Spens Barony of Wormiston Overview

Spens Barony of Wormiston Overview

by Dr. Jeremiah P. Spence, Ph.D.


The Barony of Wormiston included the hereditary rights to the constabulary of the nearby Castle of Crail, the position is also known as the Baile or Constable.


King Robert I of Scotland reconfirmed Crail’s burgh status in 1306 and confirmed the constabulary of the castle to Lawrence de Weirmerstoun in 1310. After some time we know of Robert de Wormiston, who was both the Laird of Wormiston, owner of the lands of Wormiston and Wormiston House, as well as, the hereditary Baile of the Castle Crail. This Robert de Wormiston had a daughter named Isabell de Wormiston who married Duncan Spens.

Lairds of Wormiston & Bailes of Castle Crail

a. Sir Laurence de Weirmerstoun (d. 1340) – Laird of Wormiston; Hereditary Baile of Castle Crail

b. Sir Robert de Wormiston Weirmerstoun (b. 1335) – Laird of Wormiston; Hereditary Baile of Castle Crail

c. Lady Isabell de Wormiston (b. 1360) – Heiress of Wormiston and Crail (married to Duncan Spens)

Beginning of the Spens Barony of Wormiston

1. Sir Duncan Spens (b. 1355 at Muirton, Scotland) – 1st Spens Laird of Wormiston; Hereditary Baile of Castle Crail

2. Sir Alan Spens (b. 1380 – d. 1443 at Crail) – 2nd Laird of Wormiston; Hereditary Baile of Castle Crail

3. Sir Murdach Spens – 3rd Laird of Wormiston; Hereditary Baile of Castle Crail

4. Sir Alexander Spens (b. 1430 – d. 1496) – 4th Laird of Wormiston; Hereditary Baile of Castle Crail, 1st Laird of Boddam

5. Sir David Spens (b. 1480 at Wormiston) – 5th Laird of Wormiston; Hereditary Baile of Castle Crail, Rector of Flisk, Principal of the University of St. Andrews, Laird of Mareston

6. Sir John Spens (b. 1500) – 6th Laird of Wormiston; Hereditary Baile of Castle Crail, Laird of Mareston

7. Sir David Spens – the Elder, 7th Laird of Wormiston; Hereditary Baile of Castle Crail, Laird of Mareston (passed his titles and lands to his grandson)

8. Sir David Spens (b. 1538 – d. 4 Sept 1571) – 8th Laird of Wormiston; Hereditary Baile of Castle Crail, Laird of Mareston (lost his titles and lands after the Battle of Stirling in 1571)

9. Sir James Spens (b. 28 Aug 1571 at Wormiston – d. 17 Nov 1636 at Stockholm, Sweden) – 9th & Last Laird of Wormiston in 1579, Swedish Count de Spens, Swedish Ambassador to Great Britain (title was reinstalled by the Scottish Queen in 1579)

At this point lands of Wormiston and the responsibility to Castle Crail were transferred to the Lindsey family who occupied Wormiston House until the 19th century.

10. Sir Michael Patrick Spens (b. 24 Oct 1939 at Windsor, England – 28 Mar 2014 at Edinburgh, Scotland) – 1st Baron Spens of Wormiston, Knight 1st Class, Order of the Lion of Finland, architect, writer, and former publisher/editor of Studio.

At some point Sir Michael purchased Wormiston House and revived the title and barony of Spens of Wormiston; however, upon his death the lands were sold and the titles were not passed to his heirs.

Affiliated Estates and Titles:

Crail Castle

Crail Castle was a castle that was located in Crail, Fife, Scotland. Crail became a Royal Burgh in the 12th century. The castle was frequented by King David I of Scotland during his reign in the 12th century. Ada de Warenne obtained Crail as part of her marriage settlement with Prince Henry of Scotland. King Robert I of Scotland reconfirmed Crail’s burgh status in 1306 and confirmed the constabulary of the castle to Lawrence de Weirmerstoun in 1310. By 1563 the castle had become ruinous. The castle was sited above the harbour. No remains above ground are visible.

