The Founder of the family of Leslie was Bartholomew (or Bartolf), a Hungarian nobleman, who came to Scotland in 1067, in the retinue of Princess Agatha, mother of Edgar the Atheling and his sister, Margaret, soon to become Queen to Malcolm Canmore lll. Bartholomew was the Queen’s Chamberlain and found great favour with the King who appointed him Governor of Edinburgh Castle and granted him lands in Fife, Angus and the Mearns in Aberdeenshire. In 1070 Bartholomew married the King’s sister, Beatrix, and thus founded the family of Leslie.
As the Queen’s Chamberlain it was Bartholomew’s duty to carry the Queen on his own horse, with her riding pillion on a pad behind the saddle with a belt round his waist for her to hold. Tradition has it that one day while riding in this fashion they were crossing a swollen stream when the horse stumbled and the Queen fearing she would fall off cried “Gin the buckle bide?” (Will the buckle hold?), Bartholomew, urging his horse to the other side answered crying “Grip Fast!” and they reached the other side safely. This incident so alarmed Bartholomew that he had two more buckles added to his belt, so three buckles on a belt became the Arms of the Leslies and “Grip Fast!” became the motto.
Bartholomew first established himself at Lesselyn, in the Garioch district of Aberdeenshire, where he built a castle. In the course of time Lesselyn became Lesley or Leslie as the family name, with various different spellings.
Many Leslies played important roles in the history of Scotland and later in Europe. Bartholomew’s direct descendant, Sir Norman, sat in the Parliament of Robert the Bruce 1314 and his son Sir Andrew was a signatory to the Declaration of Arbroath 1320. The Rothes line, although the smaller, became the senior branch of the family when George was created the 1st Earl of Rothes about 1457. The 4th Earl was a distinguished diplomat and statesman, the 6th Earl championed The National Covenant 1638, the 7th Earl was Lord High Chancellor of Scotland and in 1680 was created a Duke by Charles ll. The dukedom died with him as it could pass to male heirs only, however the earldom could pass down the female line and so survived.
The other family line was the Leslies of Balquhain, far more numerous and from whom most present day Leslies are descended. Notable among them are the Earls of Leven (now Earls of Leven and Melville), Lords Lindores and Lords Newark, Lords Leslie in Russia, Counts Leslie in France and The Holy Roman Empire and the Leslie branches in Ireland. The majority of Leslies now in North America came via the Irish families.
The Earls of Rothes were Representative Peers of Scotland until the system was abolished in the time of the 20th Earl in 1965.
The 21st Earl was the first Earl to be ‘summoned’ to Parliament by ‘Right’ until this hereditary right was also abolished in 1999. The 21st Earl died on 15 April 2005, and is succeeded by his son, who lives in Dorset.