Critique : Fraser/Norman Critique II

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Fraser/Norman Critique I
Fraser/Norman Critique II

The House of Grant: `Norman Origin` Reassessed: Part 2

by Peter Grant, Oct 2002

In the previous article (1) I demonstrated that the Batten/Fraser case for an Anglo-Norman origin for the House of Grant could not work on chronological grounds and therefore any secondary evidence proposed by Fraser was irrelevant. I deliberately avoided discussing these areas partly for lack of space but mainly because I did not want to confuse the chronological argument with unnecessary detail which might reduce the impact of my contention. I did however promise to return to discuss some of the other issues raised by Fraser, in relation to an Anglo-Norman origin. These issues revolve around:- Sir Laurence and Robert Grant`s "arrival" in Scotland. The Prat/Bisset English and Scottish connection. An earlier migration north. The English Grants. The etymological argument.

I started my research with an open mind; I was in the Anglo-Norman camp in so far as I gave it any thought at all, having been brought up with this version of the origin. So like most of us my history of the Grants started with Sir Laurence who is portrayed as the first Grant in Scotland and the father of the House of Grant, whereas he is actually the first Grant found in Scottish recorded documents, not necessarily the same thing. In some accounts it is hinted that he had a father named Gregory who is depicted incorrectly as having been sheriff of Inverness (2) there has been no explanation where Gregory or Laurence and his brother Robert came from except to presume that they had migrated north with Walter Bisset after his exile in 1244 and were related to William le Grant of Lincolnshire wife of Albreda Bassingbourn.

If Laurence Grant and relatives had migrated north on or around 1244, which we now know they didn`t they could have been little more than opportunists or fairly penniless knights; there are only two records so far found of any of that name holding land in England (3) at or near to that period and compared to Scotland, English records of the period are prolific. We know Robert the assumed brother of Sir Laurence obtained from Sir John Prat [whose sister is believed to have been Marjory, who married Gilbert of Glencairnie the younger] a charter to the land of Clonmanache on the Findhorn. The charter is undated but believed to be about 1258, two of the witnesses were Sir John Bisset of the Aird and Sir William, son of Augustine. The charter states that there had been past disputes over this land between Robert Grant and Sir John Prat`s father [un-named]. (4) So only 14 years after their supposed arrival they are seen to be acquiring land but as these disputes had been with Sir John`s father it suggests an earlier interest in the land possibly up to a decade back which would put the Grants in the Findhorn area disputing land rights maybe only 4 years after their supposed arrival in Scotland, I find this hard to accept. Fraser (5) also accepts that Robert le Grant had resided sometime prior to this date in Moray. More telling still is the date of Laurence`s role as Sheriff [1263] (6) just 19 years after the family`s supposed arrival in Scotland. This does not add up - in theory there is no reason why this could not have been achieved in this time scale but I think the reality is somewhat more complicated.

Had Laurence arrived in Scotland in time of war or unrest he might well have been imposed on the population as Sheriff but there are no grounds to suspect this was the case. The role of Sheriff which later generally became hereditary was at this period a direct appointment from the king, The sheriff was the king`s man and it is inconceivable that anyone would be appointed who was not known and close to the king. Inverness at that time included all of Ross, Sutherland and Caithness, in effect most of Northern Scotland wherever the king`s writ ran, except for the Western Isles and the North East coast. The job description for this role would have required someone who held the king`s trust, an ability to manage the local barons both in a political and military sense, powers of leadership, military prowess and, last but by no means least, knowledge of the people and territory that he was Sheriff of. The appointment of Laurence Grant as Sheriff, a first generation migrant in preference to established barons and families of standing would, I am sure, have produced jealousies which would have made his job untenable and the king would have been well aware of this in making the appointment.

None of this suggests to me a first generation newcomer; it suggests someone who had a stake and background of the area long enough to be able to compete with the local barons and to hold his own ground. And as we know that Laurence was indeed Sheriff (7) the only logical conclusion is that he and his family were already well established in the locality and had been there long enough to have earned the trust of the king and the respect however grudging of the other established families of note and power. The connections between the Grants and Bissets in Scotland are not in dispute, we have shown that the supposed English connection does not work in the way that Batten and Fraser proposed. Cassillis quotes Fraser who in turn quotes "Calendarium Genealogicum"(8) as showing a family of the name of Prat holding lands in Nottingham and proposes that the Bissets, Prats and Grants in the person of William le Grant were all near neighbours in England as well as in Scotland. He therefore makes the assumption that they all went north together to make their fortunes.

