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23 Jan 2024
updated 23 Jan 2024

The Balgownie and Shielfield debate:


This entry for Alexander Erskine of Shielfield has highlighted the controversy surrounding Scott's genealogies of Balgownie and Shielfield. It says:

Alexander Erskine of Shielfield was born about 1504. While it is not disputed that he is a descendant of Robert, 4th Lord Erskine, whether he is son or grandson has been the matter of discussion among Scottish genealogists. In Erskine-Halcro Scott maintains the Alexander was the son of James Erskine of Little Sauchie and 1st Lord of Balgownie making him the grandson of Robert. [1] Though this was published in 1895 and Scott acknowledges the contributions of Hallen, he does not address the apparent discrepancies in dates that would place Alexander's birth before that of Christian Stirling if James and Christian were his parents.[2]"


[1] "In the first edition, published in 1890, I had been induced to suggest that Alexander Erskine, parson of Monybreck, whose name is entered by Sir Robert Douglas in his Peerage as that of a brother of the fourth Lord Erskine, had been in reality the first laird of Shielfield. I am now satisfied that my suggestion was in error, and that the Alexander Erskine who married the heiress of Shielfield was in reality of the next generation, and a nephew instead of a brother of the said Lord."

Ebenezer Erskine Scott, The Erskine-Halcro Genealogy, George P Johnson, Edinburgh, 1895, 2nd edn.

[2] "Mr. E. Erskine Scott, in his recently published account of the Erskines of Shieldfield (sic), has introduced the name of Alexander, the first Laird of Shielfield, into a tabular pedigree (I.) of the Balgownie family, and places him as youngest son of James, the first Laird. For this Mr. Scott produces no contemporaneous evidence, but relies solely on a passage to be found in a manuscript in the possession of, and printed by, Sir Walter Scott in 1824. This work was an anonymous account of the family of Haliburton, and was commenced in the latter half of the seventeenth century. It contains a story of an abduction of the heiress of Shielfield by her grandfather, Abbot James Stewart, in 1559, and of her marriage by him to Alexander Erskine, 'a brother, as 'tis said, of Balgony, at that time a servant of the said Abbot.' (The italics are mine; the whole passage will be found on page 31 of the reprint of the work for the Grampian Club.) The utter worthlessness of this myth can be judged from the fact that this Abbot James Stewart ceased to be Abbot in 1541; if he did not die in that year he certainly was dead before 18th February 1546 (see p. 237, L.D.). If Mr. Scott can find any reliable authority designating Alexander of Shielfield 'brother to Balgonie,' then he may reasonably conjecture that he was Alexander Erskine, Parson of Monybreck, but probably a layman, younger son of Robert, Lord Erskine, and brother to James, Laird of Balgownie. He is mentioned by Douglas in his account of the family of Erskine (E. Mar). Mr. Scott holds that this Alexander was a son and not a brother to James of Balgownie. This is impossible; he was of full age in 1525 (R.M.C.), and therefore must have been older than Christian Stirling, the mother of the Laird of Balgownie's children. In 1559 he was probably about 55 years of age. Mr. Scott seems to have overlooked the fact that there existed, 31st March 1541, an Alexander Erskine of full age, and witness for the Abbot of Dryburgh (R.M.S.); he could not have been the son of James of Balgownie, he may have been his brother, and eventually the husband of Elizabeth Haliburton. Douglas's account of the origin of the house of Shielfield is improbable. when dates now ascertained are considered."

A W Cornelius Hallen, "Erskine of Little Sauchie and of Balgownie", The Scottish Antiquary or Northern Notes and Queries (edited by Rev A W Cornelius Hallen) Vol V, No 19, Dec 1890, pp 97-103