Clan Leslie Society
Australia & New Zealand


Clan Leslie History


The family name comes from the Leslie lands of Aberdeenshire and was to become famous in Germany, Poland, France and Russia. According to tradition, a Hungarian (or more likely by onomastics and typical of the times as well as later Leslie history, a Kievan of Varangian origins) nobleman, named Bartholomew arrived in the retinue of Agatha, wife of Edward the Exile. Bartholomew became Chamberlain to Saint Margaret of Scotland. Bartholomew later married Malcolm III sister, Princess Beatrix of Scotland. His brother inlaw Malcolm III made him Governor of Edinburgh Castle. No trace can be found in the Ragman Rolls of any members of the Leslie family-despite their strong connection to a number of claimants to the Scots crown.We can only surmise that they viewed the slaughter by Edward I at Berwick upon Tweed with disdain. The family sided with Robert the Bruce against firstly The Comyn in the Buchan and secondly Edward I and as a result were awarded large tracts of Aberdeenshire. They fought at the Battle of Bannockburn.

Sir Andrew de Lesly was one of the signatories when a letter, the Declaration of Arbroath, was sent to the Pope in 1320 asserting Scotland's independence. The first Leslie in Aberdeenshire was Alexander who was Constable of The Bass in Inverurie on behalf of the kings brother. His son Walter died at the Battle of Harlaw in 1411 together with six of his cousins from Balquhain.

There is a story that links the Leslie family to the "Holy Rood" (a piece of the cross of Christ.On a website speaking on the topic of the Knights Templar the Leslie Clan rode with Knights Templar in the times of Sinclair involvement with the Knights Templar.

16th century

During the Anglo-Scottish Wars George de Lesly was the Leslys' first Earl. His grandson, the 2nd Earl, was killed at the Battle of Flodden Field in 1513 and the third Earl, also George, carried out a private family vendetta on the life of David Beaton, cardinal Archbishop of St Andrews. At the trial he was acquitted.

Fetternear which became the home of the Leslie,s of Balquhain,Wardes and Warthill includes the remains of a 14th-century palace, home of Bishop Alexander Kininmund who, in 1320, drafted the Declaration of Arbroath, the letter sent to Pope John XXII in Avignon declaring that the Scots would never be subjected to English rule. It also incorporates the remains of even earlier palaces and sites of settlement dating back 4,000 years.

After the Reformation in Scotland in 1560, Fetternear became the principal Scottish seat of the Leslies of Balquhain and Fetternear. It had been granted to the family as a reward for saving St Machar's cathedral, Aberdeen, from destruction. In the 17th century, the family became successful mercenaries, acquiring through might, diplomacy and marriage a string of properties in central and eastern Europe. Their strong Catholic faith helped sustain Fetternear as a centre of recusancy, as evidenced by a religious plaque carrying IHS and MRA monograms set into the facade of the existing 17th-century palace, now only a shell. Given Leslie links with central Europe, it is significant that the combination of monograms, extremely rare in Scotland, is characteristically used in the Alps.

In 1544 the Clan Ruthven, who held considerable sway over Perth from their nearby Castle Huntingtower, often disputed the authority of the Clan Charteris, which led to a bitter and bloody feud. In 1544 Patrick, Lord Ruthven, was elected Provost of Perth, but at the instigation of Cardinal Beaton, who suspected Ruthven of Protestant sympathies, was deprived of the office, and John Charteris of Kinfauns was appointed in his stead. The city declined to acknowledge Charteris, and barred the gates against him. Clan Charteris, along with Lord Gray and Clan Leslie, gathered their forces and attacked the town. They were repulsed by the Clan Ruthven who were assisted by their neighbours the Clan Moncreiffe, and Charterises was forced to flee. The Ruthvens remained Provosts of Perth until William Ruthven, Earl of Gowrie, was executed in 1584. In 1552 John Charteris had been killed by the earl's heir in the High Street in Edinburgh.

John Leslie, Bishop of Ross was born in 1526. He was the most loyal of Mary, Queen of Scots's supporters during the turbulent times of 1562. It was John Leslie who wrote for her the famous History of Scotland.

In 1571 the Clan Leslie joined forces with the Clan Gordon against their bitter enemies the Clan Forbes. The Gordons were also joined by Clan Irvine and Clan Seton. The Forbes were joined by Clan Fraser, Clan Keith and Clan Crichton. The feud between the Gordons and Forbes which had gone on for centuries culminated in two full scale battles: The Battle of Tillieangus and the Battle of Craibstone. It was at the Battle of Tillieangus that the 6th Lord Forbes' youngest son known as Black Aurther Forbes was killed. Legend has it that "he stooped down to quench his thirst and one of the Gordons gave him his death blow through an open joint in his armour".

17th century

Thirty Years' War

During the early 17th century, when the Leslies of Fife and Aberdeenshire had divided along religious lines, both branches found scarce employment in opposing forces during the Thirty Years War. General Alexander Leslie of Balgonie fought for Gustavus Adolphus, the King of Sweden. He achieved great fame across Europe for his skills in war and returned to Scotland a Field Marshal. Meanwhile Walter Leslie, a younger son of Leslie of Balquhain had achieved recognition working for the Imperial Austro-Hungarian Empire where he was ordered to kill Albrecht von Wallenstein by the Austrian monarch.

