This is said to be a descriptive name, deriving from the Gaelic, ‘buidhe’, meaning ‘fair’ or ‘yellow’. The original fair-haired man is said to have been Robert, nephew of Walter, the first High Steward of Scotland. This is challenged by Anderson, who points out that, as the High Stewards and his entourage were of Norman origin, they would be unlikely to use a Celtic nickname for one of their close family. He believes the name to be of Norman or Saxon origin. Black asserts that the first Boyds were vassals of the Norman family of de Morvilles for their lands around Largs and Irvine. In Gaelic, ‘boid’ can mean ‘from Bute’.
Robertus de Boyd witnessed a contract between the Lord of Eglinton and the burgh of Irvine around 1205. Robert de Boyte is listed in the Ragman Roll of 1296, rendering homage to Edward I of England. Duncan Boyd was executed by the English in 1306 for supporting the cause of Scottish independence. Sir Robert Boyd was a staunch supporter of Bruce and was one of the commanders at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314. His gallantry on the field of battle was rewarded by lands which were confiscated from the Balliols, including Kilmarnock, Bondington and other substantial holdings in Ayrshire.
The fortunes of the family continued to advance and they were raised to the peerage under the title, ‘Lord Boyd of Kilmarnock’ by James II. Lord Boyd was a trusted royal officer, and on the death of James II he was appointed one of the regents to the young James III, while his younger brother was appointed military tutor to the young king. The influence of the Boyd brothers on their young charge was considerable. Lord Boyd was appointed Great Chamberlain, and his son, Thomas, was married to Princess Mary, the king’s sister, with the title of ‘Earl of Arran’.
As the family had risen so high, it is not surprising that they made many powerful enemies. Those opposed to the Boyds began to conspire against them, and eventually persuaded the king that the ambition of this family was a threat to the throne itself. In 1469, Lord Boyd, his son, the Earl of Arran, and his brother, Alexander Boyd, were summoned to appear before the king and Parliament to answer charges brought against them. Lord Boyd, realising that appearance in Edinburgh would result in his death, made his escape to England. Sir Alexander, who was already a sick man, was brought before Parliament, and despite making a spirited defence he was executed for treason. The Earl of Arran had been abroad on state business, and on learning of the total reversal of his family’s fortunes he accepted his exile, and was well received at royal courts throughout Europe. The king, who had now abandoned entirely his former mentors, summoned his sister back to Scotland, inducing her to come on the pretence that he might yet forgive her husband. The deluded princess returned, and was promptly detained by her brother who procured an annulment of her marriage.
The family were restored to royal favour when Robert, a descendant of the younger son of the first Lord Boyd, received confirmation from Mary, Queen of Scots, of all the estates, honours and dignities of the family, with the title of ‘Lord Boyd’. After the queen’s escape from Loch Leven Castle, Lord Boyd was one of the first to join her at Hamilton, and fought at the Battle of Langside. He thereafter made many visits to her during her captivity in England. He died in 1590. The family adhered to the cause of the king during the civil war, and they received their reward after the Restoration when William, Lord Boyd, was created Earl of Kilmarnock in 1661. The third Earl opposed the Stuart claim during the rising of 1715 and commanded a regiment of Ayrshire volunteers. His son, the fourth Earl, did not share his father’s sympathies and fought for Prince Charles Edward Stuart, the ‘Young Pretender’, who appointed him a member of the Privy Council with the rank of general. He fought at the Battle of Culloden where he was captured. He was conveyed to the Tower of London and was beheaded on Tower Hill on 18 August 1746. All the Boyd titles were declared forfeit, but his eldest son succeeded through his mother to the earldom of Erroll in 1758, and assumed the name of Hay.
The eighteenth Earl of Erroll was created Baron Kilmarnock in the peerage of the United Kingdom in 1831. The twenty-second Earl of Erroll died in Kenya in 1941 leaving a daughter who, although entitled to succeed to the Scottish earldom of Erroll and the chiefship of Clan Hay, was excluded from the barony of Kilmarnock which, as a United Kingdom title, could only pass to males. Consequently, the brother of the twenty-second Earl resumed the name of Boyd and succeeded to the barony. The present chief is the seventh Lord Kilmarnock.