The Family of Innes of Morayshire

Amy Eberlin
Thursday 29 October 2015

The last two blog postings addressed the question of settlement of Flemings in the Moray area in the later middle ages. Continuing with the Moray theme Mairin Innes reviews the history of the Innes’s that lived in the area in the middle of the 12th century and examines the evidence for and against the family having Flemish roots.                                                         


The Canmore King David I reigned from 1124 and had taken as his Queen, Maud, who was of Flemish descent.  David was enamoured with the culture of the Normans and Flemish who had successfully invaded and conquered Saxon England in 1066.  Less than one hundred years later the King of England, Henry II, expelled many of the Flemish.  Those who came north to Scotland were welcomed by David, who sought to change the face of Scotland to a more enlightened and prosperous one, and also extend the establishment of bishoprics, abbeys, and priories, based on the model of Norman culture as it was in England.  With that goal in mind David gave power and prestige to the Flemish elite who joined his ranks in return for their services and loyalty, and offered similar prospects to any native chieftains in Scotland who would join him, as he extended his influence throughout the land 1.

A Flemish origin for the Innes family?

Morayshire was an independent and ancient province but this did not stop David I and his successors from replacing uncooperative Moravian chieftains with their own loyal followers.  Under David’s rule, communities such as Elgin began to grow and prosper.  This medieval community is described by Lachlan Shaw, Bishop of Moray from 1734 until 1774, in his history of the local area.  He tells us that:“The houses of Elgin, as was the case at this time in all the towns of both England and Scotland, were chiefly built of wood, and comprised several grades of dwellings. These are referred to in different Deeds in the Register of Moray by the terms ‘mansions,’ ‘edifices,’ ‘huts,’ or ‘bothies.’  We find that from an early period several of the barons and clergy in the neighbourhood, as well as some of the officers of State, possessed ‘burgage’ property in Elgin and Tofts of land in the town were granted by David – a practice continued by his grandson Malcolm IV…” One such person was Berowald the Fleming, Lord of Innes2, appointed by the King, to oversee security of the castle at Elgin, under the stewardship of a knight… “Malcolm IV, King of Scotland granted by charter in A.D 1160, the lands of Innes to Berowald the Fleming, the condition of the tenure being the service of …one knight (unius militus) in my castle of Elgin (en castello meo de Elgin),”2a

This was a strategic move by the ruling class to secure the lands Malcolm IV, grandson of David I, held in Moray and it became a standard practice to bestow charters or other favours to various knights, nobles or thanes – providing they abided by the conditions of service to protect the King and his assets – for not all in the land welcomed the changes brought about by his grandfather.  Despite the opposition however, suffice it to say at this time that Scotland’s 12th century ruling classes continued to be influenced by the Norman/Flemish culture and sought to introduce it, and its church, to as many areas of Scotland as possible. This is why it is believed that in 1160 A. D., Berowaldus Flandrensis, thought to be of Flemish origin, came to inherit land and position in Elgin, and whose descendants assumed the surname Innes, [de Ineys, Yneys, de Insula] after the lands given to Berowald – as he is often later referred to.

Some however believed that Berowald was not Flemish, but Moravian, in which case his descendants would not be of Flanders, but of Moray.  One such person was Duncan Forbes whose work is described in the box below.

