From ‘The Surnames of Scotland, Their Origin, Meaning and History’
By George F. Black.
“The origin of the Abernethies” says the late Sir James Balfour Paul, "cannot be stated with any certainty." In the twelfth century they appear to have occupied the position of lay abbots of the Culdee Monastery of Abernethy in Strathearn. This would seem to show that they were descended from original native stock and not Of Saxon or Norman origin. The first of the Abernethies on record is Hugh, who appears to have died about the middle of the twelfth century (RPSA., p. 130, 132). His son Orm probably succeeded his father as lay abbot. He appears as witness to a charter by Ernulphus or Arnold, Of St. Andrews, granted before 1162. He also witnessed a charter of William the Lion (Scon, 34).
He is the first of the family found bearing the territorial appellation ‘de Abernethy’. It is conjectured that he may have given name to the lands of Ormiston (c. 1160, Ormystone), an estate contiguous to that of Saton, East Lothian, with which his descendants became identified in after days, though
Orm was not an uncommon name in those early days (see Ormiston).
Between 1189 and 1196 King William the Lion granted the church Of Abernethy to the Abbey Of Arbroath (RAA., r, p. 25 ) , while about the same time Lawrence, son of Orm de Abirnythy, conveys to the church and monks of Arbroath his whole right "in the advowson
of the church of Abernethy"(ibid. p. 35). He retained the land and position of ‘dominus’ or Lord of Abernethy (Skene, CS., p. 399). Hugh de Haberinthan is mentioned in a papal mandate to the bishops of St. Andrews and Aberdeen in 1264 (Pap. Lett., I, p. 408). Sir Alexander de Abernethy swore fealty in 1296 His seal bears on the breast of an eagle displayed, a shield charged with a lion rampant, debruised by a ribbon, S' Alexandri de Abernethi (Bain, n, 751). Abernethies appear in Upper Lauderdale in the thirteenth century, probably as vassals of the de Morevilles. David de Albirnyth appears as vicar of Drisdale in 1320 (REG., p. 229), and c. 1380 William de Abrenythe made a gift of the mill of Ulkeston (now Oxton) to Dryburgh (Dryburgh, 259). John of Abrenethy, knight of Scotland, had a safe conduct in England in 1399 (Bain, IV, 593), and George Abrnnete, merchant of Scotland, had a similar safe conduct in 1465 (ibid, 1358). Among Scots in Prussia in 1644 the name was spelled Abernetti.
It became Ebbernet in Sweden. Abernathie 1641, Abernythe 1204,
Abirnathie 1596, Abirnethie 1609, Abirnethny 1407, Abirnidhr 1228,
Abrenythi and Abrenythie c. 1295, Abrenethyn 1351, Abrenythyn 1338,
Aburnethe 1424, Habernethi 1426; also Abernather, Aberneathie,
Abirnythy, and Abirnather.
It may here be mentioned that the family Of Abernethy shared in the "privilege
of sanctuary," a privilege which, says Riddell (Scotch peerage law, 1833, p. 152), "with us was by no means so common as has been apprehended."
In pre-Reformation times certain churches in Scotland and England were set apart to be an asylum for fugitives from justice. Any person who had taken refuge in such was secured against punishment — except if the charges were treason or sacrilege – if within the space of forty days he gave signs of repentance, and subjected himself to punishment. By the Act 21 James I (Of England) c. XXVII, the privilege of sanctuary for crime was finally abolished.
In Scotland all religious sanctuaries were abolished at the Reformation in 1560.
The most celebrated of these ecclesiastical sanctuaries were the church Of Wedale, now Stow, which treasured what was believed to have been a piece of the true cross brought by King Arthur from the Holy Land; and the church of Lesmahagow, Lanarkshire, fugitives to which had the benefit Of the "King's Peace," granted by King David in addition to the protection of the Church.
According to Wyntoun (Cronykil, bk. VI, c. XIX) Only three persons originally were partakers in such a right: Macduff, Thane Of Fife, the Black Priest of Wedale, and the Lord of Abernethy.