Motto: Je pense (I think)
The name Wemyss is now considered to be a corruption of the Gaelic word ‘Uamh’ meaning a cave. Below the ruins known as ‘MacDuff’s Castle on the coast of Fife, are caves containing Pictish drawings, and these caves in all probability gave rise to the local place name of Wemyss. First mention of the name Wemyss in early Scottish records concerns Michael de Menthkil who was variously called by that title or by that of de Wemys and who in the early years of the 13th century witnessed a charter by Thomas filius Thancardi in favour of the Abbey of Arbroath.
It later became the surname of a cadet branch of the Royal House of Duff, descendants of Gillemichael who was Earl of Fife, early in the 12th century. When the senior male lines failed, that of Wemyss became Chief of Scotland’s senior clan, although it never reverted to the patronymic of MacDuff. Sir Michael Wemyss along with his brother, Sir David, and also Scott of Balwearie were sent to Norway to bring back the infant Queen Margaret, the ‘Maid of Norway’, in 1290.
Sir Michael swore fealty to Edward I in 1296 but then changed his allegiance to Robert the Bruce. As a result, Wemyss Castle was sacked by the English. He also witnessed the Act of Settlement in 1315 of the Scottish Crown by Robert the Bruce. Michael’s son, Sir David Wemyss, was amongst those who appended their seals to the famous Declaration of Arbroath in 1320. Sir David was also one of the guarantors for the release of David II of Scotland from English imprisonment and his son was one of the hostages sent for the king’s ransom.
In 1513 Chief Sir David de Wemyss was killed leading the Clan at the Battle of Flodden. His grandson was Sir John Wemyss who fought under the Earl of Arran at the Battle of Pinkie Cleugh in 1547. John was a great supporter of Mary, Queen of Scots, and it was at the newly enlarged Wemyss Castle that she first met her future husband, Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley. Sir John also led his men at the Battle of Langside in 1568.
David Wemyss, 4th Earl of Wemyss was nominated as one of the trustees of the Treaty of Union, and in 1707 became Vice Admiral of Scotland. However, the 5th Earl’s son David Wemyss, Lord Elcho, joined the Jacobite leader and was present at Culloden. Having fled to Paris, the estates were forfeited to the second son Francis, who changed his surname to that of his mother, Charteris. It is from Francis that the present Earls of Wemyss and chiefs of Clan Charteris are descended.
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