Written by Gwen Sinclair and Barbie Short
In our series looking into the lives of the people who lived at Dundonald Castle, it’s time to find out more about the First Stewart Queen, Euphemia de Ross – wife of Robert II who would have spent time here in the Ayrshire countryside, perhaps providing her with relative peace and contemplation at their tower house at Dundonald – in her unexpected role as queen consort. Euphemia found herself elevated from the wife of the heir apparent to becoming the wife of the reigning king of Scotland in 1371. This meant that she now shared his social rank, and equivalent female monarchical title, but historically, wouldn’t have shared his political and military powers.
Euphemia was the third daughter for Hugh or Aodh de Ross, 4th Earl of Ross, and first for his second wife Margaret de Graham, daughter of Sir David de Graham of Montrose – Euphemia is likely to be named after her grandmother, Euphemia de Berkley – born circa April 1249, daughter of Sir Hugh de Berkeley 6th Laird of Towie and Justiciar of Lothian. Euphemia de Berkley was famous for defending the family lands whilst her husband William II Earl of Ross was imprisoned in London by Edward I.
Euphemia had 2 half brothers – John who we know little about, and William, who was their father’s heir to the Earldom of Ross, and who had for some reason been banished to Norway for a time, and as well was often away on military campaigns, leaving much of the practical rule of the earldom of Ross to Euphemia’s full brother Hugh, Lord of Philorth. We’ll find out more about them later, as they for better or for worse, feature in the future of Euphemia’s story. Meanwhile Euphemia had two half sisters – Marjory, who became Countess of Caithness, and Janet, who again we know little about, from her father Earl Hugh’s first marriage to Matilda Bruce (c1285-c1323) – a sister of Robert I the Bruce (1306-1329) – which gives us some idea as to when Euphemia was born – given that records from the period are sparse – if Matilda died in 1323, Euphemia’s mother Margaret may have been married to Earl Hugh within the year, and presuming Euphemia was born before her brother, Hugh, this gives her a potential birth year of c1325.
Euphemia’s father, Earl Hugh, who strongly supported Bruce’s claim to the throne, whose favour with Robert I is evidenced by him granting his sister, Matilda in marriage. In December 1315 Robert I also granted Earl Hugh the sheriffdom and burgh of Cromarty and Cromarty Castle – giving him the much coveted control over the Cromarty Firth, as well as a third of the lands in Kirkcudbrightshire, and some lands on Skye – which appears to have restored in part the lordship of Skye to the Earls of Ross. Earl Hugh remained faithful to the Bruces even after Robert the Bruce’s death in 1329 – although this loyalty became his downfall when he came out in support of the Bruce’s son, David II (1329-1371) and was killed alongside many other Scottish nobles at the battle of Halidon Hill on 19th July 1333 in an attempt to lift Edward III’s siege of Berwick. It was said that Earl Hugh de Ross and his Highland army fought a valiant rearguard action as the Scots advanced across boggy ground greeted by great clouds of arrows released by English archers.
Euphemia was betrothed to John Randolph, son of Thomas Randolph 1st Earl of Moray, also a supporter of Robert the Bruce, who in 1312 had granted Thomas Randolph the earldom of Moray, which included Lochaber, and the northern marches of Argyll – some of which were already part of the Ross lands. It’s difficult to imagine that the betrothal of Euphemia to John Randolph was not made in order to appease her family, since these lands would have in part been restored to the earldom of Ross though Euphemia. Daughters were often used to bridge conflict over lands and titles within medieval hierarchy and so it was customary for noble’s marriages to be made to convenience those in power. Euphemia would probably have had no say in the matter.
John became 3rd Earl of Moray and was an important figure in the reign of David II, serving as joint Regent of Scotland alongside Robert Stewart, 7th High Steward of Scotland – who would later become Euphemia’s 2nd husband.
John and Euphemia’s marriage took place around 1343, with Euphemia becoming the Countess of Moray, at around 18 years old. Within 3 years, however, John was killed at the battle of Neville’s Cross on 17th October 1346 when David II, responding to a request from France to invade England, was intercepted and defeated by the unexpectedly large northern army of Edward III. This defeat for Scotland left their king imprisoned in England for over a decade, as well as leaving Euphemia a rather vulnerable, childless widow at only around 21 years of age. The king’s absence also found heir apparent, Robert Stewart, made Guardian of Scotland in his uncle David II’s stead.
