The Flemish on the Firth of Tay – Part 1

Morvern French
Friday 6 February 2015

This posting is a continuation of our series on the Flemish influence in different parts of Scotland. Having examined the Flemish around the Firth of Forth (blog of 26th of September and 3rd of October 2014), David Dobson now examines the area around the Firth of Tay. In this first of two postings the focus is on trade with the Tay ports, especially Dundee, where surname evidence of Flemish settlement is explored. This posting complements that prepared on the Dundee area by John Irvine (21st of February 2014). Next week Part 2 will concentrate on Perth.

The Trading Background

Flanders was probably the most economically advanced location in northern Europe in the medieval period. Its economy was based, though not exclusively, on the production of textiles. The textile industry required wool as its raw material, much of which was acquired from England and Scotland. At the same time its growing urban population required foodstuffs. Scotland supplied herring, cod, salmon, wheat, wool, wool-fells, hides, and skins, and in exchange received high quality cloth, wine, and a wide range of manufactured goods. Bruges was the greatest market in northern Europe and the site of the Scottish staple until 1477. Scottish merchants or factors would have been based at the staple port of Bruges until it moved to Middelburg and later Veere, both in Zeeland.

The religious orders in both Scotland and England increasingly developed sheep farms and exported wool and sheep fells to the Low Countries. In Scotland this began along the Tweed Valley, the Merse (an area near the border with England), and at abbeys such as Melrose, which shipped wool etc. via the port of Berwick-upon-Tweed. From the twelfth century burghs were being established in Scotland, these came in different types – burghs of barony, regality, and royal burghs. Only Royal Burghs could participate in overseas trade, such burghs including Perth and Dundee.

Burghs grew up at important route intersections, at or near river-mouths, on strategic sites. Examples included Perth, Dundee and Stirling, established by 1200. Flemish merchants and craftsmen were encouraged to settle in these burghs. The rise of the textile industries in Flanders and elsewhere in the Low Countries generated a demand for wool from Scotland, and soon a regular trade developed.

This demand was not only satisfied by lay merchants and farmers but also by the church. The Cistercian monks in Scotland – soon followed by other religious houses as well as lay entrepreneurs – entered the wool trade. For example, by 1255 Coldingham Abbey in Berwickshire was exporting wool. These exports would have gone via the port of Berwick-on-Tweed, possibly through Flemish merchants there, men such as William of Arras. The Flemish merchants had their factory or Red Hall in Berwick, as did German merchants in the fourteenth century. In the late thirteenth century the Cistercian order at Balmerino, as well as at Coupar Angus, derived income from wool and woolfells, much of which was presumably exported to Flanders. Such exports might have been expected to go through the nearby burgh of Dundee, however the Cistercians had special arrangements.


Professor A. A. M. Duncan believed that the Cistercian monasteries had stores at Berwick and also in Perth to which wool, woolfells, and hides were sent by nearby Cistercian monasteries before being shipped abroad.[1] In the case of Perth, the monasteries included Coupar Angus and Balmerino. This certainly happened in the thirteenth century. Religious houses traded directly with the continent, or possibly via London, and so bypassed urban merchants in centres such as Dundee and Perth.

Smaller landowners, in contrast, would have sent their produce to Flanders via local merchants or factors. Such merchants in the fifteenth century included Andrew Halyburton, a well-documented trader in Dundee and the Low Countries. It is not clear from the surviving records how long the monasteries retained the privilege of trading directly with markets on the continent. The Exchequer Rolls of the period are not detailed enough, and only give overall figures and destinations of exports.

Flemish factors do not seem to have been based in Scotland, however, as restrictive practices by the burghs and merchant guilds kept the transactions in the hands of the burgesses. In the case of Dundee this practice was enforced by royal charter. A charter of King Robert the Bruce, dated 4th of March 1327, granted the burgesses of Dundee rights similar to those of Berwick. Only Dundee burgesses could buy wool or skins in Forfarshire, while foreign merchants could only trade within the shire of Forfar via Dundee burgesses. Dundee burgesses had first choice of any imports, and foreign merchants could only act as wholesalers, with all goods to be weighed and measured at the Tron (a public weighing facility usually found in the market square).

King David II renewed the burgh charter in 1359, again giving Dundee burgesses the monopoly of buying wool, skins and hides within the shire of Forfar, but extended to purchasing all sorts of goods at the market of Cupar in Fife. Dundee’s hinterland, over which it had a monopoly of trade, included Coupar Angus, Kirriemuir also possibly Arbroath and Forfar. There were boundary disputes between Dundee and Montrose to its north and Perth to its west.

