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Trail / Traill Family

Thanks to Elsie Ritchie for this information

The Traills of Fife (a very clerical family) and their cadet families

 The Traills of Fife (a very clerical family) and their cadet families

The Traill family whose surname is variously spelt Traile, Treyl, Trail, or Traill has a tradition that those members of the family who left Fife permanently should always add the second L. Thus we have the Orkney family branch always spelling it with the double L. and most of the branches that have migrated adhering to the family rule, except the descendants of David Trail who migrated to Maryland in the 17th century.

This family has a long tradition of involvement in Church administration. They are said to be of Viking descent, at first settling in Brittany, but sometime after conversion to Christianity in the 5th century and probably as late as the 11th century, their difficulties with the French became too much and they moved to Scotland in the time of Malcolm Canmore and his Queen Margaret.

At the time of the death of William Rufus King of England a Walter Treyl was involved in the killing, although he swore till the day of his death 15 years later, that he had not shot the arrow.

In the reign of William’s brother, Henry the second of England we have Traills mentioned twice. Henry’s wife was a princess of Scotland, so finding a Traill (from French possessions belonging to David the first the Queens brother) married to an English girl is not too big a surprise. This couple had 3 sons and also a grandson Walter de Traill who is recorded in 1212. It seems very likely that this family, which fits the family tradition of their origin, are the original Traills.

In Scotland the Trails are as far back as is known, based at Blebo in Fife with a cadet branch moving to the Orkney isles in the late 16th century. It would be impossible to believe that they came out of nowhere ready to be church administrators in the 14th century to such eminent families as the Stewarts, the Bruces, the Lindsays and the Flemings, without some backgound which both gave them an education and credibility with their neighbours. All these families rose to prominence under the rule of David I after his return to Scotland from his long involvement with his niece the Empress Mathilda’s fight for the English crown in the mid 12th century.

The only mention of a person thought to be a Traill for the 13th century is in the St. Andrews area at Blebo

In the charters of Scotland, folio 342, there is a charter Adames filius Octonis Domino. Priori et Conventui Sancti Andrew. The date is not mentioned but among the witnesses are David, Episcopus Santi Andrew, Inez, Dominus M. comes de Fife, Joannes of Blebok. David must refer to David Benham camerarius regis, 1238-57 and the Comes de Fife can only be Malcolm the 8th Earl who was Earl from 1229 to 1266, which fixes this charter between 1238 and 1257. Whether Joannus de Blebok was an ancestor of the Trails of the 14th century cannot be determined though highly probable, and he would be the likely ancestor of the Trails, referred to in the next extract.

Our next record of a Traill is in Galloway in the reign of Robert the Bruce’s son David II. This is of Prior David Trail of the Cistercians. The Cistercians were an order that benefited many of the areas they lived in by their agricultural labours. In addition this well organised order is believed to have been a pattern for many of the military orders, including the Knights Templar.

Charter record

15/5/1359 Charter of King David the Second, confirming a charter by which Devorgilla, daughter of the late Alan of Galloway [and great, great granddaughter of David I], in her widowhood, grants and confirms to God and the Church of St Mary of Sweetheart [a Cistercian Abbey in Kirkcudbrightshire], and the monks there of the Cistercian Order of the Convent of Dundrennan [in Kirkcudbrightshire]..... her whole land of Louqrindelow and of Kirkpatrick Dorand [Durham], namely the land of Louqrindelow.... Witnesses....David, Prior 'de insula' (Trail).

By the late 14th century 4 more Trails were church administrators as far as can be ascertained,. These were

Alexander Trail: - Bachelor of Laws, clerk of Aberdeen Diocese in 1380, Canon of Aberdeen, Canon of Moray, rector of Kilmany; in 1381 Doctor of both Laws and rector of Kinkell, and by 1390 Licentate in Civil Law and rector of Monymusk, diocese of St. Andrews. Rector at Monfech, diocese of Aberdeen 1392, (Ref. Papal Letters to Scotland, Letters of Clement VII edited by Charles Burns).

Laurence Trail:-  Priest of St Andrews diocese in 1379 takes position at the perpetual vicarage of Monyfech vacated by Walter Trail. In 1392 he swaps this parish with Alexander Trail’s parish of Monymusk in the diocese of St, Andrews, (Ref. Papal Letters to Scotland, Letters of Clement VII edited by Charles Burns.

Thomas Trail:- born 1362, Licentate in Arts studying in Paris 1383, obtained his M.A. circa 1385, was appointed to the church of Fetchrressach, St Andrews,(vacated by the resignation of Walter Trail) appointed a Canon of Moray,  then became a Canon of Aberdeen in 1391. In 1391 it was recorded that he was studying theology. (Ref. Papal Letters to Scotland, Letters of Clement VII  edited by Charles Burns).