The inquisition post mortem which Fraser quotes concerns a Walter Prat of Retford, in Nottinghamshire and identifies his seven year old son Adam as his heir. This document can be dated to 1278, which is 34 years after Walter Bisset`s supposed return to Scotland and 15 years after Laurence was first appointed sheriff of Inverness. It was also 4 years after William le Grant married Albreda de Basingbourn. While Retford is approximately 25 miles from East Bridgeford and where Bissets and Grants lived it is entirely possible that they might well have known each other but there is no evidence that that these Prats were in anyway connected to the Prats already established in Moray, as equally there is no firm evidence linking these Grants with the Grants in Scotland, of which more later.

The Prats were of Flemish extraction and while there was a steady trickle of Flemmings into England and Scotland for a long period the main impetus came when Count Eustace, ii. of Boulogne came to England in 1066, his followers were rewarded with land by William, i. They moved into Scotland as the Flemish influence increased, originally as a result of the marriage of Maud de Lens to David i, of Scotland, and again when Mary daughter of Malcolm iii, married Eustace of Boulogne. When Henry ii of England oppressed those Flemmings who had supported Stephen de Bois, some returned home and some like the Boulonnais from the East Midlands went north to Scotland where they already had relatives and were made welcome. In summing up we can say that there were Prats in the Nottinghamshire area around the time of the Bisset exile but the only known record is some 34 years after the event. The evidence produced so far is circumstantial at best and cannot be taken as proof of any connection between the Grants and Prats already in Scotland and those in England. The interpretation put on this single document is at best optimistic but more a case of trying to make the "evidence" fit a pre-determined result.

A scenario which could account for an Anglo-Norman origin would be if the Grants were indeed Anglo-Norman but had made the south north migration at an earlier date; this is a purely speculative theory as I can find no evidence to support this idea. In 1175, William the Lion of Scotland returned to Scotland having been captured by English forces while mounting a very opportunist raid on England, in an effort to regain Northumberland for the Scottish crown. Everyman`s hand was raised against Henry, ii of England, led by those of his own sons; Henry was seen as Christendom`s bad guy after the death of Thomas a Becket. William saw this as his opportunity to regain Northumberland but was captured at Alnwick in 1174 and eventually taken as prisoner to Falaise in Normandy where he was forced to make peace with Henry. In December 1174 the Treaty of Falaise (9) was signed between England and Scotland at Falaise. Although glossed over by most Scottish historians this was a humiliating agreement for the Scots (10) William not only became liegeman to Henry but he committed in this treaty "every man of respect of Scotland.....all the bishops, abbots and clergy ...." The submission of the Scottish Church to the English Church and so on, a complete feudal take over.

William was released before Christmas 1174 and returned to Scotland with the promise to Henry that he, the Bishops and Scottish nobles would meet Henry, at York the following year when they would all personally swear their fealty to Henry and his son. (11) We know that as he went back north he collected various Anglo-Norman knights to serve him in Scotland. Fraser tells us that among these were Bissets, Balliols, Bruces and others (12) Some of these knights may well have been known to him from his period of holding the Honour of Huntingdon, at one time the largest Earldom in England, traditionally held by the heir to the Scottish throne as a gift of the king of England. William, who himself was culturally more Norman than Scottish would have had no difficulty in recruiting knights with the prospect of acquiring land and prestige in a new land. And we can be reasonably sure that Henry also had an interest in some of these knights, the Bissets were in English and Norman service and Manasser Bisset was Henry`s steward, it is probably that it was his brother Henry who went north, although we know that Bissets had been active in Scotland before this date. (13)

If the Grants had been among these knights even as retainers of the Bissets it would have been a more logical time to migrate and puts their arrival in Scotland 75 years earlier than the Batten/ Fraser proposition. The consequences of this earlier date would have made Laurence and Robert, third or even fourth generation Scots depending on the age of the first migrant, and comfortably account for Laurence being Sheriff as it answers all my previous objections and reservations. Third generation Grant, aligned to the Bissets, knowing their patch, holding property and known to the king suddenly makes sense, for a member of an increasingly powerful family to hold the position of Sheriff. It also accounts for Laurence`s father Gregory, who we can take as second generation, married to Mary Bisset, daughter of John Bisset of the Aird who gets Stratherrick as a dowry. (14) Alan Grant, traditionally Gregory`s father then assumes the role of first Grant, he fits the role of first named chief by the traditional numbering sequence and with a life span say 1155-1210 fits the role of the first Grant going north aged approx 19.

It`s an intriguing idea but lacks any supporting evidence - it ignores the prospect of a Scandinavian origin and the fact that so far no one of the name of Grant has been found in England at this early date, although hereditary surnames were still in their infancy. However were there to be no Scandinavian theory this idea of an earlier migration would make more sense than Fraser`s later one.

