Show Summary Details

Page of
PRINTED FROM Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. © Oxford University Press, 2018. All Rights Reserved. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a PDF of a single article in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography for personal use (for details see Privacy Policy).

Abernethy familylocked

(per. c. 1260–c. 1465)
  • C. A. McGladdery

Abernethy family (per. c. 1260–c. 1465), landowners, is of obscure origins, but was certainly a native Scottish family rather than of Norman descent. Orm of Abernethy was a grandson of Gillemichael, earl of Fife in the early twelfth century, and in the 1170s he received confirmation from William the Lion of the lay abbacy of the Culdee monastery of Abernethy in south-east Perthshire, although Orm's son, Laurence, was the last to use the abbatial title. Hugh of Abernethy (d. 1291), Laurence's son, came to prominence as a loyal supporter of the Comyns, whose patronage helped him to secure the office of sheriff of Roxburgh by 1264, and he appears as a regular witness to royal documents throughout the 1260s and 1270s. However, following the death of Alexander III in 1286 the precarious political stability was further threatened by the murder outside Brechin in September 1289 of Duncan, earl of Fife, by his own kinsmen Patrick and William of Abernethy, who, according to Fordun, acted with the advice and consent of Hugh of Abernethy. No explanation is offered in contemporary records, although the Lanercost chronicle ventures the conventional charges of excessive greed and cruelty on the part of the earl. The perpetrators were dealt with, and Hugh died, possibly in prison, in 1291. He was succeeded by his son, Alexander Abernethy (d. in or before 1315), who swore fealty to Edward I in 1291; his rewards between 1301 and 1303 included the office of warden of Scotland between the Forth and the Mounth. While he was deprived of office in King Edward's final ordinances of 1305 and consequently took part in the national struggle, his loyalties were firmly for Balliol's claims over Bruce's. He was absent from Robert I's first parliament in 1309, received Clackmannan in Stirlingshire from Edward II in 1310, and led an unsuccessful defence of Dundee against Edward Bruce in 1312. In 1314, Abernethy having been forfeited and settled on the earl of Angus, Alexander went to England, and he was dead by 1315.

The Abernethy line was continued in the person of William Abernethy of Saltoun, Haddingtonshire, from another branch of the family; the exact line of inheritance is obscure and did not include the forfeited barony of Abernethy itself. He subscribed the Declaration of Arbroath in 1320 and witnessed a charter of King Robert in 1322, but otherwise little is known of his life until his forfeiture following the battle of Halidon Hill in 1333. He was among the knights at the court of David II, however, from whom he received a grant of Rothiemay in Banffshire in 1345. He died in 1346, probably at the battle of Nevilles Cross, and was succeeded by his son, George Abernethy of Saltoun and Rothiemay, who suffered imprisonment in the Tower of London after his own capture at Nevilles Cross. George Abernethy appears as a witness to a marriage contract in 1370, but died the following year, when he was succeeded by his elder son, George (d. before 1400). His second son, John, went to the Holy Land, where he had died by 1381. The younger George Abernethy was succeeded by his son, William, who served as a hostage for the ransom of James I, his estates being valued at 500 marks sterling. When he died, without heirs, before 1428, he was succeeded by his brother, Laurence.

Laurence Abernethy (c. 1400–1463) was created a lord of parliament as Laurence, Lord Saltoun of Abernethy, on 28 June 1445. His elevation at this date suggests he was regarded as a supporter of the Douglases, who were then dominant in government. But he appears as a frequent royal charter witness in April and May 1452, offering support to the king in the crucial period following the murder of William, eighth earl of Douglas. As justiciar, he held a justice court at Lochmaben in 1454, where some of his judgments may have antagonized the already beleaguered Douglases, for his lands were harried and burnt by the ninth earl of Douglas in 1455. He was dead before 7 December 1463, when his son William appears as a royal charter witness as Lord Abernethy; confirmation of his title was given on 28 January 1464. The importance of the family as substantial landowners at that time is demonstrated by the enumeration of its possessions, which included Saltoun in Haddingtonshire, Rothiemay in Banffshire, Redie in Angus, Dalgety in Fife, Glencorse in Edinburghshire, and other lands in Lauderdale and Roxburgh.


Scottish Historical Review
G. E. C. [G. E. Cokayne], , 8 vols. (1887–98); new edn, ed. V. Gibbs & others, 14 vols. in 15 (1910–98); microprint repr. (1982) and (1987)
J. B. Paul, ed., , 9 vols. (1904–14)