The Fleming Family Charter Collection

Morvern French
Friday 13 March 2015

This posting discusses the recent discovery of a set of medieval charters relating to the Fleming family of Biggar and Cumbernauld. It is hoped that these charters will in due course shed new light on this Fleming family and its influence in Scotland.


The Fleming family charter collection was donated to the University of Toronto’s Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library in 2014. Eric Robertson, the donor, is a private individual who is a collector, particularly of Scottish material. The charters have been in his possession for many decades. He acquired them as a young man from an Edinburgh bookseller.

The charter collection pertains to the Fleming family associated with Biggar and Cumbernauld. Readers of this blog will be familiar with this particular family as it has had a noteworthy influence on Scotland’s history. Blog postings authored by Charles Rigg, dated the 5th and 12th of December, examine the relationship between two members of this family — Mary Fleming and John, 5th Lord Fleming — and Mary, Queen of Scots. An earlier posting by Charles Rigg, dated the 24th of March 2014, highlights the involvement of these Flemings in the Biggar area in the 12th century.

Subsequently the family moved to Cumbernauld Castle during the 14th century, and continued to be associated with that area until Oliver Cromwell destroyed the castle in 1650. This was the subject of a blog posting written by Adam Smith and dated the 19th of May 2014.

The Nature and Significance of the Charters

The collection comprises 60 charters, written in Latin, that date from the 14th to the 17th century. Little is know about the exact content of the charters at this point. This will only become clear once they have been digitised and examined.

The documents are believed to be, for the most part, land charters that would have governed the change of ownership of land. The charters had been created in a range of different places. Edinburgh is the main location but others include Glasgow, Aberdeen, Scone, Biggar, Cumbernauld Castle, and even Paris.

The parties to the charters also vary widely. Almost all of the charters have, as one of the principal parties, a member of the Fleming family. The other parties are wide-ranging but include royalty such as David II, Robert III, James III, James IV, Charles II, and Mary, Queen of Scots. A copy of one of the charters is shown below.

Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, University of Toronto.
Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, University of Toronto.

There is interest among academic and local historians in the content of the charters. Such charters could not only potentially shed light on issues of land ownership, but also on the relationships between the principal parties to the agreements. Even the red wax seal pendants attached to the charters can provide information of interest to historians.

Just how significant this find may be for Scottish historical research is difficult to assess at present but moves are afoot to make their content more broadly available.

Next Steps

The Thomas Fisher Rare Books Library plans to digitise the charters over the coming months. They will then be made available to the St Andrews Institute of Scottish Historical Research. How these documents will be translated, examined, and made available to researchers and the public at large is currently under discussion.

Anne Dondertman and Alex Fleming
March 2015

Anne Dondertman is Associate Librarian for Special Collections and Director of the University of Toronto’s Thomas Fisher Rare Books Library.
Alex Fleming is a sponsor of, and researcher in, the Scotland and the Flemish People Project. He is also the editor of the project blog.

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