Widowhood would have been a difficult for Euphemia since in medieval times widows were forced to adhere to societal restrictions and she may well have had to remain in the margins of society for a time. This ‘prolonged period of passage’ was supposed to allow a woman time to emotionally adjust to her situation, but at the same time to protect the community against their superstitions about death!
Euphemia remained a widow for around 10 years, and during that time would’ve been managing her estates as Countess of Moray, possibly living at Darnaway Castle, near Forres. The name Darnaway represents an anglicisation of the Gaelic Taranaich, meaning thunder, or place of thunder. Adding a dramatic segue to her story – this was originally Comyn land, famously forfeited to John Randolph’s father, Thomas – where nearby Randolph’s Leap crosses the River Findhorn marking the spot where Thomas reputedly jumped across in pursuit of the Comyns before taking their castle. This then became bestowed on the Randolphs by Robert the Bruce, along with the Earldom of Moray. Darnaway Castle has remained the seat of the Earls of Moray ever since, and contains a banqueting hall said to be capable of accommodating 1000 people!
Euphemia would have lived through the Black Death, which had come to Scotland in 1350, and which had a devastating effect on the population with as many as one-third having died. Euphemia may well have stayed in the North in order to try to escape its reaches, and this terrible event could’ve also prolonged her period of widowhood. In medieval times, only with another marriage, were woman finally permitted to cast aside the widow’s veil – leaving them to recover to what was regarded as a stable position in society…
That position for Euphemia was to eventually become Queen consort – although she would not have expected this since David II was a young man of around 30 years of age when she eventually re-married, making Robert’s prospects of inheriting the Scottish throne fairly distant. Maurice Moray, earl of Strathearn had also died during Scotland’s disastrous campaign in Northumbria in 1346 – leaving this title vacant and with it, a marriage prospect with Euphemia began to appear sometime after the death of Robert’s first wife, Elizabeth Mure of Rowallan (c.1315-1354). Intended to ease the feud this vacant title had created between Robert and Euphemia’s brother William III Earl of Ross – a feud that may well have begun when William had been part of the conspiracy to overthrow Robert from his position of Guardian of Scotland in the 1350s – this quarrel continuing to grow with disputes over revenues. William began to feel menaced by Robert’s aggrandisements into Strathearn and Badenoch, and more so when Robert arranged a marriage to John MacDonald Lord of the isles with his daughter, Margaret Stewart in 1350, which William saw as the deliberate development of an anti-Ross alliance. The only way to settle this dispute, it seems, was by allowing Robert to marry William’s sister, whereby the title of Earl of Strathearn then became another for Robert Stewart, together with Euphemia’s substantial property rights, and her control of the Lordship of Badenoch since Robert was entitled to her own dower plus a third of the late John Randolph’s estates. It must be said though that Robert appears to have actively tried to make peace with Euphemia’s brothers, perhaps because he had his eye on their sister, which resulted in Hugh Fraser, 4th Lord of Lovat, and possible cousin of Euphemia, sarcastically ordered by William to escort Euphemia to “go and marry the ‘king!”
We know that Euphemia did just that – probably with little say in the matter, as she packed her trunks, her land and title deeds, and headed awa’ to be married to a man of 39, said to have been tall, handsome and cheerful, and who was likely no stranger to Euphemia, since she had probably met him when her late husband John, and Robert had been joint Guardians of Scotland. This marriage to Robert would’ve not only elevated Euphemia’s status into the Scottish Royal family, but with it would’ve released her from the medieval confines of widowhood, and almost immediately thrust into the hoi polloi of the royal court around the age of 30.
Euphemia and Robert Stewart married officially by dispensation granted by Pope Innocent VI at Avignon, 2 May 1355, but not without mention of the reason for the marriage which stated ‘on account of the discords between Robert and the earl of Ross, Eufamia’s brother, a marriage should be arranged.’ This affinity from the Pope was further to required due to her first husband, John Randolph having been a second cousin to Robert, as well as that Euphemia and Robert were blood-related in the fourth degree of consanguinity.
“Motherhood was an integral part of queenship. A king needed legitimate heirs to ensure smooth succession to the crown, and so it was essential that a queen produce children.”Dr Amy Hayes
It’s fair to assume that the usual pressures on noble women to produce heirs was one thing that Euphemia would not have needed to face in her second marriage – since Robert Stewart already had 10 children by his late wife, and several illegitimate children by various mistresses. So immediately Euphemia would have become step-mother to Robert’s children – the oldest of which, John, the heir apparent, would’ve been 18 years old, with the rest in steps and stairs down to the youngest, probably wee Elizabeth being only 2 years old at the time of their marriage, although dates for some of Robert’s children’s births are difficult to find.
