History and Legends
by Archie McKerracher
Scottish clans and family names have their roots in Normandy. This area
of northern France was colonised by land hungry Vikings in the early
10th century. The name Normandy means Home of the Northmen. Their leader,
Rollo the Viking, signed a treaty with King Charles the Simple in 911
A.D. which gave the Norsemen a permanent home on French soil.
Over the next century and a half the Vikings intermarried with the local population and adopted the French language. Rollo's descendants became Dukes of Normandy and other Viking leaders became knights who controlled their local fief from a wooden castle built on an earthen mound, and gave allegiance to the Duke. The Vikings absorbed the local culture so well that their sons had to be taught their original Norse as a second language. The Normans became Christians and built many fine abbies and monastaries. They were excellent administrators, organising society on a feudal system, and establishing laws for the government of the land. Their military prowess became renowned throughout Europe. They wore tall, conical helmets with a distinctive nose guard, shirts of chain mail, and carried long kite shape shields and battle axes. This battle garb can also be seen on many gravestones on Scotland's western seaboard where the Norse influence was also strong. In France, however, they fought on horseback and used their disicplined cavalry with devastating effect.
In 1066, Duke William of Normandy, Rollo's grandson, set sail in a fleet of Viking longships to conquer England. His Army of perhaps aound 8,000 was gathered from all over northern Europe and included most of the leading Norman noble families. From the descendants of the three knights who salied with William the Conqueror -de Brus; de Baillioul; and a Broton noble; were to come the Scottish kings of Bruce; Balliol; and the ill fated Stuart dynasty.
After his victory at the Battle of Hastings, William proclaimed himself king of England and rewarded his noble followers with grants of English land. Younger knights could advance themselves by volunteering to hold estates on the wild Welsh border. One such was nicknamed 'Le Gros Venoir' - The Fat Hunter. His present day descendant, the Duke of Westminster, reputedly Britain's richest man, still lives there and his family name of Grosvenor derives from his ancestors nickname. Similarly, the very English Christian name of Algernon comes from the Norman-French 'Al Grenon' - The Moustached One.' Another nickname 'le Grand' - the Big One - was given to a knight who held land in Lincolnshire and whos descendants later moved to Scotland where "le Grand" became altered to 'Grant'. Sir Laurence le Grant was Sheriff of Inverness in 1258. The Normans delighted in nicknames and puns. Robert de Comines, who sailed with the Conqueror in 1066, and was created Earl of Northumbria in 1069, took his name from his fief in Comines in Flanders. Other Normans soon punned his territorial title into 'Cummin', an aromatic herb, and from this comes the surname of Cumming. The three aparent wheat-sheafs on the Cumming coat of arm were originally supposed to mean bundles of the herb. William de Comyn married the granddaughter of King Donald III in 1144 and thus his descendant became one of the competitors for the Scottish throne in 1291. The Comyns became the most powerful family in Scotland in the 13th century, and nearly a quarter of all Scottish earls were Cummins. Their power was destroyed by King Robert the Bruce after he won the Battle of Bannockburn 1314, although the Badinoch family survived to be become a Scottish Clan in its own right. Sir William Gordon Cumming, chief of the clan, still holds the ancestral lands of Altyre.
Some of the Normans took their title from their newly acquired estates in England. One Anglo-Norman knight styled himself 'de Graegham' after his new manor which derived from the Anglo- Saxon words meaning Gray Home. His descendants moved to Scotland where the name became altered to Graham. Another Norman took his title 'de Ramesai' from his new estates in Huntingdonshire and when his descendants moved to Scotland this became Ramsay. Another took his title from the manor of Hambledon in Licestershirer, and became altered to the historic Scots name of Hamilton. Walter de Hamilton being first recorded in Scotland in 1200. The present Duke Hamilton is head of the family.
