The early history of Boysack in Inverkeilor parish

The "standard" history

Sir William Fraser gave a very brief account of the early history of Boysack in his History of the Carnegies [Fraser, Southesk, vol. 1, p. lxxxiv]. As his work concerned the main branches of the Carnegies in Angus, and was doubtless intended for the Carnegies themselves as much as for a wider public, it is understandable that he did not go into detail of the history of Boysack before its acquisition by Sir John Carnegie in 1635 or 1636. Sir John, who was raised to the peerage in 1639 and finally, in 1666, became 1st Earl of Northesk [SP, vi, pp. 494-5], gave Boysack to his second son, John, by charter dated 11 August 1636 [Warden, Angus, iii, p. 434]. John subsequently, on 28 July 1665, received a crown charter of the lands [RMS] and his descendants still possess part of it.

In the earlier years of the 17th century, Boysack had been held by the first and second Lords Spynie [Spynie heirs of line], but it is the ownership before about 1603 that is the subject of this page.

Fraser makes the following points regarding the early history of the lands of Boysack:

  1. By 1220, they were a part of the territorial possessions of the Abbey of Arbroath.

  2. By 1450, they had become the property of Henry de Fethye.

  3. By 1566, they were in the possession of the bishop of Brechin.

  4. On 10 December 1566, Alexander Campbell, bishop of Brechin, granted them to Archibald, 5th Earl of Argyll, together with the mill lands thereof and the salmon fishings in the Water of Southesk.

  5. They were afterwards acquired by Alexander Lindsay, Lord Spynie.

  6. "The name Boysack has been variously written: Baleisaac, Balesok, ..., Esauxtoun, ..., Isakstoun."

Points (1) to (5) are repeated by Alexander Johnstone Warden [Warden, Angus, iii, p. 433]. David Pollock, in 1985, referring to an entry in the Register of Arbroath Abbey [Arbroath Liber, i, 158], wrote [PSAS, 115, p. 371]:

Boysack ... lies on the south bank of the Lunan Water and is referred to as Ballisac in 1220.

Difficulties with the "standard" history: Boysack is not Isaacstoun

Point (5) above is not at issue. See Spynie heirs of line.

Fraser's other points, however, give rise to some clear difficulties. Thus, with regard to point (4), as the former House or Castle of Boysack did indeed stand on the site of, or very near to, the present farmhouse of Boysack on the south bank of the Lunan Water [PSAS, 115, p. 372], it is perhaps somewhat surprising that the Earl of Argyll would be given salmon fishings in the River South Esk as part of the bishop's grant to him. Admittedly, the Lunan Water hardly compares with the South Esk as a fishing river, though there are salmonid fish to this day in the Lunan [Esk Rivers and Fishery Trust Fishery Plan, December 2008]. Yet the grant, as described by Fraser, seems odd. The details of the grant, as given in the Register of Brechin [Brechin Registrum, ii, pp. 205-11], translated, are as follows [p. 206-7]:

  1. All & whole our Mains of Farnell, with the tower, fortalice, manor, mill, outsets, parts, pendicles & pertinents thereof ...

  2. All & whole our lands & toun of Croftheads lying adjacent to the foresaid Mains ...

  3. All & whole our lands of Maryton with the fields thereof & the salmon fishery in the Water of Southesk, amounting annually in our rental to seven chalders of victual, that is: nine bolls of wheat, 51 bolls & a half boll of bere, 51 bolls & a half boll of oatmeal and also to 18 shillings money, six score poultry & two barrels of salmon

  4. All & whole our lands of Esauxtoun with the parts, pendicles & pertinents, amounting annually in our rental to the sum of £4/13/4 money, 12 bolls of bere, 12 bolls of oatmeal & 34 poultry

There is then a typical clerical catch-all: "with all & sundry the parts, pendicles & pertinents of the lands, mills & fishings respectively of the foresaids, lying within the sheriffdom of Forfar".

This differs significantly from Fraser's point (4). In particular, the fishery is clearly associated with Maryton, which makes sense, as the South Esk is the northern boundary of Maryton parish. It may well be true, as Hay notes [Hay, Arbroath, p. 116], that "Boysack" means "Isaac's town" [1] and Fraser clearly identified the "Esauxtoun" of the grant with "Boysack". However, other entries in the Brechin Register lead to a quite different conclusion. Thus, on 30 July 1591, there is a precept of a feu-ferm charter granted to a Mr James Bannatyne, of the lands of the Magdalene Chapel bounded by Isakstoun or Bewello [now Balwyllo] on the east, Isakstoun or Auld Montroiss [Old Montrose] on the south, Arrot [Arrat] on the west and Lichtounhill [Leightonhill] or the muir of Arrot on the north [Brechin Registrum, ii, p. 365]. Arrat is in the parish of Brechin, Balwyllo in Dun and Old Montrose in Maryton, so it is clear that the "Isakstoun" referred to in the grant of 1591 lies at the eastern end of the parish of Brechin.

