Alexander Stewart, Earl of Buchan

Alexander Stewart, Earl of Buchan

name = Alexander Stewart
other_names = The Wolf of Badenoch,
"Alasdair Mór mac an Rígh" (English: "Great Alexander, son of the king")

caption = Stewart's sarcophagus-effigy at Dunkeld Cathedral, where he was buried.
birth_date = Approx. 1343
birth_place =
death_date = death date|1405|6|20|df=y
death_place =
death_cause =
known =
occupation =
title = Earl of Buchan
Lord of Badenoch
salary =
term = 1382 — 1405
predecessor = John Comyn
(First Line)
successor = John Stewart (Second Line)
party =
boards =
religion =
spouse = Euphemia of Ross
children = Alexander Stewart
(by Mairead inghean Eachann)
relations =
website =
footnotes =

Alexander Stewart, Alasdair Mór mac an Rígh, and called "the Wolf of Badenoch" (1343 – June 20, 1405), was the fourth son of King Robert II of Scotland and also the youngest by his first wife, Elizabeth Mure of Rowallan. He was the first Earl of Buchan since John Comyn, from 1382 until his death. Alexander married the widowed Euphemia, Countess of Ross but they had no children although he did have a large family by his mistress, Mairead inghean Eachann. Alexander was Justiciar of Scotia for a time, but not an effective one. He held large territories in the north of Scotland before eventually losing a large part of them. Alexander is infamously remembered for his sacking of the royal burgh of Elgin and its cathedral. His nickname was earned due to his notorious cruelty and rapacity but there is no proof that it was used during his lifetime.

Power and influence

Known in charters as Alexander "Senescalli" (Latin for Steward), is first noted when, on 14 August 1370, he issued letters patent from Ruthven Castle undertaking to grant protection to the Bishop of Moray and all of his lands, men and property in Badenoch. [Boardman, "Early Stewart Kings", pp. 72,73] His father, Robert the .

Church defiance

There was no dominant potentate in Moray during 12th and 13th centuries and the bishops ruled their territories with a great deal of independence but this ended when King Robert I of Scotland elevated Thomas Randolph to the earldom of Moray sometime between 12 April and 29 October 1312. [Grant, "Moray: Province and People", p.145] [ Duncan,"Thomas Randolph", ODNB] The Randolph earls did not hold the earldom for long and it reverted to the crown on the death of Thomas's son John, in 1346, and lay vacant for the next 26 years. In 1365 Bishop Bur persuaded David II that his lands in Badenoch and Strathspey should be governed as if in regality. To emphasise this, Bur, when he entered into the protection agreement with Alexander in 1370, ensured that the "de facto" lord of Badenoch would have no hold on him, nor on his lands and people. A few months later in March 1371, on his father's accession to the throne, Alexander was officially made lord of Badenoch. [ Boardman, "Early Stewart Kings", p. 73] Robert II's charter gave Alexander the lands of Badenoch seemingly in regality with, presumably, authority over the church lands however, Bishop Bur may have protested at this, as the details of the grant of Badenoch contained in the in Register of the Great Seal has no reference to regality. Alexander was therefore to hold the Badenoch lands with no greater authority than what John Comyn had, a century before. The bishop continued to come under pressure from Alexander either directly or from his caterans possibly acting independently. Boardman explains that both the Bishops of Moray and Aberdeen were in dispute with Alexander regarding the strain that his cateran followers were putting on church lands and tenants. [Boardman, "Early Stewart Kings", p. 85] Boardman also theorises that it was this occupation of church lands, virtually rendering them worthless in terms of income, that may have been the reason for Bur 'voluntarilly' giving up his rights to estates such as Rothiemurchas, on 20 April 1382. [Boardman, "Early Stewart Kings, p. 86] Grant, "Moray: Province and People", p. 148] Complicating matters was the fact that neither of the bishops could appeal to the 'legitimate secular authority' as that authority was Alexander himself in his positions of lord of Badenoch and royal lieutenant and was the reason why they appealed directly to the king. [Boardman, "Early Stewart Kings", p. 85]

