Scottish History and Culture

The Evolution of the Stewart Name

King Robert II (Stewart) Click Here for Larger ImageThe name Stewart is very well known throughout the world and comes in many spelling variations. There is much discussion on the subject, especially between those who spell the name Stuart and those who spell it Stewart. I will attempt to put some of this argument to rest.

Generally, the name of Stewart is credited to Walter, the third High Steward of Scotland, who adopted the surname from the name of his office. He apparently was one of the first in the area to adopt a surname, a practise which soon became common across the country. Others quickly adopted the Stewart name in the family, including his brothers and their sons. Walter Stewart, the third High Steward of Scotland died in 1241 AD.

King James I (Stewart) of Scotland Click for larger imageAlthough this is generally accepted as the start of the Stewart name, there were others in the country that also adopted the name. These were mostly other Stewards or "keepers of the household" although many people with the occupation as tinkers also adopted the name. The name was originally Steward, but many think this migrated to Stewart from the Scottish pronunciation of the word, and the "t" replaced the "d" in the name very quickly.

The name quickly progressed through many variations in spelling among the common or uneducated people. This was because the uneducated, not knowing how to spell their name, suffered at the spelling whims of whoever copied down their names. This could have been a clerk, a priest or whoever had the reason and inclination to write someone's name down for the record. The main variations however, remained Steward, Stewart and Stewhard.

Mary (Stuart) Queen of Scots  Pretender Click Here for Larger ImageThe main line of the family however, continued to be the line from Walter Stewart, and all his descendants, as an educated group, continued to use the spelling Stewart. This continued when the first of the Stewart hereditary line of High Stewards became Robert II, King of Scotland.

Another variation of the name came about through Sir John Stewart, Baron of Lorn. His son Alexander became the 1st Lord of Grandtully and adopted the spelling Steuart. Others in the family also adopted this spelling. As one can see the spelling of the name was not fixed and this variation may have come from those doing service or spending time in France.

James VI (Stuart) King of Scots aka James I (England) Pretender Click Here for Larger ImageThe main variation in the name, the transition from Stewart to Stuart occurred later however. Mary Stewart (Stuart) (who later become Mary Queen of Scots) married the Dauphin of France and heir to the throne. The French do not pronounce the letter "w" in the same way that the English do however, and to keep her name pronounced correctly, she changed the spelling to Stuart. Soon afterwards, her husband became King Francis II of France. Later, after his death, she returned to England and retained the spelling with the "u". It is from her that the spelling as Stuart is originally credited to. From that time on, all the Royal members of the Stewart line spelled their name Stuart.

As many of the people soon learned this spelling of the name, it was increasingly used in the records of the land. Many took the spelling in support of the current King or Queen, while others took to the spelling to show their relationship to the Royal Family. Some people who could read and write changed the spelling of their name depending on the popularity of the current Stuart ruler. If the King was unpopular they spelled their name Stewart, while a popular monarch increased the spelling as Stuart exponentially.

Bonnie Prince Charlie (Stewart) The Young Pretender Click Here for Larger ImageThis continued during the Reign of the House of Stewart, until its downfall and for some time afterwards. The interchanging of spelling of the name continued up until around the time of 1745 uprising. After Culloden, many people changed their name to avoid prosecution by the English and used an alias to escape to the colonies. Others with different names escaped and upon arriving in the colonies changed their name to Stewart or Stuart to show support for the line.

By the end of the 1700's, most people with the name in its many variations stuck to the spelling they now used and it has been passed down virtually unchanged ever since. The name and its spelling remain an issue to this day, and I am sure some people will be more than willing to make their comments about this article. But that is the birthright of the Scot, to disagree.

by BW, February 2000


King James I (Stewart)

King Robert II (Stewart)

Mary (Stuart) Queen of Scots

James VI (Stuart)

Bonnie Prince Charlie (Stuart)

Thursday, December 26th, 2019

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