Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Balfour of Balbirnie

THE FAMILY OF BALFOUR OF BALBIRNIE WERE THE LARGEST LANDOWNERS IN THE COUNTY OF FIFE, WITH 10,590 ACRES

The surname of Balfour was originally assumed from the barony and castle of Balfour, a beautiful seat, standing near the confluence of the rivers Ore and Leven.

And so early as 1229, we find Ingelram de Balfour, Vicecomes de Fife, a witness to a charter granted to the monastery of Aberbrothwick.

The family of Balfour was originally styled 'of Dovan'.

ANDREW BALFOUR filled the office of Sheriff Depute of Fife, in 1483. His son,

JOHN BALFOUR, of Lawlethan, by 1499, had received a charter of Dovan from Andrew Laundin of Balgonie, which he proceeded to share between his sons,
Thomas, of Dovan;
David, of Lawlethan (d 1546).
The estates passed uniterruptedly until 1596, when the Dovan family found themselves in impecunious circumstances; and thereafter the property was mortgaged to the Pitcairns of Forthar.

Due to the grant of 1499, Martin Balfour of Lawlethan was able to prove his right to some of the lands of Dovan, enabling the right to the lands to be sold to Sir Andrew Balfour of Montquhannie.

Martin Balfour of Lawlethan, dying in 1624, and was succeeded by

GEORGE BALFOUR, 1ST OF BALBIRNIE (d 1665), who became a clothier in London and Edinburgh, and purchased the estate of Balbirnie, in 1642. His eldest son,

ROBERT BALFOUR, 2ND OF BALBIRNIE (1641-1713), whose younger sons succeeded in turn to Lawlethan, which estate was finally lost to creditors in 1692. His son,

GEORGE BALFOUR, 3RD OF BALBIRNIE (1664-1743), bought back Lawlethan in 1716. His son,

ROBERT BALFOUR, 4TH OF BALBIRNIE (1698-1766), was later styled Balfour-Ramsay after his marriage to Ann, daughter of  Sir Andrew Ramsay Bt, of Whitehill, in 1736. He was MP for Edinburghshire, 1751-54. His eldest son,

JOHN BALFOUR, 5TH OF BALBIRNIE (1739-1813), purchased the estates of Dovan and Forthar, and of Whittingehame, Haddington, in East Lothian. His eldest son,

LIEUTENANT-GENERAL ROBERT BALFOUR, 6TH OF BALBIRNIE (1772-1837), of Balbirnie House,
whose younger brother, James Maitland Balfour, inherited Whittingehame and married Lady Blanche Cecil, daughter to the 2nd Marquis of Salisbury.
Their son, the Rt Hon Sir Arthur James Balfour, KG OM DL, became Prime Minister and was later created 1st Earl of Balfour.
He was succeeded by his eldest son,

COLONEL JOHN BALFOUR JP DL, 7TH OF BALBIRNIE (1811-95), of Balbirnie House, whose eldest son, Robert, served in the Grenadier Guards and died of wounds received at the Battle of Tel el Kebir in Egypt in 1882. His second son,

EDWARD BALFOUR JP DL, 8TH OF BALBIRNIE (1849-1927), of Balbirnie House, whose eldest son, Robert, was killed in action in 1914. His younger son,

BRIGADIER EDWARD WILLIAM STURGIS BALFOUR CVO DSO OBE JP DL, 9TH OF BALBIRNIE (1884-1955), of Balbirnie House, served in the 1st World War; DSO, 1915; OBE, 1919. His son,

MAJOR JOHN CHARLES BALFOUR MC JP DL, 10TH OF BALBIRNIE (1919-2008), of Balbirnie House, served in North Africa and Europe in the 2nd World War and was awarded the Military Cross in 1942; DL and JP for Fife, 1957-58; and Vice Lord-Lieutenant for Fife, 1988-96.

Robert Balfour, present and 11th of Balbirbie, owns and manages the Balbirnie estate, which comprises 5,000 acres.


BALBIRNIE HOUSE, Glenrothes, Fife, was completed in 1817 as a re-build of an 18th-century building, itself a replacement for a 17th-century dwelling.

The home of the Balfour family from 1640, the house was sold in 1969 and opened as a hotel in 1990.

The grounds now comprise a large public park and a golf course.

Ca 1640, the Balbirnie estate was acquired by the family of Balfour.

A 17th-century house on the estate was remodelled or replaced in the later 18th century for John Balfour.

The architecture of these works, completed around 1782, has been attributed to both James Nisbet and to John Baxter, Junior.


In 1815, further changes were begun by General Balfour, to designs by the architect Richard Crichton.

Some £16,000 was spent on extending the south-west front, and constructing the portico at the south-east.

At the same time, the landscape gardener Thomas White provided plans for the improvement of the 18th-century parkland.

Further alterations, comprising offices, were carried out in 1860.

The plant collection was expanded from the mid-19th century with seeds sent from India by George Balfour, a friend of plant collector William Hooker.

In 1969, the house and estate was acquired by the Glenrothes Development Corporation, who were then building the new town of Glenrothes.

A golf course was laid out in the grounds, while the house was converted into council offices.

The mansion house was sold to a private owner who redeveloped it as a 30-bedroom hotel, opened in 1990 by the Rt Hon Sir Malcolm Rifkind KCMG QC MP, then Secretary of State for Scotland.

416 acres of parkland and woodland remain in the ownership of Fife Council as a public park.

Robert Balfour, the present and 11th of Balbirnie, owns and manages the Balbirnie estate itself.

The Balfours had a town residence at 14 Carlton House Terrace, London.

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