Origins of the clan
Since the eighteenth century, Barclay historians, noted for their low level in medieval scholarship, have assumed the Scottish family Barclay (de Berchelai) is a branch of one of the two Anglo-Norman families of de Berkeley of Berkeley in Gloucestershire, without any evidence which would link the Scottish and English families.
A more plausible theory of the Barclay origin, put forth by the historian G. W. S. Barrow, points to the small village of Berkley in Somerset (in 1086 Berchelei). In 1086 the overlordship of Berkley belonged to Robert Arundel, whose main tenant was a Robert. Arundel’s manors included Cary Fitzpaine (in Charlton Mackerell), near Castle Cary. And Cary Fitzpaine seems to have been held by the tenant Robert as well. At the same time as Henry Lovel of Castle Cary first appears in Scotland, there appear the names of Godfrey de Arundel and Robert and Walter de Berkeley.
The main line of the Scottish Barclays has been represented by the Barclays of Mathers. The descendants of this line were noted in more modern times for producing field marshals, Quakers and bankers. Barrows also noted that Barclay historians fail to mention that this line had not been a Barclay in the male descent since the end of the twelfth century. Charters from the reign of William the Lion show that the king granted the Barclay estates of Laurencekirk and Fordoun to Humphrey son of Theobald, in right of his wife Agatha. Agatha, herself was a ‘de Berkley’ and her husband and children adopted her surname. A charter preserves Humphrey’s father’s surname as ‘de Adevil(l)e’.
The Barclay clan always maintained trade links with Scandinavia and the Baltic states through their coastal lands. In 1621, John and Peter Barclay, merchants of Banff, wished to settle in Rostock in Livonia. Sir Patrick Barclay, Baron of Towie signed a letter of safe conduct in their favour, a letter which remains in the hands of the Barclay descendants in Riga to this day. The brothers traded in silk and became burghers of the town. John Barclay had written “Norway is an abominable nation where many are notorious for their witch craft” in 1631. John Barclay was among many foreign officers who towards the end of the Thirty-year War (in which he seems to have participated), enlisted in Norwegian military service during the so-called Hannibal War, 1643 to 1645 between Denmark-Norway and Sweden. He was engaged as Captain on 9 September 1644. Although foreign officers were discharged after the war, Captain Barclay sought to maintain his military position. It is unknown whether his application was granted. John’s grandson, Stephen Barclay de Tolly, believed to have been born in Riga in 1677, also served as a Major in the service of Denmark-Norway.
During the seventeenth century another Sir George Barclay was second in command of King James of Scotland’s Highland forces and a major branch of the family was established at Urie, near Stonehaven in Kincardineshire. During the Thirty Years’ War the First Laird of Urie, David Barclay, was a major in the service of King Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden. He returned home when civil war broke out, attaining the rank of colonel in a regiment of horse, serving the king. Following his retirement in 1647 he purchased the Urie estate. He was charged with hostility to the government following the Restoration but was released after pressure from his friends. During his time in detention he was converted to the Religious Society of Friends by Laird Swinton, who was also imprisoned.
The Second Laird of Urie, Robert Barclay, also a Quaker, published an “Apologia“ in 1675 described as “Explanation and Vindication of the Principles and Doctrines of the People called Quakers“. It was originally written in Latin but was translated into English, Dutch, German, French and Spanish. Barclay’s Apologia was widely influential, although Quakers were persecuted at the time, and he even attained favour at the royal court. He was friends with well-known Quakers, George Fox and William Penn and together created the idea of a city of brotherly love in America, which became Philadelphia. In 1682 Robert was granted 5,000 acres (20 km˛) of land in East New Jersey by the proprietors of that state (then province) and bestowed upon him the title of governor, a title which he never took up.
Portrait of Barclay de Tolly from the Military Gallery of the Winter Palace, by George Dawe.
Robert’s second son, David Barclay, became a merchant with not inconsiderable wealth. Through his second wife, he acquired premises in Lombard Street which became the site of Barclays Bank. The strict Quaker principles remained in the family and when David obtained an estate in Jamaica he freed the slaves and taught them trades. He entertained King George III of the United Kingdom at his London home and was excused the requirement to kneel before their monarch due to their Quaker beliefs. He was offered a knighthood, which he refused, and the chance to advance his son at court. He also refused this, explaining that he preferred ‘to bring up his sons in honest trade’.
The direct descendant of the Livonian Barclays was Russian Field Marshall Prince Michael Andreas Barclay de Tolly, Count of the Holy Roman Empire, born in 1761. He was made Russian Minister of War in 1810, rising to Commander of the Russian Armies in 1812 fighting against Napoleon Bonaparte. Instead of pursuing a campaign of direct confrontation with the French, he chose a scorched earth policy which starved the French army as it passed through the country towards Moscow. The plan was a resounding success, leading to the French retreat from Moscow in 1812 and their ultimate defeat. The Russian nobility resented the appointment of a foreign commander-in-chief, but his ability was undeniable and the Tsar named him a prince in 1815. George III of the United Kingdom named him a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath. His portrait hangs in the Military Gallery in St Petersburg.
Ardrossan Castle and Balvaird Castle belong to the Barclays. Towie Barclay Castle was formerly owned by the Barclays.
Barclay tartan, as published in the Vestiarium Scoticum (1842).
Peter Barclay of Tollie Barclay and of that Ilk (b.1924).
Out of a chapeau azure turned ermine a hand holding a dagger, proper.
Aut agere aut mori (Latin): Either action or death.
The Barclay tartan was published in 1842 in the Vestiarium Scoticum. The Vestiarium, which has been proven to be a forgery, is the basis of many of todays clan tartans.
Dress Barclay Tartan: (yellow and black with white overcheck).
Ancient Hunting Tartan: (blue and green with red overcheck).
Septs and/or spelling variation of Barclay include: