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The Great Historic Families of Scotland
A History of the Barony of Cowdenknowes

Est. 1634

The Anglo-Scottish border runs from Berwick-on-Tweed in the east to the Solway Firth. Until the eighteenth century this was an area of virtually continuous strife which only began to decline in the seventeenth century with the Union of the Crowns in 1603. By the sixteenth century the border was divided into six administrative districts, three on the Scottish side and three on the English side. Each district of March, as it was known, was administered by a Warden whose function was to defend the border during wartime and to maintain law and order during peacetime. The latter function required cross-border cooperation with the Warden there to counter the Reivers who raided across the border and violated the peace treaties. Cowdenknowes seems to have been just within the Scottish East March.

The Homes (pronounced and sometimes spelled as Humes) of Cowdenknowes in Lauderdale were descended from the first Lord Home and were one of the greater Borders laird families. Mungo Home, heir of his father John Home of Ersiltoun, Whitrig and Crailing, had Sasine of Ersiltoun, Brotherstanes and Whitrig.  In 1493, and in 1494, he also had Smailholm. On 4 March 1506 he had a charter from King James IV of the lands and barony of Ersiltoune with the dominical lands called ‘Coldaneknollis’ with fortalice and manor thereon, which the king added to the barony of Ersiltoune. In 1507, he married Elizabeth Stewart, illegitimate daughter of the Earl of Buchan. Their eldest son was John.  Later, as Sir John Home of Cowdenknowes, he became embroiled in the feud between the Kerrs and the Scotts. This feud arose when James V, attempting to escape from the supervision of the Earl of Angus, enlisted the Scotts of Buccleuch. They, with 600 men from Liddesdale and Annandale, attacked the royal train near Melrose.  Their attempt to liberate the king failed and Kerr of Cessford was killed during the attack.  Twenty-six years later, in 1552, the Kerrs had their revenge when a group of Kerr supporters waylaid Scott of Buccleuch in the High Street of Edinburgh.  He was then killed by Sir John Home of Cowdenknowes.

Sir John was succeeded by his eldest son, Sir James Home of Synlawis, who by 1573 was Warden of the East March with title ‘of Cowdenknowis’. In 1580 he was appointed a Gentleman of the Bedchamber to James VI. During the Earl of Arran’s regime, Sir James was imprisoned in Blackness Castle and ordered to give up the house and fortalice of Cowdenknowes. On Arran’s fall, Sir James became Captain of Edinburgh Castle. Sir James died in 1595.  During his lifetime he had filled a number of prominent positions such as Warden of the East March, Baillie of the Earldom of the March, and Privy Councillor.

Sir James was succeeded by Sir John his eldest son, who inherited the Barony of Ersiltoune. In May 1595 Sir John was serviced as heir to the lands of Finlaw and others.  Later, in 1602, the lands at Smailholm were added. Sir John was one of the commissioners appointed to discuss the proposed union of Scotland and England.

During the first part of the 17th century the Homes incurred financial difficulties. Parts of the lands of Cowdenknowes were mortgaged, foreclosed and sold off to several different families including Jacob Livingstoun of Biell, and Scott of Harden. The lands of Cowdenknowes had always been part of the Barony of Ercildone, which through many different spellings,  eventually became Earlston.  On January 15th, 1634, Cowdenknowes was erected into a separate Barony from Earlston in favour of Jacob Livingstoun of Beill and Skirling.

The following is an excerpt from the Royal Charter which reads as follows;

"All and Whole the lands and Barony of Coldinknowis comprehending therein all and sundry the lands Barony mills woods fishings and others particularly and respectively underwritten with their pertinents viz; all and whole the lands and mains of Coldinknowis with the tower fortalice manor place houses biggings yards orchards dovecots mills woods fishings annexis connexis parts penicles and whole pertinents thereof whatsoever". 

(**This is an excerpt from the original Royal Charter and is to be Taken for it's Historical value only, many of the contents mentioned, including the House and Tower, are now privately owned  and are detached from the Barony as it is today**)

James (Jacob) Livingston of Beill and Skirling (Baron of Beill) was a groom of the Royal Bedchamber to King Charles I and one time Keeper of the Privy Purse.  He was the fifth son of Sir John Livingston, himself third son of Henry Livingston of Falkirk.  He was uncle to the first Earl of Newburgh.  He married in 1632 Anne, daughter and eventual heiress of John Nasmith of Coldinknowis, surgeon to the King. They had no issue. At that time the Barony came into the possession of Thomas Hamilton, 1st Earl of Haddington, son of Thomas Hamilton of Priestfield.

