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  • Feature of the month: No.8 January 2010

Feature of the month: No.8 January 2010

All the King's Men

Dr Matthew Hammond, Co-Investigator

In the central middle ages, the king of Scotland travelled round his realm constantly with a train of knights, clerks and servants in tow. This peripatetic household included mini-bureaucracies under the charge of men appointed by the king as chamberlain (camerarius) and chancellor (cancellarius), who were in charge of the king's 'chamber' and 'chapel', respectively. What this really meant was that the chamberlain was in charge of the treasury and all incoming and outgoing revenues, while the chancellor was in charge of the documentary business of the king, the writing office. Under these men there existed a network of clerks and servants, with clerks in charge of the livery (de liberatione), the provender (de prebenda) and the seal (de sigillo) being particularly well attested in the sources. It is easy to imagine the hustle and bustle of tents going up and carts being unloaded as the peripatetic household alighted at one of its usual stopping-off points. The details of the evidence for these royal officers has been explored in much greater depth in Prof. Geoffrey Barrow's introduction to his masterful Regesta Regum Scottorum, ii: The Acts of William I.

In addition to these kinds of royal officers, clerks and the knights who followed the king around in his train, and who were likely to show up as witnesses to the king's charters, we also know that the king employed more prosaic servants, such as cooks, bakers and brewers, and even professionally-trained physicians. While these people rarely turn up in the surviving documents, it is clear that they were important. Indeed, becoming a cook or brewer to the king could result in serious rewards. This short paper explores the evidence for royal beneficence to these fascinating and easily-overlooked characters.


In the twelfth century, in the eastern half of the parish of Newbattle in the county of Midlothian, there was a place called 'the estate of Gocelin the cook' (Villa Gocelini coci), or, in Scots, 'Gocelynestun'. Gocelin (the name a form of Jocelin) himself never appears in the charter record, but the estate which took his name was given by King Mael Coluim IV (1153-65) to the nearby Cistercian abbey of Newbattle, in the first three years of his reign 1 . This suggests two important points: 1) royal ownership of this particular estate, and 2) Gocelin had held the land from the king for a sufficient length of time to lend his name to the settlement. Gocelin himself had a distinctively French name, and the picture that emerges is one in which King David (1124-53) must have given the land to a French-speaking immigrant a substantial number of years before 1153, and that this gift was probably made in return for his services as a cook. Indeed, if the parish of Newbattle was royal demesne, which seems clear, then Gocelin the cook probably was beneficiary to this royal munificence before 1140, when Newbattle Abbey was founded. It seems unlikely that the king would have donated other parts of Newbattle parish to the abbey while reserving this particular estate, unless 'Gocelynestun' had already been alienated. It is also likely that the estate was given only for the lifetime of Gocelin the cook, as it clearly had reverted to royal control by the beginning of Mael Coluim's reign, when it was given to the Cistercian monks. So, it seems that from the time of King David I, at least, a king was willing to reward his cook with what Prof Barrow has characterised as 'a large township or manor'. 2 A second charter of donation was drawn up in King Mael Coluim's name, dating to the second half of his short reign, although this document only survives in cartulary copies. 3 This charter specifies the bounds of 'Gocelynton' and its borders with Cranston and Dalkeith. Its position on Dere Street may have marked it out as a prime location.

Being a professional cook could be passed on from father to son. Two royal charters dated 5 Nov. 1223 at Selkirk record the renewal of gifts of land in East Fife to Ivo the cook, son of Nigel the cook. 4 These charters, which have survived at Balcaskie to this day, make clear that a family of royal cooks had been serving the Scottish kings since David I's time, although any possible relation to Gocelin the cook is unknown. Until recently, these two charters hung on the wall of Balcaskie House, held by the Anstruther family, baronets of Balcaskie. The first of King Alexander II's charters records the renewal of a now lost charter by King William (1165-1214) to Ivo's father, Nigel the cook, which itself seems to have included a renewal of a gift from King David I to Ivo's unnamed grandfather. The land given by William is described as Balcaskie in the territory of Kellie, pointing to the fact that Balcaskie, like Kellie, were in the parish of Carnbee in Fife. The charter also records that a gift of land in West Fife, namely half of Pitdinnie in Carnock parish, had been given to Ivo's grandfather by King David I. It is significant that the gift was made 'in feu and heritage', a piece of medieval legalese meaning that the land was now to be held by hereditary feudal tenure. Moreover, the charter specifies that this new fief was to be held in return for the annual military service of a sergeant on horseback. Whether Ivo had to perform this service personally or paid someone else to do it for him, we do know that the person performing the service would have to provide his own horse and 'habergeon', a kind of chain-mail vest. In practice these landholding conditions would have meant that future generations would hold the land regardless of whether they continued to act as cooks to the kings. It is beyond doubt, however, that 'cook' in Ivo's name is not merely a surname but also a job title – the king refers to Ivo as 'coco nostro' – 'our cook'.The second charter, dated on the same day, renews the royal gift of further lands in the territory of Kellie, which had been added by King William, perambulated by the sheriff of Crail, for no additional service.