We do not know much of Father Lawrence Trayle of Aberdeen, who was appointed to a parish,  or Canon Thomas of Moray but one description of Thomas calls him a merchant of Glasgow and Aberdeen. He is first referred to in 1378, when he is appointed to a position at Aberdeen.

In any case Pope Clement VII thought highly enough of him to award him an income

"17th Nov. 1378 - To the Chancellor of Paris. Mandate to provide Thomas Trayl [Traill], clerk of Aberdeen diocese, to a canonry of Moray with expectation of a prebend" In case you didn't know, a prebend was a share of the revenues of a cathedral. Our next information is when he resigns from the Church position in 1426.

[Extract from Scottish Supplications to Rome 1423-1428: Scottish Historical Society 1956]

Thomas Trail Treasurer of Glasgow from 26 September 1424 to 1430.

Took occupation of position 26 Sept.1424 resigned in favour of Robert de Moffat by papal authority 1st Feb. 1430      

Treasurer of Glasgow, canon of Aberdeen and preband of Clat, for certain causes proposes freely to resign the canonry and prebend of Clat: 17/6/1426. Clat probably refers to Clatt, a village and parish in the western end of the Garioch district of Aberdeenshire. By 1426 Thomas would have been in his 65th year and entitled one would think to retire from some of his duties.

Walter Trail:-  1365 In the 'Calendar of Petitions to the Pope,' 1342--1419 he is referred to in 1365 as Walter Trayle of the diocese of Aberdeen, holding a benefice in the gift of the abbot and monastery of Aberbrothoc.  Canon of the diocese of Aberdeen, Licentiate in Both Laws(1378) Paris,  Master of Arts, Doctor of both Laws 1379, (Civil and Canon), University of Paris; recorded as a Canon of Aberdeen in 1378.  In 1379 he was recorded as an official of Glasgow, Canon of Ross, Canon and Treasurer of Glasgow without responsibilty( to which he had been appointed by Gregory XI prior to 1378), Dean of Moray, judge of the papal palace, rector of Fetteresso, and vicar of Monifeith, appointed Bishop of St. Andrews 29th November 1385. (Ref. Papal Letters to Scotland, Letters of Clement VII  edited by Charles Burns). Clements interest in Scotland was personal as a relative of both the Scots and French royal families.


The strong Traill tradition that  Bishop Walter Trail, also had an elder  brother James who lived at Blebo in Fife has very little either for or against as far as primary evidence goes, but there is circumstantial evidence, that Walter himself had grown up at Blebo. In Sibbald's Fife and Kinross, Bishop Trail is said to be a son of the House of Blebo; and   in Keith's Catalogue of Scottish Bishops a similar statement is made.  At Blebo is an ancient fortified tower dating back to the mid 14th century known as Bishops Walter’s tower.

We were unfortunate when St Andrews was destroyed in the 16th century as writings by Bishop Walter were reputed to be among those things destroyed, or we may have known more of his early life. At any rate we know  from the Papal letters of Clement VII that there was a solid little group of Trayles in administrative Church positions in Scotland. A Canon a Parish Vicar and Walter himself. Whatever the family background it held a respect for education and religion. It seem obvious too that Walter must have formed one of those pupils whom St Andrews felt were worthy of being sent to the University in Paris. It is certain he, Thomas and Alexander went there

Because of Walter's position in the Church, there is a comparative wealth of information  about his career, not only from the Papal Letters of his patron Pope Clement VII of Avignon, which are of course contemporary.:-

In the Papal Letters of Clement VII the first entry naming Master Walter Trayl, D.U.J.  graduate from Paris in both Civil and Canon law is dated 18th January 1379; it directs the official of Aberdeen to move Lawrence Trayl, priest of st Andrews diocese to perpetual vicarage of the parish church of Monyfech, Aberdeen vacant by the free resignation of Walter Trayl treasurer of Glasgow. On 11  July 1381 Walters position was papal chaplain and judge of the papal palace at Avignon. He had spent several years at Avignon as referendarius from Scotland at the court of Clement VII, and was there in 1385 when the see of St. Andrews fell vacant. He was appointed Bishop Elect of St. Andrews 29 November 1385 vacant by the death of Bishop William and his qualifications were listed. He was appointed to the bishopric by the pope, who said that 'he was more worthy to be a pope than a bishop, and that the place was better provided for than the person.' The Treasurer of Glasgow position had been already given to Thomas Trayl Canon at Moray Aberdeen in 1378 as well and Thomas didn't resign from the position till 1426, so evidently they shared the income which was probably considerable.

In 1390 he assisted at the funeral of Robert II at Scone and crowned Robert III, under whose feeble' reign he exercised a great influence on the affairs of the country. In the following year he was sent as ambassador to France to effect a treaty between France, England, and Scotland, when a year was spent in fruitless negotiations.  But  he was definitely one of the supporters of the Auld Alliance, a great deal of his education was in France also, and his understanding of the French therefore probably strong.  Also the Cistercians are a French order of Benedictine monks .