The first known genealogy regarding the descendants of Berowald the Fleming was by Duncan Forbes of Culloden. Forbes had married Mary [Marie] Innes daughter of Sir Robert Innes, and he was much impressed with his wife’s family, which was the catalyst for his work. Forbes goes into great detail dissecting the wording of the Latin Charters recorded in his work, and it is his conclusion that Berowald of Flanders is not Flemish but ‘of Innes’ in Moray, ie that he was Moravian.  In his work Forbes states that: “As to the first supposition anent Berowald being a stranger, I cannot be of that opinion, for all his being designed Flandrensis in the wreat; because, wher ther were no surnames, he might have had that as a too-name, for his having once made a voyage to Flanders; as to this day it is amongst all wher Irish prevails in Scotland…”.  Forbes adds: “In one word, had this Berowald been really a Flandrian or Fleeming born, it is possible but he would have called himself wither after his family, as Montgomery, Barclay, and many others do, or at least, after the particular town he came from, as the Chartres and Bethunes do? But to call himselfe of Flanders, as if he were prince of it, or Flandrensis, as if he were a begger or a run-away from it, is what, I am sure, Berowald never meant to brag of in his charter; and so leaves it (in my sense) utterly impossible that a man of his import could have any more from Flanders but a nick-name, because he was once there.  For, had he trewly been a Fleeming, he had no more suffered himselfe to be barely named so, than Drummond, Ruthven, or Sinclare would barely let themselves be named Germanus, Italus, or Gallus…” Forbes concludes: “I am positive of the opinion, that whatever Malcolme it was that gave the charter, yet Berowald who took it was no stranger, but heretor from his predecessors of that same estate of Innes and Etherurecard [aka Nether Urquhart] (which is all the lands betwixt the Spey and Lossy). And that finding a custome then beginning of takeing wreat upon lands from the King, he did what he saw others of his quality do, and took the charter before spok of, from one of the Malcolmes, upon that estate which he and his predecessors had always possest befor there was wreat…”3.  Forbes believed there was some confusion as to whether the Malcolm in the Charter was Malcolm the IV, or Malcolm the Maiden.  Forbes continues to examine the early history of the descendants of Berowald the Fleming and the next significant date in the genealogy of this family is January 1226 A.D. in the reign of Alexander II.  In a charter of that date it is confirmed that Berowald had a son John, who had a son Walter (who was the first to assume the surname de Ineys). Forbes sets out the “exact coppie” of the charter, in Latin in Familie of Innes, followed by the Attestation of the Charter by the then Bishop of Moray, Galwinus Dunbar, Clerk of Register. 3a

Lachlan Shaw, mentioned above, also concluded, like Duncan Forbes, that Berowald was not Flemish but Moravian. He used the argument that the Innes paternal arms were similar to the families of Morays [Murrays], Sutherlands and Brodies and for that reason concluded Berowald must be Moravian.  However the balance of academic thinking today suggests that the families of Murray and Sutherland were not native to Moray, but descended from Freskin, believed to be a Flemish knight or nobleman who came to Moray circa 1150’s.  This therefore undermines Shaw’s conclusion.  [The Brodies were an ancient family in Moray whose origins are as yet unknown.]

Others such as James MacVeigh, a 19th century Scottish historian, chose to remain neutral on the subject regarding the origins of Berowald, opting instead to focus on his grandson and says; “Berowald’s grandson, Walter, was the first that assumed the surname of Innes from his lands, and thus was the first progenitor of all the Inneses in Scotland 4.”

Another more recent, but lesser known 20th century publication by Robert Innes-Smith, compiled with the assistance of Malcolm Innes of Edingight, then Lord Lyon of Arms, notes that: “Throughout the 12th century ties were forged between Scotland and Flanders” and “…a new and vigorous aristocracy was imported into parts of the country.5 Innes-Smith, like Lachlan Shaw, points out the similarity of the paternal arms of Innes to the families of Murray and Sutherland but believes they are of Flemish descent.  Innes-Smith provides visual information listed in the form of photo-copied illustrations of the original documents, provided to him by the Lord Lyon of Arms, regarding Berowald the Fleming and some of his early descendants in Moray5a, and he further lists their connections to Elgin and the near-by priory of Pluscardine, 5b.

Despite the arguments of Forbes and Shaw that Berowald Flandrensis was a native Moravian, the belief that he was Flemish has persisted.  Three examples supporting this view are:

1) Notices of Archaeological Publications, The Royal Archaeological Journal, Vol. 49, Royal Archaeological Institute: 1892, (p. 428) cites the work of Cosmo Innes, once a leading antiquarian, advocate and professor of civil history at the University of Edinburgh,……who subscribes to the theory that; “Berowaldus Flandrensis, is one of those strangers who were found along the shores of the Moray Firth about the middle of the twelfth century, and who superseded some of the least powerful of the ancient Celtic Maormors….His name shews that he could not have been of Celtic origin, and his existence is vouched by a charter of Malcolm the IV.” Innes is further quoted as saying that “Forbes has laboured, though with small success, to establish the Scottish origin of Berowald.”

2) Flemish Settlements in Twelfth-Century Scotland; by Lauran Toorians – Revue Belge de Philologie et d’histoire, 1996, Vol.74, Issue 74-3-4, pp 659-693.  Regarding the establishment of Flemish settlements in Scotland: “In Moray all we have is the one Berowald the Fleming, to whom Malcolm IV gave Innes and Nether Urquhart in the sheriffdom of Elgin. …In Moray, the Flemish character of this settlement is hard to define.  Only Berowald is stated explicitly to be a Fleming.  Berowald had earlier held land in West Lothian, where he left his name in Bo’Ness, (Berowalds-toun-ness).”