It seems that Cook became a surname used by members of the family, although Balcaskie may have been employed as well. 5 In a circa 1260 charter by Sir John of Denmuir (de Dundemor) donating Tarbreakes in Fife to the Priory of the Isle of May, there are no fewer than three witnesses with the surname Cook. John Cook of Balcaskie seems almost certainly to be a descendant of Ivo the cook, if not his son, but it is probable that John Cook of Abercrombie and Richard Cook of Abercrombie were also relatives. Abercrombie was the name of an estate neighbouring Balcaskie to the west, which in the medieval era had its own kirk, which was later absorbed into the parish of St Monans. 6 Indeed the church of Abercrombie was directly opposite the Dreel Burn from Balcaskie House, mere yards away. A few years later, on 4 Oct. 1266, there was a meeting on the moor of Pitcorthie, a couple of miles west of Balcaskie, to decide the bounds between the estates of Sir Richard Siward, lord of Kellie, and Sir Richard Chamberlain, lord of Gilbliston. Present there were John of Balcaskie, evidently the same man as John Cook of Balcaskie, as well as John Cook of Abercrombie. 7 Chamberlain reappears four years later in the record of an inquest of novel dissasine made at Abercrombie in 1270, where he is a juror alongside the Prior of Pittenweem and William, lord of Anstruther. The jurors declared William son of the late Richard of Abercrombie to be the legitimate heir to that estate, which they claimed was worth 34 marks per annum. Thomas of Balcaskie did homage to King Edward I in 1296, as did John of Abercrombie and William of Abercrombie. 8 A John of Abercrombie, possibly the same man, was a juror in a 1305 inquest into Isabella de Beaumont's possession of Crail. 9 Balcaskie continued to be held by members of the Abercrombie family as late as 1425, and did not pass to the family of Anstruther, who own the house today, until the late 17th century. 10 The Anstruther family, originally known as the 'de Candela' family, were apparently from the village of Caundle in Dorset, and held the coastal estate of Anstruther to the east of Balcaskie.


The kings also employed bakers, and as with the royal cooks, were capable of rewarding these servants with generous gifts of lands. In the 1170s, King William gave to 'Ailif my baker' that land at Inverleith (now in Edinburgh, Midlothian) which Reginald, janitor (i.e. gatekeeper) of Edinburgh Castle, formerly held of him. 11 As with the gift of Balcaskie to Ivo the cook, this donation was heritable, and the charter specifies that the land is to be held 'by him and his heirs of me and my heirs'. Unlike Ivo's charter, however, Ailif the baker was to hold the land at Inverleith 'per seruicium corporis sui' – 'for the service of his body'. In other words, rather than owing military service, the only (specified) return required for the land was the service that Ailif would render to the king in his capacity as a baker. Comparison between the two cases raises another point. Like the 'toun of Gocelin the cook', Ailif's property was located close to Edinburgh, a place where the royal household spent a good deal of time, which would presumably allow a royal baker like Ailif to retire to his own dwelling from time to time, while still carrying out his duties as a baker. The gift to Ivo the cook, however, was in East Fife, a place not frequented by the royal household (although Crail was occasionally visited). Further, the gift to Ivo the cook was in return for military service. Likewise it is clear that Ivo's predecessors had been royal cooks, and that after Ivo, the name 'Cook' became a surname, and his descendants settled down at Balcaskie and neighbouring Abercrombie. Thus, it is likely that Balcaskie was given to Ivo, perhaps upon retiring from a long career of loyal service, but that further expectations from himself and his progeny in terms of their duties as cooks cannot be assumed. In any event, Nicholas, Ailif's son, inherited the land, as made clear by King William's charter of succession for the land of Inverleith to Nicholas son of Ailif pistori meo, probably in 1213. 12 The charter makes clear that Nicholas was at that time the king's baker, and repeats the 'bodily service' clause. Furthermore, the king allows that Nicholas and his heirs may grind their corn at the king's mill without paying a charge, but that his tenants would still have to pay a fee to use the mill. Besides underlining the fact that the bakers were valued royal servants, this charter suggests that their holdings were substantial enough to have their own tenants. It seems likely that royal service, even as a baker or cook, could lead to a position in the lesser aristocracy or gentry. But that position might not always be permanent. Nicholas was lucky enough to live to a ripe old age, but the fate of his descendants, if he had any, is unknown. In 1280, Nicholas Baker resigned the land of Inverleith to King Alexander III by rod and staff. 13 It is clear that Nicholas was a baker; the king calls him 'our former servant'. Perhaps surprisingly, the charter makes very clear that the Nicholas who was alive in 1280 was the same man who received the land in 1213, making him almost certainly an octogenarian at the time! The charter mentions that Nicholas 'held the land from our late ancestors by charter of the illustrious William, king of Scots'. King Alexander then gave Inverleith to William Sinclair, a knight. This suggests that royal demesne for alienating to loyal knights was becoming scarce by the late thirteenth century, but it also shows that a piece of land considered suitable for a knight could also be considered suitable for a royal servant.


