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The Great Historic Families of Scotland
The Hays of Errol


THE Hays are amongst the oldest and most illustrious of the historic families of Scotland, but their real origin has been obscured by a fabulous traditionary story which would still appear to be held for gospel truth in the northern district of Aberdeenshire, as various allusions were made to it on the banners and triumphal arches displayed when the eldest son of the present Earl came of age, as well as in the speeches delivered on that occasion. It is said that in the reign of Kenneth III., the Danes invaded Scotland, and encountered a Scottish army commanded by their king at Luncarty, near Perth. The battle was long and fiercely contested, but at length the two wings of the Scottish forces were compelled to give way. As they were flying from the field, pursued by the victorious Danes, a husbandman named Hay, who happened, along with his two sons, to be at work in a neighbouring field, armed only with the yokes of their ploughs, stationed themselves in a narrow pass through which the fugitives were hurrying, compelled them to halt in their flight, restored the battle, and gained a complete victory. ‘Sone after,’ says Hector Boece, ‘ane counsal was sat at Scone in the quhilk Hay and his sons were maid nobil and doted for their singular virtew provin in this field, with sundray lands to sustane thair estait. It is said that he askit fra the King certane lands hand betwixt Tay and Arole, and gat als mekil thairof, as ane falcon flew of ane man’s hand or scho lichtit. The falcon flew to ane tower, four miles fra Dunde, called Rosse, and lichtit on ane stane quhilk is yet callit the Falcon Stane, and sa he gat all the lands betwixt Tay and Arole, six milis of lenth and four of breid, quhilk lands are yet inhabit by his posteritie.’ In proof of the truth of this story an appeal is made to the arms of the Hays—three escutcheons supported by two peasants, each carrying an ox-yoke on his shoulder, with a falcon for the crest. In all probability, however, this story, which is entirely fabulous, was invented to explain the arms, for armorial bearings were unknown at the date of the battle of Luncarty.

A very ingenious attempt has been made by Mr. Hay Allan, a gentleman who claims affinity with the Hays, to vindicate the truth of the story told by Boece, on the alleged authority of a manuscript history of the family, which, however, does not appear to have been seen by anyone but himself.

‘Mac Garadh,’ he says, ‘is the ancient name of the Hays. It is of genuine Gaelic origin, and was given first to the family in allusion to the celebrated action by which he [the peasant] raised himself from obscurity. It is very expressive of the circumstances. Its literal signification is a dike, or barrier, and was given to the ancestor of the Hays for his conduct at the battle of Luncarty, where he stood between the flying Scots and the victorious Danes, like a wall or barrier of defence. . . . Surnames did not come into use in England before the time of the Conqueror, and their introduction into Scotland was at a date a little subsequent. The name of Garadh was given to the ancestors of the Hays about one hundred and fifty-six years before, and had not, therefore, been subsequently retained by his descendants as an individual designation, but was only used generally as the name of the whole race, as Clann na Garadh, and particularly as the patronymic of the chief, who was designated Mac Mhic Garadh Mor, and Sgithan Deang, the son of the son of Garadh of the red shields.

‘At the time, therefore, of the adoption of surnames, the appellation of Garadh had grown into antiquity, and there were also other reasons which still more forcibly actuated its neglect. In the reign of Mac Beath there were two brothers of the direct descendants of Garadh, and during the troubles of that tyrant’s usurpation the younger, "being right bauld and stalwart of heart," went into Normandy, where he married the daughter and heiress of one of the barons of the dukedom.

‘Surnames had by this time become partially in use on the Continent, and on his domiciliation in Normandy the descendant of Garadh was desirous of adopting a name which should conform to the language and usage of the country, and at the same time perpetuate the memory of his origin. For this purpose he assumed the name of De Ia Haye, which is a sufficiently literal translation of Garadh, the first signifying a hedge or fence, the latter a dike or barrier.