Increasing pressure

King Robert's reputation declined because of his backing Buchan's methods and so in November 1384, John, Earl of Carrick with the backing of the general council, took executive authority from his father with lawlessness in the north a major issue. [ Boardman, "Early Stewart Kings", pp. 86, 124 ] The lordship of Strathnairn had been administered by Buchan with the approval of the king, but now under Carrick's leadership, Sir David Lindsay was able to reassert his right to Strathnairn. [ Boardman, "Early Stewart Kings", pp. 131, 132 ] In April 1385, at the council, Buchan's brother David claimed that Buchan was holding Urquhart unlawfully, while Sir James Lindsay of Crawford reinstated his claim to the lordship of Buchan and finally, the Earl of Moray demanded that some of Buchan's men be prosecuted for the killing of some of his men. [ Boardman, "Early Stewart Kings", pp. 89, 132, 133] Despite these early attacks on his position, Buchan significantly strengthened his territorial position especially in the Great Glen where he retained Urquhart after his brother's death and then in the autumn of 1386 he gained the lands of Bona at the head of Loch Ness from the earl of Moray and the adjoining lands in Abriachin from Sir Robert Chisholm. [ Boardman, "Early Stewart Kings", pp. 133, 134 ] Buchan's increased influence in Scottish affairs was again furthered when sometime before February 1387, he was appointed justiciar north of the Forth [ Boardman, "Early Stewart Kings", p. 134 ] Carrick's guardianship of Scotland was not a success and certainly had failed to reign in Buchan and so late in 1388, King Robert's second son, Robert, earl of Fife became the effective ruler of the kingdom. [Grant, "Moray: Province and People", p. 150] Within days Fife removed Buchan from the justiciarship and, it is assumed, the royal lieutenancy and the sheriffdom of Inverness and later installed his own son, Murdoch as justiciar north of the Forth. [ Boardman, "Early Stewart Kings, pp. 168,169 ] Fife was very uncompromising towards Buchan, [Oram,"King and Queens", pp. 127, 128] who had been described as 'useless to the community' at a previous general council meeting. Buchan had long deserted his wife and lived with Mairead inghean Eachann with whom he had a number of children, including Alexander Stewart, Earl of Mar. [Barrow, G W S, 'The Sources for the History of the Highlands in the Middle Ages', pp. 16,17] Marital law was the prerogative of the Church and so on 2 November 1389, Bishop Alexander Bur of Moray and Bishop Alexander Kylquhous of Ross, ordered his return to his wife, Euphemia. [Boardman, "Early Stewart Kings, p. 171] Buchan agreed to this, but didn't live up to his promise and so Fife encouraged Euphemia of Ross during her divorce proceedings against Buchan and in 1392 Euphemia was successful in her appeal to the Avignon papal court and his marriage was annulled. [Boardman, "Early Stewart Kings, p. 179] Following the annulment, Buchan lost all claim to Euphemia's lands which returned to her and to her son Alexander Leslie who was also contracted to marry Fife's daughter. [S. I. Boardman, "Robert Stewart, Duke of Albany", ODNB]

The burning of Elgin and aftermath

King Robert II died at Dundonald Castle in Ayrshire on 19 April 1390 and the chronicler Wyntoun informs that Robert was not buried at Scone until 13 August 1390, only a day before his son John, earl of Carrick was crowned king as Robert III. Fife was retained as guardian of Scotland probably much against Buchan's hopes as he must have looked at some sort of volte-face on some of Fife's actions, particularly as Buchan reached his zenith of possessions under Carrick.Boardman, "Early Stewart Kings", p. 175] On top of this, Bishop Bur turned to Thomas Dunbar, sheriff of Inverness and son of the earl of Moray to provide his protection. [Grant, "Moray: Province and People", p. 151] The events of May and June 1390 in the Laich of Moray were perhaps the result of a combination of factors that presented themselves to Buchan. Firstly, John Dunbar, earl of Moray and his fellow northern landowner Sir David Lindsay of Glenesk both absented themselves from Moray to attend a substantial tourney at Richard II of England's court. In addition, Bishop Bur's involvement with Buchan's estrangement with his wife and then Bur's alignment with Moray presented an opportunity for revenge culminating in the destruction of Forres in May and then Elgin with its cathedral in June. [ Grant, "Moray: Province and People" pp. 151, 152] His destruction of the church possessions in Elgin was complete—as well as the cathedral, the monastery of the Greyfriars, St Giles parish church and the Hospital of Maison Dieu were all put to flame. [Cramond, William: The Records of Elgin, Aberdeen, 1903, p. 17] Church and state now came together to oppose him—excommunicated by Bur, Buchan had to appear at the Church of the Friars Preacher, in Perth in the presence of his brothers, King Robert III of Scotland and the earl of Fife, and the council-general to plead for forgiveness—absolution was granted by Bishop Walter Trail, Bishop of St Andrews.

