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From: Malcolm Caithness
Date: Mon, 16 Aug 1999 07:53:02 +0100

Our titles are very confusing but as I understand it the history is as follows. The first Earl was Rognvald in 871 and he was of the Norse line. The history is a little confused at times but the Earldom was in the Athol line, the Angus line and the Stratherne line before becoming the Sinclair line. It is important to remember that for much of this period Caithness was ruled by Norway not Scotland which accounts for some of the difficulties. In 1455 William St. Clair, Earl of Orkney (still ruled by Norway) was granted the Earldom of Caithness by King James II of Scotland by letters patent and thus became the 1st Earl but was the 39th holder of the title. George IV was the sixth Earl under Scottish law but the forty fourth holder of the title.

Malcolm Caithness
Clan Chief

Earls of Caithness

See also Laurel Fechner's web pages with details for each Earl.
From: Niven Sinclair <>
Date: Mon, 16 Aug 1999 09:03:42 +0100

George IV was indeed the 6th Sinclair Earl of Caithness but the 44th Earl overall.

Caithness is the oldest comitial dignity having existed for more then a millennium.

The Sinclairs (as such) did not obtain the earldom until 1454 when it was granted to Earl William Sinclair, the grandson of Prince Henry Sinclair. He was the 39th Earl of Caithness and held the Earldom between 1454 and 1476 (he transferred the title before his death).

Thereafter, it went to Earl William's son, William by Marjorie Sutherland (even although he had had an earlier son, also called William, by his first wife, Elizabeth Douglas). This William fell at Flodden in 1513 when the Earldom passed to his son:

John III, the 41st Earl who held it between 1513 - 1529 was succeeded by his second son, George, because his first son, William had died before him. This George, known as George II reigned between 1529-1582 but, once more his eldest son, John, pre-deceased him so the title passed to his third son, George III who held the title between 1582-1643. (His second son William had also pre-deceased him).

As his son and grandson also pre-deceased him, the title passed to his great grandson, George IV (1643-1676) who, as I have said was the 44th Earl of Caithness but only the 6th Sinclair Earl to hold that title.

George V of Keiss was the 45th Earl of Caithness but he, too, died without issue so the title passed to his second cousin, Sir John Sinclair of Murkle.

I appreciate it is all very confusing particularly when there is (rarely) a direct father to son transfer.

Niven Sinclair

Caithness and Orkney Earldoms

From: Niven Sinclair <>
Date: Tue, 31 Aug 1999 21:53:06 +0100

[Norway] [Scotland] 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.

[Orkney flag] 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.

Battle of Bannockburn 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........

[Arms of Prince Henry Sinclair as Earl of 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.

George Sinclair's Grave 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).

As aye,


Last changed: 00/01/10 21:10:10 [Clan Sinclair]