Josslyn Hay, 22nd Earl of Erroll

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Lord Erroll.

Josslyn Victor Hay, 22nd Earl of Erroll (11 May 1901, Mayfair, London – 24 January 1941, Nairobi-Ngong road, Kenya)[1] was a British peer, famed for the unsolved case surrounding his murder and the sensation it caused during wartime in Britain.

Early life[edit]

Hay was the eldest son of the diplomat Victor Hay, Lord Kilmarnock (later Earl of Erroll) and his wife Lucy, the only daughter of Sir Allan Mackenzie, 2nd Baronet. In 1911, he attended the coronation of George V and carried his grandfather's coronet.[2] He began at Eton College in 1914 but was dismissed two years later.

Although possessing one of Scotland's most distinguished titles, the earls, by this time, had no wealth, and had to develop careers to earn their living. In 1920, Hay was appointed honorary attaché at Berlin under his father, who was earlier appointed chargé d'affaires there before the arrival of Edgar Vincent, 1st Viscount D'Abernon.[3] His father was soon appointed High Commissioner to the Rhineland, but Hay stayed in Berlin and served under Lord D'Abernon until 1922.

After passing the Foreign Office examinations, Hay was expected to follow his father into diplomacy, but instead became infatuated with Lady Idina Sackville, a daughter of Gilbert Sackville, 8th Earl De La Warr, divorced wife of the politician Euan Wallace and the wife of Charles Gordon. Lady Idina soon divorced her husband in 1923 and she and Hay were married on 22 September 1923.[1]


After causing a society scandal due to their marriage – she was twice-divorced, notoriously unconventional in many ways, and eight years his senior – Hay and his wife moved to Kenya in 1924, financing the move with Idina's money. Their home was a bungalow on the slopes of the Aberdare Range which they called Slains, after the former Hay family seat of Slains Castle which was sold by Hay's grandfather, the 20th Earl, in 1916. The bungalow was sited alongside the high altitude farms which other white Kenyans were establishing at the time.

The Happy Valley set were a group of elite, colonial expatriates who became notorious for drug use, drinking, adultery and promiscuity, amongst other things. Hay soon became a part of this group and accumulated debts. Hay had inherited his father's titles in 1928 and his wife divorced him in 1930 because he was cheating her financially. Hay then married the divorced Edith Maude ("Molly") Ramsay-Hill on 8 February 1930. They lived in Oserian, a Moroccan-style house on the shores of Lake Naivasha and his new wife succumbed to the hedonistic lifestyle of Happy Valley.

On a visit to England in 1934, Lord Erroll joined Oswald Mosley's British Union of Fascists and on his return to Kenya a year later, became president of the Convention of Associations. He was a devotee of Hitler and Fascism, a rabid anti-Semite, and stated his intention to introduce Fascism into Africa. He attended the coronation of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth in 1936 and was elected to the legislative council as member for Kiambu in 1939.[4] On the outbreak of World War II that year, Lord Erroll became a captain in the Kenya Regiment and accepted the post of Military Secretary for East Africa in 1940.

On 13 October 1939, Lady Erroll died. At the Muthaiga Country Club in 1940, Lord Erroll met, and subsequently had an affair with, Lady Diana Broughton, the wife of Sir Jock Delves Broughton, Bt. (and, ultimately, Baroness Delamere).[citation needed]


Delves Broughton learned of the affair and after spending a night with Lady Delves Broughton, Lord Erroll was found shot dead in his Buick at a crossroads on the Nairobi-Ngong road on 24 January 1941. Sir Jock was accused of the murder, arrested on 10 March and stood trial from 26 May. There were no eyewitnesses to the killing; the evidence against him proffered in court was weak; and his barber was also foreman of the jury. Because of these factors, Sir Jock was acquitted on 1 July. He committed suicide in England a year later.

Lord Erroll was buried in the graveyard of St Paul's Church, Kiambu, Kenya next to his second wife. His earldom and lordship of Hay passed to his only daughter, Diana, by his first wife, whilst his barony of Kilmarnock passed to his brother, Gilbert.

Popular culture[edit]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Cokayne et al., The Complete Peerage, volume I, p.1337
  2. ^ London Gazette – 26 September 1911
  3. ^ London Gazette – 23 January 1920
  4. ^ London Gazette – 10 November 1936
  5. ^ "'White Mischief' murder finally solved after 66 years". Daily Mail. 11 May 2007. 
  6. ^ "Revealed: the White Mischief murderer". Daily Telegraph. 11 May 2007. 


External links[edit]

Peerage of Scotland
Preceded by
Victor Alexander Sereld Hay
Earl of Erroll
Succeeded by
Diana Denyse Hay
Peerage of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Victor Alexander Sereld Hay
Baron Kilmarnock
Succeeded by
Gilbert Boyd