History, Heritage, Facts and Lore of Balfour

The Balfours have had a long and distinguished history in Fife, the name is believed to bederived from the lands of Balfour, in the parish of Markinch, formerly belonging to a family which were long heritable sheriffs of Fife. Balfour castle was built upon their ancient possessions, in the vale or strath of the Orr, a tributary of the Leven, near their confluence. Bal-orr is the original name, and is used more often by the older manuscript writers, and is variously stated to be from the Gaelic Bal foidh or, the town at the foot of the Or (the dh in foidh is silent) or Baile Fuar, the cold place/town, (which could refer to any number of places in Fife) Many forms of the name are found in mediaeval manuscripts in Scotland and examples of such are Balfure/Balfor/Balfour.    Many illustrious descendants with the surname of Balfour have been ennobled and three peerages, namely, the baronies of Burleigh and Kilwinning in Scotland, and of Balfour of Clonawley in Ireland. At the beginning of the eighteenth century, there were a greater number of heritors in Fife named Balfour than of any other surname. A glance at the fife telephone directory shows only 15 people with the name Balfour.

The family of Balfour, contains no less than thirteen landed proprietors in that county of the name, viz., the Balfours of Burleigh, of Fernie, of Dunbog, of Denmylne, of Grange, of Forret, of Randerston, of Radernie, of Northhank, of Balbirnie, of Halbeath, of Lawlethan, and of Banktown. (Hist, of Fife, App. No. 11.) Torry and Boghall, Kinloch are also landed properties of the Balfours. In his Memoria Balfouriana, Sibbald says the family of Balfour is divided into several branches, of which those of Balgarvie, Mountwhanney, Denmylne, Ballovy, Carriston, and Kirkton are the principal.


Siward or Siwarth came north from northumbria in the reign of Duncan I, An t-Ilgarach, “the Diseased” (Donnchadh mac Crìonain), Duncan was son of Crínán, hereditary lay abbot of Dunkeld, and Bethóc, daughter of king Malcolm II of Scotland (Máel Coluim mac Cináeda). He became king after his grandfather’s death on 25 November 1034. Fordun claimed, that Duncan married the sister, daughter or cousin of Sigurd Björnsson, also known as Siward the DaneEarl of Northumbria. Duncan died on the 14th August 1040, in a battle with Macbeth. Even at this early time, relations between the Scottish nobility and the Anglo/Saxon/Danes showed an influx of Anglo/Saxon/Danes into the north and Siward or Siwarthprobably came north in the train of his countrywoman who married Duncan. The similarity in the names perhaps shows a close relation to Siward the DaneEarl of Northumbria, and might explain Siwarth’s importance. Little or nothing is known what became of Siwarth, after the fall of Duncan and during the 17 years of MacBeth’s reign, but MacDuff and Duncan’s son Malcolm were helped by Siward the Dane, the Earl of Northumbria, to over throw Macbeth. It is likely that Siwarth and possibly his son were involved in helping MacDuff and Malcolm.

Little is known of Siward’s or Siwarths son, Osulf, (Aswulph) who lived in the time of Malcolm Canmore.

Osulf’s son Siward or Siwarth II was given, by King Edgar, the valley of Orr, that is, Strathor and Maev, (the Isle of May) in 1097″cui dat Edgar rex vallem de Or at Maey pro capite Ottar Dani”, And means that King Edgar of Scotland gives to Siwarth, the Or valley and the Isle of May in return for the head of Ottar, the Dane. It is probable that Ottar was one of the Scandinavians who supported Donald Bane (Malcolm Canmore’s Brother) against his nephew King Edgar. Edgar Blinded his uncle eyes and left him to rot in prison. Nice. The Isle of May was in the possession of the Balfours of Monquhanny for many generations and its position guarding the entrance of the Firth of Forth probably suggested the family motto “Fordward” (in Saxon “Forthward”).  The otter’s head has ever since appeared in the Arms of all Siwarth’s legitimate descendants. The original coat of arms, was almost certainly adopted by Siwarth II.

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