The Balfour clan takes its name from the barony of the same name and is located near the joining of the rivers Ore and Leven in Fife, in the parish of Markinch, formerly belonging to a family which were long heritable sheriffs of Fife. Balfour castle was built upon their ancient possessions, in the vale or strath of the Orr, a tributary of the Leven, near their confluence. Bal-orr is the original name, and is used more often by the older manuscript writers, and is variously stated to be from the Gaelic Bal foidh or, the town at the foot of the Or (the dh in foidh is silent) or Baile Fuar, the cold place/town.
The family of Balfour, contains no less than thirteen landed proprietors in that county of the name: the Balfours of Burleigh, of Fernie, of Dunbog, of Denmylne, of Grange, of Forret, of Randerston, of Radernie, of Northhank, of Balbirnie, of Halbeath, of Lawlethan, and of Banktown, Torry and Boghall, Kinloch are also landed properties of the Balfours. In his Memoria Balfouriana, Sibbald says the family of Balfour is divided into several branches, of which those of Balgarvie, Mountwhanney, Denmylne, Ballovy, Carriston, and Kirkton are the principal.
The Balfours of Strathor and Munquhanny
During the reign of Duncan I (1034-1040) Siward, the Dane, Earl of Northumbria, came North from Northumbria. Siward had a son, Osulf, then Osulf had a son named after his father Siward II who was given, by King Edgar, the valley of Orr, that is, Strathor and Maev, (the Isle of May) in 1097 in return for the head of Ottar, the Dane. The Balfours are said to be descendants from Siward. Siwards’s son Octred, witnessed a charter of David the First about 1141. was probably the founder of the Castle, which henceforward gave name to his descendants.
The Isles of May was in possession of the Balfours of Monquhanny for many generations and its position guarding the entrance of the Firth of Forth probably suggested the family motto “Fordward” (in Saxon “Forthward”). The otter’s head has ever since appeared in the Arms of all Siwarth’s legitimate descendants. The original coat of arms, was almost certainly adopted by Siwarth II. When The Balfours of Denmylne sold their estate to Major General George Scott in 1773, the Ilse of May may have also been sold at the same time as later in 1840, when Henrietta Scott, daughter, and wife of the Duke of Portland, sold Denmylne, she also sold the Isle of May about the same time.
Octred’s son was called Sir Michael de Balfour, (Balfor) and about the year 1196 obtained a charter from William the Lion, dated at Forfar.
Michael’s son was Sir lngelramus de Balfour, sheriff of Fife, In 1229, The first record of the name is that of John de Balfure who appears on an assize in 1304. During the reign of Alexander II he witnessed a charter of confirmation the monastery of Aberbrothock, of a mortification to them by Philip de Moubray, ‘De uno plenario tofto in Innerkeithing.. Sir lngelramus de Balfour, may have been the father of Henry as there seems to be some confusion whether Sir lngelramus de Balfour was Michaels son. Either way, on the death of his son, Sir Michael de Balfour, Octred divided his estate among his grandsons, Upper Strath-Orr to Sir Michael de Balfor, and Lower Strath-Orr to Sir William de Balfor.
Sir William was the Sheriff of Fife, who is witness to a Charter by Sir Alexander Seton circa 1200. Received Balfour Castle and the lower part of the Strath-Orr from his grandfather Octred and transmitted them to his son. Then followed a line of Balfours from Sir William.
Sir Michael in Upper Strath-Orr, also Sheriff of Fife sat as a Baron of Parliament at Ayr 6 April 1315 along with David de Balfour; Their seals are appended to the act of that parliament for settling the crown. Sir Michael died in 1344, His son John succeeded him. He may have had another son Adam, who married the granddaughter of Macduff, brother of Colbane, earl of Fife, and obtained with her the lands of Pittencrieff. He died of wounds received at the battle of Durham, in 1346, and was buried in Melrose abbey.
