 133, ref. to ‘Johanni Ondcorne, mercatori Flandrie’, 1364.
Vol. 2, p. 214, ref. to ‘Dionisii de Munt, Flemingi mercatoris’, 1367.

The early names may have been by-names, e.g. Taskyno, and possibly Lancio de Castro, Clays de Tore. However, soon the names took on the first and last name format of hereditary surnames e.g. Johanni Raynerson, Johannis Wolcopper, Petri Machenarum. Few, if any, of these particular surnames are found among the Flemish people who settled in Scotland. However, Flemish and other surnames were often changed over time to ones that rolled more easily off the Scottish tongue. Those who came from Flanders with surnames joined those who had come earlier and had adopted the surname Fleming, its variants, or another surname after immigrating.

George English
May 2015

George English is a director of the family history service Research Through People ( He has undertaken extensive genealogical and historical research and published work in United Kingdom, United States and Europe. He can be reached at


[1] Origin of Surnames (2015) Forebears. Available online:
[2] 100 Most Common Surnames. National Records of Scotland. Available online:
[3] Richard A. McKinley, A History of British Surnames (1990) pp. 26-27.
[4] Percy H. Reaney, The Origins of English Surnames (1967), p. 121.
[5] George F. Black, The Surnames of Scotland (2004), p. xxx.
[6] Reaney, p. 314.
[7] McKinley, p. 26.
[8] Reaney, p. 300.
[9] McKinley, p. 25.
[10] i.e., son of Donald.
[11] Reaney, p. 20.
[12] Distribution of the Classes of Surnames in Middle English. Reaney, p.23.
[13] Ibid., p. 23.
[14] Black, p. xiii.
[15] Reaney, p. 65.
[16] McKinley, pp. 26-27.
[17] Reaney, p. 65.
[18] Ibid., pp. 314-315.
[19] McKinley, p. 32.
[20] George Redmonds, Turi King, and David Hey, Surnames, DNA, and Family History (2011), p. 57.
[21] Reaney, p. 315.
[22] Ibid., p. 129.
[23] The Exchequer Rolls of Scotland, Vol. II, 1350-1379 (Edinburgh 1878). Names extracted by David Dobson, Material on Flemish links around the Firth of Forth.

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Concluding Conference

PF Fleming Charitable Trust                       University of St Andrews                      Flanders Govt

This posting is by way of an announcement of a conference—to be held in St Andrews in summer 2016—that will bring the work initiated under the “Scotland and the Flemish People Project” to a conclusion.

An international conference is being planned for Thursday, June 16th and Friday, June 17th, 2016 in St Andrews, Scotland. The goal of the conference will be to set out the conclusions of recent research on the Scotland and the Flemish People theme and bring together people of different backgrounds and perspectives to discuss a range of issues that the work addresses.

The two-day conference will have two parallel tracks. One will focus on the relationship between Scotland and Flanders and will examine the economic, political, cultural interchange, primarily in the medieval era. This track will draw largely on research undertaken by academic historians. The other track will focus on the various phases of Flemish immigration to Scotland, where the immigrants settled, what they did, and the impact they had. This track will draw on local and family history resources as well as genealogical and DNA evidence. Participants will be able to attend sessions from either track. Plenary sessions on topics of common interest will straddle both tracks.

There will be scope for various organizations, interest groups and families to showcase their work at tables immediately outside the lecture halls.

The conference will be open to the general public. It will be of interest to academic and local historians, family historians, genealogists, and genetic genealogists. The conference may also appeal to members of families who believe they may have Flemish roots. It is expected that in the order of 120 – 150 people will attend.

More details on the content, logistics and cost of the conference will be made available this summer on the project website ( and in our biannual newsletter (contact Alex Fleming below to be placed on the mailing list).

We are very grateful to the Government of Flanders for its sponsorship of the conference and to the P F Charitable Trust for its funding of the underlying research.

Dr. Alex Fleming

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The Fleming Family Charter Collection and the Dark Side of Fifteenth-Century Family Life

The collection of charters gifted by Eric Robertson to the University of Toronto’s Thomas Fisher Rare Books Library was the subject of a blog posting by Anne Dondertman and Alex Fleming on 13th March 2015. These charters make available additional material concerning the Fleming family between the fourteenth and sixteenth centuries. In this posting Professor Michael Brown examines one of these charters and reveals what might be construed as the dark side of the Flemings’ fifteenth-century family life.


Digital images of an initial two of these documents have been made available to the University of St Andrews Institute of Scottish Historical Research and give a taste of the wider collection that comprises sixty charters. The earlier of these two (which is reproduced in the 13th March post) is a charter granted by Malcolm Fleming lord of Biggar to his younger son, Patrick, in 1395. The document transfers legal possession of Malcolm’s lands of Glenrusto and Over Menyean in the valley of the Tweed to Patrick.

The second document (shown above), which is dated 3rd November 1421 and issued from Cumbernauld Castle, is effectively a sequel to this. It too is a charter but, as the serrated top edge of the document shows, was produced as one part of an indenture or agreement. Two versions of the document would be written. One would be kept by each party. The indented edge would prevent one side forging a new version. Common in contracts or personal agreements where squabbles over terms might be expected, it is unusual to find this feature being used in charters that transferred or confirmed legal rights in the most formal terms. The content of the document doesn’t, on the face of it, seem particularly controversial. It is from Malcolm, grandson of the Malcolm who was a party to the 1395 charter (noted above), to James, his cousin and the son of Patrick, the recipient of the lands in this earlier grant. Like the 1395 charter, it involves a transfer of land within the Fleming family and some of the property mentioned is the same. The charter is written in a fine, clear hand and begins

Malcolm Fleming lord of Biggar and of the barony of Thankerton to all those who see or hear this indented charter greetings in the name of the eternal Lord. Know that I give, grant and in this my present charter confirm to my dearest cousin James Fleming the son and heir of my late dearest uncle Patrick Fleming, for the resignation, release and quit claiming of right and claim to all the lands of Overmynyane (Menzian) and Glenruscow (Glenrusco) with its pertinences in the barony of Oliver Castle in the sheriffdom of Peebles and all the lands of le Bord (Board) with pertinences in the barony of Lenzie in the sheriffdom of Dumbarton, a certain annual rent of ten merks of the usual and legal money of the kingdom of Scotland to be raised annually from the lands of my barony of Thankarton (Thankerton)…

Documents like these – formal records of transactions involving land and annuities – represent the vast bulk of the evidence for medieval Scotland outside the records of royal government. At first glance, they seem pretty dry stuff. However, within them lies our best chance of glimpsing issues involving the land, family fortunes, personal relationships and local life in the medieval kingdom. The legal phrases of the charter of 1421 between Malcolm Fleming lord of Biggar and his cousin, James, are deceptively bland. Beneath them lies a story of family conflict and even violent kinslaying that can be teased out and which fuller examination of the Fleming charters may illuminate further.

