Additional Info

Click here to get a Printer Friendly Page

Share

Check all the Clans that have DNA Projects. If your Clan is not in the list there's a way for it to be listed. Electric Scotland's Classified Directory An amazing collection of unique holiday cottages, castles and apartments, all over Scotland in truly amazing locations.

The Scottish Nation
Caithness


CAITHNESS, earl of, in the peerage of Scotland, a title possessed since 1455 by the “lordly line of high St. Clair,” or Sinclair. It is, however, of very great antiquity, and has been held by different families. It was one of the titles of the ancient Vikingrs or sea kings. In Torfaeus’ History of the Orcades, a work which he compiled from the ancient sagas and the Danish records, mention is made of Dungaldus earl or jarl of Caithness so far back as the year 875. In the ‘Islands Landnamabok,’ quoted in the ‘Collectanea de Rebus Albanicis,’ it is stated that after Thorseein the red, sonof Audur the wealthy, had, in conjunction with earl Sigurd the rich, “conquered Kateness and Sudrland, Ross and Moray, and more than the half of Scotland, Thorstein reigned as king over these districts until he was betrayed by the Scotch, and slain in battle. Audur was in Kateness when she heard of her son Thorstein’s death,” and flying to Orkney, she there gave away in marriage Gros, the daughter of Thorstein the red, “to Dungadr, jarl of Kateness; and his daughter Grelauga, by her marriage with Thorfinn, earl of Orkney, brought the former district once more into the possession of these earls.” This was sometime after the year 920. In the same century, one Liotus was earl of Caithness and Orkney. He was probably a Norwegian, and had defeated his brother Scullius in battle in a contest for the earldom.

      In a charter of King David the First to the monastery of Dunfermline, in the year 1129, one Macwilliam is designated earl of Caithness.

      Harold earl of Caithness and Orkney, a powerful chieftain, was a good and faithful subject of King William the Lion till 1196, when he broke out into rebellion. The king marched an army into Caithness, on which the earl submitted, but his sons, Roderick and Torphin, attacking the royal troops, near Inverness, were defeated, and Roderick slain. The following year, the earl, instigated by his wife, the daughter of Mached, again sappeared in arms, and was encountered by the king’s forces, who defeated him and took him prisoner. On being led fettered before the king, he ordered him to be closely confined in a turret of Roxburgh castle, where he remained until the king’s anger was pacified towards him, when he was dismissed on his humble submission, his son, Torphin, having surrendered himself as a pledge for his fidelity. On this occasion the southern division of Caithness, called Sutherland, was taken from Harold [Chalmers’ Caledonia, page 633] and given to Hugh Freskin , sheriff of Inverness, the progenitor of the earls of Sutherland. Harold having again rebelled soon after, the king ordered Torphin’s eyes to be put out, and his body otherwise mutilated, and he died miserably in prison. The earl himself died in 1206. This Harold is said to have murdered John bishop of Caithness.

      In 1222, John earl of Caithness and Orkney possessed these earldoms, when Adam bishop of Caithness, a rigorous exactor of tithes, was assaulted in his episcopal palace at Halkirk, by the people of his diocese, and burnt to death, a monk who attended him, named Serlo, being at the same time killed. The descent of this Adam, says the Orkneyinga Saga, “nobody knew, for the child had been found at the door of some church.” The men of Caithness thought him rather hard in his episcopal government, and chiefly attributed that to the monk Serlo. It was an ancient custom that the bishop should have a spann of butter of twenty cows from every proprietor in Caithness. Bishop Adam wanted to increase this impost, and have a spann, first of fifteen, afterwards of twelve, and, these being successively granted, ultimately of ten cows. The people complained to the earl of the bishop’s exactions, but he declined to interfere in the dispute, on which, in a highly excited state, they attacked the bishop’s residence. The bishop and his followers were drinking in an upper apartment, and when the people came, the monk went out to the door, and he was immediately hewn across the countenance and fell dead into the room. The bishop then went out, intending to make peace with the people, but seizing him they conveyed him to a smaller house than his own, and set fire to it, when the unfortunate bishop was burnt to death. The earl, as he had refused to interpose for the prevention of this deed, was supposed to have connived at it, and he was, in consequence, deprived of his estate by the king, Alexander the Second, but was afterwards permitted to redeem it, on the payment of a large sum of money, and the giving up the third part of the earldom. Earl John was murdered in his own house by his servants in 1231, and his body was consumed to ashes by way of retaliation for the slaughter of the bishop.

