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[Swedish Sinclairs]
Battle of

The Battle of Altgawn, 1586

From: "Privateers"
Date: Mon, 28 Jun 1999 20:15:13 +0100

George Sinclair, fourth Earl of Caithness, died in 1582; he was earl for 53 years. George Sinclair his grandson became the fifth Earl of Caithness at the age of sixteen years. He died in 1643 at seventy-eight, over his tenure he squander the power and influence of the earldom of Caithness The eleventh Earl of Sutherland, Alexander Gordon arranged for young Earl of Caithness to marry Jean Gordon in 1585. She was George Gordons, the fifth Earl of Huntly, only daughter.

The marriage was outside the labyrinth of marriages and alliances which the fourth Earl of Caithness, the fifth Earls grandfather, bound the Sutherlands of Duffus, the MacKays of Strathnaver and the Gunns to the house of Caithness. Alexander Sutherland of Duffus had wed Elizabeth Sinclair in 1568, his younger brother William married her younger sister Margaret in 1579, renewing the terms of the contract between their two families. Then, after her first husband had died, Elizabeth Sinclair was given in marriage by her father the fourth Earl to Uisdean Dubh MacKay of Strathnaver, who had come of age in 1583.

Before George Sinclair, the fourth Earl of Caithness, had died in 1582, his power as Justiciar over the whole diocese of Caithness had been reduced by the Privy Council spurred on Alexander Gordon, eleventh Earl of Sutherland. He wanted George Gordon, sixth Earl of Huntly, to inherit the hereditary office as Sheriff of Inverness, Ross and Caithness. The Privy Council agreed. The office had been held by the Gordons for a few generations. Alexander Gordon, eleventh Earl of Sutherland, now wanted to abolish the alliances of the young Earl of Caithness, backed as he was by the Abrach MacKays and the MacLeods of Assynt

George Gordon, sixth Earl of Huntly, acting in his position as the Kings Lieutenant-General, threatened the Earl of Caithness and forced him in 1586 to join a two-pronged attack against the Gunns. The Earls forces from Caithness were to invade from the east the uplands of Braemore, while the forces under the Earl of Sutherland were to advance from the south and west, ambushing the Gunns between them., it seems that The Earl of Caithness salved his conscience by warning the Gunns of the impending attack.. The Gunns had earlier been the devoted allies of the Sinclairs.

The Gordons of Sutherland first encountered William MacKay, later of Bighouse, and the younger brother of Uisdean Dubh MacKay. He was returning with cattle from a raiding party against James Macleod of Assynt, himself an adherent of the Earl of Sutherland. Fighting a rearguard action, William MacKay fell back towards Ben Griam where the Gunns had taken cover, threatened as they were by the Sinclairs advancing from the east. Meeting early next morning at Altgawn, the MacKays and the Gunns decided to attack the Sinclairs first, hoping to surprise their enemies with their united mettle. They routed the Sinclairs as they advanced uphill, killing their leader, Henry Sinclair, cousin of the young Earl of Caithness, and one hundred of his clansmen. News of this defeat caused the men of the Earl of Sutherland to fade away of their own accord.

Uisdean Dubh MacKay of Strathnaver had gone, in the interim to visit Girnigoe Castle, aspiring to influence his brother-in-law George Sinclair, fifth Earl of Caithness, on behalf of the Gunns. When news arrived that the Sinclair forces had been overcome by the Gunns and MacKay of Strathnaver clansmen at Altgawn, MacKay was forced to escape to Strathnaver at the dead of night. Alexander Gordon, eleventh Earl of Sutherland, accomplished his aim without striking a blow. He separated the Earl of Caithness from the Gunns and the MacKays, who had previously been among his most loyal followers.


Typed by A Francois

Ref: Feuds, Forays and Rebellions (1999) John L. Roberts, Edinburgh
The Book of MacKay (1906) A. MacKay, Edinburgh
The History of the Province of Cat (1914) A. MacKay, Wick
Lands and Men in Scotland (1985) J. Wormald, Edinburgh

Last changed: 00/05/22 12:45:03 [Clan Sinclair]