Saturday, 22 October 2011

Tall Tales & Family Legends

Clan Menzies Tartan

Anyone fancy a game of myth busting?

I grew up with the following story.

Once upon a time there were three brothers (why is it that stories always have to have THREE brothers?!) who belonged to the Scottish Menzies clan. I'm picturing rough and rugged red-heads now, just so you know. Dashingly handsome too obviously. Said brothers came to the Netherlands to fight as mercenaries in the army of the Prince of Orange, in the battle of Heiligerlee. The year was 1568.

One (or maybe all, the family legend is a bit hazy on the details) of the brothers survived the battle - yet never made it back to Scotland. He (or again, maybe they) stayed on in the Netherlands, settled down and started a family. And over time, the name of Menzies changed to a more 'latinised' version: Menses. Yes, I do know what it means, thank you*. Every single GP I've ever seen (granted not too many) will at some point in the conversation come out with: 'Say, do you actually know... etc'. I have to admit I snarl when that happens. Not pretty.

Growing up, there were tons of books in the house, including lots of books of myths and legends. Celtic legends mostly. I loved the idea of having a Celtic background - even if it was in the very distant past. So as a child, whenever someone would comment on my unusual surname, I would casually say something along the lines of 'Oh well, it's actually Scottish you know'. Kids. Oh alright, yes, I sometimes still do it.

But then as I grew older, I started to question the family legend a bit. There are basically two camps in the current generations of Menses'. One holds on to the story with all their might, the other says it's actually absolute bollocks (that would be dad). Pardon my Dutch. So let's have a closer look. Let's pretend I'm Jane Marple (but tons younger and prettier and with not a hint of spinster about her - well yes I'm single at the moment but that's beside the point).

Is it plausible for three Scottish brothers to come fighting in the Netherlands as mercenaries in that day and age? Hmm, yes actually. There were many Scottish mercenaries about in Europe in those days. It would not have been unheard of. The yes camp says that the army records of that time still exist - and that when one of them checked said records, there they were. Three Menzies brothers. Or in any case three men from clan Menzies. Sadly they failed to make a copy. Bit of a pity that.

Then there's the 'physical' evidence. You may know that the Dutch are a very tall people. And among the Dutch, none are taller and lankier (think blonde giants) than the people over in Groningen, the most northern province of the Netherlands. Where the Menses family originally comes from (fact). Where the battle of Heiligerlee took place. But the Menses men are a lot shorter and stockier than the average Groninger. More Celtic in build perhaps. Food for thought you may think. Ah, but the no camp have a trick up their sleeve.

One of my uncles dabbles in genealogy. He takes great delight in scouring all possible records for traces of our ancestry. What evidence has he found so far that links us to bonnie Scotland? Er, let me think. Ah yes, I remember. NOTHING. Nothing whatsoever. And hang on - what about those army records? Has he checked those as well? To be honest: I don't know. But what good would it do to prove there were Menzies clan members in the army at that time if you can't link them to the Menses family anyway?

If you want to know what I think: I say myth busted. With pain in my heart though. I do have a thing for the Celts. And I loved visiting Scotland last year. I fell in love with Edinburgh as well as with the highlands. And yes, in spite of it all, when we drove through Perthshire and saw a road sign saying 'Castle Menzies, next exit', my heart skipped a beat. So if you must know, yes, I did end up buying some Menzies paraphernalia. I got my parents a Menzies tartan scarf (quite smart in black & white), two clan booklets and (no sniggering please) a tea towel with the Menzies crest and motto: Vil God I Zal (God Willing I shall).

There is one small consolation though. While in Scotland, I discovered that the name Menzies is actually not pronounced 'menzies'. It's pronounced something like 'mingies' (rhymes with thingies). Well. I'm not so sure about that. Sounds more like a funny sort of condition if you ask me: 'How's your Angus doing, Mrs. Burns, I heard he was ill? Oh yes, thank you for asking Mrs. Dunbar, he's ill indeed. He's got a bad case of the mingies'. So I'm thinking I might be better off with a non-mingies related surname after all. I mean, check the following limerick I found and tell me I'm not right. Mind you substitute the 'enzies' sound for 'ingies'. 

There wis a young lassie named Menzies,
That asked her aunt whit this thenzies.
Said her aunt wi a gasp,
Ma dear, it's a wasp
An you're haudin the end whaur the stenzies!


* Just in case you don't know what it means: menses means moons or months in Latin, but is nowadays mainly used to indicate a woman's menstruation. Aargh.


  1. you crack me up girl!!

  2. That was one fantastic trip - glad we went!! Great to see the pics again :)

  3. Definitely worth another visit - lots more visits! So much stuff we didn't get to see yet. Wonder whether Holyrood palace has reopened in the meantime... And I do want to climb Arthur's Seat next time (with breaks), do the National Gallery (that fresco with figures from Scottish history looks so amazing in the pics).

    And I'd love to do another trip through the Highlands. And Glasgow is on the list as well - want to see the real Charles Rennie Mackintosh buildings and furniture etc. Oh and I want to see Glamis! Er - suppose it won't do me any good if I tell you about its alleged hauntings? ;-D

  4. We can stop by Susan Boyle for tea and an autograph if we go to Glasgow - think she lives between Edinburgh and Glasgow :-)))

  5. Does she?? I'd love to meet her in person - not sure she'd let us in though - even with our best smiles?

  6. Dunno... We can always give it a try ;-)

  7. Maybe if we bring some cat treats with us! ;-)


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