The ancient Earls of Menteith

The ancient Earls of Menteith, extracted from The Scots Peerage by James Balfour Paul


The ancient Earls of Menteith, extracted from The Scots Peerage, Vol VI (1909), (Mar - Oxf) by James Balfour Paul

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According to an unnamed writer, who wrote about the year 1165, the district of Menteith was originally joined with that of Strathearn to form one (called Fortrenn) of the seven provinces of 'Scotia,' or Scotland north of the Forth and Clyde. [1] This, however, was at a very early period, and history is silent regarding the intervening centuries, but the original province was, at some period prior to 1163, divided into two separate earldoms. As a district Menteith lay partly in Perthshire and partly in Stirlingshire, and comprehended the parishes of Aberfoyle, Port of Menteith, Callander and Leny, Kincardine, Kilmadock, Lecropt, Dunblane, and part of Kippen, being practically those parishes which were bounded on one side or other by the river Teith. Probably these were all included in the earldom, while the ancient rulers of the district also appear to have exercised a certain authority over Cowal and Kintyre. [2] The older history, however, both of the Earls and of the earldom, is very obscure, as almost nothing is recorded of either.

[1] Chronicles of the Picts and Scots, 136. The account of Scotland here given was at one time attributed to Giraldus Cambrensis, but Dr. Skene suggests Ailred as the author
[2] Acta Parl. Scot., i. 372.

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I. GILCHRIST, Earl of Menteith, is named as such in a charter by King Malcolm IV providing for the restoration of the Abbey of Scone, which had been destroyed by fire. The charter is dated in 1164, [1] and this is the first notice which has been found of an Earl of Menteith, while of Gilchrist's parentage or personal history nothing has been discovered, though his name suggests a Celtic origin. He again appears as witness to a charter, dated between 1175 and 1178, by King William the Lion, granting certain privileges to the then new city of Glasgow. [2] The date of Earl Gilchrist's death is not recorded, but he was dead before 1198, when his successor is named. Gilchrist is said to have had a daughter Eva, married to Alwin, second Earl of Lennox.

II. MAURICE or 'MURETACH,' Earl of Menteith, is the next on record, but whether he was Gilchrist's son is not clear. He appears as Maurice, Earl of Menteith, in a charter by King William the Lion, not dated, but which may have been granted between 1189 and 1198, confirming a donation of the church of Moulin to the monks of Dunfermline. [3] The next notice of him is as a witness to an agreement, not dated, but which cannot be earlier than 1198, between Gilbert, Prior of St. Andrews, and the canons there, and the Culdees of that place, as to certain teinds in dispute betwixt them. There the Earl is designed 'Murethach, Earl of Menteith,' but as the writ already cited is earlier in date, it is probable that the so-called 'Murethach ' and Maurice are one and the same. [4] This seems the more probable, as the next reference to Maurice implies that he had been some time in possession and was recognised as Earl, although his right was afterwards challenged. In or before 1213, a younger brother, also named Maurice, claimed the earldom, on what ground does not appear, though probably it was another case of conflict between the offspring of a union recognised by the Church and the heir of a Celtic marriage.

[1] Liber Ecclesie de Scon, 8.
[2] Peg. Epis. Glasguensis, i. 36.
[3] Reg. de Dunfermlyn, 34.
[4] Sir William Eraser in his Red Book of Menteith, a work to which this article is much indebted, makes 'Murethach' the second Earl and Maurice the third, two distinct persons. But on a careful study of the subject the writer thinks there is good reason to believe that the first ' Maurice ' and ' Murethach ' were the same.

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The two brothers did not resort to force over their respective claims, but submitted to arbitration. An amicable arrangement was entered into under the auspices of Prince Alexander, afterwards King, the Earls of Fife and Strathearn, and other nobles, under which the elder Maurice, who is formally styled Earl of Menteith, resigned the earldom, of which he must have been in possession, into the hands of King William, who then gave it to the younger Maurice, not yet designed Earl, as his right and heritage. The elder brother was to hold, by bailiary of the King, the lands of Muyline and Radenoche (probably Maling and Rednoch), with other lands, [1] which the younger Maurice gave up to the King for that purpose, and which were to revert to the estate on the elder's decease. The younger brother also delivered to the elder certain other lands, [2] to be used for the marriage of his daughters. This agreement was made at Edinburgh on St. Nicholas Day (6 December) 1213, the original writ being sealed by the Prince and some others, while it was duly ratified by the King himself on the following day. [3] How long the elder Maurice lived after this agreement is not known, and the names of his wife and daughters are not recorded, while he appears to have had no male issue.

