First name

Text source

Sir William Davidson of Curriehill (c.1640-1683), Baronet and Privy Councillor and Resident Agent/Ambassador of Charles II in Amsterdam. Davidson moved to the Dutch Republic in 1640 in which country he was twice married to Dutch women. He was a man of wide business interests who corresponded in Dutch with the Swedish based Dutch Momma-Reenstierna family in 1648 on a wide variety of subjects. He makes reference to an English captain, Peter Murdoch (Pieter Modrich?) in 1650, and he also refers to William Strang [SSNE 807]. It is very probable that he also knew Alexander Bruce [SSNE 6623], 2nd Earl of Kincardine, during his Dutch exile of 1657-1660. In 1660, William Thomson wrote a letter from Breda noting that he had borrowed money from his old friend Sir William Davidson.

Davidson at Veere-

On 27 February 1662, Davidson was approved by the convention of Burghs in Edinburgh to serve as the Conservator at the Scottish Staple at Veere. Letters from the Aberdeen Council among others note that Davidson wished the staple moved to Rotterdam, but Charles II blocked any such move. In November 1664 he was involved in the collection of money for Charles I in response to a letter from an agent of the distressed churches, but it is not known what the outcome of this business was. Little information survives of his actual position as conservator after 1665 due to the Anglo-Dutch war. Davidson had to leave Amsterdam and move to Hamburg, and from there to England. During this time Davidson assumed a more political role and his duties to the burghs lost out. From his base in Antwerp throughout the winter of 1666-67, Davidson used his Dutch contacts to keep the British king informed of Dutch intent, including a planned invasion of Scotland in support of the Pentland Rising. The loss of his position as British Anbassador in the Dutch Republic meant that he had to pay ordinary taxes on his business interests there, and this proved a crippling blow which he refused to pay. After the war, Davidson returned to Amsterdam, but there he was less popular with the authorities than before. By December 1667, Davidson was back in Edinburgh where, on 5 March 1668, he produced a patent from the King under the Great Seal appointing him Conservator and granting reversion of the office to his son, Peter Davidson. Once more, Davidson tried to get the staple moved away from Veere to Dordrecht with some initial success - the staple remained in Dortrecht between 1669-1676. As the deal was being considered, the City of Amsterdam lodged a formal complaint against Davidson for leaving the town without paying his taxes with the result that the Dordrecht deal effectively fell through. In any case, Davidson appointed Mr Johan Bain to Rotterdam to collect his taxes there, and more Scottish ships reported there than had ever gone to Veere. Complaints from Scots were brought to the attention of the Burghs. Indeed, Davidson became increasingly unpopular with both the Dutch and the Scottish burghs and by May 1671 he resigned his position. Roosenboom believed that Davidson returned to Scotland after this. He lodged a will in Edinburgh in July 1692.

