The CAIRNCROSSes of that Ilk.

Cairncross is made up of two words - CAIRN or CARN, and CROSS or CORS. Cairn has two meanings: first, a hill or mountain, and secondly, an artificial heap of stones, made either as a boundary mark, or to commemorate some event or some person. Cross has also two meanings: first, the emblem of our Christian faith, and, secondly, the road crossing the hill. Within the district of Cairncross in Glenesk there are, or were, several cairns of stones, and on a large stone a cross is roughly hewn. Dr. John Stuart conjectured that these ancient remains gave a name to the district, and Jervise, in his "Land of the Lindsays", says - "In the midst of these cairns, along the south-east side of Rowan Hill, by the side of the old road across the hill, a large whinstone with the rudely incised figure of a cross is pointed out." It may also be mentioned that one of the roads in olden times, across the Mounth, was from Cairncross to Birss. The cairns, the cross, and the roads crossing the hills may all have helped to give the district its name. It is commonly believed that St. Drostan, a follower of St. Columba, had a monastery here, and that several places in the vicinity, such as Droustie's Well, still commemorate him, and that the lay abbot was John Abbe, the son of Malise; but John the son of Malise is designated abbot of Brechin, and not the abbot of Glenesk or Edzell. Later writers say that not St. Drostan, but another Drostan, the hermit of Angus, had his hermitage in Glenesk.

There is one other place in Scotland called "Cairncross"; near St. Abb's Head, in Berwickshire. There are said to have been twelve crosses marking the boundary of the sanctuary at the Abbey of Coldingham there. One of these crosses was called Cairncross*, and the name still remains in the name of the farm near where the cross originally stood. This place does not appear to have given a name to anyone, for the Border family of the same name originated in Forfarshire, as will be shown later.

It is necessary here to unearth a few facts about family names. In Scotland at the present time each individual has a baptismal, or Christian name, which is his or her own personal name, and is not hereditary; but he or she also has a family name, which is hereditary - sons and daughters inheriting their father's family name.

* A.F.C. elsewhere states that this property has always belonged to the HOME family.

(Ref. G.T.R.C. Folio, p.19.6.)


It was not always so. There was a time, roughly about eight hundred years ago, when a man had no name other than his Christian name; and if a man called, for instance, "John", had a son "Donald", then whenever it was necessary to distinguish the son from others of the same name, as in a written document, he was called "Donald the son of John", and if the same Donald in his turn had a son "Duncan", then the latter would be called "Duncan the son of Donald". In Gaelic this becomes "Duncan Mac Donald Mac Ian". In other words, when one's own Christian name was not enough to distinguish one from others, then one's pedigree was given. This was also the method adopted by many other nations, including the English, the Welsh and the Irish. Of course a nickname given in sport or otherwise was a popular and sure way of identifying a person. Surnames were often tacked onto Christian names - Malcolm III was surnamed "Canmore" (big head), his brother was surnamed "Bane" (white), and Malcolm IV "the Maiden". Family names were first introduced by the Romans, and then by the French, and were introduced into England by the warriors of Normandy who invaded that country with William the Conqueror in A.D. 1066, and who called themselves by the names of the places and lands in Normandy. Some of them, on obtaining estates in England, assumed as surnames the names of these estates, with "de" prefixed. Many of the Normans came to Scotland as mere visitors and invited guests, but obtaining lands from the King of the Scots, settled in Scotland; and, beginning with them, surnames, and ultimately hereditary family names, were gradually introduced here - the baron called after his estate, and the commoner after his field, or his trade, or some famous ancestor, or some peculiarity of his person, or in other ways needless to mention.

The land of Cairncross in Glenesk, Forfarshire, was gifted to Michael, by his father Morgund, at the time when landowners in those parts began to be called by the names of their estates. It is more than likely that Michael was surnamed "de Carncors", though we have no record that such was actually the case. However, by 1325 "de Carncors" was in use as a surname, for between 1310 and 1325 one of the witnesses to a charter was a Duncan de Carncors. Then, again, in 1369 reference is to be found to "Duncan de Karinkors".



The first proprietor of the land of Cairncross, as a separate estate, was Michael, the son of Morgund, the son of John the Abbot of Brechin, the son of Malise, the heir of Dovenald, the heir of Leod, one of the lay lords who formed part of the court of David I, King of Scots.

