Earl of Mar

The title Mormaer or Earl of Mar has been created several times, all in the Peerage of Scotland. Owing to a 19th-century dispute, there are currently two Earls of Mar as both the first and seventh creations are currently extant. The first creation of the earldom was originally the provincial ruler of the province of Mar in north-eastern Scotland. First attested in the year 1014,[1] the "seat" or "caput" eventually became Kildrummy Castle, although other sites like Doune of Invernochty were initially just as important.

Earldoms of Mar
First creation (1404)
Seventh creation (1565)
Seventh creation held with
Earldom of Kellie

Arms of Mar, Earl of Mar (first creation, left): Azure, a bend between six cross-crosslets fitchée Or
Arms of Erskine, Earl of Mar (seventh creation, right): "Quarterly, 1st and 4th, Argent, a pale Sable (Erskine); 2nd and 3rd, Azure, a bend between six cross-crosslets fitchée Or (Mar); overall on an inescutcheon Gules the Crown of Scotland within a royal tressure Or, ensigned with an Earl's coronet (Earldom of Kellie).
Creation dateBefore 1014 (first creation, traditional)

1404 (first creation, as ruled by Parliament)

1459 (third creation)
1483 (fourth creation)
1486 (fifth creation)
1562 (sixth creation)
1565 (seventh creation)
MonarchRobert III (first creation, as ruled by Parliament)
James II (third creation)
James III (fourth creation)
James III(fifth creation)
Mary (sixth creation)
Mary (seventh creation)
PeeragePeerage of Scotland
First holderRuadrí, Earl of Mar
Present holderMargaret of Mar, 31st Countess of Mar (first creation)
James Erskine, 14th Earl of Mar and 16th Earl of Kellie (seventh creation)
Heir presumptiveSusan of Mar, Mistress of Mar (first creation)
Hon. Alexander David Erskine, Master of Mar and Kellie (seventh creation)
Extinction date1479 (third creation)
1483 (fourth creation)
1503 (fifth creation)
1570 (sixth creation)
Former seat(s)Mar's Wark, Kildrummy Castle and Doune of Invernochty

The title evolved into a peerage title, and was made particularly famous by John Erskine, the 23rd/6th Earl of Mar, who was an important Jacobite military leader during the 1715 Jacobite rising.

Margaret of Mar, 31st Countess of Mar holds the title in the first creation, and James Erskine, 14th Earl of Mar and 16th Earl of Kellie in the seventh. The Earl of Mar and Kellie is the hereditary Clan Chief of Clan Erskine;[2] the Countess of Mar is the hereditary Clan Chief of Clan Mar. The Earldom of Mar, which is one of the seven original Scottish earldoms,[3] is thought to be the oldest peerage in Great Britain, and even Europe.[4][5]

The family seat of Earl of Mar (first creation) is St Michael's Farm, near Great Witley, Worcestershire, and of Earl of Mar (seventh creation) is Hilton Farm, near Alloa, Clackmannanshire.

Early mormaers or earls

The first Mormaer of Mar is usually regarded as Ruadrí (fl. 1131), mentioned in the Book of Deer. Some modern sources give earlier mormaers, i.e. Muirchertach (Latinized as Martachus) and Gartnait (sometimes Gratnach), mentioned respectively in charters of the reigns of king Máel Coluim III (relating to the Céli Dé establishment of Loch Leven) and king Alexander I (relating to the monastic establishment of Scone), though in these cases certain identification with a particular province is difficult. The accounts of the Battle of Clontarf in some of the Irish annals name "Domnall son of Eimen son of Cainnech", Mormaer of Mar in Alba", as among those killed in 1014 alongside Brian Boru.

The Mormaerdom comprised the larger portion of modern Aberdeenshire, extending from north of the River Don southward to the Mounth hills.[6] Its principal seats were Migvie and Doune of Invernochty. The Mormaerdom may initially have alternated between two kin-groups, represented respectively by Morggán, and by Gille Críst. Gilchrist succeeded Morgund, but was himself succeeded by Donnchadh (Duncan), son of Morgund. On the other hand, we do not know Gilchrist's parentage, and chronologically he could have been an elder brother of Donnchadh.

