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THE SINCLAIRS OF FORSS

Forss House and the estate of Forss are in the parish of Latheron.
Some photos can be seen on www.caithness.org/atoz/forss/forsshotel
It has its own website on www.forsshousehotel.co.uk

It should not be confused with Forse

Previous to 1557 the lands of Forss and Baillie belonged to the Bishopric, but in that year they were feued out to John, Earl of Sutherland, and Eleanor, his wife; and in January 1560 they were granted in feu by the Earl and his Lady to David Sinclair of Dun, in liferent, and to his three sons, William, Alexander, and Henry, and to the heirs-male of their bodies lawfully begotten, in succession, in fee. Who David Sinclair of Dun was is uncertain, further than that he was in all probability of the Caithness family. It is understood that in the charter of 1560 he is styled by the Earl and Countess "nostrum consanguineum germanum", but no such near connection as cousins-german can be traced; and it is stated, on the authority of a gentleman who has given much attention to the subject, that only in modern times does such a phrase mean more than "of the same blood". For particulars regarding the origin of the family of Dun reference is made to the "Notes" on the Sinclairs of Dun and Southdun.

The considerations in respect of which the abovementioned charter was granted are set forth therein at some length, such as services rendered, improvements to be effected on the lands, etc. They are much. the same as those contained in the charter granted in 1557 by the Bishop and Chapter to the Earl of Sutherland, and are generally in the style not unusual at the time. The services alluded-to as having been rendered by Sinclair of Dun to the Earl cannot have reference, as supposed by the late Mr. Sinclair of Forss, (See his letter, dated November 1860, regarding the family of Dun, inserted in Calder's "History") to his having rescued the Earl, when a minor, from the Earl of Caithness; for it was not Earl John, but his son, Earl Alexander, who, after his father's death, fell into the Earl of Caithness's hands.

I. DAVID SINCLAIR OF DUN, AND FIRST SINCLAIR OF FORSS, seems to have died in March 1560. In May 1561 his son, William, fiar of Forss, was admitted vassal in Forss by the Earl of Sutherland; and at the same date he gave a liferent right in Forss to one Mary Stirling, transactions not likely to have taken place had his father, who had Forss in liferent, been then still alive. This David Sinclair had certainly four sons: -

  1. William, fiar of Forss
  2. Alexander, of whom there is no mention, except in the charter of 1560
  3. Henry, conceived to be the same Henry Sinclair who, as narrated by Gordon, was slain in 1586 by the Clan Gunn, under the command of his nephew, Hutcheon McKay of Farr
  4. George, who is designed as "brother of William Sinclair of Forss", and who was a witness along with him to the contract of marriage, signed at Girnigo Castle on 22d November .1563, between Munro of Fowlis and Katharine Ross of Balnagown, afterwards notorious for her trial for witchcraft and poisoning
If the supposition be correct that Henry Sinclair, who was killed in 1586, was the son of David Sinclair of Dun, then David Sinclair had also a daughter: -
  1. Christian Sinclair, who is described by Gordon as a cousin of the Earl of Caithness. She was married about 1557 or 1558 to Y McKay of Farr, by whom she had two sons, Hutcheon and William. Hutcheon McKay married, first, Elizabeth, daughter of George, fourth Earl of Caithness, and, secondly, Lady Jane Gordon, daughter of Alexander, Earl of Sutherland
II. WILLIAM SINCLAIR "OF FORSS" is so styled in 1561-62-63 and subsequent years, and in 1567 he was a witness, along with John Sinclair of Dun, to a notarial instrument in favour of Alexander, Earl of Sutherland. He married Janet Urquhart, who may have been a daughter of the ancient family of Urquhart of Cromarty, knights, who held that estate until it was acquired by the Mackenzies. He had two sons: -
  1. David, who married Janet Murray, daughter of Murray of Pulrossie, or, as he is styled in a sasine in 1598, of Spanziedale, both in Sutherland. He died in apparency, and without issue
  2. Alexander, successor to his father
III. ALEXANDER SINCLAIR OF FORSS married, in 1608, Margaret, daughter of George Sinclair of Mey. She is mentioned as "Gude Wyff of Forss". They had two sons and a daughter:
  1. David
  2. George
  1. Katharine, who married George Innes of Oust
IV. DAVID SINCLAIR OF FORSS died without issue, and was succeeded by his brother, George.