Over the next few years Euphemia set about increasing the strength of the House of Stewart to at least 22 children, by adding a son the following year, with another son and two daughters to follow:
David Stewart: born c1356 – who became Earl Palatine of Strathearn. He married a sister of David Lindsay 1st Earl of Crawford, whose first name is unknown, had one child – Euphemia Stewart, Countess of Strathearn. In 1371 he was given the title of Barony of Urquhart. He died c.1389/90.
Walter Stewart: born c1360 – who became 1st Earl of Atholl. He married Margaret Barclay Lady of Brechin. He was beheaded at Edinburgh in 1437 for being involved in the assassination of his half-nephew, King James I.
Elizabeth Stewart: born c1362 – who married Sir David Lindsay of Glenesk , 1st Earl of Crawford in 1385, and became Countess of Crawford. Her dowry was the barony of Strathnairn which included Strathnairn Castle. Sir David had a great reputation for knightly prowess and accepted a challenge given by Lord Welles to travel to London on behalf of all Scotsmen, granted safe passage by King Richard for the express purpose of a dual or ‘passage of arms’ where he fought Lord Welles on London Bridge before the King Richard II (1377-1399) and his Queen during the feast of St George in 1390. Elizabeth’s husband vanquished Lord Welles which, according to chroniclers, found him leaping to the ground, and back to the saddle in full armour, unhorsing Lord Welles, then leading him gently to be presented to the Queen. Afterwards King Richard presented him with a silver cup and was entertained for some time to come in England. Sir David was reputed to have founded the church of St Mary in Dundee shown by a charter on 10th December 1406.
Egidia (Jill) Stewart of Lounane: said to have been born at Dundonald Castle c1368 – although Dundonald Castle became a Royal Castle in 1371, it’s generally agreed that the building of the castle would have been completed before this as Robert II was issuing charters from here in that year. This means it could very well have been habitable in 1368, and there are no surviving historical records or archaeological ones been found to prove or dispute this. Egidia became known as the ‘The Fair Maid of Nithsdale’ when she married William Douglas of Nithsdale supposedly at the age of 12 in 1388 – making her birth year more likely to be 1376 – however this would make her mother Euphemia about 51 years of age when she gave birth!
Even though Euphemia was firmly back out into society, above and beyond anything she would probably have expected, on the 22nd February 1371 her fates changed dramatically when King David II died without an heir. On the 26th March 1371 Robert Stewart, as Robert the Bruce’s grandson, and heir presumptive, was crowned king of Scots by William de Landallis, Bishop of St Andrews at Scone Abbey.
It seems though that a delay of two year occurred before Euphemia was officially made Queen. This is thought to have been due to the fact that the Stewart’s ideal succession fell on his male children by his first wife, Elizabeth Mure, and then after to his male children by Euphemia Ross – who by then had two sons. To add further complication, Robert’s children by Elizabeth were born before their marriage was legitimised in 1347, and this meant that Robert II’s heir was technically a child born out of wedlock. It seems that Robert II wanted to secure this succession, and it was only after this became clearly laid out in an act of parliament in 1373 that Euphemia Ross was finally crowned. Such a delay suggests that Euphemia becoming queen before this happened may have enhanced the status of her sons as the rightful heirs.
Nonetheless, at the age of approximately 48, Euphemia was now a fully fledged medieval Queen consort, and all that this entailed. In her study of Scottish medieval Queenship Dr Amy Hayes suggests that as Queen, Euphemia “would have been expected to be beautiful, but her beauty ought not to inspire lust; she should be chaste, but she must be a mother; she was to be influential, yet she do nothing to undermine the position of the king.” We might imagine that this would’ve been like walking on eggshells for Euphemia – if golden ones!
In her role as Queen, Euphemia would suddenly have become a fairly public figure, expected to have religious devotion, undertake acts of charity, as well as doing all she could to promote peace within the realm. However, it seems that her marriage to Robert II had not fully concluded the feud between her husband and her brothers! Robert II seems to have ignored pleas by Earl William and Hugh to help preserve Ross lands which were increasingly becoming under threat by neighbouring clans. Robert eventually responded by sending Euphemia’s son, David, to take the title of the earldom of nearby Caithness on 28th December 1377 – which we might imagine could’ve brought some support, since he was the nephew of the Earls of Ross – but it rather looks like an excuse for Robert II to expand Stewart territories!