Davidson in Norway-

Around this time Davidson also appears in Norwegian sources. In July 1656 he invested 1000 riksdaler in the iron works that Bernt Burnsmand established at Mostadmarken and the following year he invested a further 400. Davidson placed his agent Alexander Wishart as the director and boss of the iron works in 1658. Wishart and Brunsmand did not get on well, although Brunsmand died in 1659 just after submitting an official complaint about Wishart to the Master of Mining. Specifically, on 11 May 1661 the president and council in Trondheim were ordered by Frederik III to instruct the late Berent Brunsman's inheritors to satisfy a claim madeagainst them by Davidson. Claus von Ahlfelt was ordered by Frederik III repeatedly to ensure that Davidson's legal clerk (factor), Jacob Madsen got help in his business affairs and the running of the works. By May 1664, another order was issued to ensure that some form of agreement was put in place between Burgermester Laurits Bastiansen and Davidson regarding the running of the ironworks which could not run without employing local labour again. The problem arose because Bastiansen had held the farms within the grounds of the ironworks and had lost them to Davidson. Bastiansen agreed to give up Mostadmarken's and Hommevikens smallholdings and woods in exchange for other land elsewhere. The king's commissioners were told in no uncertain terms that Davidson had to be helped in this case, highlighting the importance of the ironworks to Frederik III. On the same day as this order was issued, Davidson's privileges were formerly recognised by the king. Within months, Reinholt von Hoven received an order from the king to ensure that Davidson received his privileges and was told that his factor in this matter would be one Alexander Wishart who had already begun correspondence with Norwegian officials in July. Despite earlier agreements, Laurits Bastiansen and others continued to cut wood from within the grounds of the ironworks, and Von Hoven and Hans Wesling were ordered in August 1665 to intervene to prevent such actions happening again, although the matter was still not resolved in April 1667. Davidson obtained a statement of productivity at the iron works from Wishart in 1665: a total expenditure of 21,589 riksdaler and a profit of 4333 riksdaler - the majority of produce had been 571 shippounds of bar-iron, and the price of bar-iron was 7 riksdaler to the shippound. Apart from Wishart there were 13 people employed at the works that year. Davidson's signature on a letter as a director of the Royal Salt Company in March 1666 suggests that after moving from Amsterdam he spent at least some of his time in Norway. On 17 December of the following year, Frederik III sent a note to Nils Toller to the effect that he was a partner to the value of 3,200 daler in Davidson's share of the Royal Salt Company. He must have done well from his Norwegian interests. Two letters from the Danish king in 1670 included variously demands for payment of 37,541 dalers and demands to pay 21,541 dalers to William Davidson. These were followed by an extension to Davidson's privilages for a further 20 years for an annual price of only 12 dalers per annum. Davidsen also took possession of Leira (Strinda) and Draksen sawmills and Draksen farm in Klaebu from Commissioner Paulsen. For these places, Davidson installed David Jacobsen (based in Trondheim) as his factor. Soon after this, Laurits Bastiansen's inheritors agreed to live up to his contract with Davidson which had been broken as a result of the previous Anglo-Dutch war during which Denmark-Norway sided with the Dutch. It appears that Davidson continued to develop his business network. In 1675 Davidson sold all his Norwegian property, including Mostadmarken ironworks. Not all went well and his factor, William Hunter, began proceedings against him in December 1681 and commissioners were appointed to intervene in the dispute. Among Davidson's other partners was the British resident in Copenhagen, Jean Paul [SSNE 1177]. Letters dated between 10 February 1683 and 13 June 1685 show that Paul wished to secure guarantees to cover his investment in Davidson's various factories. A Wellam Davidsson applied at some point to join the service of Prince Carl Gustaf (Karl X) in Sweden. It may have been this man or [SSNE 2434]. Among other Swedish contacts of Davidson's was Georg Stiernhielm. a man who in turn had influenced G. W. Leibniz in his pansohic studies. Siernhielm considered Davidson a "fellow illuminist" along with Francis Bacon, Robert Fludd, Meric Casaubon and Thomas Vaughan. Davidson was also a friend of the Freemason, and founder of the Royal Society, Sir Robert Moray [SSNE 6599], as well as Constantijn Huygens and several prominent Jews. Of his two Dutch wives, one was called Elizabeth and with her had a son called Peter. We know that one of them was the sister of Dr Janus Klenckius, a professor of logic who had been knighted by Charles II. The English traveller Philip Skippon recorded this in his travel journal in 1663. This may be the same William Davidson noted in 1646 in the Liber Causarum at Riksarkivet in Stockholm which records Davidson, a Scottish merchant, Willaim Heij and his colleagues, involved in an unspecified case. Another (or the same?) William Davdison was involved in a legal case against David Pfeiff in 1647, but no source for this information was provided.



