First name

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Sir Henry Balfour was a Scottish privateer and army officer in the service of the Prince of Orange during the Dutch Revolt. 

It is possible that he had been in the Garde Ecossaise in French service. A Henry Balfour appears in the muster rolls of the Garde between 1562 and 1568. In 1567, this Henry Balfour was joined by a Duncan Balfour who served in France until 1578. In the 1580s, a Duncan Balfour served as tutor to Colonel Henry Balfour's children after the Colonel's death. Ferguson contends that this Duncan Balfour, 'formerly an archer of the Scots Guard in France,' was the younger brother of Colonel Balfour and it was he who helped petition the Dutch ambassadors in Scotland in 1589 for payment of debts owed to Colonel Henry's family.

Balfour in the Low Countries, c. 1571-1580

The first record of Balfour in Dutch service is in 1571, when William of Orange (in Dillenburg Castle) commissioned him with a letter of marque as a privateer. It is possible that Balfour had been in Dutch service before this: Everhard van Reyd notes that Captain Balfour had brought 100 men to Veere (the Scottish Staple port in the Low Countries) in 1570. It is unknown at this juncture whether or not Balfour undertook any privateering with Orange's commission, although there was a 'pirate' named Henry Balfour reported to be based in Orkney around this period. 

Balfour was commissioned in September 1572 to raise a regiment of soldiers by the Earl of Mar, Regent of Scotland, and by January 1573 he was present at the siege of Haarlem, when he and four hundred other soldiers brought 'eighty sledges laden with munitions and food' across the frozen Haarlemermeer. When the city fell to the besiegers, Balfour and some of the Scottish captains were spared on the condition that Balfour would assassinate the Prince of Orange. On his release, Balfour told Orange of the plot and never made an attempt on his life. 

In 1573, new companies were commissioned by the Scottish Privy Council under the command of Colonel Andrew Ormiston [SSNE 8123]. Ormiston's command was short-lived. He was killed by Balfour in a duel, in an argument that perhaps arose over the participation of Ormiston's brother, 'the Black Laird of Ormiston,' in the Marian Civil War. Balfour was pardoned by Orange, and succeeded Ormiston as colonel of the Scots. Throughout the early 1570s, Balfour led the Scots in the sieges of Leiden (1574) and Oudewater (1575). In 1576, he was reported to have raised nearly 2000 more Scots that landed at Brill on 2 January 1576 and in that year there were at least 16 companies of Scots under him. 

He and his regiment returned briefly to Scotland in 1577, but they were recalled to the Low Countries again when hostilities broke out again in full. By the end of the year, there were no fewer than 26 Scottish captains in Dutch service, but whether or not this reflects 26 distinct companies is unclear. In January 1578, thirteen Scottish companies were badly routed at Gemblours when many of the Scots were killed on the field and others were taken prisoner and later executed. Balfour himself was falsely claimed to be among the deceased. In the following year, the Scots were further reinforced by Colonel Sir William Stewart's regiment from Danzig. The two Scottish regiments fought at Rijmenam and Colonel Balfour, along with the French Huguenot regiments, seized the town of Aerschot and later Menen. In November 1580, Balfour was killed while leading an attack near Bruges.

Family and Heirs

In life, Balfour had married Cristian Cant, sister of Captain David Cant. Balfour and Cristian had several children. The pedigree of this family and actual members of it has been the focus of much historical debate, and consultation with Ferguson is essential to get this genealogy right. Of those related to Colonel Sir Henry were: his half-brother, Colonel Bartholomew Balfour [SSNE 8270] and his son Sir William Balfour [SSNE 8049].


A portrait of Balfour exists and was sold at Bonham's Auction House in 2007:!



Briefwisseling van Willem van Oranje:

        Letters: 2373, 1873, 12711, and passim.

Calendar of State Papers, Scotland, 1571-1572, pp. 55, 202.

Ferguson, J., Papers Illustrating the History of the Scots Brigade in theservice of the United Netherlands, Vol. I, (Edinburgh, 1899), pp. 3-21, 43-5, 62, 140, 152, 170, 174, 186, 307.

Forbes-Leith, Scots Guards, II, pp. 169-170, 173-175, 177, 181-182.

HMC: Manuscripts of the Marquess of Abergavenny, Lord Braye, G.F. Luttrell, Esq., &c. (London, 1887), p. 255.

MacGregor, Red Book of Scotland, I, p. 491. 

Reyd, Everhard van, Historie der Nederlantscher Oorlogen (Leeuwarden, 1650), p. 7. 

Swart, K.W., William of Orange and the Revolt of the Netherlands, 1572-1584, translated by J.C. Grayson (Aldershot, 2003), p. 32. 


This entry updated by Mr Jack Abernethy.

Service record

Arrived 1562-01-01, as ARCHER
Departed 1568-12-31, as ARCHER
Capacity MILITARY, purpose SOLDIER
Arrived 1574-06-15, as COLONEL
Departed 1580-12-31, as COLONEL, GENERAL
Capacity OFFICER, purpose MILITARY