I Mak Sikker: Roger de Kirkpatrick and Robert the Bruce, King of Scotland

I Mak Sikker (or ‘Siccar’)

My ancient relative Roger de Kirkpatrick was possibly my 17th great-grandfather. He was born circa 1280 at Closeburn Castle. He died at Caerlaverock Castle, Dumfries-shire , Scotland circa 1322. He was involved in the successful quest of Robert the Bruce for the Scottish crown in the later part of the first decade of the 14th century, for which he achieved a degree of fame.

In 1286 Alexander III died, leaving only a three year old granddaughter to succeed him. She died at age 7 on the way to Scotland to marry six-year-old son Edward of Carnarvon, an arrangement designed to solve the succession problem. Some thirteen contenders for the throne emerged. Civil war threatened. The Scots asked Edward I of England to decide the matter, which he did, in favor of John Balliol., passing by the grandfather of Robert, also Robert the Bruce although probably written as Robert de Brus, whose claim came by virtue of his grandfather, David I of Scotland.

Edward undermined John’s subsequent rule. This led to the rebellion by William Wallace, subject of the film “Braveheart,” based on the epic poem The Actes and Deidis of the Illustre and Vallyeant Campioun Schir William Wallace. Wallace’s effort ended with his execution, brutal as was then common, leading in turn to Bruce and Red Corwyn becoming Joint Guardians.

Things were going poorly between Corwyn and Bruce aka Brus. The story goes that to resolve matters between them Bruce had proposed an agreement whereby either Bruce turn over his lands in exchange for Corwyn’s support of Bruce’s claims to the throne, or vice versa. Corwyn chose the land over the crown. However he backed out of the agreement, reporting the matter to Edward I. Robert set out for Lochmaben Castle in Scotland, meeting Roger and others there, proceeding to Dumfries, near Kirkpatrick-Fleming, to meet with Comyn.

The meeting took place on February 10, 1306. “Comyn, perhaps suspecting that his treachery had been discovered, appointed the Grey Friars Church in the Convent of the Minorites. Here Bruce passionately upbraided him for his treachery, a violent altercation ensued, Comyn gave him the lie, whereupon he instantly drew his dagger and stabbed him. Hastening from the Church, he met his friends, who seeing him hastening from the Church, and pale, eagerly inquired the cause. I doubt,’ said he, ‘I have slain the Comyn.’ ‘Doubt’ st thou,’ said Kirkpatrick, ‘ I mak sicker’ <sic>’ and rushed into the Church. See Kirkpatrick of Closeburn.

Churches were considered sacrosanct, making them a safe place. Both Roger and Robert were subsequently ex-communicated.

Here’s a slightly different account “Running from the church he <Robert> met his two friends, Sir Roger Kirkpatrick and Sir James Lindsay, who asked ³What tidings?²… I doubt I have slain Comyn,²” whereupon Kirkpatrick cried, ³You doubt, I mak sickar (I¹ll make certain)². Roger ran into the church, killed Comyn with his daggar .<sic> and also Comyn¹s uncle, Sir Robert Comyn, who had come to his nephew¹s rescue. For this act of sacrilege in a sacred church, Pope Clement V excommunicated both Bruce and Kirkpatrick.² In 1306 Robert “…commanded Sir Roger to adopt as his crest a hand grasping a bloody dagger with the words I mak Sickar¹, to commemorate ³his swift vengeance on one who had been a traitor to his country. ” See Tripod.com

Whichever of these two accounts is more accurate, “I mak Sikker” is something they all have in common. This motto was granted to the Kirkpatricks by Robert after he became king, shortly after this event. The motto remains on the coat of arms to this day.

I mak siccar, Kirkpatrick Coat of Arms, Closeburn Parish Church
Kirkpatrick Coat of Arms at the Closeburn Parish Church
Closeburn Parish Church
The coat of arms is right above the arch

The event is commemorated on a nearby plaque on Castle Street in Dumfries “… to signify the location of the Comyn murder, such a crucial event in the history of Scotland. “See Historyscotland.com

Plaque in Dumfries, a town near the Castle.

Robert (b 1274) reigned from 1306 until his death in 1329, succeeded by his son David II. Roger served as emissary to Edward during Robert’s Reign.