David I, King of Scots, (1084-1153) spent much of his youth in England, and was brother in law to the Anglo-Norman King Henry I of England. He also married a Norman heiress, and greatly admired the efficient Norman administration. He was Prince of Cumbria before becoming king and gathered around him many young Norman knights who helped him control his lands. The kingdom of Scotland which he inherited in 1124 was, by contrast, a savage and wild land divided into seven provinces each ruled by a Celtic sub king. Each was prone to rise in rebellion. Thus, when David returned to Scotland as king he brought with him the young Anglo-Norman knights who had been his companions in England. He gave them grants of land and privilege and over the next fifty years they were to find most of the great families of lowland Scotland, among them being Bruce, Balliol, Boswell, Chisholm, Crichton, Comyn, Fraser, Gordon, Gifford, Lindsay, Maxwell, Menzies, Melville, Montgomerie, Oliphant, Seton, Sinclair, Turnbull, and many others.
The new Norman-Scots began to build great abbeys like Kelso, Meltrose, Holyrood, Brechin and Dunblane and brought in monkish communities from France. They established Sheriffdoms to administer justice and Burghs to regulate trading and introduced the feudal system based on land. These incomers married into the local Celtic aristocracy and in many cases acquired a ready made tribal clan who in later years would adopt their chief's territorial title as a surname. Within a generation these Norman Scots would become almost more Scottish than the original inhabitants.
Some younger sons also acquired land and took their title from local place names. The Gordons took their name form Gurdon in Berckwickshire in the Scottish borders. This word comes from the Ancient British 'Gor din' -Great Hill Fort. The Gordons were to acquire the traditional clan lands in the north in 1320 where they became so powerful the chiefs were called 'Cocks 'o the North'. Similiarly the family of Chisolm took their name from Cheseholm in Roxburghshire, also in the Borders. It means 'the waterside meadow good for producing cheese'.
Some gave their own name to the lands they acquired. A minor knight called Hugo acquired land in Renfrewshire and established a small hamlet which he called in Norman-French 'Hugo's ville' - Hugo's town. In time this became altered to the Anglo-Saxon word for a township - 'ton'. 'Hugo's ton' eventually became Huston and then the modern Houston. The bold Hugo is remembered worldwide today for after him is named the city of Houston, Texas, the mission control centre for the United States space programme. Similiarly another knight called Marcus founded a hamlet in the borderland between England and Scotland and named it 'Maccus's ville' which in time became 'Maxwell' and his family grew to be one of the most powerful in the era.
But the majority of the Scots names that derive from the incoming Norman-Scots have their roots in Normandy and the places from which they sprang are still in existence. The port of Dieppe, a popular entry point for modern Scots holidaymakers, is a good place to start. In the church of St. Jacques here is the Scottish chapel, burial place of Bishop Reid and the Earls of Cassilis and Rothes, sent to the marriage of Mary Queen of Scots to the Dauphin of France.
The main D1 road running south from Dieppe by-passes by the little village of Mesnieres en Bray from which the name Menzies comes. The first recorded of that name in Scotland, Robert de Mesnieres or Meyneris, became Chancellor of Scotland in 1249 and was granted lands around Weem in Perthshire where Castle Menzies stands today. A short detour from here is the little village of Bailleul-Neuville, original home of the Balliol family who provided two Kings of Scots -John Balliol from 1292-1296 and Edward Balliol from 1332-1333. The first in Scotland was Bernard de Bailleul in the reign of David I. Balliol College at Oxford University was establishd by John de Balliol in 1282. In the tiny chapel here lies the remains of Jeanne, sister of Edward Balliol.
Another short detour, west of Mesnieres, leads to Fresles from which derives the proud Scots name of Fraser. This is probably another pun on a place name for a similair sounding word is Fraisies meaning Strawberries and the Fraser coat of arms portrays this plant. Simon de Fresles, or Frissel, was granted land in West Lothian in 1160, and about 1360 his descendant Simon Fraser married another Norman Scots heiress and through her acquired land around Beauly where the Frasers remain today. The present 22nd chief of Clan Fraser is Brigadier Simon Fraser, 17th Lord Lovat.
Near Neufchatel en Bray is the village of Mortemer from whence come the Scottish Mortimers. Ralph de Mortemer followed the Conqueror in 1066, and his descendant came to Scotland in the reign of David I. Mortimer's Deep in the Firth of Forth opposite Edinburgh is named after Alan de Mortemer who gifted lands in Fife to the island monastery of Incholm Abbey on condition that he was burried there. Unfortunately, his lead coffin fell overboard and disappeared into the watery depths now called after him.