No trace remains of the castle of Crail which would give any adequate idea of its extent and appearance. It was probably the earliest dwelling place in the locality. There seems little reason for doubting that it was once a royal residence and it is indisputable that it became the manor house associated with the office of the Constable of Crail.

In 1310, Robert I confirmed the constabulary to Lawrence de Weirmerstoun, the charter declaring that his ancestors had held the office from ancient times. A charter dated 1563 stated that the castle had become ruinous, nothing remaining but the moat and that it was to be given to David Spens of Wormistoun with power to rebuild the castle.

It is not known if Spens did rebuild the castle, but as Sibbald refers to “the ruins of a strong castle”, it is probable that Spens had built some kind of castellated structure as it is unlikely that the place would have been left in a desolate condition until 1710.

The castle at Crail boasts a largely uncharted history. There was a castle at Crail in the reign of Malcolm IV (1153 x 1165) (Barrow, 1960, 282) and in 1264 occurs the record of payment in regards to the repair of the structure (ER, i, 4). By the mid-sixteenth century the castle had apparently become ruinous. In a curious charter of Mary Queen of Scots to David Spens of Wormiston, it is alleged that the Spens were for many centuries past keepers and constables of the castle, now ruinous, so that there is nothing remaining but the moat … (Millar, 1895, i, 375).

The ruinous property was thus given to Spens but it is unclear whether he or his heir rebuilt the castle. In the early eighteenth century it was said that ruined masonry occupied the site of the castle (Millar, 1895, i, 375), and in the present day the only visible remains of the castle of Crail include a rough portion of masonry (Ordnance Survey Record Cards, NO 60 NW 19).

Information from ‘Historic Crail: The Archaeological Implications of Development’ (1981).

Constables of Crail Castle:

Lawrence de Weirmerstoun (1310)
Alexander Spens of Pittincrief (c.1490)
David Spens
Patrick, 6th Lord Lindsay of the Byres

History of Crail Property:

Pictish or G *cair + ? Pictish * al or G ail

‘Rock- or cliff-fort’? The first element, which is cognate with Welsh caer ‘fort’, is almost certainly of Pictish origin, but seems to have been borrowed into Scottish Gaelic at an early period. It is found in the important coastal settlement of Kirkcaldy and in neighbouring Dunnikeir KDT. The second element is either the well-attested Gaelic ail ‘rock’, or possibly, and rather more problematically, Pictish *al. The latter of these is problematic because there is no secure instance of *al occurring in the P-Celtic languages of these islands. But if the generic element *cair is Pictish here, then it is likely that so, too, is the specific.

Topographically the interpretation of the name as ‘rock- or cliff-fort’ makes very good sense, with the medieval castle, which probably succeeded an early medieval fortification, perched on a cliff above the harbour. There are no remains of the medieval castle now visible, NMRS NO60NW 19.

Wormiston / Wormistoune House – Fife

Wormiston House is a 17th century tower house, which has been greatly extended, although these extensions were demolished in 1988 during re-building.

It was a property of the Spence family of Wormiston, Constables of Crail. They supported Mary, Queen of Scots, during the 1570s. In 1612 Wormiston passed to the Balfours, who probably built most of the existing castle, but in 1621 it was acquired by the Lindsays. The house was rebuilt in the 1980’s, and is occupied.

17th century original block, rectangular lying N-S, 3-storey crow-stepped with twin circular attic windows in gables; NE wing perhaps of same date or only slightly later; low wing at S gable also of late 17th/early 18th century, 2-storey with circular attic window in gable, also crow-stepped. Extended 1802, NE wing doubled in length and in width on S; remodelled and extended 1858, crow-stepped porch, SE gable and corbelled turret in re-entrant angle added to 1802 work, asymmetrical W wing with 3-storey crenellated tower; old domerheads incorporated, one dated 1629; harled with margins, slated. Belonged originally to the Spens family: sold to Balfours 1612, and to Lindsays 1621; now repurchased by Spens family; empty in 1972.


