The Earldom o f Mar is one of the most noble and ancient lineages in Scotland, the origins of which are said to be lost in the mists of antiquity. Burke’s Peerage records it as ‘the most ancient title in Great Britain, perhaps in Europe’. And ‘it has been held in succession by members of the great historic houses of Douglas and Stewart, Drummond and Erskine’. The province of Mar which covered large tracts of the north east of Scotland was named after the Mormaer, a Pictish dignitary, inferior only to the king. The area of Mar was one of the 7 divisions of Scotland. At the beginning of the 10th century the title of Mormaer was exchanged for the title Earl and the areas became Earldoms. Burke’s Peerage records the first mormaer as Martachus with his son Gratnach as the first Mar to bear the title Earl. Through history the heads of the house of Mar held the highest offices in the royal households. Within Mar the Earls finally held 3 castles, Kildrummy, Corgarff and Braemar.
The direct male line of the Mormaers ended in 1377 with the death of Thomas, the 9th Earl who died childless. The Earldom was inherited by his brother-in-law William, Earl of Douglas, but this ended when Douglas’ son was killed at the battle of Otterburn. The earldom of Mar then passed to his sister, Isabella, wife of Sir Malcolm Drummond, who resided at Kildrummy Castle. After Sir Malcolm’s untimely death, blamed on a vicious attack by Alexander Stewart (son of the Wolf of Badenoch), the young Countess Isabella was persuaded to marry the man who had been responsible for her husband’s death. In 1404 she made over to her new husband, Andrew Stewart, the earldom of Mar and Garioch and all her castles. It was this Earl of Mar who defeated Donald of the Isles in the Battle of Harlaw in 1411. Because Andrew Stewart had only acquired a “life interest” in the earldom, after the death of the Countess of Mar in 1426, he “sold” it to the Crown receiving titles and estates in return for resigning it, After a series of legal battles during that century it was granted in 1586 to Alexander Stewart, Duke of Ross, son of James III. On his death it reverted once more to the Crown. In 1565 Mary Queen of Scots bestowed the title on John, 5th Earl of Erskine. The title has remained with the Erskine family ever since.
The Erskine family had arrived in Alloa near Stirling in 1363 and built their principal residence Alloa Tower not long after. Sir Thomas Erskine was the first Erskine to be ennobled and he was made Lord Erskine in 1460 during the reign of James II.
1st Earl of Mar (portrait in Braemar Castle, first Earl)
The sixth Lord Erskine (died 1572) became Regent for Scotland and was the governor of both Edinburgh and Stirling Castles and it was he who was promoted to 1st Earl of Mar in 1565.
He was guardian of James V during his minority (1513-28). He was also guardian to James’ daughter, Mary Queen of Scots, after the death of her father in 1542 with Mary only a few days old. She was crowned Queen in Stirling Castle aged 9 months and stayed at Stirling under the care of the Lord Erskine until 1548. At times, her safety was threatened during the “Rough Wooing” when Henry VIII tried to unite Scotland and England by securing the marriage of Mary to his heir, Prince Edward. When the Scots refused, he sent an army north. In 1548, for her own safety, Mary was sent to France, accompanied by her guardian Lord Erskine, and in 1559 married the Dauphin. He died tragically a year later in 1560 and Mary returned to Scotland in 1561 and made the Lord Erskine a member of her Privy Council and granted him the Earldom of Mar. She stayed at Stirling, again under his care, and it was here she met her husband-to-be Lord Darnley who was ill with measles in the castle at the time. After Darnley killed Mary’s favoured Italian secretary David Rizzio in March 1566, and after her son James (VI) was born that June, she fled to Alloa Tower and placed the Prince under the protection and tutelage of the Earl of Mar. James’ first two Regents were the Earl of Moray and the Earl of Lennox but the Earl of Mar then became Regent from 1571 until his death on 28th October 1572.
The 2nd Earl of Mar (portrait held in Scottish Portrait Gallery)
On the death of Regent Mar, his son John, now 2nd Earl of Mar (1558 -1634) was placed with James VI under the tutelage of George Buchanan and they were educated together at Stirling and Alloa. The 2nd Earl was one of two ambassadors who went to England in 1603 to negotiate the English throne for James VI. (The other was Edward Bruce, 1st Lord Kinloss)
The 6th Earl of Mar (Bobbin Jock)
The sixth Earl was one of the most powerful figures in Scotland at that time and was a principal signatory of the Treaty of Union during Queen Anne’s reign which united the parliaments of Scotland and England. He was governor of Stirling Castle and from 1705 Secretary of State for Scotland. He was a talented amateur architect and landscape designer and he converted Alloa Tower into an elegant modern house as well as creating extensive formal landscape around the house. When George I came to the throne, Mar fell out of favour and in retaliation took up the Jacobite cause. He raised the Standard for the Old Pretender (son of James II/ VII who had died in 1701) at Braemar in 1715. For his role in the 1715 Jacobite Uprising, Mar was attainted for high treason, exiled and his lands forfeited and his title extinguished. However he continued to try to influence life in Scotland from his exile in France. He proposed a “New Town” for Edinburgh” very similar to what exists today and the building of a Grand Canal across Scotland which ironically was financed by the forfeited estates of the ‘45 Rising. By 1739 the majority of the forfeited estates were returned to his son Thomas. The Mar tile was restored to Thomas’ grandson John Francis Erskine in 1824.
Margaret C H Stewart in her article ‘Regenerating a Highland Heritage – Lord Mar’s approach to the historic house and landscape, 1700 -1732’ in Architectural Heritage speculates that it may well have been the 6th Earl who was responsible for an ambition plan for the woodlands surrounding Invercauld House (next door to Braemar Castle). She says ‘At Invercauld, the avenues radiate through dense woodland on the slopes opposite the house. It is a typical Scottish historical landscape because the avenues point on natural and historic features in the locality. Moving clockwise from the south east of the house the first avenue points on Craig Clunie and three peaks beyond it; the next looks towards Millstone Cairn (743m); the next towards the Lion’s Face, a distinctive rock formation on the opposite bank of the River Dee and beyond that to the peak of Morrone or Morven in the high Grampians (859m); the next avenue looks towards Creag Choinnich, or Kenneth’s Crag (538m); and the most westerly points on Braemar Castle, beyond which opens up a spectacular view of upper Strath Dee and Ben Macdui (over 1000m). The angles of the avenues are not regularly spaced but adjusted to these significant features.’
Although the plan exists, it seems the work was never carried out.
Information taken from “Become a Friend of Alloa Tower” leaflet and Alloa Tower Booklet.
Alloa Tower http://www.nts.org.uk/Property/3/