Our Erwin Roots

by Donald D. Erwin

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Early in the third century AD, bands of Dalriatic Irish began raiding the area that would be Strathclyde in Western Scotland, which was across the North Channel from Ulster . The initial attacks were purely predatory, but over time settlements were established which resulted in a gradual inter-mingling of the cultures of the Irish and the native Celtic and Pictish tribes. According to ancient Irving/Irvine family traditions in Scotland, the early Erinvine/Eryvine family roots go back to the Irveni tribe in what is now Ulster in Northern Ireland. One of the Irveni was Niall Noigialach. Niall was a “High King” who lived during the late 300s and early 400s, and is thought to be the progenitor of our family. During his active years he made frequent marauding expeditions into Scotland.  Niall died in 406 AD, but his descendants in Scotland were the Duncans (Eryvines).

For about four hundred years, beginning about 400 AD, the Erinvine (Eryvine) clan is believed to have lived in an area facing the Firth of Clyde where the town of Irvine now stands. Under the MacAlpin kings in the ninth century most of the clan was induced to move south to the border area to help defend the kingdom. Starting about 848 AD the Duncan chief became the hereditary abbot of the old Celtic Monastery in Dunkeld, which exists today as the Dunkeld Cathedral.

Dr. Christopher Irvine, who published The Origins of the Irvines or Erinvines in 1678, was perhaps the first scholar to research and record Irvine family history. The Irvings of Bonshaw are descended from Duncan, known to the family as “Duncan of Eskdale.” Recorded history of the Eryvines seems to start in the mid-tenth century AD. It was in 965 AD that Duncan, who was the Earl and Governor of Strathclyde and who was known as “the first of the Erivine,” was killed at Dancrub while leading an army against a strong rebel force of fellow countrymen. His eldest son, also Duncan, inherited all of his father’s titles, including Abbot of Dunkeld. This Duncan was killed at the Battle of Lancarty, about 990 AD, while commanding the left wing of Scottish forces. This Duncan had three sons; Crinan, Grim and Duncan.

Crinan, the eldest brother, inherited his father’s titles as Seneschal of King’s Rents, Abthane of Dule and Abbot of Dunkeld, and stood second in rank only to the King. As such in 1004 he was wed to Beatrix, the eldest daughter of King Malcolm II (r.1005-1034). Malcolm was himself the great-great-great grandson of Kenneth I (MacAlpin), who reigned as the first King of Scots from 841 to 860. Historians have no idea what happened to Grim, the second brother, but Duncan, the third brother, was the ancestor of the Bonshaw Irvings. He moved to the borderlands in 1018 as Governor of Cumbria. His eldest son Eruini, born circa 1020, married Beatrice, an heiress of the ancient British royal line of Coel Hen. Eruini and Beatrice took up residence at her ancestral home, the ancient hill-fort of Dumbretton. Soon afterward, however, a new castle was built about two miles east of the present site of Bonshaw, and they named it Irwyn. The inheritance of Beatrice also included the lands between the Kirtle and the Esk Rivers southeast of Lockerbie. These lands included the area where the current Bonshaw Tower now stands, and would become the ancient home of the Eryvine (Irving, de Irwyn, Irvine) clan.

Malcolm II had three daughters but no male heir, and his daughters failed to produce one before he was assassinated in 1034. Thus Duncan (Eryvine) I (r.1034-1040), grandson of Malcolm II and the son of Crinan, occupied the throne which had been held for two centuries by the descendants of Kenneth MacAlpin. Towards the end of his reign Duncan I met with defeat in a campaign against the Norsemen. In 1040, as he was leading the remnants of his army home, he was attacked and killed by MacBeth the Usurper, his first cousin as well as one of his generals. MacBeth then assumed the throne and ruled for the next seventeen years (r.1040-1057). It is around Duncan’s murder that the plot of Shakespeare’s play is based. MacBeth’s forces also killed Crinan in 1045 when he came seeking revenge for the murder of his son.

The sons of Duncan I fled Scotland when their father was killed, and remained in hiding until 1057 when Malcolm Eryvine raised an army to challenge MacBeth. With the aid of Lord MacDuff, Thane of Fife, he defeated and executed MacBeth the same year. In 1058 Malcolm also defeated Lulach, MacBeth’s stepson.  Lulach had been crowned King of Scots (r.1057-1058) when Macbeth was killed. Malcolm thus regained his father’s throne and reigned as Malcolm III (r.1058-1093). This succession included David I “The Saint” (r.1124-1153), who created all of the offices of the royal court, Malcolm IV “The Maiden” (r.1153-1165), and William “The Lion of Justice” (r.1165-1214) who created the lion rampant as his battle crest and coat of arms.  The line ended with Alexander III (r.1249-1286) when he rode his horse over a cliff on a dark December night in 1286.

