Sunday, August 9, 2009

The Comyns 2

Last year I promised future post(s) covering the Comyn family, their rise to pre-eminence, prior to their rapid eclipse by Robert I.
Well here we go.
First I would like to draw attention to an excellent book, by Alan Young,
which was published in 1997, “Robert the Bruce’s Rivals: The Comyns, 1212 – 1314”,
As previously discussed in this blog the Comyns have over the years received an extremely bad press and Alan Young set out to redress this balance and as he states in the conclusion of the first chapter;
“A Comyn perspective is necessary to test the Bruce –oriented version of thirteenth-century Scottish history and the Comyns’ traditional role in it as traitorous rivals to Robert Bruce”.
However one reviewer did remark that; even a book dedicated to the Comyn family history could not escape the shadow of Robert the Bruce in the title.
Prior to this book it was necessary to trawl through numerous books, papers and articles, for the average person to get a perception of the Comyns, and even then it tended to be less than flattering.

Some histories maintain that a Robert de Comines, who came over with William the conqueror in 1066 and was awarded lands in Northumbria for his services, was the founder of the Scottish dynasty. The name may derive from the area of Comines, in the French/Belgian border area. Other sources say the name is derived from the herb cumin, and that, this was the origin of the three sheaves on the coat of arm. The real origin may be a combination of both or none.

Alan Young believes that the Comyns were not of a “noble” family like the Bruces, but that their origins were as humble clerks, from the Bayeux or Rouen areas.
Like many of the new aristocracy of Scotland the Comyns arrived in the train of David I during the 1120s. William Cumin was David’s chancellor, and appears to have obtained advancement for his nephew Richard, prior to returning to England to pursue his ecclesiastical ambitions. Richard had lands in the north of England and was granted lands in southern Scotland by David; he also obtained further land by marriage to Hextilda. (Who was the granddaughter of Donald Bane, giving the Comyns their first claim to the Scottish throne). Throughout his life Richard’s importance to the Scottish crown grew, and the evidence indicates that he was a close advisor of David and his son Earl Henry, as well as Malcolm IV and William, increasing his land holding and being appointed justicair of Lothian in the 1170s.
So by the time of his death in 1179 he was a very important man whose families’ future was inextricably linked to the fortunes of the House of Canmore.
Richard was succeeded by his son William who continued his good work.
William consolidated and expanded the family land holdings in southern Scotland, and continued to be a close adviser of King William, he witnessed numerous Royal charters and participated in diplomatic missions, particularly in relation to the sometimes difficult relations with England. William was sheriff of Forfar by the end of the 12th century, and was appointed to the senior justiscairship of Scotia (Scotland north of the Forth) in 1205.
This was probably and effort on behalf of King William to enforce royal authority in the north, which had been difficult and unruly throughout the Canmore era.
William did not have long to wait for trouble, and 1211 saw a Mac William uprising, lead by Guthred, to press the claims of the House of Moray to the crown. At the head of a large royal army William with the support other northern lord suppressed the rebellion and captured Guthred. The King then came north to consolidate the victory and take hostages as a guarantee of future good behavior.
Following this success William, who appears to have been acting in the temporary role of warden of Moray, was rewarded with an influential marriage to Marjory the heiress to the earldom of Buchan. He therefore became the first “Norman” earl, by several decades, and moved the Comyns in to the first rank of Scottish nobility. This was truly a symbiotic arrangement, because whilst the Comyns attained their dynastic advancement, the crown acquired an “enforcer”, who was now ideally placed and willing to deal with any further disturbances to the Kings peace in the north.
This was Williams second marriage, it is not known who his first wife was, but the offspring of that marriage would found the line of Badenoch, and the offspring of his marriage to Marjory would be earls of Buchan.
As Alan Young states;

“ By 1212 the Comyns had real power – the Comyn century had begun!”

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