Meanwhile, as Queen, Euphemia was required to undertake the administration of the household. Records show that throughout the 1370s Euphemia had her own Clerk of Liverance. This was a court officer who oversaw the delivery of supplies such as food, drink and clothing. It appears that there that were 2 clerks mentioned in many records between 1371-1375 who had also both served as Clerks of Liverance for David II – Murdoch of Glascister and John McKelly. In 1374 they are both described as Stewards of the Queen’s household. Euphemia also had a Clerk of the Wardrobe named John of Purdovine in 1371, with 1372 bringing her an additional clerk of the wardrobe named John Rollo. It seems that John Rollo was a significant figure in Euphemia’s household since by 1376 he’s named as receiving part of the queen’s allowance, and in accounts later that year, he’d been elevated to the position of the queen’s chamberlain. This was a senior official in charge of managing the royal household, and who historically, would supervise the arrangements of domestic affairs and was often also in charge of receiving and paying out money kept in the royal chamber. Both John of Purdovine and John Rollo are initially described as deputies of David Bell, who was the clerk of the king’s wardrobe. In February 1381 John Rollo seems to have joined Euphemia’s son David in the North for some reason, when Robert II confirmed a grant to give lands to John Rollo in the earldom of Strathearn.
There seems to be some expansion to Euphemia’s household beyond the previously dependant subsidiary to that of Robert’s servants, where Euphemia’s servants had previously been deputies of the king’s servants. This could imply that Euphemia was spending less time in the same location as her husband, or perhaps that Robert II wanted to elevate his status as monarch by having more attendants for his Queen.
In 1383 there was a ‘petition of Queen Euphemia of Scotland’ to Pope Clement III on behalf of her secretary and household chaplain – John Rollock – requesting that he be permitted to obtain a second benefice, despite having been born out of wedlock. This was a permanent Church appointment for which property and income are provided to undertake pastoral duties. This show that she wished to help his social advancement – ticking the box for queenly generosity! Rollo, if he is the same person as Euphemia’s chamberlain, seems to have got about a bit when he went on to be secretary to Robert II’s son Robert, Earl of Fife, in 1398 – known as John Rollo or Rollok of Duncrub, and perhaps moved there after the death of both Robert and Euphemia.
Whilst Euphemia had male attendants performing administrative duties, her personal needs would have been attended to by women. They were ‘ladies-in-waiting’ is a modern day terms, but in medieval times the female servants were split into three categories: Ladies who were high ranking woman acting as personal attendants and companions to the queen; Damsels – slightly lower status women carrying out more physical tasks; and Chamberers who carried out the menial tasks. No evidence remains of the names of the ladies who served Queen Euphemia.
We don’t know what Euphemia looked like, and possibly the only reference to her contemporary appearance comes from a sculpted bust (as pictured above) to be found on the south-west window of the Laigh Hall inside Dundonald Castle – placed above where Robert and Euphemia could have sat down to dine. This is one of two carvings facing each other on opposite sides of the window – thought to be effigies of Robert II and Euphemia placed there to show their undoubtable status of King and Queen, in effect looking down on those who attended their Royal residence.
Royal Dundonald Castle is thought to have been re-built before Robert became King in 1371 by his son John who would go on to become King Robert III (1390-1406) during his time as Lord of Dundonald. This could explain why there are no Royal financial records regarding the work. It could be that Euphemia would have had some say in the layout of the south extension which is thought to have been added later than the main tower of the castle (date unknown) and quite possibly she would’ve contributed to the interior decor such as tapestries, which would have covered the walls.
She may well have developed a garden for flowers and also herbs for medicines and probably also had a walled garden with fruit trees and bee hives, which not only provided honey, but beeswax for the best candles. Herbs were important, and essentially a small square garden would provide her kitchens with rue, sage and basil, mints, heartsease, parsley, chives, dandelions and garlic. Drinks were infused from rosemary, fennel, mint and wormwood. Euphemia may have known which plants aided health, and those which may protect against plague. She may have also grown narcotics such as mandrake, hemlock and poppies. It was essential for aristocratic women to know which plants were efficacious since great castles were seen as places to ask for help and it would have been seemly to provide godly acts of charity.
She would have worn high quality linen for veils, furs from many animals, Spanish and Italian brocaded silks and velvet with taffeta to line her woollen garments. Much of her time would’ve been spent adorning herself as queen, performing her Christian duties, hearing petitions, practicing charity, sorting out her quarrelsome stepchildren, raising her own brood, and entertaining ambassadors, courtiers, lords, clerics and foreign knights. A busy life indeed!