King  sends team to arrange Peace Treaty

29 September 1394: Robert (III), King of Scotland, has commissioned Walter,Bishop of St. Andrews, Thomas, Bishop of Galloway, George, Earl of March, James de Lindesay of Crawford, bannaret, William Steward of Jedburgh and John de Ramorgny, knights, Mr. Thomas de Barry, clerk, Alexander de Cokburn of Langton and Adam Forestar of Liberton, esquires, as special commissioners to treat with the king's adversary of England, to draw up a final peace and concord in the king's name Any eight to four of them are empowered to act.

This gives some idea too of the close working between Dunbars, Stewarts, Lindsays and Trails  at this early date, these four all represent lowland families, the Dunbars controlling the border, all are represented in the above record.  Walter would not have been the eldest son  but he certainly became the most powerful.

St Andrew’s castle was destroyed in 1330 by Sir Andrew Moray, Regent of Scotland. Sir Andrew  recaptured the castle which had fallen into English hands after a siege lasting three weeks. The old castle was then destroyed to prevent it falling into English hands again. When Walter first went to St Andrews as Bishop it is believed that he first lived at Dairsie Castle, which at the time was the residence for the Bishops of St. Andrews and their staff.

Towards the end of the fourteenth century Bishop Walter Trail ordered that St Andrews castle be rebuilt this was to be the basis of all further development of the castle. Included in the castles design was a bottle nosed dungeon. As the castle was the residence of the most powerful church leaders in the land it saw many important visitors among these was James I who received part of his education from Bishop Henry Wardlaw, who was consecrated Bishop of St. Andrews in 1404 after Walter’s death, and was later to found Scotlands first University in 1410. Indeed the 15th century saw the founding of the first three Scottish universities -- St Andrews 1410, Glasgow 1451, and Aberdeen 1495

Early writers speak of Bishop Trail in high terms of eulogy. Buchanan  considered that the three national calamities of Scotland., in 1401 were the deaths of Earl  Douglas, Queen Annabelle., and Walter Treyl, Bishop of St Andrews. According to Fordun Bishop Trail was " Referendarus papae Clementis septirai," and was attending that Pontif at Avignon, when a vacancy in the see of St Andrews took place. So high was the opinion of Clement as to his learning and worth, that by his own authority, without any election, he appointed him to the Bishopric saying "This  man deserveth better to be Pope than Bishop; the place is better provided than the person.

Walter indeed was a powerful politician, and following the accident at a tournament to Robert the third, which left the king disabled, Walter was the Church official in the regency Council. The other principal members of the Council were Archibald Douglas, and Queen Anabella. During the year of the crowning of the new king in 1390, it was Walter Trail who smoothed over the problems caused by The 'Wolf of Badenoch' (Stewart Alexander, Earl or Buchan) who had been excommunicated for destroying Elgin Cathedral in that year but was absolved by Bishop Trail in the Black friars! Church, Perth Registrum Moraviense, pp 353, 381).

In 1398, when the king made his brother Robert Stewart Duke of Albany  and his son David Stewart Duke of Rothsay  the first dukedoms conferred in Scotland, Trail preached and celebrated.. Archibald Douglas (known as Archibald the grim) at some time in the last decade of the 14th century deeded Blebo ( the Trail family home) to Bishop Walter as freehold, which Walter then gave to his nephew Alexander. Blebo is reputed to have belonged to the Earl of Douglas in the time of David II's minority. But of course the Douglas lands were divided into many different properties and manors. How early the Trail family settled here is now unknown, but it is a firm family tradition that they obtained freehold  ownership during the 14th. Century through  Bishop Walter.

 The Bishop is reputed to have died  between the middle of March and the beginning of July 1401 in the castle of St. Andrews' which he had rebuilt. He was buried in the cathedral in a tomb which he had erected for himself. On his monument was the following inscription:,

Hic fuit ecclesiae direct& columna, fenestra
Lucida, thuribulum redolens, campana. sonora.

which translates "He was an upright pillar of the Church, a transparent window, a sweet sound, a melodious bell."

 Trail receives a high character from Fordun and Wynton, and ' was of such excellent worth that even Buchanan speaks in his praise.

Fordun's Chron. - Wynton's Chron. - Cal. of Petitions to the Pope, 1342-1419; Cal. Doc. relating to Scotland; Exchequer Rolls of Scotland Book  of Procurat, of English Nat. at the Univ.of Parish; Keith's Scottish Bishops; Lyon's St, Andrews.]  G.W.S. Dict. National Biographies , Vol. 57 (1899)

We know of at least two nephews of the Bishop:-

Sir Alexander Trail

Our next piece of family lore concerns the shipwreck in which Alexander Trail (Walter’s heir) was involved in which he is said to have saved the life of a member of the royal court in 1418, and thus gained favour. The crest is supposed to confirm the shipwreck story as he is the member of the family to whom the crest of the tower was given. There is no doubt that Bishop Walters coat of arms was slightly different, to those of succeeding generations. Our 3rd piece of information is the name of his wife Elizabeth Bruce.

