Walter Stewart the 3rd High Steward of Scotland

Written by Gwen Sinclair and David Taylor

We’re moving forward in time to the first few years of the 13th century in this, the third in our series exploring the lives of those who took up the banner of the medieval patriarchal dynasty of the High Stewards of Scotland. Sometimes referred to as the Lord High Stewards of Scotland – or Senescallus Scotia or even Dapifer Regis Scotiæ – its now time to follow the life of Walter Stewart, the son of Alan Fitz Walter, 2nd High Steward of Scotland (c1140-1204) and Alesta of Mar (c 1150-1210), who became the 3rd High Steward of Scotland after his father’s death in the year 1204.  However, Alan’s successor as Steward, or Stewart, is initially thought to have been his son David, and not Walter, for David was noted as acting guarantor for the engagement of the future King Alexander II to Princess Joan of England. Sadly, David’s fate is something of a mystery, but is thought to have died, leaving Walter as the 3rd High Steward of Scotland.  

Walter was born at Paisley, possibly at the Cluniac monastery, founded by Walter’s grandfather, Walter Fitz Alan the first High Steward of Scotland (1160-1178) who had signed a charter at Fotheringay in 1163 to initiate this monastic order within his lands in Renfrewshire.  We can assume that Walter Stewart was likely to have been named after his grandfather.  There seems to be some differentiation between sources as to when Walter was born – with estimates at around the year 1167 seeming the most realistic – and if this was the case, then Walter would’ve been 37 when his father died, and he inherited the title of the 3rd High Steward of Scotland.

As you may remember from our earlier blogs about the first two High Stewards of Scotland, this title had been brought about by King David I of Scotland (1124-1153), and with it came lands in Renfrewshire as well as in and around Dundonald – named Kyle Stewart or Walter’s Kyle. This land had once been part of the Kingdom of Strathclyde, or Alt Clut. Together with Cunninghame area to the west – defined by the River Irvine, both areas were by now firmly established as part of royal Scotland – with the lands southern to Kyle Stewart finding the River Ayr as its border, known as Kyle Regis – which were lands being held by the king himself. Meanwhile Carrick to the south, defined by the boundary of the River Doon, still belonged to the Kingdom or Lordship of Galloway.  However in 1185, King William I had awarded Carrick to Donnchadh I mac Gilbert (1174-1250), making him 1st Earl of Carrick – which in effect brought a large northern area of Galloway into the Kingdom of Scotland.  Walter’s aunt Avelina had married Donnchadh,  and so we can imagine this was a tactical move by Walter’s father in order to help achieve more unity for the crown, as was the custom of many medieval marriage alliances. However the rest of Galloway, Argyll, and most of the Hebrides as well as parts of the North of Scotland were far from established geographical lands within the kingdom of Scotland and this issue was to dominate much of the first half of the 13th century as we shall see…

Model of 12th Century Motte and Bailey structure thought to have been at Dundonald – from Dundonald Castle Museum

Bute had became an addition to the High Steward hereditary lands in the latter part of the 12th Century – where Walter’s father had built a fortified motte and bailey structure similar to that which Walter Fitz Alan, the first High Steward had built on the volcanic plug some 60m above sea level here at Dundonald -now known as Castle Hill – with its proposed Norman-style look-out tower, built on an additional man-made hill – which would have provided maximum vantage point to keep a close eye on maritime movements along the Clyde at Dundonald – thought to have continued to be the chief residence or caput for High Stewards, now in its third generation.

However in 1230, a resurgence of Viking aggravations on to Walter’s territories in Rothesay – with almost disastrous consequences – which we will find out later – may well have provided the impetuous, as archaeological evidence suggests,  that this wooden structure at Dundonald may have been replaced by a mighty enclosure castle with twinned opposing double-D shaped entrance gate towers around 1241.  Although this castle at Dundonald has most often been noted as having been built by his son, Alexander, who became 4th High Steward of Scotland on Walter’s death in 1246 – circumstances we’ve pieced together about the life of Walter Stewart, may well indicate that this level of defence was needed sooner..