The Fleming Family in its Charters

The charters in the Robertson Collection should contribute to our understanding of the Fleming family in the early fifteenth century. They can be added to the collection held in the National Library of Scotland that derived from the papers of the Flemings of Biggar, from 1451 Lords Fleming and, after 1606, Earls of Wigtown.[1] An inventory made of the family records in 1681, and calendared by the Scottish Records Society in 1910, shows the Flemings of Biggar to be a significant and well-connected baronial family in the period. Their estates were concentrated in south central Scotland, in particular the baronies of Cumbernauld, Kirkintilloch, Lenzie and, a little further south, Biggar.[2] To think of a lord like Malcolm Fleming is to think, in today’s terms, of the head of a landed corporation. He and his family derived their status and wealth from property and as custodian of these estates Malcolm had a responsibility to preserve, enlarge and pass on both land and rank to his heirs. The wider Fleming family was an element in these structures, but junior branches were not necessarily a straightforward source of friendship and support. As the charter from 1395 showed, the elder Malcolm felt an obligation to provide for his younger son from his property. However, a quarter-century and two generations later such paternal generosity was not regarded in such positive terms. Instead, the document of 1421 was one of the outcomes of internal family conflicts that went directly back to the gift of the elder Malcolm to his younger son. Knowledge of these events can be obtained by placing the indented charter alongside the material held in the National Library of Scotland. The inventory provides clues as to what actually took place, but a fuller picture of the situation must await the availability of the remaining documents in the Fleming collection.

Cumbernauld Castle, November 1421

The published inventory shows that the charter from the Robertson Collection was not the only document produced at a meeting within Cumbernauld Castle on 3rd November 1421.[3] There were several other documents issued with the same date and place which dealt with the relationship between Malcolm lord of Biggar and Cumbernauld and his cousin James Fleming. These documents were produced at what must have been a significant gathering. The witness list on the charter itself attests to the presence of powerful barons like William lord of Graham, John lord of Seton and Thomas Boyd lord of Kilmarnock. At the same time as receiving this grant, James Fleming made a separate formal resignation of the lands referred to in the charter to his cousin. This included a penalty clause: should James, at a later date, quarrel with Malcolm over the latter’s rights to these lands, James was bound to surrender another estate, Monicabo in Aberdeenshire.[4] This clause is a strong pointer to the fact that what was going on in November 1421 was no simple property deal but involved a degree of coercion of the lesser man, James Fleming, by his more powerful cousin.[5]

Direct evidence of the extent of this coercion is provided by a final document. This is a copy of what is described in the inventory as a ‘writ’, a suitably vague term. In this, James Fleming clears Malcolm Fleming of Biggar and his accomplices of any part in the death of his father, Patrick Fleming, and agrees to end any hostility towards Malcolm.[6] This document would obviously repay further examination but even this record makes clear that the land transactions were associated with the killing of their previous holder. It is surely not a huge stretch to suggest that Patrick Fleming had been killed in a dispute over his estates and that, after his death, his son was being forced to surrender the lands in question to a man implicated in the killing. James’s concession may reflect his powerlessness. Malcolm was the head of his family. Moreover the lord of Biggar was the brother-in-law of the governor of Scotland, Duke Murdoch of Albany.[7] Amongst those present, Seton, Boyd and Graham were councillors of the governor, and Seton was Malcolm’s first cousin. In such intimidating company, James had little choice but to submit and to give guarantees about his own future behaviour. We might imagine the charters and other documents being issued within Cumbernauld castle, not in at atmosphere of legal business, but against a background of suppressed animosity and latent threat.

Ties of family could cut in a number of different ways in late medieval Scotland. This case shows not the benign patronage of the head of a kindred to his lesser cousins, but the lengths to which landowners would go to consolidate their property. This brief and preliminary study is meant to show that legal documents can be a window into the values and events of a lost world, as writers of quasi-historical epics like John Barbour. There is undoubtedly more to this story to be revealed and the analysis of the other documents in the Robertson Collection will be a vital part of this. It can appear that historical research depends on single, great discoveries. The body in the car park idea of research – specifically the recent discovery of the remains of the English king, Richard III, in Leicester – is perhaps an example of this. However, it is more normal to add smaller items to the existing body of evidence, like new pieces to an endless and endlessly complex jigsaw puzzle. The Robertson Collection is a new box of pieces for historians of late medieval Scotland to rummage through.

Professor Michael Brown
May 2015

Michael Brown is professor of Medieval Scottish History at the University of St Andrews. His books include James I (Edinburgh, 1994), The Black Douglases (East Linton, 1998), The Wars of Scotland, 1214-1371 (Edinburgh, 2004) and Disunited Kingdoms: Peoples and Politics in the British Isles, 1280-1460 (Harlow, 2013).


[1] This title was created for Malcolm Fleming of Fulwood in 1341 but was lost to his family in 1372. A second creation was made in 1606 to John sixth Lord Fleming. Though the relationship between the printed inventory and the collection in the National Library of Scotland is not straightforward, initial research suggests that all the calendared discussed here are held in the library.
[2] Charter Chest of the Earldom of Wigtown, 1214-1681 and the Charter Chest of the Earldom of Dundonald, 1219-1672 (Scottish Record Society, 1910).
[3] In the Wigtown charter chest there is an indented charter with the same terms as the document in the Robertson Collection. Examination of this may confirm the possibility that it is the other part of the indenture (Wigtown Charter Chest, no. 249).
[4] Wigtown Charter Chest, no. 248.
[5] This might also be implied by the apparently unequal terms of the exchange of several properties for an annual payment of only ten merks.
[6] Wigtown Charter Chest, no. 406.
[7] Registrum Magni Sigilii Regum Scotorum, edd. J.M. Thomson and others, 11 volumes (Edinburgh, 1882-1914), i, appendix 1, no. 159; Wigtown Charter Chest, no. 247.

Background Reading

A. Grant, Independence and Nationhood (Edinburgh, 1984)
S. Boardman, The Early Stewart Kings: Robert II and Robert III (East Linton, 1996)
M. Brown, James I (Edinburgh, 1994)

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The Flemings of Pembrokeshire

As noted in earlier blog postings (see especially posting dated November 21, 2014) some of the Flemings that came to Scotland had, according to historical records, done so after a period of time spent in Wales.  This blog posting by Pamela Hunt examines why the Flemings had come to Wales and describes an ambitious project that seeks to restore an old Flemish church and gain a better understanding of the Flemish footprint in Pembrokeshire.