III. MAURICE, the younger brother of the preceding, no doubt assumed the earldom. In any case Maurice, Earl of Menteith, appears as one of the seven Earls who were present at the enthronement of King Alexander II at Scone on 6 December 1214. The Earls also accompanied the young King with the funeral cortege of his father, King William, from Perth to Arbroath, where the interment took place before the high altar of the church on 10 December. [4] Earl Maurice appears to have taken no great part in public life, as ten years elapse before there is record of him, but he was present with King Alexander at Stirling when he granted a charter to the Abbey of Paisley on 5 September 1224. [5] Two years later, on 27 March 1226, the Earl is referred to as Sheriff of Stirling. [6] He did not after this live

[1] The other lands are Turn, Cattlyne, Brathuly, and Cambuswelhe.
[2] These are said to be Savelime (as held by both brothers), Mestrym, Kenelton, and Stradlochlem.
[3] Red Book of Menteith, ii. 214, 215.
[4] Scottish Kings, by Sir A. H. Dunbar, 82, 88.
[5] Reg. de Pasaelet, 214.
[6] Cart, of Cambuskenneth, 176.

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very much longer, though he probably survived the year 1231, usually assigned as the date of his death. He was, however, dead before January 1233-34, which is the first date on which his successor is named as Earl of Menteith. The name of his wife is not known, but he had two daughters :

1. ISABELLA, who became Countess of Menteith.
2. MARY, who also became Countess of Menteith.

IV. ISABELLA, Countess of Menteith, is presumed rather than proved to have been the daughter of Earl Maurice, and her personality is largely merged in that of her husband, Walter Comyn, who was second son of William Comyn who afterwards became Earl of Buchan (vol. i. 505). When he was born is uncertain, but he was old enough to attend at Court and witness royal charters between the years 1211 and 1214, including the agreement, already cited, as to the earldom of Menteith. In 1220 he went in the train of King Alexander II to York, where arrangements were made for the King's marriage to Joanna of England. Between this date and 1229 he was a frequent witness to the King's charters, and seems to have closely followed the Court. [1]

After 1229 he appears as Lord of Badenoch, a territory which, it is suggested, he received for his services or those of his father in suppressing an insurrection raised by Gillescop M' William, who had been Lord of Badenoch, and whose estates were forfeited. According to Sir William Fraser he became Earl in 1231, on the authority of a charter in the Chartulary of Balmerino, ascribed to 3 February 1230-31, where he is styled Walter Comyn, Earl of Menteith. [2] But there is good reason to believe that the writ in question is, if not spurious, at least misdated. Apart from other reasons, the names and designations of the witnesses apply to a date some years later. Especially is this the case with Walter Comyn, who is still Walter Comyn on 4 February 1232-33, also on 30 June 1233, [3] and it is not until

[1] Red Book of Menteith, i. 14, 15, and authorities there given, though we cannot agree with Sir William Fraser in assuming that this Walter Comyn in 1225 filled the office of King's Clerk or Lord Clerk Register (Reg. Moraviense, 461). That officer was more probably an ecclesiastic.
[2] Liber de Balmerinoch, 4.
[3] Liber de Melros, i. 222, and The Maxwells of Pollok, i. 122, 123.

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9 Jan 1233-34 that he appears on record as Earl of Menteith [1].  It is not certain that this rank followed on his marriage, as there is evidence that he received a charter of the earldom, though the date is not recorded [2], and the charter may have been granted some time after his marriage.

The Earl's father had died in 1233, and now he, by his possession of Menteith and the great lordship of Badenoch, became one of the most powerful nobles in Scotland.  He remained still in frequent attendance at Court until the close of the King's reign, and was one of those who undertook to maintain the treaty of peace made between Scotland and England in 1237, and again in 1244, when war nearly broke out on account of a private feud in which the Earl was specially interested.  Patrick, Earl of Atholl, had been, in 1242, basely done to death at Haddington, and his relatives the Comyns combined to avenge his death.  Walter Biset of Aboyne, the chief instigator of the crime, and other Bisets, were banished from Scotland, and Walter passed to England and incited King Henry III to war, which was averted by a second treaty, to which the Earl of Menteith was also a party [3].