Regardless of its originator, symbolically, the enormity and grandeur of this, the 3rd of the 4 defensible structures built at Dundonald,  gives us some idea of the prosperity which had arrived with the High Steward dynasty as it reached its 100 year milestone at Dundonald. This castle, which was thought to be similar to the great castles at Kildrummy and Bothwell  – indicating not only the geographical importance of the site, but allows us to imagine that Walter, or his son Alexander, wanted to use their wealth to provide the highest level of comfort and security for family and household. For a castle is not merely a building, but is a carefully chosen design delivering us a message from the past telling us the story of how people chose, or even had to live in order to best survive.  We will find out a little bit more about this and why Walter may have been keen to use all modern methods to develop defensible structures on his lands, not only here, but in Rothesay too –  showing something of the tumultuous times which existed in early 13th century Scotland! 

So who was Walter Stewart?

Walter began the first 10 years of his lifelong tenure as High Steward of Scotland to King William the Lion (1165-1214). As witness to a charter by King William the Lion at Dunfrez (Dumfries) -without mention of the year – we find him entitled Walterus filius Alani Dapifer (Walter son of Alan the Steward). On the king’s death in 1214, William’s only, and long awaited son with his second wife, Queen Ermengarde de Beaumont (c 1170-1234), Walter became High Steward to King Alexander II who was then aged only sixteen. It’s likely that Walter would have attended Alexander’s coronation at Scone on 6th December 1214. Walter appears to use ‘Stewart’ as his surname rather than the patronymic Norman addition of Fitz – or son of or fils in French.  The Genealogical and Chronological History of the Stuarts or Stewarts also entitles him as ‘Walter of Dundonald’. Among the witnesses to Walter’s charters we also find Nicolas, the parson of Dundonald (persona de Dundovenald).  Another charter with the Great Seal of Scotland granted by Alexander II in favour of the Church of Glasgow dated at Air (Ayr) on 8th May 1223 also mentions Walter as one of a few important witnesses.

Image of Alexander II by Jacob de Wet II – Royal Collection, Public Domain,

In a charter by King Alexander II, dated 8th February 1237 in favour of the Church of Glasgow, we find him named Walterus fillies ‘Alani, Senescallus, Justiciar Scotiæ’.  This shows Walter had now been given the elevated position of Justiciary of Scotland – meaning that he would have been responsible for maintaining royal law and justice north of the Forth – a position which he is thought to have held from 24th August 1230 until 1241. This may well have come about after his heroic attempts to defend the kingdom, on more than one occasion – which we will look at later, but from this promotion, we can assume that Walter’s prestige and power had grown substantially.  Showing us that he was a highly trusted member of the king’s retinue, we also find that he married into the royal family when he took Bethoc or Beatrix Gilchrist (1174-1270) who was the daughter of Gille Crist Mac Gille Brigte / Gilchrist O’Gilvie 4th Mormær of Angus (1154-1207) and Princess Margaret Marjorie, Countess of Angus (1144-1213) – who was the granddaughter to King David I, sister to King William I, and aunt to King Alexander II, as his wife c1205. We can imagine that this marriage would have increased his wealth and status considerably – above collecting rents from his lands and payment for his duties in defending the kingdom – this would have elevated the status of the High Steward and his family-allowing for favourable matches for Bethoc and Walter’s 10 or 11 children – although records vary about who they were and the years they were born. Notably, most of them seem to have been born at Dundonald, which can help to assert the idea that Dundonald was their main family residence:

Beatrix Stewart (c.1200-1267)

Margaret Stewart (1206-1255) who became Countess of Carrick when she married her Aunt Avelina’s son Niall, 2nd Earl of Carrick (1202-1256), and whose daughter, Marjorie, became the 3rd Countess of Carrick, and who married Robert de Brus 6th Lord of Annandale who became the parents of King Robert the Bruce (1274-1329);

Elizabeth Stewart (1210-1255), who married Maldouen or Malcolm Mor of Lennox (1221-1250); 

Alexander Stewart (1214-1283) who was probably named after Alexander II and became 4th High Steward of Scotland in 1246, and sometime Regent of Scotland;

Sybella Stewart (c1215-1267) who married Colin Fitz Gerald, 1st Lord of Kintail (1200-1278)- possibly a twin of:

