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Historic Earls and Earldoms of Scotland
Chapter 1 - Earldom and Earls of Mar
Section V


QUEEN MARY granted to her natural brother, James Stewart, Prior of St. Andrews, what remained of the lands of the Earldom of Mar in the hands of the Crown, and on the 7th of February, 1562, created him Earl of Mar. For a short time he was called Earl of Mar. Afterward, however, the Queen became aware of the claim of the Erskine family to this Earldom and Lordship of the Garioch. Accordingly she resolved to restore them to the legitimate heirs, who were then represented by John, sixth Lord Erskine.

The first requisite to restoration was to establish Lord Erskine’s status as heir of the last legitimate holder of the Earldom of Mar. This was done in the usual way by a retour of service upon a brieve issued from the Royal Chancery, which was addressed to the Sheriffs of the counties of Aberdeen, Stirling, and Clackmannan, assembled in the Town Hall of Edinburgh. The inquest under the presidency of these sheriffs was held on the 5th of May, 1565; and among the fifteen jurors who gave the verdict were the following: David, Earl of Crawford; Sir James Douglas of Drumlanrig; Patrick, Lord Lindsay of the Byres; James Stirling of Keir, John Grant of Freuchie, John Home of Blackadder, James Cockburn of Stirling; and Robert Drummond of Carnock. The verdict of the jurors was that Robert, late Earl of Mar and Garioch, and Lord Erskine, grandfather of Alexander, Lord Erskine, and great grandfather of John now Lord Erskine—had died in the peace and faith of James II., and that John, now Lord Erskine, was the legitimate and nearest heir of the late Robert, Earl of Mar and Garioch.

Lord Erskine’s status having been established as heir to Earl Robert, on the 23rd of June, 1565, Queen Mary granted a charter under the Great Seal, which stated that— Isabel Douglas, Countess of Mar and Garioch, having died without issue, and the late Robert, Lord Erskine, having been duly served as the nearest and lawful heir of the Countess Isabel in the Earldom of Mar and Lordship of the Garioch—John, now Lord Erskine, who was served as nearest and lawful heir to the late Robert, Lord Erskine, the heir of the Countess Isabel, had an undoubted hereditary right to the Earldom of Mar and Lordship of Garioch, notwithstanding that his predecessors were debarred from the possession of them; therefore granting to John, Lord Erskine, his heirs and assignees, the Earldom of Mar and the lands of the Lordship and Regality of the Garioch. The precept for the infeftment was issued on the 24th of June, the day after the charter. Thus John, Lord Erskine, became Ninteenth Earl of Mar.

Among the lands specified in the charter as being in the Earldom of Mar are Strathdon, Strathdee, Braemar, and Cromar, being portions of the Earldom then in the hands of the Crown. But seeing that the barony and Castle of Kildrummy, the chief seat of the Earldom, had been alienated by the Crown, as before indicated, the Manor of Migvie was declared to be a proper place for the infeftment in the Earldom of Mar, while the old castle of Dunnideer was to serve the same purpose for the Lordship and Regality of the Garioch. The Earl immediately recovered possession of the lands still in the hands of the Crown, but many years elapsed ere the other lands of the Earldom of Mar could be recovered, and large portions of them were never recovered.

On the 27th of June, 1565, John, Earl of Mar, signed an agreement between himself and Robert Stewart, a natural son of James V., and Abbot of Holyrood, in which the Earl promised that he would never claim any right to the lands of Cabrach, the lands and barony of Cluny, and the lands of Logy and Dawane, parts of the Earldom of Mar, granted by the Queen to her half-brother, Robert, usually styled Lord Robert.

John, Earl of Mar, was appointed guardian of the infant King, James VI. The charter restoring to him the Earldom was ratified by an Act of Parliament on the 19th of April, 1567.

He married Annabella, a daughter of Sir William Murray of Tullibardine, by whom he had issue.

On the death of the Regent Lennox in 1571, the Earl of Mar was elected Regent of Scotland. The Regency of Mar was of short duration. He died on the 28th of October, 1572.