In one extract of William of Malmesbury’s “Chronicle of the Kings” written in 1125, there is a passage that caught the eye of the Pembrokeshire village of Llangwm’s Local History Society:

The Welsh, perpetually rebelling, were subjugated by the king (Henry 1 1100-1135) in repeated expeditions, who, relying on a prudent expedient to quell their tumults, transported thither all the Flemings then resident in England. For that country contained such numbers of these people, who, in the time of his father, had come over from national relationship to his mother, that, from their numbers, they appeared burdensome to the kingdom. In consequence he settled them, with all their property and connexions, at Ross, a Welsh province, as in a common receptacle, both for the purpose of cleansing the kingdom, and repressing the brutal temerity of the enemy1.

The village of Llangwm is in that province of Ross and sits on the banks of the Cleddau Estuary.  It is known to have been a winter haven for the Vikings who would draw their ships up onto the foreshores for repairs during the 10th and early 11th century.  They called the place Langheim, loosely meaning Long Road, Long Street or Long Way.  Many Vikings settled in this part of the world, indeed the parish to the north is called Freystrop, a derivation of Freya’s Thorpe. Freya is the Norse Goddess of Love and Thorpe is a village or hamlet.  There are many communities in South Pembrokeshire that have Viking names.  This is the area referred to by William where England’s Flemings were sent to help the Normans keep order.

The Hundred of Roose as part of ancient Dyfed showing the Lordship of Haverford in green, the Lordship of Walwyn’s Castle in Blue and the position of Llangwn in Red

The Hundred of Roose as part of ancient Dyfed showing the Lordship of Haverford in green, the Lordship of Walwyn’s Castle in Blue and the position of Llangwn in Red

William of Normandy’s marriage to Matilda, Princess of Flanders, meant that the Flemish became allies to the Normans and indeed Flemish nobles joined the 1066 expedition to invade England. With the success of the invasion some Flemish knights were given land and estates in England. When Henry I became king in 1100 he perceived a troubling superfluity of Flemings (probably disbanded mercenaries and others)2. So with one stroke Henry solved two problems.  He sent the Flemings to Pembrokeshire with promises of land there. But more importantly they could help to keep order. As William of Malmesbury attests, the Welsh were constantly rebelling.  It is believed that as many as 2,500 Flemings were sent to Pembrokeshire.

But this wasn’t the only migration to Pembrokeshire during Henry’s reign, it seems there was another.  According to the Welsh Chronicle of the Princes, or the ‘Brut y Tywysogion’ written around 1350, it refers to ‘An inundation across the sea of the Britons, flooding vast areas of Flanders wetlands’3.  It goes on to suggest that this was a reason for there being Flemings in Pembrokeshire.  But it doesn’t tell us when during Henry’s reign this happened.  Professor Tim Soens of the University of Antwerp specialises in the history of Flanders Hydrography and he confirmed that there was a massive storm surge in October 1134 causing dozens of Wetland villages to be washed away and thousands killed.  Was it out of kindness or a determination to reinforce his hold on South Pembrokeshire that Henry chose to invite the survivors of that catastrophe to settle in Pembrokeshire?

The Normans established a Cordon Sanitaire with a string of castles that stretched from Newgale in the west to Laugharne in the east.  This became known as the Landsker Line.  Those Welsh who refused to accept Norman rule were forcibly moved north.  Up until the end of the 19th century, the area to the north was referred to as ‘The Welshry’ and they would refer to the south as ‘Down Below’.   Even today, journey a mile or so north of the Landsker and you will find Welsh being spoken, but it will be hard to hear Welsh spoken to the south of the Landsker.

The Landsker Line

The Landsker Line

In an article written by the Methodist Minister posted to Llangwm in 1864, he described the people of Llangwm as Hardy fishermen and women.  He went on:

The customs that prevail in this community are peculiar. Separate and distinct from the Welsh race, they claim descent from the Flemings who landed at Milford and took possession of that town and also of Haverford and possessed themselves of the surrounding country in the reign of Henry 1.  From that time to this, they have retained their distinctive character.  You need not ask them the question so often asked in the north of the Principality ‘Fedrwch chivi siared Saesneg?’ (Can you speak English?) As all of them are essentially English, so far as their language is concerned.  These people, though now for the most part on a level with their Welsh neighbours have retained for them, and their language, a hereditary contempt4.

He goes on to write that they will have nothing to do with those who live in the Welshry.  He noted too that the women, having chosen their husband rather than the other way round, would then retain their maiden name after marriage, something that still occurs in the Flemish speaking areas of Belgium and Holland today.  Those 19th century people of Llangwm, still boasting pride in their Flemish ancestry used also to refer to the ‘Dolly Roach’ family being lords of the manor during medieval times.  They were referring to the De La Roche family who had lands both at Llangwm and further north at Roch.  That is when Godebertus Flandrensis became a person of considerable interest.  It turns out that he was the ‘patriarch’ of the dynasty that became the De la Roches.  Very little record of him survives and one of the goals of the project is to find out exactly who he was.

There are many places ‘below the Landsker’ that can claim a strong Flemish past: Tenby, Flemingston, Wiston, Walwyn West and Tancredston for instance. But it’s Llangwm, in spite of the village’s Welsh name, which seems to retain one of the strongest links with its medieval Flemish past.  And what of that name?  It’s only the thirteenth name by which this community has been called since the Vikings came! Other names dating from 1200 include Landegunnie, Landigan, Langham, Langomme and Langum, but barely 30 years after that Methodist Minister wrote his piece, a Welsh speaking Rector appointed to St. Jerome’s Church decided that Langum, the name the village had been known since the 1600s, was a distortion of the Welsh Llan Cwm, meaning Church in the Valley. So the village’s name was changed once more.

This had for centuries been a remote and insular village and marriages outside the community were discouraged.  Many of those residents wouldn’t have even ventured as far as Haverfordwest, except of course the Hardy Langum Fisherwomen who would carry baskets of herring, mussels, cockles and oysters to sell at the market there as well as at markets in Tenby and further afield.

Llangwm’s Flemish past had largely been forgotten until quite recently. The urgent need for major repairs to Llangwm’s Church of St. Jerome unexpectedly provided a special opportunity to rediscover those roots.  St. Jerome’s had been built by Flemish craftsmen around 1185, but in recent years the fabric of the building began to deteriorate quickly.  In 2013 a bid to Heritage Lottery for development funding for a project that would combine the repairs and renovations with research and an exhibition was successful.  That development led to a full second stage bid a year later and that has been successful too.  The project is expected to commence in July 2015.

The primary aim is to discover as much as possible about Godebertus Flandrensis and his descendants, who changed the surname two generations on to De la Roche. Another goal is to find out when the family settled in the area and to discover more about the church and how it has changed over the years.  Then with all that information gathered it is hoped to create an exhibition in the North transept of the church with a locally designed and sewn tapestry.  Modern communications techniques will be used to tell the story.

This funding will allow researchers to visit the National Archive at Kew, the British Library and other sources of written research material and spend time checking out writings related to the De la Roche family, and the village.  The funding will also support archaeological research at the site of a medieval manor house at the edge of the village, which may also have secrets to share.  In addition there will be funds that will allow six male volunteers, who can confirm that their families have lived in this area for at least 250 years and that the male line of that family is unbroken, to have their DNA tested, hopefully to discover that they do have Flemish Ancestry.

