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Battle of

The Battle of Summerdale, 19 May 1529

From: Niven Sinclair <>
Date: Mon, 22 May 2000 17:40:04 +0100

The Sinclairs have been involved in many "lost causes" and in many battles where the odds were stacked against them but perhaps the greatest tragedy to befall the Clan was at the Battle of Summerdale (1529) in which the Sinclairs of Caithness fought against the Sinclairs of Orkney at the connivance of the James V, King of Scotland. The Sinclairs of Caithness were slaughtered to a man. Only one Orcadian boy was killed - and that my cruel circumstance. He had dressed himself in the fine clothes of one of the slaughtered Caithnessians and was returning to this own house in the evening when he was met by his mother who, not recognising him and believing him to be one of the 'enemy' who had managed to escape the general carnage, struck him a fatal blow on the head with a stone which she had put in the foot of one of his own stockings and was carrying in her hand as a defensive weapon.

John III, the 43rd Earl of Caithness, had never forgotten that the Sinclairs were entitled to the Earldom of Orkney and, in 1529, he made an abortive attempt to separate Orkney from the Crown so that he could declare himself to be an independent Prince. Strangely, in this open act of rebellion, he was abetted by James V who, once the Sinclairs of Caithness had been defeated, immediately appointed James Sinclair, the leader of the Orcadian Sinclairs, as Governor General of Orkney.

It was the old question of 'dividing and ruling'.

It wasn't the first time the Stuarts tried to destroy the power of the Sinclairs because Earl William Sinclair was commanded by James III to divide his huge Estates into three. It was this division which led to three distinct groups of Sinclairs , namely: those of the Islands, those of Caithness and those of Rosslyn.

Later on, I will be writing a full account of the Battle of Summerdale which, coming so soon after the Battle of Flodden Field (1513), took a swathe out of the Sinclair ranks and this was to be followed by Kringellen in Norway (1612) when another 600 fell in an ambush. If we add the Battle of Altimarlach (1679) when the Campbells defeated us on our home territory, it is little wonder that our power diminished. In less than two centuries, we had lost over 2,000 of our fittest and finest men. The cream of the Sinclair Clan had been skimmed off.

I am always reminded of the following words which appeared in the preface of a book about the futility of war:

"The Notice says:
'Do not pluck these blossoms'
But it is useless
Against a wind that cannot read".

Niven Sinclair

Last changed: 00/05/22 12:37:41 [Clan Sinclair]