1902 Encyclopedia > Earldom of Mar

Earldom of Mar




MAR, EARLDOM or. Mar, one of the ancient divisions or provinces of Scotland, comprised the larger portion of Aberdeenshire, extending from north of the Don southwards to the Mounth, It is remarkable for its association with the oldest historical dignity of Scotland, or perhaps of any country, which has been perpetuated to our own time. Donald MacEnun MacCainech, mormaer (hereditary ruler or steward) of Mar, fought, according to nearly contemporary testimony, at the battle of Clontarf in Ireland in 1014. Under Anglo-Saxon influences mormaers or great stewards became earls ; and Ruadri, morrnaer of Mar, whose name appears in the Book of Deer, is designed " Rothri comes " in a charter of Alexander I. of 1114 or 1115. His representative in the latter part of the 12th century was Gratney, earl of Mar, who married Christian Bruce, sister of King Robert, a lady famed for her defence of the chief stronghold of the earldom, Kildrummy Castle, against David of Strathbogie, earl of Athole, then (1335) in alliance with the English. Their son, Earl Donald, in his youth a captive in England, was restored to his country after Bannockburn. On the landing of Edward Balliol in 1332, and death of Thomas Randolph, earl of Moray, he was invested with the regency, and the troops hastily assembled by him to meet the invader suffered a disastrous defeat at Dupplin, the earl of Mar being himself among the slain. Earl Thomas, the regent's son, dying without issue in 1377, his successor was his sister Margaret, countess of Douglas by marriage. From her the earldom of Mar passed to her daughter, Isabel Douglas, countess of Mar, whose second marriage forms a notable episode in Scottish history. Alexander Stewart, natural son of Alexander, earl of Buchan, and, according to common belief, the instigator of a murderous attack on that lady's first husband, stormed the widowed countess of Mar in Kildrummy Castle in 1404, compelled her to marry him, and extorted from her a charter which, had the king been prevailed on to confirm it, would have made over the earldom to him and his heirs, in exclusion of the heirs of his wife. But, weak as was the law north of the Mounth in the reign of Robert III., this outrage was too flagrant to be condoned. The indispensable confirmation was refused by the king ; but a compromise was effected, by which Isabel voluntarily accepted Stewart as her husband, and, by a charter which Robert duly confirmed, gave him a right to the earldom for life, with remainder, however, to her own heirs. Qua earl of Mar, the quondam leader of freebooters became a supporter of law and order ; and in 1411, when Donald, lord of the Isles, was leading his marauding host southwards, it was under Alexander, earl of Mar, that the lowland gentry and the burghers of Aberdeen mustered to oppose his advances. The sanguinary battle of Harlow arrested the progress of the highlanders, and left Mar master of the field.

Earl Alexander died in 1435, when the right to the earldom passed to Isabel's nearest heir, Robert Lord Erskine (descended from a daughter of Earl Gratney), who established his right by retour in 1438, and became earl of Mar. The crown, however, had seized on the valuable territories of the earldom, of which he could only obtain partial possession ; and James II. and his advisers, after temporizing for a length of time, in 1457 reduced Earl Robert's retour by a collusive "service negative," based on the plea that, either by the bastardy of Alexander or in virtue of a resignation by him to James I., the earldom had lapsed to the crown, two ex facie worthless pretexts, inasmuch as Alexander had only been a liferenter. The wrongful possession of the crown lasted more than a century, in the course of which time the earldom was twice temporarily in possession of younger members of the royal house, and portions of it were given away to favourites ; while its lawful owners, the Erskines, continued loyally to serve the sovereigns who had usurped their inheritance.





At length, on 23d May 1565, Queen Mary, made aware of the wrongs inflicted by her predecessors, and "moved by conscience" to make the fullest reparation, granted to John Lord Erskine a charter restoring the earldom of which he and his ancestors had been unjustly deprived. The earl of Mar, thus replaced in his rights, was regent of Scotland during the last two years of his life ; and his son, who succeeded him in 1572, and was treasurer to James VI., recovered by process of law those portions of his inheritance which had been alienated by the crown during the period of illegal possession. In the next two generations the attachment of the family to the Stewarts brought with it fines and impaired fortunes. John, earl of Mar, fourth in descent from the treasurer, headed the rebellion of 1715, and suffered attainder, but escaped abroad and survived till 1732. His daughter Lady Frances (who married an Erskine, the younger son of her uncle, Lord Grange) would, but for the attainder, have inherited his title ; and what remained of the lands was preserved to her by arrangement with the commissioners of forfeited estates. In 1824 her son, John Francis Erskine of Mar, was, as "grandson and lineal heir" of the attainted earl, restored by Act of Parliament from the effects of the forfeiture.

At the death in 1866 of John Francis Miller Erskine, earl of Mar, grandson of the restored earl, there seemed no room for doubt that the earldom devolved, in accordance with the rule of succession which it had always followed, on his sister's son John Francis Erskine Goodeve, in preference to his cousin and heir male, the earl of Kellie. The latter, however, claimed, not indeed the ancient dignity, but a separate titular earldom, supposed to have been bestowed by Queen Mary, not by her charter above alluded to, but by a lost and till then unheard-of patent a few weeks later in date, and with a different remainder, namely, to heirs male of the body. The resolution of the committee of privileges of the House of Lords in 1875, finding Lord Nellie entitled to the earldom thus claimed by him, has caused great surprise ; and Scotch lawyers generally, while disbelieving as a question of fact in this creation of 1565, seem also to bold in point of law that the resolution alluded to leaves untouched the right of the heir general to the ancient historical honour. The same view has been expressed by way of protest by a large number of the Scottish peers, and enforced by the late earl of Crawford in his ably written posthumous work The Earldom, of afar tar Sunshine and Shade.







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