      “There is,” says Lord Hailes (Annals of Scotland, vol. i. p. 48. note), “an obscurity in our histories concerning the earls of Caithness, which I am not able to dispel.” This obscurity has greatly puzzled the peerage writers and genealogists, who are unable to reconcile certain discrepancies in dates and persons occurring in connexion with the earldom. According to Crawford’s peerage, Magnus, second son of Gillibrede, earl of Angus, obtained this earldom from King Alexander the Second, in 1222 [if so, this must have been on the forfeiture of Earl John] on payment of a yearly duty of ten pounds sterling to the king and his successors. He had a son, Malcolm, who succeeded him, of whom nothing is known but his name. His son John, earl of Caithness, was one of the Scottish nobles to whom King Edward addressed a letter proposing the marriage of his son to Margaret of Norway; the young queen of Scotland, dated at Brigham, 12th March 1289-90. He was also one of the peers who made default when Baliol held his first parliament at Scone 10th February 1292-3. In 1296 he swore fealty to Edward the First, but his name does not occur in the Remarks on the Ragman Roll. He died about 1330. His succession is involved in perplexity. It would appear, however, that this earl John was succeeded by a daughter or sister, married to Magnus, earl of Orkney, to whom she brought the earldom of Caithness; that Magnus, earl of Caithness and Orkney, had two daughters, his heiresses, Margaret, married to Simon Fraser, (supposed to be the Simon Fraser killed at Halidonhill in 1333,) and Isabella, married to Malise, earl of Strathearn, who, in her right, was also earl of Caithness and Orkney, and accordingly was styled earl of Strathearn, Caithness, and Orkney, and that he had four daughters, coheiresses; the eldest, whose name is not given, married to William, earl of Ross; Isabel, to Sir William Sinclair of Roslin; Matilda, to a person named de le Arde; and the youngest, whose name also has not been recorded, to Reginald Chene. [Douglas’ Peerage, vol. i. page 293.]

_____

 
[Earldon of Caithness]

      The title was next possessed by a branch of the royal family of Stewart; Prince David, earl-palatine of Strathearn, eldest son of King Robert the Second, by his second wife, Euphamia Ross, having been by his father created earl of Caithness early in his reign. In several charters he is styled earl-palatine of Strathearn and earl of Caithness. [See STRATHEARN, earl of.] His daughter, Euphamia, countess palatine of Strathearn, resigned the earldom of Caithness in favour of her uncle Walter, Lord Brechin, second son of King Robert the Second, by Euphamia Ross, and he accordingly obtained fro King Robert the Third a charter of the earldom of Caithness and regality thereof. On being afterwards created earl of Athol, he resigned the earldom of Caithness in favour of his second son, Alan, who obtained from King James the First, a grant of the earldom, dated at Perth 15th May 1430, to himself and legitimate heirs male, whom failing to revert to his father, Walter, earl of Athol. The following year Donald Balloch, a near relation of the potent lord of the isles, landed in Lochaber, with a considerable force, and ravaged that district in the most relentless manner. To check his ferocity and defend the western coast, Alan earl of Caithness and Alexander earl of Mar marched with the royal army, and met the island warrior at the ancient castle of Inverlochy, near Fort William, in the county of Inverness. A bloody conflict ensued, in which the royal troops were completely defeated. The earl of Caithness was slain; and sixteen of his personal attendants, besides many barons and knights, were left dead on the field. Having no issue, the earldom reverted to his father, and on his attainder for the execrable murder of his nephew, King James the First, in 1437, it was forfeited and annexed to the crown.

_____

      The next possessor of the title was Sir George de Crichton, the elder of two sons of Stephen Crichton of Cairns, of the family of Crichton of Crichton. Having acquired the favour of King James the Second, Sir George was constituted lord high admiral of Scotland, and obtained several considerable grants of land from that monarch in 1450, 1451, and 1452, and in the latter year he was created earl of Caithness, the honours being limited to the heirs male of his body, by his second wife, Janet Borthwick, daughter of Sir William Borthwick of Borthwick and relict of James Douglas, Lord Dalkeith. He had a daughter Janet, who inherited the lands of Barnton, in the county of Edinburgh, and who married John Maxwell, supposed to be a younger son of Herbert second Lord Maxwell, by whom she had a son George Maxwell. The earl of Caithness died in 1455, when the title became extinct, and the large estates of the earldom, with the exception of Barnton and Cairns, appear to have reverted to the crown.

_____

      The earldom was next, by James the Second, conferred, 28th August, 1455, on William Sinclair, third earl of Orkney [see ORKNEY, earl of], lord high chancellor of Scotland, in compensation, as the charter bears, of a claim of right which he and his heirs had to the lordship of Niddesdale. He was afterwards designated earl of Orkney and Caithness, but after 1471, in which year he surrendered to King James the Third the earldom of Orkney, he was styled earl of Caithness alone. From him the present branch of the family which now enjoys the title is remotely descended. He was twice married, and had a son by each wife, both named William Sinclair. passing by the son of the first marriage, he resigned, in 1476, the earldom of Caithness in favour of his son by his second wife, Marjory; and he, in consequence, obtained a charter of the whole lands of the earldom, &c., to him and his heirs whatsoever, 7th December of that year.