In the next post I will write about the origins of the de Kirkpatrick family.

Journey to century 13th: the family castle in Closeburn

The Castle

On my quest to discover more about my family’s origins I am on a journey to Scotland. I had to go see it for myself: Closeburn Castle, owned and occupied by Kirkpatricks from at least the year 1232. Located 1.3 miles southeast of Closeburn, the castle is one of the oldest continually inhabited houses in Scotland. This ancient yet entirely intact structure is located in an area of that same name. Nearby is the village of Kirkpatrick-Fleming and the Kirkpatrick Church.

We’d been told from childhood that we came from Ireland. This turns out to be only partly true, as the oldest records come from this area in Scotland, showing my ancestral Kirkpatrick’s immigration first to Ireland and then to America circa 1700. I discovered this several years back via my Ancestry.com account. I then learned about the earliest Kirkpatricks in history, several of whom played significant roles, and Closeburn Castle, granted to Ivone de Kirkpatrick in 1232 by Alexander II.

We flew into Manchester, driving three and a half hours and 175 miles to the northwest in a rented electric car. We’d arranged for a tour of the interior for 9am the next day, spending the night a few kilometers away. We enjoyed good food, with lots of deep fried fish on the menu together with mac and cheese (oy!), while watching the pub fill with people coming for the weekly quiz. We occasionally struggled with the strong Scottish accents. Subtitles would have been useful for some of our conversations.

The building is technically a tower and not a castle. A tower is a defensive structure with extremely limited access built inside a protective fence. A castle is designed for easier access, if still difficult to breech. A keep or donjon (from the French) is a tower within a castle, often used as a prison. Closeburn was built without stairs and with very few and very small windows, a few of which remain. To enter or leave you had to climb a ladder dropped from within. Stairs weren’t added until 1748 when the family’s nearby mansion was destroyed by fire. The stairs sit on the outside of the structure on the rear side, thus are not visible in the photo below. You enter via the first door just to the viewer’s left of the tower.

Closeburn Castle, smaller buildings came much later.

The tower is Scottish Listed, noted as being some 15 meters in depth and 15 in height, by about 10 in width. It may have been built by a Kirkpatrick as early as the late 1100’s, perhaps first in wood. It was there by the time the land was granted to Ivone de Kirkpatrick in 1232 by Alexander II, King of Scotland. The title document is still with us, with a duplicate on display inside the tower. It is also a listed property, see National Monuments Record of Scotland, Site Reference NX99SW 3.00

The land area called Closeburn was much bigger than its current measure when it was granted to Ivone. Some reckon the land was in the family as far back as the 8th century as noted in Kirkpatrick of Closeburn pdf.

The Name

“Kirk” is Scottish for “church,” thus Kirkpatrick is “Church of St Patrick.” The family name may have come from the church of St. Patrick in Kirkpatrick-Fleming. See Wiki on Clan_Kirkpatrick. There are claims that the village of Kirkpatrick-Fleming was the birth place of St. Patrick (Scottish Gaelic: Pàdraig). If so then it would make sense for that church to be the source of the family name, in veneration of St Patrick, who was well known even then of course. However the validity of the claim that Patrick was born here is uncertain at best, and there are several competitors. In his autobiographical Confessio (English ‘Declaration’) Patrick says that he was kidnapped from Scotland when he was about 16 and taken to Ireland, without being specific as to where exactly he was born or lived in Scotland. He writes that he was enslaved for six years before escaping, returning to Scotland, location again unspecified. With regards to the church itself, per Kirkpatrick-Fleming, “The medieval parish church was given to Gisborough Priory in Cleveland by Robert de Brus, Lord of Annandale, around 1170, though this connection lapsed after 1330.[1] The present church dates to the 18th century and is protected as a category B listed building.[2]” Annandale is about 20 miles from the castle.

kirkpatrick church
18th century Kirkpatrick Church in Kirkpatrick-Fleming. It is being converted for use as an art gallery.
Kirkpatrick-fleming town
Downtown Kirkpatrick-Fleming. The white building at the far end is the town pub