At some point between 1178 and 1195, King William I granted to Walkelin 'my brewer' and his heirs, the land of Inverpeffer, in the parish of Panbride, Angus. 14 Indeed, it is likely that this gift of land took place before 1188, as a 'Walkelin the brewer' witnesses a charter from Richard de Fréville to Arbroath Abbey dating to between 1178 and 1188. 15 Nicholas 'brewer of the king' was present at the perambulation of Kinblethmont, Angus, in 1219, alongside other Angus landowners. 16 Nicholas of Inverpeffer witnesses a number of charters from the 1220s to 1240s, mostly dealing with Arbroath, Lindores and Balmerino Abbeys, as well as St Andrews Priory. In two of these charters he is labelled 'Sir'. 17 Nicholas was involved in a court case in February 1251 declaring that his land was subject to ecclesiastical jurisdiction, after Nicholas and his men had gone off to fight with King Alexander II in Argyll in 1249 rather than with the men of the abbot of Arbroath. 18 In none of these instances, however, is there any mention of Nicholas being king's brewer.

Shortly after the 1251 court case, we have the first mention of the king's brewer since 1219. The individual in question is named 'Nicholas of Clackmannan', and we should not assume that just because Nicholas of Inverpeffer had been the king's brewer in 1219, that he is necessarily the same man as Nicholas of Clackmannan, as Nicholas was a relatively common name at the time. Many beer enthusiasts today are aware of the importance of Scotland's smallest county, Clackmannanshire, to the brewing industry. Few are aware, however, that the county's association with brewing originated in the thirteenth century. In the 1250s, Nicholas of Clackmannan entered into an arrangement with the king's constable, the powerful Roger de Quincy, earl of Winchester (d. 1264). Sir Roger gave Nicholas the lands attached to the constableship in Clackmannan in perpetuity, with certain caveats. Nicholas was required to build a house and a stable there which could accommodate Earl Roger and his horses when he was in the area. The stable was to hold twelve horses, and the house was to include a private chamber and garderobe (lavatory). 19 There are several hints here to suggest that Nicholas was a man of considerable worth. First, it is likely that Nicholas' position as brewer, as opposed to the cooks and bakers discussed above, required him to stay in one place, in essence, to run a brewery. Clackmannan was well-placed for supplies of grain and fresh water for the making of beer, and was also close to Stirling, which the king's household visited frequently. The king's household also travelled through Clackmannan itself, with ten place-dates of charters recorded in King William's reign, and three in King Alexander II's. 20 Nicholas' surname 'of Clackmannan' suggests that he was already well-established in the area before this gift from Earl Roger de Quincy. Moreover, the charter mentions that the gift was for two marks which Nicholas gave Roger in 'gersum'. Gersum (or grassum) is a Scots term meaning 'a premium or fine paid to a feudal superior on entering upon a holding.' 21 Furthermore, the annual renders on the land were to be made in cash – two shillings on Whitsun and two on Martinmas. It seems that Nicholas was a man with liquid assets! Earl Roger de Quincy was a man with extensive landholdings spread out across England and Scotland, and he wanted a comfortable place to stay that was convenient for royal centres like Stirling, Dunfermline and Edinburgh. It seems likely that he picked Nicholas, not because he was the 'brewer of the lord king', but because he was a man of substance in the Clackmannan area, capable of paying in cash and building a nice house and stable for Roger and his entourage when they were in the vicinity.