Euphemia Fitz Alan Stewart (c1215-1267) who married Adam Wallace Laird of Riccarton (c1213-1246) and Patrick 5th Earl of Dunbar and Regent of Scotland;

Walter Bailloch (the freckled) Stewart (c1218-1296) who married Mary de Menteith and became Earl of Menteith. He became a famous warrior who had joined the 3rd Crusade for the recovery of the Holy Sepulchre, and was said to have fought with great distinction at the battle of Largs in 1263, at which his elder brother Alexander led the defeat against Norwegian forces.  He took a prominent part in the contest for the Scottish crown after the death of the Maid of Norway, later becoming one of the commissioners nominated by Robert Bruce in his competition with John Balliol for the Scottish crown. Walter had two sons – who appeared to have dropped their paternal surname of Stewart, and assumed that of Menteith. The younger of the two, Sir John Menteith of Ruskie, was known as the ‘fause Menteith’  – branded by tradition as the betrayer of William Wallace!

Sir Robert Stewart of Tarbolton and Crookston, and Lord of Darnley;

John Stewart who was killed in Damietta in Egypt in 1249 during the 7th Crusade; 

William Stewart -about which little is known;

Christian Stewart– about which little is known.

The Family of Walter 3rd High Steward of Scotland

However the higher his status, the more would have been expected of him, and all was far from peaceful for Walter as the tussle for Alexander II’s right to reign began almost immediately after he had been speedily crowned on the death of his father! 

King Malcolm meets St Margaret at Queensferry painting by William Hole 

Alexander’s claim to the throne came from his great grandfather Malcolm III Canmore (1058-1093), who had had offspring from two wives.  Alexander was descended from Malcolm’s second marriage to Queen Margaret or Saint Margaret (1045-1093). Interestingly, she was amongst some of the last remaining Saxon Royals in England who fled northwards to avoid the advancing Norman Conquest into England when the ship Margaret was travelling in was blown off course and landed in Fife  – giving rise to the name St Margaret’s Hope near Queensferry – where we find the Queensferry Crossing at the Firth of Forth. Apparently, King Malcolm III offered his protection to her and persistently asked Margaret to marry him until she agreed in 1069.  They became the parents of both Alexander I and  David I – a fact that became a bone of contention with the children of Malcolm Canmore from his first wife, Ingibiorg of Orkney.  These members of the family were now established as the clans Mac Uilleim and MacHeth – and who were descended from King Duncan II (May-Nov 1094).  In 1215, a rebellion broke out in the north, and fortunately for Alexander II, it was said to have been forcibly quelled by the powerful Gaelic warlord Farquhar MacTaggart, and to prove his loyalty to the Scottish crown, sent Alexander the severed heads of these northern rebels, including the great-grandson of Duncan II!  Another report mentions that Alexander II later ordered the removal of hands and feet from 80 rebels in Caithness – which gives us an indication that things were far from easy for Walter, who was expected to be the defender of the king, as well as a king’s advisor!

Coat of arms of Alexander II, King of Scots. This coat of arms appears on folio 146v of Royal MS 14 C VII. Note, however, that the coat of arms is inverted in the manuscript, and here it is shown rotated 180 degrees so that the shield appears right side up. The reason the shield is inverted in the manuscript is because it marks the king’s death.

Also in 1215 Walter was summoned to join the royal host on an attack on Northumberland. This attack enraged the volatile King John of England (1299-1216), who sent an army north into Scotland to ‘hunt the red fox cub from his lair’  and carried out attacks in Scotland – burning Roxburgh, Haddington and Dunbar. Alexander counter-attacked by capturing Carlisle.

Closer to home, perhaps as a precautionary measure as things were far from settled in his lands to the west,  Walter Stewart was said to have rebuilt his stronghold at Rothesay over the earlier motte and bailey fortification at Bute’s natural harbour, on low lying ground at the north-facing bay on the island’s east coast.  This castle was built from stone with a rounded curtain wall, a gateway to the north, was probably surrounded by a moat, the inner edge of which would likely have been defended by a wooden wall and a postern gate facing west. Luckily this stone upgrade was completed when King Haakon IV of Norway decided to send a fleet under the command of Uspak, the King of Man, to retake the Isle of Bute by launching an attack on Rothesay Castle in 1230. This found Walter under siege for 3 days as the Norwegians using wooden shields to get close to the castle’s walls, set about hacking their way through the stone walls with their axes, as Walter defended his stronghold by delivering deposits of boiling pitch from above in truly medieval style!