By the time the 7th Earl was presented with the Dukedom of Rothes by Charles II in 1680, Walter Leslie of Balquhain had established the House of Leslie in the Holy Roman Empire. Walter's meteoric rise began in 1634 when he was made 1st Count Leslie by Emperor Ferdinand II, Governor of the Styrian -(now Slovenian)-Croatian military border in 1637, son-in-law to the Prince of Liechtenstein in 1640, Field Marshal in 1658 and finally invested in 1666 with the Order of the Golden Fleece in recognition of defeating the Ottomans in 1665. As Imperial Ambassador, he travelled the Danube to Istanbul to conclude the peace treaty with Sultan Mehmet IV, to whom he gave a brace of hunting hounds.

His nephew and heir, Field Marshal James, 2nd Count Leslie was one of the generals responsible for the defence of Vienna in 1683, the most important geopolitical event in Europe until 1815. He and his friend the Earl of Arundel commanded the right wing of John Sobieski's army.
The last of the male line Anthony, 5th Count Leslie died in 1802 when the family seat of Nove Med Matyij was sold. Of particular interest are the Roman Catholic vestments made from the silver braid taken as plunder after the Battle and siege of Vienna in 1683.They presently reside in the Museum of Blairs in Aberdeen having been given to the Catholic Church by the Leslies of Balquhain and Fetternear.The family is also celebrated on the roof of the Scots Church in Vienna which was erected by the Habsburg rulers in order to thank the Scots who fought at the Siege of Vienna. Alexander Leslie of Warthill's brother William (c.1650–1727) became Prince-Bishop Count William Leslie of Laibach/Ljubljana on 5 January 1718 until his death on 4 April 1727. One of the family's ancestral castles at Warthill built in approx. 1200, is still the seat of the Aberdeenshire Chieftain, Sebastian Leslie of Warthill.

Wars of the Three Kingdoms

Commanding the Covenanters Alexander Leslie, 1st Earl of Leven and General Robert Monro captured Edinburgh Castle with a thousand men.

With the Scots Alexander Leslie, 1st Earl of Leven went into England in 1640 and defeated the King's soldiers at the Battle of Newburn. For this he was created Earl of Lewis by King Charles I. General Alexander Leslie of Balgonie fought for Gustavus Adolphus, the King of Sweden. He achieved great fame across Europe for his skills in war and returned to Scotland a Field Marshal.

In 1642 Alexander Leslie, 1st Earl of Leven went to Ireland and held command alongside Robert Munro (d. 1680) of the Scottish Army. They were sent to put down a rebellion of Irishmen who had killed Scotts in Ulster. In 1644, Alexander Leslie, 1st Earl of Leven commanded Scottish Covenantor forces to victory over English Royalists at the Battle of Marston Moor in 1644. This battle was the largest battle of the English and Scottish Civil War, and one of the most decisive. It resulted in a Parliamentarian victory, which meant that the north of England was effectively lost to King Charles for the rest of the war.

During the Civil War General David Leslie, Lord Newark was victorious commanding his Scottish Covenanters force against a Scottish Royalist force at the Battle of Philiphaugh in 1645. The Royalist army of James Graham, 1st Marquess of Montrose was destroyed by the Covenanter army of Sir David Leslie, restoring the power of the Committee of Estates.

Dunaverty Castle was a MacDonald stronghold. During the Civil War it was besiged in 1647 by Scottish supporters of Oliver Cromwell who were led by General David Leslie, Lord Newark from Clan Leslie. The MacDonalds surrendered and then 300 of them were massacred. The castle is nothing more than a ruin now, known as Blood Rock.

During the Civil War General David Leslie, Lord Newark laid siege to the Royalist garrison at Kincardine Castle. The Castle was being held by the Chief of Clan MacNab. MacNab found that it would not be possible to maintain defense and during the night, sword in hand at the head of 300 men they cut their way through the besieging force. All made it through apart from the MacNab chief himself and one other man who were captured and sent to Edinburgh as prisoners of war. The chief was sentenced to death but he escaped and rejoined King Charles and continued to fight. General David Leslie's Scottish Covenanter force was defeated by the Scottish Parliamentarian forces who were at this point in time loyal to the Parliament of England and Oliver Cromwell at the Battle of Dunbar (1650). David Leslie successfully commanded the Scottish Argyll Government Royalist forces at the Battle of Carbisdale (1650) where he was victorious against Scottish Royaslist forces commanded by James Graham, 1st Marquess of Montrose.

General David Leslie's Royalist Forces were defeated at the Battle of Worcester in 1651. Sir David Leslie who was now commanding Royalist forces, had supported the plan of fighting in Scotland, where royal support was strongest. King Charles, however, insisted on making the war in England.

18th century

During the Jacobite Uprisings the Chief of Clan Leslie supported the British government as he was a Protestant while his kinsmen in Aberdeenshire remained Catholic. The 9th Earl of Rothes now the Duke of Rothes was Vice Admiral of Scotland and governor of Stirling Castle. He commanded a British regiment of cavalry at the Battle of Sherrifmuir in 1715 where he helped defeat the Jacobites. Meanwhile his kinsmen in Aberdeenshire who had remained Roman Catholic continued to support the Jacobite cause in both the 1715 and 1745 rebellions not least because of their contacts with Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Vatican which had continued from the previous century.