Written by Gwen Sinclair and David Taylor
This year we are celebrating the 650th anniversary of Dundonald Castle – thought to be dated to the start of the reign of Robert II in 1371. Did you know that Robert II was already part of the patriarchal dynasty of the High Stewards of Scotland which began at Dundonald when he came to the throne?
For this, the second in the series where we’ve been exploring the life of the High Stewards of Scotland, we’ll be looking at the life of Alan, or Alain, Fitz Walter (Fitz = son of – French fils) who took the title of second High Steward of Scotland or Senescallus Regis Scotiae in 1178. He inherited this position from his father, Walter Fitz Alan who was the first High Steward of Scotland, or Dapifer Regis Scotiae from 1160 until 1178. Walter’s role of Steward to the King had originated with David I (1124-1153), and continued on during the reigns of Malcolm IV (1153-1165), and laterally with William I the Lion (1165-1214), until Walter died, when his banner and duty of office were then passed to his son, Alan when he was around 38 years of age.
Who was Alan Fitz Walter?
Alan is thought to have started life c. 1140 at Paisley Abbey – however the abbey at Paisley wasn’t recorded as being there until 1245. We know that an ecclesiastical order had been founded by Alan’s father when he had signed a charter at Fotheringay in 1163 to instate a monastic order within his lands in Renfrewshire, some 3 miles south of where the Stewards had built a stronghold, which was an early version of the later Renfrew Castle. So it may be that there was an earlier building classed as an Abbey on the site of what was to become Paisley Abbey at the time of Alan’s birth. Interestingly Alan continued the tradition of helping to establish religious orders, when we find Alan, son of Walter the Steward listed amongst the witnesses of a Royal Grant to establish Kinloss Abbey, signed at Melrose Abbey between 1179 and 1183, alongside the Abbot of Melrose, the Abbot of Newbottle, Richard de Morville, and William de Lauder, Constable of Scotland.
Alan is likely to have lived between the motte and bailey stronghold his father is thought to have built here at Dundonald c 1136, and the similar structure his father had built at Renfrew. Alan was High Steward of Scotland during the entire period when William I was Scotland’s King, and in addition to carrying out his duties of a very high-ranking officer who controlled the domestic affairs of the royal household, Alan appears as a witness to charters of William The Lion. William I, also known by the nickname Garbh or The Rough, was king for 49 years – making him one of the longest reigning monarchs in Scotland, and was thought to be the first of Scotland’s kings to use the Lion Rampant Standard. Some 4 years before Alan became High Steward, William had been taken prisoner whilst attempting to take Alnwick Castle in Northumbria in 1174. He is said to have recklessly charged through the mist towards a troupe of approaching knights — believing them to be his back up — only to discover too late, as they appeared from low cloud, that they were carrying the standard of the King of England! He then joined his young brother David already in the captivity of English King Henry II (1154-1189), where he remained until forced to bend the knee, effectively making the kingdom of Scotland into a vassal state of England, by signing the Treaty of Falaise in July 1174. This remained in force for 15 years and would have found his lords, chamberlains and nobles — including Alan and his family — now servants of the feudal system of England. This meant that in order to even deflect any rebellion, or attend to any other major issue affecting the Scottish crown, Alan and the other nobles would have had to seek permission from Henry II in order to do so. It also meant the English army took occupation of some of Scotland’s major strongholds, and even taxed the Scots to pay for it!
This changed on the death of Henry II in 1189, some 11 years after Alan had become High Steward, when Henry’s son Richard I The Lionheart (1189-1199) became king of England and set about focussing his exploits on the Holy Land rather than controlling Scotland. The Treaty of Falaise was dissolved but only after he had set a 10,000 marks of silver ransom for Scotland’s release! This subsequently freed Scotland, and the occupied Scottish strongholds.