The project will be a significant challenge.  It could be described as a 500-piece jigsaw that has, perhaps, 300 pieces missing.  The objective is to find as many of those missing pieces as possible.

Below is a list of issues that it is hoped that research will shed light on:

1. We know that Godebert was born in 1096, ten years before Henry 1 sent the Flemings out of England.  Most genealogy sites suggest he was born in Pembroke, but one states Flanders.  If he was born in Pembroke that suggests that his father took part in that initial invasion of South Wales in 1087.  Yet it is known that the Normans looked down on the Flemings.  As a result, the Flemings were eager to adopt Norman lifestyles and to be seen to be more like them; this is the reason that Godebert’s grandsons adopted the De la Roche surname.  If his father was part of that invasion, who was he?  And what was so special about him that the Normans allowed him to join that invasion?

2. Godebert named his sons Richard and Robert, the same names as the younger brothers of Mathilda Princess of Flanders.  Was he possibly a relation of the ruling family of Flanders?

3. Who was the first of that family to settle in Llangwm?  The 12th century dovecote at Great Nash Farm and the site of the medieval manor house suggests that it must be one of the first three generations – Godebert, his sons Richard or Robert, or indeed Robert’s eldest son David De la Roche.  Richard died with no heirs.

4. Yet in “The Greatest Knight”, the biography of William Marshall, the author Paul Asbridge refers to this particular David De la Roche betraying William Marshall over lands in Leinster.  If David lived in Leinster at that time, then who was living in Llangwm?

5. Why indeed did that family create an estate in Llangwm?  It is four miles south of the Landsker Line.  Surely the lands that were granted to the Flemish nobles would have been closer to the defensive line and it is known that Adam, Robert’s youngest son completed Roch Castle in the 1180s.  So when was the Llangwm estate occupied and by whom?  The first recorded De la Roche presence is David Lord of Landegunnie and Maenclochog in 1244.

6. The De la Roche’s were active in the conquest of Ireland.  The Norman French poem, “The Song of Dermot The Earl” refers to Godebert’s eldest son Richard going to Ireland to help Dermot regain his lands with his small private army two years before Strongbow’s invasion.  He failed that time and was back in 1169 with Strongbow’s force.  He then died, reportedly in Wexford, with no male heir in Ireland, enabling his lands to pass to Robert’s sons.  So who had what?

7.It is also known that the Flemish nobles Wizo and Tancred went to Scotland to establish Flemish communities. Did they return to Pembrokeshire?  If so when?

8.There is also a suggestion that Godebert too went to Scotland, but we can find no evidence of this trip.  Anyway the 1130 Court of Rolls states that he was awarded lands in Pembrokeshire on a payment of 126 shillings.  He is reported to have died in 1131 at the age of 35.  So when could he have undertaken what would have been a very long trip?

The research is still at the point where more questions are being raised than are being answered. There is much work to be done and it is hoped that by tying in with with the Flemings in Scotland and the Flemish People Project, more of the jigsaw pieces will be put into place.

Pamela Hunt, May 2015

Pam Hunt chairs the Heritage Llangwm working group and has been responsible for raising most of the £420,000 needed to complete this project.  She retired to Llangwm in 2006, having spent her working life in broadcasting and television production, joining the BBC as sound effects technician on The Archers in 1968.  She left the BBC in 1990 and started her own television production company, producing documentaries usually with a history slant until her retirement.  She was intrigued by the fact that Llangwm’s church had two effigies and some intricate Norman carvings in what appeared to be little more than a rural Victorian church.


(1) The Chronicle of The Kings of England – William of Malmesbury 1125,
(2) J. Arnold Fleming, Flemish Influence in Britain, Vol 1, p.59. Glasgow, 1930
(3) Brut y Tywysogion (The Chronicle of the Princes) – Caradoc of Llancarfan, c1340,
(4) Langum, “A Village in The Little England Beyond Wales” Unknown Methodist periodical written by M.C. in 1864 and held at The National Library of Wales

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Brabant and the Brabanters

In our research on the Flemish it is common to find references to people from Brabant who have settled in Scotland. Brabant is a neighbour to Flanders so there are similarities between the two peoples, but there are also differences. This posting, prepared by Dr John Brebner, examines the history of Brabant and explores the similarities and differences between the Brabanter and the Flemish influence, particularly in the Scottish context.


It is quite common to find in publications and public discourse the Brabanters – that is, people coming from Brabant in northern Europe – being bracketed with the Flemings. At issue in this posting are the similarities and differences in impact of both peoples on Britain and in particular on Scotland.

The map below illustrates, as of the late 16th century, the geographical proximity of Flanders and Brabant. It is important to note that the borders of Brabant have changed with the passage of time, as have those of Flanders.

The two peoples have been separated by language, at least in part. Both peoples were conquered by the Franks and more Frankish was spoken in the north of Flanders than the south, which had affinities with France. The Dutch language has its origins in Old Frankish, and in medieval times most of the works were written in Southern Low dialects like Limburgish, Flemish, or Brabantic, and it seems that Brabantian had an influence on some of the Flemish dialects.

A Brief History

During the Roman occupation the lands of the Menapii became part of Belgica or Germania Inferior.[1] When the Romans withdrew the advancing Franks, a union of mainly Germanic tribes, conquered the region and formed a shire called pagus Bracbatensis, from bracha (“new”) and bant (“region”), which lay between the Scheldt and Dijle rivers that formed its natural borders. In 843 at the Treaty of Verdun it became part of Lower Lotharingia and was ceded to East Francia at the 880 Treaty of Ribemont.

The Duchy of Brabant began to take shape when King Otto I of Germany promoted Count Godfrey of Julish to be Duke of Lower Lotharingia, or Duke of Lower Lorraine, in 959. Three years later the duchy became part of the Holy Roman Empire and Godfrey’s successors also ruled over Brabant. In 1085 Emperor Henry IV gave the Landgraviate of Brabant to Count Henry III of Leuven and Brussels. Almost a century later, in 1183, the German Emperor Frederick I Barbarossa conferred the hereditary title of Duke of Brabant on Henry I of Brabant, the son of Count Godfrey III of Leuven. The other major cities of Brabant then were Brussels and Antwerp. Henry also became Duke of Lower Lotharingia or Lorraine when his father died, and the territory of Brabant was expanded. Henry and his successors seemed to use the title of Duke of Brabant to include Lower Lotharingia and later, in 1288, following victory at the battle of Worringen, the Duchy of Limbourg and the lands over the Meuse Overmaas were added to Brabant.

