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Historic Earls and Earldoms of Scotland
Chapter II - Earldom and Earls of Buchan
Section I


THE ancient district of Buchan, commenced on the north side of the lower stretch of the Don, and from the mouth of the Don swept round the coast to the mouth of the Deveron at Banff, running along the south bank of the Deveron, and including the parishes of King-Edward and Turriff, thence striking southward, bounded by the Garioch, and onward to the Don.

In early times Ellon was the chief seat of justice for the Earldom. When John, the son of Uthred, about 1209, received the lands of Tedrett and Ardindrach from Fergus, Earl of Buchan, he became bound to attend personally thrice a year at the Earl’s Chief Courts at Ellon. According to ancient usage, the Earl, with the Dempster of Buchan, sat on the Moot Hill to dispense justice among his vassals; and it appears that this was also the place where the Earl received formal investiture of the Earldom.

In the Book of Deer, the names of seven Mormaers of Buchan are recorded. Donald, son of Ruadri, was Mormaer of Buchan in the reign of Malcolm II. He was succeeded by Donald, son of MacDubhacan; and he was succeeded by his brother Canneach. He was succeeded by his son, Gartnait, in the reign of Alexander I. Gartnait’s daughter, Eva, became heiress, and married Colbain, who then assumed the title of Earl of Buchan. Colbain and Eva, his wedded wife, made a grant of land to the Monastery of Deer. They had a son, Roger, who succeeded to the Earldom. Earl Roger was succeeded by his son Fergus. He had an only daughter, Marjory, and she became Countess of Buchan in her own right—a circumstance which will again be referred to.

William Comyn was an active and able churchman, and came from the north of England to Scotland in the early part of the twelfth century. He soon gained the favour of David I., was much trusted by him, and at last he was appointed Lord High Chancellor of Scotland. He died about 1161. David I. granted to Richard Comyn, a nephew of the Chancellor, the manor of Linton Roderick, in Roxburghshire. Richard Comyn married a grand-daughter of Donald Bane, a brother of Malcolm III., Canmore; and thus allied himself with the Royal Family of Scotland. He became a great favourite of William the Lion, who in many ways advanced his interests.

Richard’s son William was born in 1163. William was twice married. By his first wife, he had two sons, Richard and Walter; both were men of note in their day, and extended the territory and influence of the family. About 1229 Walter Comyn became Lord of Badenoch. In 1231 he married the heiress of Monteith, and then obtained that Earldom with its extensive territories. He was present at the coronation of Alexander III. on the 13th of July, 1249. During the minority of the King, the Lord of Badenoch and Earl of Monteith played a leading part in the Government of Scotland. He died in 1258, leaving no issue by his countess; and the family of his elder brother succeeded to his estates. For several generations the Lords of Badenoch held wide territories, and wielded great influence in the Government of the Kingdom.

William Comyn, father of the above Lord of Badenoch, married, as his second wife, Marjory Countess of Buchan, only daughter of Earl Fergus—mentioned before; and thus Comyn became Earl of Buchan. So he was the common ancestor of the Lords of Badenoch and the Earls of Buchan— of the Comyn line. He was appointed Justiciary of Scotland. In 1222 Alexander II. appointed him guardian of the Earldom of Moray. He founded the Cistercian Abbey of Deer, which was dedicated to St. Mary. Earl William died in 1233, and was succeeded by his son, Alexander, second Earl of Buchan of the name of Comyn. After the defeat of Haco and the wreck of his fleet, when the tidings of his death in Orkney on the 15th of December, 1263, reached Alexander III., he immediately resolved to reduce the Western Isles to the subjection of the Crown. Accordingly an army was mustered and placed under the command of the Earls of Mar, Buchan, and Alan Durward, and the army proceeded to the Isles. On the approach of the army many of the chiefs fled; some of them were captured and executed for the support which they had given to Haco’s expedition; while others were expelled or fined. The Earls secured much booty, and then returned to the mainland.

The Earl of Buchan held the offices of Justiciary of Scotland, and High Constable of the Kingdom. He was also hereditary Sheriff of the county of Banff; and in 1265 he was baillie of the town of Dingwall.

In 1262 he founded a hospital in Turriff for twelve poor men. He also founded a hospital at Newburgh in the parish of Foveran.

A number of the old castles and towers in Buchan are believed to have been erected by the Comyns. The old castle of King-Edward is said to have been the chief feudal seat of the Earldom. It stood near the burn of King-Edward, on the south side and some distance from the river Deveron. It seems to have been a great stronghold, and in its time commanded the lower stretch of the beautiful and fertile valley of the Deveron. It has long been in ruins, and only some traces of it remain.

The old Castle of Slains is also said to have been a seat of the Comyns, Earls of Buchan; and, at a later period, once the residence of the Erroll family. The ruins of this castle stand on the top of a rock jutting out into the sea, at an elevation of over a hundred feet. Before the introduction of cannon, it would have been almost impregnable, as the only approach to it is a narrow defile on the north side, which a few determined men might have held against any attacking force. Little but its massive ruins now remain.

The old Castle of Dundarg stood upon a peninsular rock of red freestone, over sixty feet above the beach below. Though now in ruins, there are traces of a large court and extensive buildings, and it had been a place of great strength in its time. It is in the parish of Aberdour. In the parish of Rathen there are two old castles, Cairnbulg and Inverallochie. The castle of Cairnbulg was restored by Mr. Duthie, the proprietor of the estate, in 1897.

The old castle of Inverugie, called the old Craig of Inverugie, which is about two miles westward from Peterhead, and is seen from the railway, seems to have been a place of considerable strength, but it is now in ruins. It was once the seat of the Cheyne family, and subsequently of the Earls Marischal.

