The Ancestor/Number 1/Review: The Stewarts


The formation of Scottish clan societies is a pleasing feature of the times, and is likely to lead, as in the case of family societies in America, to an increase in the study of genealogy and in the production of works dealing with family history. The work before us,[1] of which the author does not reveal his name, has its origin, he frankly confesses, in 'the pride of name and race,' and, as he tells us with equal candour, makes 'no pretence either to literary merit or original research.' This story of the Stewarts from the origin of the race to the time when one of its sons mounted the Scottish throne is in fact a compilation from printed books familiar enough to the antiquary. It is calculated however to serve its purpose in fostering what we may term esprit de famille, and the author's exhortations in the preface are conceived in the right spirit, though the Stewarts, one imagines, would hardly be 'content to rest on the laurels of our ancestors'—if a more convenient seat than a laurel wreath were at hand.

To the old problem of the origin of the Stewarts the author devotes much attention, but it is disappointing to find him, even at the present day, hesitating between their Breton descent and their legendary derivation from 'Banquo, thane of Lochaber.' The reader is left, we read, to 'form his own conclusion' as to 'the rival theories and documents.' Yet the author himself sees clearly that 'there is sufficient indication in the history of Alan's descendants to prove his and their Breton origin and descent,' which makes his hesitation to reject the old 'Banquo' legend the more regrettable. Moreover he has fallen a victim, as others also have done, to that most dangerous book The Norman People which by reckless admixture of guesses with facts endeavours to trace the Stewarts' ancestors to the time of Julius Cæsar. We observe also some strange errors such as ought not to find a place in the work of a modern genealogist. The Fitzalans Earls of Arundel, for instance, are not 'now represented by the Duke of Norfolk,' but by Lord Mowbray, Segrave, and Stourton, and Lord Petre; Simon 'brother of Walter Fitz Alan' was not of necessity son of Walter's father, and his name was certainly not 'a corruption, accidental or phonetic,' of the Breton 'Salomon.' The wife of Walter the Stewart who died in 1246 was not 'daughter of Gilchrist Earl of Mar and of his wife Marjorie daughter of Henry Prince of Scotland, brother of Kings Malcolm IV. and William IV.'; she was daughter of Gilchrist Earl of Angus, the name and parentage of whose wife are by no means free from doubt; and Henry was father, not 'brother' of Kings Malcolm and William. In the next generation Walter the Stewart's son and namesake did not marry 'Mary Comyn, younger daughter of Walter Comyn Earl of Menteith'; Walter Comyn was not her father, but the husband of her elder sister, which husband, by the way, is transformed by the author into 'Sir William Comyn,' who was his father! Lastly, even though 'the English antiquarians' may have been 'greatly puzzled' by the styles of Edmund Hastings, they would really not believe with the author, who is good enough to enlighten them on the subject, that the Menteith estates and title were claimed by John de Hastings 'in right of his mother Isabella Comyn.' For she was not his mother, but the wife of his younger brother Edmund; nor was she the mother, by Edmund, of two sons as he states. 'The late Mr. John Riddell,' to whom he refers for the facts, set them forth in great detail and with complete accuracy, so that his errors are inexcusable. As for his statement that 'the Earldom of Mar passed into the family of the Erskines, the present (sic) possessors, in right of descent from Elene de Mar and Sir John Menteith,' we may leave it to some of his 'perfervid' compatriots, observing only that his anonymity may have been a prudent precaution. The character of this family history has now been sufficiently shown, but one may express mild surprise that Fordun should have spoken, as alleged, of three of the Stewarts as 'tres fratres inclites' (sic). At the end of the book are some chart pedigrees of the Stewarts and their royal descendants; but we do not find that the great pedigree of the house prepared by Mr. W. A. Lindsay for the Stuart exhibition has been consulted. The volume is well got up and has an attractive frontispiece.



  1. The Story of the Stewarts. Printed for the Stewart Society (Edinburgh: Stewart & Co.), 1901.