The Flemish in Moray, Part Two

Amy Eberlin
Friday 23 October 2015

In last week’s blog posting David Dobson looked at the ancestral roots of some of Scotland’s major Flemish origin families and their presence in the Moray area.  This week’s posting examines evidence of other Flemish people living and working in the area.

New religious orders

The introduction of new religious orders into the Province of Moray may have brought some Flemings, religious or lay people, to settle in or around the abbeys and monasteries that were being established. This seems to have happened elsewhere, for example at Coupar Angus.

David I founded the Benedictine Priory of Urquhart in 1136 and the Cistercian Abbey of Kinloss in 1150. Alexander I brought monks from Val des Choux in Burgundy to establish Pluscarden Priory.  He also brought Franciscans to Elgin and Dominicans to land north of the royal castle.  Elgin Cathedral was established in 1224. Some people with possible Flemish names, linked with the religious houses of Moray, are set out in the box below.

Robert Keith in his work on the See of Moray refers to likely Flemish settlers such as Brice, who was bishop there in 1203, ‘this bishop’s mother was sister to Friskinus de Kerdal of Kerdal on the river Spey…’

King William the Lion [1165-1214] granted a charter when in Elgin to Geoffrey Blund, a burgess of Inverness.  Among the witnesses to the charter was William son of Freskin.

In 1303 John de Spalding, was canon of Elgin, and prebendary of Duffus1

Elsewhere in Scotland the monks relied on the production and export of wool to Flanders for their income.  However there is no obvious reference to this trade in S. R. MacPhail’s research into Pluscardyn2. The only positive link to Flanders is the supply of two tabernacles from there around 1508.

Elgin and Forres

Flemish immigrants were initially to be found in the burghs and other urban settlements.  They were generally merchants, craftsmen, soldiers and churchmen.  The medieval burghs of Moray, namely Elgin and Forres, were relatively small and little documentary evidence, such as burgh records, have survived from the medieval period. Therefore there are no burgess lists, court records, apprentice rolls, which have very useful in identifying early Flemish settlers elsewhere in Scotland.

However, according to one source 3 the people described in the following box were tenants of the Bishop of Moray in 1565, all of who bear surnames that could be from the Low Countries.

In the barony of Spynie: John Umfray; David Bonar;    Thomas Peterkin in the brewery; Thomas Umfray; and, Alexander Hatmaker in Elgin.

In the barony of Kinnedor: James Wisman; Richard Wisman; the relict of Alex Wisman; Andrew Kemp in Muirton; Robert Cant in Muirton; and, John Brabiner in Aikinhead;

In the barony of Birneth: Robert Malies; Thomas Genot; James Runsiman in Innerlochthie; John Junkin; William Rounsiman; James Cant; Archibald Puggat in Whitfield; James Puggat there; and, Thomson Brabener in Easter Kelles.

In the barony of Raffort: Thomas Howffald; Thomas Runciman in Bracoht; Andreas Mawcie in Granroquhy, and Gilbert Weland.

In the barony of Kilmyles: Helen Fleming.

Elgin4 was a royal burgh since the reign of David I, with a merchant guild since 1268 granted by Alexander III. During the 12th and 13th centuries it was an important centre of government, with the cathedral of the diocese of Moray founded 1224. However details of social and economic life missing for the 12th and 13th centuries, though some evidence from fourteenth century onwards. It was an economic backwater with an export trade mainly of salmon, wool, skins, and hides. Elgin suffered through the lack of a good port, depending on small local havens as exits for its exports of wool and cloth. This problem was alleviated in 1700 when a harbour built at Lossiemouth.

No formal burgess roll of Elgin exists, though a partial list exists from 1541. It contains no obvious Flemish surnames, except possibly Alexander Culback in 1636; Robert Blenshell in 1690, and George Junken in 17045.

