Where In The World Is Strathearn?

Strathearn from Cairnie

[Editor's Note: the following is a guest post from David McNicoll of Highland Experience Scotland which specializes in heritage travel in Scotland.]

On the 29th of April and with the world watching, Prince William, second in line to the British throne was married at Westminster Abbey amid all the usual royal pomp and ceremony. As is customary on such occasions the Queen gifted a set of titles to the newly married prince – the Duke of Cambridge and the Earl of Strathearn. The Earldom of Strathearn in central Scotland is one of the oldest in the gift of the crown, dating back almost 1200 years; and this entitlement reconnects the modern royal family with their ancient Scottish roots.

The valley of the River Earn, a tributary of the mighty River Tay has since time immemorial been a key part of the kingdom of Scotland, and a fundamental piece in the jigsaw that came together to form the country in the 9th century. When King Kenneth I forged the realm of Alba, the forerunner of Scotland in 843 by unifying the Picts and the Gaels, he set up his own base in the heart of this fertile and rich part of the county building a grand palace at Forteviot. The area already had a strong royal connection: around 800 the Dupplin Cross, an impressive carved stone cross (now in St Serf’s church Dunning) was erected and dedicated to King Causantin, one of the last Pictish rulers.

As Scotland developed it was divided into several provinces, each ruled over by a Mormaer – with almost sub-regal powers to administer justice, exact taxes and raise armed forces in their own fiefdom. We don’t know who the earliest mormaers were, how the land was divided and whether whole new dynasties were erected or simply continued from a more ancient regime prior to the rule of Kenneth I; but, around the 12th century they start to appear in the historical documents often witnessing documents or fighting alongside the king. Strathearn was one such province – stretching from the religious centre at Abernethy in the east to the high peaks around Loch Earn in the west; a land straddling both Highland and Lowland and key to the prosperity of the medieval nation.

The earliest known (but not the first) Mormaer of Strathearn was Maol Íosa I who was certainly alive in 1115, when he witnessed a charter being signed. The name is Gaelic which suggests that his family was elevated to the position a little over a hundred years earlier when many Gaelic warlords and opportunists from the west and Ireland were given high ranked position in what was traditionally Pictish territory. This was part of the process of Gaelic-isation which transformed Scotland in the middle ages. These mormaers were more obedient to the king as they owed their position to the crown, and thus easier to manage and more likely to stay ‘on message’.

Not that they always stayed ‘on message’ or made the right call when it came to the crunch. The last of the Strathearn dynasty was Maol Íosa V, who chose the wrong side in a royal dispute over the throne in 1334 following the death of Robert the Bruce. The new king David II stripped Maol of his title and gave it to Maurice de Moravia. By this time, the Scottish mormaers were using the English title Earl (the British equivalent of the Continental ‘Count’). Maurice de Moravia was killed at the Battle of Neville’s Cross in 1346 and had no legitimate children. The earldom therefore returned to the Crown, and into the possession of Robert Stewart (later King Robert II).

The title remained in Stewart hands until marriage saw it fall briefly into the procession of the Graham family. However, the Crown took advantage of the young earl’s minority and deprived him of his rights (although he would later become Earl of Mentieth). Since 1437 the title has been in the gift of the reigning monarch, and retained as a title for princes of the blood royal only. When James VI of Scotland became the king of England the Scottish titles were joined with the English ones available for the now ‘British’ royal family (Irish titles were part of the English schedule).

Prince William is the first member of the Royal House of Windsor to hold the title, and when in Scotland he will be officially His Royal Highness the Earl of Strathearn (in the same way his father is The Duke of Rothesay and not Prince of Wales). It is an important function of the monarchy to connect the people to their past and their heritage, and the confirmation of one of Scotland’s most antique positions upon the man who will one day be king plays a huge part in that continuity.

For more info please visit http://www.highlandexperience-usa.com.

Photo: Strathearn from Cairnie, Scotland via Wikimedia Commons used under Creative Commons License 3.0.

©2011, copyright Thomas MacEntee

Heritage Travel with Highland Experience Scotland

East Lomond Hill, Scotland

[Editor's Note: the following is a guest post from David McNicoll of Highland Experience Scotland which specializes in heritage travel in Scotland.]

There is something very cathartic about walking in the footsteps of your ancestors; a sense of enjoying the collective memory of their time, and being part of the continuum. Robert Louis Stevenson, the Scottish author once said that the Scots carry the past with them in a way that few others could understand; and it’s very true. This is very Celtic trait, and we’ve taken it to the far corners of the globe. The homing beacon is, however, a strong instinct – the desire to know where we came from, and to understand the lives and the world our forefathers inhabited is part of that psyche.

Scotland is a patchwork nation, from the Borderlands to the Viking north, from the Industrial Midlands to the Gaelic west: a varied and disparate people, but all strands in the tartan weave that makes us unique. So, whether your ancestors built the great ships in Glasgow, gutted herring on the quays of Aberdeen, wove the Jute that made Dundee rich or ploughed the heathland until it bloomed, they are part of the nation’s story, the very fabric of her tale. Ancestral research is more, much more than a family tree and a portfolio of certificates: it’s about real people; their lives, the world they lived in, loved ones, and the way they departed. The records and census reports are the beginning of the trail, the start of the adventure that will lead you to discover the past, and bring it to life.

For too long family heritage tourism has laboured among the minutia of birth certificates, grave rubbings and dusty maps. It should be an adventure, like jumping into a time-machine and seeing the world through the eyes of your forebears. This is what we try to do. Every genealogy tells a story and plays a part in the making of Scotland. Today, ancestral tourism is about understanding the past, following in footsteps and bringing to life not only individuals but the world around them. Nostalgia tugs hard at the Celtic heartstrings, and we aim to create a vacation package that allows you both to examine old documents and see where your forebears lived, but also to reconstruct the time they lived and worked in, and perhaps lead you to understand why they left Scotland behind.

For more info please visit http://www.highlandexperience-usa.com.

Photo: East Lomond Hill, Scotland via Wikimedia Commons used under Creative Commons License 3.0.

©2011, copyright Thomas MacEntee