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The Scottish Nation

SUTHERLAND, a surname derived from the county of that name in the north-east of Scotland. The Norse sea kings, who in ancient times held the sovereignty of the Arcades, styled the region south of the Ord mountain, Sudrland or Southerland, as lying south from Caithness, which for a long time was their only possession on the mainland of Scotland.


The clan Sutherland had for their badge what is vulgarly called Butcher’s broom. According to Skene, the ancient Gaelic population of the district now known by the name of Sutherland were driven out or destroyed by the Norwegians when they took possession of the country, after its conquest by Thorfinn, the Norse Jarl of Orkney, in 1034, and were replaced by settlers from Moray and Ross. He says, “There are consequently no clans whatever descended from the Gaelic tribe which anciently inhabited the district of Sutherland, and the modern Gaelic population of part of that region is derived from two sources. In the first place, several of the tribes of the neighbouring district of Ross, at an early period, gradually spread themselves into the nearest and most mountainous parts of the country, and they consisted chiefly of the clan Anrias. Secondly, Hugh Freskin, a descendant of Freskin de Moravia, and whose family was a branch of the ancient Gaelic tribe of Moray, obtained from King William the territory of Sutherland, although it is impossible to discover the circumstances which occasioned the grant. He was of course accompanied in this expedition by numbers of his followers, who increased in Sutherland to an extensive tribe; and Freskin became the founder of the noble family of Sutherland, who, under the title of earls of Sutherland, have continued to enjoy possession of this district for so many generations.” (Skene’s Highlanders, vol. ii. p. 301.) We do not altogether agree with this intelligent author that the district in question was at any time entirely colonized by the Norsemen. There can be no doubt that a remnant of the old inhabitants remained, after the Norwegian conquest, and it is certain that the Gaelic population, reinforced as they were undoubtedly by incomers from the neighbouring districts and from Moray, ultimately regained the superiority in Sutherland. Many of them were unquestionably from the province of Moray, and these, like the rest of the inhabitants, adopted the name of Sutherland, from the appellation given by the Norwegians to the district.

The chief of the clan was called the great cat, and the head of the house of Sutherland has long carried a black cat in his coat-of-arms. According to Sir George Mackenzie, the name of Catta was formerly given to Sutherland and Caithness, (originally Cattu-ness,) on account of the great number of wild cats with which it was, at one period, infested.

The earl of Sutherland was the chief of the clan, but on the accession to the earldom in 1766, of Countess Elizabeth, the infant daughter of the eighteenth earl, and afterwards duchess of Sutherland, as the chiefship could not descent to a female, William Sutherland of Killipheder, who died in 1832, and enjoyed a small annuity from her grace, was accounted the eldest male descendant of the old earls. John Campbell Sutherland, Esq., of Fors, was afterwards considered the real chief.

The clan Sutherland could bring into the field 2,000 fighting men. In 1715 and 1745 they were among the loyal clans, and zealously supported the succession of the house of Hanover. In 1759, a fencible corps, 1,100 strong, was raised by the earl of Sutherland from his estates. “The martial appearance of these men,” says General Stewart, “when they marched into Perth in May, 1760, with the earl of Sutherland at their head, was never forgotten by those who saw them, and who never failed to express admiration of their fine military air.” This regiment was reduced in May 1763. In 1779, another regiment of Sutherland fencibles, to the number of 1,000 men, was raised when the young countess of Sutherland was in possession of the earldom. As the representative of the family of Sutherland was a female, and there was no near relative of the name to assume the command of the regiment, William Wemyss of Wemyss, nephew of the last earl, was appointed colonel. The regiment was disbanded in 1783. In 1793, a third regiment of Sutherland fencibles was formed, with Colonel Wemyss of Wemyss at its head. This corps numbered 1,084 men. In 1797, it was employed in Ireland, and it was said of the men that “they were not a week in a fresh quarter of cantonment, that they did not conciliate and become intimate with the people.” It was from the disbanded ranks of this corps that the 93d regiment of the line, or Sutherland Highlanders, was principally formed.


SUTHERLAND, Earl of, a title in the peerage of Scotland, and the oldest existing title in Britain, is said to have been granted by Alexander II., to William, lord of Sutherland, about 1228, for assisting to quell a powerful northern savage of the name of Gillespie. William was the son of Hugh Freskin, who acquired the district of Sutherland by the forfeiture of the earl of Caithness for rebellion in 1197. Hugh was the grandson of Freskin the Fleming, who came into Scotland in the reign of David I., and obtained from that prince the lands of Strathbrock in Linlithgowshire, also, the lands of Duffus and others in Moray. His son, William, was constant attendant on King William the Lion, during his frequent expeditions into Moray, and assumed the name of William de Moravia. He died towards the end of the 12th century. His son, Hugh, got the district of Sutherland, as already mentioned. Hugh’s son, “Willielmus cominus de Sutherlandis, filius et haeres quondam Hugonis Freskin,” is usually reckoned the first earl of Sutherland. The date of the creation of the title is not known; but from an indenture executed in 1275, in which Gilbert, bishop of Caithness, makes a solemn composition of an affair that had been long in debate betwixt his predecessors in the see and the noble men, William of famous memory, and William, his son, earls of Sutherland, it is clear that there existed an earl of Sutherland betwixt 1222, the year of Gilbert’s consecration as bishop, and 1245, the year of his death, and it is on the strength of this deed that the representative of the house claims the rank of premier earl of Scotland, with the date 1228. Nisbet states that Walter, son of Alanus, thane of Sutherland, who was killed by Macbeth, was the first earl of Sutherland, having been raised to that dignity by Malcolm Canmore in 1061, on the introduction of the Saxon title of earl into Scotland.

