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Historic Earls and Earldoms of Scotland

THERE were no Earls in Scotland until the twelfth century. The people were in the earlier periods organised under the tribal form of government. But from the eighth century to the close of the eleventh, society in Scotland was in a progressive and transitional stage.

In the year 844 Kenneth M’Alpin mounted the Coronation Stone at Scone, and became the real founder of the historic Kingdom of Scotland. This important event has to be interpreted as the result of the long struggle of the chief tribes. The accumulating force of circumstances and the necessities of life; and the new influence of a common religion, all naturally tended to a greater concentration of power under some one of the leading tribes. The foundation of the monarchy marked two distinct steps of advance:- (1) It concentrated more power in the original centre, Scone, whence the historic kingdom was gradually extended outward to the north-east, the west, and the south; (2) it supplied a continuous influence, which operated effectively, though slowly, in developing the loose elements of separate tribal communities into a nationality.

Prior to the twelfth century the Mormaers were the rulers of districts or territorial divisions in Scotland. The Mormaer’s power over the inhabitants of the district was vested in the tribe of the land, and the succession to the Mormaership seems to have been limited to the descendants of the founder of the tribe. Thus the Mormaer was the ruler of all the people within the territory of the tribe. In early fragments of Chronicles and in the Book of Deer notices of the Mormaers of Athole, Angus, Moray, Mar, Buchan, and other districts occur. The official called the Toshach seems to have had military functions, but in early times the powers of the Mormaers and all officials were limited by usage and custom. Before the end of the eleventh century, the central Government had obtained some control over the Mormaers and local tribes between the Forth and the Spey.

After the eleventh century the title of Mormaer began to fluctuate, and was shortly superseded by the title of Comes or Earl. In the twelfth century charters were introduced, and feudal tenor, under which direct grants of territory were given by the King. In this way great changes were effected in connection with the land.

There were four periods in which remarkable changes took place in the ownership and possession of the land of the country :—(1) From the early part of the twelfth century to about 1265; (2) during the War of Independence a large portion of the land passed into the hands of new owners, and new names and families came into influence and power; (3) in the sixteenth century considerable tracts of the best land in the country passed into the possession of new owners; (4) from the middle of the seventeenth century to about 1750 many changes were effected in territorial possessions, mainly caused by the Civil War, the Revolution of 1688, and the risings of 1715 and 1745.

The rise and vicissitude of great families are associated with many important historic events and touching incidents; and the utmost effort will be made to render this series instructive and interesting.

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