It is believed that the surname Spens, or Spence, may have derived from the Old French word for ‘custodian’ or ‘dispenser’. The principal line of the Clan Spens family are descendents of one of the ancient Earls of Fife.
In the 13th and 14th centuries a number of people with the name Spens were recorded in various papers. In 1232 a Roger ‘dispensator’ was recorded as having been witness to a deed documenting the transfer of lands near Dallas in Inverness-
By the 15th century, the Spens clan had gained a certain amount of prominence, and when called a parliament at Perth in 1434, John Spens of Lathallan was granted a seat. John married Isabel Wemyss, daughter of Sir John and the couple had three sons. The youngest, called Patrick, was a soldier and a member of the Guard of Scots, Archers. In 1450 the archers were sent by under the command of Patrick to France to help Charles VII, and Patrick ended up settling there. It is from him that the prominent Spens-
The second son of John and Isabel, Thomas, born in 1415, went into the church, where he did well and rose to high office. Thomas was made Bishop of Galloway around 1450 and then seven years later became Aberdeen’s bishop. He was seen as being a clever man and a shrewd negotiator. He was regularly employed on state business, and was appointed Lord Privy Seal on two occasions: the first between 1458 and ‘59 and the second from 1467 to 1470. Thomas was given the job of concluding the marriage contract between Louis of Savoy, Count of Geneva and the younger sister of James II, Annabella. Two years later, in 1451, he was sent to England as an ambassador of the Scottish crown to try and negotiate a truce with the English. On the 14th of April, 1480, Thomas died, and he was buried at Roslin chapel.
The Spens clan were divided in opinion over . John Spens, Lord Condie was the Lord Advocate in 1561 and was told by Mary to prosecute the religious reformer for alleged treason. Spens did so, but with no real enthusiasm or effort and Knox was acquitted. However, David Spens of Wormieston was a strong supporter of the queen and was labelled as a rebel by the Parliament that the Regent called in the August of 1571. The following month there was a plot to kidnap Lennox, and David was one of the ringleaders. His job was to personally hold the regent. It is said that Spens took his job of keeping Lennox secure so literally that when it was decided to kill him Spens threw himself in front of Lennox to prevent the prisoner from being shot. Unfortunately for David Spens, when Lennox’s rescuers arrived he was killed on the spot, even though Lennox tried to save him. During the reign of, the Spens’ of Wormieston were in favour with the royal court and Sir James Spens was sent as Scottish ambassador to Sweden. A branch of the family settled there and rose high in the Swedish nobility as Counts Spens.
The Craigsanquhar estate in Fife belonged to the Spens family between 1385 and 1524, and was bought back in 1792 by the second son of the 15th Laird of Lathallan, Dr Nathaniel Spens (1728-