The name Mercer is a very ancient one in Scotland, in England and in Ireland, where there was a William Mercer, Bishop of Connor in 1353-75.
It is believed that the term mercer, anciently used in England and still more in Scotland, has its origins in the Low Countries. It is further believed that it is older even than the term merchant, which is of Norman-English origin, the language of the dominant race in England.
Mercer is by no means a common name in England, unlike that of Smith or Smyth, Saddler, Glover and Hawker, which, taking into account that early England was a warlike country, such that when men first took surnames from land, trades or other accidents, there were smiths, saddlers and glovers in almost every town or village of England; hence the frequency of these names.
The early Mercer’s however were sellers of fine silks, velvets and later cottons, with silks being an article of the greatest luxury, confined only to the use of the high nobles.
The name appears as le Mercier in French, Mercator in Latin, Mercatori in Italian and Mercer, Le Mercer and even Marcer in Scotland, Ireland and England.
Two families of the name have been settled in Scotland from a very early period – the Mercers of Innerpeffray, in Strathearn, and those of Aldie, in Perthshire, with the latter being closely connected to the city of Perth. An inscription in the family vault of the Mercers in the church of St. John there, records that one of them, John Mercer, died in 1280.
The founder of the baronial family of Aldie was John Mercer, who about 1340 was an opulent merchant burgess of Perth. He was provost of that city in 1357, 1369 and 1374, and several times commissioner for the burgh of Perth to the Scottish Estates of Parliament. He was also a frequent ambassador to England, France and Holland.
Another prominent member of the family was Sir Andrew Mercer, the Scottish Admiral, who made a successful attack on the English fleet at Scarborough. His father John Mercer, mentioned above, had been wrecked off the coast of Northumberland in 1376 and had been seized and imprisoned in Scarborough castle.
In 1214, Serle Mercer, a wealthy merchant was for eight weeks Mayor of London. He was again elected in 1217 and retained his office until 1222.
A certain John Mercer who flourished in the 17th century was the Town Clerk of Perth. He purchased Potterhill, near Perth ‘from Mr James Mercer, only son of William Mercer, son and heir of the late Andrew Mercer, Burgess of Perth, on the 15 May 1639.’
Lord William Murray, 4th son of the Duke of Athol married the heiress of Lord Nairne. His 2nd son Robert Murray Nairne married Jean, heiress of the Mercers of Aldie.
One Lieutenant-Colonel William Mercer was the author of ‘Angliae Speculum,’ or England’s Looking-glass, published in London, 1646 by David Laing, Esq. He was born in Scotland, went to England when young, with his father and from there emigrated with his family and others from Yorkshire and Lancashire, at the instance of James I, of England, by whom was formed the plantation of Ulster. He was last heard of as being at Cork in 1699.
He married four wives, the first of whom, with her children perished in the rebellion of 1641.
A Captain Bernard Mercer, Royal Marines, who married the heiress of the Slaughters was descended from one Bernard le Mercer, who signed the Ragman Roll in 1296 at Perth. Marcus Hill Mercer, who served in the Army and Trevor Mercer, Royal Navy, were also of this family.
The surname Mercer also occurs in Kent and it is believed that they are a branch of the Flemish Merciers who settled in Kent. A branch of this family went to America and some of them distinguished themselves in the Navy of the United States.
(Extracted from “The Surnames of Scotland” by George F Black. New York Public Library 1946)
From the occupation, mercer (Fr mercier) a mercer, draper, dealer. The word still exists in English in the sense of a dealer in silks.
William Mercer or le Mercer witnessed two charters in favour of the Abbey of Kelso, c. 1200.
Aleumnus Mercer was party with twenty-three others to a bond given by Alexander II to Henry lll in 1244 to keep the peace. He had a grant of Tillicoultry from Walter, son of Alan. His son and successor of the same name resigned his lands into the king’s hands in 1261.
A curious story of two Mercers appears in English records, which throws an interesting sidelight on the law of the period. In 1279 “a man unknown was housed at Morpathe (Morpeth) with Geoffrey and William, the mercers of Scotland. The stranger rose through the night and stole their goods to the value of 30s., and instantly fled to Cotinwode, followed by William who slew him in his flight. Both withdrew themselves and are not discredited. They may return if they will, but their chattels are confiscated for flight.” (Apparently it was lawful to pursue a thief with hue and cry and do summary justice on him if found with the goods in his possession. The Mercers erred in not pursuing the thief in the recognised way.)
There are two old families of this name – the Mercers of Aldie and those at Innerpeffray in Strathearn. The former were intimately connected with the history and prosperity of Perth. The founder of this branch appears to have been Thomas. He had an order from Edward lll in 1341 on the coast of Bordeaux for money due for raising men and horses for service in Aquitania. John Mercer, a wealthy burgess of Perth, who flourished in the latter half of the fourteenth century, was provost of the town in 1357, 1369, 1374, and in 1355 commissioner for Perth to arrange for the liberation of David ll. He was taken prisoner by the English during a truce in 1376, and shortly afterwards released without ransom, much to the chagrin of Walsingham, who mentions his “inestimable wealth.” An old rhyme referring to the antiquity of the Mercers of Perth says:
“So sicker ’tis as anything on earth,
The Mercers aye are older than old Perth.”
Another rhyme referring to them punningly records that:
“Folk say the Mercers tried the town to cheat
When for two Inches they did win six feet.”
This alludes to the exchange of the two Inches of Perth (where the famous clan battle was fought in 1396) for the right of sepulture in St John’s Church, Perth.
(Note: alternate spelling of Aleumnus – Aleumus.)