“The Lightsome Lindsays” – Roots and Branches

Amy Eberlin
Friday 29 January 2016

Early Scottish Charters bear witness to the name “de Lindeseia” back as early as 1116; a name which evolved through common usage to become “Lindsay” under the convention of Scottish surnames.  Was Walter de Lindsay related to the Flemish Gilbert of Ghent and Lord Alost?  A combination of place names and heraldic devices has provided some convincing clues as to the identity of the pre-Conquest forebears of the Lindsay Family.  In this posting Diarmid Lindsay summarises research into the Family of Lindsay in Scotland.  The head of the family is the Clan Chief, The Rt. Hon. The Earl of Crawford.


The Lindsay family has played a significant role in Scotland’s history back as far as the reign of David I.  Their exploits, contributions and achievements have been well documented in historical accounts and in public records; not only in respect of martial conflicts, but in connection with public life, government, law, the church, literature, the arts and scientific innovation.  There has been much effort put into tracing the family’s ancestral roots by such authors as Lord Lindsay (1812 – 1880) and more recently, in the 1980s, by Beryl Platts who has put forward the argument that the family’s origins are in Flanders.  Her books give specific emphasis on the Lindsay family in which she had a particular interest.

Previously, around 1850, Lord Lindsay in his comprehensive three volume history of “The Lives of the Lindsays” [1 & 2] carried out considerable research into the roots of our early ancestors who arrived here in the wake of the 1066 Norman invasion, but his findings in this respect were never altogether conclusive.  Beryl Platts in her “Origins of Heraldry” [3] presented evidence to suggest that these ancient ancestors were descended, not from the Normans as previously thought, but from Lord Alost of Flanders, with even more distant links back to Charlemagne and the Roman Empire.

Gilbert de Ghent accompanied Duke William in his conquest of England and for his services rendered was given extensive lands near Lincoln and in the surrounding Lindsey area.  He also became known as Gilbert de Lindsey by virtue of the land he obtained and this was the name carried by his offspring, Walter and William, when they settled in the Borders of Scotland.  In accordance with the convention of Scottish surnames this “de Lindsey” generally evolved into the surname “Lindsay”, in its most common form, despite the existence of numerous alternative versions of the spelling in common use, and will be used as the default form throughout the rest of this text.

How the Lindsays came to Scotland

The early arrival of “de Lindsays” to Scotland is shrouded in an enthralling mist of speculation which is slowly clearing through time as more and more evidence is revealed.  When the “de Lindsays” first came to Scotland they took lands at Ercildon in Roxburghshire, now known as Earlston, on the banks of the Leader Water.

A good interpretation of their genealogical progression is contained in the information recorded on “The Peerage” website.      http://www.thepeerage.com/p23116.htm     (last edited 23 Mar 2015).  This information, which is summarised in the box below,  closely relates to the findings of Beryl Platts in her two publications “Scottish Hazzard”, Volumes 1 and 2  [4 & 5] which do, however, provide much more detailed research into the genealogical history of Gilbert de Ghent’s Flemish family tree.

This account starts with Gilbert de Ghent who was born about 1048.  Gilbert took part in the Norman invasion of 1066 along with the strong contingent of Flemish supporters of William the Conqueror.  He had a son Walter, born about 1080, who came to be known as Sir Walter de Lindsay.   Sir Walter is thought to have accompanied David, Earl of Huntingdon (later King David I) when he came north to the Lowlands in the early 1100s.  In 1116 he witnessed an inquisition for the see of Glasgow.  He had a son, William de Lindsay, born about 1096.  William, in turn, had a son Walter de Lindsay born about 1122.  This Walter held the office of Justiciar [Scotland] and sat in Parliament [Scotland] in 1145.  He had a son William de Lindsay born about 1148 who married, firstly, Aleanora  de Limesay (daughter of Gerard, Lord of Limesay and Amicia de Bidun) about 1174 by whom he had three sons.  He married, secondly, Margaret of Huntingdon (daughter of Henry of Huntington, Earl of Huntington and Ada de Warenne).  Margaret was the granddaughter of David I and sister to Malcolm IV and William I.  He was heir of Randolph de Lindesay, feudal lord of Northumbria.  In 1164 he sat in Parliament [Scotland].  In 1174 he was a hostage for King William, his brother in law.  He held the office of Justiciar [Scotland] after 1174.  He was feudal Lord of Crawford, but styled Baron of Luffness in Parliament.  He died about 1200.  His three sons were: Sir David Lindsay, of Crawford, Sir William Lindsay of Luffness and Sir Walter Lindsay of Lamberton.