Alexander, Earl of Buchan, was present at the great meeting of the Estates, held at Scone on the 5th of February, 1284, in which the King’s granddaughter, Margaret, the Maid of Norway, was declared to be heiress of the Crown of Scotland. On the death of Alexander III. in 1286, the Earl of Buchan was appointed one of the Guardians of Scotland for the districts on the north of the Forth: while John Comyn, Lord of Badenoch, was elected one of the Guardians of the kingdom on the south of the Forth. At this time the Comyns were the most powerful family in Scotland. Buchanan says, in his History of Scotland, that "the power of this family has never been equalled in Scotland, either before or since."

Earl Alexander died in 1289, and was succeeded by his son John, third Earl of Buchan of the Comyn line. He attended and took part in the Parliament which met at Brigham in March, 1290, and sanctioned the marriage between King Edward’s son and the Maid of Norway, and other important matters. This treaty provided that the rights, laws, and liberties of Scotland should continue entire and untouched; no native was to be called to answer for any crime or cause at any court out of the kingdom; no Parliament was to be held beyond the boundaries of Scotland to discuss Scottish affairs. In a word, the complete independence of the nation was recognised and strictly guarded by this treaty.

The direct line of heirs to the Kingdom of Scotland failed, upon the death of the Maid of Norway on her way to Scotland in the end of September, 1290. As soon as the tidings of the young Queen’s death became known in the country, several of the leading Earls began to muster their followers, and move through the country intently looking for more supporters. A number of claimants for the Crown of Scotland appeared, amongst whom was Sir John Comyn, Lord of Badenoch. Comyn claimed the Crown of Scotland as a descendant on the maternal side from Donald Bane; and even the mere fact of his publicly asserting his claim to the throne gave him more power and influence among the people.

At the meeting appointed by Edward I. on the 24th of June, 1291, which assembled on a green plain opposite the Castle of Norham, eight claimants for the Crown of Scotland appeared, namely:—John Baliol, Lord of Galloway; Robert Bruce, Lord of Annandale; Lord John Hastings; Sir John Comyn, Lord of Badenoch; Patrick Dunbar, Earl of March; Florence, Count of Holland; John Vesy, for his father, Nicholas Soulis; and William Ross, and they were accompanied by many of the Scottish nobility and clergy. None of the claimants were very near in relationship to the Royal line of the Scottish Kings, but the three first names on the list stood nearest, thus:—David, Earl of Huntingdon, was a grandson of David I. and a younger brother of Malcolm, IV. and William the Lion; and Earl David had three daughters, Margaret, Isabella, and Ada, and Baliol claimed as a grandson of Margaret, the eldest daughter; Robert Bruce claimed as a son of Isabella, the second daughter; and John Hastings claimed as a grandson of Ada, the youngest daughter. At an early stage of the proceedings it was seen that the real contest for the Crown would lie between these three claimants. But, if the contest had taken the form of a struggle in arms between the first four claimants within Scotland itself, it seems probable that Sir John Comyn, Lord of Badenoch, would have secured the Crown and mounted the throne. For at this time the Comyns were the most powerful clan in Scotland. The Lord of Badenoch, however, did not persist long in the prosecution of his claim in King Edward’s Court when he saw that there was no chance of success.

The Bishop of Bath began the business of the meeting by reading King Edward’s speech, which, after referring to the unhappy state of Scotland, proceeded in a flowing style to characterise the benignity of the illustrious Prince who had seen fit to come to her rescue. He then said that his Royal master had allowed three weeks to the nobles and clergy of Scotland to bring forward whatever they could to impugn King Edward’s right of superiority over that kingdom, and they had adduced nothing to invalidate it. Thus, all disturbing questions being brushed aside, Edward I. announced that his title of Lord Superior was undisputed, and, therefore, he intended to act in that character. Robert Bruce was asked whether he was willing to prosecute his claim to the Crown of Scotland in the court of the Lord Superior, and Bruce, in the presence of the meeting, expressly recognised Edward I. as Lord Superior, and agreed to abide by his decision. The same question was put to each of the claimants, and they all consented without reserve to the demand of Edward.

Many meetings were held at which the claimants for the Crown of Scotland appeared before Edward I. The claims of Bruce and Baliol were heard and argued at great length; and Hastings also insisted that he was entitled to a third part of the kingdom of Scotland. At last, on the 17th of November, 1292, in the Castle of Berwick, and in the presence of a great assemblage, Edward I. delivered judgment in favour of Baliol. The vassal king then rendered homage to his Lord Superior, and orders were issued to invest him in his feudal fief. Baliol proceeded to Scone to be crowned, with a warrant from his Lord Superior authorising the ceremony, which was accordingly performed on the 30th November. Shortly after, he passed into England, and there concluded the last act of the drama by rendering homage to Edward I. as the invested vassal King of Scotland.

Edward I. soon placed Baliol in a very humiliating position. Upon disputes arising among the Scots touching money matters and lands on which the courts had given decisions, some of the defeated parties appealed to the Court of Edward I. Baliol remonstrated, but Edward told him that he had determined to exercise direct dominion over the Kingdom of Scotland "whenever and wherever he thought fit." He was summoned to appear before the English Parliament and answer to an appeal touching lands of the Earl of Fife. On the 15th of October, 1293, the appeal came before Parliament, and Baliol was asked what defence he had to offer; but he declined to answer. "What means this?" said Edward: "you are my vassal, you have done homage to me, and you are here in consequence of my summons." Baliol still declined to make any answer to the appeal; so Parliament declared that he was a contumacious offender, and accordingly resolved to deprive him of the means of wrong-doing by taking three of the chief castles of Scotland into the hands of the Lord Superior until his vassal, King John, should render proper satisfaction.

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