Believed to be descended from Bartolf, a Hungarian nobleman who arrived in Scotland in 1067, the Leslie Clan have a long connection to the north-east of Scotland and their traditional homelands within the ancient district of Aberdeenshire.
Originally arriving in Scotland with Edgar the Aetheling, Bartolf would quickly rise to the position of governor of Edinburgh Castle and would be given estates across the country in Fife, Angusand Aberdeenshire. He is said to have once saved the Queen’s life when carrying her across a river with his own horse as she slipped and was forced to cling onto his belt buckle. During the struggle, Bartolf is said to have uttered the words, “grip fast,” a phrase that would stick with the clan and eventually become their motto.
Despite being given vast lands along the eastern half of Scotland, Bartolf would choose to establish his principal holding in the Garioch district of Aberdeen, a place that was then known as Lesslyn. It is from here that the clan would eventually derive their surname.
After growing their power in the region, the family would then have to deal with a strange dispute over their chiefship as, following the supposed death of the chiefs son during a crusade in 1391, he would pass his estates to his cousin. The chief’s son, David, would eventually return to Scotland alive and would stake a claim for the return of his estates. The exact details of the settlement remain a mystery today, but it is believed they settled this strange claim peacefully.
Notwithstanding this unusual setback, the family’s reputation would continue to grow and George Leslie would become a Lord of Parliament in 1445 as Lord Lesley of Leven. He would also have his lands united into the Barony of Ballinbreich and would be further promoted to the Earl of Rothes only a few years later in 1458.
The clan would use their increased standing to participate in many of Scotland’s national events over the subsequent years, with the 3rd Earl dying at Flodden in 1513 and his son, George, going on to become one of the commissioners at the marriage of Mary, Queen of Scots in France in 1558.
Believing George’s early death may have been associated with his decision to support the marriage, the family would then step away from politics for the time being, as they instead decided to associate themselves with professional soldiery. With the 17th century being an unstable time for much of Europe, the clan would not have a difficult time finding conflict to be involved in and would fight in Germany, France, Sweden and the Baltic region. The most famous Leslie to become a mercenary was perhaps Alexander Leslie, who returned to Great Britain to command the Army of the Covenant against the forces of Oliver Cromwell. Alexander would be raised to the peerage as the Earl of Leven and added significant improvements to his seat at Balgonie in Fife. He would eventually be captured in 1651 and would remain in custody at the Tower of London until the Restoration in 1660, being created Lord Newark the following year.
The chiefly line would also remain close to conflict during the 17th century and the 7th Earl would be created Duke of Rothes in 1680 by Charles II. Sadly, the Duke would die without an heir. However, thanks to the terms of the charter, the title was allowed to pass to the female line of the family, ensuring the title was preserved.
The 9th Earl of Rothes would go on to hold the position of Vice-Admiral of Scotland and governor of Stirling Castle. He would support the Hanoverian cause during the Jacobite Rising of 1715 and would command a regiment of cavalry at the Battle of Sherrifmuir before selling much of the clan’s Rothes estates. Luckily, he would leave the chief’s seat, Leslie House, which would remain in the hands of the family until 1919.
In recent times, another of the clan’s traditional castles, Leslie Castle in Aberdeenshire, has been restored by a member of the family and the clan survives today through a fantastic clan society that complete a lot of work to ensure the family’s name and history are remembered across the world. The current clan chief is Hon. Alexander Leslie.