The Rise of Normans and the Clan Comyn (1066 AD to 1284 AD)

•     1066 AD          Robert de Comyn arrives in England with William the Conqueror and was given lands in Northumberland. The name Comyn (or Cumming, Cummin) is of Norman origin derived from Comines near Lisle on the French/Belgium border.1

•     1066 AD          St. Clairs (Sinclairs) arrive in England with William the Conqueror and fight at the Battle of Hastings. Sometime afterwards, William the Seemly St. Clair settles in Scotland. His name appears on the roles of king Malcolm Canmores court. He is the son of Comtede St. Clair, a relative of William the Conqueror.

•     1069-1071 AD          Malcolm III marries Margaret, sister to the Saxon heir of the English throne, sometime between 1069-1071 AD2

•     1070 AD          Some of the Norman nobles in the north of England were upset with the distribution of Saxon lands and rebelled. Duke William took an Army north and wasted the northern counties. As a result many Norman nobles fled north and were granted lands over the border by Malcom III (Canmore) of Scotland.

•     1072 AD          William invades Scotland; Malcolm III submits and gives hostages. He agrees not to harbor the English kings’ enemies (The Abernethy Treaty).3

•     1079 AD          Malcom III again invades England but at Falkirk agrees to renew the terms of the Abernethy Treaty and a border was agreed.4

•     1084 AD          The earliest record of Leask of de Lask as a name in Orkney appears to be 1084. The earliest evidense of the owners of the Udal lands is given in the Uthel Book. It records parcels of land on the Island of Papa Westray (Papey), Orkney. There were 16 parcels in all not owned by the Church and the Earl of Orkney. Most of these 16 parcels were owned by the Leasks and Howiesons. It is assumed by Sir Brian Chalmers Leask of Aglath that these are these parcels were owned by the de Lask family of Aberdeenshire.5

•     November 13, 1093          Malcolm Canmore dies with his son Edwardin an ambush by the Norman Earl of Northumbria, Robert de Mowbray.6

•     1093 AD          Donald III, Malcolm’s younger brother Donald Ban becomes king.7

•     1093 AD          Duncan II, son of Malcolm by Ingibjorg of Orkney seizes the throne.8

•     1094 AD          Duncan II is murdered.9

•     1097 AD          Edgar, Malcolm’s eldest surviving son by Margaret becomes king with the backing of an English army sent by King William Rufus.10

•     1100s AD         St Boniface Church (Papa Westray) has its origins in the 12th Century, though it has been much altered and extended, especially by the construction of a private burial-enclosure in the chancel. In the graveyard lies a fine twelfth century hogback tombstone made of red sandstone, and with three rows of roof tiles. Depicted on either side. St Boniface is likely to be an old foundation: it has been suggested as the seat of the Pictish bishopric of Orkney and two early Christian Cross slabs were discovered here earlier this century, one may now be seen in Tankerness House Museum in Kirkwall, and the other is in the National Museum in Kirkwall. Recent excavations have revealed both Iron Age and Pictish settlement in the vicinity. Traces of a large round house inhabited in the 6th century BC were uncovered. The Church of St Boniface was in use in the 1920s.11

•     1102-1168 AD          The first Recorded Bishop of Orkney is William the Old who served for 66 years.12

•     1101-1144 AD           Family tradition has it that a Leask was on the second crusade hence the reason for the crescent being adopted as a crest on the Coat-of-Arms. There are no known records extant.13 (Sir Brian Chalmers Leask of Aglath)

•     1107 AD          Alexander I (Edgar’s brother) succeds to the throne on Edgar’s death.14

•     1121 AD          William Comyn is a clerk in the English chancery for Henry I.15

•     1124 AD          David I becomes King of Scotland.16

•     1124 AD          William Comyn comes north with King David I (1124-1153), who appoints him Chancellor of Scotland. His nephew, Richard Cumming, married the granddaughter and heiress of Canmore’s Brother, the blinded King Donald Ban (1193-97).17

•     1126-1127 AD (O) Harrald, Earl of Orkney is granted the Earldom of Caithness by King David I of Scotland.

