THE CELTIC EARLS OF STRATHEARN - MEDIEVAL ROBBER BARONS ?
THE CELTIC EARLS OF STRATHEARN- MEDIEVAL ROBBER
The creation of the Earl and Countess of Strathearn with the marriage of Wills and Kate created considerable interest and publicity both here in the Strath and indeed in Scotland as a whole . Unfortunately it has now become clear that this historic title dating back some 1 000 years is very much secondary to the chosen alternative of Duke and Duchess of Cambridge . The latter was first granted in 1664, when James Stuart, son of the Duke of York by his first wife, was granted the title. James, Duke of Cambridge died young and without heirs, and the title became extinct.
The purpose of this Blog is to look at how the title first came into use and the tales of intrigue and subterfuge which are closely woven into the fabric of the titles .
After the Battle of Lumphanan in 1057 when Malcolm Canmore defeated Macbeth , the emergent nation of Scotland was predominantly Irish / Celtic. It had a tribal structure with mormaers or Toiseachs ruling the major provinces as autonomous Princes under the high King , father of the people. The former province or Kingdom of Fortren became the Earldom or Mormaership of Strathearn. This was essentially a Pictish structure. The historian ,RA Dodgson wrote in 1981 about a possible evolution from a Pictish division of Alba into two ie north and south of the Mounth. That established the Mormaerships or deputies to the “ High King “. Despite the change to the feudalism introduced by David l who had brought up in Norman ways , Strathearn survived as Celtic earldom after 1286. The Earldoms were sub divided into thanages such as Balquhidder in West Strathearn. These thanages had a thaneston where the thane lived and often a “ kirkton “. It is possible that the “ pit “ names of Pictish Strathearn may conceal the locations of the ancient tribal capitals.
According to Porteous , the name of Malise , Earl of Strathearn appears on a charter founding the monastery at Scone. He was succeeded by his son Ferteth or Ferquhard. He conspired with the other five Mormaers against Malcolm who had antagonised the people with his homage to the English King Henry ll. There was near rebellion and eventually Malcolm sought peace with his Earls. Ferteth was succeeded by his son Gilbert who with the feudalising of the land was the first to receive charters from the King. Muthill ( 1172/78 ) and Madderty in 1185 were the first. At this time there was a minor uprising against King William led by Gillecolm whose title was Marshall and is said to have occupied Dundurn .
The Earldom of Strathearn now stretched from Newburgh in the east to Balquhidder in the west. Inchaffrey Abbey was founded in 1200 and the name Crieff first appears in the charters. One witness is described as Bricius, the parson of Crieff ( about 1199).
Earl Gilbert did well for himself. He married Matilda , daughter of the Earl of Arundel ( to become the Norfolks) . He had 8 sons and 3 daughters. He took a prominent part in the coronation of Alexander ll in 1214. He died in 1223 and was succeeded By Robert a great supporter of Inchaffrey having initially quarrelled with the Abbot over their possessions. He signed a charter in the 1222 in the ancient Church of Strageath.
The Earls of Strathearn were very important play makers in the King’s business. Malise who succeeded Robert attended the coronation of Alexander lll in 1249. The king was only 8 ! The young King married Margaret daughter of King Henry of England 2 years later. Henry tried to inveigle his way into Scottish affairs but the young King resisted. Malise was in the favour of the English King and was appointed co Regent ( there were 15 in number ) to govern Scotland until Alexander reached 21.Malise married 4 times and as a result inherited more land and property. From his first wife Marjory he obtained lands in Northumberland. From his second wife Matilda , daughter of the Earl of Caithness and Orkney he obtained the Barony of Cortachy in Angus. He then married Emma and lastly Maria, widow of Magnus , King of Man. The account of Malise tells how he used his rights to “ sell “ many of the poorer classes into service of the Church at Inchaffrey. He died in 1271.
