In early medieval Scotland, a mormaer was the Gaelic name for a regional or provincial ruler, theoretically second only to the King of Scots, and the senior of a Taoiseach (chieftain). Mormaers were equivalent to English earls or Continental counts, and the term is often translated into English as 'earl'.
Mormaer (pl. mormaír) and earl were respectively the Gaelic and Scots words used for the position also referred to in Latin as comes (pl. comites), which originally meant "companion". That the words mormaer and comes were equivalent can be seen in the case of Ruadrí, Earl of Mar, who is described as mormaer when listed as a witness in a document recorded in the Gaelic language in 1130 or 1131, and as comes in a charter recorded in Latin between 1127 and 1131. Earl was increasingly used as Scots replaced Gaelic as the dominant vernacular language between the late 12th and late 13th centuries, and was exclusively used within Scotland to translate comes in the later Middle Ages as Scots became the language of record. This gradual change in language use from Gaelic to Scots did not mean that earl was a new title, however, and was unrelated to any changes in the role of the comes that took place over the same time-period.
The word mormaer may represent a survival of a Pictish compound form, as despite being a Gaelic form it was used only to refer to nobles of the former Pictish areas of the Kingdom of Alba, and was never used to refer to Ireland. As late as the 15th century Irish sources were using the word mormaer for Scottish earls, instead of the word iarla they used for English and Irish earls.
The second element of mormaer comes from the Gaelic or British maer meaning "steward", but the first element could be either the Gaelic mór or British már, meaning "great", or the Gaelic moro or British mor, genitive forms of the word for "sea". Mormaer could therefore mean either "great steward" or "sea steward".
The office of mormaer is first mentioned in the context of the Battle of Corbridge in 918, where the Annals of Ulster describe how the men of the Kingdom of Alba "did not lose a king or mormaer". Another three mormaers are named, though without provinces, in the Annals of Tigernach and listed as fighting in Ireland in 976.
The first individual named mormaer was Dubacan of Angus, one of the companions of Amlaib, the son of King Causantín II (Constantine II). His death at the Battle of Brunanburh in 937 is recorded in the Chronicle of the Kings of Alba, where he is described as Mormaer of Angus (Gaelic: Mormair Oengusa, or Mormaer Óengus), the first mormaer to be documented in connection to a specific province. Domnall mac Eimín is described as Mormaer of Mar in the Annals of Ulster recording his death at the Battle of Clontarf in 1014.
The earliest mormaers of each province are generally only hazily, if at all, known until the 12th century, by which time mormaer is being referred to in Latin documents as comes. Prior to the 12th century, there were four 'ancient' mormaer dynasties: Cataidh/Caithness, Charraig/Carrick, Dunbarra/Dunbar and Moireabh/Moray. After the 12th century, eight other dynasties are known to be hereditary, continuous and no longer fragmentary.
Pre-12th century dynasties:
- mormaers of Cataibh (Caithness/Orkney) (Viking/Norse holders until 1230s)
- 'mormaers' of Dunbarra/Lodainn (Dunbar/Lothian)
- Mormaer of Mearns (Extinct before the 12th century)
- mormaers of Moireabh (Moray) (dynasty extinct 1130)
'Traditional' mormaerdoms (established dynasty in the 12th century, but not proven earlier):
- mormaers of Aonghais (Angus)
- mormaers of Athal (Atholl)
- mormaers of Buchan (Buchan)
- mormaers of Fiobh (Fife)
- mormaers of Leamhnachd (Lennox) (created 2nd half of the 12th century)
- mormaers of Marr (Mar)
- mormaers of Moneteadhaich (Menteith) (first recorded 1164)
- mormaers of Sratheireann (Strathearn)
much later, creation in the 13th century:
- mormaers of Ros (Ross)
A mormaerdom was not simply a regional lordship, it was a regional lordship with official comital rank. This is why other lordships, many of them more powerful, such as those of lords of Galloway, Argyll and Innse Gall, are not, and were not, called mormaerdoms or earldoms.
List of mormaers
This list does not include Orkney, which was a Norwegian Earldom, and became ruled by Scotland in the 15th century. Sutherland might be included, but it was created only late (circa 1230), and for a possibly foreign family (see Earl of Sutherland)
- Mormaerdom of Angus
- Mormaerdom of Atholl
- Mormaerdom of Buchan
- Mormaerdom of Caithness, See Earl of Orkney
- For Mormaerdom of Carrick, See Earl of Carrick
- For the Anglo-Scottish Mormaerdom of Dunbar/Lothian, See Earl of Dunbar
- Mormaerdom of Fife
- Mormaerdom of Lennox
- Mormaerdom of Mar
- ? Mormaerdom of Mearns
- Mormaerdom of Menteith
- Mormaerdom/Kingdom of Moray
- Mormaerdom of Ross
- Mormaerdom of Strathearn
- Taylor 2016, pp. 34-35.
- Taylor 2016, p. 35.
- Taylor 2016, p. 36.
- Rhys, Guto. "Approaching the Pictish language: historiography, early evidence and the question of Pritenic" (PDF). University of Glasgow. University of Glasgow.
- Woolf 2007, p. 342.
- Lynch 1991, p. 47. sfn error: no target: CITEREFLynch1991 (help)
- Woolf 2007, p. 142.
- Woolf 2007, p. 243.
- Woolf 2007, p. 175.
- Anderson, Alan Orr, Early Sources of Scottish History: AD 500–1286, 2 Vols, (Edinburgh, 1922)
- Barrow, G.W.S., The Kingdom of the Scots, (Edinburgh, 2003)
- Broun, Dauvit, "Mormaer," in J. Cannon (ed.) The Oxford Companion to British History, (Oxford, 1997)
- Lynch, Michael, Scotland: A New History, (Edinburgh, 1991)
- Roberts, John L., Lost Kingdoms: Celtic Scotland in the Middle Ages, (Edinburgh, 1997)
- Taylor, Alice (2016). The Shape of the State in Medieval Scotland, 1124–1290. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780198749202.
- Woolf, Alex (2007). From Pictland to Alba 789–1070. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. ISBN 9780748612345.
|Wikisource has the text of the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica article Mormaor .|