George Hay, 1st Earl of Kinnoull (1570-1633)

The Hays of Leys are a very ancient cadet branch of the House of Erroll, descended from a younger son of David de la Haye, second Chief.  The lands of Leys are adjacent to the barony of Erroll in Perthshire and William, first of Leys, received this handsome property from his elder brother, Sir Gilbert de la Haye of Erroll.

Unlike their cousins of Erroll and Locherworth, the Hays of Leys led a quiet life in their early centuries and little is recorded of them except a lengthy series of business transactions in the form of charters and sasines.  They were much associated with their close cousins and chiefs, featuring frequently as witnesses to charters of the Hays of Erroll, and several served as Baillies of the Barony of Erroll.  William, fourth laird, was reluctantly dragged into the War of Independence, initially as a supporter of the elder Robert the Bruce.  He was taken prisoner at the Battle of Dunbar and sent to Berkhampstead Castle in the south of England, where he swore fealty to Edward I of England on 28 August 1296.  Despatched back to Scotland, he became Edward’s Warden of Ross and Sheriff of Dingwall.  He was subsequently recalled by Edward and accompanied him on an expedition to Flanders pressing the English king’s continental interests.  Fortunately for the family’s future, his son acquitted himself rather better, and adhered to Bruce from 1304.

Robert Hay-Drummond, Archbishop of York

Edmund, seventh of Leys, died in 1451 to be succeeded by his elder son, another Edmund, from whom subsequent Hays of Leys descend.  His younger son, Peter, acquired the lands and barony of Megginch and founded a powerful cadet branch which includes the Hays of Megginch, Seggieden, Pitfour and the Earls of Kinnoull.

The Megginch line quickly eclipsed their chieftains of Leys in power and influence, particularly in the persons of the son and nephew of the fifth laird.  James Hay of Kingask, a grandson of Peter, fourth laird, was an ambitious man who attracted the attention of King James VI in Edinburgh and later accompanied that monarch to England when he succeeded to the throne there in 1603.  In London, his career prospered, and he ended up as a Knight of the Garter and Earl of Carlisle.

It was this man who introduced his young cousin to court circles.  George Hay was the fifth son of the fifth laird of Megginch, an able man who, supported by his cousin’s patronage, raised himself by his extraordinary ability and sheer hard work to become first Earl of Kinnoull and Lord Chancellor of Scotland.  George Hay’s business career is also of interest.  He developed a very early ironworks in the Highlands and during his career achieved a virtual monopoly in the glass industry in the British Isles.  Both as a politician and as a businessman, he was far ahead of his time.

Thomas Robert Hay, 11th Earl of Kinnoull

The third earl was involved pro Royalist intrigues during the Civil War and died in Orkney in 1650 while trying to orchestrate a rising from there.  His brother, the fourth earl, was a Cavalier of heroic proportions, a loyal supporter of the Marquis of Montrose and during the troubles of the 1640s, became one of the small group of people who have escaped from Edinburgh Castle, in his case not once, but twice.  The first earl’s financial acumen was not inherited by his descendants, however, and by the time of the fifth and sixth earls the family was on the brink of destitution.

The seventh and eighth earls were both suspected of Jacobite sympathies and imprisoned briefly during the panic induced by the rebellion of 1715.  The ninth earl was a distinguished academic and churchman, and the 10th and 11th earls both served as Lord Lyon King of Arms, their combined tenures occupying a staggering 70 years and only ending with the death of the 11th earl in 1866.  The present head of this family is Charles William Harley Hay, 16th Earl of Kinnoull (b. 1962.)

The Hays of Megginch continued until the property was sold to the Drummonds by Sir George Hay, (d. 1670) in whose hands it remains today.  Their cadets the Hays of Pitfour continued until the sale of Pitfour Castle at the turn of the 19th century.  From a younger son of this family descend the Hays of Seggieden, now represented by Andrew Drummond-Hay of Seggieden.

The elder branch of Leys continued in the male line until the death of David Balfour-Hay of Leys in 1868.  He was succeeded by his sister, Mrs Paterson of Carpow and from this time, the family became known as Paterson-Balfour-Hay of Carpow, Leys and Randerstone.  The present Chieftain is Dominic Hay of Leys.

© Alan Hay 2010