Josslyn Hay, 22nd Earl of Erroll

Josslyn Hay, 22nd Earl of Erroll

Josslyn Victor Hay, 22nd Earl of Erroll (May 11, 1901 Mayfair, London–January 24, 1941, Nairobi-Ngong road, Kenya)Cokayne et al, "The Complete Peerage", volume I, p.1337] was an English-born Scottish peer, famed for the unsolved case surrounding his murder and the sensation it caused during wartime Britain.

Early life

Hay was the eldest son of the diplomat Victor Hay, Lord Kilmarnock (later Earl of Erroll) and his wife Lucy, the only daughter of Sir Allan Mackenzie, 2nd Baronet. In 1911, he attended the coronation of George V and carried his grandfather's coronet. [London Gazette - 26 September 1911] He began Eton College in 1914 but was dismissed two years later.

In 1920, Hay was appointed honorary attaché at Berlin under his father, who was earlier appointed chargé d'affaires there before the arrival of Edgar Vincent, 1st Viscount D'Abernon. [London Gazette - 23 January 1920] His father was soon appointed High Commissioner to the Rhineland, but Hay stayed in Berlin and served under Lord D'Abernon until 1922.

After passing the Foreign Office examinations, Hay was expected to follow his father into diplomacy, but instead became infatuated with Lady Idina Gordon, a daughter of Gilbert Sackville, 8th Earl De La Warr, divorced wife of the politician Euan Wallace and the current wife of Charles Gordon. Lady Idina soon divorced her husband and she and Hay were married on 22 September 1923.Cokayne et al, "The Complete Peerage", volume I, p.1337]


After causing a society scandal due to their marriage, Hay and his wife moved to Kenya in 1924. Their home was a bungalow on the slopes of the Aberdare Range which they called "Slains", after the former Hay family seat of Slains Castle which was sold by Hay's grandfather, the 20th Earl, in 1916. The bungalow was sited alongside the high altitude farms which other white settlers were establishing at the time, but in 1925, they moved to the thatched mansion of "Clouds" in a valley beneath the Aberdares, which became known as Happy Valley.

The Happy Valley set were a group of elite, colonial expatriates who became notorious for recreational drug use, binge drinking, adultery and promiscuity amongst other things. Hay soon became a part of this group and accumulated debts. After Hay had inherited his father's titles in 1928, his wife divorced him in 1929 because he was cheating her financially and Hay married the divorced Edith Ramsay-Hill on 8 February 1930. They lived in "Oserian", a Moroccan-style house on the shores of Lake Naivasha and his new wife succumbed to the hedonistic lifestyle of Happy Valley.

On a visit to England in 1934, Lord Erroll joined Oswald Mosley's British Union of Fascists and on his return to Kenya a year later, became president of the Convention of Associations. He attended the coronation of George VI in 1936 and was elected to the legislative council as member for Kiambu in 1939. [London Gazette - 10 November 1936] On the outbreak of World War II that year, Lord Erroll became a captain in the Kenya Regiment and accepted the post of Military Secretary for East Africa in 1940.

In 1939, Lady Erroll had died due to the effects of consuming a concoction of alcohol, morphine and heroin. At the Muthaiga Country Club in 1940, Lord Erroll met Diana, Lady Broughton, the new and much younger wife of Sir Jock Broughton, Bt. Lord Erroll and Lady Broughton soon became lovers.


Broughton learned of the affair and after spending a night with Lady Broughton, Lord Erroll was found shot dead in his Buick at a crossroads on the Nairobi-Ngong road on 24 January 1941. Broughton was accused of the murder, arrested on 10 March and stood trial from 26 May. Accounting for the fact that there were no eyewitnesses, the evidence against him was weak and his hairdresser was also foreman of the jury. Broughton was acquitted on 1 July and later committed suicide on his return to England a year later.

Lord Erroll was buried in the graveyard of [ St Paul's Church, Kiambu, Kenya] next to his second wife. His earldom and lordship of Hay passed to his only daughter, Diana by his first wife, whilst his barony of Kilmarnock passed to his brother, Gilbert.

Popular culture

*The incident inspired James Fox's 1982 investigative book "White Mischief", which was in 1987 adapted into the film of the same title by Michael Radford.
*It was also adapted into an episode of the miniseries "Julian Fellowes Investigates: A Most Mysterious Murder - The Case of the Earl of Erroll" in 2005.



* [ Davenport-Hines, Richard - "Hay, Josslyn Victor, twenty-second earl of Erroll (1901–1941), colonist in Kenya and philanderer"] - Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

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