Thursday, November 27, 2014

Hamilton, Montgomery and Robert the Bruce

Where do you draw the line with ancestry? How far back is far enough? Is the starting point an arbitrary decision? Asserting 1606, as I often do, has a certain logic to it – but what of those same families in earlier times?

The Hamiltons, the Montgomeries and the Bruces are all regarded as Scottish families, yet all three can be traced to William the Conqueror's France - but even earlier, to before the Viking invasion of Normandy of AD912. 

Normal Eglinton Castle2C KilwinningAbove: Eglinton Castle, Ayrshire. Built on the site of earlier Montgomery castles, the present ruins date from the 1790s.

It has been said (by generally well-regarded sources, like 1st century historian Josephus) that the ancient Gauls of France claimed descent from Gomer, the Biblical son of Japheth (Japheth was Noah's grandson), and they settled at a place they named Mons Gomeris or 'Gomer's Mount'. Whether that is true or not, a Roger de Montgomerie appears in the historical record in the early 900s. Around 1066, his descendant and namesake accompanied William the Conqueror from Normandy to England. A Robert de Mundegumbri then appears near Paisley in Scotland a century later in the 1160s.

His direct descendant, Sir John de Montgomerie (known as 'del Conte de Lanark') joined with Bruce in the early 1300s, having previously sworn fealty to Edward I of England in 1296. Fergus of Ardrossan was a close ally of Robert the Bruce, receiving land from him in a charter in the early 1300s – and who accompanied Edward Bruce to Ireland in 1315 – the Ardrossans were later absorbed into the Montgomeries by marriage when Sir Hugh Montgomery de Eglinton married Fergus of Ardrossan's daughter, who died soon after - he then married Egidia, daughter of Walter the High Steward, another of Bruce's closest generals. Walter the High Steward was married to Robert the Bruce's half-sister. 

81c415a04330c2d9818e028f25001104Above: Bothwell Castle, said to be Scotland's largest and finest 13th century castle. Begun in the 1200s, the original circular keep survives, but repeated sieges delayed the castle's completion until around 1400.

The Hamiltons are said to have originated in the Seine Valley in France. Arriving in Scotland some centuries later, today's Scottish and Ulster-Scots Hamiltons are descended from Sir Walter Fitz Gilbert de Hameldone. He  appears in a document of 1294, and like Sir John de Montgomerie, he also swore loyalty to Edward I in the 'Ragman Roll' of 1296.

Some sources say that his mother was Isabella Randolph, sister of Thomas Randolph, who was a nephew of Robert the Bruce and one of his right-hand-men, and a key figure in the later invasion of Ireland led by Edward Bruce.

Initially, Walter Fitz Gilbert de Hameldone stayed loyal to the English crown, becoming constable of Bothwell Castle on the banks of the River Clyde. After the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314 many English knights took refuge here - until Edward Bruce laid siege to the castle and Fitz Gilbert surrendered - in return Bruce granted him lands at Dalserf and later Cadzow, including the title 1st Laird of Cadzow. There is a story of Walter Fitz Gilbert de Hameldone at the English court in 1323 where he expressed admiration for Robert the Bruce - upon which he was attacked by a John de Spencer, who de Hameldone killed, and then fled back to Scotland.

The Hamiltons, Montgomeries and Bruces were 'inextricably linked'. As we approach May 2015, the 700th anniversary of Edward Bruce's arrival in Ireland in 1315 it will be important to highlight the families who were allied to the Bruces and who, 300 years later, would lead the successful Scottish settlement of Ulster.

Hugh Montgomery and James Hamilton - and many other descendants of Bruce's men – succeeded from  1606 onwards to do what their ancestors had failed to do from 1315–18. Many of the other 'Plantation' era Scots in Ulster would have similar Bruce, and ultimately French-Norman, lineage. According to GWS Barrow's landmark Robert Bruce (1965) they would have spoken French and Latin for generations before they picked up Scots from the locals, as well as some Gaelic.