The comparatively sudden death of King Alexander II in 1249, when his son was only eight years old, nearly caused trouble in Scotland, but the Earl of Menteith, who headed what may be called the National party, took such wise and prompt steps that the boy King was at once placed on his throne without opposition, and at a later date was rescued from the hands of the rival faction, which acted in the English interest.  One of the latest acts of the Earl was to enter, on 18 March 1258, with other Scottish magnates into an alliance with Llewellyn, Prince of Wales, to assist him in his war with England, and to establish commercial relations between Scotland and Wales. [4]  Besides taking part in public life, the Earl also had a warm side to the Church, and soon after 1238, when he received permission from Pope Gregory IX, he built a Priory for Augustinian

[1] Reg. de Holyrood, 52
[2] Ms. Roll of Charters in Gen. Reg. House, about 1579, containing notes of many now lost.  Among these on folio 18, are five of the reign of Aleander II, one being 'Carta Walteri Cumyn de Comitatu de Menteithe'
[3] Cal. Doc. Scot., i. Nos. 1358, 1654
[4] Foedera, Record ed., i. 370

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Canons in the Isle of Inchmahome, or the Isle of Rest.  He made certain arrangements also with the Bishop of Dunblane, who gave up rights of pension over the earldom of Menteith, with which no doubt the new priory was endowed. [1]

The Earl died suddenly in November 1258, by the stumbling of his horse, which fell upon its rider. [2]  So at least it was reported to the English King, but the Scots believed that he was poisoned by his Countess, who survived him.  She certainly gave ground for the story by marrying again within a short time after his death, an English knight, named Sir John Russell.  This marriage, though made, it is said, with the King's consent, offended the Scottish nobles, who raised or renewed the accusation of poisoning, and succeeded in depriving the Countess of the earldom, and forcing her and her husband to retire to England.  They were even confined in prison for some time because of the charge against them.  The earldom was given to Mary, the younger sister of Isabella, and Walter Stewart, her husband.  Countess Isabella went to the English Court, where Henry III certified the agreement of 1213, already quoted, and she also appealed to the Pope, Urban IV, who sent a legate to York, to inquire into the matter.  But the legate behaved in such a manner as to rouse the indignation and opposition of King Alexander and the Scottish nobles, and the Pope was obliged to remit the case to be settled by three Scottish clerics, who in turn allowed the subject to drop, as it entrenched upon the King's jurisdiction.  The Countess and her second husband did not pursue the matter further.  He died before 1273, and she probably predeceased him.  The Countess had issue by her second husband, a daughter, Isabella, [3] married, before 1273, to William Comyn of Kirkintulloch, who in that year instituted proceedings on behalf of his wife for possession of the earldom

[1] Liber Insula Missarum, pref. xxix
[2] Matthew Paris, Rolls series, v. 724.  The Earl's lands of Badenoch passed to his grand-nephew William Comyn, who was succeeded in 1291 by his brother John.
[3] Sir William Fraser states that this Isabella was the daughter of Walter Comyn, but there is clear evidence (Cal. Doc. Scot., ii. No. 466) that she was the daughter of Sir John Russell.  Sir John's parentage is not known.  He is said to have belonged to the diocese of Ely.  There certainly were Russells holding land there, but he cannot specially be identified.

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of Menteith, but without success.  In 1285 the claim was renewed, and on 10 April a decision was given by the King in Parliament at Scone, when half the earldom was given to Comyn, but not the rank of Earl.  He died 3 August 1291, and his wife married, secondly, about 1293, Sir Edward Hastings, a great-grandson of David, Earl of Huntingdon, and brother of John Hastings, one of the Competitors, in 1291, for the Crown of Scotland.  Sir Edward, in right of his wife, held one-half the earldom of Menteith.  He died after May 1312, perhaps one of those who fell at Bannockburn, 24 June 1314.  His wife is not on record after 1306, when she did homage to King Edward I.  She bore no issue to either of her husbands.

Walter Comyn had apparently a son Henry, who in a charter dated about 1250, by Maldouen, Earl of Lennox, of the lands of Luss, is described as 'Henry, son of the Earl of Menteith,' [1] but nothing more is known of him.

V. Mary, Countess of Menteith, married Walter Stewart, third son of Walter, third High Stewart of Scotland.  He was distinguished by the sobriquet 'Bailoch' or the 'freckled.'  His name as Walter Stewart appears in various writs as a witness.  He is said to have gone to Egypt under Louis IX of France, but there is no certain evidence of this.  After the death of King Alexander II he favoured the English faction, who by a strategem in 1255 secured the persons of the young King and Queen, but he was not at this time admitted to a share in the government.  It was about 1260, when the Countess Isabella and her husband were forced to renounce the earldom, that the King and barons of Scotland decerned the lands and title to belong to the wife of William Stewart, and he was invested therein. [2]  He was certainly Earl before 17 April 1261, when he was witness to a grant to the Abbey of Paisley. [3]  In the following year Dugall MacSwein granted to the Earl the lands of Skipnish, 'Kedeslatt' or Killislate, and others, being that part of Kintyre called South Knapdale and the parish of Kilcalmonell.  Following on this, the

[1] The Lennox, by Sir W. Fraser, ii. 405 and facsimile.
[2] Red Book of Menteith i. 41.
[3] Reg. de Passelet, 121

