Category Archives: Research

Tragedy and Transition for the Leasks post 1500

A considerable variety of opinions have been put forward regarding the origin of the name of Leask. Separating these opinions and family stories can be a difficult task and requires a significant amount of research. Please feel welcome to share your research, opinions, and family stories so we can further document the history of the Leasks through the ages.

In 1513 the Line of Leask Chiefs suffered a double tragedy when both William Lask of that Ilk, 5th Chief, and his son, Alexander Lask of that Ilk, Younger, dsp, were both killed at the Battle of Flodden; the latter’s younger brother, William Lask, Burgess of Aberdeen, then became the 6th Leask Chief. William Lesk of that Ilk, the seventh chief supported the infant James VI in opposition to his mother Mary Queen of Scots after the murder of Lord Darnley and her scandalous marriage to Bothwell.

Between 1615 and 1616 there appears to have been a disagreement of some sort between the Leasks and the neighboring Gordons. In all the recorded cases the Gordons appear to have been the aggressors; Adam Gordon, brother of the Laird of Gight assaulted Alexander Leask, then the son of the chief was attacked by George Gordon and finally William Leask of that Ilk was ambushed by John Gordon of Ardlogy and a party of armed men.

In the seventeenth century the Leasks suffered terribly by investing heavily in the Darien Venture. The venture was a disaster with a vast amount of Scotland’s wealth being lost which in some part led to the union of Scotland and England Alexander Leask of that Ilk, the thirteenth chief was forced to give up his estates which were taken over by Robert Cumming.

There are few family records until the latter half of the nineteenth century. With the assistance of well-known Leasks such as Lieutenant General Sir Henry Leask, General Officer commanding the Army in Scotland, some of the estates were bought back in 1963 and the Clan Leask Society was established in 1982. In 1968 the Lord Lyon recognized the present Chief’s grandfather as Chief of the Clan Leask.

Origins of the Leasks in Orkney and Shetland

My specific family line hails from Shetland, with my great grandfather Leask having grown up on the shores of Channerwick Beach. In the early 2000s my mother, father, and I visited Shetland and saw the stone cottage my great grandfather lived in – what a humbling expierience. Here are some of the documented facts of early Leasks in Orkney and Shetland as they appear in our upcoming brochure Researching the Leasks: Documented Historical Evidence. As always, we welcome your thoughts on this evidence and any insights into how your family may relate or what stories they may have passed around the Leasks in Orkney and Shetland.

In 1391 Thomas de Laysak (Lask) traveled to Kirkwell, Orkney, where he was one of the witnesses to a charter issued by Henry St. Clair (Sinclair), the Earl of Orkney. The Orkney Leasks are descended from James of Lask, younger son of Thomas de Lask of that Ilk, the second Chief of the Leasks, who is recorded at various times during 1388-1400 in the Scottish Public Records.

James of Lask emigrated to Orkney in 1446. His descendants, through son Boniface Lesk, have been traced to Isabella Logie Leask of Orkney, who married James Leask, b. 1802, of Westbank, Kirkwall, Orkney, and was the Great Grandfather of J. W. G Leask of that Ilk. Richard Leask, another grandson of James of Lask, accompanied Sir David Sinclair to Sumburgh when he was appointed Fold of Shetland and became his co-executor in 1506. He is presumed to be progenitor of all Leask families in Shetland.

It was not until c.1450 that the Orkney and Shetland Isles became part of Scotland when they were brought as her dowry by Margaret of Denmark when she came to marry King James II of Scotland.

For more about research of the Leasks check out our research site at

Origin Stories of the Leasks

In addition to the theories briefly explained in the previously posted “The Land of Leask” there are a number of theories based on a combiation of research and oral history about the origins of the Leasks.

One old family tree traces the Leask origin from the Norse God Thor of the Norse Sagas. In Norse Leask means “a stirring fellow”; other authorities believe that it comes from the Gaelic, Lasgair, meaning “active” or “brave”. There are several other possible origins of the surname Leask. One possibility is that it is a diminutive of the Anglo-Saxon word lisse, which means happy. An early reference to the name is that of Erik Leask who was reputedly chamberlain to the king of Denmark.

Professor Keith Leask of Aberdeen University noted the similarity to the name Liscus, a Gallic chief mentioned by Julius Caesar, who opposed the Roman advance in Gaul and later rose to a high rank in the Roman Army. He believed that the ancestor of the Leasks was Liscus who was chief of the Haedui, a tribe of Gauls who were described by Julius Caesar during his Gallic Wars.

One of the greatest fortresses in France, the Castle of Boulogne, was a possession of Charlemagne which subsequently belonged to a family called de Lesque. Additionally, the famous Laski family in Poland are thought by some to be connected to the Leasks and there is a town in Poland called Lask in Polish but Lusk in Russian.

It has been claimed that Sir Francis Grant, Lord Lyon King of Arms said “The Leasks appear from their Arms to have sprung from a 2nd son of one of the ancient Earls of Moray.” The Moray family are descendants of Freskin, a Flemish nobleman who settled in Scotland during the reign of King David I. (Johanna, Lady of Strathnaver, married Freskin II. Johanna can be found on a family tree of the first Norse Earl of Orkney which begins with the mythological Odin.

