A Short History of the Barony of Corstorphine

Now a thriving suburb of Edinburgh, well known for the area’s main attraction, the Edinburgh Zoo, Corstorphine has a colorful history, largely impacted by its Barony, which left its mark not only on the geography of the region, but on the area’s fabric of history. 

The Barony and its associated lands have passed from generation to generation, from family to family, over these many centuries.

The earliest record of proprietorship of Corstorphine – at that time an estate -- was David le Mareschall, between the years of 1214 and 1249.  William de la Roche and Thomas le Mareschall were the next recorded owners; in 1296 they signed the Ragman’s Roll, proclaiming allegiance to King Edward I.  The land continued to be passed down the family until David II’s reign, at which point King Malcolm Ramsay regained control of it by the forfeiture of David le Mareschall.

Adam Forrester

The next owner of Corstorphine was Abercorne’s William More, who ceded it to brother Gilchrist More. Gilchrist in turn then sold it to Adam Forrester, the immediate ancestor of Lord Forrester and a burgess of Edinburgh back in the 1360s.  Forrester was then beginning to acquire property in that vicinity, and he was also the first link between Corstorphine and the Forrester family… an association that continued for over three centuries.

A few years later, King Robert II confirmed him in the barony.  Though an exact year is not known, this has been narrowed down to sometime between the years of 1374 and 1377.

Forrester was an ambitious and energetic man.  He founded Corstorphine Kirk, a chapel that he dedicated to Saint John the Baptist… a chapel he would later be buried in. Forrester was also Edinburgh’s Provost and he would eventually become Lothian’s sheriff. By 1388, he’d been appointed as Scotland’s Deputy Chamberlain, and travelled often to England in an ambassadorial role, negotiating treaties between Scotland and England. King Robert III in the year 1390 appointed Forrester as Keeper of the Great Seal, an appointment that demonstrated the high level of trust and esteem held for Forrester.

On 14 September 1402, at the battle of Homildon Hill, Adam was taken prisoner.  He intervened on behalf of his fellow prisoners, made an impassioned speech to full Parliament, and was ransomed. Around that same time, he was knighted and became Sir Adam. By 1405, he became Deputy Chamberlain of Scotland.  That same year, on 13 October, Sir Adam died.  He had married Agnes, John Dundas’ daughter, and Margaret, who gave him John, Thomas, and Marion.

Corstorphine’s Sir John Forrester took over ownership of Corstorphine and followed in his father’s footsteps as a devoted public servant.  In 1420, he became Keeper of the Great Seal.  By 1424, he became Chamberlain of Scotland, getting sent to England and Flanders on embassy missions. Two years later, he was granted additional West Lothian lands, thus incorporating them into the Liberton barony. 

In 1429, John again followed in his father’s footsteps by founding and endowing a church, the Collegiate Church of Corstorphine, which forms part of today’s parish kirk.

Sir John Forrester - 1st Baron of Corstorphine

King James I erected The Barony of Corstorphine by Crown Charter in 1431.   In a ceremony in Perth on 4 February 1431, he confirmed Adam Forrester as the first Baron of Corstorphine.

Sir John died sometime around 1448.  He was buried in the church of Corstorphine.  To this day, recumbent stone effigies of himself as well as one of his three wives are still entombed in the church chancel.

Of his children – John, Henry, Elizabeth, and Janet -- John, the eldest, became next up for the barony.  Records are scarce but seem to indicate that John was a soldier and never held appointment as a civil servant. In 1443, John and William, the Earl of Douglas, led the troops when they destroyed Chancellor Chrichtons’ stronghold, the Barnton castle and estate. Thirsty for revenge, Chancellor Crichton, in retaliation, brought his military vessels and razed Forrester’s Corstorphine house.

John died in 1454 (sometime before 15 September).  John, too, was entombed in the church of Corstorphine.  His tomb can still be visited, the stone figure above it representing him as a man of Herculean mould.  He was survived by his children, Isobel and Alexander.

Sir Alexander Forrester was next in the line of Corstorphine barons.  Little about Sir Alexander is known; in the 1460s, he was a member of Parliament, thereby witnessing several charters. He died before the 20th of September, in 1473.  Sir Alexander was survived by his four children – Matthew, Archibald, Janet, and Margaret. His successor, Sir Archibald, leaves very little as far surviving records.  It was recorded that he was in Parliament between 1504 - 05. Also, his wives were Margaret Hepburn (children Hector, and Marion, and successor Alexander), and Agnes Tod (who gave him son John). Archibald passed away sometime around the year 1512.

Though in 1482 the barony passed to Alexander Forrester, King James V did not confirm it until the 12th of September, 1533, when he passed through Inveraray.  (The confirmation was comprised of the castle, fortalice, etcetera, including Nether Liberton, Drilaw, Clerkington, and Meadowfield.) In 1539 he passed Corstorphine to Meadowfield’s James Forrester, who was Alexander’s grand-daughter’s husband.

Wife Agnes Forrester bore him four children:  Henry, Isobel, Elizabeth, and James, his successor. On the 10th of September in 1547, Senior James was killed at the Battle of Pinkie.  Son James -- Janet Lauder’s husband -- was confirmed in 1556, on the fifth of February, by none other than Mary, Queen of Scots.