Earl William died at Dunrobin in 1248. His son, William, second earl, succeeded to the title in his infancy. He was one of the Scots nobles who attended the parliament of Alexander III. at Scone, 5th February 1284, when the succession to the crown of Scotland was settled, and he sat in the great convention at Brigham, 12th March 1290. He swore fealty to Edward I. in 1296, but joined the cause of Bruce, and made several incursions on the English borders, in one of which he took the castle of Roxburgh, burnt Durham, and wasted the country. He was one of the eighteen Highland chiefs who fought at the battle of Bannockburn, in 1314, on the side of Bruce, and he subscribed the famous letter of the Scots nobles to the Pope, 6th April 1320. He died in 1325, having enjoyed the title for the long period of 77 years.

His son, Kenneth, the third earl, fell at the battle of Halidon-hill in 1333, valiantly supporting the cause of David II. With a daughter, Eustach, he had two sons, William, fourth earl, and Nicholas, ancestor of the Lords Duffus.

William, fourth earl, married the Princess Margaret, eldest daughter of Robert I., by his second wife, Elizabeth de Burgo, and he made grants of land in the counties of Inverness and Aberdeen to powerful and influential persons, to win their support of his eldest son, John’s claim to the succession to the crown. John was selected by his uncle, David II., as heir to the throne, in preference to the high-steward, who had married the Princess Marjory, but he died at Lincoln in England in 1361, while a hostage there for the payment of the king’s ransom. His father, Earl William, was one of the commissioners to treat for the release of King David in 1351, also on 13th June 1354, and again in 1357. He was for some years detained in England as an hostage for David’s observance of the treaty on his release from his long captivity. The earl did not obtain his full liberty till 20th March 1367. He died at Dunrobin in Sutherland in 1370. His son, William, fifth earl, is called William de Murriff, son of William, earl of Sutherland, in a document dated 28th January 1367, in which Edward III. takes him into his protection while in England. He was present at the surprise of Berwick by the Scots in November 1384, and in that division of the Scots army which marched towards Carlisle in 1388, under the command of the two sons of Robert II., the earls of Fife and Strathern, while a smaller division passed into Northumberland, under the earl of Douglas, and fought the battle of Otterburn. With their neighbours, the Mackays, the clan Sutherland were often at feud, and in all their contests with them they generally came off victorious. On one occasion in 1395, in a discussion concerning their differences, the earl, erroneously called Nicholas, instead of William, in Sir Robert Gordon’s history, stabbed the chief of the Mackays and his son with his own hand. He died about the end of the 14th century, leaving two sons, Robert, sixth earl, and Kenneth, ancestor of George Sutherland of Fors, who, as heir male of the ancient earls, claimed the earldom in 1766.

Robert, sixth earl, was engaged in the battle of Homildon in 1402. He was sent to England as an hostage for James I., 9th November 1427. In his time the clan Mackay became troublesome, and the earl was obliged to take up arms against John Aberigh, natural son of Angus Dubh Mackay, whom he forced to retire for a time for safety to the Isles. But he returned to Sutherland, and having entered Strathully, unawares, the night after Christmas, he slew three of the Sutherlands at Dinoboll. He again fled, but was so closely pursued by the earl that he was forced to submit, after previously obtaining pardon. The earl died in 1442. He had three sons. 1. John, seventh earl. 2. Robert. 3. Alexander, ancestor of the Sleacht Kenneth wick Allister.

John, seventh earl, resigned the earldom in favour of John his son and heir, 22d February 1456, reserving to himself the liferent of it, and died in 1460. He had married Margaret, daughter of Sir William Baillie of Lamington, Lanarkshire, and by her had four sons and two daughters. The sons were; 1. Alexander, who predeceased his father. 2. John, eighth earl of Sutherland. 3. Nicholas. 4. Thomas Beg. The elder daughter, Lady Jane, married Sir James Dunbar of Dumnock, and was the mother of Gawin Dunbar, bishop of Aberdeen. The younger daughter was the wife of Seton of Meldrum. The widowed countess and her son, Earl John, disagreeing, he demolished her house and tower of Helmsdale, which had been built by her. She retired to Easter Garty, and as a protection married Alexander Dunbar, the brother of her daughter’s husband. Alexander Dunbar was killed by Alexander Sutherland of Dilred, who was executed and forfeited for the crime.