V. GEORGE SINCLAIR OF FORSS married, first, Jean, daughter of David Sinclair of Dun, and, secondly, Mary, daughter of Sir James Sinclair of Murkle. By his first marriage he had a daughter-

Margaret, who married Malcolm Grote of Warse.

By his second marriage he had a son John, his successor.

VI. JOHN SINCLAIR OF FORSS was three times married; first, to Janet, daughter of William Sutherland of Geise, of the family of Sutherland of Forse; secondly, to Barbara, daughter of John Sinclair of Rattar; and, thirdly, to Elizabeth, daughter of Richard Murray of Pennyland. By his first marriage he had a son George, his successor.

By his second marriage he had three sons and a daughter: -

  1. John, afterwards of Forss
  2. James, of Holbornhead and Forss
  3. William, physician in Thurso, who married, in 1742, Barbara, daughter of Robert Sinclair of Geise, and died in 1767. He had four sons and four daughters, all of whom died young except, first, Dr. William, afterwards of Freswick; second, Janet, who married James Mackie, an officer of Excise, and had two sons, William and George, and several daughters. George attained the rank of Major-General in the .Army, and had a large family of sons and daughters, and in 1826 resided in Caen, in Normandy. One of his sisters married John McKay, merchant in Thurso, and had issue. Third, Jane, the other surviving daughter of Dr. William Sinclair, married Allan Robertson of Tarrel, Captain in the 42d Regiment. He was afterwards in Wares, and had several sons and daughters
  1. Elizabeth
By his third marriage John Sinclair had three daughters: -
  1. Mary, who married James Campbell of Lochend, Sheriff-clerk of Caithness. She died in 1771
  2. Jean, who married Hugo Campbell, joint-Sheriff-clerk with his brother, John
  3. Margaret, who died unmarried in 1771
VII. GEORGE SINCLAIR OF FORSS seems to have led a reckless life, and in 1728 he is strongly recommended by his brother and successor, John, to renew his addresses to a young lady with money, "and never to give over till you have obtained your wishes", and thus to pay his debts, "which you'll never pay but by marrying a person with money". This advice the laird did not take, and he died unmarried.

VIII. JOHN SINCLAIR OF FORSS, half-brother of George, was minister of Watten in 1733, and died in 1753. He married Esther, daughter of Alexander Sinclair of Olrig, and had a son, Alexander.

IX. ALEXANDER SINCLAIR OF FORSS died unmarried, and was succeeded by his uncle, James Sinclair of Holbornhead. He seems to have been somewhat eccentric in his habits.

X. JAMES SINCLAIR OF FORSS AND HOLBORNHEAD married, in 1737, Jean, daughter of Robert Sinclair of Geise, Advocate, son of James Sinclair of Lybster, and great-grandson of John of Assery, natural son of James Sinclair of Murkle. James Sinclair of Holbornhead married, apparently after 1775, a daughter of John Sinclair of Scotscalder, but had no issue by this his second wife.

The social habits of the county in the early part of last century (1737) are illustrated in an account of Holbornhead's marriage, given by a gentleman who was present: "We had a rantin bridal and a brave jolly company of ladies and gentlemen; your sisters and the ladies of the familie; Freswick, Brabster, Scotscalder, Assery, Thura, Lybster, Mass John Sinclair [Rev. John Sinclair, minister of Watten], the Frenchman [it does not appear who he was], Mr. Harry Innes, John of Bower, Toftkemp, etc. We danced four days out, and drank heartily, and thereafter went home with the young wife, where we renewed our mirth to a height",