He is believed to have died in 1420, only two years after the shipwreck, which is recorded at the Lyons Court to be in 1418.

Alexander spent the majority of his courtier days under the rule of James Stewart Duke of Albany, Alexander had a close relative probably his brother as he is also described as a nephew of bishop Walters by a contemporary record

Sir Thomas Trail

In old records there is another Traill specified as being nephew to Bishop Walter, and this is Sir Thomas, the champion Knight from the games at Berwick in 1398

Sir Thomas Trail; nephew of Sir Walter T, bishop of St Andrews, knight, fought Morley (from England) 1398 at Berwick and killed him with one great blow

1397 Nov 27

Fiat [command, order, warrant] for letters of safe conduct till 5th February following for Sir Thomas Traill knight of Scotland, with twelve persons in his company. Westminster.

James Trail of Blebo (1390 – 1450)

Our next record is of a James of Blebo in 1434 Since Alexander is the only one with a wife and there was no further record of Sir Thomas it is believed that James is Alexander’s son, since he was Walter’s heir. This John Trail is of great interest as he survived through the struggles between the Stewarts and the Douglas family. Wisely and no doubt because of the Bruce connection, the Trails were supporting both James the second and James the third. This James Traill married a daughter of Sir John Wemyss and his wife Margaret. Sadly we have no record of her name. The following are our records for him.

1. In the Chartulary of the Priory of St. Andrews, folio 497, there is an instrument of Fealty and Homage by Sir James Kynimonde, son and heir of Eliza De Kynimonde, Militas, in the hands of James Haldinstone, Prior of St. Andrews, proceeding upon and in quest by sundry persons among whom was Jacobus Traille of Blebok, dated 19th June 1434

2 On the 20th June 1443, James Kennedy Bishop of St. Andrews, by a writ under his hand consents that John Wemyss of Kilmnenie being about to go on his affairs substitutes his brother in law James Trail as Constable for one year see Martine and Douglass


In the year 1446, Robertus de Ferny and Mariota Olifert, his wife, lady of Kemback, granted to Gilbert de Galbrath, rector of the church of Kemback, and to his successors, four acres of the lands of Kemback with three cows' grass, and one horse's grass for ever, to be held on condition of the rector being always bound to say two masses weekly in the said church, for them, their parents, and benefactors, " purgatorii poenas demollire, et fidelium animas in paradisi gaudiis collocare." The deed and confirmation by the Bishop of St Andrews is witnessed by James, abbot of the monastery of Lundoris; John, archdeacon of St Andrews; Hugo Kennedy, chaplain of St Andrews; John Beatoun, rector of Dalry; and rector of the University of St Andrews; John de Balfour, vicar of Lynlytholk; James Treyle de Malgaske; Thomas de Wemyss de Myrtyn; James Butellere de Rumgally; Alexander do Forsith de Nydy, and others.

John Traill of Aberdeen

In 1450, it appears from the Burgh records of Aberdeen, that on 19th February of that year an Assize ordered a John Traile to pay yearly 40 shillings “until he bring home the blue stone to his father, to be raised at the sight and ordinance of his mother, and of Sir Adam and Brother Thomas, to sing for his fathers soul at St Dustan’s Alter.

Unfortunately we do not know exactly whom his father was, but this John may have been the John Traill of Blebo that lived between 1418 and 1479.

Exchequer Rolls 1460-1469

Computum ballivorum burgi de Carale [Craill in Fife], redditum per Johannem Trail, [Edinburgh 4 July 1468, from 3 June 1467].

Charge. Fermes, by feu-charter, 11. Issues of a chamberlain ayre, 2. Sum, 13.

Discharge. To prior of St Andrews 2-13/4d; and heirs of John Sibbald of Balgowny 5 [Balgonie in Markinch parish, Fife]; both are risk. To Wallas, Comptroller 3-6/8d. To Master James Lindesay, keeper of Privy Seal, issue of Ayre 2. Sum 13. Et sic eque.

We do not know his wife’s name but among their sons there is John, Thomas, William, and James.

Midlothian: - Protocol Book of James Young, 1501-1504
Volume 5. The Register of Marriages.
Volume 7.
Volume 9.
County: Midlothian
Country: Scotland

1134. 01 Apr 1501. Andrew Kynnynmont of that ilk resigned in the hands of Sir Robert Livingston of Drumry, baron of the east side of Lochorschir, his lands of Petcarne, Ester Cowquhelis, Wester Cowquhelis and Litil Petkenny, lying in the said barony and the sheriffdom of Fiff, and the said Sir Robert gave sasine of these lands to the said Andrew, according to the charter of old infeftment thereon and also according to a charter to be made anew. The said Andrew asked the instrument. Done in the aisle of St. John the Baptist in the collegiate church of St. Giles of Edinburgh. Witnesses: Patrick, lord Lindesay of Biris, Sir William Scot of Balwery, Mr. David Setone, parson of Fethircarne, Sir Thomas Myrtone, canon of Moray, John Multrare, Thomas Blayre, Thomas Traill, William Kynnynmont and Robert Wardlaw, burgess of Edinburgh. 9 68v.

