Raitt name origins - further musings

Many of the references and documents I come across pertaining to the origins of our name and early history of our ancestors I discuss with Lindsay Raitt and together we endeavour to arrive at some kind of consensus. Below are some of the discoveries and thought processes which led to his essay on the origins of the name of the Rait family.


The Bannatyne Club's Instrumenta Publica is a transcription of the Ragman Rolls, and it moves from Latin into French, presumably reflecting the original manuscripts. So what does it tell us?  Of the four occurrences of interest to us, Joseph Bain has taken liberties with two transcriptions in his Calendar of Documents, bearing out the warnings about his inaccuracies thrown at us by the authors of the Addendum Volume 5 of the Calendar of Documents of Scotland.  We are assuming that the Instrumenta is a version terminologically closer to the original manuscripts than Bain's, and therefore more likely to be “correct".

The first instance is the list of knights doing homage to Edward I at Elgin, and Bain gets that right - Gervase de Rate in both sources.

The second is the Ayrshire list where Bain says Roger de Rathe and the Instrumenta says Rogier de Rath.

Then comes the Parliament list where Bain gives us Gervays de Rath but the Instrumenta makes it Geruays Rat.

Finally, both documents give us Andreu de Rat.

In other early documents, the name is usually given as Rathe both in Latin and French. For instance, the Registrum Episcopatus Moraviensis, published 1837, has Johannem de Rath and Johannes de Rathe in the mid 1390s in Elgin - and also several mentions of the lands of Rath in Moray, the Capelle de Rathe (also Rath, Rate and Rait) (variously in 1381 and 1451), and the bailiwick of de Rate in Moray (about 1237), Wester Rate is mentioned in a document signed at Rate in 1374 - though this was later to become Raitts. Interestingly the Index gives Rathe for seven entries and Rate for two regardless of how it is spelled in the text itself (one of the two Rates is actually capelle de Rait in the Latin text, and the other is the bailiwick de Rate, again in the Latin)

In the Liber S. Thome de Aberbrothoc in Latin - v2 1329-1536 (published in 1856) - (v1 1178-1329) (1848) there is Andreas de Raath, militis, mentioned in 1299 - David Rate and wife Katherine are mentioned for 1486 - and David Rait of Drumnager and Archibald Rait of Drumtochty and also Robert Rait are all mentioned together in 1491 (?)

In Registrum magni sigilli regum Scotorum (Register of the Great Seal of Scotland), with eight or so volumes variously published around 1882,  we find mention, in Latin, of a charter from David II to Alexandri Rath in Stanehous about 1340. Then charters relating to Thome de Rate in all the years from 1369 to 1372, 1377-78, 1382-83 and 1389. In 1372 he was also Thoma de Rath, and in 1378, Thomas de Rate. In one undated instance under Robert II he is recorded as Thome Rait, while under the earlier David II he is Thome de Raithe, Thomas Rathe and Thomas Rait in the Indexes. There is also a Thomas de Rath in Dunfermline. We also find Hugonis de Rathe and Hugoni de Rath in 1371 and 1372 in Ayr. David Rate of Drumnager is mentioned in 1471 and Arch(ibald) Rate, burgess of Aberdeen is mentioned in 1574. Barbare Rait is mentioned in 1636, And(rew) Raitt in 1637 in connection with Kincardine and Gulielmo  Rait, son of Gulielmi Rait of Halgreine in 1649. There are also later instances of the name.

In Vol 2 Documents Illustrative of the History of Scotland, Johannes Rat is mentioned for 8 Oct 1299 in the Court-Roll of various Courts held at Linlithgow - in Latin.

In the same volume we have a letter in French dated 25 July 1297 from the Bishop of Aberdeen to King Edward I which names sir Andreu de Rat and also the variant sir Andreu de Rate. The English translation keeps both these forms. In a letter dated July 1297 to the King from Donald, Earl of Mar, he is referred to as Andreas de Rathe in Latin, and Andrew de Rathe in the English translation. Exactly the same forms are used in another letter to the King, while a third refers to him as sire Andreu de Rathe in the French and sir Andrew de Rathe in the English. In another letter dated 5 August 1297, again in French, he is referred to as Monsieur Aundreu Rathe, while the English translation gives him as Sir Andrew de Rathe.