John, eighth earl, died in 1508. He had married Lady Margaret Macdonald, eldest daughter of Alexander earl of Ross, lord of the Isles, and by her, who was drowned crossing the ferry of Uness, he had two sons; John, ninth earl, and Alexander, who died young, and a daughter, Elizabeth, countess of Sutherland. A John, earl of Sutherland, either the ninth earl of his father, slew two of his nephews, sons of a natural brother, called Thomas Moir. The young men, Robert Sutherland and the Keith, so called on account of being brought up by a person of that name, had often annoyed the earl, and on one occasion they entered his castle of Dunrobin to brave him to his face, which so provoked him that he instantly killed Robert in the house. The Keith, after receiving several wounds, escaped from the house, but was overtaken and slain at the Clayside near Dunrobin, which from that circumstance was afterwards called Ailein-Cheith, or the bush of the Keith. The ninth earl died, without issue, in 1514, when the succession devolved upon his sister, Elizabeth, countess of Sutherland in her own right.

This lady had married Adam Gordon of Aboyne, second son of George, second earl of Huntly, high-chancellor of Scotland, and in his wife’s right, according to the custom of the age, he was styled earl of Sutherland. IN 1516, Earl Adam made a grant of some lands in Strathully to the earl of Caithness, in order to secure his assistance against the Mackays. Having, contrary to good faith, both kept the lands and joined the enemies of the earl of Sutherland, an action at law was commenced by the latter, but the matters in dispute between them were subsequently settled by arbitration. Taking advantage of the earl of Sutherland’s absence in Edinburgh, on this business, the Mackays in 1517 invaded Sutherland, and burnt and spoiled everything which came in their way. The countess, who had remained at home, placed her clan under the command of her natural brother, Alexander Sutherland, who defeated the Mackays, with great slaughter, at a place called Torran-Dubh, near Rogart. This Alexander Sutherland afterwards married the sister of the Mackay chief, and was induced by him to raise disturbances in Sutherland. On the death of the ninth earl, he had laid claim to the earldom, on the pretence that his father and mother had entered into a contract of marriage, and that he was legitimately born, but had judicially renounced his claim in presence of the sheriff of Inverness, on the 25th July 1509. In spite of this, however, he renewed his pretensions. Earl Adam endeavoured to induce him, by offering him many favourable conditions, again to renounce his claim; but in vain. He maintained the legitimacy of his birth, and alleged that the renunciation he had granted at Inverness had been obtained from him contrary to his inclination and against the advice of his best friends. As he was very popular with many of the clan, he soon collected a considerable force, and in the absence of the earl, attacked and took Dunrobin castle. The earl sent a force to besiege the castle, which surrendered. Alexander had retired to Strathnaver, but he again returned into Sutherland with a fresh body of men, and laid waste the country. He was soon after attacked by the earl at a place called Ald Quhillin, near the seaside, taken prisoner, and beheaded on the spot. His head was sent to Dunrobin on a spear, and placed on the top of the great tower, “which shews us (as Sir Robert Gordon, following the superstition of his times, curiously observes) that whatsoever by fate is allotted, though sometimes foreshewed, can never be avoided. For the witches had told Alexander the bastard that his head should be the highest that ever wes of the Sutherlands; which he did foolishlye interpret that some day he would be earl of Sutherland, and in honour above all his predicessors.” The earl of Sutherland, being then far advanced in life, retired for the most part to Strathbogy and Aboyne, in Aberdeenshire, to spend the remainder of his days amongst his friends, and intrusted the charge of the country to his eldest son, Alexander Gordon, master of Sutherland, a young man of great intrepidity and talent; and on the countess’ resignation, a charter of the earldom was granted to him by King James V., on 1st December 1527. She died in 1535, and her husband in 1537. Their issue were, 1. Alexander, master of Sutherland, who was infeft in the earldom in 1527, under the charter above mentioned, and died in 1529, leaving, by his wife, Lady Jane Stewart, eldest daughter of the second earl of Athole, three sons, John, Alexander, and William, and two daughters. 2. John Gordon. 3. Adam Gordon, killed at the battle of Pinkie, 10th September 1547. 4. Gilbert Gordon of Gartay, who married Isobel Sinclair, daughter of the laird of Dunbeath, of whom afterwards.

