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


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 heirs.

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 of Ouchterhouse.

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 Scotland.

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 Perth."

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, and others.

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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