The Flemish on the Firth of Tay – Part 2

Amy Eberlin
Friday 13 February 2015

In this second of two postings David Dobson examines the evidence for a Flemish presence in the area around the Firth of Tay.  Last weeks posting examined the nature of the trading link with Flanders and how this may have led to a presence of people with possible Flemish surnames in Dundee.  This week the focus is on the presence of Flemish in Perth and its hinterland.

Flemings in Perth

Perth, which was established as a Royal Burgh in 1125, has a number of royal charters and other documents dating from 1205, however the bulk of the burgh records do not predate 1500.  Research on Flemish links of the medieval period is difficult, though there are records for the early modern period.

Flemings were encouraged to trade and preferably settle in Scottish burghs, one such was Baldwin, the king’s client (representative) in Perth. David I evidently favoured Flemings as a people likely to bring about the economic and social benefits to his burghs. Burghs were semi-autonomous in that they had a degree of self-rule, which was by a burgh council elected by the burgesses.  The burgesses were about ten per cent of the male inhabitants and were mainly merchants and craftsmen.  A Flemish immigrant would have to become a burgess to enable him to vote, trade, or operate a business within the burgh, though he could be an employee.  Burgess rolls should be able to identify Flemish immigrants or their male descendants, however in the case of Perth and Dundee they do not exist prior to the sixteenth century.   However there is fragmentary evidence from the medieval period of Flemish settlement in Perth and Dundee and possibly their rural hinterlands. An early immigrant from Flanders was a Flemish lorimer, or maker of military harnesses, who was persuaded by King David I to settle in Perth. At that time it was a burgh of strategic importance, one where land routes intersected, with a bridge over the Tay, a port, a castle, and a royal residence at nearby Scone.


In Perth, the paucity of medieval documents hinders research into Flemish migration. There are, however, some useful sources.  For example, the Perth Guildry Book dates from 1452, which records the activities of the local merchants.  This source was recently transcribed and published.  The merchant guild of Perth was established in 1209.  Among the foreigners admitted to the Perth Guildry was Anselm Adornes and his son. Adornes was a leading merchant in Bruges, who on a number of occasions acted as the Envoy to Scotland of Charles the Bold, around 1470.

The Perth Guildry records show a decline in Perth’s overseas trade from the mid sixteenth century onwards.  Other east coast ports also experienced a decline as the port of Leith increasingly dominated Scottish imports and exports.  A case before the Dean of Guild Court in Perth on 14 April 1468 records the name of a Flemish smith  – The quhilk day comperit befor the alderman, the dene of gild and the hale brethir of gild, Christofer Merschale, a Fleming and a smith, and procurators til Bernard Deynaert and resavit fra Johne Bunche, burgess of the burgh of Perth, a pyp of merchandis of Henry Cantis, burgess of Edinburgh, and qwitclamis the saide John thariof now and forever more’.

The Guildry Book also records the following men being admitted as burgesses and guild brothers – Robert Clynk, a wright, in 1582, William Clink, a maltman, in 1583, Thomas Cossinis, a webster, in 1582, Gabriell Stoyyker, a weaver in 1582; John Crab in 1488; Andrew Crab in 1498; Alan Eustace in 1488; Tomas Fluthman in 1488 ‘pro una libra grossorum Flandree vel pro uno nobelo aught de le Ros in Scotia’.; Stevin Merschale in 1453; Thomas Merschale a weaver in 1459; and William Shepman in 1467.  Most of them, if not all of them, bear names that could be Flemish.

Another Flemish immigrant in Perth, according to the National Archives for Scotland [NAS.GD79.2.17] was Martin de Ghent who was a burgess of Perth, and father of William de Ghent who subscribed to a charter in 1458. He may be the father of John Gent, also a burgess and guilds-brother of Perth, described as a wine and spice merchant, presumably importing stock from Flanders, in 1479.