Because of Brabant’s vulnerable position in continental Europe, and the impact of the Roman and subsequent invasions, militarism became a way of life for some of the Brabanters, who became a mercenary fighting force. There are numerous references to the Brabanters using longer lances, for instance. This is a specialism that the mercenaries put to good use. The different lengths of lance were introduced by Philip of Macedon, who equipped his troops with “sarissas’ or lances varying in length from 4 to 7 metres. The longest lances could be used by the men at the back to protect those on the front line.

During the turbulent post-Roman period, townships in northern Europe created their own defences and fighting forces. Mercenaries gradually became available and in demand as foot soldiers who protected the nobility and fought enemy infantry in return for keeping any booty they looted. Initially, mercenaries were recruited from people from poor areas, who often fought with bows, javelins and knives. Later, a new group emerged that used improved weaponry like the crossbows of the Genovese and other north Italians, and the mercenaries of Flanders and Brabant who also, as noted above, used longer than usual lances, or halberds. Many of these mercenaries had become experienced in urban militias. Both the Flemish and Brabanter mercenaries, who were employed by the nobility, had helmets and chainmail, unlike the poorer mercenaries.

Some Brabanters, like the Flemings, joined William the Conqueror’s invasion of Britain, but others remained in continental Europe. Of the latter group, 1,500 Brabanters under William of Cambray joined the Emperor Barbarossa’s third venture into Italy. They did not travel with Barbarossa himself but instead became a “self-catering” force travelling through Burgundy. The Abbot of Cluny described the Brabanters as a terrible plague who move through all places “with iron and blood and nothing is able to protect against them.”

Once in Italy they joined Barbarossa and fought with him to be rewarded with armour, horses and money; but when their job was done they moved into France, devastating monasteries and extorting money. They were a strong menace to everyone in their way, so much so that once Barbarossa and the King of France became reconciled, they agreed in 1171 to act against the ruthless Brabanters. Also, the Third Lateran Council excommunicated and gave eternal damnation to those who dared to employ them or refused to take up arms against all “Brabanters, Aragonese, Navaronese, Basques and Triaverdiner”.[2]

There is no reference to the Flemish in the excommunication of the Brabanters and sundry others who, in Pope Leo’s words, “exercise such enormous cruelties against Christians, as not to pay any respect to either churches or monasteries, or to spare widows or orphans, young or old, or any age or sex, but who, after the manner of pagans, lay waste and ravage in every direction”. The Brabanters were little influenced by their excommunication, and moved on to the southwest of France.

The Flemings and Brabanters were subject to different political forces over time. Henry II, for instance, ordered the expulsion of Flemings from England because Flemish mercenaries led by William of Ypres had fought against him. Brabanters, meanwhile, continued as troops of the English kings at least up to the reign of Richard the Lionheart, even though it was Brabanters who had taken part in putting down Richard’s rebellion against his father Henry II. Roger de Hoveden, who died around 1201, wrote that Henry “had with him 20,000 Brabanters who served him faithfully, but not without the great pay which he gave them.”[3] It is not clear if this refers to Henry taking on some Brabanter mercenaries, as well as the Brabanters who were normally part of his army, or that he just paid his Brabanters well.

In 1173 Henry II of England used his army of Brabanters to put down uprisings in Normandy and Brittany. Later Richard the Lionheart also employed Brabanters. Mercadier, a leader of the Brabanters, declared after Richard’s death that, “I fought for him strenuously and loyally. I never opposed his will, but was prompt in obedience to his orders.”[4]

According to E.C. Llewellyn, Henry II usually reserved his Brabanter mercenaries for use in France.[5] When there was a rebellion in England, the Brabanters successfully defended an attack on Dunwich, but some opposing Flemings under Earl Bigod took Norwich. When hostilities ceased, those Flemish troops were permitted to leave Britain peacefully. Three thousand other Flemings serving under the Earl of Leicester in the south of England fared less well. The local peasantry was so incensed by their cruelty and looting that they rose up against them, and very few of that group of Fleming mercenaries escaped alive.

The Brabanters and Scotland

As is well known to readers of this blog, King David I brought Freskin to Scotland, who, among other things, helped establish burghs and castles along the Moray Firth, e.g. at Boharm and Duffus. There are concentrations of Brabanters, and notably Brebners/Bremners, in a number of the places where castles had been built by Freskin. Other variants of Brabant origin names found in Scotland (and other parts of Britain), are set out in the box below.

Variants on Brabant Origin Surnames

Brebner, Bremner, Bremmer, Brembre, Brabner, Brimer, Brymner, Brymer, Brabham, Brabazon, Brabancon.

King David’s span of control in due course extended as far north as Caithness, where many Brebners/Bremners reportedly settled. One estimate suggests that even relatively recently as much as 60-70% of Brebner/Bremners in Scotland were located in Caithness. Why there was such a concentration in Caithness is not known. One possibility, favoured by this author, is that a force of Brabanters may have been deliberately stationed there to guard against further Viking incursions. Many Brabanters may have subsequently settled in the region, perhaps eventually becoming, or being joined by, weavers from Brabant. Note that the ancient Scots word for weaver is “Braboner”. Place name evidence also supports the settlement of Brabant origin peoples in Caithness: there are villages named Brabster and Brabstermire in the county.

Whereas the early Brabanters were concentrated in the far north of Scotland, there were concentrations of early Flemings in the Moray Firth area and in the Lanark/Clydesdale area. Both sets of ancestors would have come over with William the Conqueror.

In subsequent periods both Flemings and Brabanters came to Scotland, bringing with them skills as weavers. The Flemings came in larger numbers. Often they came with the encouragement of the authorities of the day, who wished to see a skills transfer to the local population.

Over time other groups of Flemings and, to a lesser extent, Brabanters became assimilated through trade into places on the east coast like Berwick, Edinburgh, St Andrews, Perth, and Aberdeen.

Some References to Brabanters in the Historical Record

Throughout the later Middle Ages there are references to people with Brabanter origin names. One, William Brembre, a grocer, became Lord Mayor of London. He was not a likeable man, executing twenty-six prisoners at Newgate Prison, for example, and probably murdering enemies of his. He was eventually tried and executed for his crimes.

There are other, less well known, Brabanters who appear in historical records. For instance, in 1489 Agnus Brebner of Elgin witnessed a document, and in 1507 an Andrew Brebnere was admitted as a burgess of Aberdeen. In 1508 Johne Brabner “in Cottishill was summoned, warned and charged to appear before the Sheriff of Aberdeen along with Jonet Funzeis in the Newtown of Brux, and Waltir Bothill in Unerdrummelouche to answer a charge of stealing a cow valued at 28 shillings from Marioun Moises”.[6] William Brabner was a quhytfischer (whitefisher: not herring or salmon) in Futtie (near Aberdeen) in 1601.

In more recent times records show that John Brebner of Corskie was the grandfather of William Brebner (1713-1801), who acquired the Barony of Learney in 1747. William’s son Alexander (c.25th June 1753) became Lord Provost of Aberdeen.