Swedish Riksarkiv, Förteckning över Momma-Reenstierna Samlingen, part C: brev till Bröderna Momma-Reenstierna ingångna skrivelser, section 1, brev till Abraham Momma-Reenstierna - E2492, 24, A-E. William Davidson, Holland Affärsman, Amsterdam (c.33 letters) section 3, Affärer och processer med nedan nämda enskilda personer, E2582, 114, 1648; Swedish Riksarkiv, Carl Gustaf's Arkiv i Stegeborgssamlingen, Wellam Davidsson, no date. We are grateful to Dr Doug Catterall for providing copies of these papers from the Rotterdam archive: Gemeentearchief Rotterdam, Oud-notarieel Archief, vol. 833 (Protocollen vav Zeger van de Brugge, 1662-1700), f.60. 5 January 1671 [check not I May 1671]; Same archive, vol. 596 (Protocollen van Johannes Crosse, 1664-1674), ff.43-46, 58, 66, 73, 76-79; Philip Skippon esquire, An Account of a Journey made thro' part of the Low-Countries, Italy and France (1663). Reproduced in: A Collection of Voyages and Travels some now first printed from Original Manuscripts others now first published in English in six volumes (3rd edition, London, 1746), VI, p.421; Register of the Great Seal of Scotland, vol. XI, 1660-1668, p.60, no. 130, Whitehall, 20 November 1661 (Letters patent encouraging foreigners form Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark, Poland, Prussia, Danzig, Lubeck, Bremen etc to come to Scotland, reside there, build manufacturies and undertake fishing and induce them to naturalise). Same volume, no. 1103, Edinburgh 11 October 1667; L. B. Taylor, (ed.), Aberdeen Council Letters (6 vols., Oxford, 1942-1961), III, pp.xxi and 176, IV, pp.26, 209-211, 330, V, p.80; R. Fladby (ed.), Norske Kongebrev (6 vols., Oslo, 1962), I, pp.16, 39, 127, 138, 154, 181, 212, 213, 239, 261, II, pp.51, 52, 63, 127, 245, III, pp.27, 83, 87, 232, IV, p.90; A. F. Steuart (ed.), Papers Relating to the Scots in Poland, p.xxxi; Register of the Privy Council of Scotland, 3rd series, vol. I, p.560; M. P. Roosenboom, The Scottish Staple in The Netherlands (The Hague, 1910), pp.196-201, 216, 219; Significant correspondence dealing with this man are preserved in Dutch archives and in the Clarendon Papers in the Bodleian Library Oxford, The Public Records Office and the British Museum. specifically the latter repository contains: Davidson (William) Sir. Bart Letters, as British Agent at Amsterdam, to the Earl of Lauderdale 1665, 1669. Add. 35125. In 1665, Sir William Dauidson [Bart., Scottish Resident in Holland] to Lauderdale on the absence of certain news of the Dutch fleet, reports of shooting heard last Monday night not being believed from Amsterdam, 28 May, 1665. f.119. with two letters from James Watson, as Davidson's deputy dated 10, 20 July, 1665. ff.122, 123. Also to Lauderdale in 1669, on attempts made to induce the States to request, through Sir William Temple, the recall of "the leat proelamatione" dated Dort, 22 Feb. 1669. f.199; Davidson (William) Sir. Bart., English Resident in Holland Correspondence with Charles II. 1654-1665. Add. 23121 f. 40 Add. 23123 f. 98 Add. 24901 f. 3; Davidson (William) Sir. Bart., English Resident in Holland Correspondence with Lord Lauderdale 1661-1669. Add. 22878 ff. 46-59, 61, 62, 66-78 [Sir] William Dauidsone to Lauderdale dated Amsterdam, Nieuport, Antwerp, Edinburgh, etc., 9 Dec. 1661-16 Nov. 1668 plus Elizabeth Dauidsone [wife of the preceding] to the same dated Amsterdam, 17 July, 1665, f. 60. [Note f.64, Peter Davidson, William's son to Lauderdale from Antwerp, 5 Feb. 1667 with seal, f. 64]. See also Add. 23128 f. 277 Add. 23129 ff. 191, 270, 300 Add. 23130 ff. 48, 127 Add. 23131 ff. 5, 105; Davidson (William) Sir. Bart., Resident in Holland Letter to Sir W. Temple 1668. Fr. Add. 23130 f. 49; Davidson (William) Sir. Bart., Resident in Holland Letter to the Duke of Richmond 1670. Add. 21947 dated Dordrecht, 4 Mar. 1670, f. 296; Davidson (William) Sir. Bart., Resident at Amsterdam Contract with Charles II. for the Mines Royal of Gold in Jamaica 1662. Eg. 2551 f 152; Davidson (William) Sir. Bart., Resident at Amsterdam Letters to Sec. Nicholas 1654, 1655, 1660. Eg. 2534 f 218 Eg. 2535 ff. 24, 40, 140, 211 Eg. 2537 f 252; M. K. Scuchard "Leibniz, Benzelius, and the Kabbalistic Roots of Swedish Illuminism" in A. P. Coudert et al (eds), Leibniz, Mysticism and Religion (Dordrecht, 1998), pp.89 and 103; W. Samuel, "Sir William Davidson, Royalist, and the Jews" in 'Transactions of the Jewish Historical Society of England', 14, 1955-39, p.59; Leif Halse, "Mostadmarkens Jernverk" in Malvik Bygdebok, (3 vols, Trondheim, 1957-9), vol. 1, pp.237-243; B. Sogner, Trondheim bys historie. II. Kjøpstad og stiftsstad 1537-1807 (Trondheim, 1962), p.190; T. C. Smout, Scottish Trade on the Eve of Union (Edinburgh & London, 1963), p.186; Steve Murdoch, Network North: Scottish Kin, Commercial and Covert Associations in Northern Europe, 1603-1746 (Brill, Leiden, 2006), pp.5, 149-150, 155, 194-203, 353. For the reference to Liber Causarum see Curt Haij, 'Skottar i Stockholm under 1600-talet', unpublished list of names, Hintze biblioteket, Genealogiska Föreningen, Sundbyberg, Stockholm. Thanks to Ardis Dreisbach for this information.

Service record

Arrived 1640-01-01
Departed 1665-12-31
Arrived 1652-01-01
Departed 1671-05-30
Arrived 1662-01-01
Departed 1671-05-30
Arrived 1664-05-11
Departed 1675-06-30
Arrived 1665-11-01
Departed 1666-12-31
Arrived 1666-11-01
Departed 1667-05-30
Departed 1683-01-02