By the way, it should not be assumed that all brewers were immigrants with Norman-sounding names like Walkelin. In the early 1190s, the 'Anglo-Norman' bishop of St Andrews, Roger 'de Beaumont', had a brewer with the decidedly Gaelic name GilleAndrea, which also happens to be an appropriate name for an employee of the church of St Andrews! 22


People working with food and drink were not the only royal servants to garner royal benefactions. Monarchs have always tended to look for the best doctors around and sought to attract these trained physicians to their service. A training in medicine necessitated a stint in higher education, perhaps in one of the new universities springing up throughout western Europe. This meant that doctors were clerics. While some may not have taken holy orders, they had to enter a basic level of religious service in order to obtain a university degree. This is why King William's physician, Henry, was described as a king's clerk. This meant that unlike lay royal servants, physicians were eligible for ecclesiastical prebends. Henry was persona (or parson) of the church of Inverlunan (now Lunan, Angus) at some point between 1189 and 1194. 23 Around the same time, the church of Inverlunan was given by the king to Arbroath Abbey. 24 The text of an agreement between 'Henricum Medicum Clericum Regis Scocie' and 'Nigellum Mac Ywar' (for Niall Mac Ivarr) survives, in which Niall, probably the local thane, recognises Henry's right to the churchlands attached to the position of persona of Inverlunan. As Prof Barrow points out, 'this agreement was probably concluded in the court of the justiciar of Scotia'. 25

A much clearer picture of the king's physician emerges in the reign of Alexander II. In a charter dated 9 Oct. 1232 at Aberdeen, King Alexander gave Master Ness, 'medico nostro', lands in the feu of Alyth, Perthshire, based around the estate of Bamff. This charter demonstrates the king's doctor operating fully and comfortably within the ranks of the aristocracy. The lands were to be held for his homage and service, for the fourth part of a knight, and brought with them privileges of baronial justice, including the right to have a gallows and ordeal pit. 26 It is possible that the services of the king's physician were also available to members of the upper aristocracy; David of Hastings, earl of Atholl, and his wife, Countess Forbflaith, gave Master Ness Upper Dunfallandy, near Pitlochry in Perthshire, probably in the early 1240s. Ness, styled 'physician of the lord king', gave the lands to the Cistercian monks of Coupar Angus Abbey, for the souls of the earl and countess, between August 1244 and summer of 1247. 27 A royal charter dated 3 July 1247 at Forfar records King Alexander II's confirmation of Ness's gift to Coupar. Alexander refers to Ness as 'our physician', making clear that he was still in the king's service in 1247. 28

The king's confirmation also mentions that the abbey was to hold Dunfallandy of Ness 'and his heirs'. Whether Ness was married and exactly how the estates based on Bamff were passed on is obscured by the lack of evidence, but the lands were later held by the Ramsay family, a family which also favoured the use of the name of Ness. 29 Certainly, four Ramsays 'del counte de Fyfe' did homage to King Edward I in 1296: John, Adam, John son of Ness and William. 30 It is not at all clear whether the Ness mentioned here was the king's doctor, and most of the evidence before the mid-fourteenth century relates to Ramsay landholdings in Fife. In the reign of David II, however, there exists clear evidence of a Nigel or Neil Ramsay as lord of Bamff. 31 By that time, the family had produced another doctor, also named Ness, a graduate of the University of Paris who was in the service of King David II in the 1330s. 32

Unfortunately, our knowledge of royal servants like the cooks, bakers, brewers and physicians discussed here is patchy, and is based on very haphazard survival of documents. Nevertheless, there is no doubting that these men were respected and valued members of the royal household, whose talents were likely in high demand. They were rewarded well for their service, often with relatively valuable landholdings. Some of these men, such as Ivo the cook's father Nigel, helped secure their family's place in the Scottish gentry. Others, like Master Ness, seem to have raised the position and expanded the landholdings of already existing baronial families. There is enough in these documents to witness these men interacting not only with their lords the kings of Scots, but also with top-rank aristocrats, such as Earl Roger de Quincy and the earls of Atholl. The handful of charters examined here offer a valuable reminder that the king's household extended beyond just the clerks and honorific household officers who appear as witnesses in the kings' charters.


Feature of the Month