We now have to try and account for the "English Grants," Why, because as various individuals named Grant appear in English records at an early date the inference has been drawn by some that this is evidence that Grants were more prominent in England than Scotland and further proof that they originated first in England. Accepting the dearth of Scottish records surviving from this period we are left with the first recorded name of Grant surviving in Scotland as 1258 when Laurence and Robert le Grant are recorded as witnesses. (15) I think in view of some of the text in this document we can very safely assume that Grants were in Moray by 1248, so in order for the English Grant theory to hold we would need to be looking for a substantial number of Grants recorded in England prior to say 1248. They don`t exist. The earliest named Grant I have so found in England is an Ivo le Grant, 1222 his nephew John and a Heyne le Graunt all in Lincolnshire followed by Richard le Grant. Chancellor of the diocese of Lincoln 1228, (16) later Archbishop of Canterbury, all the other named Grants are either un-dated or post 1248. The jury is still out on whever or not Richard le Grant was or was not a Grant, in his favour we now know that the first bishop of Moray, Richard of Lincoln, a clerk in orders to William the Lion, who on becoming bishop adopted the rules and structure of his alma mata, Lincoln. If Richard had been a Grant and taken Holy Orders it would not be surprising for him to turn up in Lincoln and had he done so it would also be reasonable to assume that he brought members of his family or friends south with him. However some serious doubt is cast on his being a Grant, the Dictionary of National Biography also refers to him as Richard of Wethershed, possibly either from Sussex or Suffolk the exact location cannot now be identified. It is also suggested that he was known as Le Grand from his stature or Magister Richardus Magnus, so great care must be taken in assuming him to be a Scottish Grant.

That there were Grants recorded in England at an early date is not in dispute, however their exact status is unclear, some were clearly domiciled in England but for how long we have no idea, some were probably itinerant, traders, merchants, soldiers. They represent a statistically insignificant number to indicate anything, were many more dateable Grants to be found in England prior to 1248 they could still only be seen as an indication of an origin from England, supporting evidence to more conclusive primary evidence, is totally lacking. The most likely answer for the majority of these Grants found in England at this time would be either migration south probably via trade, military service or marriage. It is entirely possible that some people derived their name from the nickname Grand, as in large or huge, as surnames became fixed their heirs took on this name by default; and although called Grant they did not have - nor did their heirs - any connection with the Scottish family of Grant. A significant number of surnames are derived from nick names. (17)

We need to consider the history of surnames; every surname had a meaning once even if today we are unable to say with complete certainty what that meaning was. In general terms the origin of a surname is seldom an official affair, they mostly derive from either a personal name, an occupational name, a place name, a pet name or nick name. Hereditary surnames are considered to have become settled in England by 1400 but most are very much earlier than that. During the reign of Edward I of England (1272-1307) the country was taxed to pay for his wars in Wales and Scotland and the names of those who paid these taxes, many thousands were written up by individual village and form part of the "Subsidiary Rolls". (18) And in the case of Grant, it is entirely possible that some people derived their name from the nickname Grand, as in large or huge, as surnames became fixed their heirs assumed this name which became hereditary. In the past writers have tended to equate the Anglo Norman word Grand in terms of impressive, noble, or splendid rather than its correct derivation of large, tall, huge. If this was indeed the case it would account for some English families widely separated by distance to end up carrying the hereditary name of Grant, derived from a historically acceptable nick name but having no blood connection with any Scottish Grants.

This leads us neatly to where does the Scottish name of Grant derive, the Etymological argument. The basis of this is that the meaning or derivation of the word Grant comes from a source generally assumed to be linguistic, crudely put, "sounds like". This is a game everyone can play; the proponents of an English East Anglian origin have put forward place names which carry part or all of the word Grant, as have the proponents of a Scandinavian or Scottish indigenous origin. Many of these names seem at first glance to be quite convincing and may in the end prove to have some merit however so far none in my opinion have that knockout argument that carries real conviction. There is no question that the name has a meaning but the exact derivation remains elusive. Can we exclude the Anglo-Norman derivation, "Grand"? Not entirely as at the same period that hereditary names were becoming the norm in Scotland the court and nobility were still part of the wider Norman culture and heritage and we can not rule out the possibility that the nick name principle of Grand worked as well in Scotland. If however we ignore any thought of any Anglo-Norman influence we come back to a derivation from a place or person native to Scotland, many have been put forward and could be right but so far we lack sufficiently convincing evidence to back any as being possibly the origin. My personal view is that a Scandinavian derivation of the word is unlikely, no obvious or convincing one has been found and if one accepts the chronology of the Scandinavian origin by the time "Andlaw" (Grant) was active and he would have been the first candidate to be called Grant; the Scandinavian link was already getting weak. There is no evidence that Andlaw spent any significant time in Scandinavia although he would have been raised in its culture and custom. I think that the most likely derivation is from Scotland but for the moment I am keeping an open mind as to where.

