From the office of custodian of the larder or provision-room.
Variations. Spence, Spens, Spense, of Despense, Spensa, Dispensa, D’Espences.
In the Chartulary of Inchaffray the dispensario appears in each case along with the rennarius, q.v., to whom he was perhaps subordinate (Inchaffray, p. 4, 34, 264).
From the thirteenth century downwards several persons named Spensa, Dispensa, are mentioned as government officials, and in 1529 we have entry in the royal accounts of livery for ‘John Spens at the cupboard’ (ALHT., v, p. 383).
Roger dispensator witnessed a charter by the bishop of Moray granting the church of Deveth to Spyny between 1202–22, and Thomas dispensator witnessed excambion of the lands of Dolays Mychel (Dallas) in 1232 (REM., p.61, 88).
John Spens was bailie of Irvine, 1260 (Irvine, 1, p. 5).
Between 1296 and 1324 Thomas de Spensa witnessed a charter by John of Jonystoun in favor of the Hospital of Soltre (Soltre, p. 41).
Nicholaus de Dispensa forfeited land in the will and tenement of Langnodryf (Langniddry) between 1315 – 1321 (RMS., 1,69).
The ship belonging to Laurence de Spense and other Scottish merchants was wrecked at Whitbernes near Newcastle-on-Tyne, 1365 (Bain, Iv, 114), and Thomas de Spensa and Laurence de Spensa appear as witnesses in Perth, 1375 (Milne, p. 36).
Henry of Spens witnessed a charter by Robert, earl of Fife, c. 1390 (Athole, p. 704), and Fergus de la Spens held a tenement in Edinburgh, 1392 (Egidii, p. 27).
William de Spensa was one of perambulators of the marches of Tarwas and Uldny, 1417 (RAA., II, 53), Patrick de Spens held land in Lauder, Berwickshire, 1426 (Soltre, p. 51), and John de Spensa, burgess of Perth in the same year, had a grant of lands in the earldom of Menteth (RMS., II,45).
John de Spens of Perth was bailie of Glendochirde, 1428, John Spens was custodier of Stocket Forest, 1448 (CRA., p. 18), and another John de Spens was admitted burgess of Aberdeen, 1444 (NSCM., 1, p. 9).
Thomas Spens, bishop of Aberdeen in the latter half of the fifteenth century was, says Cosmo Innes, “so much mixed up with public affairs that to give the details of his life would be to write the account of Scottish politics for the time” (REA., 1, p. xl).
The name was early carried to France and appears there as D’Espences (de Nettancourt, de Bettancourt, de Vroil, etc.).
There is no proof that the family of Spens is descended from Duncan, fourth earl of Fife, as some contend. Despens 1446, Spenss 1681.
Extracted text from “Spence.” The Surnames of Scotland. Page 741.