Reflecting Visit Scotland’s theme for 2021 of ‘Coasts and Waterways’ Clan Hay’s annual gathering next year will focus on the family’s historic lands on the coastline north of Aberdeen.

Slains Castle, hotbed of Jacobite activity

The Jacobites (from the Latin Jacobus, meaning James) take their name from King James VII, who was overthrown by the Glorious Revolution of 1688 and supplanted by his daughter and her husband, William of Orange.  Ultimately the Glorious Revolution led to the accession to the throne of the House of Hanover and the Jacobites continued to fight for the rights of Scotland’s ancient historic royal dynasty, now exiled in Europe, well into the 18th century.

Marshal James Keith

North East Scotland was a stronghold of Jacobite support.  Large congregations in the North East continued to adhere to the Episcopal church, which was traditionally Jacobite in sympathy, long after most of Scotland had become firmly Presbyterian.  Furthermore, recent academic work on the Jacobite movement has shown that its support owed much to opposition to the recent union with England, which was strong in the North East: situated hundreds of miles from the English border, North-East Scots saw little benefit in it.

The 13th Earl of Erroll, based at Slains Castle on the Aberdeenshire coast, was a virulent opponent of the Union and one of the staunchest Jacobites of his time.  Likewise, his mother, the widowed Countess of Erroll, was a sister of the Jacobite Duke of Perth, one of the principal champions of the Stuart dynasty.  The coastline of Slains and Cruden is studded with hidden coves and anchorages where people could come and go in secret, and Slains Castle became a principal base for Jacobite agents pressing the Stuart cause, notably the famous Colonel Nathaniel Hooke, whose thrilling life-story might have come straight from the pages of Sir Walter Scott.

The 13th earl, who never enjoyed good health, died in 1717, succeeded by his redoubtable sister Mary, who became Countess of Erroll in her own right.  Countess Mary held the title for more than 40 years, in which time she never wavered in her support for the Stuarts.  During the last Jacobite rebellion of 1745, although nearing 70 years of age, she personally mustered her clansmen and tenants to fight for Bonnie Prince Charlie, sending them into battle under the command of her Chamberlain, William Moir.

George Keith, 10th Earl Marischal

Immediately to the north, the coastal parishes were the property of Clan Keith, whose chief was hereditary Earl Marischal of Scotland.  George Keith, 10th Earl Marischal, and his brother Field Marshal James Keith, were among the ablest and most committed of Jacobites, who paid the ultimate price for their loyalty.  Where the Hays of Erroll played a careful diplomatic game and consequently kept possession of their lands and titles, the Keiths did not.  The Earl Marischal was deprived and exiled after the Jacobite rebellion of 1715.  Both he and his brother James spent the rest of their lives successfully leading European armies, notably in the service of Empress Elizabeth of Russia and King Peter the Great of Prussia.  Marshal Keith was killed at the Battle of Hochkirch in 1758.  James Keith lived a fascinating life, living in Russia, Austria, France and Spain before settling down in Frederick the Great’s service.  His brother the Earl Marischal was permitted to buy back his estate of Inverugie in 1774, but he found himself unable to fit into the new Scotland of the Enlightenment, so different from what he remembered, and he quickly returned to Berlin, where he died in 1778.

Alexander, 4th Lord Forbes of Pitsligo. A French portrait dated 1720

Alexander, fourth Lord Forbes of Pitsligo, was a theologian and philosopher whose significant academic achievement has been entirely eclipsed by his Jacobite activity.  Pitsligo’s story is one of such romance that it has entered the folklore of North East Scotland and tales abound of his adventures.  Unlike many of his neighbours, he did not flee to Europe after the Forty-Five, but stayed around his own lands, where his own folk protected and sheltered him, not one of them succumbing to the temptation to betray him for the £1000 price the government put on his head.  He constructed a variety of hideouts on the coast and on the moor that lies inland from Pitsligo Castle.  When he died in 1762, over 10000 attended his funeral at Rosehearty and government officers were astonished so many had known of his whereabouts, yet none had turned him in.

Moving further up the coast, the Chiefs of Clan Fraser at Philorth did not join their cousins the Highland Frasers in the Jacobite movement, but stayed well out of politics during this period.  The Frasers of Inverallochy, however, were enthusiastically involved.  Young Charles Fraser of Inverallochy was grievously wounded at the Battle of Culloden.  HRH the Duke of Cumberland (who would attract the unenviable nickname of ‘Butcher’ Cumberland for his behaviour here) ordered a young soldier to shoot the dying Jacobite officer.  The young soldier politely refused, saying ‘my commission is at your royal highness’s disposal, but I am a soldier, not a murderer.’  Cumberland had young Inverallochy shot by a more compliant subordinate, but the soldier who refused his order was the then 18 year old James Wolfe, who would later achieve immortal memory as General James Wolfe of Quebec.

© Alan Hay 2020