Akin to the etymological argument is the Heraldic one; this is where components of the Arms of Grant are used to produce an argument inferring an origin of the family to suit the proposer. While I do not dispute that there must be a meaning to the three Crowns, they are not unique in heraldry and do appear elsewhere. My concern is in trying to place a meaning on a heraldic symbol which pre-dates formal heraldry. If the Lord Lyon knocked on your door and told you he was preparing Arms for you, what would you like to depict, I am sure that most of you would arrive at some pictorial symbol which reflected something personal to you and your family and no doubt the Grants did the same and while their symbol could be almost a folk memory, I still think that for us to try and put a meaning on it is dangerous and time wasting.

Part one of this paper demonstrated that the principle evidence put forward by Edmund Batten and Sir William Fraser, as to an origin of the House of Grant as a result of a migration north around 1244 does not stand stricter scrutiny. Part two expands on the secondary evidence used by Fraser, which also brings the 1244 migration into doubt. I have shown that the assumption that Sir Laurence and Robert Grant were early migrants is extremely unlikely and the reasons why I believe this. I have also questioned the Bisset-Pratt-Grant relationship as proposed by Fraser. A scenario for a migration 75 years earlier has been shown as a possibility but with no evidence to support this theory. I have put forward reasons why it could have been possible for people to have carried the name Grant in England but have no relationship with the Scottish Grants and have briefly discussed the Entomological argument and the dangers of inferring too much from the Grant Arms. In conclusion I find the evidence for an English or Anglo-Norman origin to be non-existent and the proposal for such an origin by Sir William Fraser to be false. Rightly or wrongly and however flawed the traditional version of the origin of the House of Grant circulating within the clan until displaced by Fraser in 1883 must be reconsidered as the basis for such an origin.


(1) Standfast, the clan Grant Society Magazine issue no 21.d
(2) The appointment of Sheriff is recorded in the Register of the Great Seal of Scotland An extract shows that Laurence Grant (le Gra[u]nt) as the third recorded sheriff after M[ichael] Mowat and Thomas the Doorward, lord of Lundie. There is no corrobating evidence to place Gregory as Sheriff of Inverness.
(3) An Ivo le Grant and nephew John are recorded in a Release and Quit Claim in the Thurgarton Cartulary. We know from this source that Ivo was alive in 1222.There was also around the same time a Hayne le Graunt living at Scopwick in Lincolnshire.
(4) Grant by John Prat to Sir Robert le Grant. [circa 1258]
(5) The Chiefs of Grant. By William Fraser. Vol I p, 9. "The fact that the lands had been in dispute between the elder Prat and Sir Robert le Grant, certainly indicated that the later had resided sometime in Moray..."
(6) The Office of Sheriff in Scotland by C.A.Malcolm.
(7) 1263 or 1264 Exch.R., 13 and 1266 Exch. R., i.19
(8) Calendariom Genealogicum, 6 EDW. i. P265. Inq,p,m. 24 Walterus Prate alias Prat de Retford.
(9) 26. The Treaty of Falaise (December 1174) as given in English Historical Documents. Vol.11. OUP.
(10) "This is an intensely feudal document and a savage treaty," Introduction in English Historical Documents vol 11. p 446.
(11) This treaty was renounced by Richard I of England in 1190.
(12) The Chiefs of Grant. Vol, i. P, 5.
(13) William Bisset (the Carpenter) was witness to a charter of Malcolm iv, in 1153. And David I settled Robert Biset at Upsetlington, 1140.
(14) "Genealogical Collections" vol 1. pp 85-96. Bisset genealogy by Rev James Fraser, Minister of Wardlaw. Note this ms is considered suspect but is the only ms found so far covering this marriage.
(15) Registrum Moraviese, pp.133-135.
(16) "Dictionary of National Biography", Grant, p,401. "Lives of the Archbishops of Canterbury" [W. H. Hook. 1876] Chapter ii, Richard Grant.
(17) "History through Surnames" by W.O.Hassall, Pergamon Press. p, 23 "Oxford Dictionary of Place Names, Ed E. Wkwall. Oxford. "A Dictionary of British Surnames" P.H.Reany. Routlage and Kegan Paul. 1958.
(18) "How Surnames Began" C.M.Mathews. Littlewood Press. 1967, p, 11.

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