"CHALMERS, Chambers. The correct forms are Chalmer and Chamber, from OF, de la chambre, of the chamber: (1) a chamber attendant, (2) of the Treasury chamber (camera), and so metonymic for CHAMBERLAIN, q.v. The spellings with -s are later. When the OF word was naturalized in Scots it lost b by elision, and received l to safeguard as it were, the length of the preceding vowel, as shown in the pronunciation 'chaamer' or 'chammer'."
(Gregory Smith, Specimens of Middle Scots, p xxiii-iv).
"The use of fixed surnames or descriptive names appears to have commenced in France about the year 1000, and such names were introduced into Scotland through the Normans a little over one hundred years later.""The Surnames of Scotland" - George F. Black
Hector Boece (1465-1536) in his "Buick of the Cronicles of Scotland" stated that at a general council held at Forfar in 1061 Malcolm Caenmore (1057-1093) directed all his chief subjects to adopt surnames from their territorial possessions.
Although the Normans never subjugated Scotland they exerted a strong influence on the country. The sons of the noblemen of Scotland were educated south of the border and French was the language of court.
Despite Malcolm Caenmore's edict, it was in the reign of David I (1124-1153) that surnames began to come into use in Scotland.
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"And all this confirmed by Ferarius, a stranger; and to this I may add that, we have to this day a barony called Galdgirth, or the Girth of Galdus, and ten stones in Galloway called King Galdus's monument, marks of antiquity far preferable to any manuscript, as the testimony or consent of a whole nation is to that of one private person; two of which arguments are used by Chalmer of Ormond, in the life of King Galdus, who fought the Romans under the command of Agricola near the Grampian hills, as all our Scots historians relate."
Sir George McKenzie vol. 2d, page 373,
"Those who have, with the greatest care, diligence, and exactness, inquired into the origin and progress of sirnames with us, are of the opinion, that the sirname of Chalmers in Latin (conform to the old charters of the family) Camerarius or de Camera, when spoke of locally, is derived from the office of Camerarius Regis, or chamberlain to the crown; Herbertus Camerarius Scotiae, one of the ancestors, of this ancient and honourable family, having exercised that great office of Chamberlain of Scotland as early as the reign of King David I., and held the same under Alexander I "
Appendix to "A System of Heraldry" Vol II (with reference to CHALMER of that ILK), by Alexander Nisbet, Gent. Published: Edinburgh 1816
Hugh de Camera ("of the chamber") appears as witness to a charter of David I (1124 - 1153) and to charters of Malcolm IV (1153 - 1156). Hebertus de Camera, whose family held lands in Ayrshire and Lanarkshire, was 'camerarius regis scotiae' or Great Chamberlain of Scotland from 1124 to 1153. He and his brother Radulfus appear as witnesses to charters of King William the Lion (1165 - 1214).
The family of Hebertus and Radulfus posessed the Barony of Gadgirth. Little is known of these early Chalmers's, but the son of Radulfus "had an interest in the churches of Campsie and Altermony in the Lennox"
The "Ragman Roll" of 1296 was an instrument of homage which Edward I of England extracted from all substantial Scottish landowners during his military campaign of that year. The Roll lists around two thousand contemporary nobility, barons, landowners, burgesses and clergy. Not all listed have surnames.
Several persons with the surname de la Chaumbre signed the document, Robert de la Chaumbre and William de la Chaumbre of Lanarkshire. The seal of Robert bears the lion rampant. William de la Chaumbre, baillie and burgess of Peebles, Symon and William of Dumfriesshire and Wautier of Berwickshire.
Note that up until this time all mention of the name is from southern Scotland, most significantof these is the Chalmers's of Ayrshire - Chalmers of Gadgirth (or Galdgirth in older documents).
Nisbet in his "System of Heraldry" also states;
"The antiquity of the house of Galdgirth is further fortified and established by the writ under the great seal of Scotland in the year 1609, where the crown asserts that Chalmer of Galdgirth had before that time possessed the barony of Galdgirth for upwards of 500 years, and had lived in Ayrshire with great lustre all that while. The words in Latin are, qui quidem Camerarii baronne de Galdgirth, ab annis jam amplius quingentis illius nominis principes claruerunt ut ex authenticis illius demus monumentis constat."