James Sinclair had three sons and two daughters: -

  1. Robert, a Captain in the Army; afterwards of Freswick
  2. William, an Army Surgeon, who died at St. Domingo, in 1794, unmarried
  3. James, afterwards of Forss
  1. Catharine, Mrs. Campbell
  2. Elizabeth, who married Mr. John Bain, who was Tacksman of Dale in 1782
XI. JAMES SINCLAIR OF FORSS, third son of James Sinclair of Holbornhead, succeeded his father. He served as Lieutenant in the Army; married Johanna, daughter of George McKay of Bighouse, and had four sons: -
  1. James
  2. George Lewis, W.S., of Dalveoch, died 1878, without issue, aged 75
  3. William, Captain in the Army, died unmarried
  4. Hugh, died unmarried in Australia
And five daughters: -

  1. Jean, died unmarried
  2. Aeneasina, married Mr. Stevenson, and had issue
  3. Louisa, married Captain Hector Macneill, and has issue
  4. Elizabeth
  5. Janet
He was succeeded by his eldest son, James.

XII. JAMES SINCLAIR OF FORSS, TWELFTH LAIRD, married his cousin, Jessie, daughter of William Sinclair Wemyss of Southdun, and had issue, thirteen sons and four daughters, of whom eight sons and three daughters survived him. He died at Forss, 1st March 1876, aged 73.

His children were: -

  1. James, Lieutenant-Colonel, R.A., died unmarried in 1873
  2. Henry, died in India, unmarried
  3. George William, died in Australia in 1876, and left two sons and several daughters
  4. Robert
  5. Charles
  6. Ramsay, left no issue
  7. Edward
  8. Garden Octavius, died 1883, and left a son
  9. William, died 1878, left no issue
  10. Albert, died young
  11. John, died 1876, unmarried
  12. Frederick, died 1879, unmarried
  13. Wellesley, died young
  1. Joanna
  2. Janet, died young
  3. Henrietta
  4. Louisa, died 1883
The following account of the Sinclairs of Forss is taken from a MS. of the late William Sinclair of Freswick, written apparently about 1770.

Many pretend just now to call the legitimacy of this family (of Forss) in question: Who do it now but such whose family's ly under an imputation of spuriousness not easily to be wipt out, with the most of which I'd hold no argument, as being bastards of yesterday. Such circumstances as they think seem to favor their assertion are easily acounted, from the method of their first outset, a manner that they despise, but which in the opinion of those who will judge with candour and propriety, adds a lustre to them not here to be paraleled, as it is evident that even in that unpolished time, when nothing but the tyes of blood were regarded by others, our progenitor bravely stood forth in support of his friend's family, neither valuing the connexion he had with Lord C. (Caithness), or the effects of the fury of his followers. At a time when from Lord S.'s (Sutherland's) minority he had little hopes of assistance, and reward far distant, he could have no other motive than that of a generous friendship for Lord S. and an indignation at G. E. of C. (George, Earl of Caithness) devilish intentions against Lord S.'s family. But to proceed to our intended narrative, 'tis not to be wondered at if we consider family accidents, that they had no patrimony. William (the second Earl of Caithness) died fighting for his country; his son John might have done something for David, but as they both fell together in Orkney, where his interest or love for his brother led him (we are not to enter on the merits of the expedition); the tye of cousin-german was not strong enough, thought young William and George; he accordingly offered his service to Lord S., who accepted of them.

