Key figure in one of Scotland’s leading clans

Born: August 22, 1955.

Died: January 13, 2020.

THE Countess of Erroll, who has died aged 64 after a heart attack, was the wife of the Earl of Erroll, Lord High Constable of Scotland and Chief of Clan Hay. The former is one of the most ancient hereditary titles in Scotland and in a ceremonial capacity takes precedence above all titles except those of the royal family. The Lord High Constable of Scotland traditionally ranked after the King of Scots.

The office became hereditary in the 12th century and has been held by the Hays of Erroll since it was granted to the Hay family by Robert the Bruce after the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314. Tradition allows the family a private herald, Slains Pursuivant, the first recorded holder of which was in 1404.

In more modern times the Hay family is best known, perhaps, for the murder, in Kenya, of the 22nd earl, Josslyn Hay. He was a leading figure in the so-called “Happy Valley” set and his affair with Lady Diana Broughton, the wife of Sir Jock Delves Broughton Bt in the late 1930s, led to his murder in mysterious circumstances in 1941. Films, television dramas and many books have recorded the affair.

Isabelle Jacqueline Laline Hohler was born in Brussels into an old aristocratic family. Her father, Major Thomas Hohler, was a noted banker who also had a distinguished military career, winning an Military Cross in the North African campaign during the Second World War.

She grew up in Hampshire and in time inherited her father’s Hampshire estate and her paternal grandmother’s property, Woodbury House in Bedfordshire.

Lord Erroll had grown up at Easter Moncreiffe in Perthshire, Old Slains in Aberdeenshire and in Edinburgh. He had served in the army then worked as a marketing and computer consultant. They were married in 1982 and lived principally at Wolverton, near Basingstoke.

Lady Erroll became an expert at refurbishing the two family homes, and firstly brought an inspired imagination and energy to Woodbury, which had been left unmodernised for many years.

Lady Erroll then turned her skills to the other Astell property, Moggerhanger Hall, a distinguished house in Bedfordshire, originally designed by the architect John Soane. She was determined to preserve and enhance the status of both these historic houses – in fact,she saved them from total destruction,such was their state of dilapidation – and over the years continued her connection through her very active chairing of the Moggerhanger House Preservation Trust.

She gained a considerable reputation for restoring grand houses and also served as a trustee of Belmont, a Georgian house in Kent. Moggerhanger became a permanent home for the exhibition of the Human Trafficking Foundation.

But central to her activities in Scotland was assisting her husband in his duties as the High Constable. On many royal occasions in Scotland her husband was on duty at formal ceremonies – notably supporting the Queen’s representative at the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, the Thistle Ceremony at St Giles, and such events as the Holyrood Garden parties. Lady Erroll performed her duties as his wife with much charm and caught the formal nature of the event with a relaxed and charming air.

Lady Erroll did much to further and support Clan Hay, accompanying her husband to many clan gatherings in North America, Australasia and continental Europe. Alan Hay, the Hay Clan genealogist, remembered Lady Erroll with a particular pleasure. He told The Herald: “Lady Erroll and her husband were regular supporters of the Clan Hay’s annual gathering, centred on the Aboyne Games weekend. Last August they were accompanied by their son, Lord Hay, and his new wife Clemmie.

“They were most active throughout Aberdeenshire, especially at events in Cruden Bay, on the Mar Lodge Estate on Royal Deeside and around her husband’s family home at Old Slains. Merlin [Lord Erroll] memorably first introduced Isabelle to Clan Hay at a stovie night held at the Clan Hay Centre, Delgatie Castle near Turriff, soon after their marriage.

“They also travelled extensively to Clan Hay events in North America. They had been due to attend the Florida Games and AGM of the American branch in the week of Isabelle’s sudden death. Their son Harry attended instead - a decision that the family considered Isabelle would have much approved of.”

Lady Erroll was always on the look-out for memorabilia and portraits which would enhance the clan’s archives, and over the years was able to return to the clan many family portraits that had been sold a century previously.

Lady Erroll is survived by her husband and their two sons and two daughters.

Alasdair Steven