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:

The Slaughter of Watertown

Not long after constructing Ardgrain, the Kennedies became embroiled in a bitter land dispute, which later became locally known as the slaughter of Watertown.


Clan Rivalry

Thomas Forbes, whose stately mansion with courtyards and stables was built beside the Ythan river to the east of Ellon, was in his middle years, with nine sons and daughters. John Kennedy, the hereditary constable of Aberdeen (this title tied to the Ardgrain site some years earlier) was the latest of a long line of Kennedies of Ellon.  Read more » 

Judicial Proceedings (1493)

Judicial proceedings: acts of the lords auditors of causes and complaints

22 June 1493  Read more » 

Introduction to Ardgrain


An brief tour through Ardgrains past, which spans nearly 600 years


Ardgrain Barony

Nether Ardgrain, or Ardgrain as it was originally known, has had tenants on this site from the late middle ages onwards, and historical records suggest a tenancy at Ardgrain as early as 1422.

Erected to Royal Charter in 1528 with the Crown as superior, the main house at Ardgrain is sited on top of a much earlier structure built by the Innes family.  Read more »