Midlothian: - Protocol Book of James Young, 1493-1497
Volume 5. The Register of Marriages.
Volume 7.
Volume 4.
County: Midlothian
Country: Scotland

858. 31 Jan 1496/7. Robert Creichton, son and heir apparent of Edward Creichtone of Kirkpatrike and procurator of Robert, lord Creichtone of Sanchar, forewarned Henry Cant, elder, burgess of Edinburgh, to compear in the church of St. Giles, Edinburgh, on Wednesday, 12 Apr next, to receive, at the altar of St. Lawrence the martyr, 120 merks for the redemption of the four pound lands of Strabroke in the town and territory of Ester Strabroke and sheriffdom of Linlithgow, sometime pledged by the deceased Robert Creichton of Sanchar, knight, great-grandfather of the said Robert, lord Creichtone, to the deceased Adam Cant, father of the said Henry, under reversion, with a tack of the said lands for five years, and to renounce and resign to the said lord Creichton these four pound lands of Ester Strabroke. Witnesses: sirs Mungo Creichton, vicar of Legerewod, Thomas Diksone, chaplains, John Litill, George Polloke, Thomas Traill and Patrick Blak. 7. 26v.

21/6/1515 Instrument narrating that Peter Crichtone of Nauchtane [in Balmerino parish, Fife] with his own hands,in  terms of a charter of sale by himself, gave sasine to Thomas Hay of Nauchtan of the half lands of East Plewland and Sandfurd, lying in the barony of Nauchtan and sheriffdom of Fife; to which sasine Jonet Hay, spouse of Peter Crichton, freely, and in absence of her husband, gave her consent. Witnesses...James Traill of Blebo, Sir James Trale, chaplain,...

Alexander Traill (known as Sandy Trail) poet

Very little is known of this member of the group called by Dunbar, the Makars but he is thought to have lived in the latter half of the 15th century and had died before 1508. Anyone reading this will have have realised that the Traills had a great fondness for the name Alexander. More information would be a great help in order to decide which of  Alexanders is the correct man.

In 1479 Blebo changed hands yet again to the next

James Traill 1450 to 1514

This James Trail of Blebo married Euphermia, a daughter of Sir Andrew Kinnimont. At this time we know of 4 sons, James, David, Alexander,  and Andro.

John Traill of Blebo  1478 – 1533

During the whole of the 15th century except for the family’s poet Alexander Traill who appears to have lived at the time of James III, the Trails appears to have concentrated on the acquisation of some material wealth, succeeding so well between 1400 and 1517, that Sir R. Sibbald, in History of Fife. 2nd edition (1803) page 200 (first edition 1710) gives full statement of a commission for an inquisition in 1517 into the Divisions of Fife, and the several properties there, intrusted to an Assize of 24 of the chief people of Fife under presidency of Lord Lindsay of the Byres and Patrick Lindsay of Piteruvie. Among them is

John Trail of Blebo           

Blebo is put down at              4. 0s
Carnbie Barony and               6. 0s
The Mains over Carnbie          3. 0s
Anstruther                             6. 0s
Cambo & Belshies                 5. 0s
Randerstoun                          3. 0s
Rosyth, Barony                     16. 0s

In this interesting list you will see two baronys held by the Trails. It was no doubt by right of these that the Trails held a seat in Parliament, during the 16th century, Blebo is reputed have been 900 acres at this time.

The Trails who had kept themselves out of trouble up till this time having consolidated their position started to become more involved again with the court, the Parliament and the Army. The marriage of John Trail (known to all of us, nowadays as The old Laird.) with Agnes Bruce in or about 1525 would seem to be part of the reason for this. Agnes’ mother was Janet Stewart, her grandfather Sir David Stewart of Rosyth. And her father Sir Alexander Bruce of Earls Hall

It was not long after this that the family gained its only known ghost in 1533. James Trail of Blebo notified the authorities  in a charter dated 15/1/1533-34 of the slaughter of his brother Andro T (umquhile/deceased) and Alexander Wemyss. 'The Headless Coachman' is said to still drive furiously along the back drive to Blebo attended by much noise of rushing wind and flying hooves.  This James himself died later the same year as Blebo appears to have changed hands passing to his son John Trail (born 1502)   subsequently known as the Old Laird by the time of his death on the 4th June 1580.

The Old Laird

When his wife died is unknown, but up till now we have 6 members to his family culled from old documents.