Dundee and Perth squabbled over trading rights on the River Tay until in 1402 the Regent of Scotland, Robert Duke of Albany, decreed that Dundee had jurisdiction over any ports between Invergowrie and Barry on the north and also on the opposite side of the river, while Perth had control over the upper Tay.

Scotland is known to have attracted immigrants from Flanders, especially in the medieval period but to a lesser extent in the early modern period. Recent research, reported in earlier blog postings, has established the presence of Flemish people and their descendants in burghs and ports along the Firth of Forth. In this first of two postings an attempt is made to identify people of Flemish origin in the burghs of Dundee and its hinterland.

Possible Flemish Surnames in Medieval Dundee

Surnames can be used to identify immigrants, however the use of surnames in Scotland only began in the twelfth century and then only among the landowning class. The use of surnames by the bulk of the population only became common by the seventeenth century. Before then many people were known by their Christian names together with that of their occupation, or place of origin, physical description, or by patronymics.

It is likely that the first Flemish settlers arrived without surnames and their descendants later adopted the Scots surnames. This could account for the lack of Flemish surnames in Scotland in the medieval period. However, Flemings arriving in the late medieval period or the early modern period would have brought their Flemish names. The use of ‘Fleming’ to differentiate an immigrant may have been used initially, and subsequently became an established surname in Scotland. Surnames can therefore be used to a limited degree as a tool to identify people of Flemish origin, as many of the first wave of immigrants arrived without surnames and later their descendant followed the Scottish practice. This does underestimate the size of Flemish immigration.

Researching into medieval Dundee suffers from the lack of records. This was recognised as early as 1661 when the magistrates claimed

that upon the occasion of the intakeing of the burgh of Dundie be the English in the year 1651 the charter kist of the forsaid burgh wes broken up by the English souldiers and all the writs taken out of the samen and many of them brunt and destroyed and verie few if them gotten bak agane’. [Acts of the Parliaments of Scotland vii, p. 353]

Similarly, the old parish records, which are usually a good source of information on people, only exist from 1645 for Dundee. The burgh records of Dundee as well as the various trades records exist from the early modern period, that is after 1500, to varying degrees. They identify people bearing Flemish names who are presumably immigrants or the descendants of immigrants. Take for example the Dundee Burgh and Head Court books, which in the mid-1550s identify people whose names suggest a Flemish origin, including Jhonkyn Crole, Jhonkyn Jak, Jhon Morkart, and Henrick Copmans. A feu charter of 1540 in favour of John Jackson, a burgess of Dundee, refers to Jenkin Costerer’s lands in Dundee, while witnesses include Jacob Rolland, William Weddell, James Cure, William Spalding, and Master William Spalding, a notary public.

The Spaldings, a family of known Flemish origin, are mentioned in an indenture of 1443 between the Abbot of Lindores and the burgh of Dundee, which refers to the tenement of Thomas de Spalding and David de Spalding in Market Street, and also to David Wilde, James Elye, Nicholas Elye, and Walter Spanyke. ‘The Compt Buik of David Wedderburne, merchant of Dundee, 1587-1630’ identifies various cargoes between Dundee and Flanders, for example in 1621 he sent 40 ells of plaiding and 300 merks in gold aboard James Croyes ship to exchange for 800 barrels of beans or onions; and in 1594 he sent a cargo of salmon, plaiding an ox hide, and linen cloth to be sold in Flanders. The Dundee Shipping Lists in 1580 identify imports from Flanders as wine, onions, soap madder, canvas, and onion seed, destined for specified Dundee merchants.

Minutes of Dundee Town Council do not exist prior to 1553, however there is a list of provosts and bailies from 1286. Among them are a few bearing surnames which may be Flemish. Galfrid Ayre was a bailie in 1375. The surname is probably derived from the Flemish town Aire, between St Omar and Bethune, founded around 850. David de Spalding was a bailie 1435 to 1442, James Elgy a bailie 1415 to 1418, and possibly Robert Templeman a bailie between 1380 and 1404.

‘The Burgh Laws of Dundee’ is a source of much information on early Dundee, including data on the nine trades of Dundee. The following men seem to bear Flemish surnames. The Glover trade, founded in 1516, was witnessed by a John Air. The Lockit Buik of the Tailor trade lists Wat. Cor and Jenkin Croll in 1567. The Bonnet-maker trade mentions a George Wanent in 1529, and a John Willand, a master a freeman in 1679. The Weaver trade had a Deacon of the Brabenders named Thomas Cappone in 1589, and a Thomas Coppein in 1597. Among members of the Mason trade were John Mustart, a master and freeman in 1659, and Robert Wandles, a master and freeman in 1659. Robert Wanless and his son James Wanless were of the Maltmen trade in 1623. Barte Zung was Deacon of the Waulkers in 1581, and Gabriel Somer was Deacon of the Cordiners in 1603.