Margaret, the infant “Maid of Norway” (daughter of Margaret Irvyne and Eric the Red of Norway), was born in 1283, and died in 1290. She was a granddaughter, and heir, of King Alexander III of Scotland. After Alexander’s passing in 1286 she reigned as Queen of Scotland until her death. She had no direct heirs, and thus the succession to the throne of Scotland was in dispute. There were thirteen claimants – all having some relationship to the line of Erivine – but only two had a realistic chance of succeeding Margaret: John Balliol, the primary claimant, was a great-great-great grandson of David I, and Robert the Bruce, who was a great-great-great-great grandson of David I. Edward I of England, asked by the lords of Scotland to arbitrate, chose John Balliol. Edward’s insistence on appellate jurisdiction, however, alienated the Scottish aristocracy, and they began, in 1295, an alliance with France which endured, intermittently, for three hundred years. This angered Edward, and he invaded Scotland in 1296. His forces defeated Baliol’s army at the Battle of Dunbar, and he declared himself king of Scotland as well as England.

Oppressive administration by Edward’s officials led to widespread unrest, and an uprising led by William Wallace in 1297. Wallace was supported by the gentry and the commoners, but received little aid at first from Scottish nobles. Wallace had some early successes against the English – particularly at the Battle of Stirling Bridge – but was eventually defeated in 1298 at the Battle of Falkirk. Wallace was never able to raise another field army, and in 1304 he was captured by the English. In 1305 he was executed by being drawn and quartered. As mentioned in a previous chapter, this short period in Scottish history was portrayed in the movie Braveheart.    

An interesting side note concerns Malcolm IV. When David I died in 1153 he left no surviving heir, his only son Henry having died the previous year. Nevertheless, Henry left three sons and three daughters, making Scotland’s succession assured. Henry’s eldest son, at the age of twelve, became Malcolm IV, whose reign history remembers as the most uninspired in Scottish history. Known scornfully as the “Maiden,” Malcolm pledged his life to Jesus, and although he had an illegitimate son, he refused to marry. He spent most of his time in France, leaving the running of the country in the capable hands of Walter, 1st High Steward. His management became especially vital in 1164 when the western coast of Scotland was invaded by 160 warships and 6000 warriors of Somerled, Thane of the Isles. Once ashore, however, they were soundly defeated by Walter’s Household Knights, a much smaller force.

Afterwards the title of High Steward became hereditary, and it was Walter, 6th High Steward, who in 1315 married Marjorie Bruce, daughter of Robert I, King of Scots (r.1306-1329). Walter was one of Robert’s most reliable and successful generals. He was knighted by King Robert during the Battle of Berwick when the army of King Edward II was driven back by Walter’s army. Marjorie died in 1316; she was pregnant at the time, but her child was saved by a Caesarean operation. It was this child, whom Walter and Marjorie named Robert after the king, who would be the progenitor of the House of Stewart, the royal line of kings and queens which reigns in England today. Robert Stewart, grandson of Robert the Bruce, 7th High Steward, was crowned Robert II, King of Scots, on March 26, 1371 (r.1371-1390). A bit of trivia: my line of Erwins can trace their roots to Robert the Bruce. My Royal Roots.

The Irvings evolved from the Eryvines (Irvings) of Bonshaw. The Irvings were not one of the larger border clans, as were the Johnstons, but they were well known. Macdonald Fraser, in his book The Steel Bonnets, comments: “A very tough bunch indeed. The Irvings contributed much to the general disorder, despite their comparatively small numbers.” There were several clan chiefs during this period:

  • Gilchrist, 1st Earl of Angus, born about 1060, probably at Bonshaw.

  • Gillibrede, 2nd Earl of Angus, born about 1110, probably at Bonshaw.

  • Gilchrist, 3rd Earl of Angus, born about 1140, probably at Bonshaw.

  • William, born about 1170 at Bonshaw

  •  William, born about 1220, at Bonshaw

  •  Alexander, born about 1260

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