In summary, Brabanters and Flemings had much in common. Much of their early history was a shared one. Both were enterprising peoples who were traders and artisans. William’s invasion of Britain was the entry point for soldiers from both Flanders and Brabant. Both peoples were a significant source of mercenaries in the medieval period, but Brabanters were often the fighters of choice as pikemen and infantry.

The two peoples were also different in some ways. The Flemings were not always welcome in England or Scotland and were forced out at various times. The Brabanters, who had less of a presence in Britain, appear to have been less subject to the whims of the rulers of the day. The Flemings, interestingly, fought both with and against the Brabanters at various times.

Regarding Scotland, the Brabanters and Flemings settled in different parts of the country. The Brabanters settled primarily in the far north (Caithness) while the Flemings settled mainly in the border areas and along the east coast, as far north as the Moray Firth.

The trading relationship between Scotland and Flanders appears to have been more robust in medieval times than it was with Brabant, as was specifically the wool trade and the weaving relationship.

John Brebner
April 2015

Dr John Brebner has a long-standing interest in the history of the Brabant people and has done extensive research on the topic. He is a psychologist by training and lectured at Queen’s College, St Andrews (which became Dundee University in 1966), then at the University of Adelaide from 1969 to 2004. He was Dean of Arts at Adelaide in the late 1980s. He has also been a Visiting Scholar at Wolfson College, Oxford. Dr Brebner has published widely in psychology journals.


[1] Wikipedia. Various quotes from text dealing with the history of Brabant.
[3] Roger de Hoveden, History of England, vol. 1 (London, 1853).
[4] The quotation is from Michael Prestwich, Armies and Warfare in the Middle Ages: The English Experience (New Haven, 1999).
[5] E. C. Llewellyn, ‘The Influence of Low Dutch on the English Vocabulary’:
[6] Sheriff Records of Aberdeenshire, published by the New Spalding Club.

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The Cant Family and the Strathmartine Trust

This posting is a continuation of our series on identifying Scottish families with possible Flemish roots.  According to George Black the Cant family had Flemish origins.  The first reference to the Cants is found in the 14th century but the name appears frequently thereafter in Scotland. A notable member of the family in the 20th century was Ronald Cant who spent much of his life in St. Andrews.  He taught history at the University for many years until his death in 1999. A gift of books from his estate enabled the establishment of the Strathmartine Trust.

William Cant and Sithow Cant were, according to Black1, tenants under the Douglases in Telny in the barony of Aberdoure, Fife, in 1376.  The name occurs in the Exchequer Rolls in the fifteen century. According to this source the family, by trade dealers in cloth, supplied the king’s household.  They were evidently Flemings and are mentioned (in the Rolls) in connection with Flanders.  They obtained land at Masterton near Dunfermline.  A family of the name attained prominence in Edinburgh, where the name was common, in the 15th and 16th centuries. An Adam Cant was bailie there (in 1403) and James Cant was chosen dean of guild in 1413.  Alexander Cant was provost of Montrose in 1430.  An Allan Cant was rector of the Hospital of Soltre and chancellor of St. Andrews (in 1461).  Henry Cant represented Edinburgh is the Scottish Parliament from 1473 – 1493.   Cants can also be found in documents in later years.  A Robert Cant was a tenant under the Bishop of Moray (1565) and Andrew Cant was Minister at Pitsligo (1634).  Richard Kant, the grandfather of Immanuel Kant, the philosopher, was an inn keeper in Heydekrug (in today’s Lithuania) but was a native of Scotland.

The Cant family has been long associated with the region around the Tay river.  Perhaps the most well known member of this family in recent times was Ronald Cant whose family came originally from the Auchterhouse and Strathmartine area of Angus. Ronald was born in 1908 and as a young man studied at St. Andrews and Oxford universities. After a stint undertaking research in Edinburgh he returned to St. Andrews in 1935 as a lecturer in Medieval History.  He joined the Scottish History Department in 1948 and became reader in 1954.  One of his best-known publications was The University of St. Andrews – A short history2

Cant died in 1999.  His vast collection of books was used to help establish the Strathmartine Trust (the name reflects Ronald’s affection for the Strathmartine area of Angus).  The Strathmartine Centre, that comprises a library, study facilities, meeting rooms and accommodation for visiting history scholars is situated in the heart of St. Andrews.  It offers a range of grants and awards.  It also hosts regular lectures on Scottish history themes.

Most recently, the Strathmartine Trust contributed to the 600th anniversary of the founding of the University of St Andrews by leading a project and raising the funds to commission a statue of the founder, Bishop Henry Wardlaw.  The scope of work undertaken by the Strathmartine Trust can be gleaned from its website at:

John Irvine
April 2015

John Irvine is a member of the project team for the “Scotland and the Flemish People Project”.  He is a genealogist and local historian and is currently Chairman of the Local History Forum. He has written articles for local history journals on a wide range of topics. He has also published widely in the genealogy field and has researched the genealogy of both illustrious Dundee locals and the common man.




  1. Black, George. The Surnames of Scotland, 1946, p.132.
  2. Cant, Ronald C.  The University of St. Andrews – A short history, Scottish Academic Press, 1970.
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The Stranger Churches and their Link with Scotland

This post explores, following the Reformation, the many connections between Scotland and the Low Countries via networks of Flemish exiles in England. It examines the topic from the perspective of the refugees in England and the sources they left us. In London, as well as in certain other English towns, thousands of refugees from France and the Low Countries flocked together in exile communities in the second half of the 16th century. Edward VI first granted a charter, which Elizabeth I renewed, that protected and privileged the Reformed churches around which their communities grew. Here Silke Muylaert draws on her own research on the London Stranger Churches to provide examples of the connections between Scotland, the English exile churches, and the Continent.

Flemish Emigration

The success of Protestantism led to significant persecutions in many regions in Europe and set in motion large migratory streams from the sixteenth century onwards. In the Low Countries too problems arose between citizens with Protestant opinions and a government under the rule of the Catholic kings Charles V and Philip II of Spain. This was especially the case in Flanders, perhaps due to its proximity to France and its trading links with Antwerp, a city in the Low Countries which formed a cross road for ideas, books, and trade in Europe. Initially these refugees went into exile to reside in some of the large Protestant cities such as Geneva or Zürich, but they also found an ally in the English King Edward VI. In 1550 he established London as a place of refuge for Calvinists from the Low Countries and France by giving them a chance to gather and celebrate their beliefs in their own language and according to their own customs, in the so-called Stranger Churches. Yet in 1553 Edward died and his Catholic sister Mary ascended the throne. She ordered the Protestant immigrants to leave the country, but she too died after a short reign, namely in 1558.