      William Sinclair, the second earl of this race, was killed, with his royal master, James the Third, at the battle of Flodden in 1513. He married Mary, daughter of Sir William Keith of Innerugy, by whom he had two sons, John, his successor, and Alexander Sinclair of Stamster.

      John Sinclair, the third earl, in 1516 entered into bonds of friendship and alliance, for mutual protection and support, with Adam, earl of Sutherland, from whom, on account thereof, he received a grant of some lands upon the east side of the water of Ully; notwithstanding of which he joined the Mackays, and other enemies of the earl of Sutherland, and took part in all the feuds and quarrels of the country against the Sutherland family. The earl of Sutherland, in consequence, brought an action before the lords of council and session against the earl of Caithness to recover back from him the lands of Strathully, on the ground that he had not fulfilled the condition on which the lands were granted to him. There were other minor points of dispute between the earls, to get all which determined, they both repaired to Edinburgh, where, by the advice of mutual friends, they referred the decision of their differences to Gavin Dunbar, bishop of Aberdeen, who pronounced his award 12th March 1524, which put an end to all controversies, and made the earls live in peace with one another ever after. IN 1529, he and Lord Sinclair [See SINCLAIR, lord] invaded Orkney with a numerous force, in order to assert some claim which they professed to have to the Orkney islands, arising out of the renewed lordship of the earldom of Orkney, and were encountered by the Orcadians, under the command of James Sinclair, governor of Kirkwall castle, at Summerdale or Bigswell in Stenness, 18th May of that year, and there they sustained a most disastrous and signal defeat, the earl of Caithness and five hundred of his followers being slain, and Lord Sinclair and the survivors taken prisoners. In the old Statistical account of Frith and Stenness a copy is inserted of a nineteen years’ respite to Edward Sinclair and his accomplices, for art and part of the convocation and gathering of the lieges in arrayed battle against umquhile John earl of Caithness, and for art and part of the slaughter of the said earl and his friends. By Elizabeth his wife, daughter of William Sutherland of Duffus, he had two sons, William, who appears to have died before his father, and George, fourth earl of Caithness.

      The fourth earl was a cruel and avaricious nobleman, who scrupled not at the commission of the greatest crimes for the attainment of his purposes. The bishop of Caithness being in banishment in England, the earl and Donald Mackay, a chief with whom he was in terms of friendship, took possession of the bishop’s lands, and levied the rent, for the behoof, as they pretended of the exiled bishop. Mackay possessed himself of the castle of Skibo, one of the bishop’s palaces, which he fortified, while the earl, on his part, took possession of the castle of Strabister, another of the episcopal residences. But upon the restoration of the bishop, both the earl and Mackay absolutely refused to surrender to him these, or any other parts of his possessions, or to account to him for the rents they had collected in his name. On their refusal, the earl of Huntly, who was at that time Lieutenant-general in the north of Scotland, and the earl of Sutherland, summoned them to appear before them at Halmsdale, to answer for their intromissions with the bishop’s rents, and for their usurpation of his residences The earl immediately obeyed the call, and although the river of Helmsdale was greatly swollen by recent heavy rains, he, in order to show his ready submission, crossed it on foot, to the great danger of his life, as the water was as high as his breast. Having made a final and satisfactory arrangement, the earl returned into Caithness. Mackay was committed a prisoner to the castle of Foulis.

      On the arrival of the queen regent at Inverness, in July 1555, having undertaken a journey to the north at that period, for the repression of the tumults and disorders then prevalent, she was met by the earls of Caithness and Sutherland. The former had been requested to bring his countrymen along with him to the court, and having neglected or declined to do so, he was committed to prison at Inverness, Aberdeen, and Edinburgh, successively, and was not restored to liberty till he had paid a considerable sum of money. He obtained a remission under the great seal, 15th December, 1556, and had two charters of the office of justiciary from Portinculter to the Pentland Firth, 17th April 1566 and 14th February thereafter, ratified in parliament 19th April 1567. On the 12th of the latter month and year, he was one of the jury on the trial of the earl of Bothwell for the murder of Darnley, and when the verdict of acquittal was returned, he protested in their name that no crime should be imputed to them on that account, because no accuser had appeared, and no proof was brought of the indictment. He took notice, also, that the 9th instead of the 10th of February was specified in the indictment, as the day on which the murder was committed.

