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Bethune Name Study

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Surnames/tags: Bethune Beaton
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Please contact the project leader Norma Crozier or post a comment at the foot of the page. If you have any questions, just ask. Thanks!


This is a One Name Study to collect together in one place everything about one surname and the variants of that name. The hope is that other researchers like you will join our study to help make it a valuable reference point for people studying lines that cross or intersect.

Background to the name

Over the past 1200 years, the last name of Bethune has been used by different families on different continents.

One family started before the year 1000 in the town of Béthune in the north of France and before 1200 had members in England and the Lowlands of Scotland. Another unrelated family, probably from the north of Ireland, is recorded before the year 1500 in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. Descendants of both these separate branches can be found in North America and the Caribbean, Southern Africa, and Australasia. Some slaves of family members in North America and the Caribbean adopted the name on being freed. And there are separate families in contemporary France and Belgium which use the name.

Bethunes of medieval France, England, and the Lowlands of Scotland

These families originate from the town of Béthune in the French province of Artois, the first recorded member being Robert de Béthune who died before 1037. In France they became a noble line which included Maximilien de Béthune, first Duc de Sully and celebrated minister of King Henri IV.

In England, the French family had acquired lands by 1128 but sold them all in 1242. A prominent member was Baldwin of Bethune, a companion of King Richard I and husband of the heiress Hawise of Aumale.

Knights and clerics of the family start appearing in the records of Scotland after 1192, with perhaps the most influential branch being from Westhall in Angus. Robert Bethune and Alexander Bethune were at the Parliament of Scotland held at Cambuskenneth in 1314, and one of their seals is attached to an act passed there.

A probable son of Alexander was Robert Bethune, who married Janet Balfour, heiress to the estate of Balfour in the Fife parish of Markinch. This became the principal line of the family, with members prominent in the church and government of Scotland such as David Bethune, the last cardinal of Scotland until modern times. There were several marriages with the royal family of Stewart, while Elizabeth Bethune, a mistress of King James V, was mother of his daughter Jean Stewart.

By 1713 a branch of the family was founded in Massachusetts by the banker George Bethune and another by 1739 in Sussex by the surgeon John Bethune. From a branch at Blebo in the Fife parish of Kemback, Sir Alexander Bethune in 1916 inherited a baronetcy.

Before the spelling gradually became fixed in Scotland from about 1550 onwards, many variations are found, Beaton being perhaps the most common. As Lowland Scots, they were never organised into a clan.

The ancient arms of the family in France were: Argent, a fesse gules. These appear on the seals of family members in Scotland, with examples surviving from 1286 and 1292. Through marriage with an heiress, three mascles were added and the arms became: Azure, a fesse between three mascles or. After the marriage with the heiress of Balfour, the Balfour arms were quartered with those of Bethune.

Some sources

Bethunes of the Scottish Highlands and Islands

Before 1500, some members of the Clan MacBeth living in the Western Isles and adjoining mainland of Scotland started using the last name of Beaton or Bethune, an early example being the Gaelic physician Angus Bethune. Though they had no connection with the Fife family, they too have contributed to the history of Scotland and to the many countries where their descendants have settled. Just one example is the famous Canadian physician Norman Bethune (1890-1939), a descendant of the pioneer Church of Scotland minister John Bethune.

Some sources

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