The first Earls of Moray

The district of Moray in Scotland consisted of the territory that lay to the east of Inverness between the Moray Firth to the north and the Cairngorms to the South. Separated from the rest of Scotland by mountains, Moray was a semi-independent statelet until well into the Middle Ages and ruled by its own line of great stewards or mormaers of whom the most noted was the Macbeth who seized the Scottish crown between 1040 and 1057.

Moray is pronounced (by the Scots at least) as 'Murray' and hence there was a fashion at one time of referring to the Earls of Moray as the Earls of Murray, although that practice now appears to have been largely abandoned and the correct variant of Moray almost universally adopted. Murray of course, continues in use as a perfectly respectable surname.

Little is known of the first earls of Moray and they appear in the historical record as nothing more than names; being a Beth who was earl in 1114/15 and an Angus who was his presumed successor in the 1120s. Thereafter no names appear until about the year 1314 when a Thomas Randolph, a nephew of Robert the Bruce, was created Earl of Moray in recognition of his daring capture of Edinburgh Castle early in 1314. (although there is some argument that he may have been awarded the title earlier in 1312.) He later distinguished himself at the battle of Bannockburn and with the death of Bruce in 1329 he became Regent of Scotland and guardian of the young king David II.

After Thomas Randolph's death on the 20th July 1332 he was succeeded in turn by his two sons, both of whom fell victim to the continuing conflict between Scotland and England. Thomas, the 2nd Earl, being killed at the battle of Dupplin Moor on the 12th August 1332 scarcely a month after inheriting the title, and John, the 3rd Earl, who was killed at the battle of Neville's Cross on the 17th October 1346.

Dunbar and Plantagenet

The earldom is then generally regarded as having become extinct, although the Randolph family estates passed to a sister of the 2nd and 3rd Earls named Agnes. This Agnes, known as 'Black Agnes', and famous for her defence of Dunbar Castle against the forces of Edward Baliol between the years 1337 and 1338, married Patrick Dunbar, Earl of March and Dunbar. The couple certainly claimed to be Countess and Earl of Moray, but irrespective of the status of Agnes and her husband, on the 5th April 1359 David II granted the title to Henry of Grosmont, Duke of Lancaster who was therefore Earl of Moray until his death in 1361.

Patrick died in 1368 and Agnes in the following year and in the meantime Agnes' younger sister Isobel Randolph had also married a Patrick Dunbar (who was a nephew of the Patrick that was Earl of March) It was their eldest son George Dunbar who succeeded as Earl of Dunbar and March in 1368, whilst their second son John Dunbar, who had married Marjorie Stewart and was thus a son-in-law of Robert II succeeded in obtaining the earldom of Moray in 1372. (Not surprisingly many people confuse the two Patrick Dunbars and assume that John Dunbar was the son of Agnes and thus 'inherited' the title from her.)

John was succeeded in turn by his son Thomas Dunbar, the 2nd Earl who died sometime before August 1422 and his grandson Thomas Dunbar, the 3rd Earl who died without surviving issue sometime around the year 1427. The 3rd Earl was succeeded by a James Dunbar who was either his younger brother or a cousin (no one is quite sure), but he was murdered on the 10th August 1429. Once again, this appears to have rendered the title extinct although his daughter Elizabeth and her husband, Archibald Douglas the third son of James Douglas, 7th Earl of Douglas called themselves Earl and Countess of Moray.

In any event Archibald Douglas joined his brother in rebellion and was killed at the battle of Arkinholm on the 1st May 1455. He was subsequently attainted, and the dignity of Moray, to the extent that he possessed it in the first place was forfeited to the crown.

Stewart, Stuart and Gordon

In 1501 James IV of Scotland granted the title of Earl of Moray to his illegitimate son James Stewart, who retained the title until his death in 1544. The Earl left no heirs and title reverted to the crown and four years later in 1548 the earldom was granted once more to George Gordon, 4th Earl of Huntly. The Earl of Huntly had a tenuous connection with Moray as his ancestor the 2nd Earl of Huntly had earlier been married to Elizabeth Dunbar daughter of the 4th Dunbar Earl, which may have persuaded him that he had a claim on the vacant title. (The marriage took place on the 20th May 1455 less than three weeks after Elizabeth Dunbar had been widowed; a divorce was obtained soon after on the grounds of consanguinity, and there were no children.) The 4th Earl of Huntly however fell out of royal favour in 1562 and his title of Earl of Moray was declared forfeit, he rose in rebellion shortly afterwards and was killed at the battle of Corrichie on the 28th October 1562.