Alexander’s eldest son, John, born about 1525, succeeded his grandfather as eleventh earl. He was lieutenant of Moray in 1547 and 1548, and with George, earl of Huntly, was selected to accompany the queen regent to France in September 1550. While at the French court the two earls were invested with the order of St. Michael by the king of France, and the earl of Sutherland attended the queen regent on her return to Scotland. In his absence, he intrusted the government of the country to Alexander Gordon, his brother, who ruled it with great justice and severity; but the people, disliking the restraint under which they were held, created a tumult, and placed John Sutherland, son of Alexander Sutherland, the bastard, at their head. While Alexander Gordon was attending divine service in the church at Golspickirktoun, the disaffected proceeded to attack him, but collecting the little company he had about him, he went out of the church to meet them, when alarmed at his bold bearing, they at once dispersed. Indignant at the affront offered to him, one William Murray, of the family of Pulrossie, shortly afterwards killed John Sutherland upon the nether green of Dunrobin, in revenge for which murder, William Morray was himself thereafter slain by the laird of Clyne. The Mackays also took advantage of the earl’s absence to plunder and lay waste the country. The earl of Sutherland obtained from the queen regent the government of the earldom of Ross, by letters patent, dated 6th July 1555. He joined the lords of the Congregation, and was wounded in the arm, by the shot of a harquebus, while attacking the French auxiliaries near Kinghorn in 1559. He also assisted at the siege of Leith. In 1561, Hugh Murray of Aberscors having killed a gentleman of the Siol Thomais in Sutherland, thereby incurred the displeasure of the earl, and in consequence fled into Caithness and sought the protection of the earl of Caithness. About the same time, William and Angus Sutherland and the other Sutherlands of Berriedale, killed several of the Caithness people, and wasted the lands of the Clynes in that country. For these acts they were banished by the earl of Caithness. They, however, returned to Caithness, and being assisted by Hugh Murray of Aberscors, they took the castle of Berriedale, laid waste the country, and molested the people of Caithness with their incursions. By the mediation of the earl of Sutherland, William and Angus Sutherland and their accomplices obtained a pardon from Queen Mary, which so exasperated the earl of Caithness, that he imbibed a mortal hatred not only against the earl of Sutherland, and the Murrays, but also against all the inhabitants of Sutherland. On the charge of having engaged in the rebellion of the earl of Huntly in 1562, the earl of Sutherland was forfeited, 28th May 1563, when he retired to Flanders. He returned to Scotland in 1565, and his forfeiture was rescinded by act of parliament, 18th April 1567. He and his countess, who was then in a state of pregnancy, were poisoned at Helmsdale castle by Isobel Sinclair, the wife of the earl’s uncle, Gilbert Gordon of Gartay, and the cousin of the earl of Caithness, and died five days afterwards at Dunrobin castle. This happened in July 1567, when the earl was in his 42d year. Their only son, Alexander, master of Sutherland, then in his fifteenth year, fortunately escaped the same fate, by being detained at a hunting party, so that he arrived late at Helmsdale castle. Perceiving his son preparing to sit down to supper, the earl, who felt the poison beginning to work, took the tablecloth and threw it along the house, and would not suffer his son, though very hungry, to eat anything, but sent him the same night to the castle of Skibo. The 11th earl, styled the good earl John, was thrice married; 1st, to Lady Elizabeth Campbell, only daughter of the third earl of Argyle, relict of James, earl of Moray, natural son of James IV.; 2dly, to Lady Helen Stewart, daughter of the third earl of Lennox, relict of the fifth earl of Errol; and 3dly, to Marian, eldest daughter of the fourth Lord Seton, relict of the fourth earl of Menteith. This was the lady who was poisoned with him. He had issue by his second wife only, two sons and three daughters. John, the elder son, died an infant. Alexander, the younger, was the twelfth earl of Sutherland.

Being under age when he succeeded to the earldom, the ward of this young nobleman was granted to his eldest sister, Lady Margaret Gordon, who committed it to the care of John, earl of Athole. The latter sold the wardship to George, earl of Caithness, the enemy of his house. Having by treachery got possession of the castle of Skibo, in which the young earl resided, he seized his person and carried him off to Caithness, where he forced him to marry his daughter, Lady Barbara Sinclair, a profligate woman of double his own age. When he attained his majority he divorced her. In 1569, he escaped from the earl of Caithness, who had taken up his residence at Dunrobin castle and formed a design upon his life. The better to conceal his intentions, he went to Edinburgh, leaving instructions to those in his confidence to murder the young earl in his absence. Some of the friends of the latter having received private intelligence of this atrocious design, came quietly at night, to the burn of Golspie, in the vicinity of Dunrobin. Concealing themselves to prevent discovery, they sent Alexander Gordon of Sidderay to the castle, disguised as a pedlar, for the purpose of warning the earl of his danger. Early the following morning, the earl proposed to the residents in the castle, under whose charge he was, to accompany him on a small excursion in the neighbourhood. This proposal seemed so reasonable in itself, that, although he was perpetually watched by the earl of Caithness’ servants, they at once agreed. When they got out, the earl led his keepers directly into the ambush laid by his friends, who rushed from their hiding place, and seizing him, conveyed him safely to Strathbogie. In 1581 the earl of Sutherland was one of the assize on the trial of the regent Morton. IN 1583 he obtained from the earl of Huntly, the king’s lieutenant in the north, a grant of the superiority of Strathnaver, and of the heritable sheriffship of Sutherland and Strathnaver, which last was granted in lieu of the lordship of Aboyne. This grant was confirmed by his majesty in a charter under the great seal, by which Sutherland and Strathnaver were disjoined and dismembered from the sheriffdom of Inverness. The earl died at Dunrobin, 6th December 1594, in his 43d year. Having divorced Lady Barbara Sinclair in 1573, he married, secondly, Lady Jean Gordon, third daughter of the fourth earl of Huntly, high-chancellor of Scotland, who had been previously married to the earl of Bothwell, but repudiated to enable that ambitious and profligate nobleman to marry Queen Mary. She subsequently married Alexander Ogilvy of Boyne, whom she also survived. To the earl of Sutherland she had, with two daughters, four sons. 1. John, 13th earl. 2. Hon. Sir Alexander Gordon. 3. Hon. Adam Gordon. 4. Hon. Sir Robert Gordon of Gordonstoun, the historian of the family of Sutherland, created a baronet of Nova Scotia, being the first of that order, 28th May 1625.

