The First High Steward of Scotland: Walter FitzAlan

This post was written by Gwen Sinclair and David Taylor

This year we’re celebrating the 650th year of Royal Dundonald Castle! This takes us back to 1371, and the start of the Royal Stewart Dynasty, with the unexpected ascension of Robert Stewart, 7th High Steward of Scotland – son of Marjorie Bruce and Walter 6th High Steward of Scotland – and the building of his castle which still stands proudly on the hill today. However, Robert was already part of a dynasty of his own family, that of the High Stewards of Scotland, when he began his reign, and we thought it would interesting to take a look at the beginnings of the Stewart – or Steward – dynasty.

To find out more, we need to travel back a further two centuries to the reign of David I, King of Scots from 1124-1153.  David, five times great grandfather to Robert II, had trouble in the north of Scotland, and in the west… and to the south as well; indeed David spent much of his reign attempting to restore, maintain and strengthen his power in Scotland. In order to do so, he invited Anglo-Norman nobles to come to Scotland – with the lure of land and titles – in exchange for helping him to introduce and administrate a new feudal system, as well as providing him with the necessary “muscle” to secure his reign. These nobles were provided with large fiefs of land in Annandale, Eskdale, Liddesdale, Kyle, Cunningham and Renfrewshire. They were allowed to make income from this land in exchange for services to the crown. David continued to give out smaller fiefs throughout his reign. He also established royal control at local level by introducing sheriffdoms where sheriffs were appointed to take over from the previously established thanes to collect royal dues and administrate the royal estates.

However, this did little to develop control over Fergus of Galloway, or Somerled of Argyll who were great lords in their own right…

Now we come to Dundonald – a natural observational outpost from where it would have been easy to watch the comings and goings of seafaring vessels on the Firth of Clyde between Galloway and Argyll. David granted the extensive land of the northern part of Kyle (which later became known as ‘Kyle Stewart’ or ‘Walter’s Kyle’) which included Dundonald, to Walter FitzAlan, from Oswestry in Shropshire, who was one of the nobles who had entered the service of the king around 1136. After fighting for David’s Scottish army at the Battle of the Standard at Northallerton two years later, he was appointed to the post of Steward to the King, a post that was made a hereditary title in 1157. His position was now that of a very high-ranking officer who controlled the domestic affairs of a royal household.  A charter of Malcolm IV, David’s successor, issued in either 1161 or 1162, mentions Walter as the king’s Steward (usually referred to as ‘the Stewart’ – hence the later surname). Dundonald was important enough to Walter that he built a sizeable stronghold here, with one of his surviving charters being witnessed by a man named Richard my clerk’ (Ricardo clerico meo) while in others he is described as ‘clerk of Dundonald’ (clerico de Dundonald).

Archaeological evidence at Dundonald suggests this building was a Norman style earth and timber motte and bailey fortification during Walter’s time – so Dundonald was almost certainly his ‘caput’, or administration centre. This type of fortification was commonplace in the 12th century, but Walter’s Norman roots made it notable with the addition of the tower – as a particularly Norman addition to the Scottish landscape.

So who was Walter?  

Walter was born c. 1106, and started his life as the third son of Adeline de Hesdin and a Breton knight, Alan Fitz Flaald, who had been granted the feudal barony of Oswestry by King Henry I of England after having been invited, with other Breton nobles, to receive lands in Norfolk and Shropshire. Alan was the son of Flaald, who was the son of the first ever mentioned Steward or Dapifer, Alan of Dol in Brittany, in this hereditary line. During the Norman period in England, surnames were almost exclusively given to members of the nobility, who initially used the place names of their family feudal holdings back in Normandy to denote their status. However, knights who were not especially high born, but who distinguished themselves in battle or in service to the higher ranks, were given the surname Fitz -meaning “son of”, (fils in French) as a patronymic that they could pass on to their children. This is a rite we can see both Alan and Walter held, and this continued for quite some time over the coming years (we’ll be looking into their descendants in future blog posts).

Walter was married to Eschina de Londres, or Mow, who was sometimes called ‘of London’, indicating relations to the border family of that name, as well as, possible links to the royal family. Their high status marriage probably took place around 1161, and Walter was, by then, a well-established noble in Scotland. Eschina’s lands in Mow, thereafter, fell to Walter. They had a daughter, Margaret, who predeceased her parents and was buried in Paisley Abbey and a son, Alan FitzWalter, who became the 2nd High Steward of Scotland in 1178 on the death of his father.

A deeply religious man, Walter is recorded as a witness in the original part of the so-called “foundation charter” of Melrose Abbey records. Walter signed a charter founding a Cluniac priory on part of his land in Renfrew, using monks from the monastery at Much Wenlock, in his home county of Shropshire. This later grew to become Paisley Abbey through a charter signed at Fotheringay in 1163. The following year, Walter soundly defeated the forces of Somerled, King of the Isles, at the battle of Renfrew, resulting in Somerled’s death. Some historians believe Walter had also taken part in the earlier siege of Lisbon against the Moors in 1147.

Walter served as Steward to both David I and Malcom IV until his death, although it is reported that he had already retired to Melrose Abbey as a lay member of the monastery prior to that. His remains are interred at Paisley Abbey.

It was another Walter, Walter Stewart, 6th High Steward of Scotland -great great great grandson of Walter FitzAlan, who just over a century and a half later, became the father of Robert II king of Scots – who founded the Stewart dynasty – and who prepared them well to remember his High Steward roots – naming at least 3 of his sons, Walter (to different mothers).

Find out more about Walter’s motte and bailey stronghold by visiting our Museum at Dundonald Castle Visitor Centre or by watching our film about it from our YouTube Channel:  


Driscoll, S.T. and Forsyth, K. (2004) The late Iron Age and early historic period. Scottish Archaeological Journal, 26 . pp. 4-20. ISSN 1471-5767

Read excerpts from ‘Medieval Scotland: Kingship and Nation’ by Alan MacQuarrie detailing some of  the life of David I of Scotland:


Walter FitzAlan (seal 01) – Wikimedia Commons

David I, King of Scots image as he is depicted in a mid twelfth-century royal charter. Public Domain.,_King_of_Scotland,_charter_to_Kelso_Abbey,_1159,_initial_(crop_David_I).jpgF

Motte and Bailey Image by Jason Robertson for FODC

Header image: FoDC