Scottish Peers

Chapter 9 : Earls (Ross - Winton)

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.


Originally part of the Mormaerdom of Moray, it became a separate earldom, granted by Alexander II to Ferquad in around 1226. The Earldom eventually descended (not without bloodshed and the usual bullying of female heirs) to the Lords of the Isles, and was forfeit with it to James III in 1476 when John MacDonald, Lord of the Isles, entered into alliance with Edward IV of England to partition Scotland north of the Firth of Forth between them.


The earldom of Rothes was created in 1458 for Lord Leslie. Unmarried, he was succeeded by his brother who died in early 1513, the 3rd Earl was then killed at Flodden in September 1513.

The 4th Earl was a Lord of Session and a Lord of the Articles. He accompanied James V on the latter’s trip to France in 1535. A religious reformer, he was tried for the murder of Cardinal Beaton but was acquitted. He acted as an ambassador for the Regency government during the minority of Mary, Queen of Scots and attended her wedding to the Dauphin of France in 1558, dying on his return journey.

The 4th Earl had a chequered marital career. His first wife was Margaret Crichton, granddaughter of James II. Although he had two sons by Margaret, the legality of their marriage was questioned, and he divorced her to marry Elizabeth Gray, daughter of Lord Gray, and widow of Lord Glamis. There were no children of this second marriage and on Elizabeth’s death George married Agnes Somerville, by whom he had five children. When Agnes died he remarried Margaret Crichton, but then subsequently married for a fourth time, to Isabel Lundy, the widowed Countess of Crawford.

The legitimacy of Margaret’s sons being questioned (and their Protestant faith) led Mary, Queen of Scots to recognise Agnes Somerville’s oldest son as the 5th Earl. The 5th Earl’s wife, Griselda Hamilton, was the daughter of Sir James Hamilton of Finart who murdered the 2nd Earl of Lennox.

Strathmore & Kinghorne

Patrick Lyon was created Earl of Kinghorne in 1606. Prior to this he was 9th Lord Glamis. The 1st Lord Glamis, Sir John Lyon, was the grandson of Robert II. He was one of the young Scottish nobles sent to England as hostage when James I was returned to his kingdom. He held various posts in the Scottish government. The 2nd Lord was a Privy Councillor and was succeeded by his brother, John, in 1486. He was a member of James IV’s government, and held the role of Justiciar North of the Forth. His son, the 4th Lord, died in 1500 and was succeeded by his two sons, George, 5th Lord, and John, 6th Lord, who died in 1528.

The 7th Lord’s mother, Lady Janet Douglas, was the sister of Archibald Douglas, 6th Earl of Angus. King James V hated Angus with a passion – Angus was his stepfather and had conspired to control the King during his minority. In 1537, Lord Glamis, his mother, his stepfather and various others were accused of conspiring to cause the death of James V by poison. Glamis, only 16, was forced to confess and imprisoned. Lady Janet was burnt at the stake. Glamis’ titles were restored in 1543.

The 8th Lord Glamis was a Privy Councillor, and supported Queen Mary’s marriage to Lord Darnley. He took part on the Queen’s behalf in the Chaseabout Raid which was attempting to catch the rebel Earls of Moray and Argyll. He was one of the group of nobles who was persuaded by Bothwell to sign the Ainslie Tavern bond, which was presented to Queen Mary to persuade her to marry Bothwell. He later joined the King’s party, and together with the Regent Moray, voted in Parliament against the bill to have Mary’s marriage to Bothwell dissolved. He was one of the coffin bearers at the funeral of the Regent Moray.

He was appointed as an Extraordinary Lord of Session, and became closely associated with the Regent Morton, succeeding Argyll as Lord Chancellor. It was his friendship with Morton that led him to be sent to Morton to recommend that he resign when his government was becoming increasingly unpopular in 1578. He was killed during a clan feud with David Lindsay, 10th Earl of Crawford.

The 9th Lord, and 1st Earl was the son of the 8th Lord. The title was altered to the earldom of Strathmore and Kinghorne. The 1st Earl is the 9 x times great-grandfather of HM The Queen and the current holder of the title is Michael Bowes-Lyon, 19th Earl.


The mormaerdom was forfeited when Walter Stewart, Earl of Atholl and Strathearn, was executed in 1437 for his part in the assassination of his half-nephew, James I. It was recreated by Mary, Queen of Scots for her half-brother, Lord James Stewart, 1st Earl of Moray and Strathearn. Unlike the Moray title, it did not pass to his daughter. The title was recreated in 2011 by HM The Queen for her grandson, Prince William of Wales, who uses the title in Scotland.


This is the oldest earldom, carried on in unbroken line since the mid-1200s. It may have come into the family of William de Moravia, 1st Earl of Sutherland (d. 1284) by descent from Gaelic or Viking thanes (a thane was a lower rank than a mormaer), or, more probably, as a new grant to the descendant of a Flemish follower of William I of England.

John, 9th Earl, was succeeded by his sister, Elizabeth (1475 – 1535), who married Alexander, second son of George Gordon, 2nd Earl of Huntly. Elizabeth’s right to inherit was disputed by her younger half-brother, but the Gordons’ hold on the Earldom was made safe when they defeated the claimant at the Battle of Alltachuilain, in 1518.In 1527, Elizabeth resigned her rights to her son, Alexander, the Master of Sutherland, and in 1530 was succeeded in the title by her grandson, John, 11th Earl (confirmed 4 May 1546). John voted against the Treaty of Greenwich and later took part in the Battle of Pinkie, under Huntly as Clan Chief.

In 1562, following the Battle of Corrichie, Sutherland was forfeited, along with the rest of the Gordons, but was restored in 1565. The 13th Earl, Alexander, divorced his Sinclair wife, creating a feud which culminated in a Clan battle in 1588 at Wick, at which Sutherland was victorious. His second wife was Jean Gordon, who had previously been the wife of James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell, until divorced to enable Bothwell to marry Mary, Queen of Scots. Countess Jean ran the Sutherland estates, as the 13th Earl’s health deteriorated. Sutherland is currently held by Elizabeth, 24th Countess and Chief of Clan Sutherland.


Robert, 8th Lord Seton, was a close friend of James VI, despite being some 14 years older and a strict Catholic. He was created Earl of Winton in 1600. The earldom was forfeit following the Jacobite Rebellion of 1715, but was recreated for the descendants of his third son, who became Earl of Eglinton in 1612, inheriting from his cousin Hugh Montgomerie.