John, 13th earl of Sutherland, born 20th July 1576, carried the sword at the opening of parliament 13th December 1597. In July of the following year he set out to travel on the continent, and returned home in 1600. In 1606 he was accused of being a secret Catholic, and he and his wife and mother were ordered to be confined in Inverness, while the earl of Caithness and his lady, also suspected of papistry, were ordered to Elgin. The matters in dispute between the two earls having been submitted to the privy council, who showed no disposition to decide them quickly, George, earl of Caithness, in the beginning of 1614, sought to gratify his vengeance against the earl of Sutherland, by accusing him of privately favouring popery. He was accordingly apprehended upon a warrant issued by the king, and imprisoned at St. Andrews. He applied to the bishops for a month’s delay, promising that before that time he would either give the church satisfaction, or surrender himself, but his application was refused by the court of high commission. Sir Alexander Gordon, the earl’s brother, being then in Edinburgh, immediately sent notice of these proceedings to his youngest brother, Sir Robert Gordon, who was at that time in London. Sir Robert applied to the king for the earl’s release for a time, that he might look after his affairs in the north, when his majesty granted a warrant for his liberation till the month of August following. On the expiration of the time, he returned to his confinement at St. Andrews, whence he was removed, on his own application, to the abbey of Holyrood-house. There he remained till March 1615, when he obtained leave to go home, “having,” says Sir Robert Gordon, “in some measure satisfied the church concerning his religion.” He died at Dornoch, 11th September the same year, aged 40. By his countess, Lady Anna Elphinston, he had, with two daughters, four sons, namely, 1. Patrick, master of Sutherland, who died young. 2. John, fourteenth earl. 3. Hon. Adam Gordon, who entered the Swedish service, and was killed at the battle of Nordlingen, 27th August 1634, aged 22. 4. Hon. George Posthumus Gordon, born after his father’s death. 9th February 1616, a lieutenant-colonel in the army. The younger daughter, Lady Anne, wife of Sir Gilbert Menzies of Pitfoddels, Aberdeenshire, was drowned at sea on the coast of Holland in July 1648, on her passage to France, to enjoy the free exercise of her religion, having been bred in the Romish faith, under her grandmother, Jean, countess of Bothwell and Sutherland. Besides several other passengers, three daughters of the earl of Angus, nieces of the duke of Lennox, and two sons of the earl of Wintoun, were lost in the same ship.

John, fourteenth earl of Sutherland, born 4th March 1609, was only six years old when he succeeded his father, and during his minority his uncle, Sir Robert Gordon, was tutor of Sutherland. In this capacity the latter was much engaged in securing the peace of the country, so often broken by the lawless proceedings of the earl of Caithness, against whom, armed with the king’s authority, he led an expedition, and forced him, in September 1623, to surrender his principal castles and to fly to Orkney. By Sir Robert’s judicious management of the affairs of the house of Sutherland, his nephew, the earl, on attaining his majority, found the hostility of the enemy of his house, the earl of Caithness, either neutralized, or rendered no longer dangerous. In 1633, however, he found himself involved in a quarrel with Lord Lorn, then justiciary of the Isles, eldest son of the earl of Argyle, in consequence of having hanged some islesmen and others, dependents of Lord Lorn, for horse-stealing. Lord Lorn complained to the lords of the council against the earl, for having, as he maintained, apprehended the king’s free subjects without a commission, and for causing them to be executed, and obtained letters to charge him to answer the complaint. Sir Robert Gordon, being then at Edinburgh, stated the true facts of the case to the council, who approved of the earl’s conduct, and decided that in respect the earl of Sutherland had the rights of regality and sheriffship within himself, and was appointed to administer justice within his own bounds, he was not obliged to send criminals, though islanders, to Lord Lorn or his deputies. This decision had the effect of relieving Sutherland and Ross from farther incursions on the part of Lord Lorn’s followers. IN 1637, the earl joined the supplicants against the service book, and on the breaking out of the civil war in the following year. Accompanied by Lord Reay and the master of Berriedale and others, he went to Inverness and Elgin, and was very active in persuading the inhabitants to subscribe the Covenant. The marquis of Huntly, who had raised the royal standard in the north, wrote him confidentially, blaming him for his past conduct, and advising him to declare for the king, but the earl informed him, in reply, that it was against the bishops and their innovations, and not against the king, that he was acting. He then, in his turn, advised the marquis to join the Covenanters, by doing which he said he would not only confer honour on himself, but much good on his native country. Thereupon he joined the earl of Seaforth and the other Covenanters on the north of the river Spey. In 1641 he was appointed by parliament a privy councilor for life, and in 1644 he was sent north with a commission for disarming malignants, as the royalists were called. In 1645 he was one of the committee of estates. The same year he joined General Hurry, with his retainers at Inverness, just immediately before the battle of Auldearn. In the duke of Hamilton’s ‘engagement’ for the rescue of the king in 1648, he was appointed a colonel of foot, but declined the office. He sat in the parliament of Scotland in January 1649, and on 10th March following, was appointed keeper of the privy seal. In 1650 he accompanied General David Leslie when he was sent by the parliament against the royalists in the north. That general proceeded into Badenoch with one portion of his army, while he dispatched the earl of Sutherland with five troops of horse, to collect forces in Ross, Sutherland, and Caithness. At daybreak of the 8th of May, on the earl’s return from Ross, he speedily crossed the Spey, and seizing the royalist sentinels, surprised Lord Reay at the castle of Balveny. Lord Reay himself and about 900 foot were taken prisoners, and about 80 of the royalists killed. On the marquis of Montrose’s arrival in Caithness, the earl assembled all his countrymen to oppose his advance into Sutherland. Montrose, however, had secured the important pass of the Ord, and on his entering Sutherland, the earl, not conceiving himself strong enough to resist him, retired with about 300 men into Ross. He had previously put strong garrisons into Dunrobin, Skeibo, Skibo, and Dornoch, and sent off a party with cattle and effects to the hills, to be out of Montrose’s reach. After being some days in Sutherland, Montrose sent a notification to the earl, that though he had spared his lands for the present, the time was at hand when he would make his own neighbours undo him. Little did he think that his own fate was so soon to be decided. In August of the same year, the earl set off to Edinburgh, with 1,000 men, to join the forces under General Leslie, collected to oppose Cromwell, but was too late for the battle of Dunbar, which was fought before his arrival. His regiment was then ordered to Stirling, and he himself sent to his own country to raise more men. In March 1651, he sent a regiment of Sutherland and Strathnaver men to Stirling, and the king himself, Charles II., wrote him a letter of thanks for them. Although appointed a colonel of foot, he did not accompany the king to England, but was directed to remain in Sutherland, to watch the coast, and his regiment was placed under the command of the viscount of Frendraught. During the usurpation of Cromwell, the earl lived retired. He died in 1663, in his 55th year.

