Edenburgum showing Abbeyhill on 1648 map by Matthaus Merian

Bond by Sir William Purves to Sir David Hay, one of his majesty’s physicians, for 1,000 merks.

Armstong Map of Purveshaugh near Earlston in 1771

The Hirsel near Coldstream the last of my immediate family (James Purves) in Scotland worked here before leaving in the late 19th Century

Clarior e tenebris: The Purves family motto is a Latin phrase translated to

“brighter from obscurity”, “light out of darkness” or “(I shine) out of the darkness more brightly”

fitting for this web site and re-phrased “Bring you clarity from obscurity”

Purves family origins are uniquely circumscribed to the South East regions of Scotland and the family mostly remained in the area until the 19th Century when emigration to Canada occurred and in the later parts the 1800’s when migration to Newcastle and Liverpool/Manchester started because of decline of the rural economy and industrialisation ‘opportunities’. The spelling variant Purvis appears to be an Anglisation of the name during the 18/19th Century during early migration south to England with Purves being the norm from the 16th Century in Scotland.

The first use of surnames in the Western world started with tax and feudalism in Normandy in the 11th Century. In Southern Scotland surnames became common by the 12th Century with the influx of the Anglo-Norman nobles with King David I. However researching families this far back is fraught with problems mostly due to the lack of documentation. Where there is documentation it is often in Latin and the general lack of education means even those who can write often spell surnames with a wide variation- please see my page on Purves spelling variation.

The name has an ‘occupational’, or role, origin stemming from the “the collection or requisition of provisions for a sovereign” Purveyance (purvea(u)nce, purvya(u)nce in middle English and purveance in old French).

Thankfully the Purves family is some importance throughout the generations and there is much documentation naming individuals and their families. However this documentation is very dispersed and the origins for the idea for this web site is to make me organise it and make it publically available .

Southern Scotland is of course famous for the Border Reivers and Purves’ do not get a mention in fact nor do the Douglas’ nor Home’s (families with very close ties with the Purves’) – as a consequence the true relevance of Purves’ to Scottish and Border history has been lost – something this web site aims to correct.

Our starting point is the first Purves written about “Witti Purueis carta de Mospennoc” (or in English William Purveys of Mospennoc) is “carta”; Tenant-in-Chief (or vassel) to Alexander II and during his reign (1214-1249) William sold the Monks of Melrose a right of way over his land. A William, likely his son, is named in the Ragman Rolls in 1296 as “William Porneys – tenauntz le Roi du counte de Pebbles” – this William also has a Royal Charter for land. In addition the Ragman Rolls also contain “William Poureys – del counte de Berewyk”, perhaps William Purveys of Mospennoc grandson? This William witnesses a charter in the same year by William de Billingham relating to the lands of Fleurs, near Coldingham as “William Puruys”.

Traditional naming conventions suggest that William of Mospennoc’s father was also William (as his Son is William). We also know that it is this generation or later that surnames start to be used as such William’s father is also likely to originate other family names through his son’s – both legitimate and illegitimate – I have several working conjectures on who William of Mospennoc’s father might be:

  • William de Douglas the de Douglas brothers worked very closely together and with Archibald witnessing William of Mospennoc’s deal plus the subsequent many Centuries of connection between the Purves’ and Douglas’ makes the proposal.
  • A Fraser of Keith or Oliver due coats of arms similarities and proximity of family seat, Oliver Castle, in Tweeddale at the same time
  • William de Conigburg, Dominus de Stapilgorton whose daughter Alicia married John Fraser of Drumelzier [Morton Registrum, Vol. I, 9, p. 8.] and Son William de Conigburg born 1180 may have taken on the role of Kings purveyance.

If these conjectures are not true then William of Mospennoc would probably also be a descendant of an important Flemish knight because his connections with the Douglas, Frasers and others in Tweeddale area.

[DN: to be continued]

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