As part of the Society's mission to provide public education about the history of the Fleming clan of Scotland we seek to scotch two enduring myths. Myth number 1 is that the clan's founder (Robert Fleming) was a descendant of Baldwin of Biggar. Myth number 2 is that the Fleming family is a sept of Clan Murray.
The myth about Baldwin of Biggar has a whiff of truth about it for two reasons. Firstly, on his arrival in Scotland in the mid-12th century he was initially referred to as Baldwin Flandrensis (Latin) or Baldwin le Fleming (French). Both of these epithets mean that he had Flemish ancestry and therefore it seems plausible that his descendants later adopted Fleming as their surname. In fact, King David I very soon granted him an estate at Biggar after which he was generally known as Baldwin of Biggar, not Baldwin le Fleming. His descendants, therefore, eventually adopted Biggar as their surname.
The second thing that gives this myth a whiff of truth is that Baldwin's estate at Biggar was later held by the chiefs of the Fleming clan. But this came about when his descendant Marjory, heiress to the Biggar estate, married Robert Fleming.
While Baldwin's estate at Biggar was subsequently owned by many chiefs of the Fleming clan, Baldwin was their maternal ancestor and therefore not the origin of the family’s surname.
This myth seems to have originated with vendors of clan merchandise, especially tartans.
A clan tartan can only be approved by a clan chief. While the first uniform tartan is believed to date to 1713 (with some evidence of militia use earlier), it was not until around the early 19th century that patterns were created for specific Scottish clans, with most of the traditional ones created between 1815 and 1850. Since the last chief of the Fleming clan had died in 1747, there has never been an opportunity to adopt a clan tartan. In these circumstances, modern tartan vendors have had no compunction in suggesting an alternative one to prospective clan Fleming buyers! Nevertheless, there is no evidence of any association between the Fleming clan and Clan Murray.
The Clan Fleming Scottish Society is keen to establish a Fleming tartan and has plans in place to do so, so watch this space!
(c) James Michael Fleming 2023