The Lindsays came to prominence in the late eleventh century in England and Scotland. Sir Walter de Lindissie, ‘noble and knight’ accompanied David, Earl of Huntingdon, brother of Alexander I, to Scotland to claim his throne. Lindissie means Lincoln’s Island and was a jurisdiction within that English shire. Sir Walter’s great-grandson, Sir William de Lindesay, sat in the Parliament of 1164 and was afterwards a justiciar. He held the lands of Crawford, the earldom of which was to ultimately be the premier title of the chiefs, but he sat in Parliament as Baron of Luffness in East Lothian. He acquired considerable wealth through his wife, Ethelreda, a granddaughter of the great Cospatrick ruler of most of Northumbria. His son, Sir David, married Marjory, a member of the royal family, and on his death in 1214 he was succeeded as third Lord of Crawford and High Justiciar of Lothian by his son, David, who also inherited the English estates of Limesay and Wolveray. One of his descendants, another Sir David, was High Chamberlain of Scotland in 1256 and later died on the Crusade led by Louis of France in 1268. His grandson, yet another Sir David, succeeded to the estates as Lord of Crawford and was one of the barons whose seal was appended to the letter of 1320 to the pope, asserting the independence of Scotland, and more commonly known as the Declaration of Arbroath. In 1346 his second son and heir, Sir James de Lindsay, married Ejidia, daughter of Walter the High Steward of Scotland and half-sister to Robert II.
Sir David de Lindsay took part in the famous tournament at London Bridge in 1390 in the presence of Richard II of England, at which Lindsay won the day and the admiration of the English king. On 21 April 1398 he was created Earl of Crawford. He was Lord High Admiral of Scotland in 1403 and sent as ambassador to England in 1406. Alexander, the fourth Earl, joined in the rebellion against James II and fought at the Battle of Brechin in 1452. The royal forces were victorious and the earl was attainted for treason, but he was later pardoned. His daughter, Elizabeth, married John, the first Lord Drummond, who was ancestor of Henry, Lord Darnley, the King Consort of Mary, Queen of Scots and the father of James VI. The fifth Earl rose high in royal favour and was successively Lord High Admiral of Scotland, Master of the Royal Household, Lord Chamberlain and High Justiciary. The sixth Earl fell at Flodden, in close attendance on his king, James IV.
Ludovic Lindsay, who had learned his trade as a soldier on the Continent, fought for Charles I during the civil war. He commanded a regiment of cavalry at Marston Moor and was later with Montrose at Philiphaugh in 1645, where he was captured. He died without issue, having first resigned his earldom to the Crown for regrant to his kinsman John, Earl of Lindsay. The title remained in this branch of the family until the nineteenth century, when it passed to the Earls of Balcarres. The Lindsays of Balcarres descended from a younger son of the ninth Earl of Crawford, who were created earls in their own right in 1650 for eminent services during the civil war. The first Earl of Balcarres was made hereditary governor of Edinburgh Castle, Secretary of State for Scotland and High Commissioner to the General Assembly. His younger son, Colin, later the third Earl, was a staunch Jacobite who fought during the rising of 1715 and only escaped being attainted for treason through the intervention of his life-long friend, the Duke of Marlborough. Alexander, the sixth Earl of Balcarres, became the twenty-third Earl of Crawford, and his descendant, the twenty-ninth Earl, is the present chief.
Another prominent branch of the family were the Lindsays of Edzell, who descended from a son of the ninth Earl of Crawford. Edzell Castle north of Brechin is now largely ruinous but it is famed for its magnificent renaissance garden which has been completely restored, and is unique in Scotland. The garden was laid out by Lord Edzell, a judge of the Supreme Court who, as a youth, travelled on the Continent. The Lindsays’ other unique contribution to Scottish heritage is in the work of Sir David Lindsay of the Mount. His play, Ane Satyre of the Three Estaitis, satirising the corruption in Church and State, was first performed in 1540. It was successfully revived twice this century to high critical acclaim.
The present chief still resides at Balcarres in Fife, where he is prominent in local affairs. In 1997 he was created a Knight of the Most Ancient and Most Noble Order of the Thistle. The earldom of Lindsay has also been revived, although this line now bear the compound surname of Lindsay-Bethune.