Thor of Tranent

Last updated
Thor (Thorald, Durand)
Sheriff in Lothian
Preceded bynone known
Succeeded byRobert fitz Guy
Personal details
Diedc. mid-to-late 12th century
Spouse(s)not known
ChildrenSveinn, Alexander, William
ResidenceEast Lothian

Thor of Tranent, also known as Thor, son of Sveinn or Thor, son of Swain (fl. 1127 x 1150), Lord of Tranent and Sheriff of Lothian, was a landlord and chieftain active in Lothian in the reign of King David I of Scotland. He is attested in a large number of charters during King David's reign in Lothian, both as a charter witness on charters granted by other patrons and on charters he himself issued. His name appears either as Thor son of Sveinn or "Thor of Tranent", the latter appellation deriving from his ownership of the "barony" of Tranent, East Lothian, lands including a wide area around the modern town, including, for instance, Prestonpans. [1]

Floruit, abbreviated fl., Latin for "he/she flourished", denotes a date or period during which a person was known to have been alive or active. In English, the word may also be used as a noun indicating the time when someone flourished.

Tranent town in East Lothian (formerly Haddingtonshire), Scotland

Tranent is a town in East Lothian, in the south-east of Scotland. It is near the A1 road, 2 miles (3 km) southeast of Prestonpans and about 9 miles (14 km) east of Edinburgh. It is one of the oldest towns in East Lothian, and built on a gentle slope, about 90 metres (300 ft) above sea level. The population of the town is approximately 12,582, an increase of over 4,000 since 2001, making it the second most populated town in East Lothian after Musselburgh. Tranent was formerly a major mining town, but now serves as a commuter town for Edinburgh.

A sheriff is a government official, with varying duties, existing in some countries with historical ties to England, where the office originated. There is an analogous although independently developed office in Iceland that is commonly translated to English as sheriff, and this is discussed below.


Charter appearances and sheriffdom

This is the modern building of Tranent parish church, controlled by Thor and granted to Holywood Abbey c. 1150; the older church was replaced around 1800. Tranent Parish Church.jpg
This is the modern building of Tranent parish church, controlled by Thor and granted to Holywood Abbey c. 1150; the older church was replaced around 1800.

His earliest attested appearance is probably that of 1127, when he witnessed as Thor de Trauernent a charter of King David granting land in Edinburgh to the church of St Cuthbert of Edinburgh. [2] As Thor filius Swani (written Thoro filio Swani), in 1130 he witnessed a favourable grant by King David to Dunfermline Abbey regarding rights over ships trading at Inveresk, East Lothian. [3]

Edinburgh Capital city in Scotland

Edinburgh is the capital of Scotland and one of its 32 council areas. Historically part of the county of Midlothian, it is located in Lothian on the Firth of Forth's southern shore.

St Cuthberts Church, Edinburgh Church in Edinburgh, Scotland

The Parish Church of St Cuthbert is a parish church of the Church of Scotland now within the Presbytery of Edinburgh. The church building is situated east of Lothian Road in central Edinburgh at the western foot of the Castle Rock, at the west end of Princes Street, but set well below street level, unlike its more modern counterpart, St John's, which screens the church in views from the north. The church is surrounded by its churchyard, which adds a valued green space in the city centre, linking visually to Princes Street Gardens on its east side.

Dunfermline Abbey Church in Fife, Scotland

Dunfermline Abbey is a Church of Scotland Parish Church in Dunfermline, Fife, Scotland. The minister is the Reverend MaryAnn R. Rennie. The church occupies the site of the ancient chancel and transepts of a large medieval Benedictine abbey, which was sacked in 1560 during the Scottish Reformation and permitted to fall into disrepair. Part of the old abbey church continued in use at that time and some parts of the abbey infrastructure still remain. Dunfermline Abbey is one of Scotland's most important cultural sites.

In a charter issued at Stirling granting a salt pan to Kelso Abbey in 1143, he appeared as Tor vicecomite, Thor the Sheriff. [4] Sometime in the following year, he was at Edinburgh Castle, witnessing a grant by the king of land in Dalkeith to Holyrood Abbey. [5]

Stirling city in Scotland

Stirling is a city in central Scotland, 26 miles (42 km) north-east of Glasgow and 37 miles (60 km) north-west of the Scottish capital, Edinburgh. The market town, surrounded by rich farmland, grew up connecting the royal citadel, the medieval old town with its merchants and tradesmen, the bridge and the port. Located on the River Forth, Stirling is the administrative centre for the Stirling council area, and is traditionally the county town of Stirlingshire. Proverbially it is the strategically important "Gateway to the Highlands".

