Earls and Earldoms of Scotland
Chapter IV - Earldom and Earls of
OFFICE OF HIGH CONSTABLE—DEATH OF SIR GILBERT—SIR
DAVID, SECOND HIGH CONSTABLE OF THE ERROLL LINE— SIR THOMAS, THIRD HIGH
CONSTABLE—WILLIAM, FOURTH HIGH CONSTABLE—WILLIAM, FIFTH HIGH CONSTABLE,
AND FIRST EARL OF ERROLL.
THE following duties and privileges were attached to
the office of Lord High Constable of Scotland:-
I. In early times he had precedence next to the Lord
High Chancellor, and before all other officers. It appears that this
precedence had been recognised and given to the Constable till the reign
of James VI., when, in 1601, he appointed Sir George Home of Sprott Lord
High Treasurer, and, in March, 1605 created him Earl of Dunbar, and then
ordered that the Treasurer, in right of his office, should have precedence
next to the Lord Chancellor.
II. In the royal army and expeditions the High
Constable, in right of his office, was Lieutenant-General and supreme
officer next to the King. He had command and direction of the army, and
was sole judge in all military affairs, and in actions touching the
captains, lieutenants and their officers and companies during their
employment in the King’s service.
III. The Constable was supreme judge in all matters of
riot, disorder, bloodshed, and murder, committed within a circuit of four
miles of the King’s person, or of the Parliament and Council representing
the Royal authority in His Majesty’s absence. The trial and punishment of
persons committing such crimes and offences came properly within the
jurisdiction of the courts of the Constable and his deputies; while the
magistrates and other judges of the city or burgh within the limits of the
circuit were obliged to rise and assist the constable and his officers in
apprehending such offenders and criminals. The High Court of Constabulary
continued to hold its sittings until the Union, and its functions were
usually discharged by deputies. When Parliament was sitting, the court
often had many cases.
IV. When Parliament was sitting the High Constable had
the charge of guarding the King’s person. The keeping of the Parliament
House was committed to him, and the keys of the House were delivered to
him. He also had the chief command of the guards and men-at-arms attending
upon the King’s person at such times. In time of Parliament the High
Constable rode on the King’s right hand and carried a white baton in token
of command, and accordingly sat apart from the rest of the nobility upon
the King’s right hand, having the honours lying before him.
V. The High Constable presided at tournaments and
passages-at-arms. On such occasions he had the privilege of right to
apartments in the King’s palace. It appears also that he had a right to
all the materials of which the fences or "barrars" were formed, within
which the tourney was fought.
VI. In early times the High Constable and his deputies
had a right to take custom, in name of fees, of all kinds of goods brought
to the markets for sale, wherever the Parliament or the Session was
sitting. But in 1456 an Act of Parliament was passed which ordered that
this should in future be discharged.
It also appears that in some instances, there was a
piece of land attached to the office of High Constable in the royal
burghs, for a lodging to himself and his officers. In 1456 the Constable
granted a lease of his land to Thomas Cuthbert, a burgess of Inverness,
who says—"I by my letters oblige myself to an high and mighty lord,
William, Earl of Erroll and High Constable of Scotland: That for his
constable land given to me by charter in fee and heritage, I, my heirs and
assignees, shall find yearly to the said Lord William and his heirs, a
sufficient stable upon the said ground for the number of twelve horses
during the time of their residence in the burgh of Inverness, together
with six pennies Scots yearly, if it be asked by the said lord or his
Interesting instances of the exercise of the duties and
functions of the High Constable will occur in the succeeding sections.
The first High Constable of the Erroll family, Sir
Gilbert Hay, received a grant of the barony of Slains from the Crown.
After an active and honourable life in the service of his country, he died
in 1333, at Aberdeen, and was interred in the Abbey Church of Cupar.
He was succeeded by his son, Sir David Hay, Second High
Constable of the Erroll line. He accompanied David II. and the army that
invaded England in 1346, and in the disastrous battle of Durham the High
Constable was slain.
Sir David was succeeded by his son, Sir Thomas, third
High Constable. He married the Princess Elizabeth Stewart, a daughter of
Robert II., by whom he had two sons and two daughters. One of his
daughters married Sir George Leslie, the ancestor of the Earl of Rothes.
His other daughter married Andrew Leslie of that ilk, who received as her
dowry two hundred pounds sterling on the 12th of July, 1376.
In 1368, Sir Thomas Hay, High Constable, made an
agreement with William Fenton of Fenton, by which he granted to Fenton
twenty mercates of land in the barony of Slains. Robert III., in 1392,
promised not to ratify any grants of lands made by Sir Thomas Hay, High
Constable of Scotland, the father of William Hay, the King’s nephew.
Sir Thomas died at an advanced age, on the 6th of July,
1406, and was interred at the Abbey Church of Cupar. He was succeeded by
his son, William, fourth High Constable. In 1406, Albany, the Governor of
Scotland, granted to him relief of all his lands held in chief of the King
for a payment of two hundred merks. Albany also granted to him the lands
of the barony of Cowie in the Sheriffdom of Kincardine.
