Well maybe we did have a castle after all

This is a sort of retraction, but only a partial of retraction.

The whole Moncur Castle/Moncur placename thing has been gnawing away at me and I’ve been doing some more digging, and it turns out there was an aristocratic Moncur family in medieval Scotland who held land round about Inchture, but the line died out, and the land passed to the Kinnairds, who are probably the people who built the house known as Moncur castle, and which appears on one of the Pont maps of Renaissance Scotland as Montcurr castle.

So given the family died out, how did people end up with the Moncur surname?

There’s basically four ways this could have happened.

The most likely is that the name was adopted by one or more tenant farmers or other followers of the  Moncur lords – this would probably have happened sometime in the late fifteenth or early mid sixteenth century – ordinary people didn’t really do surnames in the Scots speaking areas before then (Surnames in the Gaelic speaking areas have a different history).

The implication of this is that not all Moncurs are related but that some of us at least were originally agricultural workers on lands held by the Moncur family. Given that there seems to be cluster in the eighteenth century of records, grave stones and so on in the Longforgan and Forfar areas that seems fairly tenable as an argument.

The other obvious suggestion is that the while the title to the Moncur lands may have expired, other quasi aristocratic Moncurs – the sons of younger sons etc, may have meant that the name lived on.

Given that some of the early Moncurs seem to have been ministers of religion or people of some education it’s possible that they had access to family wealth, however diminished, to fund their education, that seems a  plausible alternative.

The other two explanations are less likely. One is that the name has a Huguenot origin.

Having watched time and again the hotel clerks behind the reception desk in France take my passport, say Bonjour, Monsieur Montcour, and proceed to type my name that way, despite having my passport open in front of them, you can’t but believe in a French origin of the surname.

But Huguenot it is not.

Given that the Forfar area being known for linen waving from the eighteenth century onwards, and the well known Huguenot connection with the weaving industry, it at first might seem to be a tenable argument that the name was Huguenot in origin. (While the Spitalfields Huguenots in London were primarily silk weavers, there was a Huguenot community in Ireland associated with the linen industry, and some of them later moved to Scotland to work in the developing Scots linen industry.)

However, we can discount the suggestion of a Huguenot origin to the name. The various Huguenot societies maintain detailed lists of surnames they consider Huguenot in origin and their variants and Montcour/Moncoeur/Moncur is not on the list.

Incidentally, there is some evidence of an extended family of Huguenot weavers from Picardy being encouraged to settle in the Forfar area, but they had classic Huguenot names.

The fourth alternative is that the name is of Flemish origin – there was a fairly large Flemish settlement in the Dundee area in medieval times – and  despite the name sounding more Walloon than Flemish, it could be argued that the name came via Flemish settlement – except that recent research at St Andrews into the Flemish settlement does not identify the Moncur name as being associated with Flemish settlement.

So, the simplest answer is that one or more people living or working in the Moncur area adopted the name of the area as their surname when it became practical requirement.

Certainly the work I’ve done tracing my family line back seems to suggest a heritage of agricultural workers rather than that of the gentry.



About dgm

Former IT professional, previously a digital archiving and repository person, ex research psychologist, blogger, twitterer, and amateur classical medieval and nineteenth century historian ...
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Well maybe we did have a castle after all

  1. Paul Pieters says:


    My surname is Pieters, but that is because my great great grandmother was not married when so got her children. I am in my male line a direct descendant from Andrew Moncur from Scotland (DNA kinship research). I have tested my Y-chromosome, which is mostly found in Scotland, Ireland and Brittany (France) and also to a lesser degree in Norway. I found out Moncur (originally ‘de Moncur’) is most likely a variation of ‘de Monceaux’. A Guillaume de Monceaux came with William the Conqueror in 1066 from Normandy to England (Battle of Hastings). I find his name on several rolls and in the Domesday Book.

    There is a story of a de Moncur who came after the third Crusade with the brother of the king of Scotland to Scotland around 1200 and received Moncur castle and the surrounding lands. This makes sense when you know the Scottish king invited Normandy nobles from England to Scotland to make sure they were not invaded by them. You would not invade yourself was his idea.

    The beginning of the story is that Rollo invaded France with his Vikings and became in 911 the first duke of Normandy. His descendant William the Conqueror became king of England in 1066. Our forefather was with it. Around 1200 the de Moncurs were invited to Scotland. My Y-chromosome supports that story.

    Paul Pieters

  2. Roger says:

    Thanks for posting and I share your pain in researching the Moncur family. I am trying to find David Moncur, founder of Crail Golfing Society in 1786 but it is proving very tricky. I have found a Catherine Moncur marrying John Playfair of the well known Playfair family, and her father John. He had a farm in Coupar Grange, but records are not great, so I am unable to find if he had children. If by any chance you have researched this side of the family, I’d love to hear about it.
    With kind regards,
    Roger McStravick

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s