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The Scottish Nation

BELSCHES, a surname of considerable antiquity in the south of Scotland, the first of the name north of the Tweed having, at an early period, possessed the estate of Belsches in Roxburghshire. Those of this name deduce their origin from the family of Ralph de Belasyse of Belasyse, in the county of Durham, whose daughter and heiress, Elgive, married Rowland, ancestor of the earl of Fanconberg, son and heir of Belusius, a Norman baron who came to England with William the Conqueror. The surname was variously written at different periods, Belasis, Belases, Belshes, Belshaes, and latterly Belsches.

John, born about 1580, the elder of two sons of Belsches of Belsches, was the progenitor of the family of Belsches of Tofts, Berwickshire, In 1606, this John Belsches was admitted advocate, and, two years afterwards, he married Janet, third daughter of the celebrated Sir Thomas Craig of Riccarton, lord-advocate. In 1615, he acquired right to the lands and barony of Stitchel and others from Sir Robert Gordon of Lochinvar; and in 1621, he purchased the lands of Over and Nether Tofts, and others, erected into a free barony in his favour, May 25, 1625. He married a second time, a lady of the name of Marjory Kae, by whom he had one son, John, and died in September 1631.

His son, Sir Alexander Belsches, advocate, represented the county of Berwick, in the parliament of 1644, and succeeding parliaments of Charles I. and II. He was knighted by Charles I., and appointed a lord of session, 2d July, 1646, when he assumed the title of Lord Tofts. A pension of nearly £200 sterling per annum was granted to him by that unfortunate monarch, under his sign manual, dated at Carisbrook Castle, 27th December 1648. By the committee of the Estates of the kingdom, he was nominated principal sheriff of Berwickshire, 28th September 1650. He was a member of the most important committees of parliament at that stormy period, either as Sir Alexander Belsches or Lord Tofts, and in 1651 was again nominated one of the committee of Estates, as also of the committee for managing the affairs of the army, in the formation of which he voted against the party of the duke of Hamilton, or “Engagers.” He was greatly in the confidence of the earl of Loudoun, lord-chancellor, and had the misfortune to engage himself deeply as surety for that nobleman. He married Jean, daughter of Mr. John Skene of Hallyards, one of the clerks of session, and died, without issue, in 1656. He was succeeded by his brother, John Belsches of Tofts, who, on account of Sir Alexander’s engagements, was obliged to sell part of his estates, and, among others, the greater part of Tofts. Sir Alexander’s heirs had a claim of relief, which became the subject of a long litigation, and ended in a compromise, nearly ruinous to the family. The portion of Tofts which was sold was purchased by Sir William Purves, baronet, in 1673, and by him called Purves’ Hall.

John Belsches of Tofts married Ann, daughter of Sir David Aiton of Balquhumrie, advocate, a younger son of the ancient family of Aiton of that ilk, and had three sons; John, who succeeded his father; Alexander, the first of the family of Invermay; and William, who died without issue, in Jamaica; and two daughters, Ann, Mrs. Nisbet of Eastbank, her husband being a younger son of Sir Patrick Nisbet of Dean; and Mary, who died unmarried. He died in March 1693.

John Belsches of Tofts, the eldest son, married Jane Swinton, daughter of Lord Mersington, a lord of session, and had by her three sons; 1. Charles; 2. James, who died without issue; 3. William; and two daughters, Ann and Helen, the latter married to Thomas Belsches of Greenyards, without issue. He conveyed his estate to his eldest son, Charles Belsches of Tofts, who dissipated nearly the whole that remained of the family property, and, dying without issue, was succeeded by his youngest brother, William. The latter made a fortune in India, where he had gone when very young, and on his return to Scotland in 1752 he married his cousin, Emilia Stuart Belsches, afterwards mentioned.


The family of Invermay are descended directly from Alexander, second son of John Belsches of Tofts and Ann Aiton. He acquired the beautiful estate of Invermay, Perthshire, celebrated for its “Birks” or birches, and married Amelia, daughter of Sir Thomas Murray of Glendoich, lord-clerk-register of Scotland, and heiress of Patrick Hepburn of Blackcastle, parson of Oldhamstocks, and had by her three sons; 1. John; 2. Thomas, who married Margaret Hepburn of Bands, by whom he had two sons, Alexander and Robert. He married a second time, Helen Belsches; 3. Alexander, and two daughters, Babie and Amelia.

John Belsches of Invermay, the eldest son, married, first, Mary, second daughter of Daniel Stuart, merchant in Edinburgh, the direct ancestor of the Stuarts of Fettercairn. He had several children, who all died young, except one daughter. He married a second time, Margaret, daughter of Sir William Stuart of Castlemilk, baronet. The daughter, Emilia Stuart Belsches, in 1752, as above stated, married her cousin, William Belsches of Tofts, the only surviving son and heir of John Belsches of Tofts. Her husband died 21st October 1753, aged 36. She survived him till 1807, without marrying again. They had one son, John Belsches, advocate, who, on the death, at Paris, in 1777, of his granduncle, Sir William Stuart, succeeded to his baronetage, as his lineal male heir, and the representative and heir of line and provision of his great-grandfather, Daniel Stuart, brother german of Sir William Stuart of Castlemilk, the 19th generation, in a direct male line, from Walter, son of Alan, high steward of Scotland in 1164. Having purchased the estate of Fettercairn, and being the lineal representative of the ancient family of Wishart of Pittarrow, he was designed Sir John Wishart Belsches, baronet, of Fettercairn, till 1797, when he assumed the surname of Stuart only, by license under the royal sign manual. Sir John Stuart was, in 1807, appointed one of the barons of exchequer in Scotland. He married Lady Jane Leslie, eldest daughter of David, earl of Leven and Melville, and had an only child, Williamina, married, in 1797, to William Forbes, Esq., subsequently Sir William Forbes of Pitsligo, baronet, and had, with other children, Sir John Stuart Forbes, eighth baronet of Pitsligo and Fettercairn.

John Belsches of Invermay, by his second wife, left one son, who married Mary, daughter and heiress of Sir Patrick Hepburn Murray of Balmanna Castle, Perthshire, baronet, and assumed the names of Hepburn Murray in addition to Belsches. He left two sons, Alexander Hepburn Murray Belsches of Invermay and Balmanna Castle, appointed, in 1819, a deputy-lieutenant of Perthshire; and John Murray Belsches, a major-general in the army (1855). He served in the peninsula, and has the war medal with 4 clasps.

In Invermay House there are, among other paintings, a series of large family pictures and exquisite miniatures, likenesses of the Murrays and Hepburns, ancestors of the Belsches of Invermay. The family also preserve, with great care, a splendid jug, encased in gold and silver filigree work, presented by Queen Mary to Adam Hepburn, parson of Oldhamstocks, who married her to the earl of Bothwell.

Alexander Hepburn, of the family to which that of Hepburn-Murray-Belsches belongs, was, on October 10, 1634, elected one of the regents or professors in the university of Edinburgh, as we learn from the list of the principals and professors, from its foundation to the year 1700, in the register of the town council of that city.

The surname of Belcher in England, from a similarity in the arms, is supposed to be the same as that of Belsches. According to Mr. Mark Antony Lower, the former is derived from the old French words Bel chers, ‘good company.’ Thus Chaucer says,

“For cosynage and eek for bele cheer.”

The same authority states that Bellasis, the original of Belsches, is only Belle assez in French, meaning ‘handsome enough.’

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