House of Stewart

The name “Stewart” originates from the political position of office similar to a governor, known as steward. It was adopted as the family surname by Walter Stewart, 3rd High Steward of Scotland. Prior to this, family names were not used, instead they had patronyms, a name derived from the name of a father or ancestor. For example, the first two High Stewards were known as FitzAlan and FitzWalter respectively. The gallicised spelling (to make or become French in language) was first borne by John Stewart of Darnley, after his time in the French wars.

Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley and Mary, Queen of Scots

During the 16th century, the French spelling of Stuart was adopted by Mary, Queen of Scots, when she was living in France. She authorized the change to ensure the correct pronunciation of the Scots version of the name Stewart, the letter “w” would have made it difficult for French speakers.

The spelling of Stuart was also used by her second husband, Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley. He was the father of James VI and I, so the official spelling Stuart for the British royal family derives from him.

family tree

Walter Stewart, 6th High Steward of Scotland, married Marjorie Bruce, daughter of Robert the Bruce. He also played an important part in the Battle of Bannockburn, gaining further favour.

Walter Stewart, 6th High Steward of Scotland, Coat of Arms

Their son, Robert, was heir to the House of Bruce, the lordship of Cunningham and the Bruce lands of Bourtreehill. When his uncle, David II, died childless on 22 February 1371, he inherited the Scottish throne as Robert II.

robert ii of scotland
Robert II of Scotland

In 1593, James IV of Scotland hoped to secure peace with England by marrying King Henry VII’s daughter, Margaret Tudor. The birth of their son, James V, brought the House of Stewart into the line of descent of the House of Tudor, and the English throne.

james iv of scotland and margaret tudor
James IV of Scotland and Margaret Tudor

Margaret Tudor later married Archibald Douglas, 6th Earl of Angus, and their daughter, Margaret Douglas, was the mother of Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley.

In 1565, Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, married his half-cousin Mary, Queen of Scots, the daughter of James V and Mary of Guise.

James V of Scotland and Mary of Guise

Both Mary, Queen of Scots and Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, had strong claims to the English throne, through their mutual grandmother, Margaret Tudor. This led to the accession of the couple’s only child, James, as King of Scotland, England and Ireland on 24 March 1603. However, this was a Personal Union, as the three kingdoms shared a monarch, but had separate governments, churches, and institutions.

Mary, Queen of Scots and James VI + I of Scotland, England and Ireland

This personal union did not prevent an armed conflict, known as the Bishops’ Wars, breaking out between England and Scotland in 1639. This was to become part of the cycle of political and military conflict that marked the reign of Charles I of England, Scotland and Ireland, terminating in a series of conflicts known as the War of the Three Kingdoms.


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