ICYMI: A problem in perspective

Culter Kirk. Courtesy of Wikipedia

[Author’s note: This blog post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 26 March 2021.]

Sometimes one loses perspective on one’s researches, so when I say that the identity of Master James Livingston, a younger son of the 4th Lord Livingston, is a problem for the ages – a quandary for which many await resolution – I may be overstating things a little. Still, he is one of several men in the ancestry of the American Livingston family whose life, and whose marriage(s) and child(ren), has long been a puzzle.

One rule I try to follow in genealogy seems useful here: Keep an eye out for someone who falls in the place of the person you seek. With the Livingstons, a titled family with lands to inherit, it should be easy to spot a younger son – since sixteenth-century entails were often quite specific about inheritance – and, yet, to date it seems that there are few references to Master James in his lifetime and none for more than a century thereafter.

The two scholars who were most focused on the Livingston family in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were Edwin Brockholst Livingston (1852-1929) and Sir James Balfour Paul (1846-1931). Having reviewed E. B. Livingston’s two editions of The Livingstons of Callendar,[1] I see that he marked the identification of Master James Livingston (d. 1547) as a cadet of the Livingston family; while sorting through other James Livingstons of the mid-sixteenth-century, he named three others who were easy to confuse:

  • Master James Livingston, Rector of Culter, Lanarkshire, “prior to September 1534”;
  • Master James Livingston of Baldoran, “a cadet of Kilsyth”; and
  • Master James Livingston, “chaplain of St. John the Baptist’s Aisle, Falkirk Parish Church, who was deceased circa 1575.

He continues: “Among the Kilsyth writs is a discharge of rent paid by William Livingston, fourth of Kilsyth, for Castletoun and Balmalloch, dated at Kilbride, 13 February 1515-16, and signed by William, fourth Lord Livingston, whose signature is witnessed by Master James Livingston and William Livingston, evidently his two younger sons, and by Sir James Livingston his chaplain. The last witness may possibly be identified with the James Livingston who was subsequently Rector of Culter, as the patronage of this church belonged to the Lords Livingston of Callendar.”[2]

The two editions of The Livingstons of Callendar were published (starting) in 1887 and in 1920, and in the interim E. B. Livingston undertook much new research and made many fresh discoveries, some following the publication of Paul’s Scots Peerage (1904-14).[3] It would appear that the two were in touch, and aware of one another’s work – and the work, of course, of many others who pored over manuscripts and rare books in libraries and muniments rooms – but, in the flood of new and reimagined material, something Paul published in the Linlithgow article in The Scots Peerage got short shrift.

“…whom failing, to Alexander, natural son of the deceased Mr. James Livingston, rector of Culter…”

Discussing one of the 5th Lord Livingston’s younger sons – thus a first cousin of any son of Master James Livingston – Paul summarizes the entail (the named heirs, in order, to a piece of land) of Haining in West Lothian. Thomas Livingston and his new wife, not then the parents of children, executed a document naming the heirs to Haining (after any son of their own) as “the second male heir of William, Lord Livingston, not being himself Lord Livingston, and heirs-male of his body, whom failing, to William, son of Henry Livingston in Falkirk, and his heirs-male, whom failing, to Alexander, natural son of the deceased Mr. James Livingston, rector of Culter, and heirs-male of his body…”[4]

Mr. James Livingston of Culter is one of the men E. B. Livingston warned the unwary about, but there is something quite interesting about this 1551 document. The Haining entail names the male heirs of Thomas Livingston’s brother, the 6th Lord Livingston, then skips to the Livingstons of Falkirk, who appear to be rather distant cousins.[5] Where then is the family of Thomas Livingston’s uncle, the late Master James Livingston? The only named child of Master James is Alexander Livingston, later rector of Monyabroch (Kilsyth), whom one would expect to find coming next in the entail – well before the Falkirk Livingstons. And here he seems to be.

