For Tartan Week: 1200 Years of Stewarts


It’s Tartan Week here in New York. This year there are a surprising number of Scottish-American friendship events planned: concerts, talks, parties, all culminating with the big Tartan Day Parade on Saturday, April 9 at 2pm.

A fitting day, I thought to close out some unfinished business with regard to the Scots in my background. We weren’t feeling very Scottish back on St. Andrews Day, but much has changed on that score. And having worked out our Stewart background in America, now we thought we’d fill it out from the very beginning. (I have five or six different ancestral Stewart/Stuart lines in my background, BTW, including the patrilinal line that leads all the way to my sons. All of them eventually lead to the same place.)


This is something I had been curious about since childhood. We had books about Stewart genealogy in the house when I was growing up (such as they were back then). They generally told that all Stewarts and Stewards and Stuarts were related (apart from those whose surnames were changed to that, of course, i.e. people like Jon Stewart, or Sylvester Stewart of Sly and the Family Stone). And this would mean that we are also somehow related to the Royal House of Stuart. But how? Well, I have a much better idea now.


The family that became the Stewarts were originally Britons, the Celtic peoples who inhabited England prior to the Medieval invasions. When Anglo-Saxons conquered the Eastern part of England in the 5th-7th centuries A.D. my ancestors were among those who fled to France and settled the area which became known as Brittany, becoming known as the Bretons. My family tree, if accurate, begins to pick them up there in the 800s, but they may have been there earlier.

Henry I

Henry I

At a certain point the family rose to be hereditary administrators (called “seneschals”) to the Bishops of the town of Dol-De-Bretagne. One of these, Flaad Fitz Alan (ca. 1050-1084), and his son Alan Fitz Flaad, a knight, came to the attention of King Henry I, who had them brought over to England to serve him. This is an interesting dynamic. Henry was the son of William the Conqueror; thus this was part of the process of the consolidation of power following the Norman invasion. Alan fitz Flaad was given the task of supervising the Welsh border and was rewarded with huge estates all over England.

When Henry died there was a war of succession in England. Amidst the chaos, Alan’s son, Walter fitz Alan fled to Scotland. The Scottish monarch David I gave him the position and title of Royal High Steward of Scotland, and thus Walter is the first “Stewart”. The name comes from the Old English word “stiward” or “stigweard”, which literally means “guardian of the hall or house or estate” or “housekeeper.” Thus in modern times, the word is usually used to mean something roughly equivalent to “waiter”. Except when we remember that King David I’s “house or hall or estate” was THE COUNTRY OF SCOTLAND. And then we realize that the job was something more on the order of governor, perhaps something roughly but not exactly equivalent to the U.S. President’s Chief of Staff, with several cabinet positions mixed in.


There were several generations of these hereditary High Stewards. Walter the 6th (c. 1296-1397) married a daughter of Robert the Bruce, which makes me descended from him, so contrary to my previous post, I now feel very Scottish indeed. Their son ascended the throne of Scotland as Robert II (1316-1390), and this was the foundation of the Royal House of Stuart. Robert II is the only actual Stuart king I am directly descended from in my patrilineal line.

However, in another line, I am part of the royal Scottish lineage as late as my (13th) great grandfather James V (1513-1542). He was the father of Mary Queen of Scots, but I am descended from her illegitimate half-brother James Stewart, First Earl of Moray, who later became regent to James VI (who was to become James I of England).


To return to the main line, however: my ancestor Robert Stewart (son of Robert II) was named the first Duke of Albany by his older brother, the monarch Robert III (actually named John Stewart, but he took his father’s name). Albany was roughly the area of Scotland formerly inhabited by the ancient Picts. The next couple of generations of my ancestors, Murdoch Stewart and “James the Fat” led all sorts of intrigues against the royal branch; Murdock was executed and James exiled to Ireland. The latter’s son James “Beg” Stewart was pardoned, and returned to Scotland to become the 1st Laird of Baldorran, circa 1440s. (His son Andrew was Lord Chancellor of Scotland, a leading advisor to King James III of Scotland)

We then have another couple of centuries of Stewarts in my line who were lairds and bailies and such of various territories until we get to Walter Stuart, the 7th Laird of Gartnafuaran (1625-1668). Tradition has it that his son Robert Stewart fought as a Covenanter (Presbyterian partisan) against the mostly Catholic Scottish Royalists and here is where fancy titles leave my branch of the family. Robert’s son John Stewart immigrated to America and here is where the next phase picks up. read about that here.


That’s the main line, which leads all the way to my sons. But as I said there are others. Interestingly, yet another one leads to Robert the Covenanter. Robert had another son named Alexander who emigrated to Pennsylvania. This line moves on to Georgia, North Carolina and finally to Tennessee, ending at my (6th) great grandmother Mary Stuart, who married into the Gray family, which finally finds its way back to the Stewarts through my paternal grandfather.

I am also descended from another branch which leads back to James “the Fat”. After about three centuries, one Andrew Stuart (1672-1715) moves to Tyrone, Ireland. His son moves to Virginia. This line leads also to Tennessee, ending at my (3rd) great grandmother Jane. C. Stuart who married into the Knight family which finds its way to my paternal grandmother and back to the Stewarts through my father.

I have found some other stray Stewarts elsewhere in the family tree but they are dead ends so far, I can’t yet trace them back to the family founders. One of them is actually on my mom’s side and in England. She has the unprepossessing name 0f “Mary Ann Stewart” and for some reason I can’t help thinking of the hapless maid in Alice in Wonderland who gets scolded by the White Rabbit. (Actually it’s Alice who gets yelled at, the White Rabbit only thinks she’s Mary Ann)


Henry I

But that’s a digression, though, I’m sure a welcome one. For all the details on Tartan Week go here.

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