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History of the Lindsay family

The Scottish House of Lindsay, of which the current Earl of Crawford and Balcarres is chief, was founded by Sir Walter de Lindsay, by 1116.  Sir Walter’s father, Gilbert de Ghent, was of Flemish extraction, the son of the Count of Alost in southern Brabant.  Early in the 12th century, David, the younger brother of King Alexander I of Scotland, acquired the earldom of Huntingdon by marriage in 1113/4 to Maud de Lens.  As a result, several of his new retainers moved north to Scotland, among them Sir Walter, and settled in the Scottish lowlands.  The surname itself derives from the ancient Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Lindsey, in northern Lincolnshire, where Gilbert de Ghent, Earl of Lincoln, a companion of William the Conqueror, held over 60 manors.

Migration of Lindsay ancestors via the County of Flanders (AD 900), and via the administrative area of Lindsay in Lincolnshire (aft. 1066), to Scotland (bef. 1116).

Migration of Lindsay ancestors via the County of Flanders (900 AD), and via the administrative area of Lindsey in Lincolnshire (aft. 1066), to Scotland (bef. 1116).

Sir Walter’s son, Sir William de Lindsay, sat in the Scots Parliament of 1164 and was afterwards Justiciar of Lothian.  He first held the land of Crawford but was styled Baron of Luffness in Parliament.  His son, William, was steward to the Steward of Scotland. His grandson, Sir David Lindsay of Crawford and the Byres, was High Chamberlain of Scotland in 1256 and later died on the Crusade to Tunisia led by Louis IX of France in 1270.  His son, Sir Alexander, was a conspicuous supporter of Sir William Wallace and Robert the Bruce.

Sir Alexander is listed in the Ragman Roll as Sire Alexandre de Lindesaye del counte de Rokesburk, and the entry is accompanied by the earliest example of a seal bearing A fess chequy for Lindsay. His arms also appear in full colour in the roll associated with the battle of Falkirk in 1298 (McAndrew, 2006).

Sir Alexander exchanged Sir Walter's eagle, as used on various early Lindsay seals, for the chequered fess of silver and blue, possibly to state his family's ancestry more precisely by indicating the long descent of the Counts of Alost from Charlemagne through the House of Vermandois. The arms of Vermandois were chequered gold and blue (Platts, 1985). It is more likely that the design, based so closely upon that of the Stewart arms, originates from the time of Alexander's great-grandfather, William, lord of Crawford, who was steward to the Steward of Scotland (McAndrew, 2006).

From L to R: Arms of Ralf, Lord of Alost (d 1052), Gilbert of Ghent (1086), Walter of Lindsay (before 1116), and Alexander Lindsay of Crawford (1297).

From L to R: Arms of Ralf, Lord of Alost (d 1052), Gilbert of Ghent (1086), Walter of Lindsay (before 1116), and Alexander Lindsay of Crawford (1297).

Alexander's eldest son, Sir David, succeeded to the estates in 1308 as Lord of Crawford and was one of the barons whose seal was appended to the letter of 1320 to Pope John XXII asserting the independence of Scotland.  He acquired Glenesk, in Angus, by marriage in 1325 with Mary Abernethy.  The arms of direct descendants of this marriage continue to this day to be quartered Lindsay and Abernethy. 

Sir David Lindsay of Glenesk, born in about 1360, succeeded to the Lordship of Lindsay and Barony of Crawford on the death of his cousin James.  He took part in a joust with Lord Welles on St George’s day in 1390 on London Bridge in the presence of Richard II of England, and won both the day and the admiration of the English king.  In 1398 he was created Earl of Crawford.

The fourth earl, Alexander, known as ‘The Tiger’ rebelled against James II in 1452 and was defeated at the Battle of Brechin after which he was stripped of his title but later pardoned.  David Lindsay, Duke of Montrose: quartered LINDSAY and ABERNETHY with silver inescutcheon charged with a roseHis son, David, rose high in royal favour and was successively Lord High Admiral of Scotland, Master of the Royal Household, Lord Chamberlain from 1483-1488, and High Justiciary.  He was created Duke of Montrose in 1488 but this was annulled after the death of James III.  The sixth earl, John, fell at the Battle of Flodden in 1513.

The descent of the Earldom of Crawford, which has been transferred at various times between different branches of the family, is a splendid example of the Scottish system of resignation and re-grant.  For example, in 1542 David Lindsay of Edzell (who died 1558) succeeded as 9th Earl on the death of his namesake, the 8th Earl who excluded his own son Alexander, the 'Wicked Master' from the title.  David of Edzell re-conveyed the earldom to his cousin David, the son of the Alexander, who became 10th earl.