3) The Use of the Name Scot in the Central Middle Ages, pdf by Matthew H. Hammond, page 39“…there were many individuals described as either Flandrensis or le Flamang, but only one family, the descendants of Berowald the Fleming, appears to have adopted the ethnonym as a surname.” (Hammond 2005, 109-10, RRS I no. 175; Familie of Innes, 52-53; Moray Reg. no. 83)

The origins of the name Innes and its variants

Notwithstanding the adoption of the Innes name by Berowald there is still the question of where the name Innes (and its variants) came from. When and how the Lands of Innes situated between the rivers Spey and Lossie in the former province of Morayshire came to be, is still speculative at best.

Frank Adam in his book, The Clans, Sept, & Regiments of the Scottish Highlands contends that Berowald [the Fleming], who received the Barony of Innes in 1160 from Malcolm VI, describes the place name as meaning ‘greens’ and says Berowald… “seems to have acquired it, by marriage with a daughter of its former chieftain, descent from the native Moravienses6.” Adam does not provide any sources for this statement.

In Ireland the name is found originally as Innis or Inis.  It is topographic, a descriptive place-name which in the form of Innes is used to this day in Scotland as both a surname and a forename.  It is pronounced ‘In-ish’ in the Irish Gaelic, with the emphasis on the first syllable. This surname did not reach North America until the 16th century, and after the 18th century, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand.  Some of the variants are:  Ineys/Eneys, Inness/Inneis, Ennis, Ines/Inez, Innice and Inies.  It is probable many of these versions are due in part to variations in spelling or pronunciation, or errors by record takers.   There are bound to be unrecorded descendants of the very first generations however not all the variations will be of this family.  There will be some who are unrelated but who have in the distant past perhaps taken their surname from the place of Innes, or adopted it as a family name.

The Book of Irish Families, Great & Small, by Irish author Michael C. O’Laughlin notes: “that one should be aware that the Scots name of Innes, bears no relationship to Ennis.”7 As a surname it is unclear if it is related, but as the topographic Inis it is.  In Ireland the name goes back many centuries and loosely means ‘island’.  There are two islands in Eire, of a chain of three known as the Aran Islands off the coast of Galway.  One is Inis Oirr [Inis Mor, aka Inishmore], dating back to 1500 /1000 B.C, and the other is Inis Meain.  In Northern Ireland is found Inis an Roin (Inisharoan), meaning seal island.  In Ireland Inis is also connected with islands mentioned in folklore. Inis Meic Uchen is one of two isles mentioned in the tale of Cano, son of Gartnan, with the other isle being Inis Ane, the site attributed to a battle between the men of Tyrone and the men of Alba [Scotland].

Some believe the surname Innes/Innis to be Gaelic, and refer to Aonghus [Angus] an 8th century Scottish King, from which the family of Mcinnes or Macinnes claim their origin, and who refute the connection to Innes.  It is interesting to note that on the island of Inis Mor, in Ireland, is also found the pre-historic fort, Dun Aonghusa [ie. Hill of Angus.]

In Scotland, Innis and Innes are in the Scots Gaelic descriptive words for ‘haugh’ land, that is land commonly found between two or more burns or rivers or land formed where a river or burn join.  It can also include the meaning of a river meadow or raised marshy ground bounded by water.  In the case of Innes in Moray, the land was between two rivers, the Spey and the Lossie, part of which was called Nether Urquhar.  Nether in old Scots means ‘lower of two places, or roads’.  The Gaelic place-name Innis [Inis] in Ireland is also found in Scotland from the west coast of Renfrewshire, to Argyll and the Western Isles, north into Caithness & Orkney, south and east to the southern borders of Sutherland, across Ross-shire, and south into Stirlingshire. It is found mainly along routes once traversed as early as the 6th to 9th centuries by Celtic priests, and others who came to live along these same routes.  Along the Moray coast in Scotland it is spelt as Innes. Most scholars appear to agree that the name Innes/Innis is of Gaelic origin.  The box below contains several examples taken mainly from Watson8 and Black9.