With Alan’s High Steward Seal, found attached to a charter dated 1190, on the shield of the knight we assume to be Alan, we find the first use the fess chequy argent and azure –which went on to become the symbol for the House of Stewart – with its blue and white chequerboard design set across a yellow background. The design is thought to have been chosen to represent the important role that the High Steward’s played in managing the royal finances, since the counting of coins required a chequered cloth for this purpose. Interestingly, this fess chequy design might seem familiar since it became the inspiration behind the Police Force identification symbol – often called the Sillitoe Tartan named after the Scottish Police officer who developed the idea to use this design across the band of the Scottish police’s flat hats – to help differentiate them from that of the hats of bus drivers in 1932, and by 1972 it was adopted in other police forces around the UK!
What kind of society did Alan live in?
Around the time when Alan was a child, most of the Lowland mainland was by now part of the Kingdom of Scotland, except for parts of Galloway which were still under the Lordship of Galloway. This was due in part to Alan’s father who had worked hard to protect the western seaboard from attacks from the Kings of Norway, who had continued ownership of the islands to the West and Argyll. However some of these areas had been taken over by Somerled or Sumarlidhi Höld (c 1113-1164), who is believed to have been a descendent of early Pictish kings, and who instigated a take-over bid for those Norse-held areas, thought once to have belonged to his family. In January 1156 Somerled had defeated Norse overlord, Godfrey the Black, in The Battle of Epiphany (probably fought near Islay), and afterward declared himself Ri Innse Gall or King of the Isles – which in effect meant he had declared a new kingdom – neither part of the kingdom of Scotland nor of Norway!
By 1164, Somerled wanted to advance his new kingdom, and is said to have arrived at Greenock with a huge contingency of galleys carrying thousands of men intending to capture Renfrew – the lands of the Alan’s family. However somewhere near what is Glasgow Airport today, Walter intercepted this invasion and we find that Somerled was killed in the ensuing battle. We don’t know for certain if Alan was involved in this skirmish, but he may well have been around 24 years of age at the time, and would probably have been part of his father’s defence force. We find that after this battle Somerled’s lands were divided up between his 3 sons: Aonghus – who went on to establish the Clan Ruaidhrí; Dughall – who became founder of Clan MacDougall, and Ragnald – who became progenitor of Clan Ranald – later becoming Clan MacDonald – who later took the title of The Lordship of the Isles.
This is not the end of it however, since a long-standing dispute ensued between Somerled’s sons over who should inherit Arran, Cumbrae and Bute. This has thought to have encouraged William I to take the opportunity to seize these lands in Clyde into his kingdom of Scotland. It’s likely that Alan and his forces were tasked with the job since Bute was afterwards granted to Alan, whereby he built an earth and timber fortification at Rothesay. This was possibly on the site of an earlier Norse fortification, which became another Norman style addition to the Scottish headlands since this stronghold is thought to have been a wooden defensive structure, not unlike his others at Dundonald and Renfrew. This defensive structure at Rothesay is thought to have been re-built later in stone by Alan, or by his son, Walter, who became the third High Steward of Scotland after Alan’s death in 1204. This later stone castle had a rounded curtain wall, with a north facing gateway and a postern gate facing west. The exact dates of this upgrade are not certain, but it’s known to have been completed by 1230, since we find it’s stone structure mentioned in The Saga of Haakon Haakonarson which describes an attack on Rothesay Castle at that time by Uspak, King of Man, supposedly on the instruction of Haakon IV of Norway. (you can find out more about this battle at Rothesay in the next in the series where we find out all about Alan’s son Walter as 3rd High Steward of Scotland).
Alan’s power, like his father, came from the King’s favour and by defending his lands within the kingdom. He would also have been able to collect rents to increase his wealth, as well as being likely to have received payment from the kingdom from his services as High Steward. As we might imagine, much of his time could well have been spent continuing to try to bring Galloway and Argyll under royal control, and much like his father, to protect his lands from invasion.