1.   John1 Traill  was born 1502 in Scotland, and died 4 June 1580 at Blebo, Fife.  He married Agnes Bruce Abt. 1525 in Scotland, daughter of Alexander Bruce and Janet Stewart.  She was born Abt. 1504 in Earls hall. She was one of five siblings , Janet who married Andrew Balfour, Helen who married William Ramsay, William who married Margaret Meldrum,  and Margaret who married Patrick Kinimont.

Children of John Traill and Agnes Bruce are:

      2            i.   Alexander2 Traill, born Abt. 1527 in Blebo Scotland; died April 1590 in Blebo Scotland.  He married Elspeth Fearney 1559 in Blebo, Scotland; born Abt. 1535 in Blebo,; died August 1590 in Blebo,. Of his four sons John the Elder sold Blebo circa 1637. Thomas settled at Blebo Hole beginning that line. George Traill moved to Orkney beginning the Orkney Traills, and Patrick  Traill whose family lived at Aberdeen died with other retainers who supported Earl Robert Stuart in 1615

      3            ii.   Jhon Traill, born 1529; died 9 May 1564 in Magask.  He married Margaret Heriot Abt. 1544.

      4           iii.   Beatrix Traill, born 1530; died Aft. 1594.  She married Thomas Grieg.

      5           iv.   Andrew Traill, Col, born 1534 in Blebo, Ceres; died 25 July 1586 in Many, Flanders.  He married Helen Myrton Abt. 1554; born Abt. 1536 in Cambo; died 13 February 1607/08 in St. Andrews. His son Col James of Beley was a gentleman of the Privy chamber to Prince Henry, James VI’s eldest son and later was one of the Scots chosen to form part of the settlement in Ireland in 1610. He died at Anstruther in 1635. James of Beley’s two eldest sons Col James Traill of Tullochin, in Ireland, and the Rev. Robert Traill of Greyfriers are the best known of the Traills during the years of Cromwell’s rule.

      6           v.   Agnes Traill, born 1536.  She married Robert Bethune 1564.

      7           vi.   Thomas Traill, born 1540. Thomas’ son Thomas accompanied Charles the first on his trip to Spain with the Duke of Buckingham, as a surgeon.

All birth dates for John Trail’s children are estimated from their marriage and death dates which as far as possible are exact.

Alexander Trail (known as Sandy Trail) poet probably living between 1530 and 1590

Very little is known of this member of the group called by Dunbar, the Makars but he is thought to have lived in the latter half of the 15th century and had died before 1508. He is most probably the Alexander Trail listed below.

Alexander Trail, citizen of St. Andrews. Witness (1456) (ref. St. Salvatore’s College List and therefore linked to the University)

It is most likely too that he was the second son of James Trail (1390 – 1450) and therefore named after his grandfather, Sir Alexander Trail of Blebo.


The Orkney Traills

Dr. William Trail

Quoting from Dr. William Trail in 1883  in his geneaology of the Orkney Traills :
 Some degree of obscurity hangs over the exact time at which one if not two sons of the Laird of Blebo removed to Orkney; but in the opinion of the best authorities, including David Balfour of Balfour, George Traill, the ancestor of the present Traills of Orkney, was a younger son of Alexander Traill of Blebo.

 On referring to my notes on the Fife Traills, I find that the name of Alexander Traill of Blebo occurs uninterruptedly from the year 1564 to 1583; and from about that time up to 1622, there were at least three successive JohnTraills of Blebo. The date of the transfer of Blebo from the last John Trail to Sir William Murray is unknown but was before 1637
Through the courtesy of the present proprietor of Blebo, I had an opportunity, some years ago, of examining a vast number of letters and documents referring to the former Traills of Blebo. I had not then time at my disposal to read more than a third part of the papers in a cursory manner; and although I gleaned some important genealogical facts, I failed to discover anything
Dr. William Traill  1818 - 1886       relating to the date on which certain younger members of that family settled in the Orkney islands.

     In Peterkin's Orkney Rentals there is a John Traill mentioned as holding land there in the year 1595. Earl Robert Stewart died in 1592,and his son Patrick did not receive his final Crown Charter of the Earldom of Orkney until 1600. it is, therefore, evident that at least one person of the name of Traill was a landholder in Orkney between these two periods. Mr Spence, the late Crown Chamberlain of Orkney, held that two Traills came to Orkney with Earl Robert Stewart about 1585. In the appendix to Bell's Life of Queen Mary, in Constable's