[i] Innis Chonnel – name of a 13th century castle situated on a small island on Loch Awe

[i] Innis Choinnich – Haugh of Kenneth, at the mouth of Loch nan Ceall in Mull

[iii] Coille Innis na Sine – a pre-historic settlement situated on haugh land, river Meig near Scardroy, Ross-shire – Canmore [ancient route between the western isles and ross]

[i] Innis a’ Chomair – haugh land or meadow of the confluence near the head of Strathruedale, Ross-shire,

[i] Innis a’ Phiuir – aka Inchfuir, a meadow at Pitfour, Kilmuir Easter, Ross-shire

[i] Coille Innis na Circe, east Sutherland near Glencassley Castle

[i] Innis ma Cholmdig – aka Colmoc’s isle, from an Irish saint – also known as Inchmahomenear, Menteith, Aberdeen

[i] Innis nan damh/Inshindamff – stag or ox meadow (ie meadow of the stag, or ox) in the Oykell district – Kincardine

[i] Innis Chalainn – haugh land by the river Calann above Tyndrum, Stirlingshire,

[i] Innse Orc, a former name for the Orkney Isles and Innse Cat, the Cat Isles – now Caithness, are the most northerly of old usages of innis.

[ii] Originally called Innis Cailleach – island of nuns, this place name was later known as inischailly & Inche-chaille  ‘wooded island’.

A footnote in the History of the Province of Cat10, is worth repeating here: “it is in the sense of ‘haugh’ that ‘innis’ appears most widely in Scottish topography. Even in early usage there was probably a tendency to this meaning.  Temporary islands are often formed by flooding, or by the forking of streams, and from this to river-side haugh, meadow, the translation is easy…  It may be noted in passing that ‘innis’ is rendered into the Latin of the charters, etc., by ‘insula,’’ even where it has never meant anything other than ‘haugh’, a habit which sometimes has given rise needless searchings of antiquarian hearts”.

There are two other words of similar meaning. One is Eilean which is Gaelic for island or isle (Eilean Donan is the most known) but it can also mean river meadow or meadow prone to flooding.  The other is Inch, the anglicised version of Innis, which is found throughout Scotland as a place-name but is also often associated with a Saint. Inchinnin in Renfrewshire, Inchcolm on St. Columba’s Isle and Inchmarnock on St. Marnock’s Isle—see the box below—are only three of many.

St. Marnoch {aka Marnan], was venerated by the early family of Innes at the church in Aberchirder. Cosmo Innes in Familie of Innes suggests that: “The church of Aberchirder …is the resting-place of Saint Marnan, a bishop and confessor of the 7th century.  There the saint’s well and his bed of stone were … {held} in remembrance and there in the old time his relics were honoured, and his head especially…on every Lord’s day throughout the year to be washed…the clergy suppliantly praying the while, and tapers burning…The Inneses succeeding to the thanes of Aberchirder were votaries of Saint Marnan”11. This interesting paragraph is very telling at a time when the reigning Kings were expounding all things Flemish and Norman, including the church and its way of worship. Here was a family, said to be of Flemish descent, venerating a Celtic Saint of Aberchirder, whose first thane received the charter for the lands of Aberchirder from “the Lord of the Isles, the grandson of Countess Eufam [Euphemia] of Ross and her first husband, Walter Lesly.” [Leslie].

An interesting note by 1828 Scottish editor David Dick12 suggests that “Inchinnan – a long narrow island in Cart water where it joins Gryffe, an island, likewise peninsula – Yneys (Welsh) or Innis (Gaelic).” The author attributes the translation as being either the Welsh (Brythonic) “Yneys”, or (Goidelic) Gaelic “Innis”.


Although not a large ‘clan’, the family of Innes, like most other clans in Scotland, went through moments of great tumult.   For a time this was an influential family that played both a positive, and at times a negative role in Scottish history.  The family eventually held land and positions of influence, not only in Moray, but in Caithness, Sutherland, Ross-shire, and southeast Scotland.  Its marriages and alliances to families such as Fraser, Douglas, Gordon of Huntley, Stewart, Athol, Forbes, Sinclair, Ross, Mackenzie, Leslie, and others were often advantageous to their survival.  Studies appear to agree the surname Innes is of Gaelic origin, and certainly pre-dates the arrival of Berowald the Fleming, who is said to have had considerable rank, held land, and gave his name to Bo’Ness [Berowalds-toun-ness], West Lothian before he arrived in Elgin. There remain some unanswered questions. Did the lands of Innes of Moray evolve from the Irish Gaelic, Inis, or is it possible that the alternate spelling Yneys pre-dates even that time?  Is it remotely possible Berowald the Fleming married the daughter of a Moray Chieftain?  And was Berowald indeed from Flanders as the balance of informed opinion seems to suggest?  There is still no definitive answer to this last, important question.  Although DNA analysis will not answer all these questions it will bring us hopefully closer to the truth and provide an answer to that last question. Could it be, that after 885 years of recorded genealogical history in Scotland, the genetic code of the Family of Innes of Moray was forged across the water – in medieval Flanders?