•     1136 AD          Kali Kilsson, a nephew of St Magnus became Earl of Orkney taking the name Earl Rofnvald after Earl Rofnvald Brusason, whom he admired.18

•     1136 AD          Willam Comyn becomes Chancellor of Scotland for David I.19

•     1138 AD          Harald Maddadsson becomes Earl of Orkney as a five year old boy. Born in Scotland, he grew up in Orkney. He was descended from both Norwegian and Scottish aristocrats. His first wife was the daughter of the Scottish noble, the Earl of Fife. (Earl Fergus?) He split control of the Earldom of Orkney with Earl Rognvald, the founder of St Magnus Cathedral. For rest of his life he was torn between allegience to the Scottish and Norwegian crowns.20 It has been argued that the political activities of Harald Maddadsson led to the Scotish crown coming north to consolidate power in Sutherland and Caithness.21

•     1138 AD          William Cumin participated in the invasion by David I of northern England in 1138, and was captured when the Scottish army was defeated at the battle of the Standard near Northhallerton. His grandson is later given lands in Roxburghshire by King David I of Scotland.22

•     1142-1152 AD          Before 1152 AD, Richard Cumin receives his first recorded landed grants from the Scottish Royal Family in Scotland in Pebleshire from Earl Henry, the son of David I.23

•     1151 AD          King Eystein, King of Norway raids Aberdeen, perhaps punishment for Aberdeen’s support of Earl Harald of Orkney. Aberdeen seems to have played a role in the high politics of the north.24

•     1152 AD          The Bishopric of Orkney becomes part of Norway’s see of Nidaros.

•     1152 AD          Bishop William the Old of Orkney accompanied Earl Rognvald, and many of his friends on a crusade to the Holy Land leaving 19 year old Harald Maddadarson to look after the earldom in the Earldom in their absence. Among the Orkneymen who took part in the two year visit to the Mediterranean were the Earls poets Thorgeir Safakoll and Thorbjorn the Black, as well as Oddi Glumsson the Little and Armod, who were Icelanders. The story of their visit is a highlight of the Orkneyinga Saga.25

•     1153 AD          Malcolm IV becomes king of Scotland on the death of David I, his grandfather.26

•     1160 AD          William de la Haye (a Norman) arrives about 1160. He became the Butler of Scotland, later marrying a Celtic Heiress. His son David Hay later marries into an ancient family of Strathearn.

•     1162 AD          The Sinclairs (St. Clair) receive land in Lothian by 1162.

•     1165 AD          William the Lion becomes King of Scotland.27

•     1170 AD          William bestows the office of justicar of Lothian on Richard Cumin . The office of justicar was an important one. The justicar was the leading judicial officer of the crown in his area and an increasingly significant administrative adviser to the king. Before 1200, the justicar was responsible for determining crown pleas, except for the most significant ones, and for dispensing justice evenly. There were three justicars: Scotia, Lothian and Galloway.28

•     July 1174 AD          King William is captured by the English at Alnwick after he mounted an invasion of Northumbria.29

•     1176 to 1198 AD        Harrald II Maddadsson, Earl of Orkney, ruled half of Cathiness with the aid of King William of Scotland.30

•     1179 AD          Charter for Aberdeen, granted at Perth, by King William.

•     1180s AD       Earl Harald Maddadsson supports the Macwilliam family who unsuccessfully mounted a challenge to the Scottish King.31

•     1194 AD          Earl Harrald II Maddadsson lost the Shetlands for supporting the claim of Sigrud, the son of Magnus of Sweden, instead of King Sverre (Sverrir) of Norway. In 1184, civil war raged in Norway. A group of islanders known as the Eyjarskeggjar (Island Beardies) objected to the rule of King Sverrir. Supported by Earl Harald, they collected forces in Orkney and went to Norway where they were defeated in the bloody battle of Florvag and nearly all were killed. Earl Harald made his peace with a furious King Sverrir, however as a result, Shetland remained separate and was not reunited with Orkney until the rule of Prince Henry Sinclair.32 The loss occurred in about 1194.33

•     1200s AD?          The Chapel of Leask located on the land of Leask, in Slains, dates back to the earliest of times. The ruins of the present building believed to have been constructed in the 12th Century stand on the ruins of an ancient chapel. It is thought to be built on the ruins of a Columbian Oratory that dates back to the 6th Century. It was dedicated to St Adamnan.34

•     1202 AD          King William, the Lion invaded Caithness taking the Earl’s eldest son hostage, mutilating him until he died.35

•     1205 AD          William Cumyn’s promotion to justicar of Scotia was the first sign of a deliberate royal policy to involve the family in the consolidation of royal authority in the north. A Comyn served as justicar of Scotia no fewer than 66 of the 100 years between 1205 and 1304.36