‘In the reign of Malcolm Bean Mor, the son of the first De Ia Haye was one of the warriors who accompanied William of Normandy into England. Some time after the Conquest he made a journey into Scotland, to visit his uncle, the chief of the Clan na Garadh, then grown to a very advanced age and without children. During his visit the old chief died, and there being no other heir, De Ia Haye was declared his successor. From this time he abandoned the service of William, residing wholly in Scotland. The name became hereditary to the descendants of Garadh, and the old appellation dropped into oblivion.’

Mr. Hay Allan has also given a war-song of the family, which he says he copied from an old leaf that he found pasted into that history. Some stanzas, he asserts, are very ancient, and others, he admits, are quite modern. He has heard scraps of it sung by old people in Perthshire. And he states that the old war-cry of the Hays was, ‘Halen Mac Garadh.’

The song begins in the following manner :—

‘Mac Garadh! Mac Garadh! red race of the Tay,
Ho! gather, ho! gather like hawks to the prey;
Mac Garadh, Mac Garadh, Mac Garadh, come fast,
The flame‘s on the beacon, the horn‘s on the blast;
The standard of Errol unfolds its white breast,
And the falcon of Loncartie stirs in her nest:
Come away—come away—come to the tryste—
Come in, Mac Garadh, from east and from west.’

Then follows the picture of the charge:-

‘Mac Garadh is coming! like stream from the hill,
Mac Garadh is coming, lance, claymore, and bill;
Like thunder’s wild rattle
Is mingled the battle
With cry of the falling and shout of the charge:
The lances are flashing,
The claymores are clashing,
And ringing the arrows on buckler and targe.’

All this is, no doubt, very interesting, but until this MS. history of the Hays is produced, and the circumstances in which it was found are made known, the alleged Celtic origin of the family must be regarded as a romance, and we must continue to believe that the Hays are in reality a branch of the Norman family of de Haya. They derive their designation from an estate in Normandy, and their armorial bearings are the same as those borne by families of the name in Italy, France, and England. A Sieur de la Haya accompanied William the Conqueror to England in 1066. A William de la Haya, who married a daughter of Ranulph de Soulis, Lord of Liddesdale, was principal butler to Malcolm IV., about the middle of the twelfth century, and to his brother, William the Lion, who bestowed on him the lands of Errol. SIR GILBERT DE LA HAYA and his brother HUGH, descendants in the fifth generation from this royal butler, were amongst the first of the Scottish barons to repair to the standard of Robert Bruce, and were present at his coronation. Hugh was taken prisoner at the battle of Tippermuir, but Gilbert made his escape, with Bruce and a small body of his followers, into the wilds of Athole, and shared in all his subsequent perils and privations. Hugh must in some way have regained his liberty, for he fought, along with his brother, at Bannockburn. Sir Gilbert was created, by King Robert Bruce, HIGH CONSTABLE OF SCOTLAND— an office which was made hereditary in his family, and received from his grateful sovereign a grant of the lands of Slains, in Aberdeen-shire, which is still the seat of his descendants.

About the middle of the fourteenth century, WILLIAM DE LA HAYA, the representative of the house, a zealous supporter of James II. in his struggle with the Douglases, as a reward for his services was raised to the peerage by the title of the EARL OF ERROL, and received various grants of land in 1446 and 1450. During the rebellion of that powerful house, which placed the throne of James II. in imminent peril, the Earl of Errol, in order to conciliate the people, and to induce them to rally round their sovereign, resigned his constable fees, which were levied on everything brought to market while the Estates were sitting, and were the source of large emoluments to the High Constable. An indemnification was promised him for this great sacrifice, but was never given.