Buchan's brutal assault on Moray in 1390 was to some extent intended to extricate himself from Fife's domination but turned out to be completely unsuccessful—Alexander was to lose his lordship of Urquhart in 1392 and then his claim on Ross following his wife's divorce in 1392. [Boardman, "Early Stewart Kings", pp. 177 – 180] Fife's influence waned during the mid-1390s while that of King Robert and his son David, earl of Carrick increased—the king took back responsibility for Scottish-English relations and had manoeuvred the Red Douglas earl of Angus into a dominating position in southeastern Scotland at the expense of Fife's ally, the Black Douglas.Oram, "Kings and Queens", p. 131] Although Fife's authority over Scottish affairs had lessened he still exercised considerable power in government. Fife and Carrick both campaigned against Buchan and his sons and other lawless elements in the west and north. Although, Buchan appeared to have halted his violent traits after this, his sons did not. A fight ensued near Pitlochry involving Duncan and Robert Stewart at the head of a band of caterans, when Sir Walter Ogilvie and Walter de Lychton and followers were killed. Later it is recorded that three sons of Buchan's were imprisoned in Stirling Castle from 1396 to 1402 and Alexander Grant theorises that Buchan's low profile during the 1390s may have been because of his sons' incarceration. [Grant, "Moray: Province and People", p. 154]

Buchan is again mentioned at Spynie Castle on 3 May 1398 being ordered to deliver it up to William, bishop of Moray by Robert III. [Simpson, "Spynie Palace", p. 5] Buchan appears to have left the north in his latter years appearing as baillie of the earldom of Atholl in 1402 and a mention in 1404 in Perth.

Buchan having acquired vast territories in the north lost a large part of them during his own lifetime (lands of Ross and Urquhart). He held royal appointments only to have them removed (Justiciar of Scotia and royal lieutenant north of the Moray Firth.) He was unsuccessful in maintaining law and order and this seen alongside his inability to hold onto his Ross territories demonstrated his ineffectiveness. He died in 1405, and was buried at Cathedral of Dunkeld, Perthshire. His chest tomb, topped by an effigy in armour, is one of the few Scottish royal monuments to have survived from the Middle Ages.

ee also

* Scottish monarchs family tree



*Barrow, G W S, 'The Sources for the History of the Highlands in the Middle Ages' in "The Middle Ages in the Highlands" ed L McLean, Inverness, 1981 [Barrow, "History of Highlands in Middle Ages"]
* Boardman, Stephen, "The Early Stewart Kings: Robert II and Robert III, 1371-1406," Edinburgh, 1996. ISBN 1904607683 [Boardman, "Early Stewart Kings"]
* S. I. Boardman, 'Robert II (1316-1390)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, September 2004; online edn, May 2006, (, accessed 17 May 2007) [S. I. Boardman, "Robert II", ODNB]
*S. I. Boardman, ‘Robert III (d. 1406)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 (, accessed 14 February 2008) [S. I. S. I. Boardman, "Robert III", ODNB]
*S. I. Boardman, ‘Stewart, Robert, first duke of Albany (c.1340–1420)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, September 2004; online edn, May 2006 (, accessed 17 May 2007 [S. I. Boardman, "Robert Stewart, Duke of Albany" , ODNB]
*Burns, C: ed., Calendar of papal letters to Scotland of Clement VII of Avignon, Scottish History Society, 4th ser., 12 (1976)
* Cramond, William: The Records of Elgin, Aberdeen, 1903
*Duncan, A A M, ‘Randolph, Thomas, first earl of Moray (d. 1332) ’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004, (, accessed 17 May 2007) [Duncan,"Thomas Randolph", ODNB]
* Grant, Alexander: "The Wolf of Badenoch" in W.D.H. Sellar (ed.), Moray: Province and People. Scottish Society for Northern Studies, Edinburgh, 1993. ISBN 0-9505994-7-6 [Grant, "Moray: Province and People"]
*Alexander Grant, 'Stewart, Alexander, first earl of Buchan (c.1345-1405)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, May 2005, (, accessed 17 May 2007) [Alexander Grant, "Alexander Stewart", ODNB]
*Oram, Richard, (Ed.), "The Kings and Queens of Scotland", Stroud, 2001. ISBN 0752419919 [Oram,"Kings and Queens"]
*Simpson, W D: The Palace of the Bishops of Moray at Spynie, Elgin, 1927 [Simpson, "Spynie Palace"]

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