•     1206 AD          Earl Harald II Maddadsson dies and is succeded by his son Jon Haraldsson and ruled until he was killed in Thurso in 123037 and his son David who died in 1214.38

•     1211 AD           Guthred, son of Donald MacWilliam landed in Ross in January 1211 to lead a rebellion in Ross and Moray.39

•     1211-1212 AD          In his capacity as justicar, William Comyn and the Earl of Athol led the army of 4,000 into Ross to suppress the rebellion of Guthred, son of Donald MacWilliam. The army included representatives of the two families claiming the earldom of Mar, Malcolm son of Earl Morgrund and Thomas Durward.40

•     1212 AD          William Cumin (Comyn) marries Lady Marjorie, heiress of the Earl of Buchan, Fergus, becoming the first Anglo-Norman Earl of Scotland. (Marjore, daughter of Earl Fergus was his second wife) Earl Fergus was the last Celtic Earl of Buchan and William the first Norman earl in Scotland. Earl Fergus held court at Ellon, his ‘caput’ located very near the land of Leask. As a result Earl William was in possession of Slains and Cruden (on the south-east coast of Buchan); Fechil (in Ellon parish); Tarves (west of Ellon); Old Meldrum (south-west of Tarves); Rattray (on the coast between Peterhead and Fraserburg); Strichen (inland west of Rattray); Deer (south of Strichen) and Turrif (west of Deer).41 From Richard Cumin’s time the families closely attached to Comyns either through affinity or feudal connection were the Bonekil , Ridel and Umphraville families. Land owning Families in William Comyn’s circle included the Grahams, the Mowats, the Boscos, the Pauntons, the Prats, the Sinclairs, and the Wardroba Families. William Comyn maintained ties with the sons of former Earls of Buchan: William of Slains, Robert de Montfort, John son of Uhtred and Cospatric Macmadethyn.42

•     December 4, 1214 AD          King Willam the Lion dies at Sterling after a 49 year rule. (4-page 87) His son Alexander II becomes king and rules to 1249 AD.43

•     1220-1250s AD          The Comyn Family, the Bisset family and the Durward family are in competition and conflict. The Durwards had been known as the de Lundin family previously.44

•     1231 AD          Earl Jon is killed in a drunken brawl in a cellar in Thurso.45

•     1231 AD          The Scottish Earls of Angus become the Earls Orkney until around 1320 AD.46

•     1233 AD          On the death of Earl William Comyn, leadership of the Comyn’s passed to Walter Comyn, second son of Earl William by his first marriage47

•     1234 AD          Walter Comyn becomes Earl of Menteith on marriage to Isabella, daughter and heiress of Maurice, third Earl of Menteith.48

•     1238 AD          Joan, sister to King Henry III of England and the wife of Alexander II, King of Scotland dies. Allexander II marries a French noblewoman, Marie de Coucy leading Henry III to fear a French Scottish alliance.49

•     1242 AD          From a Comyn viewpoint, 1242 AD marks a challenge to Comyn control. Newcomers like the Bissits were ingratiating themselves with the royal family. The Bissits and the Comyns were rival landowners in both Mar and Moray. The Comyn rise to the forefront of the Scottish aristocracy, so strongly supported by the Scottish monarchy, was threatened when two earldoms, Angus and Athol, slipped from their control. John Comyn, earl of Angus died that year, and when his relative, Patrick of Atholl, heir to the earldom of Atholl died in 1242 AD under suspicious circumstances, removing that earldom from Comyn influence, it was inevitable there would be a strong family reaction. Two members of the Bissit family, Walter and John Bissit were suspected by the Comyns in the death of Patrick of Atholl. The harrying of Walter Bissit’s lands at Aboyne by Alexander Comyn, heir to Buchan, and John Comyn (son of Richard Comyn), ‘a keen fighter and a most outstanding participant in all knightly encounters’ was perhaps a hot headed reaction by two members of the Comyn family to the loss of a relative of a similar age.50

•     1242 AD          The Bissets ask for help from Henry III.51

•     1243 AD          As the Comyns continue to build and strengthen castles along the English Scottish border, Walter Bissit becomes firmly established in English Royal service.52

•     1244 AD          King Henry III of England and King Alexander II of Scotland act to curb Comyn power. Alexander II replaces Comyn allies Robert Mowat and Philip de Melville with Allan Durward as Justicar of Scotia. Allan Durward replaces Walter Comyn as chief advisor to Allexander II. Allan Durward forms a totally non-Comyn Government. (12-page 45) The Comyns still counted on the families listed in 1212 but added the del Hay, de Soules, de Erth (Airth), Mountfichets (Muschets) and de Valoniis families to their supporters.53

