The origin of the name is alternatively descriptive or geographic, though it is undoubtedly Gaelic. As a descriptive term the name may derive from ‘buidhe’ meaning ‘fair’ or ‘yellow’. It may also refer to Bute, the island next in size to Arran, that is called ‘Bod” in Gaelic, the genitive case of which is ‘Boid.’
In 1205 Dominus Robertus de Boyd witnessed a contract between the Lord of Eglinton and the burgh of Irvine, and consequently the name was found in south-west Scotland throughout the 13th century. By swearing allegiance to Robert the Bruce and the cause of Scottish independence, Duncan Boyd lost his life in 1306 at the hands of the English.
Sir Robert Boyd was equally committed to the Bruce cause and was a commander at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314 His gallant efforts on the battlefield earned him lands in Kilmarnock, Bondington and elsewhere in Ayrshire that had been confiscated from the Balliols.
The title ‘Lord Boyd of Kilmarnock’ that was bestowed upon the family by James II also signalled that they had attained the peerage. This platform made feasible the coup d’état that Robert, eldest son of Sir Thomas Boyd of Kilmarnock, was to attempt. As a trusted royal officer, he was appointed one of the Regents to James III on the death of the young King’s father in 1460.
With his younger brother Thomas, Robert Boyd exerted a powerful influence on the young James. So much so that, by 1466, Thomas Boyd had become the King’s instructor in Knightly exercises, and Robert Boyd, Great Chamberlain. The coup took the form of kidnapping his young charge and obtaining an Act of Parliament, with royal consent of course (though whether this was freely given is debatable), that appointed him sole governor of the realm. Their position was consolidated by the marriage of Thomas to Princess Mary, the King’s sister, who also received the title ‘Earl of Arran and Kilmarnock.’
Their pursuit of privilege, however, was to reap ill rewards for Robert Boyd, the newly appointed Earl of Arran, and Alexander Boyd, Robert’s brother. Through their success they had stirred up a conspiracy against them that was to persuade the King that the throne itself was in danger at the hands of the Boyd ambition. All three were summoned before King and Parliament in Edinburgh to answer such charges. Of the three, Sir Alexander, a sick man, was the only one to meet the fate that they all knew would meet them – execution for treason.
Lord Boyd escaped to England, while the Earl of Arran, Thomas Boyd, accepted the permanent nature of his exile in Europe on hearing of these events. Princess Mary was summoned back from Scotland on the pretence that her husband, Thomas, would be forgiven. Her presence did not entice Thomas to break his exile and risk death and, detained by her brother, her marriage was annulled.
The family adhered to the cause of the King during the Civil War and the reward for William, Lord Boyd, following the Restoration was that he was created Earl of Kilmarnock. The third earl opposed the Stewart claim during the rising of 1715 and commanded a regiment of Ayrshire volunteers. The fourth earl rejected his father’s sympathies and fought for the Young Pretender – Prince Charles Edward Stewart – who appointed him a member of the Privy Council with the rank of general. He fought at the Battle of Culloden, but was captured and eventually beheaded on Tower Hill on 18th August 1746.