Baldwin and the 12th Century Incomers to Upper Clydesdale Revisited

Morvern French
Monday 24 March 2014

For many years it was thought that Baldwin of Biggar was the same person as Baldwin the Fleming and that the latter was the progenitor of the Fleming family in Scotland. It is an important debate in that the Fleming line in question gave rise to the Earls of Wigtown, who have played a significant role in the history of Scotland. In this blog posting Charles Rigg examines the debate over whether they are the same person or two separate ones and other evidence relating to the 12th century ‘Flemish settlement’ of Upper Clydesdale. The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the St. Andrews Institute of Scottish Historical Research.

Baldwin from the perspective of 25 years ago

If I had been asked 25 years ago to write a supporting information pamphlet on ‘Baldwin and the 12th century incomers to Upper Clydesdale’, I would have been able to state unequivocally the Flemish character of Baldwin and the other 12th century incomers to Upper Clydesdale. My sources of references would rely heavily on the research and writings of Scottish medieval historians, A.A.M. Duncan, G.W.S. Barrow, and Graham Ritchie; but also archaeologist Christopher Tabraham, and specialists in the Flemish in Scotland, J. Arnold Fleming and Beryl Platts. In addition, from the 19th century, the works of Scottish historian George Chalmers, genealogist John Burke, and local historian William Hunter, would illuminate some of the thinking that influenced these later writers. From these points of references the following profile would take shape:

  • The first proprietor of Biggar of whom we know anything was Baldwin Flamingus, who, as was the usual custom of the period, took the title of Biggar from his lands.[[1]]
  • He was the younger son of Stephen Flandrenis of Bratton, Devonshire and was regarded as one of the most distinguished of the militant Flemings expelled by Henry II. He was an outstanding and renowned leader among the Flemings.[[2]]
  • The first record of him in Scotland was as a witness to a charter dated 1150 by Bishop Robert of St. Andrews.[[3]]
  • He was given the onerous sheriffdom of Lanarkshire by David I and kept that office under David’s successors, Malcolm IV and William the Lion.[[4]]
  • As lord of Biggar, he was the most important of a group who settled within a distance of ten miles of each other, giving their names to these villages – Crawfordjohn (John, stepson of Baldwin); Roberton (Robert); Lamington (Lambin, brother of Robert); Wiston (Wice); Symington (Simon Loccard); and Thankerton (Tancred).[[5]]
  • Baldwin had his castle built in Biggar on a grand scale, with a summit area measuring 32m by 20m; in contrast, his countrymen built more modest mottes, none exceeding 3 m in height.[[6]]
  • The Flemish character of the colony has long been recognized because the names of the settlers echoed with the Fleming names in Pembroke, in particular Wizo and Tancred.[[7]]
  • The arrival of these incomers was part of a systematic attempt by David I (1124-53) and Malcolm IV (1153-65) to implant a new and foreign aristocracy and gentry in which Baldwin was perhaps the organiser.[[8]]
  • It was from the cathedral church of Glasgow that the king took land for these incomers.[[9]]
  • Baldwin’s descendants abandoned the name they received from the locality (Biggar) and resumed the one derived from their nationality (Fleming) at the beginning of the 14th century.[[10]]

A more recent perspective on Baldwin

25 years on, the above profile requires careful reconsideration. A comparison of Duncan’s Edinburgh History of Scotland (1975) to Richard Oram’s New Edinburgh History of Scotland (2011), suggests a shift in interpretation. Duncan refers to the ‘Flemish Baldwin of Biggar’ as ‘lord of Biggar’ and the ‘most important of a group’ who settled within a distance of ten miles of each other in Upper Clydesdale.[[11]] In contrast, Oram appears less willing to acknowledge the Flemishness of Baldwin, referring to him only as ‘Baldwin of Biggar’ and is cautious in going no further than stating that the incomers to Upper Clydesdale were ‘probably of Flemish background’. On the question of Baldwin’s possible role in being the locator or populator responsible for finding these incomers, Oram reminds us of the ‘absence of documentary proof’ (my italics).[[12]]

