Scotland and the Flemish People Project Workshop – 5 June 2014

Morvern French
Thursday 3 July 2014

On 5 June 2014, the Scotland and the Flemish People Project held a workshop at the New Arts Building of the University of St. Andrews. Attending the event were experts in varying aspects of Scottish, Flemish and Low Countries history, as well as genealogy and genetic genealogy. The workshop was made up of four informal panels led by Jan Dumolyn (Ghent), Alex Fleming, David Ditchburn (Trinity College Dublin), and Graeme Small (Durham). Each panel comprised a presentation and discussion on a specific topic related to the relationship between Scotland and Flanders.

Panel 1: Jan Dumolyn (University of Ghent) led the first panel session on ‘Flemish Settlement in Medieval Scotland.’ His presentation and the resulting discussion primarily focused on the push and pull factors for Flemish migration to Scotland. Jan began by stressing the importance of medieval Flanders, particularly its economic dominance in Northern Europe. He then argued for the influence of a demographic boom as a push factor for Flemings to move to Scotland. Between 1050 and 1350 the population of Flanders tripled to some 800,000 people. The available resources in the region were overwhelmed by such a population growth which prompted the movement of peoples to neighbouring regions. The professional skills of these Flemings were important as a pull factor for their migration to Scotland. Jan suggested that Flemings chose Scotland for its need of highly skilled professionals, particularly weavers, fullers, and shearers, and its small population size. Jan also argued that in the 16th and 17th centuries socio-economic push and pull factors were primarily responsible for the migration of Flemings to Scotland, rather than religious persecution. The issue of religious persecution as a push factor was the subject of much discussion. Silke Muylaert (Kent) supported the view that the numbers of Flemings who fled to England because of persecution was relatively small. The discussion also highlighted the need to define clearly the borders of Flanders as these had changed over the course of six centuries. It was also agreed that an analysis of Scottish toponyms would be helpful going forward.

Panel 2: Alex Fleming, a part sponsor of and researcher in the Scotland and the Flemish People project, gave the group an introduction to the work that he and others had been doing on ‘Tracing the Flemings in Scotland.’ This involved liaising with many local and family history specialists throughout Scotland (with the assistance of John Irvine). Among those who contributed to the work was Charles Rigg, who has undertaken noteworthy research into twelfth century Flemish immigrants to Upper Clydesdale. Similarly George English has made an important contribution on the issue of religious emigration from Flanders.

F. Lawrence Fleming spoke about his research on the genealogy of those with the surname Fleming. His work was inspired by the discovery of an eleventh century man named ‘de Flamande’, believed to have been a Fleming in the train of William the Conqueror and the person from which those with the present day surname ‘Fleming’ largely descend. However Jan Dumolyn argued that this is quite unlikely due to the lack of written sources, and warned against ‘argumentum ex silentio’: basing conclusions upon the absence of evidence demonstrating another explanation.

The discussion moved onto an assessment of Beryl Platts’ controversial work on Flemish origin families using heraldic evidence. Suspicion of this methodology was fairly widespread among the group. It was pointed out by Alexander Stevenson that Platts had applied the evidence to the eleventh and twelfth centuries, before heraldry had properly matured, and Michael Brown argued that heraldic relationships could be formed through landholding rather than through families, e.g. the Lindsays and the Stewarts, their overlords, used the same heraldic symbols.

On the question of immigration patterns David Dobson described how, between 1500 and 1700, a small number of Flemish immigrants in Scotland had come as two-stage migrants from cities such as Norwich and London. A correlation may be found between the names of Flemings in Edinburgh and Leith, for example, and these southern cities, using documentary evidence such as church records.

Another way of identifying the Flemish footprint in Scotland is through an examination of place names. Alex Woolf highlighted the work of his former PhD student Peadar Morgan, who compiled a database of ethnonym Scottish place names.[[1]]

Another topic of discussion was military history, which can also shed light on the Flemish footprint – mottes are believed to have been constructed by Flemings in Clydesdale, for instance. The Flemish may also have left their mark on agriculture. Flemish expertise may have been sought by lords looking to improve the cultivation of their land.