In January 1559 the influential Protestant theologian Petrus Martyr Vermigli proclaimed his happiness about the accession of Elizabeth to the English throne in a letter to Johannes Utenhove, a Flemish aristocrat and leading figure in the formation of the Reformed Stranger Churches in England. Elizabeth’s accession incited Martyr’s hope that she would continue her half-brother Edward VI’s diligence in reforming the English Church and denounce Catholicism. Being optimistic about Elizabeth’s intentions concerning religion, Martyr decided to dedicate one of his forthcoming books to her.[1] Elizabeth indeed allowed the re-establishment of the Stranger Churches in England in 1560 and thus Protestant immigrants soon flocked to England again. The churches initially served as outposts of Continental Reformation movements in London.[2] The consistories, which made up the organisational committee of the churches, constructed links between England and the Continental Calvinists, but also formed part of a network with Scottish Protestants, as we will see.

These outposts soon came to be a popular place for refugees from the Low Countries to settle in. In the Low Countries any form of Protestantism was still illegal in 1559, yet in the same year there was speculation on whether or not Philip II of Spain would establish religious freedom in the Low Countries. In the same letter Martyr reported rumours that Philip had announced that ‘nobody shall suffer death for the sake of religion’ at Valladolid and that the same would shortly be proclaimed in Flanders.[3] Such a declaration promised a halt to the persecution of religious dissenters and to their migration to more tolerant countries such as England. However this optimistic promise was to be unfulfilled, since religious tolerance was not generally proclaimed in the Low Countries. Instead, the persecution of religious dissenters turned thousands of refugees towards the English Stranger Churches and some towards Scotland. Hard evidence relating to religious migration to Scotland is difficult to find but the sources of English refugee churches do shed some light on the issue. The Stranger Churches consisted of a Dutch or Flemish church, a French or Walloon church, and an Italian church. Several smaller communities found a residence in smaller towns such as Rye (French/Walloon), Sandwich (Flemish), Maidstone (Flemish), Canterbury (Walloon), Norwich (Flemish and Walloon), Southampton (French), and Colchester (Dutch).

The exile churches in England consisted of a few influential figures who developed a network, through an exchange of letters, with Calvinists on the Continent. They maintained regular contacts with Reformed scholars or immigrants in Scotland too and tried to form a Flemish church in Scotland. In this way they formed a link in an information chain with the Continent. Although some Flemish and Walloon Protestants travelled from London and perhaps Norwich to settle in Scotland, this stream of migration remained small.[4] Yet there seems to have been regular contact between refugees from the Low Countries in England and Scotland. One clear example is found in the consistory records of the Walloon Church of Canterbury in 1577. This example indicates that the Scottish churches had sent money to London for the ‘needful’ refugees in England. It is not clear if this money came from the Kirk of Scotland in general or from a sub-set of them. The congregation at Canterbury received the large sum of ten pounds.[5] In the London Dutch Church’s letter collection we find regular mention of Scotland and its Reformation through the letters of Continental Calvinists writing to Flemish refugees in London.

The Archives of the Dutch Church in London

The London Dutch Church’s Archives provide a source of information on the Scottish Reformation and Flemish migration to Scotland. Dutch in this case stands for the Dutch-speaking part of the Low Countries, yet the church is also often called Flemish.[6]

The Dutch church’s letter collection sheds some light on the migration of Flemish Calvinists from England to Scotland. That there was a movement of Flemish migrants between Edinburgh and London is shown through the warm welcome which the London Dutch Church appears to have given to a Flemish ambassador in Edinburgh and the recurrent theme of travelling between both places in his letter. This Flemish Calvinist, and ambassador of the Dutch States General to the Court of James VI and I, Hadrianus Damman, visited London and the Stranger Churches in 1605, but presumably had also done so earlier. Although it is not clear what the occasion for his visit was, he did write about his departure back to Edinburgh from the London Dutch Church, which he himself calls the Flemish church. He recommended his daughter to the church and maintained networks between the Flemish in Edinburgh and in London.[7]

It is well known that entrepreneurs and governmental authorities regularly attempted to lure Flemish and Walloon weavers and other craftsmen to Scotland and England throughout the later Middle Ages and the Tudor times, but authorities in England also instigated the migration of Netherlands’ Calvinists indirectly from England to Scotland regularly. In these letters we also find evidence that clearly points out the role of the Stranger Church in England in influencing the migration from Flanders to Scotland. Thus some push factors for Flemish migration to Scotland came from within England. In 1586 Francis Walsingham, secretary to Elizabeth, sent a letter to the Stranger Churches asking them to accomplish several things, one of which was to establish a community in Scotland.[8] Even before that, in 1561, there is evidence that the Dutch Church considered sending Flemish weavers from England and Flanders to Scotland.[9] Moreover, throughout the first two decades of Elizabeth’s reign migrants came to London in large groups. One of the reasons why the first exile communities outside London were established was because of the perceived necessity of the dispersion of these migrants throughout the country to avoid the danger of xenophobic mobs.[10] The earliest settlement after London was the one in Sandwich, where by 1565 one third of the population was Flemish, with a minority of Walloons and other inhabitants of the Low Countries.[11] Hence one reason for Walsingham’s demand to establish a community in Scotland was to foster the spread of both religious ideas and people.

There was also a large pull for Flemish and Walloon immigration coming from Scotland. Again the role that the Stranger Churches played in fostering this migration stream is noteworthy. In 1603 James I declared in a letter to the London Stranger Churches that he had formerly attempted to draw the Reformed migrants to Scotland but failed in doing so because of geographical difficulties.[12] In that respect London was well-located to serve as a staging point via which migrants who initially settled in England would more easily be able to travel to Scotland. We do not know which attempt James himself was referring to in this letter from 1603, but it is likely that he was thinking of the endeavour to bring Flemish and Walloon weavers and looms from Norwich to Edinburgh in 1601 by some citizens. Moens believes that the commissioners of the Royal Burghs of Scotland contacted the Norwich communities with the hope of introducing their weaving techniques and looms into Scotland. This attempt was not entirely successful as, according to Moens, most masters were very protective of the secrets of their crafts, yet a few journeymen took advantage of the opportunity.[13]

Throughout Elizabeth’s reign there were regular attempts to attract Flemish migrants, especially those who could offer new skills and bring economic advantages. Another example of the Scottish pursuit of Flemish weavers through the London Stranger Churches which is documented in the Dutch Church’s letter collection is very explicit about the Scottish aims and London’s involvement. In 1586 a certain Gualterus Balcanquellus wrote to the Dutch Church in London about bringing ‘Belgian’ weavers over to Scotland.[14] He explicitly mentions that one Edinburgh citizen thought of sending a servant to ‘Belgium’ in an effort to induce the weavers to settle in Scotland. The name Belgium already existed to denominate the area of the Low Countries. Yet Gualterus, afraid of ‘importing’ ‘papist or wicked persons’, rather advised this citizen to contact the London Dutch Church to select some of its members, or refugees from other exile centres in England, to migrate to Scotland.[15]