•     August 1244 AD          No doubt the words of the Bissits easily fed Henry’s fears and provoked his march to the Scottish English border. Large English and Scottish armies confront each other. Walter Bissit and his heirs were granted land in Nottinghamshire until their Scottish lands could be recovered.54

•     1244 AD          Alexander, son of William Comyn did not become Earl of Buchan until 1244 AD.55

•     July 6, 1249 AD          King Alexander II dies and his son Alexander III becomes king on July 13, 1249 at the age of seven.56

•     1249-51 AD          Though Durward was still in power, the Comyn party, led by Walter Comyn are the dominant political force in Scotland.57

•     1251 AD          The Comyns are placed in power by Henry III of England and the Durwards are forced into exile.58

•     September 4, 1255 AD          The Comyn government is replaced by a council of 15, appointed by Henry III of England and Alexander III of Scotland. The team was led by Patrick Earl of Dunbar and Alan Durward once more becomes justicar of Scotia. Walter de Lindsay becomes chamberlain and Walter de Moray (of Bothewell) becomes justicar of Lothian.59

•     1257 AD          Walter Comyn kidnaps the King at Kinross and thus regains control of the government.60

•     September 1258 AD          A compromise is agreed to that is documented by the record of the English baronial council in November of 1258 AD61

•     November 1258 AD          The English baronial council records a compromise council of ten with four key members of the Comyn party (Walter Comyn-earl of Menteith, Alexander Comyn-earl of Buchan, William-earl of Mar, and Gamelin-bishop of St Andrews) and four members of the Durward party (Alan Durward, Alexander Stewart, Robert Meyners (Menzies) and Gilbert de Hay). The naming of Queen Marie and her new husband John of Acre as the other two members can be seen as a sop to Henry III, giving the impression that Alexander III’s minority still continued.62

•     November 1258 AD          Walter Comyn, earl of Meneith, dies in late October or early November as a result of a fall from his horse.63

•     1258 AD          Earl Alexander, earl of Buchan, was recognized as head of the Comyn party and as leader of the governing community of Scotland.64

•     1260 AD to 1286 AD          Alexander III takes the initiative, denying royal patronage to disruptive barons and promotes a junior branch of Comyn family: Comyn’s of Kilbride and new men in the royal cycle such as Simon Fraser, Reginald Cheyne, Thomas Randolf and Hugh Berkeley. As a result, the Comyn power declines. (12-page 67) However the Comyn family dominated political and public offices, royal missions and witness lists to royal charters. From 1258 to 1289 AD Alexander Comyn, earl of Buchan holds the office of justicar of Scotia when he died. The Comyn family also dominated the offices of sheriff in Scotland during that period.65

•     1260s AD          Earl Alexander of Buchan and Alexander Stewart played a leading part in the defense of the country against the Norwegian threat during the 1260s.66) In the 1260s, he also served as Sheriff of Wigtown67

•     1260 AD          The progress of the Stewarts to the forefront of the political stage after 1260 AD was confirmed by their presence on the list of thirteen earls and 25 Barons who in 1284 AD swore loyalty to uphold the succession of Margaret of Norway to the Scottish throne.68

•     1263 AD          King Hakon of Norway made and expediton to the West with the aim of reviving and consolidating Norwegian power.69

•     October 2, 1263 AD          Battle of Largs-Scots defeat the Vikings who were attempting to revive and consolidate Norwegian power. The battle takes place on the Ayershire coast. Orkneymen were involved in the expedition. As a result of the defeat, Norwegian power declined in Scotland.70

•     December 15/16, 1263 AD          King Haakon of Norway dies on Orkney during the winter after his defeat in Scotland.71

•     1264 AD          William de St Clare (or Sinclair) was sheriff of Edinburg, Lithithgow, and Haddington. A son may have been sheriff of Dumfries by 1290 AD.72

•     1264 AD          Earl Alexander, together with William earl of Mar and Alan Durward, was ordered to follow up on the defeat of the Norwegians by suppressing those Scots who had encouraged and supported the King of Norway in the Western Isles.73

•     May 23, 1264 AD          Roger de Quincy, earl of Winchester (England) dies and leaves vast English estates to his daughter, Elizabeth, co-heiress of his estate. She was the wife of Alexander Comyn, Earl of Buchan. The breakup of this vast estate was a slow process not settled until May 22, 1277. There was still an echo of a dispute in 1279.74

