A More Detailed History of the Clan Menzies
Claims that the Menzies' are descended from a mythical “Scottish” King
Mainus of 33BC have been made but may be dismissed as ill-founded
in common with the ancient genealogies of some other clans. As
with several old established Scots families the Menzies' were
origin, descending from Robert de Maineriis of Mesnieres near Rouen
in Normandy and settling in Etal, Northumberland, in 1166, the
name becoming variously Meyners, Maynoeurs and Manners.
It seems probable that a branch of this family was granted lands
in Scotland in the 12th Century and eventually became established
in the Central Highlands. Variations of the name appear in early
charters, the first recorded Menzies being Anketillus de Maynoers
whose name is appended to a charter relating to a donation to the
Abbey of Holyrood during the reign of William the Lion (d. 1214).
The earliest definitive “Chief” was, however, Sir Robert
de Meyneris (possibly the son of Anketillus) who was at the court
of King Alexander III and became Chamberlain of Scotland in 1249.
Sir Robert presumably received a grant of lands in West Atholl
since the earliest existing Menzies document (c. 1240) refers to
the confirmation of the lands of Culdares and Duneaves by him to
Sir Mathew of Moncrieffe. The grant of lands to Sir Robert included “the
following, which added the element of clanship to the feudal relationship
and the name in the Gaelic, Meinnearach.
Robert’s heir, Sir Alexander Menzies, was granted the lands
of Aberfeldy and Weem with patronage of the Church of Weem in c.
1266 and in 1312-14, the family’s loyalty to Robert Bruce
against Edward I of England, was rewarded by grants of lands in
the Highlands, Glendochart, Finlarig and Glenorchy and further
lands in the Abthane of Dull, and, in the Lowlands Durisdeer in
In succeeding years the extent of the lands held by the Menzies'
fluctuated with legalistic exchanges and marriage endowments and
overt usurpation in the manner typical of territorial transactions
of the feudal-clan system of the Highlands, finally settling with
the territories around Weem, the Appin of Dull and Rannoch, these
considerable areas remaining in the possession of the Weem Menzies'
until the death of Sir Neil Menzies, the last of the main line
The first residence of the Menzies Chiefs at Weem, the “Place
of Weem”, was built in 1488 by Sir Robert Menzies, the eighth
Chief after the first Sir Robert. Before this, Comrie Castle was
the family seat. The new house was to serve the family for but
a short time, however, for in 1502, as the result of a dispute
with a neighbour over the rights of the lands of Fortigall and
Rannoch. With the burning of the Castle were lost the early records
of the origins of the Menzies'. Restitution was ordered by the
Monarch, James IV who erected the Menzies lands into the Barony
of Menzies in 1510, the Chief being styled Menzies of Menzies (or
Menzies of the Ilk) and the Castle, Castle Menzies.
In 1665, Sir Alexander Menzies of Menzies was created a Baronet
of Nova Scotia and this title continued to the 8th Baronet, Sir
Neil who died without heir in 1910. After his death the Menzies’ estates
were divided and auctioned by his Trustees. With the divided estates
were also sold the Castle and its contents including many Clan
relics and, to recreate a tragedy little less than the destruction
of the ancient documents by the burning of the Place of Weem in
1502, the contents of the muniment room were apparently bundled
into lots, sold and dispersed, and with them, four hundred years
of documented history of the family and district.
With the extinction of the main Menzies of Weem line, the Clan
was therefore without a Chief until Ronald Steuart Menzies of Culdares
and Arndilly, the lineal heir of Colonel James Menzies of Culdares,
a prominent Covenanting officer and cousin of the first Baronet,
petitioned Lyon Court in 1957 and obtained arms in the title of “The
Menzies of Menzies”. His son, David Steuart Menzies of Menzies
is the present Chief.
The Menzies’ are recorded as a relatively peaceful clan,
predominately siding with law and order and the established Monarchy.
Although surrounded by powerful neighbours, the Menzies held on
to their inheritance without recourse to violent conflict. Differences
with their neighbours were mainly resolved by diplomacy, litigation
or convenient marriage and they became the oldest family in Strathtay
with an unbroken descent in the direct main line down to 1910.
The loyalty with which the Clan had supported the Bruce was extended
to the subsequent Stuart dynasty to which the Menzies' of Weem
became associated through the marriage of Sir Alexander de Meyners
(1235-1320) to Egidia Stuart, daughter of James, High Steward of
Scotland, and that of James Menzies of Menzies in 1540 to Barbara
Stewart, daughter of the third Earl of Atholl and second cousin
to Lord Darnley. The Menzies Chiefs embraced the reformed religion
but, nevertheless, supported the early attempt to restore the Monarchy
during the Commonwealth. Loyalties to the Royal House of Stuart
and to the Establishment were later to become divided however, and
Captain Robert Menzies, elder son of the first Baronet sided with
the Government forces under General Mackay at the Battle of Killiecrankie
(1689) while other Menzies', principally those of Pitfoddels,
who adhered to Roman Catholicism, fought on the opposing Jacobite
side under Viscount Dundee.
When the “Old Pretender, the Chevalier St. George made a
bid for the throne of Scotland in 1715, the Menzies' of Culdares,
Bolfracks and Shian were among the clans who rallied to the call,
but the then Chief, Sir Robert, was but nine years old at the time
and represented by his great-uncle James as regent or tutor, and
Captain James, who had fought at Killiecrankie with his brother
on the Government side, considered it prudent not to commit his
ward to the enterprise.
In the 1745 rising the Chief adopted a neutral position and took
no active part, but the Clan was “out” under Menzies
of Shian who subsequently paid dearly with his life for the cause.
The Chief, nevertheless gave to Prince Charles the hospitality
of his house for two days during the ill-fated retreat from Stirling
to Inverness in 1746 which ended in the tragedy of Culloden.
Scotland is indebted to the Menzies for the introduction of the
larch tree which now flourishes all over the Highlands. Menzies
of Culdares, “Old Culdares” who had been pardoned for
his participation in the 1715 Jacobite Rebellion, brought the first
larches from the Austrian Tyrol in 1737and presented them to the
Duke of Atholl. Two of the original saplings, now grown to a great
size, can be seen besides Dunkeld Cathedral. In the nineteenth
century Sir Neil Menzies of Menzies, 6th Baronet, actively promoted
tree planting and agricultural improvements which were continued
by his son Sir Robert. Another branch of the family, Pitfoddels,
now also extinct in the male line, has left as a memorial the Catholic
College of Blairs in the Dee Valley, founded by the last representative
of the line.
This article was originally written by Dr. A. D. Dewar and is
reprinted with his permission.