A Charter for Menstrie

On this day in 1526, the lands of Menstrie in Clackmannanshire were granted by the Earl of Argyll to Andrew Alexander.[1] The superiority remained with Argyll, who had a tendency to change the details over the years, but the Alexander family retained Menstrie for more than a century, they built the ‘castle’ that stands to this day[2], and they are the family most associated with the estate.

The barony of Menstrie had been the possession of the Campbells of Argyll since at least 1322, but for much of that time the Argyll family had kept their local residence at Castle Campbell in nearby Dollar. Although the charter of 1526 is the earliest to survive, it appears that the Alexander family was holding at least part of Menstrie before that year. In a legal document of 1505, ‘Thomas Alexander de Menstray’ is one of seventeen men named as arbitrators in a quarrel between the Abbot of Cambuskenneth and Sir David Bruce of Clackmannan. The use of ‘de Menstray’ (of Menstrie) indicates that Thomas was the landholder, not simply a resident.

The Menstrie family reached its heights in the person of Andrew’s great-great-grandson, Sir William, who was born in Menstrie Castle about 1567. Sir William followed James VI to London in 1603 (when he succeeded to the English throne), tutored his sons, and remained in the court of Charles I. He eventually became the Earl of Stirling and is best remembered for having come up with, and partially funded, the scheme to establish a British colony at Nova Scotia. Unfortunately, the Nova Scotia colony failed when the land was given back to France and the venture left Sir William bankrupt. In 1639, the year before he died, William mortgaged the Menstrie properties to his brother-in-law, Robert Murray, who sold them in 1649 to Major-General James Holburne. Most of Sir William’s surviving children seem to have settled in Ulster.

Copyright (c) Lynn McAlister, 2012

[1]There are many unrelated Alexander families in Scotland, and most of them are not connected to the Macalisters. However, although the precise descent is unclear the claim of the Alexanders of Menstrie to descend from the Kintyre Clan Alasdair has been widely accepted for centuries. The earliest of the family on record in the Lowlands is Gilbert de Insula, who had a land grant in 1330 for lands in the parish of Campsie, Stirlingshire. It has been suggested, though without much evidence, that Gilbert was a son of Donald of Islay, and thus a grandson of Alasdair Mòr. Gilbert’s son John used the name MacAlexander. Whatever their descent, the Menstrie family maintained close relations with the leading Macalister families and were recognised by them as part of the clan.   
[2]Menstrie Castle is in fact a tower house rather than an actual castle. Built about 1560, it was burnt during the civil wars but rebuilt. It fell vacant in the late 1800s and by the 1950s was almost a ruin. In 1960, a campaign was started to raise funds towards its preservation, and by 1964 it had been fully restored. At that time it was divided into flats; today it holds a museum related to the Nova Scotia colony and offers holiday accomodation.

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