Source:  The Peerage website

The foregoing account is not identical to Beryl Platts’ investigations and differs quite considerably from Lord Lindsay’s conclusions in the 1850s.  Speculation still prevails into how many Walters and Williams there were in the direct line.  However, it is regarded as being a very convincing interpretation of evidence available and, in the absence of more revealing information, the Lindsay family are generally agreed in accepting this as being the most laudable explanation of their origins.  Clearly between Gilbert de Ghent and the three brothers David, William and Walter, a period of over 100 years, there were many offspring who spread to the rest of Britain and may well have been styled “de Lindsay” but, for the present, I am concerned only with the Lindsay family who established themselves in Scotland around the early 1100s.

A geographical representation of the migration north is shown in the map below from the Norman invasion of 1066 up until the point where the main branch of the family established themselves in Glenesk, Angus around 1358 following the marriage of Sir Alexander Lindsay to Catherine Stirling.  Catherine Stirling was the daughter of Sir John Stirling of Edzell.

Map showing approximate boundary of 12th century Flanders and the Flemish-Lindsay route to Scotland
Map showing approximate boundary of 12th century Flanders and the Flemish-Lindsay route to Scotland

Clearly this short precis of the Lindsay Family in Scotland can only offer a brief glimpse into the aforementioned writings of Lord Lindsay.  More information has become available since his publications and in particular the work of Beryl Platts which relates directly to his findings.  The detailed Appendices to her books deal specifically with the Lindsay links to Flanders, Alost and Ghent. [4 & 5]  A large part of her research was based on the heraldic devices carried by the early Lindsays in Scotland. She was in contact with the current Chief of the Clan while carrying out her more recent work and, in 1998, published her paper “Origins of the Lindsays” in the Clan Lindsay Society’s Publications. [6]

Branches of the Family

As outlined above, the three sons of William de Lindsay of Earlston established three main family branches of Luffness, Crawford and Lamberton around 1200.

The diagrammatic family tree below gives a schematic representation of the development of the Lindsay family branches from Charlemagne to Balcarres, the seat of the current clan chief.

Roots and Branches of the Flemish-Lindsay Family
Roots and Branches of the Flemish-Lindsay Family


The Lamberton branch of Lindsays ceased as such when Sir William de Lindsay died in 1283 leaving the estate to his daughter Christina, the “Lady of Lamberton” (and that is another story).  The Crawford branch terminated when Sir Gerard de Lindsay died in 1249 leaving the estate to his sister Alice de Lindsay, wife of Sir Henry Pinkeney (and again another interesting story line).  However, the title of Crawford was retrieved by the Scottish authorities and subsequently bestowed on Bruce’s staunch supporter, Sir Alexander Lindsay of Luffness, the heir male of the Scottish Lindsays. [7]

Many cadet branches of the family existed; such as Craigie, Wauchopedale, Covington, Kilbirnie, Byres and Dowhill and indeed Lord Crawford in his family history estimated that “within three or four centuries after their settlement in the North, above one hundred different minor Houses or families of Lindsays were flourishing in Scotland”. [8] However, the mainstay family line was the Lindsays of Luffness and Crawford.  They built a substantial stone castle at Luffness of the motte-and-bailey style, typical of the Flemish castles of that time.

Unfortunately, the castle proved a serious threat to English invading forces utilising the east coast route (now the A1).  It was not far from Haddington and commanded a strategic position controlling the sea access to Aberlady Bay.  This was too much for the English garrisoned at Haddington during the time of the “Rough Wooing” (1543 – 1551) and the Castle, along with the neighbouring Byres Castle, was totally destroyed thus allowing supplies to reach the garrisoned English forces in Haddington from the coast.  Only the extensive foundations of Luffness Castle and moat remain today in the grounds of Luffness House alongside the old doocot.

The Lindsays of Crawford originally built a fortified tower close to the village of Crawford, near Abington, named Tower Lindsay but latterly the more substantial fortification, Crawford Castle, was established.  It again commanded a strategic position built on a hill overlooking the west coast route to Scotland (now the M74) near to the river crossing of the Clyde.  The ruins of the castle can still be seen today, standing on the knoll surrounded by a thicket of trees.

Unlike the Wauchopedale Lindsays, the Lindsays of Crawford were strong supporters of Scottish independence.  Sir Alexander Lindsay, who was very close to Bruce and Wallace, was a marked man on Edward I’s wanted list and took part in many of the conflicts during the Wars of Independence.  He served in the Scottish Parliament until at least 1309.

