Kinbot, and friendship

Mercat Cross, Edinburgh. Courtesy of

As part of my research on the Livingston family in Scotland and America, I have been looking at allied families – who sometimes turn out to be Livingstons themselves. One such case is John Bruce of Stenhouse (Airth), sometimes Sir John, who married Elizabeth Menteith,[1] the daughter of William Menteith of Kerse and Helen Livingston, a daughter of Sir Alexander Livingston of Callendar.[2] John and Elizabeth’s daughter, in turn, married William Livingston, younger of Kilsyth, a descendant of Sir Alexander’s half-brother, also William.[3] Eventually these three Livingston lines united in the marriage of the Rev. Alexander Livingston, grandson of the 4th Lord Livingston, and Barbara Livingston of Inches (a descendant of Callendar as well as a cadet line of Kilsyth).[4]

John Bruce died in circumstances I have yet to work out. Suffice it to say that he was “slain” by his wife’s brothers, the Menteiths, but what happened after the “slaughter”[5] is somewhat surprising. Dr. John Jamieson’s Supplement to the Etymological Dictionary of the Scottish Language uses this case to discuss the derivation of the term “kinbot.” Bruce’s murder, and the subsequent acts of contrition the Menteiths performed, were common enough occurrences in fifteenth-century Scotland to require a term for the “reparation to be made for the sudden slaughter of a relative, &c.”

Kinbot: the “reparation to be made for the sudden slaughter of a relative, &c.”

Jamieson’s Supplement offers a record of the “compensation in money or goods, required by the kindred of one who had been slain” as well as a “sort of public penance … occasionally demanded of those who had been concerned in the slaughter.” The victim here was “John the Bruce of Airth”; the murderers were his wife’s brothers “William of Menteith of the Carss, Knycht, his brothers Archibald and Alexander, and kindred.” A rough translation of fifteenth-century Scottish follows:[6]

It is appointed, agreed, &c. concerning the death & slaughter of the late John the Bruce, father of the said Robert, and for amends, kinbot, & friendship to be & stand betwixt the said parties in time to come as follows. In the first, the said Archibald Menteth & as many persons as then are … present in this town [Edinburgh], that were committers of the said slaughter, shall upon Tuesday the xxth day of the said month now instant [October 1490] shall come to the market cross of Edinburgh in their linen clothes, with bare swords in their hands, & ask the said Robert [Bruce] & his friends forgiveness of the death of the said John, in the manner that is used thereof, & to remit to them the rancor of their hearts; & shall for the soul of the said John seek … the four principal pilgrimages of Scotland, & there say mass for the soul; & further, the said Robert the Bruce shall within xx days next to come enter [meaning employ?] a priest at the church of Airth for the space of two years,” Robert to pay half and his uncle Archibald the other half of the salary.

All of which seems as stately as a minuet, yet notice that this is reparation for a murder, and that undertaking a journey to the four principal pilgrimage sites in the kingdom is no small feat – yet common enough to need little by way of explanation.

The Bruce “slaughter” was evidently shocking even by the standards of Scotland in the fifteenth century, and I look forward with a certain amount of dread to reading what happened to my unlucky forebear in the days leading up to his death.


[1] William Bruce Armstrong, The Bruces of Airth and Their Cadets (Edinburgh, 1892), 12-13, Appendix p. lxxxv; M. E. Cumming Bruce, Family Records of the Bruces and the Cumyns… (Edinburgh and London: William Blackwood and Sons, 1870), 320.

[2] Sir William Fraser, The Red Book of Menteith, 2 vols. (Edinburgh, 1880), 2: 461.

[3] Armstrong, The Bruces of Airth and Their Cadets, Appendix, p. lvi, which lists the children of John Bruce as the heir “Robert, [and] Mr. Thomas of Lairberthseils. The daughters was Lady Karse, Lady Kilsyth, [and] Lady Skethmuir...” (The daughters are here named by their territories: Menteith of Kerse, Livingston of Kilsyth, and Muir of Skaithmuir.)

There is a lively controversy about exactly who Janet Bruce’s parents were – too long for this post. Another generation is sometimes added, but for me the math doesn’t work: If John and Elizabeth married ca. 1471 and Janet and William married in 1504, there doesn’t seem space for an intervening generation.

[4] Edwin Brockholst Livingston, The Livingstons of Callendar and Their Principal Cadets: The History of an Old Stirlingshire Family (Edinburgh: Printed at the University Press by T. and A. Constable for the author, 1920), passim.

[5] I have not yet been able to review Robert Pitcairn, Criminal Trials in Scotland..., 3 vols. (Edinburgh: James Tait, 1829-33), which evidently holds an account of the affray.

[6] John Jamieson, Supplement to the Etymological Dictionary of the Scottish Language…, 2 vols. (Edinburgh: Printed at the University Press, 1825), 2: 17. Another account, in Standard English, may be found in James Wallace, The Sheriffdom of Clackmannan… (Edinburgh: James Thin, 1890), 91-92, dating the kinbot parley before our “Sovereign Lord’s Council” to 18 October 1490; it includes Sir Alexander Bruce, perhaps the father of the late John Bruce.

Scott C. Steward

About Scott C. Steward

Scott C. Steward has been NEHGS’ Editor-in-Chief since 2013. He is the author, co-author, or editor of genealogies of the Ayer, Le Roy, Lowell, Saltonstall, Thorndike, and Winthrop families. His articles have appeared in The New England Historical and Genealogical Register, NEXUS, New England Ancestors, American Ancestors, and The Pennsylvania Genealogical Magazine, and he has written book reviews for the Register, The New York Genealogical and Biographical Record, and the National Genealogical Society Quarterly.View all posts by Scott C. Steward