Flemish Migration to Scotland in the Early Modern Period – Preliminary Research Findings

Amy Eberlin
Friday 17 January 2014

This posting, prepared by David Dobson, who is a member of the core team for the Scotland and the Flemish People Project, outlines the first results of his recent research on Flemish migration during the early modern period. A range of primary resources was used as a basis for the research. 


The initial research on migration patterns has focused on assessing the level of Flemish immigration into Scotland during the early modern period, roughly from the Reformation of 1560 until the close of the eighteenth century.  While the medieval period is known to have been the phase of maximum Flemish settlement in Scotland, a certain level of migration did occur later.  Some was a result of religious persecution in Flanders at that time and some reflected an inflow of skilled artisans who were encouraged to settle and share skills with the Scots.  For example, in 1587 an Act of Parliament in favour of John Gardin, Philip Fermant, and John Banko (all Flemings) permitted them to establish textile factories in Scotland. Later in 1594 an Act authorising them to have their own church and minister was passed.[[1]]

The research suggests that while some Flemings arrived directly from Flanders, others arrived via the Flemish communities in England, specifically from Norwich and London.  The contemporary English Patent Rolls, and to a lesser extent the Irish Patent Rolls, were used to identify those Flemings who were naturalised and denizised, which enabled them to settle and establish businesses there, some of whom may have made their way north.

As the Flemings are more likely to have arrived by sea, either directly from Flanders or indirectly from England (overland travel was notoriously difficult), various sources, particularly the Scottish port books, have been consulted to establish the shipping links.  Unfortunately the port books are far from comprehensive until 1742, after which there are highly detailed records of ships, cargoes, skippers, and merchants.  In the medieval period Bruges was the Scots staple port and it had a virtual monopoly of trade between Flanders and Scotland until 1508 when the port of Veere in Zealand became the Scots staple port and remained so, at least nominally until 1799.

Research on trade and shipping links has concentrated on the ports of Aberdeen, Dundee, Kirkcaldy, and Leith, and is still in progress.  Indications are that there was regular shipping between Flanders and Scotland that would have enabled direct emigration.

Interestingly, emigration from Scotland to Flanders in the period may have exceeded any influx of Flemings into Scotland.  The Low Countries attracted economic migrants, merchants, seafarers, scholars, religious refugees (Catholics in the sixteenth century and Presbyterians in the 17th century), and soldiers from Scotland.  Some of these married and settled there, while others returned to Scotland.  The Dutch and Flemish marriage registers, for example those of Leiden, record a number of marriages between Scots and Flemings.

To date research has concentrated along the east coast of Scotland from Aberdeen to Edinburgh.  This has been undertaken in manuscript and printed sources in archives and libraries in Aberdeen, Dundee, St Andrews, Perth, and Edinburgh.  One problem with research in this field is that Dutch and Flemish surnames are difficult to differentiate. However, Dutch immigration was relatively small scale so most such surnames are probably Flemish.

The burgh records of Edinburgh record that the council sent to Flanders for skilled masons and then later for skilled textile workers.  Similar evidence can be found in the Records of the Convention of Royal Burghs.  Such records often provide the names and skills of particular Flemish immigrants, for example Jacque de la Rudge, a camber and spinner, Jacob Peterson, a shearer, and Abigail Van Hort, a spinner, all of who were bound for Perth in 1601.

The Registers of the Privy Council of Scotland also contain mention of Flemings, such as an act dated 1600 authorizing the immigration of 100 families from abroad with textile skills.[[2]] According to the Records of the Board of Trustees for Fisheries, Manufactures and Improvements in Scotland, a group of French Huguenots and Flemish émigrés with weaving skills were settled in Edinburgh in 1729.

The burgh records of Aberdeen, Dundee, Perth, Edinburgh, Canongate, Arbroath, and various Fife burghs have been partially checked for people bearing Flemish surnames and for links to Flanders.  Such records include the burgess rolls, court books, and register of deeds. A number of other government records have also been carefully examined. See below for list of these materials.[[3]]

Based on the research so far, it would appear that — be it textile workers or the religiously persecuted — Flemish immigration into Scotland in the early modern period was relatively small scale when compared to that of the medieval period.

David Dobson
January 2014

Dr. Dobson is currently a Post Doctoral Research Fellow at the University of Edinburgh and an Honorary Research Fellow with the Institute of Scottish Historical Research at the University of St Andrews.  His research interests are focused mainly on the Scottish Diaspora as well as Scottish history in the Early Modern Period.  His publications include ‘Scottish Emigration to Colonial America, 1683-1783’ [Georgia, 1994, 2004]; ‘Scottish Trade with Colonial Charleston, 1683-1783’ [Glasgow, 2009], over 115 historical and genealogical source books [Baltimore 1983-2013].

Primary Sources
[1] Acts of the Parliaments of Scotland, c119.iii.507-509, and C72.IV.85
[2] Register of the Privy Council of Scotland.VI.124
[3] The government records consulted included: the Records of the High Court of the Admiralty, the Acts of the Parliaments of Scotland, the Accounts of the Masters of Work, the Acts of the Lords in Council in Public Affairs, Acts of the Lords of Council in Civil Causes, the Registers of the Privy Council of Scotland, the Register of Deeds of the Court of Session, the Exchequer Rolls of Scotland, and the Accounts of the Lord High Treasurer of Scotland

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