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  • Writer's pictureMike Shepherd


Updated: Sep 21, 2022

Part three of Slains Castle: a guide to the ruins described the drawing room, and I now start part four by going next door into the library.

Detail of the north-facing library wall.

I do not know of any existing photos of the library, so a word description will have to suffice. From an 1852 letter: ‘In the library are some beautiful pieces of carved oak furniture, presents from the late King [William IV], a picture by Vandyke of the family of Charles the First valued at a thousand guineas...’

The oak shelves of the library were stacked with old manuscripts, many from the collection of Bishop James Drummond, Bishop of Brechin in the Episcopalian Church. James Drummond had stayed in the castle after losing his post following the ‘Glorious Revolution’ of 1688 when William and Mary jointly took over the throne. The Presbyterian Church was reinstated in Scotland at the expense of the Episcopalian Church. A local church minister complained about how some of the residents of the castle had used the books – ripping up those manuscripts with delicate thin paper for what was described as domestic ‘menial services’ (he didn’t go into details!). Nevertheless, many books survived this depredation. In 1918, two years after Slains Castle was sold by the Hay family, the contents of the library came up for sale. Over 4,000 books from the library were bought by Glasgow Corporation for £1350 and placed in the Mitchell Collection.

Looking out to sea from New Slains Castle with the remains of the north side of the library on the right.

Looking out to sea from New Slains Castle with the remains of the north side of the library on the right.

Somewhere in Slains Castle was the Charter Room, which was probably located in or near the library. It held all the important documents: legal, property and historical. These still survive and include amongst others:

1) A charter from William the Lion, King of Scots, which was handed over to William de La Haye about 1170 or so, conferring the Barony of Erroll on him in return ‘for the service in war of two knights fully armed, mounted, equipped and rationed, together with their due retinue of esquires men-at-arms and archers.’

2) A charter from Robert the Bruce, King of Scots, conferring on Sir Gilbert Hay, the 5th Baron of Erroll, the lands of Slains in Buchan and the office of the High Constable of Scotland. Gilbert had fought with Robert the Bruce at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314.

This gives an idea about how the Hay family had been involved in almost all the major historical events in Scotland.

One of the most curious documents in the charter room is a letter from the sixteenth century which was given to the Earl of Erroll by his wife, the Countess of Earl. The earl in question is said to be Francis Hay, the 9th Earl of Erroll although that is not known for sure. The letter clearly shows that their marriage was in trouble. The Countess wants to leave and gives him a list of goods she wants to take with her from (old) Slains Castle to her preferred abode in the House of Logie (a Hay family property near the village of Crimond in Aberdeenshire).

Lady Margaret Hay to Francis Hay, Earl of Erroll (c.1584-1586)

The gear within Slains, as following which my Lady desires:

Item of feather beds, 30

Item of bolsters, 29

Item of pewter plates, 8

Item of trenchers [wooden plates], 28

Item of spits, 4

Item of racks, 2

Item of pots of brass and iron, 15

Item of pans, 8

Item of barrels within the place, 38

- Here of 33 barrels for ale

Item of tin quart stoppers, 4

With one chopping stone

Item of chandeliers, 11

- Hereof two of wood

Item, two mortars with their pestles.

Her husband gives the list back with this written on it: ‘To my lady’s greedy and unreasonable desires it is answered. That seeing the whole of the goods found in the House of Logie and here in Slains is all over little to furnish one of the places, My Lord can spare no part thereof.’

The age-old trick of marriage: it takes two people determined to make it work!


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The walls of the octagonal hall inside Slains Castle

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