Back now to Dieppe, and shortly after leaving here on the coastal D75 road is St. Valery with its memorial to the 51st Highland Division which fought a gallant rearguard action here in 1940 until forced to surrender. Nearly all the survivors spent the next five years as P.O.W's. A short detour inland is the hamlet of Bosville from whence sprang the famous Norman Scots family of Boswell. They first obtained lands in Berwickshire but by marriage later acquired lands in Fife and Ayrshire.
About 10 kilometers from St. Valery is Malleville, cradle of the Melvilles. Gilfradus de Maleville received lands in Midlothian and Fife from Malcolm IV around 1155. His descendants became Earls of Leven and Melville, and the present holder of the title is Alexander Robert Leslie Melville, 14th Earl of Leven and 13th Earl of Melville.
Forty kilometers south of here on the D142 is Limesay, home of the family who were to become the Scottish Lindsays. Balderic de Limesay arrived in Scotland relatively early around 1086 in the reign of Malcolm III. Sir Walter de Lindsay was appointed a member of the Council of David I. The Lindsays acquired vast lands in Lanarkshire and became Earls of Crawford. They married into the Celtic aristocracy in 1324 and obtained land in Angus and also in the Highlands around Strathnairn. The Lindsays have featured greatly in Scottish history and the present 29th Earl of Crawford, Patrick Lindsay, is the premiere Earl of Scotland. Part of the old lands of the Lindsays of Edzell in Angus are now occupied by a US Air Force base.
Across the River Seine the coastal road continues to the medieval port of Honfleur from whence Samuel Champlain sailed in 1608 to claim Canada for the French. A few miles further on is Dives en Mer from where William the ConquerorŐs fleet sailed in 1066, although the old port has long since silted up. In the church of Notre Dame here is the Battle Roll of those who sailed, and listed here are the progenitors of many Scottish families.
Further on is the seaside village of Graye from whence the name of Gray, later Lords of Kinfauns near Perth in Scotland and Warden of the Border Marches. Angus Diarmid Ian Campbell-Gray, 22nd Lord Gray, is the current head of the family. Beyond this are the Arromanches beaches where the British and Canadian troops stormed ashore on D-Day 1944. Fierce fighting took place around the seaside village Colleville-sur Mer where there is a large American War Cemetary. From the name of this village comes that of the Scottish Colville family. Gilbert de Colville accompanied the Conqueror in 1066 and Philip de Colville was granted land in Ayrshire by Malcolm IV around 1160.
A long run up the Contenin peninsula takes one to the town of St. Mere Eglise, the focal point of US Airborne landings and the scene of fierce street fighting by the US 82nd Division on 5/6th June, 1944. Further on, and just off the main Cherbourg road is Brix. At this tiny village are the grass covered ruins of a castle demolished in the 13th century. From here Robert de Brix set out with the Conqueror in 1066 and was granted estates in England. Robert de Brix came north with David I and in 1124 was given the lands of Annandale in south Scotland. His descendant married Isabella, daughter of David I, and thus their son Robert de Bruce became a competitor for the Scottish throne. It was his son, Robert the Bruce, who became King Robert I after winning ScotlandŐs independence at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314. East of Brix, and just off the D902, is St. Germain de Tournbeau from whence came the name Turnbull. Near Cherbourg is Neauville from where come the Nevilles, and south of here is the village of Le Rozel, cradle of the Scottish Russels.
South now to the town of St. Lo, most of which was destroyed between 3-25 July, 1944 as the US 7th Corps fought to break out to the south. Near here is the village of La Haye- Bellefond, cradle of the Scottish Hays. Haye means a Hedge, or perhaps a defensive stockade such as surrounded Norman castles. The Normandy campaign became known as la Guere de Haies due to the problems the Allies had in fighting through the thick hedges surrounding the fields. William de la Haye, Butler of Scotland and first barron of Erroll near Perth, first appeared in Scotland around 1160. He married the Celtic heiress Eva who brought him the Errol lands while his son married Ethna, daughter of the mighty Celtic Earl of Strathearn. The head of the family today is Merlin Sereld Victor Gilbert Hay, 24th Earl of Errol and Heriditary Lord High Constable of Scotland. In this capacity he ranks second only to the Queen when she visits Scotland.
