During the Danish invasion of Scotland in 980, during the reign of Kenneth III, the decisive Battle of Luncarty took place in Perthshire. The origin of the Hay family, Earls of Errol, is said to date from this time. The story is told here:
'A huge fleet of these rovers was seen off Red-Head, in Angus, where, for some days, they lay at anchor; and during this time, the commanders consulted among themselves whether they had best make a descent at that place, or put again to sea, and sail for England.
In fine, they resolved to land and accordingly entered the mouth of the river Esk, took the town of Montrose, in those days called Celurca, put all the citizens to the sword, set fire to the houses, demolished the castle, and from thence marched through Angus to the firth or river of Tay, carrying everywhere along with them destruction, rapine and slaughter. The King was at Stirling at the time; he made all the haste he could to the rescue of his people, but before 'twas possible to bring an army to the field, advice was brought that the enemy had passed the Tay, and invested the town of Perth. He resolved immediately to attempt the relief of a place so near to the Court, and so well situated, almost in the centre of his dominions. Thither he marched upon the head of those forces he had raised; and having drawn them up in the order of battle, at Luncarty, a little village, he exhorted them to their duty by representing the inhumanity of their merciless enemies, the necessity of vanquishing or dying, the deplorable condition of the country in general, and in particular of their own families and fortunes in case of being defeated; their King's glory, their ancestor's fame, and the victories so often obtained over this very enemy now in their view; promising withal immunity from taxes for five years to all those that should survive the battle, and a sum of money, or the equivalent in land, to such as should bring to him the head of a slaughtered Dane.
The prospect of such a reward made the Scots fall on with incredible alacrity; but, as matters were managed, was likely to prove fatal in the event. For, after a most fierce onset, which obliged the Danes to descend from the declining hill where they had been posted, and come to handy blows in the plain fields, the Scots soldiers busied themselves more in cutting off the heads of such as fell in their hands, than in killing such as stood to their defence. The Danish commanders having taken notice of this, took occasion from thence to give their soldiers to understand that, at this rate, none of them could hope for one minute's life, unless they should secure it to themselves by the death of men who thus maliciously and vainly insulted over the dead bodies of their comrades. Upon this the Danes, reanimated with indignation, spite, and revenge, exerted the utmost vigour of their strong nerves and large bones; they broke through and put to the rout both the right and left wing of the Scots army; and the main body, where the King fought in person, was very nigh enveloped, and must have been entirely cut off, but for the stupendous action of one Hay, and his two sons, who, placing themselves in a convenient pass, beat back the fliers and so turned the wheel of fortune, never more deservedly called bizarre or inconstant than upon that occasion.
This Hay was at the time employed in tilling a field at no great distance from the two armies; but how soon he perceived the Scots were flying, he left his work; and animated with indignation and rage, he bethought himself of an expedition to prevent the ruin and disgrace of his country which all ages will ever admire and extol. He armed himself and his two sons, men like himself of extraordinary strength and incomparable courage, with their plough-yokes; and having reproached the foremost of those that fled, and perhaps prevailed with some to return, he placed them and himself in the narrow pass through which he knew the remainder of the worsted army must flee; and as they advanced, he met and knocked them down unmercifully with his mighty yoke, insomuch that he put a stop to their flight. And the Scots, thus equally mauled by, and in a manner pent up between their friends and foes, knew not what to do. If they continued to fly, they must needs encounter, as they imagined, fresh forces of the prevailing enemy; and if they should face about again, they must re-engage men animated, but at the same time wearied and fatigued by victory. They thought fittest to turn upon the pursuers, and did it accordingly. The Danes, in their turn surprised by this sudden and unexpected change they knew not the occasion of, concluded, and 'twas no wonder, that the Scots army must be reinforced with some considerable accession of a fresh power. This perswasion damp'd their courages, and they fled as hastily as they had pursued. By this time the heroick Hays came up to the main body of the army, and every one became acquainted with what they had done; so that the Scots, now apprehensive of no more enemies than those they had in their view, pursued their advantage with incredible alacrity, and most, if not all the Danes, fell victims to their just revenges.
The astonishing event of the battle of Luncarty transported the whole nation with wonder and joy; and the army spent the ensuing night in mirth and rejoicing, in singing the praises of their glorious King, and in extolling the admired valour and resolution of Hay their deliverer. Nobody was more sensible of his services than the King. That grateful prince rewarded him as he deserved, for he first ordered a large share of the enemies' spoils to be given to him, and then commanded him and his sons to march by himself in a triumphant manner, with their bloody yokes upon the head of the army, into the town of Perth. He did more; for, as the great atchievement had already ennobled both Hay and his sons, so the King advanced them into the first rank of those about him, and, which was very rare in those days, gave them an heritage, as much of the most fruitful soil of Gowry as a falcon could encompass at one flight. The lucky bird seemed sensible of the merits of those that were to enjoy it; for she made a circuit of seven or eight miles long, and four or five broad, the limits of which are still extant. And from this tract of ground, call'd Errol, as then, the brave. Loyal, and in every sense illustrious family of Errol takes its designation; so it retains the sirname of Hay, upon the account of its original author.'
Tradition has it that following his exertions, the elder Hay seated himself upon a stone, breathing heavily, and uttered "Hech, heigh!". The King, on hearing this, is quoted as exclaiming:
Abercromby, "Miliary Atchievements of Scotland" c 1780
John B. Pratt, "Buchan" 1858
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