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Historic Earls and Earldoms of Scotland
Chapter IV - Earldom and Earls of Erroll
Section I


TRADITION OF THE HAYS—EARLY NOTICE OF THE HAYS—WILLIAM HAY OF ERROLL—SIR GILBERT HAY.

IT may not be amiss to touch briefly on an early tradition associated with the Hays, which is to the following effect:-

In the reign of Kenneth III., about the end of the tenth century, the Danes, with a large fleet, anchored near "Red Head" in Angus. Shortly after, they sailed for the mouth of the South Esk, where they landed their army. They seized and plundered the nearest town on the coast, dismantled the castle, slew the inhabitants without distinction of age or sex, and devastated Angus to the Firth of Tay. Tidings of this having reached the King, who was staying at Stirling, he immediately mustered the men in the locality, and proceeded to watch the movements of the enemy and prevent pillage by them. He pitched his camp at the confluence of the Tay and the Earn. Intelligence came to the King, that the enemy had marched along the Tay, and was besieging Perth. The King was aroused at the imminent danger, and at once marched on Perth. On coming in sight of the Danes, the Scots formed in order of battle in the plain, and advanced against the enemy. The Danes were strongly posted upon a hill opposite, where it was difficult to attack them; but the Scots were forced to attack. A severe battle ensued at the foot of the heights, in which many on both sides fell; but at last both wings of the Scots line gave way and fled, and the battle seemed to be lost.

But a countryman of the name of Hay, with his two sons, happened to be ploughing in a neighbouring field, over which a number of the Scottish fugitives were running. The farmer and his sons, being men of daring minds and great personal strength, and influenced by a warm love of their native land—the father seized the yoke and the sons whatever implements came readiest to their hands, and placed themselves in a narrow path through which many of the fugitives were running, and endeavoured by reproaches and threats to stop them. When this failed, they struck down those nearest, exclaiming that they would be Danes to the runaways. Thus the more timid were stopped, while the braver men, who had been carried away by the disorderly crowd of their followers, joined with them, and shouted that assistance was at hand. Then the whole body of the men turned upon the enemy, and pressed the foremost of the Danes back upon their companions in a confused mass. At this moment the Scottish camp followers raised a shout, as if a fresh army was approaching, which greatly animated the Scots and raised their spirits to the highest pitch of enthusiasm; and they pressed upon the Danes with the utmost fury, and in a short time utterly routed them. This is that victory which was won near the village of Luncarty, "which was celebrated with the greatest rejoicing during many days, and the fame of which will extend to the latest posterity."

After the battle, Hay was the object of universal applause. Many noblemen attested that wherever he and his sons attacked, there the Scottish ranks were restored, and those of the enemy overthrown. Hay, when introduced to the King, spoke modestly of his service; and when offered robes for himself and his sons, to render their entrance into Perth more glorious, he declined the honour, and only shook off the dust from the garments which he wore every day, and retained the yoke which he used in the battle. Thus he entered the city, preceded by an advance guard and followed by a numerous train appointed by the King. The attention of all who had assembled to see this unusual spectacle was turned upon him, and only he appeared to carry the triumph of the day. The first question mooted was as to what honours and rewards should be given to Hay and his sons. "An estate was bestowed upon them, one of the most fertile in Scotland, which his posterity—now increased to many families —enjoy even to this day." So much for the tradition associated with the battle of Luncarty.

The Hays appear in the records of Scotland in the twelfth century, during the reign of William the Lion. The King granted to William de Hay a charter of the lands of the barony of Erroll, which are situated in the parish of Erroll, Perthshire, and consists of a portion of the well-known Carse of Gowrie. Erroll lies near the centre of the Carse of Gowrie, along the banks of the Tay, about seven miles from Perth, and nine from Dundee. The King also granted to him some land in the burgh of Forfar.

William de Hay married a daughter of Randolph, Lord of Liddlesdale, by whom he had issue. His second son, Robert, became the ancestor of the Earl of Tweeddale. William was succeeded by his son, David de Hay of Erroll.

He married Helen, a daughter of the Earl of Strathearn, and had issue. William the Lion by charter confirmed all the lands of the barony of Erroll to David de Hay, son of William de Hay, with all the rights and privileges of a free barony. Alexander II. also granted a charter to David, confirming to him the lands of the barony of Erroll.

David was succeeded by his son, Gilbert de Hay of Erroll. William, Earl of Mar, granted to him all the lands of Dronlaw, which was confirmed by a charter of Alexander III. in 1251. Gilbert was succeeded by Nicholas Hay, Lord of ErrolL In 1294 King John granted a charter confirming to him the barony of Erroll, and other lands of considerable extent, to be held in free ward. Donald, Earl of Mar, granted a charter to Nicholas de Hay, of all the lands of Dronlaw, which Earl William had before given to his predecessor.

In the closing years of the thirteenth century, Scotland was in a very critical state. The opportunity of the Hays of Erroll to take an active part in the affairs of the nation was approaching. Nicholas de Hay died about the year 1302, and was succeeded by his son, Sir Gilbert Hay of Erroll. In the spring of 1306, Sir Gilbert and his brother, Hugh, joined Robert Bruce, and were amongst the small party who then formed the forlorn hope of the Scottish nation.

Sir Gilbert Hay of Erroll was one of the bravest and most faithful of all King Robert’s followers. He was the King’s steadfast and inseparable companion in arms throughout all his wanderings and severe privations, cheerfully travelling with Bruce over mountains, moors, and forests by night and day. As mentioned in a preceding chapter, he was wounded and had his horse killed under him in the severe encounter with the Lord of Lorne at the head of the Tay. He was engaged along with the King in many a desperate struggle, and had many narrow escapes. He was present and fought heroically on the memorable field of Bannockburn.

When the hour of victory at last came Robert Bruce was exceedingly grateful. He rarely failed to remember and reward those who had faithfully adhered to him, when his back was at the wall, Accordingly, Sir Gilbert Hay was well worthy of any distinction and reward which Bruce had at his disposal. The King, therefore, appointed him Hereditary Lord High Constable of Scotland shortly after the battle of Bannockburn.

The office of Lord High Constable dates from the reign of Alexander I., and it became hereditary in the family of De Morvill. It was by inheritance through the De Morvill line, and the old Lords of Galloway, De Quinci, Earl of Winchester, that the office of Lord High Constable became vested in John Comyn, Earl of Buchan. After the forfeiture of Comyn, Bruce granted the office of Constable to David de Strathbogie, Earl of Athole, but this noble soon joined the English, and he was forfeited. Thus King Robert had the office of Constable again at his disposal.

The charter by King Robert, conferring the office of Constable on Sir Gilbert Hay, is dated the 12th of Nov., 1314, at Cambuskenneth. Amongst the witnesses to the charter were Bernard, Abbot of Arbroath, who was then High Chancellor of Scotland; Thomas Randolph, Earl of Moray; Sir Robert Keith, Great Marischal of Scotland; James Douglas, and others. The charter, in brief, conveyed to Sir Gilbert and his heirs all the privileges and liberties, the duties and functions which constitutionally pertained to the office. These will be explained in the next section.


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