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Leask


A considerable variety of opinions have been put forward regarding the origin of the name of LEASK.  One old Family Tree traces it down from the Norse God THOR through the Norse Sagas. In Norse it means 'a stirring fellow'.  Other authorities believe that it comes from the Gaelic, LASGAIR, meaning 'active' or 'brave'.  Professor Keith Leask of Aberdeen University noted the similarity to the name LISCUS, a Gallic Chief, mentioned by Julius Caesar, who opposed the Roman advance in Gaul. and later rose to a high rank in the Roman army. In France the Counts of Boulogne were the de LESQUES and owned the Castle of Boulogne which was one of the greatest castles in France. The famous LASKI family in Poland are also thought to be connected. In early times families were known by the name of the place they came from, hence the belief that the Leask name may have originated from their Aberdeenshire lands of Leask (Leskgoroune).

The earliest references, traced so far, to Leasks, appears in a document recording the name of William de Laskereske in 1296, which confirmed his recognition of Edward I, (on pain of forfiture of his lands).  In ancient documents the name is variously spelled LESK, LASK, LAYSK, LEISK, as well as LEASK, for in these days spelling often depended on how a name was pronounced.  At this time few people could read or write, and books were copied by hand, by Monks; it took a whole day to copy one page - for this was long before the time of Caxton and his Printing Press which saw for the first time, the mechanical printing of books both quickly and in large numbers.  

In 1341-46 a Charter of Confirmation of the Leask Lands of Leskgoroune was granted by David II, son of Robert the Bruce, to William Lesk, the first Chief of the Leasks in Aberdeenshire, to replace the earlier, lost, Charters.

The Chapel of Leask dates back to the earliest of times. It is thought that a Columban Oratory stood on this land about the end of the sixth century. The ruins of the present building, constructed about the thirteenth century, stand on the site of the ancient chapel.  

Despite having their own Chapel, it is recorded in the parish records of the Church at nearby Ellon, that the Leask Chief, his family, and retainers, were regular attenders at St Mary's Church. Thus in 1380 the parish records reveal that William de Laysk, the Elder, Lord of that Ilk, bequeathed "one stone of wax from the lands of Logy, together with twelve pence of silver in order that candles might be burned for ever, for himself and his wives, Alice de Rath and Mariota de Saint Michael, and for the salvation of his sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, on the Sabbath and other feast days, on their tomb".  

Over the years the Lands of Leask steadily expanded beyond the boundaries of Slains Parish, partly by inheritance, partly by exchange of lands, and by purchase. The estate included the Home Farm, Mains of Leask, Moss Leask, Byreleask. Knapsleask, Nether Leask, Milton of Leask, and Mill of Leask.

The first Leasks in Orkney and Shetland

The ORKNEY Leasks are descended from Jamis of Lask, younger son of Thomas de Lask of that Ilk, the Second Chief of the Leasks, who is Recorded at various times during 1388-1400 in the Scottish Public Records. Jamis of Lask emigrated to Orkney in 1446, and his Grandson Richard Lask was the progenitor of the Leasks in SHETLAND. His other Grandson, Boniface Lesk's descendants have been traced to Isabella Logie Leask of Orkney who married James Leask, b. 1802, of Westbank, KirkwalI,Orkney, and was the Gt.Grandfather of the present J.W.G.Leask of that Ilk.  

In 1286 the Fair Maid of Norway died in Orkney while on her way to take up her Inheritance as Heir to the Scottish Throne, and in consequence it was not until c. 1450 that the Orkney and Shetland Isles became part of Scotland when they were brought as her Dowry by Margaret of Denmark when she came to marry King James III of Scotland.

Leask History from the 15th Centuary to the present day

In 1513 the Line of Leask Chiefs suffered a double disaster when both William Lask of that Ilk, 5th Chief, and his son, Alexander Lask of that Ilk, Younger, dsp, were both killed at the Battle of Flodden; the latter's younger brother, William Lask, Burgess of Aberdeen, then became the 6th Leask Chief.  

