Tag Archives: Orkney

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 http://research.leask.com/

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!