In 1322 King Robert I (Robert the Bruce) - of French lineage (de Brus) granted a charter to Gilbert Chalmer of the lands of Moubreis or Wardland in the sherriffdom of Banff and in that same year Roger Chalmer received a charter of the half of the fourth part of the west part of Fintray in the sheriffdom of Aberdeen. King Robert also gave Reginald Chalmer of Galdgirth a charter under the great seal of his own estate of Galdgirth in Ayrshire.
These are the earliest mentions of the Aberdeen Chalmers dynasty. According to Nisbet in his "System of Heraldry" (1816), the Aberdeen families are an offshoot of the noble Gadgirth family and he cites changes in the heraldic emblems as proof.
The older heraldic emblems (prior to 1419) take the general form "quarterly first and fourth, a mollet in the centre of the field, second and fourth a fess cheque." A John Chalmer of Gadgirth, was one of a number of Scots who went to assist Charles VII of France against the English, and for his valour a fleur-de-lys, part of the royal bearing of France, was added to his coat of arms. He seems to have been awarded lands in Normandy and Nisbet states:
"And some of the eldest cadets and branches of the family have the same bearing, with a mark of cadency, both in France, province of Normandy, and the ancient family of Strichen in the north of Scotland; of which family the learned David Chalmers of Ormond, Chancellor of Ross, and one of the Senators of the College of Justice, Chancellor to Queen Mary and King James VI was a son, viz. to Andrew Chalmers of Strichen. He was a very learned man, and wrote a curious history of the Kings of Scotland, dedicated to Queen Mary to whom he adhered, which is extant in the libraries of the curious; but although the Lord Ormond was of Aberdeenshire by birth yet there's an authentic document I have seen, written to a namesake of his own in France, Monsieur Chalmer, Baron de Tartas that the Lord Galdgirth or Baron of Galdgirth, in Scotland, was the chief of the line, and of the name of Chalmer"
(Note: Queen Mary reigned 1542 - 1567 and James VI, 1567 - 1625)
Munro in his "Genealogical History of the Chalmers Family of Balnacraig" (1901) states in the chapter entitled "Origin of the Surname":"The cadet branches of Gadgirth such as Ashentrees in the county of Stirling and Chalmerston in the same county, carry arms closely resembling those by the northern family."- but in his "Prefatory Note" he later writes:".. my opinion was strengthened that the ancient family of Chalmers of Gadgirth in Ayrshire and the House of Balnacraig had nothing in common as regards their origin beyond the fact that the surname was the joint heritage of both. ... and was in reality in their case the accident that the progenitors of both held office at a time when the name of the office was being fixed as the surname of the individual."
But Nisbet states "the heraldic evidence linking the two families is quite convincing".
Anderson, in his reference to the family of Chalmers of Balnacraig makes the point"This is instructed by the difference in their coats of arms, for there is not one figure in the arms of the one that corresponds with those of the other".
In Ayrshire, James Chalmer of Gadgirth was an active supporter of John Knox and entertained him at the family seat of Gadgirth.
Probably the most famous Chalmers is the Rev. Dr. Thomas Chalmers (1780-1847), first moderator of the Free Church of Scotland. Born in Fife and descendant of John Chalmers of Pitmedden., this branch is believed to be connected to the Ayrshire (Gadgirth) family.
The name today, although perhaps not common, is widespread, not only in Scotland, but also all over the world - particularly the English speaking world.
In England the equivalent name is Chambers or Chamberlain. Although these surnames appear in Scotland, and in earlier times the spellings can be mixed (Chalmers, Chambers, Chalmer, Chamber, Chalmbers...) the Chalmers surname can almost always be traced back to a Scottish origin.
This page was last updated on 28 Dec 2002 © John Chalmers 2000.