Earls of CaithnessSee also Laurel Fechner's web pages with details for each Earl.
Caithness and Orkney EarldomsFrom: Niven Sinclair <email@example.com>
Date: Tue, 31 Aug 1999 21:53:06 +0100
I have never been able to put a date when the actual transfer of Caithness from Norway to Scotland actually took place because the various Earls (of the Norse, Atholl, Angus, Stratherne, and St Clair lines) held lands in Orkney, Norway and Scotland.
For example, in 1320 we find Earl Magnus of Orkney (which included Caithness) subscribing the famous letter to the Pope asserting the independence of Scotland although he was a Norse Earl.
Although Magnus was not present at the Battle of Bannockburn which was fought on St John's Day 1314, Halcro of that Ilk commanded 300 men from Orkney and fought like a hero. He returned to Orkney with great honour in commemoration of which there is a yearly lighting of bon-fires at every farm steading in Orkney on St John's Day when the islands are covered in a pall of smoke. (It is not generally realised that Bruce sought refuge in Orkney during 1306. His sister had married King Eric of Norway Eric's second marriage).
It should also be remembered that the Norse obtained Orkney after a battle with Constantine, the King of the Scots. The present earl is a direct descendant of both Thorstein and Sigurd who acquired the earldom in 871 after defeating Constantine.
Caithness also included Sutherland until the murder of John, the 24th Earl, in 1231 when it became detached from Orkney and Caithness.
Nevertheless, the three earldoms of Orkney, Caithness and Stratherne were still held by Malise II (1333-1344) who died without male issue when Orkney was given to son-in-law Erengisle Sunesson whilst Caithness was given to another son-in-law Alexander de Ard. The Earldom of Stratherne (which had to go to direct male issue i.e father to son) reverted to the Scottish Crown. It wasn't until 1379 that Prince Henry St Clair (another son-in-law) obtained the 'jarldom' of Orkney minus Caithness which Alexander de Ard had resigned to the Scottish Crown in 1375. He died without issue and, as we know, it was eventually given to Prince Henry's grandson, Earl William St Clair in 1554 an unpardonable and inexplicable delay of 110 years before it came to the rightful hereditary heir.
However, in the interim, the St Clairs were making their influence felt. We find Henry's brother, John, in Orkney in 1369 and, as early as 1321 Henry de St Clair, a great grandfather of Prince Henry St Clair is appointed ballivus of Caithness by the Scottish King and ballivus of Orkney by the Norwegian King.
In 1364, a Thomas St Clair (the uncle of Prince Henry) is appointed ballivus of Orkney in the absence of Prince Henry St Clair at the Danish Court where he was in attendance between 1363 to 1365.
Henry was 'betrothed' to Florentia, a Danish Princess, but as she died before reaching puberty they were never bedded.
However, his brother John, married Ingeborg, the natural daughter of King Waldemar of Denmark. John was a brilliant diplomatist and soldier. He took part in the Battle of Otterburn in 1388 with his cousin, another Sir John Sinclair of Hermandston. When James, Earl of Douglas, was killed the banner was picked up by John Sinclair who gave the Douglas war cry and charged the enemy. Therafter, it was said that the battle was won by a dead man but it was Sir John Sinclair who carried the banner.
But back to Orkney........
The delay in appointing Henry St Clair to the 'jarldom' of Orkney is one of those inexplicable mysteries because he was by far the most able contender for that title. Alexander de Ard and Erengisle Sunesson were the other applicants. They were both from Sweden and had neither the flare nor the knowledge to govern the islanders who were in the main the offspring of Viking renegades who had been expelled from their own country. Furthermore, Prince Henry St Clair had a special relationship with Queen Margrette who had only been 10 years of age when she married King Haakon VI of Norway. On the death of the King (when their son, Olaf, was only 5 years of age) he, being her premier 'jarl' by virtue of his descent from from the House of More, became her right-hand-man.
As you know, I have just returned from Norway where I was following in the footsteps of Colonel George Sinclair just, as in previous years, I had followed in the footsteps of Prince Henry St Clair so that I might better understand the country they traversed and the people they met (making due allowance for the changes which have taken place in the intervening years).
Last changed: 00/01/10 21:10:10