Mesnieres in Normandy was the original home of the Norman family who in England rendered their name as Manners, and were ancestors of the present Dukes of Rutland. Sir Robert de Meyneris appeared at the court of Alexander II, where he gained royal patronage, rising to become chamberlain in 1249. Sir Robert received grants of lands in Glen Lyon and Atholl, reinforced by a grant to his son, Alexander, of Aberfeldy in Strathtay, in 1296. Alexander also acquired the lands of Weem and made a splendid marriage to Egidia, daughter of James, the High Steward of Scotland. His son, Sir Robert, was a companion-in-arms of Robert the Bruce, and was rewarded with lands in Glendochart, Finlarig, Glenorchy, and Durisdeer.
It was the eighth chief, another Sir Robert Menzies, who built the castle at Weem around 1488. Weem was plundered in 1502 by Stewart of Garth during a dispute over the ownership of lands in Fothergill. Janet Menzies had married a Stewart about a century earlier, and Garth claimed the lands as part of her tocher, or dowry. Menzies appealed to the Crown, and James IV found in his favour, ordered Stewart to make restitution, and erected the Menzies lands into the free barony of Menzies in 1510. In 1540 James Menzies of Menzies married Barbara Stewart, daughter of the third Stewart Earl of Atholl and cousin to Lord Darnley, the future King Henry. Despite both their Stewart and royal links, the chiefs opposed Charles I, and Menzies was harried by Montrose. The great marquess sent a messenger to him seeking to enlist support but, whether by accident or design, the envoy was wounded. Montrose retaliated, and in the skirmishing which ensued the Menzies chief was fatally wounded. His son, a major in the Army of the Covenant, was killed when Montrose caught Argyll unprepared at the Battle of Inverlochy. The Menzies families in the north took an independent line from that of their Perthshire chiefs. Sir Gilbert Menzies of Pitfodels was with Montrose throughout his campaigns, and was present at Inverlochy when his chief’s son was killed.
In 1665, Sir Alexander Menzies was created a Baronet of Nova Scotia. His brother, Colonel James Menzies of Culdares, ancestor of the present chief, was a veteran of the civil war who, it was claimed, had survived no less than nine serious wounds. Another of Sir Alexander’s brothers had died fighting for the royalists at the Battle of Worcester in 1651. The chiefs opposed the religious and political policies of James VII, and when he was forced from his throne in 1688, Menzies declared for Queen Mary and her husband, the Prince of Orange. However, clan loyalties were yet again divided, and although Major Duncan Menzies of Fornock led his Highlanders in the charge at the Battle of Killiecrankie in 1689 which broke the Government troops, they faced in the ranks of General Mackay’s army, hundreds of their Perthshire kinsmen.
When the Stuarts once more called on their loyal subjects to rise in 1715, Menzies of Culdares quickly rallied to the standard of the Old Pretender’. Culdares was captured at Dunblane after the rising. After spending many years in exile in Maryland in America, he was released and returned to Glen Lyon, where he devoted his time to forestry and land improvement. When the ‘Young Pretender’ landed in Scotland in 1745, Culdares was beyond active campaigning, but sent the prince a fine horse. However, the clan was out in force under Menzies of Shian who, with his son, was killed during the campaign. The Menzies lands at Glen Lyon provided shelter for refugees from Culloden, including members of the prince’s personal staff.
At the end of the eighteenth century, the Menzies name gained momentary prominence when James Menzies, a merchant in Weem, was one of the leaders of a protest by thousands of men and women against the Militia Ballot Act, passed in fear of a French invation in the wake of the Revolution of 1789. The Act compelled all men between the ages of nineteen and twenty-three to submit to a ballot as recruits for the army. Menzies and his citizen army forced Sir John Menzies and the Duke of Atholl to swear that they would not implement the Act, and even tried to arm themselves with weapons from the Campbell castle at Taymouth. But they were no match for regular troops, scattering at the first sign of serious opposition.
The Menzies baronetcy became extinct on the death of Sir Neil Menzies of Menzies, eighth Baronet, in 1910. His sister, Miss Egidia Menzies, succeeded to the estates, but on her death in 1918, they were sold. Menzies Castle fell into a dilapidated state, and during the Second World War was used as a Polish army medical stores depot. It was saved from ruin in 1957, when it was purchased by the Menzies Clan Society. The present chief, David, lives in Australia.
Find out more at: www.menzies.org