As elsewhere the prime export from Perth, at least in the medieval period, was wool and wool-fells. Much of the exports from Perth came from nearby monasteries such as Coupar Angus and Balmerino as noted in last weeks blog posting.  Trade with continental Europe was subject to interruptions caused by war at sea or on land, by the forces of England, France, the Low Countries, Flanders, and Spain.  Another threat to trade was pirates or privateers, as well as shipwrecks.  In 1369 a ship, the Magdeleyn, with a cargo of wool, hides, etc, bound from Scotland to Flanders but wrecked off Waynflete. Perth merchants like John Mercer, whose ships were constantly trading between Perth and Flanders in the 1370s, had such dangers to contend with. In 1405 there was a complaint by merchants of Perth and Dundee that two vessels trading between Flanders and Scotland were captured by English pirates. In 1412 safe conduct was granted to Thomas Simpson, John of Perth, and Gilbert Johnston, with six servants to come to England to search in Hull for goods taken at sea.

The Exchequer Rolls of Scotland do not provide the detailed information on Flemish trade and possible settlement that would be helpful to this project, though there are occasional references such as Taskynus merchant of Bruges 1327 [ER.I.77], Lambert Poulin Flemish merchant 1328 [i.93]; Bedyn Wolf and Laucius de Castro Flemish merchants at inverkeithing 1328 [i.95]; Claes Ondestolis, Flemish merchant, at Perth, 1328 [i.97]; Claes de Tore, a Flemish merchant at Berwick 1328 [i.173]; John Raynerson and John de Hazel de Slus 1329, [i.211]; John Woolcopper, Flemish merchant, 1329, 9i.239]; Peter Machaenae and Peter de Fhalle Flemish merchants 1331 9i.371]; Christian Clerk from Flanders, 1341 9i.3531]; Peter Buste [ii.51]; Adam Meteneye [ii.79/90/]; Paul Meteneye [ii.80]; John Pres [ii.131]; John of Oudecorne [Iii.133]; Denis of Munt,[ii.214], and other Flemish merchants.

The port books of the seventeenth century are far from comprehensive and confirm that trade with Flanders had seriously declined while trade with the Netherlands became of prime importance.

The most rewarding source of data on the Flemish or their descendants in Perth Archives is the Burgh Register of Deeds of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.  The Register of Deeds is generally concerned with commercial documents but occasionally other items such as indentures, marriage contracts, charter parties, and so on.  There is a substantial number of which the principal party to the deed bears what seems to be a Flemish surname.  The entries refer to people bearing the surname Biggert in 1593, Bishop between 1569 and 1663; Clink between 1567 and 1639 [there was a Jan Clink in Ghent in 15th century]; Ghent between 1569 and 1584; Gerard in 1594; Goldman between 1585 and 1501; Frisken between 1596 and 1677; Fleming, many; Lufrend in 1588; Merschale many; Stoyyker between 1583 and 1589, and others.

In the pre-Reformation period it was common for wealthy burgesses and also the trades and the guildry to provide support to the church in various ways, such as establishing an altar. This happened in Perth where, for example In 1504 Robert Clerk, a burgess of Perth, founded an altar to St Severus of Ravenna in Perth parish church. The Deacon and brethren of the weavers were to maintain the altar. In 1515 the chaplain of Trinity Altar was a Master David Spalding. Considering the involvement of Flemings to weaving and that Clerk can be a Flemish surname as well as an English or Scots one there may be a Flemish link. According to Marion L Stavert in her research on the Perth Guildry penalties imposed on guild merchants for operating on the Sabbath included fines paid to the altar of the Holy Blood in Perth.  She believed that the cult of the Holy Blood had its origins in Bruges and that local merchants had brought it to Scotland.  The cult in Perth dates from around 1430 when a John Spens endowed an altar in the parish church.

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. Perth was allocated Jacques de la Rudge, a camber and a spinner, Jacob Peterson, a shearer, and Abigail van Hort or Houte, a spinner. [It is noteworthy that Jacques le Rouge, a cloth-maker from Maesen, France, arrived in Edinburgh via Norwich in 1601]

Among the Henderson of Fordell papers in the National Archives of Scotland [NAS.GD172.2052] is an inventory of household goods and silk goods in ‘the fleming’s house’ delivered to Patrick Grant on the fleming’s departure to Antwerp around 1640.