His son, George, fifteenth earl, died 4th March 1703, aged 70, and was buried at Holyrood-house, where a monument was erected to his memory. The son of this nobleman, John, sixteenth earl, married, when Lord Strathnaver, Helen, second daughter of William, Lord Cochrane, sister of the Viscountess Dundee. After the Revolution he sent a letter from Inverness, dated 3d July 1689, to the Viscount Dundee, at his head-quarters at Strowan, couched in very friendly terms, and advising him to follow the example of the duke of Gordon, who had given in his adhesion to the government of King William, as the course he was following, if persisted in, would lead inevitably to his ruin. In his answer, dated “Stroan, 15th July 1689,” Dundee expressed himself deeply sensible of the obligation he had to his lordship for his advice and offers of service, which he imputed to his “sincere goodness and concern” for him and his family, and in return he assured him that he had no less concern for him, and had even been thinking of making him a similar proposal, but delayed doing so till things should appear more clear to him. He was one of the privy councillors of King William, and as colonel of a regiment of foot he followed that monarch in all his campaigns in Flanders. He was also a privy councilor to Queen Anne, and in 1705 was named one of the commissioners for the treaty of union, which he steadily supported in parliament. He was one of the sixteen representatives of the Scots peerage chosen in the last Scots parliament in 1707, and subsequently three times re-elected. In 1715 he was appointed president of the board of trade and manufactures, and lord-lieutenant of the eight northern counties, including Sutherland and Caithness. On the breaking out of the rebellion of that year, he left Edinburgh to raise a force in the north, to act against the insurgents, but before he took his departure from Leith for Dunrobin castle, he arranged with the government for a supply of arms, ammunition, and military stores, to be sent to the north with as little delay as possible. Accordingly, about the end of September, a vessel belonging to Burntisland was freighted for that purpose, on board of which were put between three and four hundred stands of arms, and a considerable quantity of ammunition and military stores, furnished by the governor of Edinburgh castle, but it was seized in the firth of Forth by the rebels, who were in possession of the whole coast of Fife. To protect their own territories and detain the earl of Seaforth, the chief rebel leader in the north, from forming a junction with the forces under the earl of Mar, the earl of Sutherland, with his son, Lord Strathnaver, and Lord Reay, at the head of about 600 men, joined Colonel Robert Munro, younger of Foulis, who had formed a camp at Alness, where he had collected nearly 600 of the Munroes and Rosses. Seaforth, who had under him a force of 3,000 men, left his camp on 9th October 1716, to attack the earl of Sutherland, but the latter, on account of the disparity of numbers, retreated, when his men dispersed, and returned to their homes. After the capture of Inverness from the rebels by Lord Lovat, in which he was assisted by the earl of Sutherland, the latter made a journey with his own men and parties of the Mackays, Rosses, and Munroes, through the country of the Mackenzies, and levied a contribution upon all the gentleman of that name whose tenants had joined Seaforth, equal to six weeks’ provisions, for the number of men they were bound by law to have furnished the government. The earl of Sutherland thereafter returned to Inverness, which he continued to defend till the rebellion was quelled. His services were acknowledged by George I., who, in June 1716, invested him with the order of the Thistle, and in the following September settled a pension of £1,200 per annum upon him. He figured conspicuously both as a statesman and a soldier, and obtained leave to add to his armorial bearings the double “tressure circum-fleur-de-lire,” to indicate his descent from the royal family of Bruce. His lordship died at London, 27th June 1733.