      This George, fourth earl of Caithness, had long borne a mortal hatred to John, earl of Sutherland, and it is said that he instigated his cousin, Isobel Sinclair, wife of Gilbert Gordon of Gartay, and sister of William Sinclair of Dumbaith, to poison the earl and countess, who was near her confinement, while at supper at Helmsdale, in the month of July 1567. Their only son, and heir, Alexander Gordon, made a very narrow escape, not having returned in time from a hunting excursion to join his father and mother at supper. The earl and countess were carried next morning to Dunrobin, where they died within five days thereafter, and to free himself from the imputation of being concerned in this murder, the earl of Caithness punished some of the earl of Sutherland’s most faithful servants, under the colour of avenging his death. The deceased earl’s friends, however, apprehended Isobel Sinclair, and sent her to Edinburgh for trial, but, after being condemned, she died in prison on the day appointed for her execution. During all the time of her illness she uttered the most dreadful imprecations on the earl of Caithness, for having incited her to the horrid act. The eldest son of this woman, John Gordon, was the next male heir to the earldom of Sutherland, after Alexander, the son of the murdered earl, and happening to be in the house when his mother had prepared the poison, and becoming extremely thirsty, he called for a drink. One of his mother’s servants, not aware of the preparation, presented to the youth a portion of the poisonous liquid, which he drank. This occasioned his death within two days, a circumstance which, with the appearances of the body after death, gave a clue to the discovery of his mother’s guilt.

      The earl of Caithness now formed a design to get the young earl of Sutherland into his hands, and prevailed upon Robert Stewart, bishop of Caithness, to write a letter to the governor of the castle of Skibo, in which the earl of Sutherland resided, to deliver up the castle to him; a request with which the governor complied. Having taken possession of the castle, the earl carried off the young man into Caithness, and though only fifteen years of age, he got him married to Lady Barbara Sinclair, his daughter, then thirty-two years old. Mackay of Far, an ally of the earl of Caithness, was the paramour of this lady, and for continuing the connexion with him, she was afterwards divorced by her husband. In the meantime the earl of Caithness fixed his residence at Dunrobin castle, in Sutherlandshire, the seat of his minor son-in-law, whom he treated with great indignity, and burnt all the papers belonging to the house of Sutherland, on which he could lay his hands. He expelled many ancient families from Sutherland, put several of the inhabitants to death, and banished others, after disabling them in their persons, by new and unheard of modes of torture, and stripping them of all their possessions. He even entertained the intention of destroying the earl of Sutherland himself, and marrying William Sinclair, his own second son, to Lady Margaret Gordon, the eldest sister of the earl of Sutherland, but the latter being apprised in time of his designs, made his escape from Dunrobin castle. In revenge, the earl of Caithness sent his eldest son, John Master of Caithness, surnamed from his great strength, Garrow [from the Gaelic word garbh, rough or strong] with a large party of followers, to attack Hugh Murray of Aberscors and others of that name, residing about the town of Dornoch, who were firmly attached to the family of Sutherland, and who, after various skirmishes, took refuge in the town and castle of Dornoch, which were besieged by the Caithness men, and for a while manfully defended. After burning the Cathedral and reducing the town, the master attacked the castle, and the Murrays were, in the end, obliged to capitulate, and having undertaken to depart out of Sutherland within three months, they delivered three hostages for fulfilment of the conditions. The earl refused to ratify the treaty concluded by his son, and basely beheaded the three hostages. This took place in 1570, and in 1576 the castle of Girnigo, which was at that period the baronial residence of the earl of Caithness, became the scene of one of the most fearful atrocities on record. John Garrow, the master of Caithness, had incurred the suspicion and displeasure of his father, the earl, on account of the treaty concluded with the Murrays, because he did not, when he had the opportunity, extirpate the whole inhabitants of Dornoch. While conversing with his father, he was arrested by a party of armed men, who, upon a secret signal being given by the earl, had rushed in at the chamber-door. He was instantly fettered, and thrust into a dark dungeon below the castle, in which he dragged out for seven years a wretched existence. At last his keepers, David and Ingram Sinclair, relatives of his own, determined to destroy him, and after having kept him for some time without food; they gave him a large mess of salt beef, and then withholding all drink from him, left him to die of raging thirst.

      The inhuman earl died at Edinburgh 9th September 1582, and his body was buried in St. Giles’, where a monument was erected to his memory. His heart was cased in lead, and placed in the Sinclair’s aisle in the church of Wick, where his murdered son was interred. He had married Lady Elizabeth Graham, second daughter of William second earl of Montrose, and had three sons and five daughters. In an incursion of the earl of Sutherland into Caithness in 1588, afterwards mentioned, one of his followers having entered the church of Wick, found the leaden box which enclosed the heart of the cruel earl of Caithness, and disappointed in his expectations of treasure, he broke the casket open, and flung the corrupted heart to the winds. His eldest son, John Garrow, had married Lady Jean Hepburn, only daughter of Patrick, third earl of Bothwell, sister of the husband of Queen Mary, widow of John prior of Coldingham, and mother of Francis the turbulent earl of Bothwell, and had issue George the fifth earl of Caithness, three other sons, and a daughter, married to Sir John Home of Coldingknows.

