The Duke of Baynham Myth

A history of Halifax County, Virginia reproduces a letter written in 1912 [which was actually dated in 1906] from Dr. C. W. Baynham of Fort Smith, Arkansas to his relative Mrs. Mary Jordan Faulkner.1   This letter states, according to the history:

“…My great-grandfather, John Baynham, came to this country about 1790 and settled in Virginia.  About 1830, his three sons Grief, John Jr., and William, came west and settled in Missouri.  My father was John, named from his grandfather.  I have traced our family back to Mary Queen of Scots.  Sir Walter Scott married Mary Baynham and wrote a poem on Baynham Castle (which you will find on reading his works, and I am sending you a picture of the castle.)  I will leave here April 30th and sail from New York May 4th on the S. S. Cedric for Liverpool.  Am going to Scotland to establish my claims…”

The historical background in this letter is fictitious. Sir Walter Scott’s only marriage was to Charlotte Charpentier and none of his poems mention a Baynham Castle. Furthermore, Dr. Baynham’s great-grandfather John Baynhan was no immigrant but rather a fourth-generation Virginian.

The Halifax County history continues with an article that appeared in a number of newspapers in February and March of 1906:2

Within a few months Fort Smith is to be the home of a real live duke, for the Duke of Baynham, of Scotland, will then take up his residence here.  The duke-to-be is Dr. C. W. Baynham, of Fort Smith, who will leave in April for Glasgow, where he will receive his title and come into possession of the castle with its large estate upon the northeast coast of Scotland.  The estate is situated between Inverness and Romarty on the Irish channel.  The story of the inheritance of this estate by the Fort Smith physician is an interesting one.  The estate has been unoccupied and supported by the government for many years.  The great-great-grandfather of Dr. Baynham was the Duke of Baynham.  He, with his son and grandson, who was the father (sic) of Dr. Baynham, left Scotland in 1801 for America.  The old Duke died at sea, but the others landed at Old Point Comfort, Virginia, April 18, 1801.

In 1890, the father of Dr. Baynham, who was then living at Fairplay, Missouri, made an attempt to get the estate and title, which rightfully belonged to him by inheritance.  He wrote to the Antiquarian Society of Salem, Mass. for the record of his family, and found it could be traced back to Mary Queen of Scots, but was dumbfounded to learn that the record showed his father and grandfather had been beheaded.  Knowing this part of the record to be false, the elder Baynham secured the affidavits of several who had come over on the same ship with them, showing that the old duke died at sea, but that others of the family landed in this country and were not beheaded.  The Court of Royal Judges found that the claim was correct.

The elder Baynham then prepared to go before the Secretary for Scotland to receive his title and property, but died before the date set for his appearance.  Two months later his home was destroyed by fire and all the papers and other proofs of kinship were destroyed.  Five years ago Dr. Baynham took up the matter where it had been left by his father, only to find that the court records of the time his father had sent in his claim had not been properly kept and he would have to furnish new proofs of his rights.  The papers of the elder Baynham being destroyed and all the men who had come from Scotland with him now dead, this was a difficult task, but with the assistance of a Scotch attorney he was enabled to gather such proof as the judges required, and his case has been favorably acted upon.  Only the sanction of the Court of Royal Judges, which meets in April, remains to be obtained, and this has been promised.”

Almost nothing about story is credible.  Even a brief search of genealogical records would show that Dr. Baynham was not descended as described.  His ancestors did not arrive in 1801 — his great-great-great-great-grandfather was living in Virginia by 1740.   None of them possessed a dukedom.  Further his ancestors surely originated in southwestern England, not in Scotland.  Finally, a search of peerage and historical records did not yield any mention of a Duke of Baynham or of a Baynham Castle.

This was surely a deliberate hoax.  Dr. Baynham must have been aware of the 1876 biography of his grandfather that clearly contradicted the genealogy presented in the newspaper article.3

However, Dr. Baynham applied for a passport on 3 April 1906 and may have traveled to Scotland.   A few months later on  3 August 1906 the following article appeared in both the Denver Post and the Denver Rocky Mountain News:

Mrs. Maggie Collier, wife of L. L. Collier, foreman of the Santa Fe shops in Trinidad, has just received word that her brother, Dr. C. W. Baynham of Fort Smith, Ark., has proved his claim as heir to a dukedom in Scotland, and has been made the Duke of Baynham, with an estate of 3,000 acres of HIghland in Scotland and an ancestral castle……He is the oldest direct descendant of Greis (sic) Baynham, who came to the United States about 100 years ago.  Dr. Baynham went to Scotland and established his claims to the title, and the ancestral hall, and what there was of the ancestral wealth.  He cam eback last month with the right to be called the Duke of Baynham, but he says that the castle and grounds are of little value to him.He found the castle located on a knoll in the county of Inverness, between the towns of Inverness and Kyle…. The walls of the castle are crumbling, and the building is in a bad state of repair, but the massive tower still stands and is surmounted by three smooth-bore cannons.At present the castle is occupied by a company of Scotch Highlanders, and is known in England as Fort Kyle.  There are 3,000 acres of ground surrounding the castle, belonging to the estate, but they are fit for only a game preserve.

Dr. Baynham will take his sister, Mrs. Collier, to Scotland some time this year and they will decide whether or not they consider the estate worth taking charge of.  There is some money due him from the English government for rentals, but aside from that the estate is almost valueless.

Was this an elaborate hoax that Dr. Baynham was now explaining away?

Dr. Charles William Baynham (7 June 1870 – 10 November 1952) was the son of Joseph Gideon Baynham and Elizabeth Glendy of Calloway County, Missouri. He married Sue Smith in 1892 and was enumerated in Indian Territory in the census of 1900.  According to city directories and other records, he lived in Fort Smith, Arkansas at the time of these events, then in Little Rock.  By 1916 he was employed as a physician by the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad and living in Dallas where he was enumerated in 1920.  He worked for the railroad in Amarillo by 1929 and was enumerated there in the censuses of 1930 and 1940, then moved back to Dallas about 1946 and died there in 1952.

Was there an actual Duke of Baynham?  Despite the newspaper stories, I cannot find any independent confirmation that such a dukedom existed.  Records of Scotland and England contain no known mention of either a Baynham castle or a Duke of Baynham.

There are, of course, several locations named Baynham in and around Wales where the Baynham name originated — Baynham Priory, Baynham Hall, and so on.  And there were from time to time members of the peerage named Baynham, though none were Dukes.  The name appears to be essentially unknown in Scotland

  1. A History of Halifax County, Wirt Johnson Carrington (1924), p106-7. []
  2. To name just four: the 24 February 1906 issue of the Muskeon (MIchigan) Chronicle, the 23 February issue of the Jonesboro Evening Star,  the 28 February issue of the Jonesboro Weekly Sun, the 18 March issue of the Evansville Courier and Post. A quick search uncovered at least another six publications. []
  3. A History of the Pioneer Families of Missouri, William S. Bryan, pages 308-9. []