STRATHBOGIE EARLS OF ATHOLL
by James E. Fargo, FSA Scot
During the time period of the first four Strathbogie earls, we know that Conan, the natural son of Earl Henry of Atholl and his half sister Fernelith inherited from his father, the lands of Glenerochy. His descendants, Ewen of Glenerochy and his son Angus through marriages acquired additional lands in Atholl. Andrew of Atholl’s marriage to the daughter of Ewen added additional lands to the family. Andrew was the father of Duncan, our first recognized chief. Duncan of Atholl was a strong supporter of Robert the Bruce and provided shelter to him and his supporters in the clan country after his defeat at the battle of Methven on June 19, 1306.
The first Strathbogie earl was John Comyn (c1218-1264) who married Ada, Countess of Atholl and in her right ruled the earldom. Ada (1221-1266) was the daughter of Fernelith, youngest daughter of Henry, third and last celtic earl of Atholl. Her father was Sir David Hastings, an Anglo-Norman knight.
John and Ada’s only son became the second earl, David I of Atholl (c1245-1270). Known as the "Crusader Earl", David joined the Crusade of the French King Louis IX in 1268 and died of the plague at the siege of Carthage (Tunis) in August 1270.
Their son, John Comyn of Strathbogie (c1266-1306) became the third earl and was a member of the Bruce faction supporting Robert the Bruce. He assisted in the coronation of Robert the Bruce at Scone on March 27, 1306. He was warden and Justiciar (minister) of Scotland. He was captured by the English after the battle of Methven on June 19th and sent to the Tower of London. He was hanged by King Edward I on November 7, 1306 for high treason on a gallows 30 feet higher than others due to his royal descent.
His son, David II (c1290-1326) was the fourth Strathbogie earl of Atholl and was initially a supporter of King Robert Bruce. His marriage to Jean Comyn, daughter of John Comyn, Lord of Badenoch and Comyn’s murder at the hands of Bruce’s men at the Church of the Greyfriars in Dumfries in 1306 certainly tested his loyalty but Bruce rewarded him for that loyalty in February 1312 and made him Constable of Scotland.
Believing that the King Edward II English army would relieve Stirling Castle and destroy Bruce’s army, he switched sides. During the night of June 23, 1314, Earl David II of Atholl (1290-1326) treacherously attacked Bruce’s supply depot in Cambuskenneth Abbey. The next day, Bruce defeated King Edward II’s army at Bannockburn. As a result the earl was banished, forfeited his office, titles and lands and fled to England. His office of Constable was given to Earl Gilbert de la Haye of Errol for his support at Bannockburn and that title still remains in the Hay family.
In 1316 the earldom of Atholl was inherited by John Campbell, son of Sir Neil Campbell by his wife Mary Bruce, sister of King Robert. Earl John Campbell began the building of Moulin Castle to consolidate his position in Atholl but was killed at the battle of Halidon Hill on July 19, 1333. Because he had no heirs the earldom reverted back to the Crown.
As there was little to no central authority in the earldom during this lawless period (1320-1330s) smaller Atholl families sought to unite with larger family groups for protection from ongoing conflicts between the political factions. As much of Atholl was in the absent hands of the Crown or earls, Andrew of Atholl (if still alive then) and his son Duncan of Atholl, our first recognized chief, could offer this protection.
David II’s son, David III (1309-1335) was the fifth Strathbogie earl of Atholl and continued to claim the forfeit earldom although he resided in England. The Treaty of Northampton in 1328 provided that no one could possess lands in Scotland unless they lived in Scotland so his decision to remain in England confirmed that his lands and titles were forfeit to the crown. This pushed David III to support the Balliol/Comyn faction as he hoped to have the earldom restored to him by Edward Balliol when he became King and deposed King David II, young son of Robert the Bruce. In 1332 he returned to Scotland with Edward Balliol and an English army and after victory over the Scots at Dupplin, his paternal inheritance was restored. He was given the office of Governor of Scotland under Balliol. His last offence against the house of Bruce was the siege of Killdrummy castle where Bruce’s sister had taken refuge. Mary was the wife of Sir Andrew Murray and he led 1,100 men up the east coast and in the forest of Culblean (Kilblain) near Braemar; Murray’s forces routed Strathbogie’s English army on November 30, 1335 and killed him. On hearing of his governor’s death, King Edward III set out for Scotland with an English army to punish and waste the countryside as he tried to capture King David II’s leading supporters. He commandeered Blair Castle in 1336 for his headquarters during his "stay" in Atholl.
His son, David IV of Strathbogie (c1332-1375) was the sixth and last of the Strathbogie earls to lay titular claim to the earldom from his estates in England.
Cowan, Samuel, "Three Celtic Earldoms", Edinburgh, 1909, pp. 17-21
Paton, Sir Noel, "The Descendants of Conan of Glenerochie", privately printed, 1873, p.4
Robertson, J.A., "The Earldom of Atholl", privately printed, 1860, pp.10, 18