Dry lake A basin or depression that formerly contained a standing surface water body

A dry lake is either a basin or depression that formerly contained a standing surface water body, which disappeared when evaporation processes exceeded recharge. If the floor of a dry lake is covered by deposits of alkaline compounds, it is known as an alkali flat. If covered with salt, it is known as a salt flat.

Kelso Abbey category A listed building

Kelso Abbey is a ruined Scottish abbey in Kelso, Scotland. It was founded in the 12th century by a community of Tironensian monks first brought to Scotland in the reign of Alexander I. It occupies ground overlooking the confluence of the Tweed and Teviot waters, the site of what was once the Royal Burgh of Roxburgh and the intended southern centre for the developing Scottish kingdom at that time. Kelso thus became the seat of a pre-eminently powerful abbacy in the heart of the Scottish Borders.

Appearing once more as "sheriff", at an uncertain point between 1143 and 1147, he was witness to a royal grant issued at Edinburgh of a toft in the burgh of Haddington, East Lothian, to Dunfermline Abbey. [6] During the same period, he witnessed a grant issued from the same location by Earl Henry of lands at Duddingston to Kelso Abbey. [7]

In England and Scotland, a toft village is a settlement comprising small and relatively closely packed farms (tofts) with the surrounding land owned and farmed by those who live in the village's buildings. Late Old English toft, with Old English declension (plural) toftas > tofts. Toft as a placename element is usually dated to the Viking Age by place-name historians.

Burgh former autonomous corporate entity in Scotland and Northern England

A burgh was an autonomous municipal corporation in Scotland and Northern England, usually a city, town, or toun in Scots. This type of administrative division existed from the 12th century, when King David I created the first royal burghs. Burgh status was broadly analogous to borough status, found in the rest of the United Kingdom. Following local government reorganization in 1975 the title of "royal burgh" remains in use in many towns, but now has little more than ceremonial value.

Haddington, East Lothian town in East Lothian, Scotland

The Royal Burgh of Haddington is a town in East Lothian, Scotland. It is the main administrative, cultural and geographical centre for East Lothian, which as a result of late-nineteenth century Scottish local government reforms took the form of the county of Haddingtonshire for the period from 1889-1921. It lies about 17 miles (27 km) east of Edinburgh. The name Haddington is Anglo-Saxon, dating from the sixth or seventh century AD when the area was incorporated into the kingdom of Bernicia. The town, like the rest of the Lothian region, was ceded by King Edgar of England and became part of Scotland in the tenth century. Haddington received burghal status, one of the earliest to do so, during the reign of David I (1124–1153), giving it trading rights which encouraged its growth into a market town.

Around 1150 he witnessed a grant by Robert, Bishop of St Andrews, passing over the church of Lohworuora (later renamed Borthwick, Midlothian) to Herbert, Bishop of Glasgow. [8] There was a charter to the Manuel Priory, now lost, dating to Máel Coluim IV's reign (1153–1165), that mentions a perambulation of the lands of Manuel conducted by Thor son of Sveinn and Geoffrey de Melville. [9]

Robert of Scone was a 12th-century bishop of Cell Rígmonaid. Robert's exact origins are unclear. He was an Augustinian canon at the Priory of St. Oswalds, at Nostell. His French name indicates a Norman rather than an Anglo-Saxon origin, but as he was likely born in the later 11th century, this may be due merely to the acculturation of his parents.

Borthwick village in United Kingdom

Borthwick is a hamlet, parish and stream in Midlothian, Scotland. The parish includes the 15th century Borthwick Castle, which is to the east of the village and the villages of Gorebridge and North Middleton. Nearby is Newtongrange in the parish of Newbattle.

Herbert of Selkirk was a 12th-century Tironensian monk, who rose to become 3rd Abbot of Selkirk-Kelso and bishop of Glasgow. While abbot of Selkirk, King David I of Scotland moved Selkirk Abbey to nearby Kelso. He was elected to the see of Glasgow soon after the death of his Bishop John, and consecrated by Pope Eugenius III at Auxerre on St Bartholomew's Day, 24 August 1147. He died in 1164.

