Origin of Clan Hay – The Legend of Luncarty

Hay Clan Crest

Hay Clan Crest

There are two ways to approach the origins of Clan Hay. The first is the Legend of Luncarty, which is an important Hay tradition, while the second is based on historical research, albeit that inconsistencies tend to occur after so many centuries. Hector Boece, the Scottish academic, wrote the first known account of the Luncarty legend in his Scotorium Historia, which was initially published in 1525, with a second edition being published posthumously in 1575. There are numerous versions of the legend that are based upon Boece’s work but which include various embellishments. In contrast, George Buchanan‘s account in his Rerum Scoticarum Historia, published in 1582 and derived from Boece’s work, omits any reference to the hawk’s flight delineating the land grant. In 2010, Sutton published a hypertext edition, in both Latin and English, of Boece’s 1575 edition of the Historia, thus providing ready access to his original account of the legend . The version of the legend quoted below is from John Burke (genealogist)’s “Peerage”,1832 edition .

“The traditional origin of the noble house of Hay is thus related:— In the reign of Kenneth II, anno 980, the Danes, who had invaded Scotland, having prevailed, at the battle of Luncarty, near Perth, were pursuing the flying Scots, from the field, when a countryman and his two sons appeared in a narrow pass, through which the vanquished were hurrying, and impeded for a moment their flight. “What,” said the rustic, “had you rather be slaughtered by your merciless foes, than die honorably in the field; come, rally, rally!” and he headed the fugitives, brandishing his ploughshare, and crying out, that help was at hand: the Danes, believing that a fresh army was falling upon them, fled in confusion, and the Scots thus recovered the laurel which they had lost, and freed their country from servitude. The battle being won, the old man, afterwards known by the name of Hay, was brought to the king, who, assembling a parliament at Scone, gave to the said Hay and his sons, as a just reward for their valour, so much land on the river Tay, in the district of Gowrie, as a falcon from a man’s hand flew over till it settled; which being six miles in length, was afterwards called Errol; and the king being desirous to elevate Hay and his sons from their humble rank in life, to the order of nobility, his majesty assigned them a coat of arms, which was argent, three escutcheons, gules, to intimate that the father and two sons had been the three fortunate shields of Scotland.”

The reliability of the legend has often been challenged. For instance, the Scottish historian John Hill Burton strongly suspected the battle of Luncarty to be an invention of Hector Boece, and Sir James Balfour Paul, noting that armorial bearings did not occur in Scotland till long after 980 (when the battle is said to have taken place), referred to Hector Beoce as “an incorrigible old liar” in this and other stories. Cosmo Innes, further noting that surnames did not occur in Scotland till long after 980, states that the name Hay has as origin a place name in Normandy. .


About Amanda Moffet

I run www.scotclans.com with Rodger Moffet. Live in Edinburgh and love travelling around Scotland gathering stories.

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