His son, Sir David Lindsay, was one of the signatories to the Declaration of Arbroath in 1320.  His great grandson, another Sir David Lindsay, represented Scotland at the jousting tournament on London Bridge attended by Richard II in 1390 defeating John de Wells, the English champion.  After the first charge the crowd insisted that Sir David was locked into his saddle, whereupon he leapt from his horse and jumped back on again, despite the weight of his armour, to the amazement of the onlookers. [9] Sir David was married to Robert the Bruce’s granddaughter, Elizabeth Stewart (daughter of Robert II).  He came close to losing his life at the Battle of Glasclune in 1392 engaging the Wolf of Badenoch’s son, Sir Duncan Stewart, and his supporters on their raid of Angus.  He was granted the title of the 1st Earl of Crawford in 1398.

The 1st Earl of Crawford’s father, another Sir Alexander Lindsay, acquired lands at Edzell and Glenesk through marriage to Catherine Stirling in 1358 and Sir Alexander’s brother, Sir William, gained the title of Lindsay of the Byres in 1365.  Thus began the two main Houses of Glenesk and Byres which were each to hold the title of Earl of Crawford periodically until it was eventually passed on to the Lindsays of Balcarres, a branch of the Lindsays of Edzell, in 1848 and where it has remained until the present day.

Lindsay Contributions

It would be impossible to list all the achievements attributed to the Lindsay family in Scotland, over the past 900 years, in this short text.  It must suffice to say that they have been deeply embroiled in the evolving history of Scotland since their Flemish ancestors came north accompanying David I and their queen Maud in the twelfth century.  Their activities have been diverse.  They have been prominent in many battles such as Sauchieburn, Brechin, Arbroath, Flodden and of course The Battle of Otterburn (1388) where the famous ballad refers to the “Lindsays licht and gay”.  I wonder if the “lightsome Lindsays” have their Flemish genes to thank for this attribute and subsequent success on the battlefield. [10]  While one Lindsay signed the Declaration of Arbroath in 1320, another signed Scotland into the Act of Union in 1707;  while one compelled Mary, Queen of Scots, to relinquish her crown, another helped her to escape from Lochleven Castle;  while one fought for the Jacobite cause, another was the founder and first colonel of the Black Watch.  There have been church leaders and Bishops;  Lord Lyon King of Arms, poet and playwright;  members of both Scottish and UK Parliaments; and, the inventor, James Bowman Lindsay, who was a pioneer in electricity and wireless telegraphy in 1854, to mention just a few.

Since the early Flemish connection there has been very little subsequent genetic interaction between the Lindsays and the Flemish people.  However, intermarriage with other Flemish based families must certainly have taken place.  If Beryl Platts is correct in her assumption that the Bruce, Stewart and the Beaton (Bethune) families are of Flemish origin then there are notable connections.  Firstly, with the marriage of Princess Elizabeth Stewart and Sir David Lindsay (circa. 1380) who are ancestors of the current Earl of Crawford (29th); and secondly, when George Lindsay married Margaret Bethune in 1721.  Margaret was a direct descendent of Cardinal Beaton and ancestor of the current Earl of Lindsay (16th) who is also the 25th Lord Lindsay of the Byres.  There must be many more similar relationships.  Indeed, only recently, the Chief’s second son, Alexander married a lady from Belgium who ties him back to his ancient Flemish roots.

I must apologise to all the Lindsays I have not mentioned, but if this text has aroused interest in the “lives of the Lindsays” then I must commend to you further reading of Lord Lindsay’s family history and Beryl Platts’ fascinating research into the Lindsay family, as detailed in the bibliography references below.


Lord Lindsay’s recorded history “The Lives of the Lindsays” is comprehensively robust and has often been cited as a model Family History document.  His 1850s research into genealogical links to Normandy and Flanders pre-1066, however, did not have the benefit of our current knowledge and he made some incorrect but inspired assumptions.  There was little to explain why Walter de Lindsay had such a close connection with David I and the Flemish Queen Maud.  Beryl Platts heraldic observations, however, showing his arms with the Imperial Eagle and the reverse colours of Boulogne began to cast new light on the situation.  Her findings appear logical and convincing in identifying his descent from Ralph, Lord of Alost.

A short time ago Robert Alexander Lindsay, the recognised head of the Lindsay family in Scotland, when asked his opinion on the theory of the Flemish origins was very positive and his position is as follows :- “The 29th Earl of Crawford, the current Chief of the Clan Lindsay, says that he has read Mrs Beryl Platts’ books on the origins of the Lindsays several times and with great care. He wishes to emphasise that he does not bring any greater historical knowledge than anybody else.  However, he feels that Mrs Platts’ genealogical explanations are totally convincing.  He says he has not seen any arguments overturning her genealogical conclusions and that in his opinion it is reasonable to accept them as correct and that if a person disagrees the onus is now on that person to argue their case.”