 Miscellany, it is stated that George Traill accompanied Earl Robert Stewart to Orkney about the year 1580. Also, in a M.S. book which belonged to the late Anthony Traill, W.S., of  Edinburgh, compiled from Genealogical papers  drawn up by at least six descendants of the Traills of Blebo, there is an entry regarding Alexander Traill of Blebo in 1567 with the following statement:-" About this time two of the younger sons of the. house of Blebo went to the Orkneys." These are of course only approximate dates, but, though it is perhaps too late now to find out the precise period at which the two families separated, there seems no reason to.doubt their common lineage. It is some what remarkable that John Traill of Westness, in the island of Rousay, Orkney, when making a disposition of his property, in 1795, included among his Trustees Dr William Traill, then Professor of Mathematics in Aberdeen, one of the Fife Traills, who married Lady Frances Charteris. Furthermore, in collecting materials for the subjoined Tabular Statement, I have, in one instance, at least, acquired information from the M.S. account of the Fife.Traills, which I was unable to obtain from local sources, I  allude to Patrick Traill the last of the Traills  of Sabay, as to whom 1 could find out little or nothing beyond the fact that he was a Major of Artillery, and that he had been obliged to part with his property from pecuniary embarrassment.

However, on turning to the M.S. in question, I ascertained that he rose to the rank' of General, that he was twice married, that he left a daughter by his first wife, who, about the year 1800, married a French Count, who was  a Colonel in the British service: and that by his second wife, who was an American lady, he had a son who went to America with his maternal grandfather. The names of his wives and children were not given., but this and other statements scattered through the M.S. tend to show that the two 'branches of the family,  though widely separated, had kept up more than a casual acquaintance with each other. Robert Nicholson., formerly Sheriff Substitute of Orkney, made up "Family Trees" for several Orkney gentlemen, more than 70 years ago; but considering the abundant materials he had access to in the shape of letters and documents suitable for such a purpose, it is much to 'be regretted that he prepared them in such a careless  if not reckless manner, that they were full of errors and quite untrustworthy.  In his account of the Orkney Traills he states that George Traill, from Blebo in Fife, came to Orkney with Earl Robert Stewart in the capacity of Steward or Factor, that his first  wife was Jean Kennedy of Carmunks, a near relation of the Cassilis family, and that his second wife was Isabel daughter of Sir William Craigie.of Gairsay. Now, I can find no indication that George Traill had any management of Earl Robert's affairs, though in more than one document he is styled " Servitor to ane noble and potent Lord Patrick Earl of Orkney,"and it is quite possible that he held some position of trust under both Earls.