Adjoining the Haye fief in Normandy is Souiles, home of the Soulis family. Nicholas de Soles claimed the Scottish throne in 1290 as a descendant of an illegitimate daughter of Alexander II but was rightly ignored. The SoulisŐs held the grim and massive Hermitage Castle in the Borders. Near Souiles is the village of Aigneaux where a new castle stands on a site of the original 11th century castle Hebert dŐAigneaux. His descendants came to Scotland and settled in Galloway. The family is represented today by Sir Crispin Agnew of Lochnaw, Bt, Rothesay Herald of Arms, who is a regular contributor to this magazine. Also near St. Lo is Saint-Clair-sur-Elle whose castle has long since disappeared. This was the fief of Richard de St. Clair who sailed with the Conqueror. His descendant Henry de St. Clair recieved a charter of land around Haddington in East Lothian in 1162, and a descendant acquired the lands of Rosslyn in Midlothian. The chief of the Rosslyn Sinclairs married Lady Isobel, heiress of Caithness and the Orkneys, and was recognized as Jarl of Orkney by the King of Norway. The present chief of the Sinclairs, the 20th Jarl or Earl of Caithness, still lives there.
Heading eastwards and inland is St. Germain de Montgommery, off the D575. This hamlet with the remains of a Norman moated fortification was the fief of the Montgommerys, one of the oldest families in Normandy. Roger de Montgommerei crossed over with the Conqueror and became the 1st Earl of Shrewbury in 1071. His descendant Robert de Montgommerie (1103-78) accompanied Walter Fitz Alan, the High Steward, ancestor of the Stuart kings, from Wales to Scotland, and married his daughter. He was granted land in Renfrewshire and Ayrshire where his descendants were created Earls of Eglinton and built the huge but now ruined Eglinton Castle. The present head of the family is Archibald George Montgommerie, 18th Earl.
South of Bernay, on the N138 is Ferrieres, cradle of the Scottish Ferriers. Amfreville to the north is the original home of the de Umfravilles, a Norman family who came to Scotland with David I and married the Celtic heiress to the ancient Earldom of Angus. They lost everything after opposing Robert the Bruce.
Off the N13 road west of Caen is Rots. Robert de Rots or Ros, from whom the Lowland Rosses come, married Margaret de Brus. The cathedral town of Chartres gives its name to the Charters family while Montalet in the Seine near Meulan gives its name to the family of Maitland. Thomas de Matulent was the first to come to Scotland in the time of William the Lion. His descendants were granted the land of Lauder in Berwickshire and became Earls and Dukes of Lauderdale, building there the huge Thirlestane Castle. The present head of the family is Patrick Francis Maitland.
South of Montalet and across the Seine is Maule, the fief of the family of that name. Peter de Maule accompanied the Conqueror in 1066. Robert de Maule came to Scotland with David I around 1141. Peter de Maule acquired the lands of Panmure in Angus by marriage to an heiress in 13th century, and their descendants became Earls. A Maule heiress took their lands by marriage into the Norman Scots family of Ramsay. Simon Ramsay, 16th Earl of Dalhousie, still resides on the ancestral lands of the Mauls and Ramsays at Brechin Castle.
A few kilometers north east of Rouen is the hamlet of Boissay, cradle of the powerful Anglo Norman family of Bisset. They obtained land around Beauly and built the abbey there. A Bisset heiress brought the lands of Beauly to the Frasers who hold them still.
North west from Evraux, off the N13 road, is Graveron- Semerville. From here came the Somervilles. Guildhase de Semerville had estates in Yorkshire and was granted 30,000 acres around Carnwath in Lanarkshire by David I. They built Cowthaly Castle and became Lords of Carnwath in 1445. The title became extinct on the death of the 18th Earl in 1870.
remarkable Normans have left their mark on almost every facet of Scottish
life - from Sheriffs who administer justice to feu duty paid on land.
They have also passed on the name of their original fief in Normandy
to millions of Scots all over the world.