The Barclays came to Gloucestershire from France during the Norman Conquest. Originally, their name was spelt ‘de Berchelai’, which may be the Anglo-Saxon spelling of ‘beau’ (beautiful) and ‘lee’ (meadow or field). Further more, there was a prepondency of the first names Roger and Ralph among the early Gloucester settlers.
The Earls of Berkeley built Berkeley castle in Gloucestershire as a fortress in 1153. It was to acquire infamy in 1327 when Edward II was imprisoned and murdered by his Queen.
Early in the 12th century Theobald de Berkeley settled in the North East of Scotland, and this branch of the family settled in Towie, Mathers, Gartley and Pierston in Aberdeenshire, though principally at Mathers. It was this estate that Alexander Barclay acquired on marrying the sister of the Great Marischal of Aberdeen in 1351.
The Barclays played a leading role in the Wars of Independence.
Walter de Berkeley was Chamberlain of Scotland in 1165, and this high office meant a close relationship with his royal master, William the Lion. Sir David Barclay was a close associate of Robert the Bruce and was present at most of his battles including Methven, where he was taken prisoner.
In the mid-seventeenth century Sir David Barclay acquired the estate of Urie, near Stonehaven in Kincardineshire (Aberdeen), on his return from the Thirty Years War. He had attained the status of Colonel as a professional soldier who served in the armies of Gustavus Adolphus, King of Sweden. Officially he retired in 1647, though this was not to a peaceful retirement, for in the following year (1648) Colonel Barclay took up arms for Charles I. He served as a Scottish representative to London under the rule of Cromwell.
The Restoration of 1660, however, saw a reversal of his personal fortunes.
He was committed prisoner to Edinburgh castle upon charge of hostility to the government that stemmed from his support for Charles I, although he was soon liberated through the influence of powerful allies made during the civil war. This period of confinement saw the genesis of another important facet of Barclay history – David Barclay was converted to the Quaker faith, or the ‘Society of Friends’, by the Laird of Swinton. Such was the extent of the family’s conversion that David’s son, Robert Barclay (b.1648), published a Quaker tract in 1675 called:
‘An Apology for the true Christian Divinity as the same is held forth and preached by the people called in scorn Quakers’. ‘ This repudiated his education at the Scots College in Paris that was firmly Catholic.