Mairin Elizabeth Innes
October 2015

Mairin Elizabeth Innes is the Granddaughter of Campbell Innes who was a collegiate head and historical archivist from McGill University in Canada.   Mairin is an artist, writer/researcher, and amateur family/social history researcher.  She has recently retired from a position with North Lanarkshire Council and assisted dedicated staff responsible for the preservation of archival information.



(1) Celtic Scotland: A history of Ancient Alban by William F. Skene, D.C.L., LL.D., Vol. 1, History and Ethnology, 2nd Edition: Publ, Edinburgh: David Douglas 1886: Chap. VI, pp. 308, 309; & Chap. VIII, p 469.
(2) The History of the Province of Moray, by Lachlan Shaw, New Edition – In Three Volumes, Enlarged and Brought down to the Present Time, by J.F.S. Gordon, Publ. Hamilton, Adams, & Co., London & Thomas D. Morison, Glasgow. 1882, written circa 1760: Vol. 3, p.67.
(2a) Ibid, Vol. 3, p. 80 – from the Notorial copy of Crown Charter by Malcolm IV to Berowald the Fleming 25 December 1160 – Now: NRAS110 Bundle 1928
(2b) Ibid, Vol. 1, pp. 314-315
(3) Ane Account of the Origin and Succession of the Familie of Innes, Gathered from Authentick Wreats, by Duncan Forbes of Culloden, Member of Parliament for Inverness, compiled in 1698, published by the Spalding Club in 1864 with an Introduction & commentary by Cosmo Innes dated at Inverleith, May 1864.
3a) Ibid, Crown Charter of confirmation by Alexander II granting to Walter, son of John, son of Berowald the Fleming the lands of Innes & Easter Urecard (Urquhart)…dated 1226, 20th January (Now at NRAS1100/Bundle 1929.
(4) The Scottish Nation; or the Historical and Genealogical Account of all Scottish Families and Surnames, by James MacVeigh, Vol. 11 – Dal-Mac, 1889, pp. 534-536.
(5) The House of Innes: The Story of a Family, by Robert Innes-Smith, self-published, 1990 – p. 6
(5a) Ibid, pp.6 & 7.
(5b) Ibid, pp. 8 – 12
(6) The Clans, Septs, & Regiments of the Scottish Highlands, by Frank Adam – originally published in 1908, this book has been re-published and re-edited many times since then by various publishers & editors
(7) Book of Irish Families, Great & Small, by Michael C. O’Laughlin, publ. Irish Roots Café, 3rd Ed. 2002, online: p. 82.
(8) Surnames of Scotland: Their Origin, Meaning, and History, by George Fraser Black, – Birlinn ed. 2011
(9) The Celtic Place names of Scotland, by William J. Watson, Publ. by The Northern Counties Printing & Publishing Co. Ltd. Edinburgh: Norman Macleod, 1904.(10) The History of the Province of Cat (Caithness and Sutherland) From the Earliest Times to the Year 1615, by the Rev. Angus MacKay, M.A., Ed. Rev. D. Beaton, Wick, Publ. Peter Reid & Coy., Ltd, 1914, p. 156
(11) Charters and Notes: Familie of Innes, a Commentary, by Cosmo Innes, p.p. 72-73, Publ. Spalding Club, 1894.
(12) The Paisley Magazine, by David Dick, Ed. No. 1, Vol. 1, January 1828, p. 627, under the heading: A Few Local instances of the Celtic Derivitives of the Local Placenames in Renfrewshire.

One reply to "The Family of Innes of Morayshire"

  • norman innes
    norman innes
    Monday 9 November 2015, 12.20pm

    This is a superb artical on the inness of moray well done norman innes

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