      George the fifth earl succeeded his grandfather in 1582. He began his career by avenging his father’s death on his two murderers. David Sinclair, one of them, resided at Keiss, and the other, Ingram Sinclair, at Wester. The daughter of the latter was to be married, and a large party were invited to the wedding. Earl George met David on his way to Wester, and ran him through the body with his sword. The earl then rode over to Wester, and accosted Ingram as he was playing at football on the green. “Do you know,” said he, “that one of my corbies,” so he called his pistols, “missed fire this morning?” and drawing it from the holster, as if to look at it, shot him through the head. In 1585 he had a meeting with the earl of Sutherland at Elgin, in the presence of the earl of Huntly, and other friends, when the differences between the two earls being adjusted, they were reconciled for the time to each other. Another meeting subsequently took place between the two earls at the hill of Bengrime in Sutherland, when they entered into a confederacy against the clan Gunn. On the 19th May of the same year (1585) the earl of Caithness had a remission under the great seal to himself and twenty-two other persons, for being art and part in the slaughter of David Hume of Crewschawis and others. In 1587 the old feud broke out again between the rival houses of Caithness and Sutherland, and both parties assembled their forces at Helmsdale; but by the mediation of mutual friends a truce was agreed upon, after the expiry of which the earl of Sutherland invaded Caithness, in February 1588, when great slaughter and spoil took place. The town of Wick was also pillaged and burnt, but the church was preserved. The earl of Caithness, shut up in the castle of Girnigo, which was strongly fortified, desired a cessation of hostilities, and a conference with the earl of Sutherland. Another truce was the consequence, which, however, did not last long, and various battles, skirmishes, and forays ensued between the rival earls and their followers. The earl of Huntly and others, friends of the parties, in vain endeavoured to reconcile them effectually, till Marcy 1591, when the earls met at Strathbogie and agreed to live on terms of amity in future; but in the year 1600, the earl of Caithness, under the pretence of going on a hunting expedition, again invaded Sutherland, and encamped near the hill of Bengrime, on which the Sutherland and Strathnaver men assembled in great force, and marched against him. After some messages had passed between the two earls, the army of the earl of Caithness retired, and both in a day or two after disbanded their forces. He made another attempt in July 1607, to disturb the peace of Sutherland, but was prevented from accomplishing his purpose by the sudden appearance in Strathully of the earl of Sutherland at the head of a considerable force. By the mediation of the marquis of Huntly the earls again met at Elgin with their mutual friends, and once more adjusted their differences. In the following year, some servants of the earl of Orkney, being forced by stress of weather to land in his country, the earl of Caithness apprehended them, and after forcing them to swallow a quantity of spirits, which completely, intoxicated them, he ordered one side of their heads and beards to be shaved, and compelled them to go to sea, although the storm had not abated. On reaching Orkney they complained to their master, who immediately laid the case before the king. His majesty referred the matter to his council for trial, but the earls of Caithness and Orkney having arrived in Edinburgh, they were induced by their friends to adjust the business amicably between themselves.

