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The Founders of Balliol College and their Families

Misapprehensions about the College's Founders and their families abound, and it may be helpful to refute some which have been so often repeated that it is sometimes difficult to persuade correspondents that there is nothing in them.

The Balliol family had no association with the College after Dervorguilla's lifetime, and unlike some other ancient foundations, the College was never burdened with the duty of giving privileges to its Founders' kin. The College's historic collections contain no primary sources about the Balliol family, and therefore we cannot provide genealogical services to those interested in exploring their own possible descent from the founders of the College.

The College was not founded by the John Balliol who was King of Scots 1292-1296, but by his father John Balliol, and was consolidated by the latter's widow Dervorguilla of Galloway.

John [de] Bal[l]iol, Founder of the College in about 1263, was the head of a family which had been prominent land-owners in England and France for several generations. Its principal base in England was Barnard Castle, named after an earlier head of the family in England called Bernard . In France the family's main home was at Bailleul-en-Vimeu in Picardy, whence the name Bal[l]iol derives. There are several places called Bailleul in France and Belgium; some of them are much more substantial than Bailleul-en-Vimeu: they have nothing to do with the family of the Founder or with John Balliol King of Scots, despite occasional assertions to the contrary. In particular, the family of the Founder was not from Normandy. Some of these other Bailleuls have also given rise to eponymous families. 1

The imposing ruins of Barnard Castle survive at the Teesdale town near Durham which is also called Barnard Castle: they have been the subject of detailed study and excavation.2

The main Balliol castle in Picardy was on the high ground to the south of Bailleul-en-Vimeu. No superstructure survives, but the massive earthworks on which it stood can still be found in the dense Bois de Bailleul (part of the Château Coquerel estate). An expedition partly under the auspices of the College surveyed and studied the site 1923-5, and the present writer visited it and studied it in 1990.3

The claim of John Balliol King of Scots to the Crown of Scotland had nothing to do with his father John Balliol Founder of the College, but arose through Dervorguilla. She was a daughter of Alan, Lord of Galloway, and Margaret, who was a daughter of David Earl of Huntingdon, who was a grandson of King David I of Scotland. 4

John Balliol Founder of the College died in 1268. The place of his death is not known. His heart was removed, embalmed, and kept by his widow Dervorguilla; it was buried with her at Sweetheart Abbey (which she founded) near Dumfries, in 1290. The burial place of the rest of his body is not known.

The Balliol family name was extinct in England and Scotland by 1400. John Balliol and Dervorguilla had four sons. Hugh, Alexander, and Alan all predeceased the youngest (John, who became King of Scots) and left no surviving issue. John Balliol King of Scots had two sons (one of them Edward, crowned King of Scots 1332, but soon deposed) and a daughter, none of whom left surviving issue. Any descendants of the Founders of the College now living would thus be descended from one of their daughters, who were probably: Cecily (m.John de Burgh); Ada (m.William de Lindsay); Margaret (possibly m.Thomas of Moulton); and Eleanor (m. John Comyn). Descendants of Cecily, Ada and Eleanor were traced in the nineteenth century.11 Descent from the Founders is still often claimed but rarely set out in detail plausibly. The descents compiled by Richard Batchelder (2020) and Patrick M O'Shea (2006) are remarkable exceptions.

Claims which are made from time to time5 that names such as Bailey, Baillie, Bayley etc derive from Balliol are probably fanciful, but the College itself occasionally appears in informal sources 1500-1700 as "Bayley Colledge".

The claim6 that "William Balliol le Scot", supposed progenitor of the family Scott of Scot's Hall, was a brother of John Balliol King of Scots (and therefore a son of the College's Founder) is quite untenable,7 as this William was brother to Alexander Balliol of Cavers, Chamberlain of Scotland, who was a distant cousin of King John Balliol.

Further Reading

Much has been written8-11 about the College's Founders and their families. Stell's work9 is the most recent, critical and convincing. Unfortunately a good deal of the earlier work dilutes historical fact with romantic invention and error.10

For an account of the College's foundation by John Balliol and Dervorguilla, and its subsequent history, see J. Jones, Balliol College. A History. 2nd ed. rev. 2005. You can view digital facsimiles of the college's medieval foundation documents here.

John de Balliol (b. before 1208, d. 1268), Dervorguilla of Galloway (d.1290) and John de Balliol King of Scots (c.1248x50–1314) all have individual entries in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

Two useful recent additions to scholarship:

  • Marjorie Drexler. 'Dervorguilla of Galloway.' Transactions of the Dumfriesshire and Galloway Natural History and Antiquarian Society Vol.LXXIX (3rd series) 2005, pp.101-146.
  • Amanda Beam. The Balliol Dynasty: 1210-1364. John Donald, 2008.


  1. See F. Bayley, The Bailleuls of Flanders, 1881, and AR Wagner, English Genealogy, 2nd. edition, 1972, p.58.

  2. D. Austin, Acts of Perception: A Study of Barnard Castle in Teesdale, English Heritage, and Architectural and Archaeological Society of Durham, two vols, Durham 2007.

  3. Balliol College Archives, MISC 95-7, MISC 221.

  4. A.Weir, Britain's Royal Families. The Complete Genealogy, 1989.

  5. W.M. Baillie, Pedigree of the Baliol or Baillie Family, 1880.

  6. J.R. Scott, Memorials of the Family of Scott, of Scot's Hall, 1876, reprinted by the Iberian Publishing Co. 1992 and available from Willow Bend Books, Lovettsville, VA.

  7. J.A.C. Vincent, The Genealogist, vi (1882), 1.

  8. W. Greenwell, 'The Baliols of Bywell and Barnard Castle', in J.C. Hodgson, A History of Northumberland, vi (1902), 14; G.A. Moriarty, 'The Baliols in Picardy, England, and Scotland', New England Historical and Genealogical Register, cvi (1952), 273; K.J. Stringer, Earl David of Huntington, 1985; R. de Belleval, Jean de Bailleul Roi d'Ecosse et Sire de Bailleul-en-Vimeu, Paris, 1866.

  9. G.Stell, 'The Balliol Family and the Great Cause of 1291-2', in K.J. Stringer (ed), Essays on the Nobility of Medieval Scotland, 1985.

  10. In this category are B.J. Scott, The Norman Balliols in England, 1914, and the works of Wentworth Huyshe, such as Dervorguilla, Lady of Galloway, 1913.

  11. A. Sinclair, Heirs of the Royal House of Baliol, 1870.


- John Jones, 2006 ; revised 2020

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