  1. DAVID SINCLAIR, second son of William, Earl of Caithness, married a daughter of Sir Urquhart of Cromarty. He fell with his brother, Earl John, in an insurrection in Orkney, and left a son: -
    1. WILLIAM, who inheriting the active spirit of his father, on Earl C. denying him his friendship, appealed to Earl Sutherland, who gave him a tack on his estate in Caithness, and made him overseer or chamberlain. After Lord S.'s death, Lord C. intended attacking his lady at Dunrobin, William got account of this, and posted thither with intelligence. The lady only asked him not to follow his chief; he promised he would not, and afterwards raised and headed the men on her estates in Caithness, gave battle to Lord C., and routed him. After the expiration of her son's minority, he had a charter, dated Scrabster Castle 1560, signed by Lord S., Countess of Errol, his lady, and Robert, Bishop of Caithness, for sundrie lands therein particularly mentioned; and he is therein designed after the preamble of the charter, "viro honorabili Gulielmo St. Clair propter fidelitatem", etc. 'Tis to be imagined that such people as Lord S. and R. S. (Robert Stuart), the king's brother, would know what he had a right to. He married a daughter of Murray of Pulrossie, a then flourishing family in Sutherlandshire, and by her left issue: -
      1. DAVID, who had lands in Thurso East, and died there without succession. Forss was possest after by his brother: -
      2. ALEXANDER, who married Margaret, daughter of Sir Sinclair of Mey. He was one of the lairds from Caithness brought up a surety for Lord Caithness after his burning Sandside's corn-yard; he insisted for a backbond from the Earl, which he would not give, and which led the others into a belief of there being no necessity for. It; he told them when he was turned out as insane, "I'm the fuil the day; mony o' ye w'd wish y' ed been so or this day yomon"; this happened literally, for the others paid the forfeiture of their obligations which Lord O. did not relieve them of. Among many who suffered was Bruce of Stanstill. He, A. S., had two sons,
        1. David, who died in A. S.'s lifetime, and
        2. GEORGE, who carried on the line of his family. He married a daughter of Sinclair of Dun, by whom he had a daughter, married to Grote of Warse, of whom Malcolm Grote, Esq., is descended. In his time the Mercat of Dun was transferred from Cross-Kirk to Dun; he next married a daughter of James Sinclair of Murkle, by whom he had issue, one son, John; he was a very weak man, and she very vain and designing; she gave off all the thirlages, and 'tis said got a head-dress for allowance to build a miln at Brims: she married Sutherland of Giese, and did everything against her son; and to hide her and her husband's iniquity forced the son to marry a daughter of Giese's, by whom he had a son, George, who succeeded; and George was succeeded by John, eldest son of John by a second marriage with Barbara, daughter of Sinclair of Rattar. By John's third marriage to Elizabeth Murray, daughter of Pennyland, there remains no issue male. This John married a daughter of Sinclair of Olrig, and left one son,
          1. Alexander, now of Forss.
JOHN SINCLAIR OF FORSS above mentioned as married to Barbara, daughter of Sinclair of Rattar, left two other sons, James and William.

James of Holbornhead married Jean, second daughter of Robert Sinclair of Giese, Advocate, and has issue: -

  1. Lieutenant Robert Sinclair, 63d Regiment of Foot
  2. William Sinclair, Surgeon 34th Regiment of Foot
  3. James Sinclair
  4. William Sinclair, M.D., married Barbara, third daughter of the above Robert Sinclair of Giese, Advocate. He died 27th July 1767, leaving issue one son
    1. William St. Clair, Senior of King's College, Edinburgh, and late of King's and Marischal's College of Aberdeen .

Note.- On this Pedigree it is to be observed: -

Firstly. That, while there is a general concurrence in the fact that the ancestor of the family was a David Sinclair; there is no evidence that William, second Earl of Caithness, had a son of this name.

Secondly. The charter of Forss in 1560 was granted by John, Earl of Sutherland, and his wife, Eleanor, to David Sinclair of Dun, his son, William, and other sons in succession. This David Sinclair died in 1560, and Earl John lived till 1567, when he left his eldest son a minor, no doubt; but the charter of 1560 could not have been for services rendered to him. Earl John himself was also a minor in 1529 when his father died, and possibly the charter of 1560 might have been granted to David Sinclair for services rendered to him. But, on the other hand, according to the pedigree, David Sinclair, the alleged son of Earl William, was killed in Orkney in 1529. In 1561 Earl John granted to William Sinclair a precept admitting him a vassal in Forss.

Thirdly. William Sinclair's wife was certainly Janet Urquhart, and not Janet Murray, as appears from a sasine in their favour. David Sinclair, son of William, married Janet Murray of Pulrossie.

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