In actual fact, such a difference of opinion is not new. As early as 1864 archaeologist George Vere Irving cast doubts on the assumption that ‘Baldwin of Biggar’ was the same person as the ‘Baldwin the Fleming’ who witnessed the 1150 charter. By tracing the male line started by Baldwin of Biggar down to the death of Nicholas of Biggar, about 1292, he was able to show two things. Firstly, Nicholas died without any male heirs, leaving behind a widow, Marie, and two heiresses, Margerie and Alde, as wards granted by Edward I of England to Robert, Bishop of Glasgow.[[13]] The significance of this is that it brought the male line started by Baldwin of Biggar to an end, something missed by Chalmers, Burke and to a certain extent Hunter. Secondly, the Fleming line was started with the marriage of a Patrick Fleming to one of Nicholas’ heiresses, most likely Margerie, the elder daughter. What we know about this Sir Patrick Fleming of Biggar is that he was the second son of Sir Robert Fleming, loyal supporter of Robert de Bruce, and younger brother of Malcolm, Earl of Wigtown.

Tracing Baldwin’s ancestry through to Nicholas and the beginning of a new male line is helpful in dismissing the argument put forward by George Chalmers in 1824 that at the beginning of the fourteenth century, Baldwin’s ancestors abandoned the name they received from the locality (Biggar) and resumed the one they derived from their nationality (Fleming). It is also helpful in reminding ourselves that there is no evidence to assert that ‘Baldwin of Biggar’ and ‘Baldwin the Fleming’ were one and the same person but from two different families.

More recently, Lauran Toorians in his reappraisal of 12th century Flemish settlements in Scotland highlighted the fact that we can only name with confidence two incomers to Clydesdale as being Flemings, Lambin and his brother Robert, as they were actually named as Flemings.[[14]] The case for adding Baldwin was not totally convincing and for the others, like Wico or Locard, it can only be said that they were ‘possible, but unproven Flemings.’[[15]] In other words, with the exception of Robert and Lambin, there is no hard evidence that these incomers to Upper Clydesdale were Flemings.

So where does this leave my revised information pamphlet on Baldwin and the 12th century incomers to Upper Clydesdale?

Baldwin – A revision

The research and writings of the past 25 years from medieval historians Richard Oram, Andrew Barrell, Lauran Toorians, and D.G. Scott provide some important sources of reference which need to be taken into account. Additionally, by accepting Irving’s well researched findings against those of Hunter’s completely unreferenced local history, a different profile takes shape:

  • The first proprietor of Biggar was Baldwin of Biggar.[[16]] Unfortunately, no charter exists to inform us when exactly he was granted the lordship of Biggar, what land was involved and under what terms.
  • The first record of Baldwin appears in 1162 when he is named as sheriff of Lanark.[[17]] This was an important position which carried the responsibility of ‘raising military forces, collecting crown revenues, conducting inquests and assizes, and administering justice’.[[18]]
  • We also know that his landed interest was not restricted to that from the king as he held land from fitz Allan to the west of Biggar which Baldwin then granted to Hugh of Pettinain; and his lands extended further west as a later charter gave notice that Baldwin, Sheriff of Lanark, gave to the Church of St Mirin, the parish and lands of Inverkip church.[[19]]
  • Two other incomers to upper Clydesdale at this time were Flemings, Lambin the Fleming and his brother Robert the Fleming, who gave their names to Lamington and Roberton.[[20]]
  • In addition to Lambin and Robert, other settlers to upper Clydesdale who gave their names to local villages were John, stepson of Baldwin, at Crawford John, Simon Locard at Symington, Tancred at Thankerton, and Wice at Wiston.
  • Within that group Wico may have become more powerful than the others as he was in a position to grant to Kelso Abbey the parish church of Wiston and the chapels of Roberton, Symington and Crawfordjohn in the reign of Malcolm IV.[[21]]
  • The person responsible for bringing these incomers to this area that was formerly part of the kingdom of Strathclyde was probably Baldwin of Biggar, who was given the task to find colonists willing to develop the land and keep routes open.[[22]]
  • Baldwin’s line of succession can be traced to Nicholas of Biggar, either a great-great-grandson of Baldwin or a great-great-great-grandson,[[23]] who held lands in the Garioch, Aberdeenshire, an area with strong Flemish connections.[[24]]
  • The death of Nicholas in 1292 brought the male line started by Baldwin to an end as he died without any male heirs.[[25]]
  • A new line was started when Patrick Fleming married a daughter of Nicholas of Biggar.[[26]]


The above throws up the need to look afresh at two distinct lines of enquiry. The first relates to Baldwin himself; the second, to the 12th century colony of incomers that arrived in Upper Clydesdale.