Once the title had been removed from the hands of George Gordon, Mary, Queen of Scots awarded the title to her half-brother James Stewart, the illegitimate son of James V, who was created Lord Abernethy and Strathearn and Earl of Moray on the 30th January 1562. James appears to have shortly afterwards resigned the title in preference for that of Earl of Mar then, once the Erskine claim to that latter title had been revived, agreed to drop the dignity of Mar and re-adopt that of Moray. When his sister was later forced to abdicate the throne in July 1567 this James became Regent of Scotland and protector of his nephew king James VI, but was assassinated in January 1570 by one James Hamilton of Bothwellhaugh.

With James' death the title passed to his daughter Elizabeth Stewart who in 1580 married another member of the extensive Stewart family also named James, the son of a James Stewart of Doune, who assumed the title himself. Later known as the 'bonny earl' this James Stewart was later killed by George Gordon, 6th Earl of Huntly in February 1592. Depending on your point of view either Elizabeth or James the 'bonny earl' can be counted as the 2nd holder of the dignity of Moray, but in any event they were succeeded by their son, very naturally named James once more, who oddly enough married Anne Gordon, daughter of the very Gordon who had been earlier been responsible for his father's death.

James the 3rd Earl was succeeded by his son James the 4th Earl and the earldom of Moray has remained in the Stewart family since that time, although Alexander, the 5th Earl established the precedent of using the French version of the family name Stuart in preference to that of Stewart. Other than the aforementioned 5th Earl who was Secretary of State for Scotland between 1680 and 1689, these Stuarts have taken note of the fate of the first two earls and maintained a certain remoteness from great events.

Francis, the 9th Earl was created Baron Stuart of Castle Stuart in the Peerage of the United Kingdom on the 4th June 1796, thereby guaranteeing himself a seat in the House of Lords and was blessed with twin sons born on the 2nd Febuary 1771. The eldest was named Francis and succeeded his father in 1810. Notable for being one of the Scottish Peers who was were taken in by the Sobeski Stuarts, the 10th Earl was married twice firstly to Lucy Scott and secondly to Margaret Jane Ainslie. Both wives presented the earl with a brace of sons, each of whom was to succeed to the title in turn until George Philip Stuart, 14th Earl died unmarried on the 16th March 1895 at the age of 78.

The title then passed into the hands of Edmund Archibald Stuart a grandson of Archibald Stuart the marginally younger of the twin sons born to the 9th Earl. Edmund Archibald died in 1901 and was followed in succession by his two younger brothers. It is therefore from the third and youngest of these brothers Morton Gray Stuart, the 17th Earl that subsequent holders of the title are descended.

The current and 20th Earl of Moray is Douglas John Moray Stuart, who also holds the titles of Lord Abernethy, Strathdearn, Doune and St Colme in the Peerage of Scotland as well as the title Baron Stuart of Castle Stuart in the Peerage of the United Kingdom. His eldest son and heir John Douglas Stuart bears the courtesy title of the Lord Doune.


THE EARLS OF MORAY

MORAY

RANDOLPH

PLANTAGENET

DUNBAR

STEWART

GORDON

STEWART\STUART


SOURCES

  • The 1911 Encyclopedia Brittanica entry for MURRAY (or MORAY), EARLS OF.
  • A genealogical survey of the peerage of Britain at www.thepeerage.com
  • Stirnet Genealogy at http://www.stirnet.com/HTML/genie/genfam.htm
  • The Peerages of England, Scotland, Ireland, Great Britain and the United Kingdom at http://www.angeltowns.com/town/peerage/Peers.htm
  • George Gordon (4th Earl of Huntly) at http://www.geo.ed.ac.uk/scotgaz/people/famousfirst1681.html

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