David Lindsay of Edzell: Quarterly 1st and 4th gules a fess chequy argent and azure 2nd and 3rd Or a lion rampant debruised of a ribbon Sable; an inescutcheon for Nova Scotia (argent a saltire azure surmounted of an inescutcheon Or charged with a lion rampant within a double tressure flory counterflory gules ensigned of an Imperial Crown proper) David of Edzell's second son by Catherine Campbell was John, founder of the Balcarres line of the family.  He was a statesman during the reign of King James VI, and on his appointment to the Court of Session took the judicial title of Lord Menmuir.  David, second son of Lord Menmuir, who had bought the lands of Balcarres and Pitcorthie, in Fife, was created Lord Lindsay of Balcarres in 1633.  His son Alexander was created Lord Lindsay of Balniel and Earl of Balcarres in 1651.

Lord Crawford's gonfannonGeneral Alexander Lindsay, his great-grandson, became the 6th Earl of Balcarres, and was always known by that dignity, but became de jure 23rd Earl of Crawford in 1808 following the death of his cousin George Lindsay-Crawford.  The 25th Earl of Crawford and 8th Earl of Balcarres, Alexander William Crawford Lindsay, wrote the four volume series on the Lives of the Lindsays, now considered a genealogical standard.  Succeeding Earls of Crawford and Balcarres have played important roles in Scottish national history.

Our chief, Robert Lindsay, 29th Earl of Crawford and 12th Earl of Balcarres served in the Grenadier Guards and then became a Member of Parliament.  He was Minister of State for Defence from 1970-1972 and for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs from 1972-1974.  He has been First Crown Estate Commissioner, Chairman of the Ancient and Historic Buildings Council for Scotland and was Lord Chamberlain to HM Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother.  He was installed as a Knight of the Order of the Thistle by HM The Queen in 1997.

Lord and Lady Crawford in the Pleasance at Edzell Castle on the occasion of the celebration of the 600th anniversary of the Earldom of Crawford.  (Photo by Marty Thurmond, 1998).

Lord and Lady Crawford in the Pleasance at Edzell Castle on the occasion of the celebration of the 600th anniversary of the Earldom of Crawford.  (Photo by Marty Thurmond, 1998).

Our chieftain is James Lindesay-Bethune, MA, 16th Earl of Lindsay and 25th Lord Lindsay of the Byres.  He descends from Sir John Lindsay, who was created Lord Lindsay of the Byres in 1444.  A cadet branch of the Byres line is that of the Mount.  One of the most famous names in Scottish history is that of Sir David Lindsay of the Mount, ca. 1490-1555, Lord Lyon King of Arms from 1542 to 1555 and previously Lyon Depute.  His Satyre of the Thrie Estaitis is still performed on stage.  His half-nephew, Sir David Lindsay of the Mount, also held the office of Lord Lyon (1591-1620), as did his son-in-law, Sir Jerome Lindsay of Annatland (1620-1630).  Sir Jerome had a daughter Rachell, who married (1640) Capt. Bernard Lindsay, a grandson of the Snawdoun Herald, Thomas Lindsay of King's Wark, Leith.  Their eldest son Robert was progenitor of Lindsays in Virginia and North Carolina. The Snawdoun Herald's third son, Robert of Loughry, has Lindesay descendants in Australia. 

From L to R: Arms of William Lindsay of the Byres (ca. 1350), David Lindsay of the Mount (1542), and Robert Lindesay of Loughry (1610).

From L to R: Arms of Sir William Lindsay, Lord of the Byres (ca. 1350); Arms of Sir David Lindsay of the Mount KG (1542); and the arms of Robert Lindesay of Loughry (1610) which first appear in 1561-3

There are many branches of the family and some two hundred spellings of the name.  Lord Lindsay, in his book Family of Lindsay (vol 1, p 3) gives eighty-four spellings. Many Lindsays (however spelt) have volunteered to be part of the international DNA project; see the Clan Lindsays International web site for further details.

The arms of our Chief which are contained within the Lyon Register, I, 50; XI, 48, are blazoned as follows:

Lord Crawford's stall plate of the Most Ancient and Most Noble Order of the Thistle in the Chapel of the Order in St Giles' Cathedral, Edinburgh.  Copyright The Heraldry Society of Scotland, 2001.  Used with permission 2006.  (33 kB)Arms: Quarterly, 1st and 4th gules, a fess chequy argent and azure (for LINDSAY); 2nd and 3rd or, a lion rampant gules, armed and langued azure, debruised of a ribbon in bend sable (for ABERNETHY).

Crest: A swan’s neck and wings proper issuant from a crest coronet or.

Supporters: Two lions rampant guardant gules, armed and langued azure.