Sir William died at Furvie in 1437, and was succeeded
by his son, William, fifth High Constable, and First Earl of Erroll. He
was created Earl of Erroll in 1452. He married Beatrice, a daughter of
James Douglas, third Lord of Dalkeith, and had issue. In 1454, he
purchased the lands of Petilyell, in Forfarshire, from Alexander Ogilvie
The Earl died at Slains on the 19th of August, 1460,
and was interred in the Abbey Church of Cupar. He was succeeded by his
eldest son, Nicholas, second Earl of Erroll. In 1465 he married Elizabeth,
a daughter of Alexander, first Earl of Huntly. On the 26th of January,
1466,he entered into a bond of alliance with George, Lord Gordon,
Master of Huntly, his brother-in-law, in which they agreed to defend each
other against all living men. "And, if it seems to be advisable to either
of the Lords or their counsel to add to or reform this agreement, they
shall be ready to put it in the best form without fraud or guile, for the
honour and advantage of both the Lords."
Earl Nicholas died in 1470, leaving no issue. He was
succeeded by his brother, William, third Earl of Erroll. He married,
first, Lady Isabel Gordon, a daughter of George, second Earl of Huntly, by
whom he had two sons, William and Thomas, and a daughter—Lady Beatrix.
Secondly, in 1485, he contracted a marriage with Lady Elizabeth Leslie, a
daughter of the first Earl of Rothes, and by her he had a daughter, Lady
Mariana. She married David Lindsay, seventh Earl of Crawford.
The Erroll family obtained extensive estates in Buchan
in the parishes of Slains, Cruden, Turriff, and others; and the Earls of
Erroll attained much influence and power both in the south and north of
On the 17th of June, 1472, Erroll received a bond of
manrent from Alexander Mackintosh, Thane of Rothiemurcus, who became
"riding man to my Lord, William, Earl of Erroll, Lord the Hay, and
Constable of Scotland, for all the days of my life. That I shall give my
Lord leal and true counsel, according to my knowledge, when he asks it; I
shall conceal his when he shows it to me; whenever I hear of or see any
scath to my Lord, I shall inform him, and to the utmost of my power
endeavour to prevent it. And I shall be with my Lord in war and in peace
before and against all living men, excepting my allegiance to the King and
my Lord Huntly. In witness hereof I have affixed my seal to this letter at
In 1477 the Earl received a bond of manrent from Master
William Scheves, coadjutor of St Andrews, who undertook by the faith in
his body that he and his friends and servants would support Erroll to the
utmost of their power.
At the Castle of Slains, on the 17th of April, 1483,
Alexander Irvine of Lonmay, son and heir-apparent of Sir Alexander Irvine
of Drum, "became true man and servant to a noble and mighty lord, William,
Earl of Erroll, Lord the Hay, and Constable of Scotland; in true manrent
and service, in peace and in war, with my person and goods against all
that live or die may, my allegiance to the King only excepted. And, if I
see or hear of any hurt or peril to his person, friends, goods, or
heritage, I shall warn him thereof, and to the utmost prevent it. If he
asks me any advice, I shall give the best I can; and if any counsel be
shown to me, I shall conceal it without fraud or guile
. . . At the end of seven years my fee to be considered and
modified by the persons undernamed :— Mr Gilbert
Hay of Ury, Mr David Hay, Mr John Hay, prebender of Cruden; Alexander
Fraser of Durris, Robert Blynsall, alderman of Aberdeen; and Alexander
Irvine of Belte, or such-like persons."
At Aberdeen on the 29th of November, 1484, the Earl
received a bond of manrent from John Keith of Ludquhairn. The same year,
at Aberdeen, on the 24th of November, the Earl of Erroll had a bond of
manrent from William Keith of Ythan.
In 1487 William Kynidy, Constable of Aberdeen, gave his
bond of manrent to the Earl of Erroll, "for all the days of my life." The
same year William Crawford, Laird of Federat, gave his bond of manrent to
Erroll—"to serve him in peace and in war." In the following year the Earl
received a bond of manrent from William Scott of Flawcrag, who "became man
and servant to a mighty and noble Lord, William, Earl of Erroll, Lord Hay,
and Constable of Scotland." On the 15th of January, 1489, Alexander
Fraser, Lord of Philorth, "became true man to a noble and mighty Lord,
William, Earl of Erroll . . . and to render true
service to him in peace and in war." This bond is witnessed by Alexander
Irvine of Lonmay, William Reid of Colliston, John Panton of Petmeithand,
On the 11th of September, 1499,
John Cheyne of Essilmount gave his bond of manrent to the Earl of
Erroll— "for all the days of my life. . . . And
I shall ride and go with my lord in peace and in war, as ready as any man
serving his lord within the realm, with my kin, men, and friends that will
do for me." At Aberdeen, on the 3rd June, 2504, Alexander Bannerman of
Wattertown "became man and servant to a right noble man, William, Master
of Erroll, for all the days of my life. And I shall ride and go with him
at all times when I am charged."
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