Also, interestingly enough, in the People of Medieval Scotland (1093-1314) database, Roger de Rathe who swore allegiance to Edward I in 1296 along with Gervase and Andrew is designated as Raith not Rait - because it gives his original name as Rath! In fact, the database has him as Roger of Raith since that is the place in Ayr from whence he presumably came. I have gone back to the French source i.e  the Instrumenta Publica to which POMS refers and it is quite illuminating in one sense, namely that the index does not exactly reflect what is in the text. The index gives him as Rath, Rogier de (del counte de Are) - though on the actual page to which the index refers his county (Ayr) is not mentioned. Elsewhere in other documents he does appear as de Rathe.

In the same database in the index there is there is Rat (Rate) - Andreu de (chevalier del Counte Inuernar); following him is Rat- Dominius Geruasius (Geruays de Rate, chevalier) and then Rat, Geruays (del Counte del Inuernarn). On the actual page, the appellation Dominus for Gervase is not provided.

Apparently the oldest surviving charter among the Mackintosh muniments 1442-1820 preserved in the charter-room at Moy Hall, Invernessshire is dated 5 October 1442 and records the granting to Malcolm Mackintosh of the lands of Meikle Geddes and half of Rait, including the castle.

In the Book of the Thanes of Cawdor (published 1859) there is a mention of Johanne Reyth (given in the index as John Rait - along with Sir Alexander Rait of that Ilk) in connection with Meikle Geddes and Half Rait. The document is dated 1493. Presumably the two were related in some way.

And then there is the wonderfully titled book “An index, drawn up about the year 1629, of many records of charters, granted by the different sovereigns of Scotland between the years 1309 and 1413, most of which records have been long missing. With an introduction, giving a state, founded on authentic documents still preserved, of the ancient records of Scotland, which were in that kingdom in the year 1292. To which is subjoined, indexes of the persons and places mentioned in those charters alphabetically arranged.” Authored by William Robertson and published in 1798, the index gives Raite (Rate) under place names and simply Rate under people. Of the charters given by David II (reigned 1324-1371) and confirmed or given by Robert II (reigned 1371-1390) and also confirmed or given by Robert III (reigned 1390-1406), several refer to the lands of Rate in the vicecomitatus (sheriffdom) of Perth. This is clearly the place in Perthshire known later as Rait. Although Raite is in the index, it must surely refer to the misspelled Raice in Perth given in the text.

Of the entries that refer to individual people, most are to Thomas Rait, King’s scutifer, of the barony of Ureeis, Oures, Owres, Ures who is variously recorded in charters from David II as Thomas Rait, Thome de Rate (in 1364) and Thomas Raythe (1369); in charters from Robert II as Thome de Rate (1371 and 1376), Thomas Rate (1371), Thomas de Rath (1371), Thomas Raite (1379), and Thomas de Rate (1383 and 1390). Thomas de Rate may have died in 1390 or maybe a year earlier and probably without an heir, because there is a charter from Robert II to wit…

Ch. to Alexander de Lindsay of the superioritie of Oures, of Lumgerr, and of Hiltoun, in v.c Kincardineshire, and Balgillow in Forfarshire, which had belonged to Thomas de Rate. 19th year of reign [i.e. 1390]

Likewise, we find a charter under David II to Andrew Rait, burgess of Ed(inburgh); and under Robert II, charters to Hugoni de Rath of Are (Ayr) in 1373.

There are also several references to Rate (i.e Rait) in Perthshire. Although these lands were given by charters of the early Kings, none of the recipients was ever styled as “de Rate” or “of Rate” - unlike the de Rates/Rathes in Nairn and even the de Rath(e)s in Ayr.