Alan was the only surviving son of Walter Fitz Alan and his wife Eschyna de Londres, or Mow and we can assume that he was named after his grandfather – Alan Fitz Flaald – who is said to have come to England from Brittany with his father Flaald in the company of King Henry I. Alan senior’s career in England can be traced largely through his presence as witness to some of Henry’s charters, and for which it seems mostly all of these were of an ecclesiastical nature involving grants to churches and monasteries. This continued on with Walter and Alan, as The High Stewards of Scotland since they seem to have been involved with setting up of religious institutions, and so perhaps we can assume then that a High Steward’s role was something of an ecclesiastical benefactor as well as high ranking officer to the King.
Some records say that Alan Fitz Walter had three sisters and others, say he only had one – Margaret – who pre-deceased her parents. The names of the other two, if they existed, are not known but are thought to have been wives to Donald the grandson of Somerled, Lord of the Isles, and Robert Montgomery of Eaglesham.
Now in its second generation, Alan’s position and title seems to have become fairly well established within the bloodline of nobility when we find that Alan had first married Eva, daughter of Sweyn Thor’sson from Innerwick, overlord of Crawford. It’s thought that the couple had no children, but Eva added Tippermuir, near Perth, to Alan’s lands in her dowry. Eva must have died before 1175 when we find Alan had married Alesta (c 1150-1 January 1210) – daughter of Morggán of Mar, the first Mormaer of Mar (1115-1182) and Ada Agnes de Warrene, born c 1092 in Warenne, Normandy. Alesta’s mother was probably related to the mother of King William I who was Countess Ada de Warrene and if this is so, then it seems that Alan’s status has become linked through this marriage to the royal family, which shows that the High Steward must have been well respected and so now an accepted addition to upper elisions of Scotland’s medieval society.
Alan and Alesta are thought to have had 4 children – Leonard Stewart, about whom little is known; Walter Stewart (c. 1167-1246) born at Dundonald, who became the third High Steward on Alan’s death; David Stewart – who in 1219 seems to have been put forward as a ‘guarantee’ for Alexander II (1198-1249) that Alexander be engaged to marry Joan, eldest daughter of King John of England (1199-1272) – “if he could be obtained; if not her sister Isabella” and is referred to as David Senescallus which looks as though he was meant to be the original heir for Alan, but little else is known about him, and its likely that he died before becoming the 3rd High Steward and so Walter took his place. Their daughter, Avelina Fitz Walter Stewart (1179-1202), for whom In November 1200, Alan seems to have sanctioned or arranged a marriage with Donnchadh I mac Gilbert, the First Earl of Carrick (1174-1250) while King William I was in England. This betrothal seems to have caused Alan some trouble when he received a severe royal reprimand for letting his daughter marry without royal permission! Interestingly, this couple’s granddaughter was Marjorie, Countess of Carrick, better known perhaps as the mother of Robert the Bruce, and great grandmother to Robert II.
It has been thought that Alan took part in the third crusade to the Holy Land, which began in 1187, and from which he is thought to have returned to Scotland in 1191, although sources are sketchy. In the epic poem The Brus, author John Barbour claimed that Alan was on this Crusade and yet as a piece commissioned by Robert II, and for which John earned a pension, we cannot be certain that there may have been some elements of poetic licence rather than reliable facts within it’s text. If Alan did not take part in the crusade himself, it is reasonably certain that a number of his knights did, as several of Alan’s tenants at Innerwick were recorded as having raised money to help funds for the crusade. In addition, the new hospital of St Thomas at Acre in the Holy Land was given the land at Spittalhill or Hospital Hill, which would have been on Alan’s lands, not too far from Dundonald. This was an Order which had been first established to provide hospitals and charitable institutions, later becoming militarised. It has been suggested that it was set up during the 3rd Crusade, with Richard I The Lionheart (1189-1199) playing a large part in its establishment. This may have come about as part of the penance set to provide 200 knights per year to the cause in the Holy Land, after Richard’s father, Henry II (1154-1189) reputedly had Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Becket, assassinated inside Canterbury Cathedral by 4 of his knights on 29th December 1170. After which a wave of miracle-seekers flocked to Canterbury in the hope that they would be healed by purchasing St Thomas’ Water – which was a lead vessel filled with a mixture of water and Thomas’ blood! Thomas Becket was made a saint by the Pope on 21 February 1173, and Ironically, Henry II, in a public act of penance for his involvement in the murder, visited the tomb four years later, granting royal approval to Becket’s sainthood.