The Lyon Office suggested Freskin I (who died 1166 -1171) was grandfather of Hugo and progenitor of the Earls of Sutherland and the Family of Moray. Both these families had for their Arms, three Mullets: Sutherland, or on a field Gules; Moray, Argent on Azure. Just as the Douglas family assumed the Moray Arms on intermarriage, so the Leask Arms are supposed, by the Lyon Office of Scotland, to be derived from the Moray.

Susan Leask, wife of Jonathan Leask of that Ilk, suggested “If there is a connection to the Morays it must be before 1380, if as suggested the Arms became marital Arms.” Susan Leask, after a search of documents in her possession, said she could find no written evidence that the Lyon Office had stated the above. After discussions with the administrators of the Y-DNA testing done by the Morays, Sutherlands, and Leasks we jointly concluded Y-DNA testing so far does not support this theory of a paternal link to these clans, leaving only the possibility for a maternal link to a female member of the Freskin family.

Susan Leask pointed out “The Device of the Saint Michaels (modern Mitchell) being the Mascle, it is not impossible that the Mascles of the Leask Arms came to this William through his second wife.” (This is the William de Lask who made the will leaving a stone of wax…. 1380).

A considerable variety of opinions have been put forward regarding the origin of the name of Leask. Separating these opinions and family stories can be a difficult task and requires a significant amount of research. We are always looking for more stories, suggestions, and research, and hope you will join us in gathering further research on the Leasks!

The Land of Leask

Are you familiar with the Land of Leask? In an area approximately 20 miles north of Aberdeen City there are a number of “Leask” named places including Byreleask, Knapsleask, and Nether Leask (or Netherleask).

The Land of Leask (Leskgoroune), Aberdeenshire, Scotland.

The Land of Leask (Leskgoroune), Aberdeenshire. (source: Ray Leask’s Clan Leask website)

In early times, families were often known by the name of the place they came from, hence the belief that the Leask name may have originated from the Aberdeenshire Lands of Leask, (map below) Leskgoroune. Adriane C. Grant, author of Scottish Clans: Legend, Logic & Evidence believes that the origin of the name Leask is geographical.  He said “I have spoken with Neil MacGregor, the expert on Gaelic placenames and I am left in no doubt that the real basis of “Leskgoroune” is actually ‘Lois Eodhnaon’ – (St) Adamnan’s chapel yard”.

He continued, “this is a reference to the church dedicated to St Adamnan at Knapsleask.  It seems to me likely that the whole of the Leask estate will have been assigned to the upkeep of the chapel whenever it was founded. So Leask is really Lois – chapel yard. We are not 100% sure where the intrusive -kg- came from – but you may be aware that “g” has the value “k” in Gaelic.” This specultation is questioned by others, who do not see Lois Edhnaon as the translation of Leskgoroune.

We do know that around 1345 William Lesk received a charter of confirmation to his lands of Leskgoroune or Leskgaranne from David II of Scotland, son of Robert the Bruce. He might be the same William Lesk who was recorded in the parish records of the church at Ellon, Aberdeenshire as: Willelmi de Lask (also spelled Laysk), the Elder, Lord of that Ilk, who bequeathed a pound of wax yearly to the alter of the Holyrood in the church of St Mary of Ellon.

The Chapel of Leask dates back to the earliest of times. It is thought that a Colomban Oratory stood on this land about the end of the sixth century. The ruins of the present building, constructed about the thirteenth century, stand on the site of the ancient chapel.

The Ruins of Chapel Leask.
(source: Ray Leask’s Clan Leask website)

Despite having their own Chapel, it is recorded in the Parish records of the Church at nearby Ellon, that the Leask Chief, his family, and retainers, were regular attenders at St. Mary’s Church. Thus in 1380 the parish records reveal that Willelmi de Lask, the Elder, Lord of that Ilk, bequeathed ‘one stone of wax from the Lands of Logy, together with twelve pence of silver in order that candles might be burned for ever, for himself and his wives, Alice de Rath and Mariota de Saint Michael, and for the salvation of his sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, on the Sabbath and other feast days, on their tomb’.

Over the years the Lands of Leask steadily expanded beyond the boundaries of Slains Parish, partly by inheritance, partly by exchange of lands, and by purchase. The Estate included the Home Farm, Mains of Leask, Moss Leask, Byreleask, Knapsleask, Nether Leask, Milton of Leask, and Mill of Leask.

In 1390 the second known chief of Clan Leask, ballie of the barony of Findon, inherited half of the lands of Henry de Brogan, Lord of Achlowne.

In 1456 Ulfrid or Wilfred Lask of that Ilk, signed a ‘Band of Manrent’ to William Earl of Erroll, of the Clan Hay, and resigned the lands of Leask and Auchlethin in favor of his son Thomas Lask. In this deed Thomas is designated ‘armiger’ to his superior, Sir William Hay.

Ray Leask has a section of his website dedicated to the Hills of Leask (Leskgourgone) with a great set of photos covering KnapsLeask, the Chapel of Leask, Mains of Leask, Mill of Leask, Milltown of Leask, Moss Leask, Nether Leask, and the Manor House. Be sure to check it out and use the dropdown navigation to see each sub-section!