Wormistoune is located in the East Neuk of Fife. From the village of Crail, take the A917 northwards in the direction of St Andrews. After about a mile and after a sharp right hand bend, take a right hand turn down a minor road signposted for Wormiston Farm. The driveway for Wormistoune House is about 800m further along this road on the left hand side – just after ‘The Lodge’ cottage. The nearest bus stop is on the A917 – use the no. 95 bus between St Andrews and Leven. Nearest train station is Leuchars (for St Andrews).

History of Wormiston Property

Winemer + Sc toun

Winemer was given the land by King William c.1180 (RRS ii no. 196). Here is similar evidence to that of Otterston DGY, near the royal burgh of Inverkeithing, of northern English settlement around an early royal burgh, namely Crail. In the second half of the twelfth century mention is made of various Northumbrians holding land in CRA, such as Ralph of Morpeth (Morpath) and Ralph of Allerwash (Aluerbas), who appear in a charter of Ada de Warenne witnessed by Winemer himself (St A. Lib. 208).

The grant of King William to Winemer and his heirs describes the estate (RRS ii no. 196). Barrow indicates that the description has been ‘inflated’ at a later date, but that it is probably based on a genuine grant. Several of the place-names certainly have forms which indicate a much more recent date than the twelfth century. It includes ‘all the land which lies between the nearer well of Balcomie and the gate of the nuns of Haddington towards the west and north by its marches as they extend as far as the upcast of the plough of the lands of Nakedfield, and as they extend to the arable lands of Pittowie from the west, and so going down between the said lands of Pittowie and the east part of Gathercold CRA as far as the bog lying between Pittowie and the limit of *Torbrecks CRA, and so extending from that bog as far as the east part of Stewartflat which is called *Doo Green, and so extending between the said lands of the Stewartflat and the said lands of Balcomie as far as the said nearer well of Balcomie beside the sea, with common pasture in the commonty of Crail, with sufficient turfs and peats etc. All this was for a rental of 2 pence at Pentecost ‘in the name of blench ferme’ (nomine albe firme), a type of tenure where a rental or service was paid or rendered to a superior only when requested.

Winemer (Winemerus) witnessed a charter of William de Hay anent Pitmilly KBS in 1172 (St A. Lib. 313), and (as Winemer) a charter of Ada de Warenne before 1178 (St A. Lib. 208). He took part in a perambulation of lands locally in 1205 (RRS ii no. 469). His son, John, witnesses two Fife charters from approximately the 1220s (St A. Lib. 269, 272).

Various charters relating to Wormiston are discussed and listed in Hist. MSS. Comm. 5, 623–4, including RRS ii no. 196. Apart from this last, they date from c.1300 onwards, the earliest relating to the lands of *Torbrecks CRA (q.v.). They are not listed here because the editor has standardised all occurrences of the name to Wolmerstoun. They do, however, give much information about the lands and feudal superiors of Wormiston in the fourteenth century: for example reference is made to an indenture of 1326 ‘betwixt Thomas Hay of Balcomie and Laurence of Wolmerstoun, for the decision of the way betwixt Balcomie and Wolmerstoun’ (no. 7, p. 624). In the same year a contract was made between the same two men anent the lands of Stewartflat (no. 8, p. 624).

The above NGR is for modern Wormiston, but the site marked simply as Wormistone on OS 6 inch (1855) and which is now Wormiston House, is probably the old centre of the estate, at NO610095. The 1855 map shows modern Wormiston as Wormistone Manse.

OS Pathf. also shows Wormistone Hind, a coastal feature. /ˈwʌrmɪstən/ or /ˈwʌrməstən/