Ardgrain - A Scottish Feudal Barony

What makes a site a Barony, and why did this make Ardgrain so important?

An introduction to the mediaeval feudal system, where warrior nobility ruled Scotland. 


Feudalism in Scotland

In Scotland, the rank of Baron related to feudal nobility, whereas in England the title Baron was hereditary and was passed down the family line. Being feudal, the ‘Baron of Ardgrain’ title was always physically attached to Ardgrain. If you rented the site from the ruling Lord, in this case the king of Scotland, you would hold the title.

The common Scots term for the position of Baron is Laird, and Feudalism, which existed in Scotland during the middle ages, was a reciprocal legal and military obligation among the warrior nobility; a mutual agreement with benefits for both the Baron and the Lord.

In a feudal system, Lords physically held the land and territories, and Vassals rented the lands (known as a fief or fiefdom) from the Lords. The Lord and Vassal arrangement could take place on different levels throughout the medieval social structure, each sub-letting lands to those of a lower status. For example the King could rent a fief to a Baron or Laird, and the Baron in turn could rent lands to tenants, who then would sublet further.

But before the ruling Lord could grant any land or territory to an individual, they both had to take part in a formal and symbolic ceremony, called a commendation ceremony. During this ceremony, the Lord and Vassal entered a binding contract in which the Vassal agreed and promised to fight for the Lord at his command. In doing so, the Lord gained an important ally during times of conflict. Before the rebellion in 1745, the armies of Scotland were entirely comprised of Barons, who kept the peace and maintained public order. The Vassal would also sometimes be asked to pay taxes in either goods or money, and to act as a council to the Lord when important decisions had to be made. Barons held courts and oversaw trails, and until 1745 sometimes even had the power to hang guilty persons. Barons could petition the Crown, and had great leverage in a given geographic location. Their powers allowed them to control trade in their barony, and this also helped them to raise funds through taxes.

As part of the contract, the Lord also sometimes had to maintain the fief itself and protect these lands from harm or invasion. Since the Lord had not given the land away, only loaned it to the Vassal, it was still ultimately the Lord's responsibility to maintain the land.

Ardgrain as a Barony

Through the late middle ages onwards, Ardgrain served as a feudal Barony, with the Crown as superior. Centuries ago, Ardgrain would have been a seat of power, overseeing the lands around Ellon and the Baron of Ardgrain would have been instrumental in growing the trade and development of the Ellon area. A legacy of the Ardgrain Barony can still be seen today, in the carved royal crest of King James II high up on the front of the house.


Popular Ardgrain history articles:

Discover Ardgrain

Nestled just above the town of Ellon lies the ancient site of Ardgrain, which has had tenants from 1422 onwards, and was once the seat of the Baron of Ardgrain. Built in its current form in 1629, and then extended in the 1700's, this Grade A listed house is thought to be the oldest of its kind in the North East of Scotland. 

 Read more » 

Ardgrain Texts

Fascinating extracts from charters and texts of an Ardgrain centuries ago 

As a Feudal Barony, events surrounding Ardgrain were often documented in texts, charters and other important documents.

Many of these Ardgrain texts still exist, but remain hidden within dusty volumes or in private collections. Occasionally when researching the history of Ardgrain we come across interesting snippets of text which offer a glimpse into Ardgrains past.  Read more » 

Letter by John Allerdes on the lands of Ardgrane (1485)

Ancient texts describing the lands of Ardgrain in 1495

Taken from Antiquities of the Shires of Aberdeen and Banff (Vol III) 1857 - Page 32.  Read more »