Sir James then, in 1577, gifted the parish kirk with a steeple bell.  This bell can today still be seen, aided by a 1728 renewal. On the fourth of June in 1589, James died, with brother Henry taking over as the new heir. On 22 October 1599, he sold off various parish land of St Cuthbert and Corstorphine.

When exactly Henry Forrester died is unknown but it’s estimated to be 1615.  George, the eldest -- heir apparent of Henry and wife Christine Livingstone – then became laird.  On 15th of November 1607, George Forrester became laird of various properties in the barony of Corstorphine, with the confirmation of James VI.  Sir George Forrester of Corstorphine became a Baronet in 1625 and a Peer by 1633.  He was also a very devout parish elder.

George was a dedicated servant to the public; he added to his titles by also becoming a Member of Parliament for Edinburgh as well as Sheriff of Edinburgh. On the 22nd of July in the year 1633, he became the new Baron of Corstorphine, being confirmed by King Charles I. Having no son – which meant no one in line as successor -- Lord Forrester gave Corstorphine as well as most of his other lands – to James Baillie, son of Lethame’s Major General William Baillie.

It was during this time – sometime around the middle of the seventeenth century – that the family seemed to have experienced some financial problems.  This resulted in lands being briefly ceded to other families.  In 1663, on the third of August, Sir John Gilmour gained possession of the Corstorphine Barony lands, with the exception of the Corstorphine castle of Corstorphine and the town itself. Cromwell granted the Corstorphine Barony and Lordship, the lands, the tower, the mills, the mill lands, the manor-place, the parsonage, etcetera to Laurence Scott of Bavelaw and his wife Katherine Binning.  Similarly, Lord Forrester’s Stirlingshire lands were sold in 1655 to pay back money he owed to Margaret Gairdner and Richard Murray.

In 1664, on the 5th of August, in lieu of debt, James, Lord Forrester, and his brother German William Baillie granted the Lordship and Barony of Corstorphine as well as the land to Florentius Gardner, Grangepans baillie.  10 May 1666, John Boyd, Edinburgh merchant burgess gained similar; there were other such instances. The lands and Barony were shortly back in the Forresters’ possession, so the financial troubles must quickly have been sorted out. James Baillie’s wife Johanna died; he went on to marry the daughter of the Earl of Forth, Janet Ruthven.

Stories abound as to the questionable character of this Lord Forrester.  He at one point seduced his married niece, who was at that time the wife of James Nimmo, an Edinburgh burgess.  The niece and he later had a quarrel that resulted in her murdering him, stabbing him in the Corstorphine garden in 1679, on 26 August.  Mrs. Nimmo was later made to pay for her crime, and was publicly executed at the Cross of Edinburgh.  William Baillie and wife Lillias, Lord Forrester’s first daughter, then took on the titles.

William, the fourth in the line of Forrester Lords, then married Sir Andrew Birnie’s daughter Margaret. Of their various children, son George succeeded the title in 1705 when his father, Judge of the Court of Session, passed away.

The Corstorphine estate was next sold to Ingliston’s Hugh Wallace of in 1698.  Hugh was a Writer to the Signet. He then sold it to Sir Robert Dickson in 1701, on 26th of July;  this was confirmed on 2 January 1703.  It then succeeded to his father in May of 1712.  In 1713, he sold the lands to Prestonfield’s Sir James Dick.  It remained in Sir James Dick’s family for the next 156 years, until 1869. The Dicks were a family of lawyers and merchants, prominent figures in Edinburgh.

Sir James Dick

Sir James Dick was an Edinburgh merchant and baillie.  Sir James was named Dean of Guild and later became Lord Provost. The lands and Barony of Corstorphine transferred officially into the name of Sir James in 1713, on the second day of June. Caprington's Sir William Cunningham's wife, Dame Janet Dick, was served heir to father Sir James Dick on the 17th of May in the year 1729. When she died, it passed to Prestonfield's Sir Alexander Dick. In 1754, Sir Alexander was served heir to grandfather Sir James Dick, who lived in Prestonfield. On 10 November 1785, Sir Alexander died.  The Corstorphine and Prestonfield baronies passed to son Sir William Dick. When Sir William passed on in 1796, the baronies were transferred to Sir John Dick, his brother.  When in 1812, he died, they then passed to brother Sir Robert Keith Dick.

The Dickson Barons

In 1869, John Dickson, then residing at Saughton Mains, purchased the Barony of Corstorphine.  This was made official with a 4th of May 1871 confirmation. Twelve years later, William T. Dickson and John H. Dickson shared the barony and its lands. On the 20th of February in 1908, William deeded his half to Heatly Dickson; when in 1910, John died, he deeded his half to Heatly Dickson.  On the 1st day of April of that year, the barony was thus reunited. On the 11th of November 1927 the barony passed to William Collins Dickson. The barony then passed to William Dickson on 10 July 1934, who it remained with until 2nd May 1986, when the barony was assigned to The Corstorphine Trust.

The Current Baron of Corstorphine - Michael Milne

In 2005 the barony passed to the present and 34th Baron of Corstorphine, Michael Milne