Select Barclay Surname Genealogy
Berkeley and Barclay as surnames both derived from the place-name Berkeley (meaning birch wood) in Gloucestershire. It was a Norman lord who took his name from this place and built Berkeley castle there.  The Berkeley name reached Scotland by the 12th century, a Berkeley having, it was said, joined other Normans who had headed north to Scotland at that time. Walter de Berkelai was Chamberlain of Scotland in 1165. The Berkeley spelling changed to Berclay and then Barclay during the 15th century.  In America the Barclay and Barkley spellings are found.

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Scotland. The Berkeleys were granted lands at Towie near Turiff in Aberdeenshire by the Scottish king in the 12th century. The family was to remain there.

“In the early days of violence, there was a black day when a nunnery was plundered by the Towie Barclays. Following this event, Thomas the Rhymer wrote the following lines: ‘Towie Barclay of the Glen, happy to the maids, but never to the men.’The curse was said to haunt the male heir. It was a belief so strongly held that in 1755 it was given as a reason for the heir’s sale of Towie Barclay castle.”

The main Barclay lines were those of Towie and Gartly and Mathers.

One later Barclay Mathers line established itself at Urie near Stonehaven in Kincardineshire. Its first laird, Colonel David Barclay, had been a professional soldier serving abroad who, on his return, became a Quaker. His son Robert published a Quaker manifesto in 1659 when he was just twenty seven and he was friends with all the leading Quakers of his day.

The last laird of Urie, Captain Robert Barclay-Allardyce, was known as the Great Pedestrian. There were many tales of his walks over the Scottish hills. His most famous record, accomplished in 1809, was that of walking one thousand miles in one thousand hours.

A three Volume History of the Barclay Family appeared over a ten year period beginning in 1924.

England. David, the second son of Quaker Robert Barclay, left Urie and went to London where he became a wealthy merchant. His second wife was the daughter of John Freame whose premises on Lombard Street became a banking center. The name Barclays was connected to this business in 1736 when David’s son became a partner. Barclays Bank became known as the Quaker bank.

The subsequent dynasty of bankers begun by John Barclay was reinforced by marriages with other Quaker banking families:

  • John’s grandson Robert marrying Elizabeth of the Quaker Gurney family
  • their second son Joseph marrying Mary of the Leatham banking family
  • Robert (who formed Barclay & Co in 1896) marrying Elizabeth Buxton (whose mother was a Gurney)
  • and there were even some Barclay marriages with the Quaker Lloyds of Birmingham.

The Barclay family involvement with Barclays Bank continued well into the 20th century for three further generations until the last Barclay office-holder, David William Barclay.

The Barclay brothers, David and Frederick, were born in London in 1934 to Scottish parents, their father being a travelling salesman. They began building their business empire in the 1970’s which has extended into media, retail and property. In 1993 they bought the island of Brecghou, one of the Channel Islands, as a tax haven and built their own mock-Gothic castle there.

Russia. In 1621 two Banff merchants, John and Peter Barclay, moved to Riga on the shores of the Baltic where they became silk merchants and burghers. Some of these Barclays settled in Oslo; others stayed in Riga. Peter Barclay de Tolly served as mayor of Riga in the 18th century.

His grandson Michael distinguished himself in the Russian army and was given command of the troops in 1810 when Napoleon invaded. His “scorched earth” policy of retreating and hibernating forced Napoleon into his horrific retreat from Moscow. After the war the Czar elevated him to Field Marshal Prince Michael Barclay de Tolly. A statue to Michael Barclay de Tolly can be found in Riga today.

America. Thomas Barclay came to America from Scotland in 1708 and he was chaplain of the Albany fort in upstate New York. His son Henry moved to New York City in the 1740’s and was made rector of Trinity church. Henry’s son Thomas was a Loyalist during the Revolutionary War. His estate was confiscated and he departed for Nova Scotia. However, he lived out the last years of his life in Manhattan.

Robert Barclay, a Quaker, came via Ireland to North Carolina in the 1750’s. His descendants, many of whom were Barkleys, moved onto Kentucky, Missouri and Texas. Alben Barkley, who was born in a log cabin in Kentucky and became Truman’s Vice President in 1948, was apparently the descendant of another Robert Barclay living in Rowan county, North Carolina in the late 1700’s.

Canada. John and Mary Barclay from Perthshire, accompanied by their children and his wife’s Pitcairn family, departed for Quebec in 1842. They returned to Scotland a year later but then left for good to Quebec in 1859. Royce Miller’s 1971 book History of the Barclay Family told their story.

Select Barclay Miscellany

If you would like to read more, click on the miscellany page for
further stories and accounts:

Select Barclay Names

Alexander Barclay of Mathers was the first of his clan in Aberdeenshire to have his named spelled in the modern way. He was a noted 15th century scholar and poet .
Alexander Barclay was a poet of the Scottish borders of the early 16th century. His best-known work was The Ship of Fools.
James Barclay was the man who gave his name to Barclays Bank when he became a partner of the London bank in 1736.
David and Frederick Barclay are twin brothers who have large business investments in media, retail and property.

Select Barclays Today

  • 14,000 in the UK (most numerous in Aberdeen)
  • 4,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 7,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)


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