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Earl granted the church of Kilcalmonell to the monks of Paisley. [1]  He also made grants to the monastery of Kilwinning of churches in Knapdale, which show that he had possession of North Knapdale also. [2]

About 1263 the Earl was Sheriff of Ayr, and aided in making preparations to repel the expected invasion of King Haco of Norway. [3]  He is said to have taken part in the battle of Largs, and afterwards to have been commissioned to reduce the chieftains of the Western Isles, [4] but there is only a probability of the first, and Fordun does not name him as one of the commission referred to. [5]  The Earl was Sheriff of Dumbarton in 1271. [6]  On 25 July 1281 he was one of the witnesses to and guarantors of the marriage contract of the Princess Margaret with Eric, King of Norway. [7]  In 1285 he and his Countess were again attacked by the rival claimants William Comyn and his wife, their claim having been in 1282 pressed upon Alexander III by the English King, [8] and in a Parliament at Scone it was decided that the earldom should be divided into two portions.  One half was retained by Walter Stewart, with the title of Earl, he having the principal residence on the territory, and the other half was erected into a barony in favour of William Comyn and his wife. [9]  The component parts of the earldom which remained to Walter Stewart are not known.  The death of King Alexander III threw the kingdom again into confusion, and during the rivalry which ensued between the parties of Bruce and Baliol, the Earl of Menteith supported the cause of Bruce. [10]  In 1289 he was present at Brigham, and approved of the marriage proposed between Prince Edward of England and the young 'Maid of Norway' as she was called, the heiress of the Scottish Crown.  Her unhappy death renewed the contest between Bruce and Baliol, and when it was proposed that the King of England should arbitrate, Menteith was one of those named by Bruce as his commissioners.  He was present at Norham on 20 November 1292 when Baliol

[1] Reg. de Passelet, 121
[2] Theiner's Vetera Monumenta, 248, No. 488; Collections of Ayr and Wigton, i. 163
[3] Exch. Rolls, i. 5
[4] Red Boo, etc., i. 65. Fraser states this, but founds on unreliable authority
[5] Fordun a Goodall, ii.
[6] Reg. de Passelet, 191
[7] Acta Parl. Scot., i. 423
[8] Cal. Doc. Scot., iv. 357, 387
[9] Wyntoun, Laing's ed., ii. 263, 264; Stevenson's Hist. Documents, i. 22
[10] Foedera, Record ed., i. 781

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swore fealty to Edward. [1]  This is the last certain record of him, as although letters were addressed by the English King to Walter, Earl of Menteith, on 29 June 1294, [2] it is not clear that he was then alive.  He may even have been dead by 10 February 1292/93, when Baliol's Parliament directed the lands of Knapdale belonging to the Earl to be incorporated in the sheriffdom of Lorn under Alexander of Argyll. [2]

The Countess Mary predeceased her husband, but at what date is not certain.  Their tombstone is preserved in the Priory of Inchmahome, bearing the effigies of husband and wife, the former bearing on his shield the Stewart fess chequy with a label of five points, a device which also appears on his seal of arms in the Public Record Office, London. [4]  They had issue two sons named together by their father in a charter:

1.  Alexander, who succeeded to the earldom.
2. Sir John, who has achieved an unenviable notoriety as the taker or betrayer of Sir William Wallace.  His history has been fully sketched by Sir William Fraser, and need not be detailed here.  He was possessor of the lands of Rusky in Menteith, and perhaps also of Knapdale.  He died about 1323. [5]  By his wife, whose name has not been ascertained, he had issue:
    (1) Sir John Menteith who married Ellen, daughter of Gratney, Earl of Mar, and died before 1344, leaving issue:
        i. Sir John Menteith, styled Lord of Arran and Knapdale, who died about 1360.  By his wife, a lady named Catherine, he had no issue.
        ii. Christian, married, first, to Sir Edward Keith of Sinton, by whom she had a daughter Janet, wife first of Sir David Barclay of Brechin, and secondly of Sir Thomas Erskine. (See title Mar.)  Christian Menteith or Keith was married again, as his second wife, to Sir Robert Erskine of that Ilk (See Mar.)
    (2) Walter, ancestor of the Menteiths of Rusky and Kerse, and also of the later family of Dalzell of Binns. [6]
    (3) Joanna, the only one of Sir John's alleged three daughters who can be traced with certainty, was married, first, to Malise, seventh Earl of Strathearn, who died about 1324-25; secondly

[1] Foedera, i 804
[2] Acta. Parl. Scot., i. 447
[3] Red Book of Menteith, i. 75; ii. 220. Sir William Fraser thinks the Countess died before 1286, but the proof he gives is doubtful.
[4] Macdonald's Scottish Armorial Seals, No. 2553
[5] Red Book of Menteith, i. 433-456
[6] Ibid., i. 460-463