      The criminal conduct of this earl of Caithness procured for him the name of “the wicked earl,” and involved him in constant guarrels and difficulties. To recruit his exhausted resources he gook into his employment a coiner named Arthur Smith, who had been tried and condemned to death for counterfeiting the coin of the realm, but who, on the intercession of Lord Elphinston, the Lord Treasurer of Scotland, had obtained a pardon. This person continued in the employment of the earl of Caithness for seven or eight years. His workshop was under the rock of castle Sinclair, in a quiet retired place called the Gote, to which there was a secret passage from the earl’s bedchamber. No person was admitted to Smith’s workshop but the earl, and in a short time Caithness, Orkney, Sutherland, and Ross were filled with base money, which was first detected by Sir Robert Gordon, brother of the earl of Sutherland, when in Scotland in 1611, and on his return to England he made the king acquainted therewith. His majesty thereupon addressed a letter to the lords of the privy council, authorising them to grant a commission to Sir Robert to apprehend Smith and bring him to Edinburgh. In the following year Smith was apprehended in his own house in the town of Thurso, and in an endeavour to rescue him, John Sinclair of Stirkage, nephew of the earl of Caithness, was slain, and James Sinclair, brother of the laird of Dun, severely wounded; and to prevent the escape of Smith he was at once put to death by those in whose custody he was. The earl of Caithness, at that time in Edinburgh, summoned the leaders of the parties who had killed his nephew and wounded his kinsman, to appear at Edinburgh and answer for their conduct. On the other hand his son, Lord Berriedale, and several of their followers, were prosecuted by Sir Robert Gordon for resisting the king’s commission and attacking those who bore it. Previous to this affair, Sir Robert Gordon had caused the earl to be denounced and proclaimed a rebel to the king. The parties were ordered to appear before the council at Edinburgh, and on the day appointed they met accordingly, attended, as the custom then was, by their respective friends. The council spent three days in investigating the matter, both parties being, in the meantime, bound over in their recognizances to keep the peace, in time coming, towards each other. The privy council ultimately granted a warrant for deserting the criminal prosecutions on a submission being entered into, July 17, 1612, between the earls of Caithness and Sutherland, of all the matters in dispute between them. In the previous month, the earl created a disturbance on the High street of Edinburgh, by assaulting George Lord Gordon, and great slaughter might but for the extreme darkness of the night, owing to which the parties could hardly distinguish their own friends. Soon after he rendered his name for ever infamous by betraying his kinsman John Lord Maxwell, then under hiding for the murder of Sir John Johnstone, whom he lured to Castle Sinclair, under the pretence of affording him shelter and secrecy until he could conveniently leave the country for Sweden. His real motive, however, was that he might obtain favour at court by delivering him up. The countess of Caithness, (Lady Jean Gordon, only daughter of George, fifth earl of Huntly,) who was Lord Maxwell’s cousin, was likewise deceived by her husband, having been told by him that a report was spread abroad that it was already known at court that Lord Maxwell was in concealment in Caithness, and that it was necessary for their mutual safety to set off for Edinburgh, to explain the matter; and thus time would be afforded for Lord Maxwell’s escape. That unfortunate nobleman, then in weak health, was advised to leave Caithness, and pass through Sutherland, that he might hot be taken in the territories of his treacherous kinsman; but so anxious were the earl’s servants to execute their commission that Maxwell was actually taken within the county of Caithness, conducted to Thurse, where Captain George Sinclair, a bastard nephew of the earl, was impatiently waiting his arrival, and carried back a prisoner to Castle Sinclair, where he had so lately been a favoured and honoured guest. By command of the lords of the privy council, Lord Maxwell was shortly afterwards delivered up, and on 21st May 1613, was beheaded at the cross of Edinburgh. In 1614 the earl was appointed king’s lieutenant for quelling the rebellion of his old enemy, Patrick, the notorious earl of Orkney, in which he was successful, and his despatches to the king and secretary of state are quoted in full in the third volume of ‘Pitcairn’s Criminal Trials,’ pp. 286-292. He seems to have intruded himself into this commission, by eagerly volunteering his services to the privy council, so as, if possible, to ingratiate himself with his sovereign, by suppressing a rebellion which had excited the alarm even of the court of England. For his services he obtained a pension of a thousand crowns, and shortly after his return from his expedition to Orkney, he was made one of the lords of the privy council in Scotland. His restless disposition and lawless proceedings, however, soon involved him in ruin. Enraged at the Lord Forbes having succeeded, on the death of his brother-in-law, George Sinclair, to his lands of Dunray and Dumbaith, he seized every opportunity of annoying him in his possessions, by oppressing his servants and tenants, under the pretence of discharging his duty as sheriff, to which office he had been appointed by the earl of Huntly on his marriage with his sister. Complaints were made from time to time against the earl, on account of these proceedings, to the privy council of Scotland, who in some measure afforded redress; and to protect his tenants more effectually, Lord Forbes took up his temporary residence in Caithness. On this, the earl secretly instigated two of the Clan-Gun to burn the corn of William Innes, a servant of Lord Forbes at Sanset in Caithness in November 1615; and to remove suspicion from himself he industriously spread a report that the fire-raising had been done by the tenants of Mackay, the nephew of Sir Robert Gordon, with whom the Forbeses were then at feud. The matter, however, having soon been disclosed by the Guns, who were the actual perpetrators, the earl was closely prosecuted, and he only obtained his remission, after a long interval, on the following conditions: 1st, By engaging to satisfy his numerous creditors; 2d, By resigning into the king’s hands the sheriffship and justiciary of Caithness; 3d, by engaging to present to justice the incendiaries whom he had employed to burn the corn; and, lastly, to resign to the bishop of Caithness the house of Strabister, with certain fen lands of that bishopric, amounting to the yearly value of two thousand merks Scots, in augmentation of the bishop’s scanty revenues. His son, Lord Berriedale, whose character was quite different from that of his father, was imprisoned for his father’s debts for above five years, but the earl himself obtained a ‘supersedere,’ or protection from legal diligence from the privy council. The creditors, however, apprized or sequestrated all his lands. He was denounced rebel in 1621, and his own son, Lord Berriedale, on the suggestion of Sir Robert Gordon and others, applied for and obtained a commission to pursue his father! After his long imprisonment he was released for that purpose, on finding due caution to return to ward after having executed his commission. In September 1623, Lord Berriedale and Sir Robert Gordon, the king’s commissioners, having taken the field against the earl, he precipitately fled to Orkney, intending to go thence to Norway and Denmark. Castle Sinclair, and his other principal castles, were immediately taken possession of in the king’s name; and the commissioners succeeded in restoring peace to the county of Caithness. He died in comparative obscurity, at Caithness, in February 1643, at the advanced age of 78. During his last years he received an aliment from his creditors out of his dilapidated estates. By his countess he had three sons and one daughter, Lady Anne Sinclair, married to George thirteenth earl of Crawford.

