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 ...
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