A second aspect characteristic of references to Scotland in the archival sources of the London Dutch Church is their interest in the development of the Scottish Reformation. Protestants on the Continent were very keen to hear news about the Reformation in Scotland and regularly asked the Stranger Churches to keep them informed. Theodore Beza, a disciple of Calvin and influential scholar in his own right, showed a particular interest in Scotland in the 1580s. He regularly wrote to representatives of the French churches in order to keep himself updated about affairs in England and Scotland, and to send his regards to Walsingham and a few Scotsmen who he does not call by name.[16] Similarly Henry Bullinger kept in touch from Zürich with Jan Utenhove about the affairs in Scotland as early as 1559, around the time of the resettlement of the Stranger Churches.[17] He was presumably looking for more outposts for Swiss Calvinism. Some of the English clergy had been in exile in Switzerland during the reign of Mary and a few of the strangers such as Utenhove and Micronius held Swiss Calvinist views. The same Utenhove also received letters from the Peter Martyr, as mentioned before. The latter talked about his happiness on the preaching of the Gospel and the public administration of the Sacraments in Scotland, notwithstanding its illegality. According to him, this was the will of the people and these people were slowly turning rebellious against the Catholic Queen Regent, perhaps seeking to unite with England.[18] These mentions do not only indicate an interest in Scotland from the side of the Protestant movement on the Continent, but also show the importance of the London Stranger Churches as a link with Scotland for the circulation of news.

Trade links between Scotland and the Low Countries were important during the 16th century. There are no specific references to this in the letter collection, however we can assume that trading connections stimulated marriages, migration, and cultural exchange between Scotland and Flanders. In 1576 the consistory of the Reformed Church of Veere in the Northern Netherlands wrote to the London Dutch Church concerning the marriage of a woman from their congregation to a Scotsman who had previously resided in London. The letter was seeking information about his conduct in the city and the rumour that he still had a wife there.[19] The networks established by the wool trade encouraged migration to Scotland. It is thus not surprising that according to Hallen many Flemish came to Scotland via Veere, the staple market for Scottish wool.[20] Hallen rightfully asserts that although evidence is sparse, it seems clear that there was a relatively large presence of Flemish and Walloon Calvinist and Anabaptists in Scotland in the 16th century, which would decline in the following centuries.[21]

The extracts springing from the London Dutch Church’s archival material discussed above demonstrate that Scotland, England and Flanders were connected through networks of refugees. The material aids in the understanding of relations between the Scottish Reformation and the Continent’s Calvinist movements. Moreover these sources provide new information and a different lens through which to investigate Flemish migration to Scotland in the Elizabethan period and the early reign of James I. The presence of Flemish and Walloon migrant communities in England, and especially the ones in London, led to them functioning as gateways for negotiation, migration, and the exchange of information between Flanders and Scotland.

Silke Muylaert
April 2015

Silke Muylaert is currently undertaking a PhD at the University of Kent on the topic of the Elizabethan exile communities and their connections to the Dutch Revolt. Coming originally from Ghent University in Flanders, she has found the topic of Flemish migration into England and Scotland in both the medieval and the early modern periods an intriguing field for research.


[1] Petrus Martyr (Vermigli) to Johannes Utenhovius, (Zurich, 7 Jan., 1559), published in Johannes H. Hessels (ed.), Ecclesiae Londino-Batavae Archivum. Tomus Secundus. Epistulae et tractatus cum reformationis tum ecclesiae Londino-Batavae historiam illustrantes (1544-1622). Ex autographis mandante ecclesia Londino-Batava (Cambridge, 1889), pp. 107-109.
[2] Edward VI first formally established these by granting the Reformed strangers in London a royal charter in 1550. See Andrew Pettegree, Foreign Protestant Communities in Sixteenth-Century London (Oxford, 1986), pp. 23-45.
[3] Petrus Martyr (Vermigli) to Johannes Utenhovius, (Zürich, 7 Jan. 1559), published in Ecclesiae Londino-Batavae Archivum. Tomus Secundus, pp. 107-109.
[4] See David Dobson’s blogpost ‘Flemish Migration to Scotland in the Early Modern Period – Preliminary Research Findings’ from 17 January 2014 on this website.
[5] CCA U47/A1, fol. 49.
[6] More about the terms ‘Dutch’ and ‘Flemish’ and their use can be found in Alastair Duke, ‘The elusive Netherlands. The Question of National Identity in the Early Modern Low Countries on the eve of the Revolt’, in Alastair Duke, Judith Pollman and Andrew Spicer (eds.), Dissident identities in the Early Modern Low Countries (Ashgate, 2009), pp. 10-39.
[7] Johannes H. Hessels (ed.), Ecclesiae Londino-Batavae Archivum. Tomi Tertii Pars Prima. Epistulae et Tractatus cum Reformationis tum Ecclesiae Londino-Batavae Historiam Illustrantes, ex autographis mandante ecclesia Londino-Batava (Cambridge, 1897), pp. 1157-1158.
[8] Ecclesiae Londino-Batavae Archivum. Tomus Secundus, pp. 794-796.
[9] Aart A. van Schelven (ed.), Kerkeraads-protocollen der Nederduitsche vluchtelingen-kerk te London. 1560-1563 (Amsterdam, 1921), p. 237.
[10] Lionel Williams, ‘The crown and the provincial immigrant communities in Elizabethan England’, in Harry Hearder and Henry Royston (eds.), British government and administration. Studies presented to S.B. Chrimes (Cardiff, 1974), pp. 117-131 (pp. 118-122).
[11] Marcel Backhouse, The Flemish and Walloon communities at Sandwich during the Reign of Elizabeth I (1561-1603) (Wetteren, 1995), p. 32.
[12] Ecclesiae Londino-Batavae Archivum. Tomus Secundus, pp. 922-923.
[13] William J.C. Moens, The Walloons and their church at Norwich, 1565-1832 (Lymington: Proceedings of the Huguenot Society of London, 1888), p. 85.
[14] His identity is uncertain. Perhaps he is the father of another Walter (=Gualterus) Balcanquell, who was a Scottish clergyman and royal chaplain to James I. He is the only namesake that I could identify which might be related to him, via Clergy of the Church of England database (CCEd), ‘Balcanquall, Walter’, [last accessed 31/03/2015].
[15] Ecclesiae Londino-Batavae Archivum. Tomus Secundus, pp. 841-842.
[16] Ibid., pp. 771-772.
[17] Ibid., pp. 113-115.
[18] Ibid., pp. 88-89, 107-109.
[19] Ecclesiae Londino-Batavae Archivum. Tomi Tertii Pars Prima, pp. 268-269.
[20] A. W. Cornelius Hallen, ‘Huguenots in Scotland’, Proceedings of the Huguenot Society of London 2 (1887-1888), 166-181 (p. 174).
[21] Ibid., p. 169.

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