A highlight of the Clan Hay Society’s lecture programme, featured monthly via Zoom, was the talk given by Professor Steve Murdoch of the University of St Andrews, entitled Clan Hay in Scandinavia and Northern Europe.
A Doric speaking native of Aberdeenshire, Steve was educated at the University of Aberdeen, where he achieved an MA and then a PhD. Several post-doctoral fellowships followed before he embarked on a lengthy academic career at the University of St Andrews, culminating in his appointment as Professor of Early Modern History. He has since taken up a visiting professor post at the University of the Highlands and Islands in Inverness. He is a fluent Gaelic and Swedish speaker and has made Scotland’s relationship with northern Europe a specialism in recent years. His work in the field is very extensive and includes his magnum opus, The Terror of the Seas? Scotland’s Maritime Warfare 1513-1713.
His lecture on Clan Hay’s northern diaspora covers broadly the period from 1580 to 1707. Of course, Scotland relations with northern Europe have been widely discussed in the past, from the late Professor Gordon Donaldson’s studies of Scotland and Norway, to Russian historians’ work on their own country’s relations with Scotland, and much work on Scotland and its relationships with the German, Hanseatic and Flemish ports. But it wasn’t until Steve and his wife Dr Alexia Grosjean began to investigate our connections to Scandinavia more particularly to Sweden that Scotland’s impact on the region came to be more widely understood. In the course of their work, Alexia and Steve have created a comprehensive and ever developing database of Scots in northern Europe, which they have admirably made publicly available, free of charge. That database is very revealing in terms of the extensive influence of the Hays abroad during the period in question.
The first surprising fact is the extent of Scottish influence. It has always been assumed that the biggest influence the British Isles exerted abroad would come from England: something that has more to do with English perceptions of their own exceptionalism than actual evidence. Steve’s work signals clearly that Scottish influence in northern Europe outperformed that of the English by a factor of more than five to one. Of these, the biggest single group were senior military and naval officers, where the Hays had a particularly heavy impact, followed by merchants and traders. The major Scottish communities that emerged were in Gothenberg, Stockholm, Bergen and in Turku, in modern day Finland, but which was then part of the kingdom of Sweden.
The marriage of King James VI’s daughter Elizabeth, who married the Elector Palatine and achieves lasting fame as the ‘Winter Queen’ of Bohemia and as the ancestor of the present British royal family, seems to have provided much of the motivation for some of the soldiers. Concern for the Scots princess, born at Dunfermline Palace in 1596, is expressed by Scots officer Robert Munro, writing in 1637: he says he came to the northern war for many reasons, but mainly “for the libertie of the daughter of our most dread sovereign, the distressed Queen of Bohemia and her princelie issue; next for the libertie of our distressed brethren in Christ.”
The diplomatic impact of the Hays in Europe was considerable. James Hay of Kingask was created first Earl of Carlisle in the Peerage of England by King James VI after his accession to the English throne, although Hay himself was entirely Scots and accompanied the king to London as a trusted adviser. He is widely regarded as one of the three great Scots diplomats of his age. He raised a regiment of Englishmen to lead them to the (then) Dutch Republic in 1624. In the same era, 13700 Scots (compared to a paltry 6000 English) entered the service of Christian IV of Denmark. Hay is one of the two most prominent names among these men, who mainly served in either Mackay’s Regiment, or in the regiment raised by Alexander Lindsay, Lord Spynie, both of which were intriguingly Highland regiments. Among the most prominent Scots involved were John Hay, regimental surgeon, and a mysterious figure called Sanders (Alexander) Hay, who appears repeatedly, first as a lieutenant and then as a captain. Among the more prominent Hays present were Colonel George Hay of Kinfauns, who raised 2000 Scots for the Dutch Republic in 1629, including a large number of Hays among his officers. This is the man who is better known as the second Earl of Kinnoull, to which title he succeeded in 1633. In total, 15 Scottish generals served in the Swedish service between 1629 and 1648, commanding some 30000 Scottish troops.
Significant numbers of these expatriate soldiers, academics, clergy and merchants were Hays, whose descendants are found to this day in Scandinavia, the Baltic states, Holland, France and Flanders.
We are grateful to Steve for a stimulating and enlightening evening as he walked us through this fascinating and little understood part of our family history.