Alasdair MacDonald, who is working with Alex Fleming to trace Flemish families in Scotland, explained how DNA analysis can potentially be used to validate an origin. A DNA project is now well underway, hosted by the Family Tree DNA company. It is hoped that DNA testing can in due course confirm the Flemish origins of Scottish families, such as Murray, Sutherland, Lindsay and Douglas, where question marks exist at present.[[2]]

Alasdair cautioned against a populist approach to such analysis and instead stressed the need for academic rigour.

Our participants getting involved.
Our participants getting involved.

Panel 3: David Ditchburn (Trinity College Dublin) led the third panel titled ‘Trade Links and Commercial Exchange.’ He began by exploring the close business connections between the Scots and Bruges in the medieval period. David stressed the point that while Scottish historiography treats it as such, Flanders and the Low Countries are not synonymous. The overlapping jurisdictions of the Low Countries had an important impact upon relations between Scotland and Flanders. Similarly, the economics of trade were vital within the political machinations of Scotland, Flanders, England, and France in the medieval period. David highlighted the problems involved in using the customs records (Exchequer Rolls of Scotland) for reconstructing the history of Scotland’s economy. Another important topic covered in David’s presentation was the movement of Scotland’s staple between Bruges, Middelburg, and, finally, Veere in the sixteenth century. He argued that the movement of the staple was an effort to gain further trade privileges for Scottish merchants. There was a broad ranging discussion on commercial exchange with particular emphasis placed on the community of Scots in the Low Countries.

Panel 4: The final session of the day, ‘Diplomacy and Cultural Exchange, was led by Professor Graeme Small. He is an expert on the politics and culture of the Burgundian Netherlands, of which Flanders was a part.[[3]]

Graeme raised several broad cultural issues for discussion. He speculated on whether the exchange between Scotland and Burgundy in the later middle ages was essentially one way. Specifically he believed that Scotland was pulled more and more into mainstream European culture through diplomatic and cultural links with Burgundy.[[4]]

These links were enabled and made manifest by ‘conductors’ or ‘brokers’ between the two states, a notable example being Anselm Adornes, a Burgundian diplomat and counsellor of James III of Scotland.

Of particular note was the example of Mary of Guelders, niece of Philip the Good of Burgundy and queen to James II. At issue is whether, when Mary was physically transferred to Scotland, she also brought her new home more deeply into the cultural orbit of the Burgundian dukes. Graeme suggested that the establishment of Mary’s household under the Scot David Lindsay rather than under a Burgundian was symptomatic of the lack of cultural influence she exerted. However, architectural historian Richard Fawcett discussed her patronage of the Trinity College Kirk (no longer extant), as well as the remodelled presbytery of St Giles Cathedral, both in Edinburgh. Furthermore, Richard argued that the architecture of Trinity College was an example of Burgundian style with a Scottish accent: a visual representation of the cultural fusion stimulated by Mary of Guelders. The architectural theme continued with an examination of how continental styles were generally influential in late medieval and early modern Scotland. For example Stirling Castle has connections with the ducal palace of Nancy, and the telescopic form of the parish church of Dundee bears a resemblance to Low Countries structures such as Utrecht Cathedral.

This raised the question of just how influential Flemish and, more generally, Burgundian culture really was in Scotland. Many of the objects bought in and imported from the staple at Bruges were not necessarily made there, as illustrated by the movement of Robert Bruce’s Parisian tombstone through Flanders before being shipped to Scotland. Graeme stressed the need to think more broadly when considering potential cultural links, to include such institutional routes as universities, for example Leuven, which attracted several notable Scots. Furthermore, Scots were also subject to alternative cultural influences: for example David II and James I both spent formative periods at the English court.

Despite this, it is clear that Bruges exerted a powerful commercial influence as an entrepôt at which Scotland’s elites, without a developed industrial base of their own, sought the best quality luxuries available. Sources such as the ledger of Andrew Halyburton, a Scottish merchant based in the Low Countries, detail the various imports of Scottish clients. Graeme concluded by suggesting that historians need to look to the mercantile classes, and to trade, to get a fuller picture of the long-term and enduring connections between Scotland and Flanders.