Euphemia died in 1387, at approximately 62 years old, predeceasing her husband by about 3 years, and so it’s impossible to comment on how her life would have panned out financially as dowager queen. It’s likely that Euphemia may have been in a vulnerable position as she was not the mother of the heir to the throne. The exact date and the place of her death have gone unrecorded, although several references say that she died at Dundonald Castle, where Robert II himself died in 1390. She is interred at Paisley Abbey.
She must have been a very good-natured and long-suffering lady, to put up with the numerous and flagrant infidelities of her royal husband – and would have known of Robert’s mistresses. We might conclude that her personal charm and beauty may be inferred from the fact that both her daughters possessed those qualities in a marked degree so much so that it was said of Egidia that Charles V of France “sent a certain most subtle painter to do her portrait and portray her charms, intending to take her to wife.” Euphemia’s successor as Queen was Annabella Drummond who was the niece of second wife of David II, and who also like Euphemia, had to wait quite some time before becoming Queen after her marriage to Robert’s son John, who became Robert III in 1390. We will be looking into the life of Annabella and John in a later blog looking at the life of Robert II’s successor.
We can’t know the full story of Euphemia’s life but it does seem that she had to face an arranged marriage, and subsequent early widowhood, and all the pressures which came with that in medieval times. She then had another reasonably coerced second marriage, taking her immediately into step-motherhood to 10 – and perhaps even to some of Robert’s illegitimate children, before being a mother to 4 of her own. She lived through the last blasts of the 13th century ice age, the first onslaught of the bubonic plague, part of the First and certainly the Second War of Independence. We can only hope that she found peace and solace during her time at Dundonald Castle – where its upper reaches contained her bedchamber, complete with guarderobe, dressing and en suite toilet area and where the windows give clear views to the undulating peaks of Arran and the last of the light fading behind the Paps of Jura, across the firth of Clyde. Perhaps this took Euphemia back to the memory of her childhood highland home – in what is now Ross and Cromarty – the geographical area it covers, in part due to the her family.
Oh if the sun comes down in December
And the snow lies over the green
I’ll leave the last drop in my glass to remember
The eyes of my Highland Queen.Skipinnish
Find out more about Euphemia de Ross from our tour guide Barbie Short who outlines the story of Euphemia’s life in this short film from our Youtube Channel:
Sutherland, E;1999. ‘Five Euphemias: Medieval Women in Scotland 1200-1420’. Constable
Dr Amy Hayes. July 2018. The Stewart Queens 1371-1513, Euphemia Ross; the Surprise Queen: History Scotland magazine: https://www.historyscotland.com/history/the-stewart-queens-of-scotland-1371-1513-euphemia-ross-the-surprise/
Boardman, S. 2007. The Early Stewart Kings: John Donald Publishing
Short, J; The Early Stewart Queens : Euphemia Ross to Joan Beaufort.John Donald Short Run Press;
http://theses.gla.ac.uk/7242/1/2015cochran-yuphd.pdf The Earldom of Ross 1215-1517 by
Scottish Archaeological Journal, Vol. 26, No 1/2 Dundonald Castle Excavations 1986-93 (2004), pp i-x, 1-166. https://www.euppublishing.com/toc/saj/26/1-2?fbclid=IwAR09MiQYKKy-5ICJgLWX1Nrz8dpQCdlIX65MV87J5Lr8rKK3TdWNyHT0qv0
Randolph’s Leap By Des Colhoun, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9316148
Medieval Queen by https://pixabay.com/users/arttower-5337/
Euphemia’s Royal Coat of arms by Sodacan licenced under https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Arms_of_Euphemia_de_Ross.svg
Euphemia’s family tree by Gwen Sinclair for FoDC
The Battle of Neville’s Cross By Froissart’s Chronicle, Public Domain. https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7713420
Darnaway Caslte By John Claude Nattes – This image is available from the National Library of Scotland under the sequence number or Shelfmark ID J.134.f. You can see this image in its original context, along with the rest of the Library’s digital collections, in the NLS Digital Gallery, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=33372342
Robert and Euphemia By Forman Armorial (produced for Mary, Queen of Scots) – This image is available from the National Library of Scotland under the sequence number or Shelfmark ID Adv.MS.31.4.2, fol.9., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1409432
The last of the light at Dundonald Castle image by Lauren Welsh