His son, William, Lord Strathnaver, was elected M.P. for Dornoch in 1708, but in those days the eldest son of a Scots peer was not considered eligible for a seat in the House of Commons, and his election was in consequence declared void. He accompanied his father to the north in 1715, and was actively engaged against the rebels. He had the command of a regiment, and distinguished himself at the battle of Glenshiel against the Spaniards and the Jacobite rebels in 1719. He predeceased his father 19th July 1720. He had five sons and two daughters. His two eldest sons died young. William, the third son, became seventeenth earl of Sutherland. The elder daughter, the Hon. Helen Sutherland, was the wife of Sir James Colquhoun of Luss. The younger, the Hon. Janet Sutherland, married George Sinclair, Esq. of Ulbster, and was the mother of the celebrated Sir John, Sinclair, baronet.

William, seventeenth earl of Sutherland, was, when Lord Strathnaver, chosen M.P. for Sutherlandshire at the general election of 1727. He was admitted a fellow of the Royal Society in 1732, and succeeded his grandfather in 1733. Chosen one of the sixteen Scots representative peers in 1734, he was re-elected in 1741. On the commencement of the rebellion of 1745, he was one of the loyal Highland chiefs who received letters from Lord-president Forbes, to raise independent companies from their clans for the service of government. Accordingly, two companies of Sutherland men, amounting to 100 each, were enrolled, and joined the government forces against the Pretender. He contributed greatly to the suppression of the rebellion in the north. Under the heritable jurisdictions abolition act of 1747, he had £1,000 allowed him for the redeemable sheriffship of Sutherland. He died in France, Dec. 7, 1750, aged 50. By his countess, Lady Elizabeth Wemyss, eldest daughter of the 3d earl of Wemyss, he had, with a daughter, Lady Elizabeth, wife of her cousin, Hon. James Wemyss of Wemyss, a son, William.

The son, William, eighteenth earl of Sutherland, born May 29, 1735, was an officer in the army, and in 1759, when an invasion was expected, he raised a battalion of infantry, of which he was constituted lieutenant-colonel. He was appointed aide-de-camp to the king, with the rank of colonel in the army, 20th April 1763. He was one of the sixteen representative Scots peers, and died at Bath 16th June 1766, aged 31. He had married at Edinburgh, 14th April 1761, Mary, eldest daughter and coheiress of William Maxwell, Esq. of Preston, stewartry of Kirkcudbright, and had two daughters, Lady Catherine and Lady Elizabeth. The former, born 24th May 1764, died at Dunrobin castle 3d January 1766. The loss of their daughter so deeply affected the earl and countess that they went to Bath, in the hope that the amusements of that place would dispel their grief. There, however, the earl was seized with a fever, and the countess devoted herself so entirely to the care of her husband, sitting up with him for twenty-one days, night and day, without retiring to bed, that her health was affected, and she died 1st June the same year, sixteen days before his lordship. Their corpses were brought to Scotland, and interred in Holyrood-house.

Their only surviving daughter, Elizabeth, born at Leven Lodge, near Edinburgh, 24th May 1765, succeeded as countess of Sutherland, when little more than a year old. She was placed under the guardianship of John, duke of Athol, Charles, earl of Elgin and Kincardine, Sir Adam Fergusson of Kilkerran, and Sir David Dalrymple of Hailes, baronets, and John Mackenzie, Esq. of Delvin. A sharp contest arose for the title, her right to the earldom being disputed on the ground that it could not legally descend to a female heir. Her opponents were Sir Robert Gordon of Gordonstoun and Letterfourie, baronet, and George Sutherland, Esq. of Fors. Lord Hailes drew up a paper for her ladyship, entitled ‘Additional Case for Elizabeth, claiming the title and dignity of Countess of Sutherland,’ which evinced great ability, accuracy, and depth of research. The House of Lords decided in her favour 21st March 1771. The countess, the nineteenth in succession to the earldom, married 4th September 1785, George Granville Leveson Gower, viscount of Trentham, eldest son of Earl Gower, afterwards marquis of Stafford, by his second wife, Lady Louisa Egerton, daughter of the first duke of Bridgewater. His lordship succeeded to his father’s titles, and became the second marquis of Stafford. On 14th January 1833 he was created duke of Sutherland, and died 19th July the same year. The duchess of Sutherland, countess in her own right, thenceforth styled duchess-countess of Sutherland, held the earldom during the long period of 72 years and seven months, and died in January 1839.