We should now accept that Irving was right in advancing the theory that the line started by Baldwin ended with Nicholas; indeed, it is a view that both Hunter and Arnold Fleming believed to be far from improbable.[[27]] What is needed is a fresh look at the evidence relating to Baldwin in order to produce a narrative that describes his background and sphere of influence.

On the colonization of Upper Clydesdale, there is a need to remind ourselves that there is a list of ‘mainly possible, but unproven, Flemings’ who ‘formed a closely knit community consisting of people who had numerous relationships of all sort with one another, and who were actively involved in other areas with important settlements, as in Moray, Cunningham and Annandale’.[[28]] Again, there is a need to re-examine the evidence and acknowledge the limitations of it in writing a narrative covering the 12th century colonization of Upper Clydesdale.

Charles Rigg, the author of this blog posting, is a Trustee of Biggar Museums. At present the Trust is involved in a £2million project to relocate two museums to a new purpose built site on the main street. As one of the project’s interpretative design team he is especially interested in re-assessing the evidence relating to Baldwin of Biggar and the 12th century incomers to Upper Clydesdale.

[1] William Hunter, Biggar and the House of Fleming (1867), 465.
[2] J. Arnold Fleming, Flemish Influence in Britain, vol. 11 (Glasgow 1930), 13.
[3] R.L.G. Ritchie, The Normans in Scotland (Edinburgh, 1954), 375.
[4] Beryl Platts, Scottish Hazard:The Flemish Nobility and their impact on Scotland, vol. 1 (Proctor Press 1985), 152.
[5] A.A.M. Duncan, Scotland:The Making of the Kingdom (Edinburgh, 1978), 137.
[6] Christopher J. Tabraham, ‘Norman Settlement in Upper Clydesdale: Recent Archaeological Fieldwork’ in Transactions of the Dumfriesshire and Galloway Natural History and Antiquarian Society, (1977-78), 127.
[7] G.W.S. Barrow, The Kingdom of the Scots: Government, Church and Society from the Eleventh to the Fourteenth Century (London, 1973), 290; and Ritchie, 376.
[8] Duncan, 137.
[9] Barrow, 290.
[10] George Chalmers, Caledonia, or an account, historical and topographic, of North Britain, from the most ancient to the present times (1824).
[11] Duncan, 137.
[12] Richard Oram, Domination and Lordship: Scotland 1070-1230 (Edinburgh University Press, 2011), 316.
[13] George Vere Irving, The Upper Ward of Lanarkshire, Described and Delineated (1862), 305-6.
[14] Lauran Toorians, ‘Twelfth-century Flemish Settlement in Scotland’, in Grant Simpson (ed.) Scotland and the Low Countries 1124-1994 (Tuckwell 1993), 4.
[15] Toorians, 7-9.
[16] Irving, 304.
[17] RRS, 1, nos 184, see Barrow (ed.), 197.
[18] A.D.M. Barrell, Medieval Scotland (Cambridge University Press 2000), 34.
[19] Ritchie, 375.
[20] Toorians, 7-8.
[21] J.G.Scott., ‘The Partition of a kingdom: Strathclyde 1092-1153’ in Transactions of the Dumfriesshire and Galloway Natural History and Antiquarian Society (1997), 34. See also Barrow, 289.
[22] Oram, 316.
[23] The forty year gap between mention of Hugh of Biggar and Nicholas of Biggar raises a question as to whether Nicholas was the son or grandson of Hugh. See Irving, 305.
[24] John Davidson, Inverurie and the Earldom of The Garioch (A.Brown & Co, 1878), 21.
[25] Irving, 305; Rot. Scot, i, 14a; see also F. Lawrence Fleming, The Ancestry of the Earl of Wigton and Other essays relating to the family history of Flemings (Paragon, 2011), 90.
[26] Irving, 307.
[27] Hunter, 467; Arnold Fleming, 19.
[28] Toorians, 9.

Share this story