The successors of Earl William continued for two centuries to take a prominent part in the wars, and treaties, and other public affairs connected with the history of the country. WILLIAM HAY, fourth Earl, fell at Flodden, fighting by the side of his sovereign. His son, WILLIAM, the fifth Earl, was, according to Calderwood, a man ‘well learned, both in humanitie and divinitie, and speciallie weill versed in the New Testament. He would rehearse word by word the choicest sentences, speciallie such as served to establish solid comfort in the soule by faith in Christ. Much he suffered for the cause of Christ.’ On his death, about 1535, without male issue, his title, office, and estates devolved upon GEORGE HAY, son of the Hon. Thomas Hay, of Logie Almond, who married Margaret Logie, heiress of that property. His eldest son, ANDREW HAY, who became seventh Earl, married Lady Jane, only daughter and heiress of the fifth Earl, and thus united the collateral heir male and the heir female of line of this ancient family. Like his father, Earl Andrew was a steady supporter of Queen Mary. His son, FRANCIS, eighth Earl, was one of the leaders of the Popish faction during the early years of James VI., and along with the Earls of Huntly, Crawford, Angus, and Bothwell, took up arms against his sovereign for the purpose of promoting the interests of the Romish party in Scotland. [See DOUGLASES, and CAMPBELLS OF ARGYLL.] Errol and his fellow-conspirators repeatedly entered into a treasonable correspondence with Philip of Spain and the Duke of Parma, with a view to the invasion of the country, and they even levied a powerful force, with which they defeated, at Glenlivet, 15th October, 1594, the royal army, commanded by the Earl of Argyll. Errol fled to the Continent, and was forfeited by the Parliament and excommunicated by the Church. He was ultimately allowed to return home, was relieved from his civil and political disabilities, reconciled to the Court, and received into favour by James VI. He seems to have been always liked by the King, and he was one of the commissioners nominated by the Parliament, in 1604, to treat of a union between Scotland and England. ‘He was,’ says Sir Robert Douglas, ‘a truly noble man, of a great and courageous spirit, who had great troubles in his time, which he stoutly and honourably carried; and now in favour, died in peace with God and man, and a loyal subject to the King, to the great grief of his friends.’ The Earl died at his ancestral castle of Slams, 16th July, 1631, and on his deathbed gave directions that, instead of the costly funeral usual at that day in the case of great nobles, he should be buried privately in the church of that place, and that the calculated expense of a showy ‘earthing up’ be distributed among the poor on his estate, which was accordingly done. The Earl was three times married, but left issue only by his third wife, a daughter of the Earl of Morton, who bore to him three sons and eight daughters.

His eldest son, WILLIAM, the ninth Earl, was brought up at Court, and was educated in the Protestant religion. He was held in special favour by Charles I., and officiated as Lord High Constable at the coronation of that sovereign in the abbey of Holyrood in 1633. He unfortunately lived in such a splendid and extravagant style that he was obliged to sell his paternal estate of Errol, one of the largest and finest in the kingdom, which had been in the possession of the family for four centuries and a half. It is painful to notice the decadence of a family so renowned in the history of our country, brought about by the spendthrift habits of one of its members. But as Sir Walter Scott remarked when looking at a farm on the Errol estate, at one time rented at £500 a year, but which had been completely covered and ruined by a thick coating of sand blown upon it in a storm, ‘Misfortune and imprudence more fatal than the sands of Belhelvie,’ have swallowed up the greater part of the once-magnificent estates of the Errol family, of which the poet has said—

‘A thousand years have seen it there.’

