Mar was one of the original seven provinces of Scotland, later called earldoms. The rulers of the provinces, who had very considerable independence and power, were responsible for electing the king.
In his book The Province of Mar, Dr. W. Douglas Simpson tells us that the ancient Province of Mar comprised the district between the rivers Dee and Don, with the upper and middle basins of both, including the north bank of the Don as far eastwards as the western boundary of the parish of Inverurie, and the south bank of the Dee down to the Water of Feugh. In upper Deeside the watershed of the Tanner and Esk divided Mar from Angus; in middle Deeside, from medieval times the parish of Banchory-Ternan, bounded westwards by the Water of Canny and to the east by the parish of Drumoak, seems to have formed a broad salient of Mearns on the north bank of the river. In upper Donside, where open country extends northwards from Kildrummy into Strathbogie, the march separating Mar from Strathbogie appears to have been drawn on the parochial boundary between Clova and Auchindoir; but in certain early writs Auchindoir is included in the parish of Kildrummy. Further east the parishes of Kearn and Clatt, with Drumminor Castle, are variously described as belonging to Mar and to the Garioch, but seem more frequently to have been counted in the Garioch. Some authorities have asserted that the Garioch was bounded to the west by the burn that runs by Drumminor Castle, making Drumminor and all about it part of Mar rather than part of the Garioch. The coast of Mar was limited to the two miles of sandy beach between the mouths of the Dee and the Don, containing the royal burgh of Aberdeen with, in the words of the 1296 itinerary of King Edward I, its “bone chastelle et bone ville sur la meer”.
The Mar area is about sixty miles long and about eight miles broad between the Dee and the Don, and about sixteen miles broad in the higher ground. From the time of the 1st Earl of Mar this enormous area of country was for about four hundred years administratively divided into five great lordships, each with its capital messuage.
In the well known words of the distinguished Scottish judge and historian Lord Hailes (1726-1792), “the origin of the Earls of Mar is lost in antiquity.” The genealogist John Riddell (1785-1862), arguably the most eminent of all Scottish peerage lawyers, asserted that the Earldom of Mar “is the oldest Scottish Earldom by descent, as it is in many respects the most remarkable in the Empire, for the direct heir-at-law is the representative, though an illustrious ancestry, of personages who were Earls of Mar ab initio. The Earldom of Mar may be justly considered the premier Earldom of Scotland.” It is one of the oldest extant titles in the whole of Europe.
Throughout its history Mar has been linked with the Earldom or Lordship of Garioch. The Garioch has an area of about 200 square miles. The Earldom of Garioch was created by King Malcolm IV, who in 1160 bestowed it upon his brother, David, Earl of Huntingdon, the political object being almost certainly to consolidate royal power in the district. Further references to the Lordship of Garioch appear below under the entries for Gratney and Thomas, 7th and 9th Earls respectively. The present Countess of Mar is the 24th holder of the Lordship and therefore has the subsidiary title Lady Garioch. Her late brother, David, The Master of Mar, bore the courtesy title Lord Garioch; and Lady Mar’s private officer of arms bears the heraldic designation of Garioch Pursuivant.
In the Jacobite Peerage Lady Mar is the 11th Duchess of Mar as well as being Marchioness Erskine; Countess of Kildrummie; Viscountess Garioch; and Lady Alloa, Ferriton and Forrest.
THE TWO EARLDOMS OF MAR
For those who are interested in digging deeper into the history of Mar, some references are provided below. It might be helpful, here, however, to say a few words about the two Earldoms of Mar to dispel any possible confusion.
The present Countess of Mar holds the ancient Earldom of Mar, the Premier Earldom of Scotland. The 1565 Earldom of Mar, which is conjoined with the Earldom of Kellie, is a retrospective creation resulting from a decision by a committee of the House of Lords in 1875, before which time there is no record of it. It is held by a kinsman of Lady Mar’s but it should never be confused with the ancient Earldom of Mar, which is held by her alone and descends through her heirs. She is the Chief of the Name and Arms of Mar: her kinsman, the Earl of Mar (1565) & Kellie, is the Chief of the Name and Arms of Erskine.
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