Flemings in Rural Tayside

There seems to have been small-scale Flemish settlement in the hinterland of Dundee and Perth.  The main centre appears to have been in the vicinity of the Abbey of Coupar Angus, once in the old county of Angus or Forfarshire and currently in Perthshire. In the medieval period Baldwin the Fleming was granted land near Forfar now known as Flemington (see blog posting by John Irvine on February 21, 2014).  Baldwin seems to have been granted other lands, his main settlement being in Aberdeenshire.  Flemings also may have settled in the vicinity of Crieff in the early seventeenth century.

The Abbey of Coupar Angus seems to have distinct links with Flanders, initially through trade but also later by people of Flemish origin as tenants.  The participation of Coupar Angus Abbey in the wool trade dates from 1225 when King Henry II authorised the Abbot of Melrose to send a vessel to Flanders with wool and other merchandise; and a similar licence was granted for a vessel of the Abbot of Coupar Angus 1. The surviving charters of the abbey do not contain anything indicating Flemish immigration, however leases of property do exist, albeit for a limited period, but these do identify tenants of Flemish origin leasing abbey lands.  These people are unlikely to be first generation immigrants however.

In 1446 a John Auldcorn was granted a lease of the Mill of Keithock.  It is feasible that he was descended from John of Oudecorne, a Flemish merchant, noted in the Exchequer Rolls of Scotland around 1350. Other families with likely Flemish origin included Thomas Cant and David Cant in Little Perth from 1450; John Fleming and his son John Fleming in Balmile 1517-1542; Agnes Fleming in Cowbyre 1550; William Spalding in Grange of Errol 1472; Walter Spalding a monk in 1500; Andrew Younger [Flemish Joncker] in Cotyards, 1509, and several Spaldings. There were also Youngs in the area such as John Zong and his wife Anne Bauvany. He was the servant of the abbot and leased a house in 1511.

N D Mackay2 in his book ‘Aberfeldy, Past and Present’ wrote of the local flax industry and described the factory containing ‘the looms of the lace makers from Flanders’ which implied immigration from Flanders to Aberfeldy in the late eighteenth century.  However further research established that in fact an Andrew Spalding, a lint and linen manufacturer, who had served an apprenticeship at the Linen Manufactory in Haddington, had founded the factory at Aberfeldy around 1750.  He had been instructed in the Dutch methods of weaving by a Dutchman, followed by several years practical experience in Holland. Spalding may well be a member of the Spalding of Ashintully family, one known to be of Flemish origin.

According to the author of ‘The History of Crieff’, ‘ it was John Drummond, second Earl of Perth, who first brought the Flemish weavers into Strathearn between 1611 and 1662; and this is all the more likely, because his kinsman, Sir Patrick Drummond, was conservator for the Scottish trade in the Low Countries at that period.  It is known that there was a Waulk or Fulling Mill close to Drummond Castle’.

By the middle of the seventeenth century Perth is reckoned to have had a population around 5000.  The evidence does indicate that a proportion of them were of Flemish origin.

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.



(1) Joseph Bain, Bain’s Calendar of Documents relating to Scotland in the Public Record Office, [London, 1881]

(2) N.D. Mackay, Aberfeldy, Past and Present, [Aberfeldy, 1954]

Ecclesiastical Annals of Perth to the period of the Reformation, [Perth 1885]

Charters of the Abbey of Coupar Angus, Vol. 1, 1166-1376 [Edinburgh, 1947]

  1. Cowan, The Ancient Capital of Scotland, [London, 1904]

C Rogers, Rental Book of the Cistercian Abbey of Coupar Angus, [London, 1879]

Marion L. Stavert, Perth Guildry Book, 1452-1601, [Edinburgh, 1993]

‘Rentale Dunkeldense’ being the accounts of the bishopric 1505-1517 [Edinburgh, 1915]

The Exchequer Rolls of Scotland

Register of the Privy Council of Scotland

  1. Miller, Scottish Forfeited Estates Papers, 1715; 1745. [Edinburgh, 1909]

Alexander Patterson, The History of Crieff, [Edinburgh, 1912]



Edinburgh City Archives

Perth and Kinross Archives

National Archives of Scotland

University of St Andrews Library

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