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The Blackhalls of that Ilk and Barra
Chapter I. — The Garioch and the Earldom of Mar


UNLIKE Gaul, all Aberdeenshire was divided into five parts. These were the districts of Mar, the Garioch, Strathbogie, Formartinc and Buchan, a division which still has a definite signification.

The district of the Garioch is bounded on the south-west by Mar, on the north-east by Formartine and Buchan, and on the north-west by Strathbogie. It has an area of about fourteen miles by eight — the largest diameter passing in a north-westerly direction from Ardiherald in the east, so named in Gordon of Straloch’s map, towards the Huntly boundary of the district in the north-west. It is largely a valley between hills to the north and south, for the hilly range of Bennachie, though regarded as essentially a Garioch mountain, is placed by Straloch just outside the southern boundary of this district. The valley is abundantly watered by tributaries of the Ury, which has a confluence with the Don a little to the south of the ancient and royal burgh of Inverurie, the capital of the district. Thus situated, the peacefulness of later times, and the industry of its population, have rendered the Garioch “the Granary of Aberdeenshire.” A visitor to the district is struck on the whole by a comparative absence of woodland. There is sufficient evidence, however, that this was not so always. The forest country in the neighbourhood of Kintore, lying to the south of Inverurie, was probably more or less continuous with woodland in the Garioch, and, as we shall learn later, the Garioch had its own Forester, originally a vassal of the Earl of Mar, and later of the Crown.

In the end of the twelfth, or beginning of the thirteenth century, the Garioch emerges from the rule of the Celtic Maormars, and their vassals the Toisechs, as an Earldom, in the person of David, Earl of Huntingdon, the third son of King David I. of Scotland. From that period comes into clearcr light the mutual struggle and assimilation of North and South, of Celt and stranger, whether Saxon, Norman, or Norseman, in this district of Aberdeenshire. That interesting Crusader, Earl David, does not seem to have retained the Earldom long, which was next conferred upon a natural son of King William, whose heir dying childless, it was granted to William Comyn by Alexander III. After the defeat anti forfeiture of the Comyns by Robert the Bruce, the Earldom of the Garioch sank to a Lordship, and appears to have been given as such by that King, possibly as a marriage portion, to his sister, Christian Bruce, and her husband, Gratney, Earl of Mar, who was already his brother-in-law, the King having married the daughter of Donald, Earl of Mar, and the sister of this Gratney.

In view of the future development of this narrative, it will be convenient in this place to deal as shortly as possible with the genealogical history and relation to the Garioch of the Mar family.

