The Barclays were a family which came over from France with the Norman Conquest. The first spelling of their name was ‘de Berchelai’, believed to be the Anglo–Saxon version of ‘beau’, meaning ‘beautiful’, and ‘lee’ a ‘meadow’ or ‘field’. The early settlers in Gloucestershire bore the Norman forenames of Roger and Ralph. Domesday Book lists them as owning twenty hamlets between the Rivers Wye and Usk. The Earls of Berkeley built Berkeley Castle as a fortress in 1153. Edward II was imprisoned and murdered there by his queen in 1327. The castle was so stout that its walls were only breached in the seventeenth century, during the civil war between Charles I and Parliament.
Some of the family went north to Scot-land where they settled in the north-east at Towie, Mathers, Gartley and Pierston in Aberdeenshire. They also settled at Collairnie in Fife. Lord Roger de Berchelai, who is mentioned in Domesday, and, by tradition, his son, John, came to Scotland in the retinue of Margaret, sister of the Saxon Edgar the Aetheling, in 1067. She married Malcolm III, who bestowed various lands on her followers, including the lands of Towie to John de Berchelai.
His son, Robert Barclay, second of Urie, was also a Quaker, and published An Apology for the true Christian Divinity as the same is held forth and preached by the people called in scorn Quakers in 1675. The Apology, first published in Latin, was reprinted in English, German, Dutch, French and Spanish. Although the Quakers were generally persecuted, Barclay received great respect, even acquiring favour at the royal court. He moved with his family to London, and corresponded with Princess Elizabeth, niece of Charles I. In 1679 Charles II granted him a charter under the great seal, erecting his lands of Urie into a free barony. In 1682 the proprietors of East Jersey in America appointed him governor of that province, bestowing upon him five thousand acres of land. He never took up office but died at Urie in August 1690. David Barclay of Cheapside, the apologist’s second son, founded Barclay’s Bank.
There have always been close shipping and trading ties between the east coast of Scotland and Scandinavia and the lands around the Baltic, and the Barclays were involved in this trade. In 1621 Sir Patrick Barclay, Baron of Towie, the seventeenth Laird, signed a letter of safe conduct in favour of John and Peter Barclay who were merchants in the town of Banff and who wished to settle in Rostock in Livonia, on the shores of the Baltic. This letter is still extant, and is in the possession of Barclay descendants in Riga. The brothers became silk merchants and burghers. From Peter, in five generations, was descended Field Marshall Michael Andreas Barclay de Tolly, born 16 December 1761. He was made Minister of War in 1810 and two years later was given command of the Russian armies fighting against Napoleon. He avoided direct confrontation with the French and instead instigated a scorched earth campaign, leaving the country desolate through which the French troops were required to pass. The plan was a success, and retreat from Moscow in 1812 contributed greatly to Napoleon’s final downfall. The appointment of a Scottish commander-in-chief was much resented by the Russian nobility, but nevertheless his capabilities were respected. Barclay de Tolly was created a prince by the Tsar, and his memory is still honoured in Russia, where his portrait hangs in the Hermitage in St Petersburg. He died on 25 May 1818.
The present Chief is Barclay of Towie Barclay and of that Ilk who is thirty-first of the line. He lives in London.