His son Sir John died without issue in 1375. His office reverted to the Crown, and his sister and heiress, Janet, as a ward of the Crown was given in marriage to Sir Robert de Betun. ‘familiaris regis Roberti,’ as he is styled. Of this marriage is descended the present family of Bethunes of Balfour. From them proprietors of Balfour are descended and several of the other Fife heritors of the name of Bethune, eg the Bethunes of Bandon, of Criech, of Tarvet, of Blebo, of Clatto, of Craigfudie, and of Kingask, were also descended from them. Of the most remarkable personages belonging to the Bethunes of Balfour were James Bethune, archbishop of Glasgow and chancellor of Scotland; his nephew, Cardinal David Bethune 1494-1546, educated at St Andrews and Glasgow universities. He negotiated both marriages of King James V (1512 – 1542) with the French court. As Abbot of Arbroath, Beaton sat in the Scottish Parliament from 1525. He was effectively the last Archbishop of St. Andrews, appointed to this position in 1539. Opposed by John Knox (c.1513-72), Beaton was murdered by Protestant reformers in the same year as he executed George Wishart (1513-46. David Balfour of Balbathy and New Grange was (3rd son of Sir Andrew Balfour of Munquhanny) was one of the murderers of Cardinal Bethune. The nephew of the cardinal, James Bethune, archbishop of Glasgow. In the ruined house of Balfour were original portraits of Cardinal Bethune, and of Mary Bethune, celebrated for her beauty, one of Mary Queen of Scots four Maries.
Creich Castle was a 16th Century Castle where Mary Bethune was born.
At this failure of male heirs of Sir William de Balfor, the Chiefship of the Balfours of Strath-orr devolved on the representatives of his brother. The Barony passed down through his male line of heirs.
Sir Michael de Balfour of Strathor, Knight, was brought up by his kinsman (Duncan 12th Earl of Fife) who, in 1353, gave him the valuable lands of Mountwhanney/ Munquhanny in exchange for the poorer property of Pittencrieff. He became male representative and Chief of the family on the death of his kinsman Sir John de Balfour of that Ilk, and as such assumed the Arms of that family without a difference as they are quartered by Betun of Balfour on marriage with the heiress, Janet. The countess Isabella, daughter of earl Duncan, also bestowed many grants of land upon her “cousin” Sir Michael, who, at her death without issue, should have succeeded as her nearest heir, but the regent Albany, the brother of her second husband, obtained the earldom in virtue of a disposition in his favour by the countess. Sir Michael died about 1385.
His eldest son, Michael Balfour 1st of Mountwhanney and Strathor, had a son, Sir Lawrence, of Strathor and Mountwhanney, who, by his wife Marjory, had three sons: George, his heir; John of Balgarvie, progenitor, by his son James, of the Balfours of Denmylne, Forret, Randerston, Torry and Boghall, Kinloch, and David Balfour of Carraldstone or Carriston. The latter family terminated in an heiress, Isabel Balfour, who married a younger son of the fourth Lord Seton, ancestor of the Setons of Carriston.
James Balfour, son of Sir John Balfour of Balgarvy, in 1451 obtained from King James the Second the lands of Denmylne, in the parish of Abdie, and county of Fife, originally belonging to the earls of Fife, and which fell to the crown at the forfeiture of Murdoch duke of Albany. This James Balfour was slain at the siege of Roxburgh, soon after the death of James the Second, in 1460, as appears from a charter, granted by James the Third, in favour of John Balfour his son, who married Christian Sibbald, daughter of Peter Sibbald of Rankeillor, and fell with his sovereign, James the Fourth, at the battle of Flodden, in 1513. Patrick his son was the father of Alexander Balfour, whose son, Sir Michael Balfour, was knighted at Holyroodhouse, 26th March 1630, by George Viscount Dupplin, chancellor of Scotland, under a special warrant from Charles the First, and the same year in which his son Sir James received a similar honour. Sir Michael was comptroller of the household to Charles the First, and was equally distinguished for his military courage and civil prudence. By his wife, Jane, daughter of James Durham of Pitkerrow he had five sons and nine daughters, seven of whom were honourably married.