Scottish Peers

Chapter 7 : Earls (Mar - Moray)

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.


The last Gaelic Ban-mormaer of Mar was Margaret, who was married to William Douglas, 1st Earl of Douglas. She was succeeded by her son, James Douglas, 2nd Earl of Douglas and Earl of Mar. On his death at the Battle of Otterburn (1388), he was succeed by Margaret’s daughter, Isabel, who suffered the fate of many mediaeval heiresses – forced into marriage, her lands stolen from her, and held captive. Her first husband was Sir Malcolm Drummond, brother-in-law of Robert III. Isabel and Sir Malcolm had no children, so Alexander Stewart, son of the delightfully-named, but very unpleasant, ‘Wolf of Badenoch’ (Alexander, Earl of Buchan), captured Sir Malcolm and despatched him to a dungeon from which he never emerged.

Buchan married Isabel and forced her to hand over her Earldom to him personally, heritable by his heirs, rather than being earl in her right. She later rescinded this, and granted him the earldom but with remainder to her heirs. Neither Isabel nor Alexander had children, so the Earldom became extinct.

It was granted by James III to his youngest son, but again became extinct in 1503. In February 1562, the title was recreated for Lord James Stewart, half-brother of Mary, Queen of Scots. He resigned it in favour of his cousin, John Erskine, who was formally granted it in 1565. The Erskines claimed the Earldom as descendants of the aunt of Margaret of Mar. Numbering of the earls depends on whether this is considered a new creation and this Earl may numbered as 18th or 1st.

This Earl (one of the few who supported Mary, Queen of Scots’ decision to marry Lord Darnley) was guardian of Mary’s son, Prince James. He protected the child carefully from the factions surrounding the throne after Mary’s deposition. On the assassination of the Regent Lennox in 1571, he became Regent, but died shortly thereafter, possibly poisoned by the Earl of Morton. The 2nd (19th) Earl was brought up alongside James VI (although he was some seven years older), but then became involved in the Raid of Ruthven in 1582. Eventually restored to royal favour, he and his Countess were entrusted with the care of James’ heir, Prince Henry, much to the distress of the boy’s mother, Queen Anne of Denmark.

The End (1540-1542)


The family of Keith were the hereditary Marischals (Marshals) of Scotland, whose role was to protect the King when he attended Parliament and to guard the Honours of Scotland, as the Crown jewels of Scotland are named. Sir William Keith was given the title of Earl in about 1458. The 3rd Earl, William, was a close associate of King James V and accompanied him to France in 1536 for the King’s marriage to Princess Madeleine de Valois.

Marischal’s daughter, Agnes, was later to marry James V’s illegitimate son, Lord James Stewart. Although the 3rd Earl was a supporter of the plan to marry Mary, Queen of Scots to the son of the English King, he fought for Scotland at the Battle of Pinkie. He became a member of Queen Mary’s Privy Council and was also an Extraordinary Lord of Session.

George, the 5th Earl, negotiated the marriage of James VI of Scotland to Anne of Denmark. A committed Protestant, the 5th Earl founded Marischal College, an institution devoted to the training of ministers for the reformed Kirk, later subsumed into the University of Aberdeen. The charter was confirmed by his son, the 6th Earl, who attended the funeral of James VI and was one of the Scottish Privy Councillors of Charles I.


This was a Gaelic mormaerdom, the earliest named holder of which was Gille Crist. His second son, Murdoch, was one of the seven mormaers who witnessed the coronation of Alexander II in 1214. Murdoch was succeeded by his daughter, Isobel, who was first married to Walter Comyn, Lord of Badenoch.Widowed, she married an Englishman, John Russell, who was unable to support her hold on the lands and they were forced to leave Scotland. Her sister, Mary, was immediately married to Walter Stewart, who claimed the Earldom in right of his wife.

In the end, the lands were partially divided between Walter and Mary’s son, Alexander, 2nd Earl, and Isobel’s daughter. The earldom eventually descended, again by marriage, to Murdoch Stewart, Duke of Albany (1362 – 1425) who was forfeited and executed for treason against his cousin James I.

The title was recreated for Malise Graham, believed to be a descendant of Countess Mary, in 1427, but had a much smaller land holding. This 1st Earl was a hostage in England for James I for 26 years, held at Pontefract Castle. His grandson, Alexander, 2nd Earl, does not appear to have taken much part in public life. The 3rd Earl, William, was pardoned for fleeing from the field at the Battle of Solway Moss, and was an opponent of the English party in Arran’s Regency. He was killed in a clan fight in around 1543.

The 4th Earl was a supporter of the Lords of the Congregation in 1560, and, took part in the siege of Leith. The following three earls all inherited as minors, and neither the 5th nor 6th Earls played much part in politics. The 7th Earl was Privy Councillor to Charles I, and a Royalist during the Civil War (known as the War of the Three Kingdoms in Scotland). The earldom became extinct on the death of the 8th Earl.


The Mormaerdom fell in 1303 to the English. It was re-established as an earldom under the Scots Crown by Robert I. Held by various families, it was forfeited in 1455. It was recreated by James IV for his illegitimate son, James Stewart, 1st Earl of Moray, who died childless in 1544. The title was recreated by Mary, Queen of Scots for her illegitimate half-brother, Lord James Stewart, 1st Earl of Moray (Regent for James VI). It was not limited in tail mail and descended to his daughter, Lady Elizabeth Stewart, whose descendant, John Douglas Stuart, is the 21st Earl. The Earldom included the comital Moray lands.