Scottish Peers

Chapter 5 : Earls (Eglinton – Haddington)

There were two distinct types of Earldoms – those which originated from the Mormaers of the ancient kingdoms that made up Scotland north of the Firth of Forth, and those granted by Kings, although by the late fifteenth century the term Earl was used for both. The old mormaerdoms were ‘comital’ that is, they relate to specific geographic territories and were not just titles. Later earldoms might be comital, or just titular. The earldoms below are only those which were created prior to 1625.


Hugh Montgomerie (c. 1460 – 1545) supported the rebellion against James III which ended at the Battle of Sauchieburn. As a Privy Councillor of James IV, he was granted the earldom of Eglinton in 1506. A survivor of the Battle of Flodden, he was appointed as one of the guardians of James V once the infant King was removed from the care of his mother, Margaret Tudor, Queen of Scots. Later, Eglinton supported James V in his attempts to escape from his stepfather, Archibald Douglas, 6th Earl of Angus, who was controlling the young king. During James V’s absence in France in 1535, Eglinton was one of the Council of Regents. On his death in 1545 he was succeeded by his grandson, another Hugh. The 2nd Earl died within a year of inheriting, to be succeeded by his son, also Hugh.

The 3rd Earl was a Catholic and a loyal supporter of Mary, Queen of Scots. He opposed her marriage to Bothwell but following her escape from Lochleven fought for her at Langside. He tried, with no success, to achieve tolerance for Catholics and was on the panel which tried the Earl of Morton for complicity in the murder of Lord Darnley. On his death in 1585 he was succeeded by his son. The current holder of the title is Alexander Montgomerie, 18th Earl.


This earldom is not derived from any of the ancient mormaerdoms, but was created in 1453 for Sir William Hay, a great-grandson of Robert II. The 3rd Earl, a younger son of the 1st Earl, was a Privy Councillor of King James III and signed the peace treaty with England in 1482. The 4th Earl, another William, was killed at the Battle of Flodden. The 5th Earl acted as Lord High Constable of Scotland and visited England on various commissions in 1515 and 1516.

The 6th Earl never attained his majority, but left a daughter. Although the earldom was heritable by females it was agreed that this daughter, Jean, who was only a baby at the time and therefore not in a position to contest the matter, would resign her rights in favour of her cousin, George. Lady Jean received compensation of 4000 marks. It was also agreed that Earl George would marry one of his sons to Lady Jean. Following the death of James V at Solway Moss, the Earl of Erroll was one of the nobles who objected to the appointment of the Earl of Arran as Regent, preferring that the office should be held by the Dowager Queen, Marie of Guise.

He remained a supporter of Mary, Queen of Scots, but did not play a leading role in efforts to have her reinstated.

The 9th Earl married his cousin Jean, as agreed. Their oldest son was declared insane and the inheritance devolved on their second son, Francis. Francis was a Catholic, and was involved in the intrigue amongst the Scottish Catholic nobles to encourage the Spanish invasion of England. During the reign of James VI he was involved in a number of rebellions in concert with the Earls of Huntly and Crawford and then later with the Earl of Bothwell and Lord Gray. In 1597, having been exiled he returned to the Church of Scotland as the price of returning home. His conversion was never considered to be heartfelt and he was excommunicated in 1608.


The ancient mormaerdom, which carried the right to crown the King of Scots, was forfeited in 1425. It was not recreated until the eighteenth century.


The 1st Earl of Glencairn was Alexander Cunningham, granted the title by King James III in 1488. This was in recognition of Glencairn’s loyalty, which he proved by supporting the King at the Battle of Sauchieburn in which both King and Earl were killed. James IV initially cancelled all grants which had been made by his father in the year 1488 but restored them in 1503. The 2nd and 3rd Earls were not heavily involved in politics, however that changed with the 4th Earl, who was a supporter of the 6th Earl of Angus in the latter’s attempts to control James V. He was one of James V’s ambassadors to France in 1538, when the marriage treaty with James’ second wife, Marie of Guise, was agreed. Glencairn was captured by the English at the Battle of Solway Moss, and became one of the ‘Assured Lords’. In 1544, Glencairn returned to his Scottish allegiance. He died in 1548 to be succeeded by his son Alexander, the 5th Earl.

The 5th Earl was an early convert to Protestantism and a prominent member of the Lords of the Congregation. He brought troops to Perth in 1559 to protect the Protestant preachers there. Following the Reformation Parliament of 1560, Glencairn was appointed to the Privy Council. He was one of the Lords who requested help from Elizabeth I of England in supporting the Scottish Reformation. He opposed Mary’s marriage to Lord Darnley, and together with Moray and Argyll rebelled against the Queen in the Chaseabout Raid. He was exiled to Newcastle with Moray but was pardoned following the murder of David Riccio. He led troops for the Lords at the Battle of Carberry Hill, and when Mary was defeated and imprisoned at Lockleven, it was Glencairn who was responsible for the destruction of her Catholic chapel at Holyroodhouse.

The 5th Earl died in 1574 and was succeeded by his son William, who played a less prominent role in politics. The 7th Earl, James, a committed Protestant like his grandfather, took part in the Raid of Ruthven which attempted to control James VI and prevent the return of Queen Mary. He became a Privy Councillor and died in 1630. The title lapsed in 1769.


Sir Thomas Hamilton (1563 - 1637) was a very distant cousin of the Earls of Arran. He was a Lord of Session, Lord Advocate and eventually Lord President of the Court of Session. He became a Lord of Parliament in 1613 and was then granted the earldom of Melrose. In 1626, this title was exchanged for that of Earl of Haddington. The current earl is John Bailie-Hamilton, 13 th Earl.