He was succeeded by his son, John, Twentieth Earl of Mar, and seventh Lord Erskine. This Earl was a man of great energy and ability; and he made determined and prolonged efforts to recover the lands of the Earldom. He was a supporter of the Regent Morton; and he entered into a bond with the party of the Barons who were opposed to the Duke of Lennox and Sir James Stewart, Earl of Arran— the King’s favourites. At length the plot against the King’s favourites was ripe for execution. The King was very fond of hunting, and on the 22nd of August, 1582, his Majesty by invitation proceeding to the grounds of Ruthven Castle, in the neighbourhood of Perth, to enjoy his favourite amusement. When the sport of the day was concluded, he went to the Castle of Ruthven as the welcome guest of the Earl of Gowrie. Everything had passed off in the most pleasing style, and his Majesty at last retired to rest. The following morning, when the King arose and looked abroad, he was greatly alarmed by the throng of armed men around the castle; and on wishing to depart, he discovered that he was a prisoner. The Earl of Arran was immediately seized and imprisoned, and the Duke of Lennox was warned to leave the country without delay. This exploit is known in history as "the Raid of Ruthven."

The King was permitted to step about, although he was attended by a body of well-armed men, to preserve his royal person from danger. In a few days he was removed to Stirling, and in October he was conveyed to Edinburgh. A Parliament was then held at Edinburgh, on the 19th of October, and an Act of Indemnity—or, rather, a vote of thanks—to the chief actors in the enterprise was passed. This was a game which parties of the Scottish Barons often played, with varying success.

Despite the vigilance of his keepers, the young King contrived to escape in the end of June, 1583, and threw himself into the Castle of St. Andrews. Soon after, the power of the Ruthven party was terminated. The King issued a proclamation on the 30th of July, touching "the Raid of Ruthven," and announced that he had resumed his independent authority. Referring to the raid, he expressed his willingness to forget the offence and grant forgiveness to all concerned in it, if they should timeously profess their penitence; and for a time several of the Barons implicated in the raid continued members of the Privy Council. But it so happened that on the 23rd of August the Earl of Arran reappeared in the council, and soon resumed his influence and power in the Government. Indeed he instigated the young King to prosecute to the utmost all those concerned in "the Raid of Ruthven," and at last, on the 31st of March, 1584, it was denounced as "high treason." By this time, a number of those implicated in it had been tried, one by one or collectively, and sentenced to banishment or imprisonment, and disgrace.

But the hatred of Arran’s rule had become general, and a new plot, sanctioned by a bond, was formed against him, in which the Earls of Mar, Angus, and Gowrie, Lord Lindsay, the Master of Glamis, Claud Hamilton, John Hamilton, and others were associated. They resolved to seize Stirling Castle, and then raise an insurrection. On the 10th of April, the Earl of Mar and the Master of Glamis, with a strong body of their followers, captured Stirling Castle. But on the 15th of April the Earl of Gowrie was arrested by Colonel Stewart at Dundee, and immediately conveyed to Edinburgh. This somewhat disconcerted the insurgent barons. At the same time the Earl of Arran, with a strong force, advanced against them; and on the 24th of April they fled from Stirling, leaving a garrison of only 25 men in the castle. The following day a royal proclamation was issued for the pursuit and capture—dead or alive—of the Earls of Mar and Angus, the Master of Glamis, and other rebels; but they escaped by Lanark to Kelso, and crossed the Border into England. When the King and his army appeared before Stirling Castle, the small garrison left by the Barons surrendered, and on the 28th of April their captain and other three were hanged.

On the 2nd of May, 1584, the Earl of Gowrie was tried for treason in Stirling Castle by a jury of his peers, including the Earls of Argyll, Arran, Crawford, and others. He was convicted and beheaded the same day beneath the castle wall. The same month an act of Parliament was passed for disinheriting all his posterity; and in August an Act of Forfeiture was passed between the Countess of Gowrie. From May, 1584, till midsummer, 1585, the Earl of Arran was the supreme ruler of Scotland. His policy was clearly manifested in the two short sessions of what is known as the "running Parliament," and the proceedings of the Privy Council during the brief period of his sway—in which a series of extremely despotic acts were passed.

This action and reaction at short intervals, always issuing in sudden and unexpected changes at the centre of authority, is a striking characteristic of Scottish history. Lord Maxwell had been for several generations the leading local personage in Dumfries and its neighbourhood; and he had frequently held the office of Warden of the Western March. On the 29th of April, 1581, John, Lord Maxwell, was appointed to this office by the King and Council. He was a supporter of Lennox and Arran, and immediately after the execution of Morton, the regent, Maxwell was created Earl of Morton. The new-made Earl was at feud with John Johnston of Johnston, a powerful Border laird, and formerly a Warden of the Western March; and, on the 26th of May, 1582, a royal proclamation ordered them not to appear with their armed followers in Edinburgh— "to a day of law appointed to be held on the last day of May." On the 19th of November the Earl of Morton was deprived of the Wardenship of the Western March, while his rival Johnston was appointed to the office. Subsequently, the Earl of Morton was charged with many misdemeanours, and at last denounced as a rebel. In the winter of 1584 he appeared as a leader of a Border revolt against Arran’s Government; and in April a muster of the loyal vassals of the Crown was ordered to proceed against him; while the gift to him of the Earldom of Morton was revoked. Therefore he was at war with the King and his Government.