Forres was founded before the reign of William the Lion, [1165-1214].  The nearby Kinloss Priory meanwhile was established by Alexander II in 1226.  The export trade of Forres went though the port of Findhorn. But as many early records have vanished there is no way of establishing the existence of Flemings there or any trading links with Flanders, though it might be assumed that Kinloss Abbey would have been engaged in the wool trade.

The only settlements of any consequence in Moray were Elgin and Forres.  Regretably, the burgh records prior to 1500 do not exist.  However miscellaneous local records mention the following surnames which may be those of people of Flemish, or possibly Brabant origin in Elgin: Brander; Brabner; Bremner; Gadderer; Junken; Mellis; Purse; Wink; and, Wyseman.

Scotland Map - Dobson Blog

Elgin is not close to the sea, with the nearest ports being Lossiemouth and Burghead. The bishop had a harbour at Spynie that is known to have participated in overseas trade by 1234.  This continued until 1400 when silting occurred. In 1393 the Earl of Moray permitted the burgesses of Elgin freedom from customs duties on good exported through his harbour at Speymouth. Soon malt, salted fish, wool and cloth were being shipped to continental destinations, and in return silk, wine, and ironware were imported. An example of manufactured imports is the 14th century Flemish flagon, found in an Elgin close, now in the local museum.


The seventeenth century port books of Inverness, are not restricted to the burgh of Inverness as the precinct covered former Spey ports which could have been used by merchants in Moray.  However by that period Leith dominated the overseas trade of Scotland and any direct trade was limited.  Among the ships known to have traded between Inverness and Flanders was: the James of Inverness, master John Watson, which arrived from Bruges, 5 May 1666 with cargo6; the Susanna of Leith, master John Gillis, from Inverness to Flanders with a cargo of salmon, on 1 September 16697; and, the St Anna of Bruges, master Francois de la Poor, from Inverness with a cargo of salmon, 15 September 16738.

The registers of sasines of the various burghs and sheriffdoms date from the sixteenth century. The Register of Sasines for the Sheriffdom of Elgin, Forres, and Nairn between 1617 and 1700 contain mention of a number of individuals, some of whom bear or possibly bear Flemish surnames.  These include – James Air, burgess of Elgin, and his spouse Margaret Yewny9, Hierom Badoun, son of John Badoun in Findhorn10, William Cowbane, merchant in Elgin11, John Fimester, in Pitgownie12, also several Branders, Godsman, Hatmaker, Junkin, Kemp, Lafreis, Milvert, and a Genevieve Petow.


As noted in the blog posting dated November 21, 201413 Freskin de Moravia, a Fleming, came to the area south of the Moray Firth in the middle of the 12th century and there is evidence of settlement there by his descendants (Sutherlands and Murrays) as well as the Innes family.

Although a limited degree of Flemish settlement did occur in Moray in the later medieval period there is no evidence of any subsequent migration.  Trade with Flanders, which normally generated some settlement, was minimal due to the lack of a good quality harbour.  The sparse records available do contain a few Flemish surnames but whether they are descendants of the first Flemish settlers or individuals, who have moved from other parts of Scotland is not clear.

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.



{1}  ‘An Historical Catalogue of the Scottish Bishops down to the year 1688’, [Robert Keith, Edinburgh, 1824]
{2} ‘The History of the Religious House of Pluscardyn”, [S.R. MacPhail, Edinburgh, 1891]
{3}  ‘Registrum Episcopatus Moraviensis’, [Edinburgh, 1837]
{4}  ‘The Scottish Burgh Survey of Elgin’, [Historic Scotland, Edinburgh, 1982]
{5}  ‘The Records of Elgin, 1234-1800’, Volume II, [Spalding Club, Aberdeen, 1908]
{6} National Archives of Scotland.E72.11.1
{7} National Archives of Scotland, E72.11.3
{8} National Archives of Scotland, E72.11.3
{9} National Archives of Scotland, RS28.1.207
{10} National Archives of Scotland, RS28.IV.53
{11} National Archives of Scotland, RS28.111.110
{12} National Archives of Scotland, RS28.IV.58

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