Kilpatrick is an alternative spelling. It would seem then that the Calquhoun family is related. “During the reign of Alexander II, Umphredus de Kilpatrick received from Malduin, Earl of Lennox, the estates of Colquhoun, Auchentorily and Dumbuck. ” Wiki

Further, “The lands in the Loch Lomond area of Scotland have been held within the Colquhoun family since 1150 AD, when the lands were granted to the Laird of Luss. The Colquhouns originated at Old Kilpatrick on the River Clyde…” Clan Colquhoun’s website I resided in Glasgow in the summer of 1998. There were pages of Kirkpatricks and Kilpatricks, and there is an area called Kilpatrick Hills, presumably named by that branch of the family, located some 14 miles to the northwest of Glasgow.

The castle was inhabited by Kirkpatricks until 1783 when it was sold. In the early 1980’s until the present day it has been again owned and occupied by a Kirkpatrick, after its purchase by Luis Kirkpatrick (1910-2010) from the Spanish branch- more of this in a subsequent post. His son Patricio, who has also passed away, inherited the estate. The current occupants are his third wife and step-daughter María Navarro de Sepúlveda, our very good amicable guide. She and her mother, María Jesús de Sepúlveda, occupy the adjacent buildings, using the tower for various commercial purposes. Until recently the tower was used as a B&B but is no longer. Currently it is being converted for use in parlor games. It is in a sparsely populated area with few attractions, so making commercial use of the structure is a challenge.

Closeburn Parish Church
Ruins in the graveyard next to the current Closeburn Parish Church, still in use

The tower was originally built on a now drained lake, at one point being surrounded by a defensive wooden fence. I have found references that state there was a stone wall surrounding the building. In 17th century they added a manor house, while a red sandstone porch came to the north side after 1856.

The Structure

The interior is modern, with running water, bathrooms with bathtub, and central heating. There are four floors plus the ground level floor where you see the jail cell, access to the now covered well, and a wine cellar with stone shelves. The walls are 3 meters (10ft) wide on the lower levels, 2 meters (6ft) on the upper. Having a well inside the structure allowed for longer resistance to siege.

stone shelves

On the first floor up a steep staircase you encounter what is called a “yett.” This is a very skillfully produced metal gate posted at what was the main entrance before stairs were installed. In the 1600s, local privy councils removed yetts from most castles in the country to make them less secure. Per the castle’s website, Closeburn Castle, there are just 37 still in castles, only five of which date from prior to the 15th century.


On this level you find a kitchen, two fireplaces on either side of a wall added in 1748 by Sir Thomas dividing the vaulted chamber into two main rooms. There are modern albeit probably single glaze windows at the end of deep cuts into the thick walls.

window in wall
Windows are cut into the 3 meter walls

On the second floor are a kitchen and a fireplace on either side of a central wall added in 1748 by Thomas Kirkpatrick that divided the single chamber into two rooms. There are (likely single glaze) windows at the ends of the deep cuts into the walls. There are portraits of the Luis Kirkpatrick y O´Donnell family. Don Luis (1910-2010) was the 12th Baron of Closeburn, per the Closeburn Castle website, although per Wikipedia there have only been 11. On the other side are photos and other items that focus on Empress Maria Eugenia Palafox Portocarreño y Kirkpatrick. I will write about her in a coming entry. The third floor they call the Kirkpatrick Suite. There are some very good photos of these three floors and the roof, as well as commentary on the Closeburn website

roof view
View from the roof, sheep in the distance. The lake was located in this area. Current residents use the lower buildings. My photo.

The next post is tentatively titled, “The Kirkpatricks– were we Normans?” I will post it soon.

Closeburn Castle, Scotland: the Kirkpatrick family’s home

Closeburn castle 13thc, built and occupied by Kirkpatricks
Closeburn Castle, ink drawing

The castle is located in Closeburn, Scotland, not far from Kirkpatrick-Fleming from which my own history emanates. It dates roughly from the late 13th century. It was owned by Kirkpatricks until the mid 18th century and again starting in the early 1980’s. It remains occupied by Kirkpatricks to this day.

The tower is 15 (46′) x 10 meters (33′) x 15 meters in height. It is furnished. The smaller buildings were added in the 17th century.

After our mid-November visit I will tell more about it and the Kirkpatrick history surrounding it.