The legendary origin of the Hays is the stuff of fairy tales. In the year 971, Scotland was subjected to attack from Viking marauders who had crossed the North Sea and proceeded up the Tay estuary to Perth. King Kenneth II, resident at Scone, attempted to repel them, but his army was routed in an engagement at Luncarty, north of Perth. A farmer and his two sons, ploughing in a nearby field, had watched the proceedings, and these three men, all of huge physical stature, removed the yokes from their oxen and used them to bar the way of the fleeing Scots soldiery. The peasant and his sons rallied the fleeing troops and led them back to victory, driving the Danes into the Firth of Tay.
The king was delighted and insisted that the hero and his sons accompany him to Perth to receive suitable reward. From the top of Kinnoull Hill, the king released a falcon, having decreed that all the land encompassed by the falcon’s flight would become the property of the hero and his sons. The bird landed on a stone at St Madoes, and the peasant became a rich man overnight. The salient features of these stirring events were commemorated in his coat of arms, which included three bloodstained shields, the falcon which became their crest, the ox yoke adopted as the badge of the family, and two peasants who were the supporters.
It is a colourful and romantic tale, which has unfortunately little basis in fact. The original Hays were Normans, deriving their name from the barony of La Haye du Puits which they held in Normandy, which in turn takes its name from ‘Haga,’ the Old High German word for a defensive wall or hedge. Following the Norman Conquest of England, the Canmore Kings in Scotland looked with favour on the improvements the Normans introduced south of the border. They invited many Norman lords to settle in Scotland, including many bearing names which are today universally regarded as Scottish, like Bruce, Fraser, Gordon and Hay.
The first Hay recorded in Scotland was William, who was Pincerna, or Cup Bearer, to King Malcolm IV in 1160. There is some evidence that this position was quasi-hereditary, as he was the nephew of Ranulph de Soulis, the previous Pincerna, whose lands in France were separated from La Haye du Puits by only a small stream. It was either he or his son, another William, who married an indigenous Celtic heiress called Eva of Pitmilly and received the Barony of Erroll from King William the Lion in 1178. He is regarded as the first Chief of Clan Hay.
© Alan Hay 2010