      William Lord Berriedale, the eldest son, appears to have predeceased his father. By his wife, Mary, daughter of Henry, third Lord Sinclair, he had a son, John, master of Berriedale, who died of fever at Edinburgh in September 1639, and was buried in the abbey church of Holyroodhouse. He had married Lady Margaret Mackenzie, eldest daughter of Colin, first earl of Seaforth, and had a son George, who succeeded his great-grandfather as sixth earl of Caithness. He was committed a prisoner to the castle of Edinburgh 24th July 1668, on account of the slaughter of a soldier sent to quarter for deficiency of cess and excise. He married in 1637 Lady Mary Campbell, third daughter of Archibald, marquis of Argyle but had no issue. Being deeply involved in debt, in 1672 he executed a disposition of his titles, estates, and heritable jurisdictions, in favour of Sir John Campbell of Glenurchy, his principal creditor, who, after the death of the earl, in May 1676, took possession of the estates, in virtue of the above-mentioned disposition, and in June 1677, was created earl of Caithness. On 7th April following he married the widowed countess. His right to the title and estates was disputed by George Sinclair of Keiss, son of Francis, second son of George, fifth earl of Caithness, the heir male of the family, who, when the new earl was in London the same year (1678) entered Caithness with an armed force, and took violent possession of the lands of Keiss, Tister, and Northfield, which had been included in the disposition of 1672. Earl John, on his return to Scotland, complained to the privy council, and an order to the sheriff of Caithness was, in consequence, issued, to call the parties before him, and ascertain which of them had the best right to the lands. The sheriff decided in favour of the earl, and charged George Sinclair to remove, but the messenger was deforced. To support his claim to the lands in dispute, earl John obtained an order from the privy council, 7th June 1680, to General Dalzell, to assist with a party of troops, and raising his own friends and followers, he marked from the banks of the Tay to beyond the promontory of the Ord. Keiss, on his part, collected a force of four hundred men, and waited his coming in the burgh of Wick. There he plentifully regaled his followers, who had not recovered from their revel, when, on 13th July, they were informed that “the Campbells were coming” across the country towards them. Inflamed with drink and hatred of the intruders, the adherents of Keiss rushed furiously upon their assailants, who were strongly posted on the western bank of the burn of Altimarlach, on the northern side of the river of Wick. a total rout of Sinclair’s men immediately ensued. Turning their backs, they fled through the fully, towards the river, and so great were the numbers killed in attempting to cross, that, according to tradition, the Campbells, in pursuit of the fugitives, passed over dryshod on the bodies of the slain. George Sinclair, thus deprived of his lands, prosecuted the more earnestly his claim to the title of earl of Caithness, and the privy council, under a reference from parliament, found that he had a right to that dignity, and he accordingly took his place as a peer, 15th July 1681. Sir John Campbell, on being thus obliged to relinquish that peerage, was created earl of Breadalbane. (See BREADALBANE, earl of, ante.]

      In November 1689 George Sinclair, earl of Caithness, preferred a complaint to the privy council that Breadalbane had abused, to cruelty and oppression, the power which the council had given him of fire and sword. Breadalbane recriminated against him that, among many other things, he had wilfully burnt the mansion house of Thurso east. Both complaints were remitted to the court of justiciary. In December of that year articles of treason were exhibited against Breadalbane for fire-raising, murder, treasonable garrison of houses, convocation of the lieges, and acting beyond his warrant from council, but these charges were not brought to trial. In the following August the earl of Caithness petitioned parliament to put him in repossession of his paternal estate of Keiss, Tister and Northfield, and on the 23d September, the privy council, to whom the petition had been referred, found that he had been unwarrantably deprived of these lands, and therefore ordained him to be restored to them. After the death of the earl, however, in 1698, the earl of Breadalbane again obtained possession of Keiss and the other two estates mentioned, but he was hated by the Sinclairs, who burned the corn and houghed the cattle of the tenants on the estates, till at last he divided the whole of his lands in Caithness into sixty-two portions, great and small, and sold them to different persons. Jane Sinclair, sister and heiress of the deceased earl, and the wife of Sir James Sinclair of Mey, was forcibly removed out of the house of Keiss, which she possessed after the death of her brother, by a writ of ejectment and a party of armed men.

      On the death of the seventh earl, the title developed on the heir male, John Sinclair of Mey, the grandson of Sir James Sinclair of Murchil, second son of John, master of Caithness, and brother of the fifth earl. John, who thus became the eighth earl, took the oaths and his seat in parliament 25th July 1704. He died in 1705, leaving by his wife, Janet Carmichael of the Hyndford family, three sons and one daughter.