Consequently, until written evidence or DNA research can provide an alternative answer, then it is to be concluded that the bloodline of the House of Lindsay does indeed go back to the noble Lords of Flanders.

Diarmid F Lindsay
January 2016

Diarmid Fraser Lindsay, BSc MBA, is a life-long Member of the Clan Lindsay Society having served as Hon Treasurer, Webmaster and Editor; first elected to the Board of Management in 1976 and Clan Piper since 1975.  He is a Chartered Civil Engineer by profession and a retired Civil Servant who has always been intrigued by historical maps, ancient castles and tales from Scottish history.  He is also a Member of the National Trust for Scotland, Historic Scotland and the Abertay Historical Society.


[1] Lord Lindsay, Lives of the Lindsays: A Memoir of the Houses of Crawford and Balcarres, vols. 1 – 3 (John Murray, London, 1849).

[2] Lord Lindsay, Lives of the Lindsays: A Memoir of the Houses of Crawford and Balcarres, vols. 1 – 3 (John Murray, London, Second Edition 1858).

[3] Beryl Platts, Origins of Heraldry (Procter Press, 1980).

[4] Beryl Platts, Scottish Hazard – The Flemish Nobility in Scotland, vol. 1 (Procter Press, 1985)

[5] Beryl Platts, Scottish Hazard – The Flemish Heritage, vol. 2 (Procter Press, 1990)

[6] Beryl Platts, Origins of the Lindsays, (Publications of The Clan Lindsay Society – Vol VI, No. 22, Xpress Print, 1998).

[7] Lord Lindsay, Lives of the Lindsays: A Memoir of the Houses of Crawford and Balcarres, vol. 1 (John Murray, London, Second Edition 1858), p. 28.

[8] Lord Lindsay, Lives of the Lindsays: A Memoir of the Houses of Crawford and Balcarres, vol. 1 (John Murray, London, Second Edition 1858), pp. 117-118.

[9] Lord Lindsay, Lives of the Lindsays: A Memoir of the Houses of Crawford and Balcarres, vol. 1 (John Murray, London, Second Edition 1858), pp. 88-91.

[10] Lord Lindsay, Lives of the Lindsays: A Memoir of the Houses of Crawford and Balcarres, vol. 1 (John Murray, London, Second Edition 1858), pp. 76-80.


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2 thoughts on "“The Lightsome Lindsays” – Roots and Branches"

  • Capt. Joseph W. Lindsay Haley III ATP FSA Scot.
    Capt. Joseph W. Lindsay Haley III ATP FSA Scot.
    Sunday 7 February 2016, 12.55am

    Diarmid I enjoyed you paper on the Lindsay's very much. I too have been a Historian for the Clan, as in the Clan Lindsay Soc. USA. However, I do have a problem with you description of Sir David Lindsay of Glenesk at London Bridge. It may be that calling it a jost is in bounds, but certainly did not enclude other contestants and was a combat to the death as agreed to by Sir David and Lord Wells. In fact Richard II was quoted as saying, when Lord Well lay at Sir David's feet, being sorly wounded, "Cousin, do as you may", refering to the "to the death" part of the contract. Of course, be the noble knight that David was, he lifted Well's up and stayed with him and the leech untill Wells was out of danger. Gaining much in reputation for his compation. That was the first London Bridge built I believe in the late 1100's. I think their have been two or three others since. Your aye Joseph

  • Capt. Joseph W. Lindsay Haley III ATP FSA Scot.
    Capt. Joseph W. Lindsay Haley III ATP FSA Scot.
    Sunday 7 February 2016, 1.30am

    I forgot to say that I am a descendant of the Sir David 1st Earl of Crawford through the brother of the 3rd Earl, as well as the lines of Edzell, Garmylton, Mount, Leith, and Byres, by the many marriages of Lindsay's married to other Lindsay's. Even my sixth ggrandfather Col. Robert Lindsay's plantation was named the 'Mount' I do own the 3 Vol. of 'Lives of the Lindsay's', by Lord Lindsay, and also 'Lands of the Lindsay's' by Jarvis. I also am lucky enough to have aquired the Heraldric Manuscrip by Sir David Lindsay, Lord Lyon. Just so that you know I have some knowledge of the subject. Respectfully Joseph

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