Although there is no trace of any Isaacstoun near Arrat on modern maps, there is no shortage of further evidence for it. There is an extant monument that refers to it in the burial ground of the Magdalene Chapel at Arrat; three testaments recorded at Brechin and one at Edinburgh refer to it (see Brechin testaments) and it is marked on General Roy's map. Its location is mentioned by Andrew Jervise [Jervise, Inscriptions]. Moreover, by a retour of 12 September 1682 [Retours, Forfar, no. 490], Robert, Viscount of Arbuthnott was served heir to his father in, inter alia, the lands and toun of Isackstoune in the parish of Brechin, the extent being given as £4/13/4 feu-ferm, as in the 1566 grant to Argyll.

However unlikely it may seem, Fraser was either unaware of the Isaacstoun by Arrat or failed to make the connexion between it and the grant by the bishop to Argyll. As there is no other evidence of the possession of Boysack by the bishops of Brechin or the Earl of Argyll, Fraser's points (3) and (4) both fall.

The Fithies of Boysack

By contrast, with regard to Fraser's points (2) and (6), there is extensive evidence for the possession of Boysack, variously spelt, by a family called "Fithie", likewise variously spelt, between 1450 and about 1600. That it is Boysack, and not Isaacstoun in the parish of Brechin that the Fithies possessed, is clear from the charter of Boysack and nearby property granted to Alexander, Lord Spynie under the Great Seal in 1605. The grant is of the toun & lands of Ballysak; the persons who resign in Spynie's favour include Henry Futhie elder, sometime of Ballysak and Henry Futhie younger, his eldest lawful son and heir apparent [RMS, 6, 1648]. In every record relating to the Fithies of Boysack, their property is spelt in a form beginning with 'B', such as Balesok, Ballisak, never in an "englished" form such as Esauxtoun or Isakstoun even in records as late as 1663 (e.g., the testament testamentar of Barbara Lindsay, recorded at Brechin, 4 Sep 1663 [NRS CC3/3/6]) that refer back to them [2]. There is no evidence that Boysack has ever been called "Isaacstoun"; Fraser's point (6), as it stands, is invalid.

arms of Fithie of Boysack

Arms of "Fythie of Bysack"
Azure, a crane Argent. On a chief Or, 3 mullets of the first
[Stodart, Scottish Arms, vol. 1, plate 102]

The following are some of the records of the Fithies of Boysack:

21.07.1450H de F de BBrechinMember of assize for right of city of Brechin to hold weekly marketBrechin Registrum, ii, App. p. 79, ch xlii; RMS 2, ch. 494, dated Falkland, 01.09.1451; see also Fraser, Southesk i, lxxxiv
20.01.1457-8HF of BArbroathGilbert Scot uses seal of HF of B, because he does not have his ownArbroath Liber, ii, p. 95, ch. 111
22.11.1464HF de BArbroathMember of assizeArbroath Liber, ii, p. 141, ch. 160
28.04.1483HF of BForfarMember of assize for retour of Walter Ruthven as heir of his mother Eupham Stewart, in half of the barony of LunanFraser, Southesk, ii, p. 522, ch. 74
02.06.1509HF of B & David FKinnell kirkWitnesses to charter by Mr George Stirling of Easter Braikie & Patrick S. his brotherLaing Chrs 272; RMS 2, 3820
16.08.1511HF of B & James F & John FMainsHF is bailie for giving sasine; James & John are witnessesLaing Chrs 284
15.05.1528HF lord of B, Helen Stratone his spouse, Alexr & David their sonsArbroathAssedation to HF & HS for their lifetimes of the lands of the town of Gwthyn [The Guynd], whom failing one or other of their sonsArbroath Liber, ii, p. 481, ch. 696
20.02.1530-1HF yr, apparent of BDundeeWitness to charter by Alexander Lindsay, fiar of the earldom of CrawfordRMS 5, 515, dated 18.02.1582-3
29 & 30.10.1534HF of BBrechinMention as procurator for effecting compromise re liferent of Skethin (Skichen, now in Carmyllie)NRS GD45/16/584
10.09.1547HF yr of BPinkie (Inveresk)Slain in battleHis testament dative recorded 29.07.1575 at Edinburgh
07.10.1574HF of BHodgeton (Inverkeilor)Creditor & witness to will of Henry Perth in HodgetonPerth's testament testamentar recorded 24.01.1575-6 at Edinburgh
13.11.1578HF of BArbroathDischarge to William Balfour of 40 merksNRS GD16/42/23
25.08.1580HF of B & Elizabeth his daughterKingennie (Monifieth)Charter by Ninian Guthrie of Kingennie, by which he & William G. his grandson dispone part of Kingennie to Elizabeth NRS GD137/1982
06.07.1587HF of B & HF yrBoysackCharter by father to son, without reservation of liferent, of lands of Boysack with the fortaliceRPC 5, p. 384, dated 28.04.1597
08.08.1587HF of B & HF yrRedcastleCharter of confirmation of the above charter, by John lord Innermeath, superior of said lands of BRPC 5, p. 384, dated 28.04.1597
28.04.1592HF of B & HF, son & heir apparentBalnabreichCharter by Andrew Guthrie, portioner of Balnabreich and his spouseRMS 5, 2118
14.12.1594HF of B & HF, son & apparent heirBoysackObligation by HF & his son to James master of Ogilvy not to grant rights to John Stirling elder & yr of Easter Braikie of damming water on the lands of Boysack & commonty of GightyburnNRS GD16/27/13
09.07.1595Grisell Wishart, spouse of HF elder of B; HF elder of B; HF fiar of BBarnyards of BoysackSasine following charter (dated at Redcastle, same day) by HF elder & yr to GW, of Barnyards of B, with mills &c, in barony of InverkeilorNRS GD137/2393
10.07.1601HF feuar of BArbroathWitness to sasine following charter of confirmation of status of Arbroath as royal burghHay, Arbroath, p. 138
23.07.1606HF sometime fiar of BMontroseCautioner of bond granted by Thomas Gardyne of LegatstonNRS GD16/42/61