Her eldest son, George Granville, born in 1786, succeeded his father a second duke of Sutherland, in 1833, and his mother in the Scottish titles, in 1839. He married in 1823, Lady Harriet Elizabeth Georgiana, 3d daughter of 6th earl of Carlisle, issue, 4 sons and 7 daughters. The duchess was for a long time mistress of the robes to Queen Victoria. His grace died Feb. 28, 1861, and was succeeded by his eldest son, George Granville William. The 2d duke’s eldest daughter married in 1844, the duke of Argyle; the second daughter married in 1843, Lord Blantyre; the third daughter married in 1847, the marquis of Kildare, eldest son of the duke of Leinster.

George Granville William, 3d duke of Sutherland, previously styled marquis of Stafford and Lord Strathnaver, born Dec. 19, 1828, married in 1849, Anne, only child of John Hay Mackenzie, Esq. of Cromartie and Newhall, and niece of Sir William Gibson Craig, bart.; issue, 3 sons and 1 daughter. Sons, 1. George Granville, Earl Gower, born July 25, 1850, died July 5, 1858. 2. Cromartie, marquis of Stafford. 3. Lord Francis, Viscount Tarbet, born Aug. 3, 1852. Daughter, Lady Florence. On Oct. 21, 1861, the duchess of Sutherland was created countess of Cromartie in her own right, with succession to her surviving 2d son, and the heirs male of his body. The title of earl of Cromartie, forfeited in the person of George, 3d earl, in 1746, has thus been restored to a descendant of the same family by a new creation in her favour. The expenses attending the creation of her new honours, in the way of fees and stamps, are stated to have been as follows, viz.: -- As fees, Countess Cromartie, £2,387 14s. 8d.’ Viscountess Tarbet, £416 5s.; Baroness Castlehaven, £348 8s. 8d.’ Baroness Macleod, £404 8s. 2d.; Stamps, £1,870. Total, £5,462 16s.


The Late Duke of Sutherland (died 1892)

The sudden demise of this “Prince among men,” in his 64th year, took the British public by surprise. No nobleman in Great Britain since the time of the “Iron Duke,” was so widely and so well known as this “democratic Duke,” frequently so called. Descended from an illustrious line of ancestors, who first settled in Sutherland in the 12th century, on the expulsion of the Norsemen by William the Lion from that district, the late Duke wTas the 21st Earl of Sutherland, premier Earl, and Lord Strathnaver in the peerage of Scotland, Marquis of Stafford, Viscount Trentham, Earl, and Baron Gower of Stittenham in the peerage of England, and Duke of Sutherland in the British peerage.

Born heir to a princely inheritance, he used his resources in a princely manner, to develop the capabilities of his estates and to promote various schemes for the general progress of the country communication by land and sea. He was a true and real nationalist, a true patriot, practical, unostentatious, affable, approachable, devoid of aristocratic haughtiness, more ready to listen than to speak, gentlemanly in reply and general conversation, though he could occasionally be caustic and sarcastic; yet in the pungency of such remarks it could readily be seen that he grasped at the pith of the subject much more clearly than those more glib of tongue.

To the public spirit of this noble chief the Highlands of Scotland are especially indebted for the rapid development of their resources. Without his fostering influence, personal encouragement, and pecuniary aid, the Highland railways could not have so quickly extended to the far North. It has been calculated that in the promotion and construction of these railways he expended or invested nearly £400,000, besides £254,000 in the reclamation works, and £48,000 in the Coal and Brick works at Brora. In a statement submitted to the Crofters’ Commission in 1883, the total expenditure in Sutherland alone, for thirty years, was nearly £1,300,000, while the total revenue in the same period was only £1,050,000, leaving a balance of £250,000 against the estate,or provided for otherwise—an average outlay of nearly£44,000 a-year. This lavish expenditure must have been beneficial to many in the county and out of it.

It was not only in Sutherland that this nobleman put forth his active energies. His other estates were not neglected, and he instituted many large enterprises to develop their resources. He was a hereditary director of the London and North-Western Railway Company, a Director of the Highland and other railways and public companies. His magnificent reception and entertainment of foreign potentates— Garibaldi, Shah of Persia, and Khedive of Egypt, as well as philosophers, and other eminent men at one or other of his castles, made him famous throughout the whole civilized world. Welcomed every where he went, he was always ready to welcome Prince and peasant to his lordly halls.


Lord Francis Levenson Gower, afterwards Lord Francis Egerton, the first duke’s second son, inherited the estates of his uncle, the last duke of Bridgewater, and obtained a revival in his own favour of the titles of earl of Ellesmere and Viscount Brackley, in the peerage of England, in 1846. He acquired considerable literary distinction as the translator of ‘Faust,’ and as a poet, and was for many years a member of the House of Commons. He died in October 1857, aged 57, and was succeeded by his son George, second earl of Ellesmere of this family, born June 15, 1823, and died Sept. 19, 1862. He had married Lady Mary Louisa Campbell, youngest daughter of the earl of Cawdor; issue, 2 sons, Francis Charles Granville, Viscount Brackley, who succeeded as 3d earl of Ellesmere, born April 5, 1847, and Hon. Alfred John Francis, born Feb. 6, 1854.

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