The Hay Escutcheons

The Hay Legend

Arms of the Earls of Erroll from Debrett's Peerage 1823
"In the reign of King Kenneth III, about the year 980, when the Danes invaded Scotland, and prevailing in the battle of Luncarty, a country Scotsman with his two sons, of great strength and courage, having rural weapons, as the yokes of their plough and such plough furniture, stopped the Scots in their flight in a certain defile, and unbraiding them with cowardice, obliged them to rally, who with them renewed the battle and gave a total overthrow to the victorious Danes; and it is said by some, after the victory was obtained, the old man, lying on the ground, wounded and fatigued, cried 'Hay, Hay,' which word became a surname to his posterity."
From the 1823 edition of Debrett's Peerage (see footnote)

So begins Alexander Nisbet in 1722, and continues ~

"He and his sons being nobilitate, the King gave him ....... Argent three escutcheons Gules to intimate that the father and the two sons had been luckily the three shields of Scotland, and gave them as much land in the Carse of Gowrie as a falcon did fly over without lighting, which having flown a great way she lighted on a stone there called the Falcon Stone to this day.

"The circumstances of which story is not only perpetuate by the three escutcheons, but by the exterior ornaments of the achievement of the family of Errol ; having for crest on a wreath a falcon proper ; for supporters two men in country habits, holding the oxen yokes of a plough over their shoulders, and for motto serva jugum."

The Origins of the Hays

The battle of Luncarty, north of Perth, is believed to have been fought at what today is known as Denmark Field, but in the tenth century there were no armorial bearings, nor any kings awarding heraldic insignia to commemorate a warrior's deeds in battle. As to the origin of the name, this also is mythical, for there were no hereditary surnames in Scotland in the tenth century. (Fixed surnames began in France around the year 1000, came into England with the Norman Conquest, and arrived in Scotland circa 1124.)

Sir Iain Moncreiffe of that Ilk, father of the present Earl of Erroll, wrote of the origins ~

"Although settled in Scotland since 1160, the chiefs of the Hay clan derive their name from an original haie or stockade on the La Haye motte in the Cotentin peninsular of Normandy. Their arms Argent three escutcheons Gules have always been the same as those borne during the Middle Ages by the ancient Norman family of La Haye, seigneurs of le Mesnil-Geldouin, La Haye-Hue, La Haye-Belouze, Villebaudon and Beaucoudray, whose fiefs bordered that of Soules near St Lo. The first chief of the Scottish Hays, William de la Haye, Butler of Scotland to King Malcolm IV, the Maiden, was a nephew of Ranulph de Soules, Lord of Liddesdale and also Butler of Scotland, whose family became hereditary Butlers of Scotland but were forfeited for plotting to seize the throne during the Wars of Independence."

Beryl Platts in her Scottish Hazard (ISBN 0 906650 01X) places the origin a little earlier at La Haie, near Loos in West Flanders (as mentioned elsewhere on the pages of this website, many of the Cotentin "Normans" were migrants from Flanders and Hainault), where the seigneurs bore a single escutcheon. Now the feudal superiors of the seigneurs of La Haie were the constables of the castle of Lille, descendants of the famous Fleming Saswalo de Phalempin, and Mrs Platts, in her discussion of this family, continues ~
"Two of the family were in William the Conqueror's invasion army, and Ralph and his son Roger enjoyed considerable estates in the East Midlands and elsewhere. At the same time a Roger remained castellan of Lille . . . . . . His two grandsons, Reynold and Hugo, were married respectively to Matilda of Wavrin and Adelaide de Ghent. The Wavrin family . . . . . . . had for arms Azure an escutcheon Argent ~ that device echoed by the lord of La Haie, who must have been a kinsman.
"Is it possible that William de Hay was a second son of the marriage between Reynold and Matilda, inheriting his mother's maritagium of La Haie and her arms, as was the custom, but changing the tinctures to argent and gules because he was not Wavrin's direct heir?"
And changing not only the tinctures but also the number of escutcheons on the shield? Perhaps not. It is, of course, possible that this is how the Hay of Erroll arms evolved, but on balance it is probably safe only to say that the blood connections appear a reasonable proposition but remain conjectural.

William married a Celtic heiress, Eva, and the legend of the lands carved out by a falcon's flight may have come from her family. The ox-yoke weapon from the battle story is borne today by the two supporters in the Earl of Erroll's armorial achievement (as shown in the old Debrett illustration above), and is also a personal badge of the Earl as Chief of Clan Hay. The energetic falcon appears in the Earl's crest and also in the Hay clansman's badge shown here, where it is seen encircled by the motto Serva jugum (keep the yoke).

William's great-great-grandson, Sir Gilbert, 5th feudal Baron of Erroll, one of the heroes of Bannockburn, was created the Hereditary Great Constable of Scotland (now the Lord High Constable of Scotland).

Footnote ~ The shape of the shield and of its charges is discussed in the series on Classical Heraldry. The spelling of Erroll was standardised quite late, as was the spelling of most names in the British Isles, so the shorter version "Errol" used by this edition of Debrett's Peerage should not be treated as authoritative.

Volume II ~ No. 1 ~ De Vere
Mists of Antiquity ~ Volume I ~ Index
Volume II ~ No.3 ~ Bertie
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