It’s known that Alan journeyed with William the Lion to attend the coronation of Richard I the Lionheart at Westminster on 3rd September 1189. Interestingly just before Christmas in 1192, Richard was captured near Vienna on his return trip from the crusade, after he had been shipwrecked in the Adriatic, and was forced into a perilous land journey through Central Europe. This found Richard captured and held on demand of a ransom from England by Leopold of Austria, who seems to have been angered that Richard I had reputedly murdered his cousin, Conrad of Montserrat! Alan the Steward had taken part in efforts to raise funds for the English king’s ransom which was said to have required a quarter of every man’s income in England for a whole year to raise the funds for his release – before he eventually returned to England in March 1194!
Alan Fitz Walter is thought to have become a patron of the Knights Templar, as well as being responsible for expanding Templar influence in Scotland. This was another order whose origins were said to have come out of the crusades. Established by a French knight named Hugues de Payens as a military order to help protect pilgrims who were often robbed and even killed, en route to the Holy Land. They became known as the Knights Templar when they set up a base in Jerusalems’s sacred Temple Mount. By 1139, Pope Innocent II had issued a Papal Bull that allowed them special rights, such as, being exempt from taxes, and to be held to no one’s authority except the Pope’s. They set up a network of banks so that pilgrims could deposit their assets in their home countries, and then withdraw funds in the Holy Land – making the pilgrims less of a target for mugging. They had strict codes of conduct with sworn oaths of poverty, chastity and obedience, as well as being disavowed from drinking alcohol, gambling or swearing. They wore a distinctive white tunic with a red cross and Chapters began to spring up all through Europe where they built many castles, and fought many battles using their fearless style of fighting which became something of a model for other military training. Their presence in Scotland began around 1129 when Henry I of England introduced Hugh de Payens to David I with this meeting leading to The Knights Templar being firstly given a parcel of land south of Edinburgh known as Balantrodoch – now the village of Temple in Midlothian – from where they expanded to many areas of the country over the following years.
Alan was Scotland’s High Steward for some 27 years when he died in on 24th August 1204 at Dundonald, probably aged 64. He is interred in Paisley Abbey. His title then passed to his son Walter, and then to Walter’s son Alexander, who took on the Vikings at Largs in 1263. They will be the subject of future posts in our series exploring the High Stewards of Scotland. Until then, keep an eye on our website and our social media, since we will be looking into more people, events and even mysteries connected to Dundonald Castle to help us celebrate our 650th anniversary!
Further interest: The High Steward’s Renfrew Castle and Paisley Abbey are part of The Whithorn Way which is walking route beginning at Glasgow Cathedral and ending at Whithorn.
Thomson,O; 2009. ‘The Rise and Falls of Royal Stewarts’ pp. 88-96, The History Press
Barbour, J., 1375. The Brus: or The Book of the most excellent and noble prince, Robert de Bryoss, King of Scots. Commisioned by King Robert II
Barrow, GWS., Stewart Family per. c.1111-c.1350. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.
Johnstone, G Harvey., 1906. The Heraldry of the Stewarts. Edinburgh W&AK Johnstone Ltd.
Forey, A..,1977. The Military Order of St Thomas of Acre. The English Historical Review, 92(364), 481-503. Retrieved May 4, 2021, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/566071
Cover Image by Gwen Sinclair for FoDC
Seal of Alan Fitzwalter 2nd High Steward- The image has been scanned from Descriptive catalogue of impressions from ancient Scottish seals, royal, baronial ecclesiastical, and municipal, embracing a period from a.d. 1094 to the commonwealth, plate 3, figure 2, by Henry Laing, published in 1850. This book was published Edinburgh. The illustration is not credited.
Knights in Dundonald Castle Visitor Centre photo by Gwen Sinclair
Steward Banner by Gwen Sinclair
Stewart Lineage Graphics by Gwen Sinclair for FoDC