      Alexander, the eldest son, was the ninth earl of Caithness. The Hon. John Sinclair of Murchil, or Murkle, the second son, became a member of the faculty of advocates in 1713, was appointed a lord of session, 3d November 1733, and died at Edinburgh, 5th June 1755. He married Lady Anne Mackenzie, daughter of George, first earl of Cromarty, but had no issue.

      The ninth earl took the oaths and his seat in parliament, 17th December 1706, while the treaty of union was before the house, and voted against all the articles of that treaty discussed subsequent to that date. He possessed the title sixty years, outliving every peer who had sat in the Scots parliament, and died 9th December 1765, in the 81st year of his age. He married 13th February 1738, Lady Margaret Primrose, second daughter of Archibald, first earl of Roseberry, and had one child, Lady Dorothea Sinclair, married to James, second earl of Fife, without issue. The ninth earl had devised his own estate, and that of Murkle, (to which he had succeeded on his brother’s death,) failing his own heirs male and the heirs male of his brother Francis, and the younger sons, successively of his daughter, the countess of Fife if she had any, to George Sinclair of Woodhall one of the lords of session, and his heirs male, his nearest lawful heir male of line. A competition arose for the landed property betwixt the countess of Fife and Sir John Sinclair of Stevenson, nearest male heir of line of Lord Woodhall. The court of session preferred Sir John Sinclair, 24th June 1766, and its decision was affirmed on appear 6th April 1767.

      The earldom of Caithness devolved on William Sinclair of Ratter, fifth in descent from Sir John Sinclair of Greenland, third son of John, master of Caithness, the father of the fifth earl. This William Sinclair was born 2d April 1727, and on the death of Alexander the ninth earl in 1765 he sued out a brief from the chancery for serving himself heir male to that earl. One James Sinclair likewise sued out a brief to the same effect, and stated in pedigree to be from Sir James Sinclair of Murchil, second son of John, master of Caithness. At the peers’ election, 21st August 1766, the latter claimed his place as earl of Caithness, but was not admitted by the lord register. At subsequent elections he tendered his vote, but with the same result. On the 28th November 1768, William Sinclair of Ratter was served nearest lawful heir male to Alexander, ninth earl of Caithness. He then presented a petition to the king, claiming that title and dignity, which petition was, by his majesty’s command, remitted to the House of Lords; and it was resolved by the committee of privileges 7th May 1772, that he had made out his right, and he accordingly became the tenth earl. He died at Edinburgh 28th November 1779, in the 53d year of his age. By his countess, Barbara, daughter of Sinclair of Scotscalder, he had issue, John, eleventh earl of Caithness, another son, and two daughters.

      John, the eleventh earl, entered the army as an ensign in the 17th foot, in September 1772, and became major of the 76th foot, 29th December 1777. He served some years in America, and was wounded in the groin by a musket ball while reconnoitering with Sir Henry Clinton at the siege of Charlestown. He succeeded his father in 1779, and had the rank of lieutenant-colonel in the army, 19th February 1783.. He died suddenly at London, 8th April 1789, in the 33d year of his age. His lands of Ratter and Hollandmark were brought to a judicial sale, and sold for £13,313. His brother having died childless, the title went to a very distant branch of the family, Sir James Sinclair of Mey, the ninth in lineal descent from George Sinclair of Mey, third and younger son of the fourth earl.

      James, the twelfth earl, was born at Barrogill castle, 32st October 1766. He succeeded his father, Sir John Sinclair of Mey, baronet, in the baronetcy in 1774, (that title having been conferred on the family, 2d January 1631), and became twelfth earl in 1789, but did not immediately assume the title. His lordship was chosen one of the sixteen representative Scots peers, at the general election in 1807. He was lord-lieutenant of the county of Caithness, and lieutenant-colonel of the Ross-shire militia. He died in October 1823. He married at Thurso castle, 2d January 1784 Jane, second daughter of General Alexander Campbell of Barcaldine, deputy governor of Fort George, niece of the late Sir John Sinclair of Ulbster, baronet, and had issue, John, Lord Berriedale, who died 1st June 1802, in his fourteenth year; Alexander, Lord Berriedale, who succeeded as thirteenth earl; four other sons, and three daughters.

      The thirteenth earl was born 24th July 1790. In early life he was for some time in the army as ensign and lieutenant in the 42d regiment. Died in 1855. He married, 22d November 1813, Frances Harriet, youngest daughter and coheiress of the Very Rev. William Leigh of Aushall Hall, Staffordshire, dean of Hereford; issue, James, 14th earl, born 16th Dec. 1821, married in 1847, the youngest daughter of Sir George Richard Philips, baronet; two other sons, one of whom died young. Issue of 14th earl, a daughter born 1854, and a son, Lord Berriedale, born 1858.

      The earldom of Caithness, says Douglas in his Peerage, is not in its proper place in the union roll, being postponed to Rothes, Morton, Buchan, Glencairn, Eglinton, and Cassillis, although these six were created subsequently to 1455.


Return to The Scottish Nation Index Page