•     1264-1266 AD          Reginal Cheyne was sheriff of Kincardine. Either he or his son was sheriff of Kincardine by 1290. Both were frequently on the royal witness list.75

•     1267-1269 AD          Reginal Cheyne was chamberlain76

•     1272 AD          Edward I becomes king of England.77

•     1272 AD          The Bruce family acquires an earldom by marriage.78

•     1275 AD          Earl Alexander, Earl of Buchan was one of the leaders of the kings expedition against the Isle of Mann79

•     1276 AD          Earl Alexander, Comyn was among 178 tenants-in-chief summoned to meet the king at Worcester and fight for Edward I, King of England, against the Welsh. Most of the leading nobility in Scotland, including the Balliols, Comyns and Bruces, had previously acknowledged their feudal obligations to the kings of England as English landowners. Certainly Earl Alexander was concerned about his wife’s pending inheritance of vast English estates from Robert de Quincy. It was certainly in Earl Alexander’s interest to acknowledge his commitments to King Edward I. At this time, rather than serve he paid scutage of 50 marks (one-third two knights fees).80

•     May 22, 1277 AD          The inheritance of Elizabeth, Earl Alexander’s wife is settled, and she receives her inheritance.81

•     1282 AD          Having been summoned to serve King Edward again in 1282 AD, Earl Alexander emphasized in his letter to King Edward he regretted he was unable to serve personally against the Welsh, but he sent his son Roger to serve in his stead.82

•     July 1, 1282          Alexander III, King of Scotland wrote Edward I, King of England to excuse the temporary absence of Alexander Comyn, earl of Buchan, Constable and Justicar of Scotland whom he had dispatched on important business to the remote parts of the Scottish islands. His duty to the Scottish King came first83

•     1282 AD          Henry Cheyne named bishop of Aberdeen.84


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  2. 1069-1071 AD-Scotland, The Story of a Nation, ©Magnus Magnusson, Atlantic Monthly Press, 2000, pages 62-63. 

  3. 1072 AD-Scotland, The Story of a Nation, ©Magnus Magnusson, Atlantic Monthly Press, 2000, page 66. 

  4. 1079 AD-Scotland, The Story of a Nation, ©Magnus Magnusson, Atlantic Monthly Press, 2000, page 68. 

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  8. 1093 AD-Scotland, The Story of a Nation, ©Magnus Magnusson, Atlantic Monthly Press, 2000, page 68. 

  9. 1094 AD-Scotland, The Story of a Nation, ©Magnus Magnusson, Atlantic Monthly Press, 2000, page 68. 

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  12. 1102-1168 AD-The Islands of Orkney, Liv Kjorsvik Schei, 2000, page 23. 

  13. 1101-1144 AD-Leask’s Genealogical Guide to Some Australian Families and their Antecedents and Genealogies, compiled and edited by Brian Chalmers Leask, Kt. T., 1979, page 333. 

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  18. 1136 AD-The Islands of Orkney, Liv Kjorsvik Schei, 2000, page 22. 

  19. 1136 AD-Robert the Bruce’s Rivals: The Comyns, 1212-1314, Alan Young, Tuckwell Press, 1997, page 15. 

  20. 1138 AD-Orkney, A Historical Guide, © Caroline Wickham Jones, 1998, page 116. 

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  29. July 1174 AD-Scotland, The Story of a Nation, ©Magnus Magnusson, Atlantic Monthly Press, 2000, page 83. 

  30. 1176 to 1198 AD-Orkney, A Historical Guide, © Caroline Wickham Jones, 1998, page 116. 

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  69. 1263 AD-Orkney, A Historical Guide, © Caroline Wickham Jones, 1998, page 148. 

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  77. 1272 AD-Scotland, The Story of a Nation, ©Magnus Magnusson, Atlantic Monthly Press, 2000, page 694. 

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  81. May 22, 1277 AD-Robert the Bruce’s Rivals: The Comyns, 1212-1314, Alan Young, Tuckwell Press, 1997, page 137. 

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  83. July 1, 1282 AD-Robert the Bruce’s Rivals: The Comyns, 1212-1314, Alan Young, Tuckwell Press, 1997, page 137. 

  84. 1282 AD-Robert the Bruce’s Rivals: The Comyns, 1212-1314, Alan Young, Tuckwell Press, 1997, page 70.