His son also Malise ( lll ) was made a Regent to the Maid of Norway , Margaret. Malise was in collusion with Edward l and was a party to the signing of the Treaty of Salisbury by which the Scottish Estates agreed to the marriage of Edward’s son to the young maid and heiress to the Scottish throne. She died and history was changed.
It should be emphasised the Earls of Strathearn were amongst the leading nobility in Scotland. The Pope when addressing the See of Dunblane wrote directly to the Earl .He married the sister of John Comyn , Earl of Buchan. Malise a was an Anglophile and in 1291 paid homage to Edward l at Stirling. He supported Balliol. He did however follow him when he invaded Cumberland and ravaged the country. In fact he was captured but soon released and paid further homage to Edward. His sons were residing at the English Court. In 1303 Malise was with the English army at Perth dining with the Prince of Wales. As Bruce gained the favour and support of the Scottish nobility and was crowned king at Scone in 1306, Malise continued his support for Edward. Bruce delivered an ultimatum to him via the Abbot of Inchaffrey, to acknowledge his sovereignty but the reply was curt : “ Nay, I have nothing to do with him “.
Bruce and the Earl of Atholl marched into Strathearn to Fowlis, at that time the chief. castle of the Earldom
Malise had now retired to what was referred to then as the “ wood of Crieff ( possibly Callum’s Hill ) “ with his retainers . Bruce delivered another ultimatum. Malise met with him but refused to swear fealty and departed under a safe conduct arrangement. Malise blew it when he met with the Earl of Atholl and insulted him over his loyalty to Bruce.
The incensed Atholl persuaded Bruce to withdraw safe conduct from Malise who was take n prisoner and sent to Inchcolm on the Firth of Forth. His obstinacy continued until death was threatened and he duly performed homage to Bruce. This was never true and when asked to march with Bruce against the Earl of Pembroke, refused. He was besieged at Castle Cluggie ( Ochtertyre ) . Malise spoke with Bruce but nothing transpired to change matters. thereafter Bruce was defeated at Methven by the Earl of Pembroke . Malise was a born loser. Thereafter he was captured by his English friends and charged with treason for swearing fealty to Bruce whilst on Inchcolm. He was confined to Rochester Castle “ but not in chains “ by Edward . His son also Malise was detained at Carlisle. Malise was tried at Westminster, but acquitted having stated that his loyalty to Bruce was forced upon him under threat of death. Thereafter he remained loyal to the English. His son however threw in his lot with Bruce and when Perth was stormed son captured father. He died shortly thereafter and was buried in Inchaffrey Abbey to the right of the High Alter.
The future of The Celtic Earls of Strathearn was heading towards a certain end. Their duplicity and opposition to Bruce were their ultimate downfall. Of Malise lV the tale of Tom a Chastile will be told elsewhere. He seemed to have regained at one time some of the lost importance thrown away by his father as he is the fourth signatory to the Declaration of Arbroath. What happened to him is uncertain. Malise V paid the penalty of his forefathers. Baliol had granted the title to the Earl of Surrey and it was claimed that Malise lll had stood down voluntarily. In 1344 David ll would not reinstate him and granted the title to Maurice Moray . Moray’s tenure was short lived . He was killed at the Battle of Durham and the title remained dormant for a number of years. In 1370 Robert ll conferred the title upon his son David. The title passed to the Graham family when David’s daughter married Patrick Graham. The animosity between the Drummonds and Murrays arose from a court case where Sir Alexander Murray , a brother in law of the King , declined to appear before Sir John Drummond, Steward of Strathearn on a murder charge Eventually he did with much bad feeling .
In 1413 , Sir Patrick Graham, Earl of Strathearn was forced by the Murray family to remove Sir John Drummond from office. In the park at Ferntower Sir John killed Earl Patrick and took flight to Ireland and was never heard of again. Malise Graham became Earl on the death of his mother 1408. He was delivered as a hostage for the release of James l from England. James coveted the title and claimed that the Graham claim was faulty. He thus annexed it to the Crown and ended the long line of independent Earls of Strathearn .