History of the Burnetts

     The earliest ancestor of the Burnetts of Leys is given as Alexander Burnard, the first to be associated with the lands of Leys. He may have been a son of Roger Burnard of Farningdoun. Alexander apparently was awarded large grants of land on the banks of the River Dee in the vicinity of Banchory Ternan, Kincardineshire for loyal service to King Robert I of Scotland (Robert the Bruce). He also was Keeper of the Forest of Drum which is considered to be symbolized by the Horn of Leys which currently hangs in Crathes Castle, the eventual residence of the Burnetts of Leys.

Horn of Leys

     There is a question as to whether the Burnetts are of Anlgo-Saxon origin or Norman origin. Earlier researchers seemed to have believed that they were of Anglo-Saxon origin. More recent researchers have been leaning toward Norman origin. Some suggest that Burnet had its origin in the Old French burnette, a diminutive of the French brun meaning dark brown. The term burnete was later used for a dark-brown woollen cloth. Additionally there are references to Burnards or Bernards in the Doomsday Book.

     The home of the Burnards, later Burnet(t)s, was originally a crannog in the Loch of Leys, sometimes referred to as the "Castle of Leys." A crannog was normally constructed by creating an artificial island or by enhancing an existing one. Timber piles were driven into the bed of the lock. Between them stones were heaped to well above the high-water line and leveled so that a platform of timber poles could be laid to form a floor. Construction of the building may have been from timber or stone. The "Castle of Leys" has been described as having been a strong substantial building and rectangular in shape. It is reasonable to assume that the construction may have been out of stone.

     When the Burnards/Burnet(t)s abandoned the crannog for a dwelling on land is not certain. Alexander Burnard/Burnet of Leys, the first Baron of Leys, resigned all his lands to into the King's hands on 23 April 1488. Two days later, April 25, he received a charter uniting into one Free Barony the lands of Leys, Killenaglerach, Cullonach, The Hill, Candahill, Crathes with mill, Drumsalloch with the Loch of Banchory and Island, all in the Sheriffdom of Aberdeen, along with Wester Cardney. Since land charters centered around a main dwelling which, in the case of the Burnetts, had so far been the crannog on the Loch of Leys, this may have been the time at which a interim dwelling became the focal point of the Burnett family. A similar ceremony took place in the following century when Crathes become the main dwelling.

     The exact dates for the building of the Castle of Crathes has been not been determine. The year 1553 has always been accepted, on slender evidence, as the beginning date of construction by the 9th laird of Leys, Alexander Burnett. However, the architecture, the cartulary, the geography, and the history suggests that the construction probably began around 1488 by the 6th laird of Leys. It is accepted that the present castle is the result of two phrases of construction, the time lapse between the first and second and the reason is at issue. In 1595, the 12th laird of Leys resigned the barony of Leys to the crown and had a new charter issued in which "the tower, manor, and fortalice of Crathes" was recognized as the caput of the barony. Alexander and his wife, Katherine Gordon of Lesmoir, firmly stamped Crathes with their personalities, their arms, their monogram and even perhaps their "portraits" carved on the doors of a cupboard. Alexander would have been a 2nd cousin to John Burnett, the immigrant to Virginia.

     Burnet of Leys was using a shield, charged with three holly leaves and a hunting horn by 1553, presumably blazoned: Argent, three holly leaves in chief Vert and a hunting horn in base sable stringed Gules. The crest may have been a right hand holding a knife pruning a vine, with the motto, Alterius non sit qui suis esse potest (Who can be his would not be another's). Confirmation of the shield and its tinctures is given in The Hague Roll about 1592. On the south front of the tower at Crathes Castle is a set of three heraldic panels which were carved around 1596. Included in the set are the impaled Arms of Alexander Burnett and Janet Hamiton, date 1553. This reinforces the importance of that marriage. One of the other two panels shows the Royal Arms of Scotland surrounded by the English Order of the Garter (James IV, King of Scots was created a Knight of that Order in 1590 and this is the earliest carved stone to commemorate that fact.) The third panel bears the impaled arms of Alexander Burnet and his wife Katherine Gordon of Lesmoir, dated 1596.

     The source for the majority of the information above is Crannog to Castle A History of the Burnett Family in Scotland, edit by Eileen A. Bailey, forward by James C. A. Burnett of Leys, published and copyright 2000.

Burnett crest encircled by a belt and buckled

     In heraldic law, there is no such thing as a "family" crest. The crest belongs only to the person to whom it was issued, i.e., the Chief. However, that stated, when one wears the Chief's crest encircled by a belt and buckle inscribed with the Chief's motto, it indicates allegiance to the Chief. (See above.)

     Blazon - a cubit arm, the hand naked, vested vert, doubled argent, pruning a vine tree with a pruning knife

     Motto - Virescit Vulnere, Virtus (Courage Flourishes at a Wound)

     The motto is the same as for the Stewarts and probably owes its origin to Mary, Queen of Scots, who is said to have embroidered it some material during her imprisonment by Elizabeth I of England.

     Above description found one the House of Burnett web page here.

Burnett Tartans

Hunting tartan
Dress tartan

Burnette Arms

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Arms of the current Burnett of Leys
A Burnett Arms
Burnett & Gordon Arms, Crathes Castle Ceiling
Burnett & Hamilton Arms, Crathes Castle Ceiling
Three heraldic panels, Crathes Castle Tower