Mr. John A. Henderson, the editor of the "Notes and Queries" of the Aberdeen Weekly Journal, in a letter dated 10th March, 1909, to the writer of these notes, says, "After having conferred with several antiquarian friends in your and other subjects. The charter referred to in my printed answer was really a confirmation to a charter by Morgund the son of Albe, to his son Michael, of a davoch[1] of his land of Cairncross (in Angus) about 1245. Please note that this was before the period of surnames, and upon such becoming popular before the end of that century, the possessor had, as was quite common, taken the name of Carncors from his lands". At first it would be the actual proprietor only who would call himself after his estate. In a written document he would be called his Christian name, followed by "de Carncors", but a son, until he succeeded his father, would be called by his Christian name only, with the addition, if necessary, of his pedigree.

DUNCAN 1310 - 25 (Charter Witness)

We do not know who succeeded Michael. The next recorded is Duncan, who, between 1310 an 1325, was one of the witnesses to a charter by Henry de Maule; Lord of Panmure, gifting land to his son-in-law Alexander, the son and heir of John the younger of Strathechyn (now Strachan). Duncan would naturally have inherited the estate from his ancestor Michael.

[1] davoch = approx. 416 acres.


Duncan 1369 (Charter Witness)

The third to be recorded is also a Duncan, who, on May 25th, 1369, at Kirkwall on Mainland of Orkney Islands, was one of the witnesses to an agreement between Hakon Jonsen, the Norwegian governor of Orkney and Shetland, and Bishop William, to end the quarrels between them and their men, The Editor of "Records of the Earldom of Orkney, 1299 -1614", commenting on this name "Duncan of Karinkors", says:- "No doubt the Scottish surname Cairncross, since the Christian name is Scottish". Cairncross is the modern form, but it is applied in very many different ways in old books and manuscripts.[2] Indeed, it was Cairncors in this district not many years ago, "cors" being a now obsolete Scotch word for "cross". Exactness of spelling is a modern refinement. The object of early writers was to give an idea of the sound of the name by employing written characters, and so long as the idea was conveyed, neither writers nor readers troubled themselves about the niceties of orthography. Nothing is commoner than to find a single name spelt in half a dozen ways in the same manuscript".

[2] Sir Herbert Maxwell in "Scottish Land Names"

It is worthy of note that there are only three ancient round towers built by the Celtic Church, in Scotland - one at Abernethy in Perthshire, one at Brechin in Forfarshire, and one in Orkney; and here we have Duncan de Karinkors, descended from the abbot of Brechin, where one of the round towers is situated, going far away to Orkney, to, as it were, another of those round towers, and helping to restore peace there.

Stodard, in his Scottish Arms (Edinburgh 1881), is of the opinion that all later Cairncrosses are descended from this Duncan.

SIMON 1389 -92 (1389 - Big business deal! 1392 - Killed in Raid of Angus)

The next recorded is Simon de Carncors, who received payment of 3.6.8d Scots, due to him by the king (Robert II), in 1389. Payment was made by the Customars of Montrose. This Simon was in all probability the Carncors who took the field under Sir David Lindsay and was soon afterwards killed in what is called the Raid of Angus, which deserves special notice, and is dealt with in a subsequent chapter. (See p.12)


Sir David Lindsay was created the first earl of Crawford in 1398, and he married the daughter of Robert II - Princess Elizabeth, according to tradition. In charters the king refers to him as "my son", and Robert III calls him "my brother."

He must, therefore, have had great influence with both kings. He did not reside in Glenesk, but had a mansion house at Finhaven[3], which lies north from Forfar, and another noble one in Dundee, no doubt visiting his Glenesk lands at intervals. Naturally the lay abbots of Brechin would reside in or near that town. So the Cairncrosses may have had their home in Brechin or Forfar, and we have proof that they were owners of property in Dundee from 1459 to 1521, and were living there. How long they remained the owners of the land in Glenesk we do not know, but it is on record that Morgund's gift of the land of Cairncross to his son Michael was confirmed by James I in 1428. That they parted with this inheritance is evident, seeing that in 1715 David Lindsay of Edzell sold it, together with his other Lands in Glenesk[4], to James earl of Panmure. At present, and until further information is available, it can only be conjectured that the Lindsays used their great influence, perhaps because "Carncors" (no doubt Simon de Carncors) was killed in their quarrel with the Duncan sons, to get the Cairncrosses other and more desirable lands in exchange for their property in Glenesk.

[3] Family move to FINHAVEN and DUNDEE in Forfarshire.
[4] Disposal of GLENESK lands.

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