This family descend from a member of the de La Haye, powerful Norman princes who followed William the Conqueror to England in 1066. (William de La Haye, cup bearer to Malcolm IV, was claimed as ancestor by Sir William Hay of Errol when he was raised to the peerage as Earl of Errol in 1453.) The lands of Errol in Perthshire were confirmed to William de Haya by charter around 1172. The fortunes of the family were secured when Sir Gilbert Hay became one of the faithful comrades-in-arms of Robert the Bruce, not only at the glory of Bannockburn, but sharing the hardships of the earlier campaigns. Gilbert was rewarded with the lands of Slains in Aberdeenshire, but more importantly with the office of Lord High Constable of Scotland. Hay was first created constable in 1309 and then, by charter dated 12 November 1314, the title was made hereditary. This dignity, which is still enjoyed by the present chief, gives the holder precedence in Scotland before every other hereditary honour, saving only the royal family itself. The Lord High Constable was responsible for the personal safety of the monarch, and was sword bearer at coronations. He maintained a ceremonial royal guard, called the Durward of Partisans, and has a theoretical jurisdiction over persons indicted for riot or crimes of bloodshed near the royal person.
Sir Thomas Hay, seventh Baron of Erroll, brought royal blood into the family when he married Elizabeth, daughter of Robert II. The family were also descended from Celtic Kings, through the marriages of David de La Hay to Ethna, daughter of the Earl of Strathearn, and of Gilbert, third Baron of Erroll, to Idoine, daughter of the Earl of Buchan. Another Sir Gilbert Hay fought for the cause of Joan of Arc and attended the coronation of Charles VII of France at Rheims. From this knight errant descend the Hays of Delgatie, whose castle near Turriff is now restored as the Clan Centre. Sir William Hay of Delgatie served with Montrose as chief of staff during his campaign on behalf of Charles I. On the defeat of the royalist party, he was captured and imprisoned, finally being executed in 1650. Delgatie, having shared the fate of his commander, was accorded a state funeral after the Restoration, and is buried in St Giles’ in Edinburgh.
The Hays did not embrace the Reformation, but in consort with other Catholic nobles, including the Gordons and the Red Douglases, negotiated with Philip II of Spain in the hope of bringing about an alliance. A campaign against the Protestant nobles, led by Argyll in 1594, ultimately led to James VI’s declaring both Erroll and Huntly rebels, and they went into exile. Slains Castle was taken and blown up under the personal supervision of the king, and it has remained a ruin ever since.
A brief period of exile convinced Erroll of the wisdom of converting to the reformed religion, and he returned to Scotland and to royal favour. The Hays remained loyal to the Stuarts, and came out in both the Jacobite risings of 1715 and 1745. The thirteenth Earl received the Order of the Thistle from James VIII, the ‘Old Pretender’. He was succeeded by his sister, Mary, who revelled in Jacobite intrigue, using the ruins of Slains Castle as a meeting point for Jacobite agents. She personally called out the Hays to fight for Bonnie Prince Charlie. On her death in 1758 the title passed to her great nephew, James Boyd, whose father, the Jacobite Earl of Kilmarnock, had been beheaded for treason in 1746. The Kilmarnock title had been forfeit for treason and James, in addition to the earldom of Erroll, assumed the surname of Hay and the chiefship of the clan.
The eighteenth Earl was Lord High Constable during George IV’s visit to Scotland in 1822, and he lavished a fortune on the affair, which nearly ruined him. The nineteenth Earl, William Hay, fought in the Crimea where he was wounded at the Battle of Alma in 1854. He was passionately concerned for the welfare of his people, and founded the fishing village of Port Erroll. He provided the hard-pressed fishermen with good housing at a low rent, and dealt generously with the many widows that this hazardous calling produced. His son, Major General Charles Hay, twentieth Earl, saw action in the Boer War and commanded the Household Cavalry and was lord-in-waiting to Edward VII.
Other branches of the family rose to prominence, including the Hays of Yester, who were to become the Marquesses of Tweeddale. They built the great Adam mansion of Yester near Gifford in East Lothian. In 1950 Diana, Countess of Erroll, founded the Clan Hay Society, which now has branches throughout the world. She was married to the Scottish herald, Sir Iain Moncreiffe of that Ilk Bt, and their son is the present chief