However, a breach in the wall came about, and the Norwegians eventually got into the castle. Luckily for Walter, no sooner had they done so than a large Scottish backup fleet was sighted approaching the bay, leaving the Norwegians no choice but to withdraw to Kintyre, where it is said King Uspak died of injuries he’d suffered in the siege. This attack is captured in the The Saga of Haakon Haakonarson which describes an attack on Rothesay Castle at that time.  Walter Stewart is said to have later added four projecting towers to strengthen Rothesay Castle- but thankfully it seems that they were never put to the test!

Rothesay Castle

Some 4 years later Walter was active in the field in support of King Alexander II when the Gallovidians rose in revolt and, as the Melrose Chronicle states, ‘devastated with fire and sword some of the royal lands contiguous to themselves’. This means that Kyle Regis, and most probably Carrick, would’ve been affected. When Alexander II led an army into Galloway to crush the rebellion, Walter, as the overlord of the adjacent Kyle Stewart, would most likely have played a major role.

By 1237, Walter was likely to have been present when Alexander II signed the Treaty of York, which defined the boundary between England and Scotland, as running between the Solway Firth and the mouth of the River Tweed – virtually unchanged today.

Seal of Alexander II 

When the time came for Alexander II to marry Princess Joan (22 July 1210 – 4 March 1238), the daughter of King John of England and Isabella of Angoulême, The Steward was dispatched to York to help officiate at the wedding at York Minster on 21st June 1221 – Alexander was 23 and Joan was only 11 years old! During Alexander’s reign his chief advisers were the Comyns – a family who would grow to dominate Scottish politics.  In March 1238 Queen Joan died on a pilgrimage to Canterbury and was buried at Tarant Crawford Abbey in Dorset. Heirless, Alexander II was keen to hastily find a new wife in order to be able to sire an heir to the throne of Scotland.  Walter was sent to France as an ambassador for the king to negotiate for a marriage with Marie, the daughter of Enguerrand III, Lord of Coucy, a nobleman in Picardy and his third wife Marie de Montmirel (1192-1267). Marie was a great, great granddaughter of King Louis VI of France and was said to have been both very wealthy and very beautiful. Her father was a French vassal and a known adversary of England, and so the marriage between Marie and Alexander II was regarded as a French-Scottish alliance against England – which was useful as England’s King Henry III (1216-1272) had threatened to take over Scotland should Alexander II die without an heir!

This meant that Walter’s negotiating skills were imperative to the future of the kingdom, and seemed to have succeeded when Alexander and Marie were married later that year – with Walter presiding over the royal wedding at Kelso on 15th May 1239. Luckily for the Kingdom of Scotland, his new Queen gave birth to their son and heir to the throne, Alexander, in 1241 – who became king at the age of only 8 when King Alexander II died on the island of Kerrera on 8th July 1249 during an expedition to overthrow the Lord of Argyll.  It was said that Immediately after the news reached her, Queen Marie made sure their son was at Scone to be crowned without delay.  Wee Alexander turned out to bring an extremely complicated and somewhat adversarial situation to his part of the history of Scotland! We’ll find out more about him in the next instalments of the lives of the High Stewards!  Interestingly, on 9th June 1250 Marie and Alexander III were in observance at Dunfermline Abbey for the interment of the remains and canonisation of Queen Saint Margaret of Scotland, wife of king Malcolm Canmore III – said to have come about due to the recognition of Margaret’s exceptional holiness, work for ecclesiastical reform and charity. Several religious establishments across the world are dedicated to St Margaret, one of the oldest being St Margaret’s Chapel inside Edinburgh Castle, founded by her son King David I. 

Walter Stewart appears to have carried on the tradition of his High Steward predecessors of founding religious institutions, or perhaps he may have grown pious in his old age, when we find that he had handed over his estate, which had been his father’s dowry from his first wife, Eva Thor’sson, at Tippermuir in Perthshire (now Tibbermore) to the abbey at Balermino in Fife – completed in 1239. It was at Balermino we find the queen dowager Ermengarde had devoted much of her time after William I died in 1214 to assist with its foundation as a Cistercian abbey. She was buried here on her death in c. 1234. 