GILBERT, the tenth Earl, was a staunch Royalist during the troublous times of the Great Civil War, and raised a regiment at his own expense for the service of Charles II. ‘We do promise,’ wrote that monarch, ‘that as soon as it shall please Almighty God to put an end to the present troubles, the claims of our said cousin, the said Earl of Errol, shall be favourably considered and justice done, so that he may see how highly we esteem that ancient family, and the value we set upon his present services.’ But, as usual, the promise was not kept by ‘the laughter-loving king, whose word no man relied on.’ On the death of Earl Gilbert without issue, his titles and estates devolved upon SIR JOHN HAY of Killour, grandson of Sir George Hay, the younger son of the seventh Earl. His son CHARLES, the twelfth Earl, died unmarried in 1717, and the title, with its privileges, and honours, and the remnant of the once-extensive possessions of the family, passed to his elder sister, LADY MARY, the wife of Alexander Falconer, son of Sir David Falconer, Lord President of the Court of Session. At the death of the Countess without issue it was inherited by LORD BOYD, the grandson of his sister, who married James, fifth Earl of Linlithgow and fourth Earl of Callandar, to whom she bore an only child, Lady Anne Livingston, the wife of the Earl of Kilmarnock. Lord Boyd would have united in his own person the earldoms of Errol, Kilmarnock, Linlithgow, and Callandar had the three last not been attainted at the close of the Jacobite rebellion of 1745. His father, the amiable but unfortunate Earl of Kilmarnock, when in his twelfth year, had fought for the Hanoverian dynasty in 1715, but changed sides and joined the banner of Prince Charles Stewart in 1745. He had been soured by the ill treatment he had received from the Government in withholding his pension, and was so miserably poor that he was frequently obliged to depend upon the hospitality of his friends for a dinner. His wife, the Countess of Linlithgow and Callandar in her own right, was a lady of great spirit and wit, and she contributed not a little to the success of the Highland army at the battle of Falkirk, by detaining General Hawley at Callandar House until the insurgents had taken up a commanding position on the moor, which enabled them to engage the royal troops at a great advantage.

The Earl of Kilmarnock was taken prisoner at the battle of Culloden. His second son, the Hon. Charles Boyd, also espoused the Jacobite cause, but his eldest son fought on the Hanoverian side, [As the Earl was led along before the royal troops bareheaded, his hat having fallen off and not been replaced by the soldiers to whom he had surrendered, Lord Boyd, his son, started from the ranks and placed his own hat on his father’s head. This act of filial affection and reverence produced a deep impression even on the soldiers who witnessed it, though certainly ‘not given to the melting mood.’] and the third son was an officer in the Royal Navy. The Earl was brought to trial, along with the Earl of Cromartie and Lord Balmerino, before the House of Lords in Westminster Hall, on the 28th of July, 1746. He pleaded guilty, and when brought before the court, on the 30th, to receive sentence of death, he urged, as reasons why clemency should be shown to him, that his family had constantly supported the Revolution of 1688, and the interests of the House of Hanover; that his father had shown great zeal and activity in the cause of the reigning family during the rebellion of 1715; and that he himself, though very young, had at that time appeared in arms on the same side; and that his eldest son, whom he had trained in loyal principles, had fought at Culloden in behalf of King George. No regard, however, was paid to these pleas by the sovereign or his advisers, and Lord Kilmarnock was beheaded on Tower Hill, on the 18th of August, 1746. His behaviour on the scaffold was dignified, firm, and composed. He acknowledged the justice of his sentence, prayed for the reigning King and his family; and when the Deputy-Lieutenant of the Tower, according to an ancient custom, said, ‘God save King George!’ the Earl answered, ‘Amen!’ knelt calmly on the block, and submitted to the fatal blow. ‘His whole behaviour,’ says the Rev. Mr. Forster, who attended the Earl on the scaffold, ‘was so humble and resigned, that not only his friends, but every spectator, was deeply moved; and even the executioner was deeply moved.’

Lord Kilmarnock was tall and graceful in person, and was possessed of fine accomplishments; but in his early days he was careless and extravagant in his expenditure, ‘by which,’ as he confessed to Mr. Forster, ‘he had reduced himself to great and perplexing difficulties. He was tempted to join the rebellion in the hope that, by its success, he might retrieve his embarrassed circumstances.’

