The Flemish in Moray, Part One

Morvern French
Friday 16 October 2015

In this blog posting, as well as in next week’s, David Dobson examines the Flemish presence in the Moray area. Many of our readers who carry the name Murray, Sutherland, Duffus and Innes will be familiar with their possible ancestors, Freskin and Berowald, described below; but for others this posting offers an insight into an important medieval Flemish presence in the northern part of Scotland.


The Flemish connection to the old Celtic Province of Moray dates from the reign of King David I (1124-1153). A rebellion in Moray was suppressed by the king’s forces, led by two Flemish knights. The lands of the rebel lords in the Laigh of Moray were forfeited to the crown and subsequently granted to loyal subjects, including those who had successfully defeated the rebels in 1130.

Among those acquiring land were the two Flemings, Freskin and Berowald. The evidence reveals that they had already been settled with lands in the Lothians. Freskin, who was granted the lands of Duffus, already held Strathbrock in West Lothian; while Berowald, who was given Innes and Nether Urquhart, already held what is now Bo’ness in West Lothian.

There were, in all probability, other Flemings, retainers or similar, who accompanied Freskin and Berowald to settle in the old Celtic Province of Moray. However, this migration occurred before the adoption of surnames by the majority of the population, thus making it difficult to identify them as Flemish. At the same time the king settled people of English and Norman origin in the region.


Freskin is thought to have links to the Flemish settlers in Clydesdale. His descendants in Moray were the progenitors of such prominent families as Sutherland, Murray, and Duffus.

Freskin was a Flemish soldier of fortune who was rewarded for his services to the Scottish crown by King David I, through the grant of the lands of Straloch in West Lothian. Freskin was among the knights and retainers sent north to quell a rebellion in the Province of Moray.

Their success led to a migration of Norman, English and Flemish people north, to the lands forfeited by the rebels. Freskin and his family moved north to the Province of Moray in the 1120s, obtaining the important lordship of Duffus, and the lands of Roseisle, Inchkell, Macher, and Kintray, lying between the burgh of Elgin and the Moray Firth.

This was the foundation of three important families in the region – the Murrays, the Sutherlands, and the Duffuses. Freskin built a motte and bailey timber castle at Duffus, on the shores of Loch Spynie, by 1150. This was later replaced by a stone castle during the fourteenth century, the ruins of which can be visited today. Duffus was adopted as the surname by a branch of the descendants of Freskin.

Freskyn possibly had at least two sons – Hugh, the ancestor of the Sutherlands, and William, the progenitor of Murray and Duffus.

In 1150 Freskin was entertaining David I at the time the king was in the neighbourhood supervising the building of Kinloss Abbey, when Freskin died and was succeeded by his son William. William witnessed a charter granted at Perth by King Malcolm IV granting the land of Innes, Morayshire, to Berowald the Fleming in 1160. He witnessed other charters granted in Morayshire. It is possible that he may be related to the William Freskyn, sheriff of Invernaryn recorded in 1204. One of Freskyn’s great grandsons, Andrew, became bishop of Moray and was present at the foundation of Elgin Cathedral in 1224.

In 1197 King William the Lion granted the lands of Sutherland to Hugh, another son of Freskin. Soon his family adopted the territorial name as their surname, thus becoming the Sutherlands.

Through marriage the castle of Duffus passed into the hands of the Cheynes. By 1350 it was owned by a branch of the Sutherland family also descended from Freskin.


The other Flemish knight that settled in Moray was Berowald, from whom were descended the following:

According to the Barony of Innes Writs, 1225-1767,[1] the family of Innes is derived from Berowald, a Fleming who was granted the lands of Innes in Morayshire in 1160 by King Malcolm IV. On 25 December 1160, the king granted a charter to Berrowald Flandrensis, granting him the lands of Innes and Easter Urquhart, in the Province of Elgin. In return he had to supply one soldier for the garrison of the royal castle of Elgin and he was also granted a house and toft in Perth.[2]

On 20 January 1226 a royal charter granted by King Alexander II to Walter, son of John, son of the above Berrowald, of the above lands of Innes and Easter Urquhart. Walter then adopted the place name as his surname, so establishing the family of Innes. The place name Innes is derived from a Gaelic word signifying ‘island’. On 25 March 1539 King James V confirmed Alexander Innes of that Ilk and his heirs in the lands of Innes, which together with various lands in Morayshire and Banffshire were formed into the free barony of Innes.[3]

David Dobson

October 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 125 historical and genealogical source books (Baltimore, 1983- 2013).


[1] The Barony of Innes Writs, 1225-1767 (The Scottish Records Society, Edinburgh, 1948).

[2] Registrum Episcopatus Moraviensis (Edinburgh, 1837).

[3] The Register of the Great Seal of Scotland, vol. III, charter 1957 (Scottish Record Society, Edinburgh, 1984).

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