The arms in the first and fourth quarters depict a silver and blue check pattern on a red background, and in the second and third quarters a red rampant lion with blue tongue and claws on a gold field.  Over each lion is a thin black stripe.  The crest features a white swan within a gold crest coronet, above a helm and coronet of suitable rank. The motto, Endure Fort, means endure bravely.  A banner of Lord Crawford's arms hangs in the Preston Aisle of St Giles' Cathedral, the High Kirk of Edinburgh.

These arms are the property of our Chief and may not be used by anyone else.  All clan members may, however, use our Crest-Badge, displayed right, including those members with surnames that have a territorial or other traditional association with the Lindsay family.


Endure Pursuivant.  (Photo by Leslie Hodgson, 2006).

The Hon Alexander Lindsay, Endure Pursuivant. St Andrews, Scotland.  (Photo by Leslie Hodgson, 2006).

The arms are reflected in the design of the tabbard worn by Endure Pursuivant, the private officer-of-arms to Lord Crawford. This office, named after his motto, dates from 1454 (Friar, 1987).

Attached to the Lindsay family was another private officer-of-arms, Lindsay Herald first mentioned in 1398 (Fox-Davies, 1985; Friar, 1987), but this office has not continued to the present day.

(Some notes on pronunciation: Balcarres is pronounced Bal-car-riss; Bethune is pronounced Bee-ton).


Compiled by Chris Lindesay, FSA Scot, heraldist and genealogist
Clan Lindsay Society of Australia


  1. Adams, Frank, & Sir Thomas Innes of Learny (1952) The Clans, Septs, and Regiments of the Scottish Highlands. W & AK Johnston Ltd, Edinburgh, 624pp.
  2. Black, George (1962) The Surnames of Scotland. Their Origin, Meaning, and History. The New York Public Library, New York, p430.
  3. Burnett, Charles, & Leslie Hodgson (2001) Stall plates of the Most Ancient and Most Noble Order of the Thistle in the Chapel of the Order within St Giles' Cathedral The High Kirk of Edinburgh. The Heraldry Society of Scotland, Edinburgh, p203.
  4. Earl of Crawford and Balcarres (1997) Letter from the Rt Hon The Earl of Crawford and Balcarres, KT.  The Double Tressure.  No 20, p88-9.
  5. Drummond-Murray of Mastrick, Peter (1998) The Earl of Crawford and Balcarres, Knight of the Most Ancient and Most Noble Order of the Thistle.  The Double Tressure.  No 20, p51.
  6. Fox-Davies, Arthur Charles (1985) A complete guide to heraldry. Revised and annotated by JP Brooke-Little, Norroy and Ulster King of Arms. Orbis Publishing, London, p33.
  7. Friar, Stephen (1987) A new dictionary of heraldry. Alphabooks Ltd, A&C Black, Plc, London, p185.
  8. Grimble, Ian (1982) Scottish Clans & Tartans.  The Hamlyn Publishing Group Ltd, London, p125-6.
  9. Hanks, Patrick, & Flavia Hidges (1988) A Dictionary of Surnames. OUP, Oxford.
  10. Hardie-Stoffelen, Anette (2002) The Rise of the Flemish Families of Scotland.  Sighted 2002-05-13.
  11. Lindesay, Christopher John (2007) Mythbusters: examining the origins of the Lindsays. Genealogica & Heraldica, Proceedings of The 27th International Congress of Genealogical & Heraldic Sciences, St Andrews 21-26 August 2006.
  12. Lindesay, Christopher John (2008) Origins of the Lindsays of Loughry. The Scottish Genealogist, Vol LV, No. 2, pp 90-95.
  13. McAndrew, Bruce A (2006) Scotland's historic heraldry. The Boydell Press, Woodbridge, p89-97.
  14. Moncreiffe of that Ilk, Iain, & David Hicks (1977) The Highland Clans. Barrie & Jenkins Ltd, London, p190 and p243.
  15. Mosely, Charles (Ed) (1999) Crawford and Balcarres. In Burke's Peerage and Baronetage.  106th Edition, Burke's Peerage (Genealogical Books) Ltd, Switzerland, p700-6.
  16. Platts, Beryl (1985) Scottish hazard. The Flemish nobility and their impact on Scotland. Appendix Two: Origins of the Lindsays. Procter Press, London, p96-126.
  17. Platts, Beryl (1992) The Flemish Connection.  The Double Tressure.  No 14, p4-18.
  18. Platts, Beryl (1998) Origins of the Lindsays.  Publications of the Clan Lindsay Society.  Vol VI, No. 22, Clan Lindsay Society, Edinburgh, 48pp.
  19. Way of Plean, George, & Romilly Squire (1994) Lindsay.  Scottish Clan & Family Encyclopaedia.  Harper Collins, London, p196-7.
  20. Whyte, Donald (2000) Scottish Surnames.  Birlinn Ltd, Edinburgh, p121-2.



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Updated 2020-01-01

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