   Opinion is divided, also, as to whether his  first wife was a Kennedy of Carmunks or of Bargeny; and with regard to the parentage of his second wife. Isabel Craigie, it is an undoubted fact that George Traill died and left her a widow with 13 children in the year 1634,at least 8 or 10 years before the birth of Sir William Craigie! There is, however, some evidence to show that Isabel was the daughter of a Sir William Craigie  of  Gairsay. It is noticeable that the Fife 'Traills spelt their name in various ways. All of them with whom I am at present acquainted spell it Traill, whereas in Orkney it is invariably Traill. As this is a point of some interest, I should ' observe that in the course of my researches through the ancient Blebo records, formerly referred to, I found reason to believe that among the various forms of the name that from time to time prevailed, more authority exists for the spelling Traill than Trail.
The descendants of the Fife Trails who settled in Orkney were so far removed from the great centres of active life that they had not the same opportunity of distinguishing themselves in the busy world. They seem, however, to have very soon taken an active part in municipal affairs in Kirkwall. Their names frequently occur among the members of the Town Council, and not a few of them, from time to time, occupied the position of Provost of Kirkwall. Some went abroad, or served in the Army or Navy, or entered the Church. Thomas Traill, 1st of Holland, for some time served under Gustavus Adolphus in Germany. Robert Traill, of the Hobbister family, son of the Rev. Thomas Traill  of Lady Parish, Island of Sanday, when a young man went to Philadelphia, in America, in 1763. A descendant of his, the Rev. Edward Traill Horn, of Charleston, South Carolina, lately sent me the following short account of him, which presents the pleasing picture of a man attaining an honourable position, and winning the respect and esteem of his townsmen by sheer force of character. Mr S. Henry in his history of the Lehigh Valley wrote-" Robert Traill ' was the second or third resident lawyer in Easton. Of Mr Traill it may be said that in every respect he, for many years, was everything to everybody. Any inhabitant getting into difficulty was told. to go to Mr Traill, he will tell you what to do. If any writings were to be drawn up correctly, go to Mr Traill. If any secretary or clerk were wanting at any public meeting, Mr Traill was called upon to officiate. In 1776-7-8 he was Secretary to the Committee of Safety; at another time Member of Assembly; in 1782 Sherifr-Clerk of Court, &c. Mr Traill was highly esteemed by all who knew him."
The Rev. George Traill of Hobbister, D.D. first cousin to the above Robert Traill, became minister of Dunnet in Caithness, his only son,James, studied Law, became Sheriff of Sutherland and Caithness, married Lady Janet Sinclair, daughter of William 10th Earl of Caithness, and acquired much property in that county, including the valuable estate of Ratter.
James' eldest son, George, who also studied Law, was born in 1787 and for many years represented the County of Caithness in Parliament. George's nephew, James Christie Traill, Barrister-at-Law, London, is the present possessor of Ratter and Hobbister; and a younger brother of his, George Balfour Traill, Lieut.Colonel Royal Artillery, served all through the Indian Mutiny, including the siege and capture of Delhi, relief and capture of Lucknow, &c.John Traill of Westness, grandson of William Traill, first of Westness, and great-grandson of James Traill, first of Weststove, was born in the early part of the last century. He inherited Westness from his father, George Traill, and as heir to his uncle, James Traill, he succeeded to the estate of Woodwick also. This latter property included the island of North Ronaldshay, a place formerly dreaded by mariners on account of the frequency of shipwreck on its shores. There is now a first-class lighthouse on the island, but it is worthy of record that, in those somewhat lawless, times, John Traill received many written testimonials, besides money and plate to the value of 400, in recognition of his liberal and humane conduct, on occasion of divers shipwrecks there, from 1746 to 1791. Even in these remote regions his life was not one of undisturbed tranquillity; for having been suspected of favouring the cause of Prince Charles Edward, he was proscribed as a rebel, and along with Archibald Stewart of Brugh, William Balfour of Trenabie and John Traill of Elsness, he for some time took refuge in a cave in the island of Westray, ever since known as the Gentlemen's Cave. Meanwhile their dwelling houses were burned down, and their wives and families subjected to cruel hardships and privations. At length quieter times returned; but ` Westness," who had been a man of 6 feet 6 inches in height, was bent with rheumatism for the remainder of his life. In the early part of the present century, George William Traill of the Westness family, entered the Indian Civil Service, where he long held an important and responsible appointment ; and on his return to Britain with an ample fortune, he purchased the island of Rousay, in Orkney, which is now possessed by his relative and heir, Lieutenant General Traill Burroughs, C.B., late in command of the 93rd Sutherland Highlanders.
I may mention here that Mary Traill, aunt of the above named George William Traill, married Keith Spence, whose daughter, Harriet, married the Rev. Charles Lowell, father of his Excellency the Honourable James Russell Lowell, American Ambassador to England, who, in addition to being an able diplomatist, has long enjoyed and maintained a high reputation in the paths of literature.
I cannot conclude without a passing notice of the last representative of the Traills of Thurlet or Tirlet, as it is now usually called Dr Thomas Stewart Traill, Professor of Medical Jurisprudence in the University of Edinburgh. He was a man of singularly varied talents and of no common 'attainments, possessing such extensive knowledge of many departments of Science, that on several occasions he very ably discharged the duties of other Professorships during temporary vacancies; and at the time. of his death, which occurred in 1862,in his 81st year, he had just. completed the onerous work of superintending a new edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannic.
 Mary Queen of Scots half brother Earl Robert Stewart and his son Earl Patrick of Orkney both aimed at destroying the [Orkney] odal system...they silenced and overawed the refractory odallers by their men-at-arms and they employed their rights over the temporalities of the bishopric as a pretext for levying fines from such landholders as incurred any censure of the church. They thus succeeded in wresting much landed property from the rightful owners, and terrified not a few of the odal proprietors into a surrender of their peculiar priveleges, an acknowledgment of feudal vassalage and an acceptance of tenure by charter. The rent of the earldom, too, being paid chiefly in kind, they increased it by increasing the value of the weights used. Earl Patrick even excelled his father in his despotism, compelling the people to work like slaves in carrying on buildings and other works for him, confiscating the lands of the inhabitants on the most trivial pretences, carrying off the movable goods of any who dared to leave the islands without special permission from himself or his deputies, and - crowning display of his savage temper and avarice- ordaining that 'if any man tried to give relief to ships, or any vessel distressed by tempest, the same shall be punished in his person and fined at the Earl's pleasure.' Bishop Law, howver, intervened, more because the Earl's claims clashed with his than from any desire for justice, and Earl Patrick was summoned to Edinburgh in 1609 and kept in prison there and at Dumbarton till 1615. In 1614 his son, Robert, had seized the castle of Kirkwall and the steeple of the cathedral, and held them with an armed force, but the outbreak was put down by the Earl of Caithness, and both father and son were executed at Edinburgh in 1615 on a charge of treason. ref. to the above will be found in Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland 1885

Among the men who died in 1615 is believed to be George's brother  Patrick Traill  son of Alexander Traill of Fife. the best report of his death comes from the trial of a witch who was sentenced for witchcraft in 1623 because she had forseen his death with a hempen rope around his neck. However records of his wife and family were found  in Aberdeen, and confirmation that Patrick's son Patrick was the factor at Blebo for Sir Willaim Murray was found in the St. Andrew's records

Click here to read about the Covenanting Traills

Traill  2927
Traill Tartan
Liberal permission will be granted for use as a family tartan.
Copyright holder Cynthia Corderman Balfour-Traill



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