Donald, Earl of Mar, was succeeded by his son, Gratney, who, as has been stated, married Christian Bruce. This Countess of Mar seems to have been Lady of the Garioch in her own right, for she grants charters within the regality in that capacity. She carried the Lordship to her husband and her descendants. They had a son, Donald, who succeeded as Earl of Mar and Lord of Garioch, and was slain at the battle of Duplin in 1332, and a daughter, Elyne, who married Sir John Menteith. Donald, who fell at Duplin, left a son, who succeeded him, and was the last male of his race, dying without issue, and a daughter, Margaret, who, with her husband, William, first Earl of Douglas, succeeded her brother. She was the mother of her successor, James, Earl of Mar and Douglas—the “ kindly Scot,” who fell at Otterburn, without succeeding issue, in 1388. He was succeeded by his sister, the Countess Isabella of Mar, who also died without issue, but after transferring the Earldom to her somewhat unceremonious wooer and husband, Alexander Stewart, the illegitimate grandson of King Robert II., and in 1411 the victor of Harlaw. From this transaction a good deal of future trouble sprang. The instrument of transfer was dated August the 12th, 1404, and vested the succession in their immediate heirs, whom failing, in the husband’s heirs. Anxious to give his acquisition of the Earldom an air of less compulsion, Alexander Stewart renounced this deed on September 9th of the same year, and on December the 9th, 1404, a charter giving the succession to the Countess Isabel’s heirs, in the absence of legitimate descendants ol herself and Alexander Stewart, received the sanction of Robert III. (Lord Crawford’s Earldom of Mar, p. 204, et. seq.) Isabel died in 1419, without issue, and Alexander, Earl of Mar, her husband, still enjoyed the lands and privileges of the Earldom. Although his services at Harlaw were now a matter of history, he was apparently dissatisfied with the authority carried by the sanctions of the discredited Duke of Albany, sometime Regent of Scotland, and resigned his status and possessions into the hands of James I., who thereupon granted a charter on the 28th of May, 1426, by which the Earldom should at Alexander’s death devolve on the latter’s illegitimate son, Sir Thomas Stewart, and, after the death of Sir Thomas and the failure of his lawful issue, return to the Crown. Sir Thomas Stewart predeceased his father without legitimate issue, and on the death of the Earl himself in August, 1435, the Earldom and its patronage vested in the Crown in virtue of the terms of the grant. The King thus purposely ignored the asserted legitimate blood-claim of Sir Robert Erskine, the great-grandson through two female descents of Lady Elyne of Mar, the daughter of Gratney, Earl of Mar, and Christian Bruce. In the pursuance of a larger state policy, regia voluntas suprema lex, appeared to be a flawless maxim to the early Jameses, and what Robert III. confirmed, James I. annulled, the legal value of the charter not depending upon any question of abstract justice, but upon the royal sanction of a feudal king—the overlord of all his vassals. But, and this is a point to be borne in mind, in view of future developments, so far as they concern our present purpose, the legal force of charters granted by Alexander Stewart, as Earl of Mar, during his life time, could not be righteously disputed. It was disputed nevertheless, as we shall learn in due course. From this time (August, 1435) until 1565, when Queen Mary restored the Earldom of Mar in the person of John, fifth Lord Erskine, the representative of the displaced Sir Robert Erskine, the Crown or its representative administered all the functions of the Earldom of Mar and Lordship of the Garioch. Queen Mary, however, moved, it is said, by compunction at the iniquitous conduct of her predecessors, restored the Earldom at the above date to the Erskine line, not, however, before having conferred that title in 1561, on the occasion of his marriage with the Earl Marischal’s daughter, upon her father’s illegitimate son, James Stewart, subsequently Regent of Scotland. She also conferred with the title such lands pertaining to it, as were at that time not allotted to other persons. James Stewart, Karl of Mar, did not, however, long retain that Earldom, and exchanged it for the Earldom of Moray, which became his after the fall from favour of the inconveniently interposing Earl of Huntly. Mary, a true daughter of the old faith, had thus no apparent compunction in conniving at the sacrifice of the strongest prop at that time in Scotland, of the faith in which she died, yet, she is represented as hurt at the notion that her predecessors should have deemed it advisable to distribute the Mar estates and resume the immediate superiority of Mar and the Garioch. No, the theory of royal compunction in the matter of the Mar peerage cannot be maintained. The Regent Moray was the illegitimate son of James V., by a daughter of the fourth Lord Erskine, and sister of John, fifth Lord Erskine, also Regent of Scotland, in whose person the old Earldom of Mar was restored, according to some, or a new Earldom of that name created, in the opinion of others. In view of these circumstances, it is much more probable that the influence of Moray and the Erskines had a good deal more to do with the restoration than any compunction on the part of the Queen as to an injustice perpetrated by her predecessors. That compunction of Mary’s is doubtless a fa^on de parler. It will be noted, however, that in granting the title to James Stewart, the Queen only gave with it such lands as the Crown at that time retained.

Mary now leaves our narrative, and is succeeded by her son, James VI one of whose companions, from his youth up, was John Erskine, Earl of Mar, born about 1562. He became known as one of the most powerful persons at the Court of that monarch. The personal ambition of this astute nobleman seems to have been, not only to wear the ancient dignity to which his family considered themselves entitled, but also, if possible, to recover all the lands or fiefs which once belonged to the Earldom of Mar. This ambition, if realised, would have added largely to the revenues of the family, at a time when no one in Scotland was rich. In furtherance of this aim, he instigated that action of the Scottish parliament, which in 1587 decided that the ancient possessions of Mar still appertained to the restored Earldom. But the mere necessity for such action, and the terms of the grant to James Stewart, prove that the Act was passed to clear the way for further action in the attempt to recover these lands, most of which had been held for generations by families which had rendered doughty service to the Crown in the interval,

and paid the blood tax at Flodden and at Pinkie. Nay, in the legal processes which arose out of this matter, the language of insult was not wanting. In an action by the Earl of Mar to “reduce” Duguid of Auchinhuive, that member of a county family of repute is curtly described as “one Duguid,” and a trespasser. With the later developments of the history of the Mar peerage we are not concerned, but the bearing of the circumstances just related on the present narrative will appear in due course. These genealogical facts concerning the succession to the Earldom of Mar may be conveniently presented in the following tabular form :—


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