It does seem that for Walter, even the pursuit of piety, didn’t come without its troubles as he’s also thought to have founded an abbey at Dalmellington – where it is said that this area proved too remote for the inhabitants, when the monks appeared less than enamoured with life in Ayrshire, and after nine years headed south to warmer climes and the estate transferred to Melrose, noting Dalmellington as being “useless and dangerous” to them because of “attacks by the native population” – giving us some idea of the precarious nature of the role of The High Steward who it seemed must have had trouble in which ever direction he looked! Even south to near Kirkoswald, where he was said to have set up Crossraguel Abbey – although Canmore suggest that the date of foundation of this Cluniac order, and the circumstances leading up to it are rather obscure and we find some records state that it was Donnchadh I mac Gilbert 1st Earl of Carrick, who had married Walter Stewart’s sister, Avalina, who was thought to have given a large purse of his funds to Paisley Abbey to build a substantial abbey on his lands at the spot where Crossraguel  Abbey is now, around 1214-16.  It seems though, that Donnchadh ( Duncan) became enraged when he discovered that what had been built was a small uninspiring oratory which had clearly used little of his substantial donations to build!  It’s likely that Walter would’ve been present to assist in arbitrating in a dispute between Donnchadh and the monks at Paisley – which wasn’t  resolved until a judgement by the Bishop of Glasgow in 1244 – whereby the monks of Paisley were categorically instructed to build the abbey Donnchadh had paid for! 

Image of the plaque at Paisley Abbey dedicated to the High Stewards of Scotland 

Walter Steward died of unknown causes in 1264 at Dundonald, possibly at the age of 79 – after a colourful life as a bold defender of the kingdom of Scotland. He is buried in a vault at the High Alter of Paisley Abbey next to wife, father and grandfather- and later his son, Alexander, grandson, James and great grandson Walter – who you can find out about in the next instalments in our series all about the lives of the medieval High Stewards of Scotland. 

Our aim is to build as wide an insight as we can of the history of the High Stewards of Scotland and as information can be difficult to define exactly, this biographic study is taken from a wide range of sources to be able to bring as accurate an account as possible.  We’re always happy to find out anything else which we can add – so please get in touch! 

Find out more about documents signed by Walter :


Crawfurd. 1710; A Genealogical History of The Royal and Illustrious Family of the Stewarts. p. 102 Printed by James Watson

Burke. 1851. The Royal Families of England, Scotland and Wales, etc, Volume 2, London,, pp. xi and xxii.  Read Book (free) : 

Thomson,O. 2009.The Rises and Falls of the Royal,Stewarts, pp. 95-106.The History Press

Ebook version:

Driscoll & Forsyth, Scottish Archaeological Journal, p. 13, University of Glasgow


Cover with overlap of Alexander’s castle and motte and Bailey at Dundonald to showing a possible fortification progression, by Gwen Sinclair for FoDC

Model of 12th Century Motte and Bailey structure – from Dundonald Castle Museum by Jason Robertson

Image of the plaque at Paisley Abbey dedicated to the High Stewards of Scotland by Stephencdickson – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

Walter Stewart Lineage graphics by Gwen Sinclair for FoDC

Seal of Alexander II by Walter de Gray Birch (1842-1924) – History of Scottish seals, Public Domain,

Coat of arms of Alexander II, King of Scots. This coat of arms appears on folio 146v of Royal MS 14 C VII. Note, however, that the coat of arms is inverted in the manuscript, and that I have rotated it 180 degrees so that the shield appears right side up. The reason the shield is inverted in the manuscript is because it marks the king’s death.

Image of Alexander II by Jacob de Wet II – Royal Collection, Public Domain,

Rothesay Castle by Reading Tom from Reading, UK – Rothesay Castle, CC BY 2.0,

Viking axes Image by Valerii Iavtushenko from Pixabay

King Malcolm meets St Margaret at Queensferry painting by William Hole – photographed by uploader, CC BY-SA 3.0,