No definite succession of earls appears till the 13th century, and from the middle of the 13th century the earls were recognized as among "the seven earls of Scotland".[6] There was a settlement in around 1230 between Donnchadh and Thomas Durward, grandson, apparently, of Gilchrist, by which Durward had, it is said, £300 of land, a very large amount, which was scattered around the earldom, particularly at Fichlie, near Kildrummy, and Lumphanan in the lowland area. He also had Urquhart, but that probably had nothing to do with the earldom. Donnchadh got the title of Mormaer and the wealthier and militarily more useful upland parts of Mar. Earl Thomas died childless in 1374, but the earldom passed via Donnchadh's daughter Margaret to her husband William, Earl of Douglas.[6]

15th century

While the eleventh (by some counts) holder of the title, William and Margaret's daughter Isabel Douglas, Countess of Mar, was alone at the Kildrummy Castle, Alexander Stewart entered it and forced her to sign a charter on 12 August 1404 yielding the earldom to him and his heirs. She revoked the charter later that year, but on marrying him, she gave him the earldom for life with remainder to her heirs. The King confirmed her last action the next year.[6]

In 1426, Stewart resigned the title so that he could be granted a new one by the King, the new title being more "legitimate". The King did so, but specified that the earldom and associated lands would revert to the Crown upon the death of the Earl. In 1435, the Earl died, and Robert, Lord Erskine claimed the title, but the King claimed its lands under the specifications of reversion made in the patent. The issue remained unresolved until 1457, when James II obtained a court order declaring the lands as crown possessions. Thereafter, he bestowed the title on his son John, who died without heirs in 1479. It was next granted to James' other son, Alexander, Duke of Albany, but the title was then declared forfeit because of Alexander's alliances with the English. James III created his son John Earl of Mar in 1486, upon whose death in 1503 the title became extinct again.[6]

16th–18th centuries

The title was once again created in 1562, for James, Earl of Moray, son of James V, but he, too, could not produce a qualified heir. Moray rebelled in 1565 (see Chaseabout Raid) in protest at the marriage of Mary, Queen of Scots, and Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley. Consequently, Queen Mary restored (or created) the earldom of Mar for John, Lord Erskine, heir to the Lord Erskine, heir of the ancient Earls through a cousin of Isabel, who quarrelled with James II about the Earldom. His son, also named John, recovered the Mar estates, alienated by the Crown during the long period that his family had been out of possession.[6] John, the 23rd (or 6th Earl counting from 1565) was attainted for rebellion in 1716 (he was also created Duke of Mar in the Jacobite Peerages of Scotland and Ireland, and Earl of Mar in the Jacobite Peerage of England), and the Earldom remained forfeit for over a century.

19th century

In 1824, the Earldom was finally restored by Act of Parliament (5 Geo. IV c. 59) to John Francis Erskine, the heir of the attainted Earl, in his 83rd year. His grandson, the ninth Earl, successfully claimed inheritance the earldom of Kellie and associated titles in 1835.

At the death of the 26th Earl of Mar and eleventh Earl of Kellie in 1866, the Earldom of Kellie and the family's estates passed to Walter Erskine, the cousin of the late Earl, and his heir male. Meanwhile, it was assumed that the Earldom of Mar passed to John Francis Goodeve, the late Earl's nephew, and his heir general. Goodeve changed his name to Goodeve Erskine; his claim was agreed upon by all. He even participated in the election of representative peers for the Peerage of Scotland. However, the Earl of Kellie submitted a petition to the House of Lords asking that the Earldom of Mar be declared his, dying before it could be considered. His son, the thirteenth Earl of Kellie, renewed the petition, and the Lords referred it to their Committee on Privileges. The petition made a number of claims:

  • The original Earldom of Mar was a territorial title rather than a title of peerage and was therefore "indivisible." (In other words, the territory could not be separated from the title.)
  • Alexander Stewart obtained a new Royal charter for the Earldom, rather than receiving it in right of his wife Isabel.
  • After the death of Alexander Stewart, his lands were passed to the Sovereign in accordance with the charter, and thereafter were disposed of by the Crown.
  • As the territorial Earldom was "indivisible", upon the termination of the territory, the earldom must have ended also.
  • Therefore, since the territorial Earldom had already become non-existent, the 1565 grant was not a revival of that title. Rather, it was a totally new creation, this time in the form of a peerage title.
  • Since the instrument of the 1565 grant cannot be found, the presumption ought to be that the Earldom passes to heirs-male, and not to heirs-general. Thus, the Earl of Kellie is entitled to the Earldom of Mar as he is the late Earl of Mar's heir male, while John Goodeve Erskine was an heir-general.

Goodeve Erskine had different ideas, however. He portrayed the Crown's takeover of the territorial Earldom not as pursuant to a charter, but rather as an act of tyranny. He argued:

  • James I, in a tyrannical act, seized the lands of Alexander Stewart, when these should have passed to Robert, Lord Erskine.
  • The "true" Earls never agreed to terminate their claim to the Earldom.
  • The 1565 grant was a restitution of the old territorial Earldom rather than a new creation.
  • Because the title is a restoration of a territorial Earldom, and because the territorial Earldom could pass to heirs-general, John Goodeve Erskine was the rightful heir, being the late Earl of Mar's heir-general.

The House of Lords Committee on Privileges ruled in 1875, to the dissatisfaction of many, that the Earldom of Mar was newly created in 1565, passed only to heirs-male, and therefore belonged to the Earl of Kellie, and not to Goodeve Erskine. The Lord Chancellor, Roundell Palmer, 1st Baron Selborne, declared it to be "final, right or wrong, and not to be questioned".[6]

However, there was a sentiment that the Lords had decided wrongly. A bill was brought to Parliament, to allow Goodeve Erskine to assume the title, and was passed without dissent. The Earldom of Mar Restitution Act 1885 (48 & 49 Vict.) declared that because of the doubts relating to the 1565 creation, it would be assumed that there are two Earldoms of Mar. The Earldom created in 1565 would be held by the Earl of Kellie. The ancient Earldom, however, was declared to be still in existence, and was given to John Goodeve Erskine. For the purposes of precedence, it is assumed that the Earldom held by Goodeve Erskine's heirs was created in 1404.[7]

Mormaers of Mar / early Earls

Earls of Mar, first creation (1404) (as deemed by Act of Parliament in 1885)

Eardom of Mar
(1st creation) [8][9]
Creation datec. 1014
MonarchKing Malcolm II
PeeragePeerage of Scotland
First holderRuadrí, Earl of Mar
Present holderMargaret of Mar,
31st Countess of Mar
Heir presumptiveSusan of Mar, Mistress of Mar
Remainder toheirs general of the body of the grantee
Subsidiary titlesLord Garioch (1320)
Other title: Lord Garioch (1320)

The heir presumptive is the present holder's daughter Susan Helen of Mar, Mistress of Mar (b. 1963).
The heir presumptive's heir presumptive is her daughter, Isabel Alice of Mar (b. 1991).

Line of Succession (selected)

Earls of Mar and Garioch, third creation (1459)

Earls of Mar and Garioch, fourth creation (1483)

Earls of Mar and Garioch, fifth creation (1486)

Earls of Mar, sixth creation (1562)

Earls of Mar, seventh creation (1565) (as so deemed by the House of Lords in 1875)

Earldom of Mar
(7th creation)
held with

Earldom of Kellie
Creation date1565
MonarchMary, Queen of Scots
PeeragePeerage of Scotland
First holderJohn Erskine, 1st and 18th Earl of Mar
Present holderJames Erskine,
14th Earl of Mar
Heir presumptiveHon. Alexander David Erskine
Remainder toheirs male of the body of the grantee
Subsidiary titlesEarl of Kellie, Viscount of Fentoun, Lord Erskine, Lord Erskine of Dirleton
Other titles: Earl of Kellie (1619), Viscount of Fentoun (1606), Lord Erskine (1429) and Lord Erskine of Dirleton (1603)

The heir presumptive is the present holder's brother, the Hon. Alexander David Erskine, Master of Mar and Kellie (b. 1952).
The heir presumptive's heir apparent is his son Alexander Capel Erskine (b. 1979).