Although "de" can imply ownership by the person or his antecedents, it can also simply mean “from” or “of” to indicate where a person (often with no surname) came from. As we have seen in the case of Rathe/Rate/Rait, the de or of was later dropped, with the place name becoming the surname. We know that the Nairnshire Rathes/Rates, as a family, were of the right standing in society in the 14th century to provide a scutifer (Thomas) for the King. Further, Thomas's properties were up in the Kincardineshire area, apart from one in Angus, and there may well have been some kind of kinship link between Nairn and Kincardineshire at that time, as a result of which Sir Alexander was able to seek sanctuary there in 1405/6. Since Thomas appears to have died in 1390 or somewhat before and left no heirs, this suggests that there were other family members there - brothers, sisters or cousins of Thomas - who might have taken Alexander in. The fact that later 19th century sources all say that Alexander was the progenitor of all Rait/Raitt descendants might signify that not only did Thomas leave no issue, but neither did any of his putative brothers or male cousins there.

Pondering on the pronunciation of Rathe (and thus whether the surname Raith also emanates from it), I concluded that if Gervase was a Norman incomer, it is likely he did not have a surname initially and thus took de Rathe from a location. Since “th” does not really appear in French (except for a couple of words like the (tea), absinthe, menthe) and since it is a tuh sound rather than a thuh sound, then presumably he may have pronounced it with a long a as in raat (as opposed to rat as in cat). This absence of “th" words in old French might also presume that the name did not originate in France (Normandy). And here we must also recall Jordan de Raat (indexed under Rait) who is mentioned in the Battle Abbey Roll (see under Raitt name and also more about him under Raitt context) and who held in lands in Lincolnshire in the time of Henry III (1216-1272). It was Henry's son Edward I who took allegiance from Gervaise and other de Rathes in 1296. Raat could, however, be Flemish and the Flemings were in Moray (I am looking into this!) It is also worth noting that there are also several words in Dutch and Flemish which begin with a “th”, and the words are pronounced with a simple ’t’ rather than with a “thuh” sound. How Raat might have devolved to Rathe is not clear - though it could be simply a Frenchified version that was pronounced the same.

As noted on the Raitt name page, Old Gaelic does have the word rath meaning fort, artificial mound/barrow, royal seat etc (actually Shaw in his History says Raite castle is an old fort in the form of a square) - but I believe the word is pronounced as in bath. Though I’m not sure it ever had an e on the end!  However, the Instrumenta Publica transcriptions probably make it certain that the name was "Rath", pronounced "Raht" in the Norman-French which they all spoke in the late 13th century. If this is indeed the case, then it would appear that the surname Raith is distinct from and unrelated to the surname Rait/Raitt and thus Hugo de Rath(e) from Ayrshire and his presumed kinsman Roger de Rathe who gave allegiance to Edward I - presumably from the area now known as Raith - are not, in fact, any relation to Gervase and Andrew de Rathe (see the de Rathe family). We know also of an Alexander of Rath in Ayrshire who witnessed charters in 1337 and 1338, as well as a later Alexander Raith, bailie In ayr in 1431. However, without any proof or rationale, we could equally consider Roger, Hugo and Alexander de Rathe as representatives of another, but related branch of the de Rathes of Nairn - cousins, perhaps, and stemming from a common ancestor in England or Normandy - or possibly even Flanders!


It is also interesting to speculate on how Thomas de Rate pronounced his name less than one hundred years after Gervase. Was it still with a long a and just the h being dropped - or was it already a short a? And indeed, did Hugo and Roger de Rathe pronounced their names totally differently - sounding the “th” as we do today in Raith?

There is an intriguing charter to Ronnald Chalmer, of the lands of Le Rathe de Gatgirthe in reign of Robert I (1306-1329) in Air (Ayr). Because of the word “Le” (i.e. The) before Rathe, this would imply that the Rathe in this case has the meaning fort or mound. In the indexes to the Great Seal, we find a charter to Reginaldi de Camera de terris de Rate de Gaitgyrth [terris de Gedgirthe] translated as Reginaldo Camera is given the lands of Gartgarthe. A note gives terris de Gatgirth which seems to be in the sheriffdom of Ayr. There is also Rogeri Chalmer mentioned in connection with the same lands, and James Chalmers of Gaitgyrth is styled as a west-country man. In Ayrshire, the land of Raith is mentioned in 1616 and other locations in the vicinity include Raithmuir, Dalsraith, Raith mill, Nether Raith and Raith proper. This is similar to the village of Rait in Perthshire where there are other names around such as Logierait and Balanrait. (See more under Raitt name and other Raitt locations.)