The Cant Family and the Strathmartine Trust

Amy Eberlin
Friday 17 April 2015

This posting is a continuation of our series on identifying Scottish families with possible Flemish roots.  According to George Black the Cant family had Flemish origins.  The first reference to the Cants is found in the 14th century but the name appears frequently thereafter in Scotland. A notable member of the family in the 20th century was Ronald Cant who spent much of his life in St. Andrews.  He taught history at the University for many years until his death in 1999. A gift of books from his estate enabled the establishment of the Strathmartine Trust.

William Cant and Sithow Cant were, according to Black1, tenants under the Douglases in Telny in the barony of Aberdoure, Fife, in 1376.  The name occurs in the Exchequer Rolls in the fifteen century. According to this source the family, by trade dealers in cloth, supplied the king’s household.  They were evidently Flemings and are mentioned (in the Rolls) in connection with Flanders.  They obtained land at Masterton near Dunfermline.  A family of the name attained prominence in Edinburgh, where the name was common, in the 15th and 16th centuries. An Adam Cant was bailie there (in 1403) and James Cant was chosen dean of guild in 1413.  Alexander Cant was provost of Montrose in 1430.  An Allan Cant was rector of the Hospital of Soltre and chancellor of St. Andrews (in 1461).  Henry Cant represented Edinburgh is the Scottish Parliament from 1473 – 1493.   Cants can also be found in documents in later years.  A Robert Cant was a tenant under the Bishop of Moray (1565) and Andrew Cant was Minister at Pitsligo (1634).  Richard Kant, the grandfather of Immanuel Kant, the philosopher, was an inn keeper in Heydekrug (in today’s Lithuania) but was a native of Scotland.

The Cant family has been long associated with the region around the Tay river.  Perhaps the most well known member of this family in recent times was Ronald Cant whose family came originally from the Auchterhouse and Strathmartine area of Angus. Ronald was born in 1908 and as a young man studied at St. Andrews and Oxford universities. After a stint undertaking research in Edinburgh he returned to St. Andrews in 1935 as a lecturer in Medieval History.  He joined the Scottish History Department in 1948 and became reader in 1954.  One of his best-known publications was The University of St. Andrews – A short history2

Cant died in 1999.  His vast collection of books was used to help establish the Strathmartine Trust (the name reflects Ronald’s affection for the Strathmartine area of Angus).  The Strathmartine Centre, that comprises a library, study facilities, meeting rooms and accommodation for visiting history scholars is situated in the heart of St. Andrews.  It offers a range of grants and awards.  It also hosts regular lectures on Scottish history themes.

Most recently, the Strathmartine Trust contributed to the 600th anniversary of the founding of the University of St Andrews by leading a project and raising the funds to commission a statue of the founder, Bishop Henry Wardlaw.  The scope of work undertaken by the Strathmartine Trust can be gleaned from its website at:

John Irvine
April 2015

John Irvine is a member of the project team for the “Scotland and the Flemish People Project”.  He is a genealogist and local historian and is currently Chairman of the Local History Forum. He has written articles for local history journals on a wide range of topics. He has also published widely in the genealogy field and has researched the genealogy of both illustrious Dundee locals and the common man.




  1. Black, George. The Surnames of Scotland, 1946, p.132.
  2. Cant, Ronald C.  The University of St. Andrews – A short history, Scottish Academic Press, 1970.

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