The above list demonstrates the possession of Boysack by the Fithie family through several generations. The records of 1587 and 1595 lead to the conclusion that Boysack was part of the barony of Inverkeilor. It is unfortunate that each proprietor was called "Henry" and that the only fixed point for a genealogy is a death on the field of Pinkie. The lack of records of the family between 1547 and 1574 can be attributed to the death of the heir at Pinkie; there is, however, a precept of remission for treason that was granted on 31 May 1553 to Margaret Ogilvy, relict of Henry Fithie of Boysack, and to David, Elizabeth and John Fithie [RSS, iv, 2192]; it is uncertain whether Margaret Ogilvy was widow of the casualty of Pinkie, or of his father.

Genealogical details of the Fithies of Boysack and their kin will be added to this site in future.

Where is Baleisaac?

Boysack never belonged to the bishops of Brechin or the Earl of Argyll. The only point that remains to be considered is Fraser's point (1), that Boysack once belonged to Arbroath Abbey. Fraser mentions the sole evidence for that, the phrase "land of Baleisaac" in a confirmation granted to the abbey by Pope Honorius III, dated at Viterbo, 13 May 1220 [Arbroath Liber, i, no. 224]. That confirmation singles out and mentions by name just a handful of the abbey's possessions, Baleisaac being one of these; there is no immediately obvious reason for the choice of the possessions named in the confirmation. Professor Geoffrey Barrow has remarked, perhaps rather sceptically [RRS ii, p. 465]:

It appears that the lands of Boysack (in Inverkeilor), formerly Baleisaac, may have been granted to Arbroath Abbey in William I's reign

There does not appear to be any subsequent certain record of the abbey's possession of Baleisaac or Boysack. The failure of the unnamed "laird of Balleisak" to attend a sitting of the head court of the burgh of Arbroath in 1491 [Hay, Arbroath, p. 116] does not prove that the abbey was the superior of Boysack at that time. The Carnegies of Boysack had a town house in Arbroath in the 18th century, "Boysack's Ludgin", on the site of the present Bank of Scotland; the Fithies may have had one too and that would presumably have placed them under an obligation to attend head courts.

It seems much more likely that the "Baleisaac" of the record of 1220 is a clerical error, perhaps confusion with Bolshan in Kinnell, which the abbey did hold [RRS ii, p. 430]; early forms of the name Bolshan, e.g., "Balesane" [Scots Roll SC65: "Ogylwy of Balesane", BL Add. MS45133 fo. 49r, dated c. 1455; see McAndrew, Heraldry, plate 11] and Boysack are similar [3].