In 1596 Walter Leisk of that Ilk, 8th Chief, was studying Theology at Marschall College, Aberdeen, as did his son William Leisk of that Ilk, 9th Chief. And in c.1660 the Rev Alexander Leisk of that Ilk was Minister at Turiff. He re-Recorded the Leask Arms in 1672, and was the 13th and last Leask Chief in Aberdeenshire, dying in 1730; his son, Gilbert Leask of that Ilk, Younger, having pre-deceased him in 1729. Alexander appears in the Poll Tax Returns for the Parish of Slains for 1696, but unhappily soon afterwards, in 1698, Alexander and his son Gilbert, granted a Bond over the Leask Estates to Robert Cumming, a cousin by marriage, in Security for a loan of 20,000 Merks for the second stage of the ill-fated Darien Scheme (which was later to become the route of the Panama Canal). It is interesting to note that the Darien Scheme's large black leather "war" chest is still on display in the Director's area of the Bank of Scotland (established 1695),The Mound, Edinburgh. When it became apparent that the Loan could not be repaid Robert Cumming took over, and moved into the Leask Mansion House c.1720.

Alexander's younger son, William (brother of Gilbert) now moved to Orkney where he had three sons - William Leask of Bigswall, b.cl715, from whom James W.G. Leask of that Ilk is descended, together with descendants in Canada, USA, Australia, New Zealand and elsewhere. The second son was John Leask of Aglath, b.c 1720, whose many descendants are in Australia, New Zealand and around the World. The third son was Willimn Leask of Papa Westray, whose well known Orkney descendants include Henry Leask, JP, of Swartland and Boardhouse, b.1809, who was a very extensive Family History Researcher; his son Dr John Leask, JP,b.1856, was for many years Director of Singapore General Hospital, and was also an enthusiastic producer of Family Trees, one of which measures some 4ft by 3ft,"Scripsit 1914-1942", and includes both the Leasks descent from the Aberdeenshire Leasks of that Ilk, and their direct descent from King Robert the Bruce, through his daughter, Marjorie Bruce. Dr John's son Kenneth Leask, was in 1915 an Army Lieutenant in Palestine, and the next day was in the newly formed A.F.C (Army Flying Corps) which at the end of that war became the RAF, in which he became an Air Vice Marshall.  

All these Orkney Leask descendants are related to James W.G.Leask of that Ilk, being at most 5th Generation Cousins, but many are much more closely related due to a habit, over the Generations, of Leasks marrying 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th Cousins. In 1948 Alexander Graham Leask Recorded his Personal Arms in the Lord Lyon's "Register of All Arms", and in 1968 he was recognised and Confirmed as the 21st Chief of the Leasks, 'to heal the break' in the Leask Chiefship, which had lain unclaimed and unused since the death of Alexander Leask of that Ilk, 13th and last Chief in Aberdeenshire, who died in 1730; his eldest son, Gilbert Leask, Younger of that Ilk, had predeceased him in 1729. The Lord Lyon in his Grant of Chiefship also recognised Alexander Graham Leask's son and heir, James W.G.Leask of that Ilk, Younger, and his heirs and descendants, as the Hereditary Line of Leask Chiefs. Mrs Anne Helgesen had meantime purchased the old ruins of the Leask Manor House which had been burned down in 1927: the Leask Estate had been broken up and sold to the various tenant farmers in 1921. Mrs Helgesen now became known as Mrs Anne Leask of Leask, and Alexander Graham Leask of that Ilk, 21st Chief, was persuaded for "certain good and onerous reasons" to make over the Liferent ONLY of the Chiefship to her. The Lord Lyon, with some considerable reluctance, agreed to the Liferent, and he recognised her as Madam Anne Leask of Leask, but at no time as "of that Ilk". She had undertaken to rebuild Leask House, at a 1968 cost of some 350.000, and leave it to J.W.G. Leask of that Ilk, Younger, for the benefit of his heirs and descendants, being the Hereditary Line of Leask Chiefs; and as the "hearth" of all those of the name of Leask; this was incorporated in the Grant of Liferent; unhappily this did not materialise, and she sold the property apart from the ancient Dovecot, or Doo-cot.  

On Madam Anne's death her Liferent of the Chiefship will cease ( as is the case with all Liferents), and the late Alexander Graham Leask of that Ilk, 21st Chief's heir will automatically become the next Hereditary Chief. This is currently his son, James W.G. Leask of that Ilk, whose son is Dr Jonathan G.Leask Younger of that Ilk, and his son is Oliver Graham Leask. Accordingly this provides continuity of the Hereditary Leask Chiefship for the next three generations.

Our thanks to James Leask for providing us with this information


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