Thomas Hamilton was born in 1563 and educated in Edinburgh and Paris. By 1587 he was an Advocate and by 1592 an ordinary Lord of Session.  In 1593 he became a Privy Councillor and Lord Advocate in 1596.  In 1602 he became Parliamentary Commissioner concerned with the Union of the Crowns. He became Lord Binning in 1613, Earl of Melrose, Lord Byres and Binning in 1619, and the Earl of Haddington in 1627. Among the various properties that he acquired was Cowdenknowes.

Thus by the mid 1630s certain land in Berwickshire had come into the possession of the Hamilton family, Earls of Haddington. On 30 June 1637, Thomas, 3rd Earl of Haddington, was serviced as heir to his father Thomas, 2nd Earl of Haddington. During the Second Bishop’s war of 1640-1641, despite the Earl’s connections with the Royalist Earl of Huntly, he was appointed a Major General of the Covenanting Army in command of a brigade watching the English garrison at Berwick. On 29 August 1640, a skirmish occurred between the two forces and the English raiding party returned to Berwick, the Earl and his officers to Dunglass Castle where they were killed by an explosion caused when the powder magazine was ignited by the enemy. Upon his death his lands and titles fell to his brother John, the 4th Earl of Haddington. John was a Royalist and present at the Coronation of Charles II at Scone. His eldest son Charles became the 5th Earl in 1669. In 1685 on his death the Earldom fell to Charles’s second son Thomas. Thomas, the 6th Earl of Haddington was loyal to the Hanoverian government during the Jacobite Rebellion of 1715 and fought on the government side at Sheriffmuir. Later he was made a Knight of the Thistle and served as Sheriff of Stirlingshire prior to his death in 1735. Thomas had several children including Charles, Lord Binning, who for his active support of George I in 1715 became Knight Marshall of Scotland in 1718. In 1717 Lord Binning married Rachel the younger daughter of George Baillie of Jerviswood, the proprietor of Mellarstain, one of the Great Houses of Scotland. Charles, Lord Binning died in Naples in 1732. His heir was his son known as George Baillie of Jerviswood, and he was succeeded by his son also George Baillie of Jerviswood. His eldest son George, an Advocate, became the 10th Earl of Haddington. He was prominent in Scottish legal and political circles becoming the Sheriff of Stirling, then Lord Advocate, a Member of Parliament, and finally Lord Jerviswood, before his death in 1879. The Barony of Cowdenknowes remained with the Baillie-Hamilton Family until the Rt Hon John George Baillie-Hamilton, the 13th Earl of Haddington, passed possession to the present owners family.

The Barony today, is in the possession of the Harden family. The first Harden to hold the title was Barry George Harden (Recognized by Letters Patent from the Lord Lyon, King of Arms). Barry was born 1945 to William Harden, of Gillingham, Kent, a Decorated longtime member of the Royal West Kent Regiment. In August of 2006, The Barony was passed down to the current and 16th Baron, Mark Harden of Cowdenknowes.

Additional information

"Cowdenknowes" (pronounced "Cow - den - now's" ) was originally "Coldenknollis". It was then corrupted into "Coldunknowes". This was eventually corrupted again into "Cowdenknows" and then "Cowdenknowes" (which was immortalized in the old Scottish Folk song "The Broome o' the Cowdenknowes") and more recently into the modern English of "Coldingknowes".

In Scotland, "Cowden" stands for colltuinn, which is Gaelic for "Hazel". The word knowes means hilltop. Thus the place name may well indicate the "Hazel knolls" or the more modern "Hazel Hill".

Here is an except from the "Scottish place name Society", GENERAL SURVEY OF LOTHIAN [139], Original pagination [pp] from W.J. Watson, History of the Celtic Placenames of Scotland, 1926 (reprinted 1993 by BIRLINN, Edinburgh, ISBN 1 874744 06 8).

"Cowdenknowes is Coldenknollis, 1559 (Lib. Melr.); Coldunknowes and Coldin- in Blaeu ; here 'Cowden' stands for colltuinn, calltuinn, hazel, as it usually does in Scots; the name is a hybrid, meaning 'hazel knolls".

Here are some examples of the different spellings recorded as follows;
Document/Record & Date

Spelling on Record

Crown Charter of Erection, 15th January 1634 (See below)  


Crown Charter of Confirmation, 16th December 1872


County of Berwick, Search Sheet No.101 


Extract Decree of Special Service recorded, 15th March 1872


Register of the Great Seal of Scotland
15th January 1634


28th June 1634


7th November 1634


1st July 1646 


16th July 1649 


General Register of Sasines
Disposition, 15th November 2003 COLDINGKNOWES & COWDENKNOWS
General Register of Sasines, County of Roxburgh, 2nd December 2003 & 6th February 2004 COLDINGKNOWES & COWDENKNOWS
General Register of Sasines, County of Berwick, 6th February 2004 COLDINGKNOWES & COWDENKNOWS

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