‘The Wedderburn Book’, a history of a family of importance in Dundee, mentions some residents of possibly Flemish origin, for example Peter Imrie, son and heir of the late Peter Imrie, in 1596. According to George F. Black, the first of that name was Emeric, a Lombard of Flanders, who was spoiled (financially ruined) by John Crabbe of Berwick in 1329.[2]

Alexander Maxwell’s ‘Old Dundee prior to the Reformation’ contains much useful data, including a list of burgesses dated 1553, some of whom bore surnames of Flemish origin: Thomas Cant, Andrew Planetre, George Spalding, Macus Schang, John Els, Jonkin Smyth, John Weland, Ginkin Croil, Robert Widder, Andrew Juste, Brandon Als, John Erskin, James Roch, and Henry Piper. The Dundee Burgess Roll, as contained in the Lockit Buik, has a number of surnames of likely Flemish origin, for example Ademan, Aldcorn, Aitkin, Boyack, Brabener, Brand, Butchart, Coppine, Cox, Goabard, Goldman, Honeyman, Just, Luf, Millard, Moyses, and others.

On the 3rd of October 1605, Jacques, a Fleming, complained to the Privy Council of Scotland that while William Spence, a burgess of Dundee, had been put to the horn for failing to pay a debt, he was still at liberty. [Register of the Privy Council of Scotland VII, p. 36] (William Spence was admitted as a merchant burgess of Dundee, 27/9/1582, by right of his father David Spence.)

‘The Exchequer Rolls of Scotland’, alias ‘Rotulli Scarrarii Regum Scotorum’, volume XIX, 1557-1567, has an entry on page 350 – ‘et pro customes certorum victualium transportium a portu de Dundie ad partes Flandrie per Simonem Stark et ejus consortes, mercatores Flandrie…’ which reveals that a Simon Stark and his partners, Flemish merchants, were shipping grain from Dundee to Flanders around 1560. It is not clear whether Simon Stark was Flemish or Scottish.

The Bishop of Dunkeld purchased wares though his agent David Fourous, a burgess of Haddington. In 1508 he purchased a tabernacle for the church in Dunkeld which was shipped through the port of Dundee.

Memorandum that my Lord hes delyverit apon this compt to the said David the sowm of fywe pundis the schillingis for the fraucht of the said tabernacle of Dounde out of Flaundris to the firth and about fra the firth to Dounde. And for sex knarholt burd to be dellyverit to Schir Johne Cormanno in Dounde in my Lordis name for the altar of Sanct Georgis Kyrk in Dounkeld, xxiiii s.

In 1601 the Convention of Royal Burghs of Scotland recruited skilled textile craftsmen from Flanders with the aim of improving the skills and the quality of the Scottish workforce and the product. These workers were allocated to various burgh councils in Scotland. Dundee was allocated Claus Losseir, a shearer, Cornelius Dermis, a weaver, and Henri de Turque, a weaver. Nothing has been found on their subsequent life in Scotland. (Henri de Turk was a cloth-maker from Maesen, France, later in Norwich, who arrived in Edinburgh in 1601.)

By the middle seventeenth century Dundee had around 10,000 inhabitants and was one of the biggest burghs in Scotland. A number of them were clearly of Flemish descent, but the lack of data makes it impossible to estimate the proportion.

David Dobson

February 2015

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), and over 115 historical and genealogical source books (Baltimore, 1983-2013).


[1] A. A. M. Duncan, Scotland: The Making of the Kingdom, The Edinburgh History of Scotland Volume One, (Oliver & Boyd, 1975).
[2] George F. Black, The Surnames of Scotland: their Origin, Meaning and History (New York, 1946).
Alexander Maxwell, Old Dundee prior to the Reformation (Dundee, 1891).
Charters of the Abbey of Coupar Angus, Vol. 1, 1166-1376 (Edinburgh, 1947).
S. Cowan, The Ancient Capital of Scotland (London, 1904).
Charters, Writs and Public Documents of the Royal Burgh of Dundee, 1292-
C Rogers, Rental Book of the Cistercian Abbey of Cupar Angus (London, 1879).
‘Rentale Dunkeldense’, being the accounts of the bishopric 1505-1517 (Edinburgh 1915).
The Exchequer Rolls of Scotland
Register of the Privy Council of Scotland
A. Miller, Scottish Forfeited Estates Papers, 1715; 1745 (Edinburgh, 1909).
The Compt Buik of David Wedderburne, merchant of Dundee, 1587-1630


Edinburgh City Archives
Perth and Kinross Archives
Dundee City Archive
National Archives of Scotland
Dundee Central Library

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