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Clan Wood

The erroneous notion that clans are Highland groups and families are Lowland units is very much a 19th century one. In fact, the terms are interchangeable, and many a Lowland laird has held from the Lyon Court the style of ‘Chief of the Name and Arms’. This is true of the Woods.

The name has two likely origins: the assumed dweller in or near woodland; the other evolving from Wod, the savage Germanic god of storms and warfare (also known as Wotan and Woden, from whom we get Wednesday). The name Wod no doubt came to be attached to individuals regarded as wild or crazy: i.e., men who became frenzied in the midst of battle – surely a reputation to wish for in those unstable centuries of continual inter-tribal feuding, which explains the numerousness of the name today. (There are comparable examples of names with popular warlike origin, such as Smith = Smiter.)

All the prominent Wood families of Eastern Scotland spelt their name as Wod well into the 17th century, which suggests that they were of long-established Northumbrian stock left behind when the once mighty Anglian kingdom of Northumbria, weakened by Viking incursions along its coast, lost all its territories north of the River Tweed to what would, in time, become the Kingdom of Scotland. (There is a 12th century charter sealed in Inverness on behalf of the King of Scots by one Wilhelmus de Bosco , which has been misconstrued as evidence that he was Norman French when, in fact, Anglo-Norman was the language used at the time in most administrative and legal documents, including the translated names of those mentioned therein. He would have been known to his contemporaries as William Wod in the local vernacular.)

Which of the several, possibly related Wood families headed by an armiger (a holder of heraldic Arms) was actually the earliest chiefly family is not presently known. Those bloody religious and dynastic upheavals and English invasions that racked Scotland for hundreds of years have played their part in the loss or destruction of precious archives and works of art kept by many a noble family, not to mention national records of Scottish Arms and Bearings and even proceedings of the councils of state. What is clear, however, is that the House of Wood of Largo founded in the 15th century by the renowned seaman, Admiral Sir Andrew Wood – “Scotland’s Nelson”, holds that honour, along with the Achievement of Arms possessing Supporters – two sailors holding the Shield upright - that indicate the high status of the representer’s hereditary chiefship. The Chief’s Latin motto is “Tutus in Undis” – Safe amid the Waves.

Admiral Sir Andrew Wood of Largo, Fife, (circa 1455-1515) was famous for inflicting many defeats on foreign pirates and privateers as well as well as on squadrons of ships sent by the English government to harass the Scots during the reigns of Kings James III and IV. After he successfully defended Dumbarton against a seaborne incursion by Edward IV of England in 1481, James III granted him the lands of Largo erected into a feudal barony and bestowed a knighthood on him. During the 1488 land Battle of Sauchieburn near Stirling, at which James III was slain, the Admiral commanded a flotilla of diverse vessels patrolling the River Forth rescuing the fleeing and wounded and carrying them to safety on the north shore. He and his gallant crews repelled or destroyed several more English fleets ordered specifically to put him out of action.

After the untimely death of James IV at the Battle of Flodden, Sir Andrew was sent to France to invite the Duke of Albany to accept the Regency of Scotland for the infant James V. Admiral Sir Andrew Wood was widely regarded as the greatest mariner of his time, and the most feared by Scotland’s enemies.

His son, another Sir Andrew, was one of a handful of the king’s friends at his bedside when James V died at Falkland ‘of fever and shame’, aged 30, following the politically disastrous 1542 defeat at Solway Moss of a Scottish army hugely superior in numbers but poorly led by nobles squabbling among themselves, most of whom were taken hostage by King Henry VIII’s commanders.

Successors of the Admiral built a hospital and a school in Fife for their kinsmen named Wood, and were prominent in Scottish history both politically and militarily. They continued to be influential in British politics, and were foremost among the thousands of Scots who contributed enormously to the economic and armed expansion of the British Empire well into the 19th century.

The Clan’s Chief today is Timothy Fawcett Wood, Representer of the Ancient Family of Wood of Largo and Chief of the Name and Arms.

March 2011

For further information about Wood families of Scotland, go to www.clan-wood.org.uk



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