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  • A New Charter of William the Lion Relating to Strathearn
  • Arkady Hodge

The text published here for the first time is a translation of a standard charter of King William the Lion, originally issued at Alyth in Strathmore on 6 March 1208 or 1210. It confirms a lost charter of Walter Olifard II, lord of Bothwell (d. 1242), in favour of his maternal uncle, Earl Gilbert of Strathearn (d. 1223), and provides new evidence for medieval landholding in the earldom of Strathearn, and for the twelfth-century contacts between the families which these two men represented. The Olifards were 'Anglo-Norman' incomers recently arrived from the earldom of Huntingdon, while the power and status of the earls of Strathearn was rooted in the traditional heartland of Scotland north of the Forth.

The chief significance of the charter is as the only primary record of an alliance between these families, represented by a marriage between Walter II's father, Walter Olifard I, and Earl Gilbert's sister Christina, in the lifetime of her father, Earl Ferteth (d. 1171). As a result of this, the charter shows that the Olifards acquired a territorial estate in Strathearn, including the patronage of Strageath Kirk. This information may potentially offer new insights into patterns of lordship, the development of family connections and noble affinities, and interaction between different sections of the twelfth-century Scottish élite, but the issues involved are complex, and I must defer proper discussion until a fuller paper.

The source for this charter is a seventeenth-century Scots translation in an unpublished MS history of the Drummond family, written by Mr Robert Friebairn, minister of Madderty,1 and surviving in a copy made by the antiquary Robert Mylne, now in the National Library of Scotland.2 This understandably obscure source escaped the notice of the standard collection of Scottish royal acts of William the Lion's reign, the second volume of the Regesta Regum Scottorum, published in 1971;3 but there are no real difficulties of interpretation, and there is no reason to [End Page 314] doubt the basic accuracy of the document: Professor Geoffrey Barrow, the modern editor of King William's acta, has endorsed it as 'unquestionably authentic'.4

Although the text itself seems to have remained unremarked since the seventeenth century, it should be noted that the gist of the information it preserves has in fact been available since then. Although I have found no evidence that any writer since Friebairn knew of the ultimate source, some knowledge of this charter's contents was transmitted by a sequence of authors – apparently copying from each other, and beginning with another, better-known seventeenth-century family history of the Drummonds by Viscount Strathallan.5 Although he cites no source, Strathallan presumably acquired his information from Friebairn, whose work he refers to elsewhere,6 and his statements then served in turn as the source for a series of references in standard works on the medieval Scottish nobility, down to the middle of the twentieth century.7 I have found no reference more recent than 1954, but the omission of the relevant information from more modern works is not entirely surprising, since it could not be traced back to any primary source using the printed texts.

The last author to make use of the information deriving ultimately from this charter – and the only one to use it for primarily historical rather than genealogical ends – was R.L.G. Ritchie, in his discussion of Christina of Strathearn's father, Earl Ferteth. Ferteth was the leader of the group of native magnates who attempted to take control of the government of Scotland in 1160, which could be thought to represent a reaction against royal policies favouring incomers; but Ritchie cited Walter Olifard's marriage to his daughter as one of several indicator that there was 'no question of unfriendliness towards Normans as such' on his part.8

In recent scholarship, in contrast, Strathearn has been claimed as 'an enclave of Celtic conservatism' well into the thirteenth century,9 within a wider academic context where the focus of research is shifting away from 'colonial' barons to 'native lords'.10 It has been confidently asserted that [End...


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pp. 314-318
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Archived 2009
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