Concluding Discussion: After an interesting day of lively discussion and debate, involving experts on fields as varied as social, economic, and cultural history, genealogy, art, and architecture, the workshop drew to a close with concluding remarks led by Professor Roger Mason. While many aspects of the Flemish influence in medieval and early modern Scotland had been discussed, it was agreed that place name and archaeological evidence will also be necessary in order to create a comprehensive study, with trade and commerce holding everything together. It is hoped that a more open conference will be held in late 2015 or early 2016, accompanied by a published volume of essays. Alex Fleming also requested that workshop participants be receptive to contributing to the blog series over the coming year (the blog will resume in September).

The Scotland and Flemish People Project would like to thank all of those who participated in making the workshop a success.

Post-workshop dinner at Zizzi.
Post-workshop dinner at Zizzi.

Amy Eberlin & Morvern French
20 June 2014

[1] See
[2] Further information is available at
[3] See Graeme Small, ‘The Scottish Court in the Fifteenth Century: A View from Burgundy’, in Werner Paravicini (ed.), La Cour de Bourgogne et l’Europe: Le Rayonnement et les Limites d’un Modèle Culturel (2013).
[4] See Alasdair MacDonald, ‘Chivalry as a Catalyst of Cultural Change in Late Medieval Scotland’, in Rudolf Suntrup and Jan R. Veenstra (eds.), Tradition and Innovation in an Era of Change (2001).

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One reply to "Scotland and the Flemish People Project Workshop – 5 June 2014"

  • James B. Sutherland and J. Mark Sutherland-Fisher
    James B. Sutherland and J. Mark Sutherland-Fisher
    Friday 21 November 2014, 1.16pm

    Scotland and the Flemish People Project Workshop- 5 June 2014 The issue has been raised by Beryl Platts in her three books that there should be more investigation of the family links between Flemish names in English Manorial Records as presented in Victoria County History and Archibald Lawrie’ s Early Scottish Charters Prior to AD 1153.She strongly hints some of the answers are to be found in Dr Warlops The Flemish Nobility .It was noted that in the discussions and assessment of her work the workshop panels seemed to disregard any Heraldic evidence she addresses in her books regarding the links between Scotland and Flanders. We make no judgement on this, we however, wish you to take note of the following heraldic evidence from various sources that could have a bearing on your future discussions. It is worth noting that in the Balliol Roll of 1332 the Scottish Arms of the Earl of Sutherland are shown without the double tressure showing the three stars as Gules(red) pierced on a background Or (Gold or yellow) which is almost identical to the House of Boulogne only the stars are replaced with three roundels red.[1] The current Sutherland arms are the reverse of the above with the addition of the double tressure. The Murray and Douglas arms in the above Roll also show three silver stars pierced red on a blue background. The similarities are obvious to heraldic eyes. 1 Le Conte de Sotherland Or, three pierced mullets of six points Gules 2 Sir de Morref Azure, three mullets of six points Argent pierced Gules 3 Sir de Douglas Argent, on a chief Azure three mullets of six points Argent pierced gules The Armorial de Gelre describes the arms of Sir Archibald Douglas as D’hermine, au Coeur de gueles, au chef d'azur, a trois etoiles d'argent in layman’s terms a blue bar with three silver stars on a background of ermine with a red heart in the middle this looks like the ermine is a link with the Crawford arms.[2] We draw your attention to two well researched published articles by the Heraldry Society of Scotland where, part of the information in the articles covers Flemish influence on Scottish coats of arms and the Royal Tressure. 1 An Heraldic Hierarchy by John and Eilean Malden 2 Some Distinctive Characteristics of Scots Arms by Alex Maxwell Findlater It may be too early to be suspicious of the methodology of Beryl Platts work in relation to possible heraldic links of certain Scottish Families with Flemish families. DNA progress on De Moravia families (Murray and Sutherland) and the Family of Douglas is at an advanced stage. The coats of arms of these three families have already been identified as close relatives of each other we hope, this small contribution will stimulate further in-depth research. James B Sutherland and J Mark Sutherland-Fisher 6/8/2014 References: 1) The Balliol Roll 1332 (Private Collection) 2) The Armorial de Gelre 1369-88 internet copy 2014

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