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Issue 74 - The Clan Lindsay

Scotland Magazine Issue 74
April 2014


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The Clan Lindsay

A look at one of Scotland's great families

The Lindsays are one of the great families of Scotland, involved for generation after generation in the affairs of the nation. At one time more than 100 Lindsays held estates in country. The name means Isle of the Lime tree and the family probably descends from Ralph de Limesy who was a kinsman of King William and one of the prominent of the Norman families that arrived in England in 1066. In the Domesday Book of 1086, Ralph is named as holding properties in nine counties. In 1116 Walter de Lindsay was a witness when David, then Prince of Strathclyde and Cumbria, acquired rights over property round Glasgow and was on his council when the king acceded to the throne of Scotland.

In 1290, five Lindsays affixed their seals to the Ragman Roll and one was a signatory of the Declaration of Arbroath in 1320. With half a dozen peerages in the family and lands throughout Scotland the Lindsays tiptoed delicately through the ferocious politics of the medieval period, making profitable marriages, holding the great offices of state and adding to their estates generation by generation. They faced problems during the beginnings of the Wars of Independence. Like so many great families they held land on both sides of the border and were forced to make the choice between supporting Edward I or the Scots patriots. Sir Alexander Lindsay, for example, was knighted by the English king but fought alongside Wallace. He submitted to Edward in 1297, but rejoined Bruce and was one of the barons who declared him the rightful king in the parliament of 1308–9. Sir James Lindsay rushed into the church in Dumfries with Roger Kirkpatrick to finish off the Red Comyn after Bruce had stabbed him in front of the high altar.

The Lindsay name studs every page of our history and stories of some wonderful personalities have survived. Sir David – the Lindsays had a penchant for the name – was son of Sir James of Glenesk in Angus. His most famous exploit was a joust on London Bridge in 1390 when he was 25 with the English champion Lord Welles in front of a grandstand holding King Richard and the ladies of his court. The duel was à outrance - to the death. At the first pass, Welles’s lance against Lindsay’s visor but Lindsay did not stir. The crowd muttered their disapproval, believing that he was tied to the saddle. Lindsay proved them wrong by leaping from the saddle, bowing to the king and then, in full armour, jumped back on his horse. At the third ‘rink’ Welles was unseated and the conflict continued on foot until Lindsay wedged his dagger into a joint of his opponent's armour, lifted him off his feet and hurled him to the ground.

The king shouted that the victor could do as he pleased with the vanquished. Lindsay helped him to his feet and presented him to the queen, saying that she must decide his fate. Lindsay and Welles became firm friends and the former stayed in London for three months ‘sporting and feasting among the nobles.’

A year later Sir David joined the Sheriff of Angus to chase off a group of raiders that had pillaged the county. Sir David skewered one cateran with his lance but his dying victim wriggled up the shaft and delivered a blow that chopped through his armour that cut his foot to the bone. Sir David was responsible for organising the Battle of Clans in 1396 at Perth when the 30 champions on each side tried to settle a feud in front of King Robert III. 29 men died.
Sir David went on to even greater things. He married the king's daughter and was created Earl of Crawford in 1398. As earl he controlled ‘20 great baronies and lordships’ across the nation, most of whose holders were Lindsays. Similarly the earl and his successors gave preference to their own clan when it came to their servants and followers, 'creating a great barrier and breakwater between the fertile Eastern Lowlands and the lawless clans of the Highlands.'

Sir David was present at the Battle of Otterburn in 1388 when the Scots raided across the English border. Four other Lindsay knights and their clan followers were present. The Scots pillaged Durham; the English caught up with them and a moonlit battle followed in which the Scots won the field although outnumbered three to one.

At the end of the battle Sir James Lindsay noticed an English knight galloping from the field. Sir James mounted his charger and caught up with him after a chase of some ten miles. They dismounted, introduced themselves – the other man was Sir Matthew Redman, governor of Berwick – and commenced single-handed combat, Sir James with a battle-axe, Sir Matthew with his sword. Eventually, Sir Matthew was disarmed and forced to yield. They parted with Sir Matthew agreeing to surrender to his captor in Edinburgh on an agreed day when he would be ransomed.

Sir James fell in with some troops on his way back to the army. He was captured and taken to Newcastle. The obvious prisoner exchange was blighted by King Richard who wanted to keep hold of Sir James till he decided what to do with him.

As might be expected in such a widespread and powerful family, members were on both sides during the Civil Wars although most of them favoured the Stuarts. Colin, the third Earl of Balcarres, spent ten years in exile after the Revolution, and, taking part in Mar’s Rebellion in 1715, only escaped by the friendship of the Duke of Marlborough. John, twentieth Earl of Crawford, was first commander of the Black Watch, and in 1745 he held the Lowlands for the Government.

The Earl of Crawford, the premier earl of the United Kingdom, is the clan chief. The current holder is 29th in succession from Sir David.

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