He is almost certainly the Durandus vicecomes, mentioned in two charters dating between 1140 and 1150, issued by king David and his son Earl Henry, granting the land of Clerchetun (i.e. Clerkington) to the church of St Mary of Haddington. [10] Durand is a Normanisation of the Scandinavian name Thor. [11]

His sheriffdom's name is unclear, and perhaps did not have one originally; at later stages it was called, variously, Edinburgh, Haddington, Lothian, and Linlithgow, and so for that reason he is sometimes called "sheriff of Lothian". [12]

As it happens, one of Thor's own charters survive in a copy in the cartulary of Holyrood Abbey. The charter is a grant of his parish church at Tranent to that abbey, made around 1150. It was witnessed by William, Bishop of Moray, Osbern, Abbot of Jedburgh, Thor, Archdeacon of Lothian, Aiulf (Æþelwulf), Dean of Lothian, Nicholas, royal clerk (future Chamberlain of Scotland), as well as by Thor's own seneschal Gille Míchéil, and the lesser known figures Neis flius Chiluni, Eadmund son of Forn, Bernard son of Tocce, Eadmund of "Fazeside" and perhaps a man called "Alden". [13]


Ruins of Crawford Castle, built in the land Thor's son Sveinn II passed to the de Lindsey family Crawford Castle.jpg
Ruins of Crawford Castle, built in the land Thor's son Sveinn II passed to the de Lindsey family

Three of Thor's sons are known, Sveinn, Alexander and William, all of whom appear in charters in the reign of William the Lion. His eldest son might have been Sveinn, who in addition to his estates in East Lothian appears to have become lord of Crawford in Clydesdale; Sveinn appears to have left only an heiress as his successor, the latter marrying the Anglo-French mercenary William de Lindsey, Justiciar of Lothian and ancestor of the Lindsay earls of Crawford. appeared. [11] A "Sveinn son of Thor" was lord of Ruthven in the Angus-Gowrie borderlands. [11] Through his son Sveinn, Thor of Tranent is the oldest attested ancestor of the Earls of Gowrie. [14]

His two other known sons Alexander and William both had non-Scandinavian names. Alexander seems to be the same "Alexander son of Thor" who is attested as Sheriff of Clackmannan between 1205 and 1207. [15] Alexander's own son William was lord of Ochiltree near Binny, West Lothian. [11]

The other son, William, was Sheriff of Stirling in a document dated c. 1165, and by 1194 at least William's son Alexander (fl. 1189 x 1223) had succeeded him. [16] William is also known to have granted the church of Kirkintilloch in Clydesdale to Cambuskenneth Abbey, suggesting he shared in the fruits of the family's expansion into that western region. [17]

Two settlements in Lothian, Thurston (East Lothian) and Swanston (Midlothian), mean "Thor's village" and "Sveinn's village" respectively, and were probably founded in this period. [18] Through some unknown mechanism, in William the Lion's reign the land of Tranent was under the control of the incoming de Quincy family. [19]

See also


  1. Lawrie, Early Scottish Charters, pp. 322, 421.
  2. Lawrie, Early Scottish Charters, no. 72.
  3. Lawrie, Early Scottish Charters, no. 87.
  4. Lawrie, Early Scottish Charters, no. 159.
  5. Lawrie, Early Scottish Charters, no. 160.
  6. Lawrie, Early Scottish Charters, no. 203.
  7. Barrow (ed.), Acts of Malcolm IV, no. 29.
  8. Lawrie, Early Scottish Charters, no. 230.
  9. Barrow (ed.), Acts of Malcolm IV, no. 270.
  10. Lawrie, Early Scottish Charters, nos. 134, 135; Reid & Barrow, Sheriffs of Scotland, pp. 13, & n. 32; see also following notes.
  11. 1 2 3 4 Barrow (ed.), Acts of William I, p. 64, n. 99.
  12. Barrow (ed.), Acts of Malcolm IV, p. 46, & n. 3; Reid & Barrow, Sheriffs of Scotland, p. 13, & n. 31.
  13. For all this, see Lawrie, Early Scottish Charters, no. 214.
  14. Sir James Balfour Paul, Scots Peerage vol iv, p 255
  15. Reid & Barrow, Sheriffs of Scotland, p. 9.
  16. Reid & Barrow, Sheriffs of Scotland, p. 42, though the father-son succession may have been interrupted by one Radulf (fl. 1165 x 1177)[ clarification needed ], who came either before or after "William son of Thorald"; see also Barrow (ed.), Acts of William I, nos. 130, 308, 323.
  17. Barrow (ed.), Acts of William I, no. 528, & p. 421.
  18. Barrow, Anglo-Norman Era, pp. 39.
  19. Lawrie, Early Scottish Charters, p. 421.

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