Lord Kilmarnock’s own titles, and the patrimonial estates and titles of his Countess, were forfeited; but the remnant of the Errol property, with the dignities and high privileges of the Hays, descended to JAMES HAY, the son of this ill-fated pair, who became thirteenth Earl of Errol. He officiated as High Constable of Scotland at the coronation of George III. in 1761. Sir Walter Scott represents ‘Redgauntlet’ as exclaiming in a burst of indignation at the spectacle, ‘Shame of shames! Yonder the gigantic form of Errol bows his head before the grandson of his father’s murderer.’ It is said that Lord Errol, having accidentally omitted to pull off his cap when the King entered, made a respectful apology for the omission, but his Majesty entreated him to be covered, for he looked upon his presence at the ceremony as a very particular honour. Dr. Samuel Johnson, on his tour to the Hebrides, visited this nobleman at Slams Castle, in Aberdeenshire, and Boswell has given a very graphic and interesting description of the personal appearance, and captivating manners of the Earl. ‘His dignified person and agreeable countenance, with the most unaffected affability,’ he says, ‘gave me high satisfaction.’ Dr. Beattie, in a letter to Mr. Montagu, says of Lord Errol, ‘His stature was six feet four inches, and his countenance and deportment exhibited such a mixture of the sublime and the peaceful as I have never seen united in any other man. He often put me in mind of an ancient hero, and I remember Dr. Johnson was positive that he resembled Homer’s character of Sarpedon.’ Sir William Forbes adds his testimony to the same effect: ‘Were I desired,’ he says, ‘to specify the man of the most graceful form, the most elegant, polished, and popular manners which I have ever known in my long intercourse with society, I should not hesitate to name James, Earl of Errol. . . . He was a most affectionate and attentive parent, husband, and brother, elegant in his economy, somewhat expensive, yet exact and methodical. He exerted his influence, as a man of rank, and a magistrate, in doing good to all in his neighbourhood. In a word, he was adored by his servants, a blessing to his tenants, and the darling of the whole country.’ His death, which took place in 1778, in the fifty-third year of his age, is spoken of as ‘a great loss to his country, and a matter of unspeakable regret to his friends.’

When Dr. Johnson and Boswell visited Slams Castle, in 1773 they found living there the Hon. Charles Boyd, the Earl’s brother. After the ruin of the Jacobite cause at Culloden he fled to the island. of Arran, the ancient possession of the Boyds, where he lay concealed for a year among its glens and hills. During his residence in Arran he fortunately found a chest of medical books, left by a surgeon there, and he occupied himself in his solitude so diligently in studying them as to acquire considerable knowledge of medicine. He escaped to France, and practised there as a physician for twenty years. He then returned to Scotland, and lived for some time in Slams Castle, where he was often consulted by the poor in the neighbourhood. He died at Edinburgh in 1785.

There is nothing deserving of special notice in the character or conduct of his successors, two of whom, the fourteenth and fifteenth earls, were sons of Earl James. They have all been highly respectable men, and have discharged in a creditable manner the duties connected with their position in society. The fourteenth Earl was an officer in the army. His brother WILLIAM, the fifteenth Earl, who assumed the additional surname and arms of Carr, from his maternal grandfather, Sir William Carr of Etal, Northumberland, was for several years Lord High Commissioner to the Church of Scotland. His eldest son, James, Lord Hay, was killed at Waterloo. WILLIAM GEORGE, sixteenth Earl, married Elizabeth Fitzclarence, the third of the natural daughters of King William IV., and, probably in consequence of that connection, was appointed Lord Steward of the Household, and afterwards Master of the Buckhounds, under the Whig Ministry of 1830. He was created, in 1831, a Peer of the United Kingdom by the title of Baron Kilmarnock, and in the following year he was constituted Knight-Marischal of Scotland, and was appointed Lord-Lieutenant of Aberdeenshire. His son WILLIAM HENRY, present Earl, is the seventeenth who has borne the title, and the twenty-second Lord High Constable of Scotland. He was formerly an officer in the army, and was wounded at the battle of the Alma. In virtue of his office as Lord High Constable, the Earl of Errol is the first subject in Scotland after the blood royal, and takes precedence of every other peer.


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