Alternatively, the "Baleisaac" of 1220 may perhaps be identified with the Isaacstoun in Brechin that has already been discussed. Isaacstoun was in the abbey's hands in 1304, as ownership of it and the kirk of Maryton were transferred to the church of Brechin on 21 October 1304 [Brechin Registrum ii, p. 266, charter 215; Arbroath Liber i, p. 181, charter 244], following conflicts that had arisen from the abbey's possession of Maryton. An underlying cause of these conflicts was that the abbey, being within the diocese of St Andrews, was answerable to the bishop of St Andrews, while Maryton lay in the diocese of Brechin.

Yet there is, apparently, no record of Isaacstoun's acquisition by the abbey, just as there is none of its supposed acquisition of Boysack. However, Argyll was granted Isaacstoun together with Maryton in 1566, just as Isaacstoun was transferred into the ownership of Brechin at the same time as Maryton in 1304. And William the Lion, in about 1178, gave Maryton, or Old Montrose as it was then called, together with its abthen, or abbey lands, to Arbroath Abbey [Arbroath Liber, i, p. 4, charter 1; RRS ii, p. 251]. The Rev. William Ruxton Fraser, minister of Maryton in the late 19th century, states that the abthen comprised the properties of Over & Nether Maryton [Fraser, Maryton, p. 7; see also pp. 14-16], that is, Maryton proper, but it does not seem impossible that Isaacstoun formed a detached portion of the abthen and thus formed part of William the Lion's gift to the abbey, though not explicitly named in that gift.

The possibility that Isaacstoun in the parish of Brechin was part of the abthen of Old Montrose; the identification of Isaacstoun with the Baleisaac of the 1220 confirmation; and the recognition that Boysack and Issacstoun are two distinct places, resolves several problems.

The acquisition of Boysack by the Fithies

It is not known when the Stewarts of Innermeath finally acquired the whole of the barony of Inverkeilor. From the available evidence, which consists of an index of charters compiled in the early 17th and not printed until the late 18th century [Robertson, Index], the Stewarts obtained half the barony on resignation by Andrew Campbell at Stirling on 4 March 1367-8 [ibid., p. 83, no. 177]; his grandfather, Donald Campbell, had acquired this half following the forfeiture of Henry Percy and Ingram de Umphraville by Robert the Bruce [ibid., p. 18, no. 75; see also Crawfurd, Peerage, p. 283]. It is not clear which part of the parish this half included, but it seems possible that it was the eastern half of the barony, partly on the grounds that the eastern half, with the Red Castle itself, was retained longest by the Stewarts. Some support is given to this by the name "Douglasmuir" in the western half, which possibly suggests that Douglasmuir lies in the half of the barony granted to the Douglases by Robert the Bruce, following forfeitures of Eve Moubray and John Moubray, her son [Robertson, Index, p. 48, no. 32] and of Henry Percy [ibid., p. 54, no. 2]. However, this is highly speculative.

By 27 July 1456 at the latest, when John Stewart, 2nd Lord of Lorne was baron of the barony of Inverkeilor, the whole barony was in Stewart hands, if only as superiors [Arbroath Liber, ii, p. 88, ch. 105]. It would seem that the Fithies acquired Boysack, as vassals of Stewart, in or very shortly before 1450, as there is a record of a Henry de Fithie, without further designation, in 1438 [Arbroath Liber, ii, p. 72, ch. 83]. He very likely became the first laird of Boysack. However, he was not the earliest Henry de Fithie.

For some of the earlier history of the barony of Fithie in the parish of Farnell, and the Fithies, see The Fithies of Boysack and their Kin.


1: Johnston's interpretation, "house, village of the squirrel", based on a supposed old form "Balecisæ", need not be taken seriously [Johnston, Place-Names, p. 113].

2: This ignores mere errors of transcription, such as "Kylik" in the published text of David Wedderburn's Compt Buik [Millar, Wedderburn, p. 21].

3: Colin Campbell of Inverneill, in his edition of the Scots Roll, reads the legend for SC65 as "Ogilvey of Balefane", which he modernises (p. 26) as "Ogilvy of Belfane (Inchmartin?)". In his edition of the Dublin Armorial, Leslie Hodgson refers to SC65 as being the arms of "Ogilvy of Balfane". From Campbell's illustration, it is unclear whether the legend is "Balefane" or "Balesane". But neither editor has noted that the only reasonable interpretation is that with an 's', and that the place-name in question is Bolshan. Sir John Ogilvy of Lintrathen held Bolshan of the Abbey of Arbroath by 15 April 1443, on which date Abbot Walter granted him a feu charter of the neighbouring property of Braikie [Arbroath Liber, ii, charter 86]. In the early 17th century, Monipennie refers to "Boshane, the Lord Ogilbie's speciall residence" [Monipennie, Description, p. 163].


The list of abbreviations of sources is now at Abbreviations.


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