Maxwell had 1000 armed men in the field. The banished Earls of Mar and Angus and other lords at once saw their opportunity, and joined Maxwell. In the beginning of November, 1585, they returned, and having mustered their adherents, met Maxwell at Selkirk. Thence they marched on Stirling with a force of 8000 men. The King and Arran were in Stirling when the earls and lords appeared before it. Arran immediately fled towards the Highlands, while the King, notwithstanding all his craft, had no alternative but to receive the proffered homage of his rebellious barons, and pardon them.

Thus the forfeitures of the Earls of Mar, and Angus and other lords were revoked, and their lands and titles restored to them. Subsequently the Earl of Mar acted with the Catholic Earls—Huntly, Crawford, Erroll, Angus, and others.

Touching the recovery of the alienated lands of the Earldom of Mar and Lordship of Garioch, Earl John took the first important step in the year 1587, when he presented a supplication to the King and Parliament, narrating that Isabel Douglas, Countess of Mar, having been lawfully infeft at the time of her death in the Earldom of Mar and Lordship of Garioch, holding immediately from the King’s predecessors; and that the late Robert, Earl of Mar and Lord Erskine, having been served heir to Isabel, Countess of Mar; and that John, Lord Erskine and Earl of Mar, the petitioner’s father, having been lawfully retoured as heir to the Earl Robert, therefore John, now Earl of Mar, was heir by progress to the Countess Isabel, and heritably entitled to the possession of the Earldom and its territories, although his ancestors had been "wrongfully debarred from the possession of the lands of the said Earldom and Lordship, partly by the troubles which occurred and intervened, and partly from the iniquity of the time and stifling of the ordinary course of justice by the partial dealing of such persons as had the Government of our Sovereign Lord’s predecessors and realm, and offices for the time," notwithstanding the frequent protests of his predecessors in Parliament and Council. "And seeing for the said Earl’s better security, and that his highness’ dearest mother’s good intention may take better effect toward the possession of the said lands, it is necessary that he should be served heir to his predecessor who died last vested and seised in the said Earldom and Lordship, and that a sufficient right of action be established in his person and his heirs for recovering these lands, and the possession thereof, notwithstanding the length of time which has intervened—considering that by the laws and customs of the realm the right of blood nor any heritable title falls under prescription, nor is taken away by whatsoever length of time or lack of possession." Therefore the Earl desired the King and Parliament to examine the rights and evidence under which the Countess Isabel, Robert, Earl of Mar, and his father, John, Earl of Mar, held the Earldom.

The above statement and points being heard, seen, and considered by the King and Parliament, and after careful examination had been made, the King and the three Estates of Parliament found the rights above specified to be lawful, valid, and sufficient to prove the points of the supplication, and ratified, approved, and confirmed the same. "And declares the aforsaid rights to have as great force and effect in the person of John, Earl of Mar, as the same had or might have in the person of the late Countess, Isabel Douglas, or the late Robert, Earl of Mar and Lord Erskine, her heir, and that he should have full right as heir by progress to all the lands in which they died vested, seised, and retoured . . . notwithstanding any exception of prescription or lack of possession that may be alleged to the contrary. Always without prejudice to all other lawful defences competent to the parties having interest.

This Act was passed on the 29th of July, 1587. On that day the master of Elphinstone, in name and behalf of his father, Robert, Lord Elphinstone, appeared before the King and Parliament and protested that this Act in favour of John, Earl of Mar, touching the Earldom of Mar and Lordship of the Garioch, should not hurt or prejudice Lord Elphinstone in his possession of the lands and Lordship of Kildrummy.

The same day, George, Earl of Huntly, Lord of Gordon and of Badenoch, and Lieutenant of the North, appeared in the presence of the King and Parliament, and protested that this Act in favour of John, Earl of Mar and the Lordship of Garioch, should be no hurt or prejudice to him or his friends touching their rights and titles to whatsoever lands within this Earldom of Mar and Lordship of Garioch: and that they should be permitted to adduce reasons and defences, whensoever they or their successors happened to be called upon touching their rights of their lands and possessions.

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