The identity of Master James’s wife, mother of his son Alexander, has been a mystery, but is Master James the same as Mr. James Livingston, rector of Culter, a parish in the gift of the Livingston family? Does “natural son” (or however it appears in the original document) mean Alexander was illegitimate? or does it simply refer to a normal father/son relationship, the child born in the legal marriage of his parents?

What strikes me here is that, yes, Alexander Livingston son of James is positioned near his (apparent) first cousin, Thomas Livingston of Haining. Just a few years later, Mr. Alexander Livingston received the parish of Monyabroch to minister from another first cousin, the 6th Lord Livingston, Thomas Livingston’s brother.

According to E. B. Livingston’s account of the family, Master James Livingston first appears in a record in 1509; his estate settlement, involving his brother the 5th Lord Livingston, is dated in 1547.[6] Mr. James Livingston of Culter makes a very few appearances during the early 1540s, as rector of both Culter and Moffat (in Dumfries); interestingly, at Culter he is seen in relation to a powerful kinsman, the 2nd Earl of Arran, and it is as a member of Lord Arran’s troop at Pinkie that James Livingston is said to have died in 1547.

“…the Hon. and Rev. Jas. Livingston, son of the Earl of Linlithgow [sic]…”

A particularly tantalizing clue appears in the Culter-Allers charter chest, where “the Hon. and Rev. Jas. Livingston, son of the Earl of Linlithgow, [was] designed parson of Culter, in a deed dated 29 Mar., 1541.”[7] It was actually Master James Livingston’s great-nephew Alexander, 7th Lord Livingston, who was created Earl of Linlithgow (and not until 1600); in 1541, the 5th Lord Livingston – James’s brother – was the head of the family. Does this inferential account constitute proof?!

At the very least, it seems to me quite possible that James Livingston of Culter was the younger son of the 4th Lord Livingston, while James Livingston of Falkirk Parish Church was the long-lived chaplain of the 4th Lord Livingston, both men present at Kilbride in February 1516.


[1] Edwin Brockholst Livingston, The Livingstons of Callendar and Their Principal Cadets: A Family History, in (at least) 4 parts, paged consecutively (Privately printed, 1887-90); Edwin Brockholst Livingston, The Livingstons of Callendar and Their Principal Cadets: The History of an Old Stirlingshire Family (Edinburgh: Printed at the University Press by T. and A. Constable for the author, 1920), 65-66.

[2] Livingston, The Livingstons of Callendar [1920], 66.

[3] The Scots Peerage, published at Edinburgh in 9 volumes by D. Douglas.

[4] Paul, The Scots Peerage, 5: 437.

[5] E. B. Livingston thought Henry Livingston, ancestor of the Earls of Newburgh, was actually a cadet of “the Livingstons of that ilk, and not of Callendar…” (Livingston, The Livingstons of Callendar [1920], 185). In any case, the Livingstons of Falkirk were intimate with the Livingstons of Dunipace, likely a cadet branch of Callendar – but still quite distantly related to the Lords Livingston of Callendar.

[6] James Livingston, a scholar, was witness to an instrument of procuration at Glasgow, 18 October 1509; a James Livingston was a member of Arran’s household ca. 1544; and Master James Livingston’s effects were inventoried at Stirling 13 October 1547 (Livingston, The Livingstons of Callendar [1920], 65-66).

[7] J. W. Baillie, “Notes regarding the Parish of Culter and the various families that lived in it,” an appendix in George Vere Irving, The Upper Ward of Lanarkshire, Described and Delineated, 3 vols. (Glasgow: Thomas Murray and Son, 1864), 3: 154.

About Scott C. Steward

Scott C. Steward was the founding editor at Vita Brevis; he served as NEHGS Editor-in-Chief 2013-2022. He is the author, co-author, or editor of genealogies of the Ayer, Le Roy, Lowell, Saltonstall, Thorndike, and Winthrop families. His articles have appeared in The New England Historical and Genealogical Register, NEXUS, New England Ancestors, American Ancestors, and The Pennsylvania Genealogical Magazine, and he has written book reviews for the Register, The New York Genealogical and Biographical Record, and the National Genealogical Society Quarterly.

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