Line of Succession (selected)

  • John Francis Hervey Erskine, 13th Earl of Mar and 15th Earl of Kellie (1921–1993)

Family tree

Robert Erskine
1st Lord Erskine
13th Earl of Mar
(died 1452)
Thomas Erskine
2nd Lord Erskine
14th Earl of Mar

(died 1493)
Alexander Erskine
3rd Lord Erskine
15th Earl of Mar
(died 1509)
Robert Erskine
4th Lord Erskine
16th Earl of Mar
(died 1513)
John Erskine
5th Lord Erskine
17th Earl of Mar

(died 1552)
John Erskine
18th Earl of Mar
1st Earl of Mar

(died 1572)
John Erskine
19th Earl of Mar
2nd Earl of Mar

John Erskine
20th Earl of Mar
3rd Earl of Mar

John Erskine
21st Earl of Mar
4th Earl of Mar

(died 1668)
Charles Erskine
22nd Earl of Mar
5th Earl of Mar

John Erskine
23rd Earl of Mar
6th Earl of Mar

James Erskine,
Lord Grange

Thomas Erskine,
Lord Erskine

Lady Frances Erskine
(died 1776)
James Erskine
(died 1785)
John Erskine
24th Earl of Mar
7th Earl of Mar

John Erskine
25th Earl of Mar
8th Earl of Mar

Henry Erskine
John Erskine
26th Earl of Mar
9th Earl of Mar
11th Earl of Kellie

Lady Frances Erskine
(died 1842)
Walter Coningsby Erskine
10th Earl of Mar
12th Earl of Kellie

John Goodeve-Erskine
27th Earl of Mar
Lady Frances Goodeve
Walter Erskine
11th Earl of Mar
13th Earl of Kellie

John Goodeve-Erskine
28th Earl of Mar
Charles Young
Alice Young
Walter Erskine
12th Earl of Mar
14th Earl of Kellie

Lionel Erskine-Young
29th Earl of Mar
Charles Lane
John Erskine,
Lord Erskine

James of Mar
30th Earl of Mar

John Erskine
13th Earl of Mar
15th Earl of Kellie

David Charles of Mar,
Lord Garioch
Margaret of Mar
31st Countess of Mar

(born 1940)
James Erskine
14th Earl of Mar
16th Earl of Kellie

(born 1949)

"The Earl of Mar's Daughter" is a child ballad documented by Francis James Child.[14]

The Genesis song "Eleventh Earl of Mar" on their album Wind & Wuthering (1977) depicts the failure of the unsuccessful Jacobite campaign and the innocence of the Earl's young son.[15]

Mar is one of the provinces in the game Britannia.

See also


  1. This creation dating from 1404, recognizes Alexander Stewart as 12th earl. Some sources discount Stewart from this creation, lowering subsequent numbers by one.
  2. Other sources number from Robert, Lord Erskine's creation of 1435, raising subsequent numbers by five



  • Anderson, Alan Orr, Early Sources of Scottish History: AD 500–1286, 2 Vols (Edinburgh, 1922)
  • Burke's Peerage and Baronetage, 105th ed. (1978) ISBN (none)
  • Debrett's Peerage and Baronetage 147th ed. (2008) ISBN 978-1-870520-80-5
  • Oram Richard D., "The Earls and Earldom of Mar, c1150–1300", Steve Boardman and Alasdair Ross (eds.) The Exercise of Power in Medieval Scotland, c.1200–1500, (Dublin/Portland, 2003). pp. 46–66
  • Roberts, John L., Lost Kingdoms: Celtic Scotland in the Middle Ages, (Edinburgh, 1997)
  •  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Round, John Horace (1911). "Mar, Earldom of". In Chisholm, Hugh (ed.). Encyclopædia Britannica. 17 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 665–666.
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