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THE SINCLAIRS OF MEY

The Castle of Mey (or Barrogil Castle, 16th century) and the estate of Mey are in the parish of Canisbay.
Some photos are available on www.caithness.org/caithness/castles/mey
and on www.scotland-inverness.co.uk/Chatelaine/MEY.HTM
It has its own web site on www.castleofmey.org.uk

I. WILLIAM SINCLAIR, second son of George, fourth Earl of Caithness, obtained a charter in March 1572 from his father, of the lands of Mey, and was thus the first laird of Mey. He died unmarried. See Ulbster

II. GEORGE SINCLAIR, SECOND OF MEY, succeeded his brother, William, and in 1573 got a precept of clare constat from Robert, Bishop of Caithness. In 1585 and 1592 he obtained Crown charters. In 1572 the Bishop appointed him Chancellor of the diocese of Caithness. He was a man of ability, who lost no opportunity of promoting his family interests, and considerable additions to the family estates were made by him.

Before 1583 he married Margaret, daughter of William, seventh Lord Forbes, and he died in 1616. He had four sons and five daughters: -

  1. William, his heir
  2. Sir John, of Geanies and Dunbeath
  3. James, who died young
  4. Alexander of Latheron, ancestor of the Sinclairs of Barrock and Brabster
  1. Janet, eldest daughter, who married Walter Innes of Inverbrakie
  2. Margaret, who married, in 1608, Alexander Sinclair of Forss
  3. Barbara, who married Alexander Keith of Pittendrum, in 1610
  4. Elizabeth, who married William Dunbar, first of Hempriggs in Morayshire, and grandfather of Sir William Dunbar of Hempriggs, etc., in Caithness
  5. Anne
III. SIR WILLIAM SINCLAIR OF MEY was created a knight, (Charters 1623, 1636) and was styled Sir William of Cadboll. In 1600 he married Katharine, second daughter of George Ross of Balnagown, and was succeeded by his son, Sir James. It has been supposed that Sir William was created a baronet, but this is doubtful; and in the Great Seal charters of 1623 and 1636 he is mentioned as "Miles" only.

In 1595 a mutiny broke out among the scholars and gentlemen's sons attending the High School of Edinburgh, arising from a dispute with the magistrates as to their vacation. They laid in provisions in the schoolroom, manned the same, and took in arms with powder and bullets; and refused all entrance to masters or magistrates until their claims were conceded. After a day passed in this manner, the Council resolved on strong measures,. and a posse of officers, headed by Bailie John Macmoran, proceeded to the school, and failing to persuade the scholars to surrender, attempted to prize open the doors. The scholars, finding no attention paid to their threats, to "put a pair of bullets through the best of their cheeks", unless they desisted, "one Sinclair, the Chancellor of Caithness' son, presented a gun from a window, direct opposite to the bailies' faces, boasting them and calling them buttery carles. Off goeth the charged gun, pierced John Macmoran through his head, and presently killed him, so that he fell backward straight to the ground without speech at all". The culprit was William, afterwards Sir William Sinclair of Mey; but in the end he and seven other youths implicated got clear off.

Chambers's "Domestic Annals", vol. i. pp. 261, 262

The following description of Barrogill Castle, at this period, is taken from a poem dedicated to the Earl of Caithness and Sir William St. Clair of Cadboll:-

"Sir, sighting now thyself and palace faire,
I find a novelty, and that most rare;
The time though cold and stormie, sharper sun,
Yet with good luck in Februar, Saturn's prey
Flank'd with the marine coast prospective stands
Right opposit to the Orca de Isles and lands,
Where I, for flowers, engorged strong grapes of Spain,
And liquor'd French, both red and white amaine,
Which palace doth contain, two four-squared courts
Graft with brave works, where th' art drawn pensile spourts
On halls, high chambers, galleries, office bowers,
Cells, rooms, and turrets, platforms, stately towers".

IV. SIR JAMES SINCLAIR was styled, in his father's lifetime, of Canisbay, as appears from a tack of teinds, dated 14th June 1635, by Sir William and Sir James, and from a Crown charter in favour of both, dated 17th February 1636. As before stated, it is doubtful whether his father was more than a mere knight, and if Sir James was so called in his father's lifetime there must have been a separate creation. His uncle, Sir John of Geanies and Dunbeath, to whose baronetcy he is supposed to have succeeded, was alive long after 1636, but if Sir James was so styled in the lifetime of his father and uncle, he may have been merely knighted, and may still have afterwards taken up his uncle's baronetcy.

[Sir James Sinclair of Canisbay was created a Baronet June 2, 1631, with remainder "haeredibus suis masculis et assignatis quibuscunque". The precept for the patent is on record.]

Sir James married Elizabeth, daughter of Patrick, Lord Lindores, and died in 1662. He had five sons and two daughters: -

  1. John who died young
  2. William, his successor
  3. Robert of Durran
  4. James of Stangergill, who died without issue [This John and James seem to have been really one person, namely, John, of Stangergill, intermediate between William and Robert: his property, on his death s.p., was inherited by Robert. In 1645 Sir James granted a bond over Stangergill to John, his "second son". In a discharge, dated 1667, Sir William enumerates his younger brothers as John, Robert, and George].
  5. George of Olrig
  1. Anne, eldest daughter, who married George, first Earl of Cromarty
  2. Elizabeth, who married her cousin, William Sinclair of Dunbeath
V. SIR WILLIAM SINCLAIR OF CANISBAY AND MEY was infeft in Mey in 1662 as heir to his father, on a precept of clare constat by the Bishop of Caithness. He married Margaret, second daughter of George, second Earl of Seaforth, and had two sons and three daughters: -
  1. Sir James, his heir
  2. George
  1. Elizabeth, eldest daughter, who married John Sinclair of Rattar
  2. Barbara, who married David Sinclair of Freswick
  3. Mary
The estate was so involved in debt by Sir William that it was, after his death, judicially sold by his creditors in 1694.

VI. SIR JAMES SINCLAIR OF MEY married - first, Frances, daughter of Sir John Towers of that Ilk and of Inverleith; [This first marriage is given on Douglas's authority. It was Sir James's contemporary, Sir John Sinclair of Longformacus, who married the daughter and heir of Sir John Towers of InverIeith] and, secondly, Jean, daughter of Francis Sinclair of Northfield, second son of George, fifth Earl of Caithness.

The estates having been judicially sold for the debts of Sir James's father, they were purchased by his cousin, Viscount Tarbet, afterwards Earl of Cromarty, who had married his aunt, and in 1698 Lord Tarbet reconveyed them to the family by a disposition and deed of entail, "animo donandi", in favour of James, eldest-son of Sir James Sinclair, and other heirs.

By his first marriage Sir James Sinclair had a son and a daughter:-

  1. Sir James, his heir
  1. Barbara, who married Francis Sinclair of Stirkoke
Sir James had also a natural son, John, who held a wadset of Hollandmake, conveyed to him by his father.

VII. SIR JAMES SINCLAIR OF MEY, third of the name, married Mary, daughter of James, Lord Duffus, and had three sons and a daughter: -

  1. Sir James
  2. William
  3. Kenneth
  1. Margaret
VIII. SIR JAMES SINCLAIR, fourth of the name, obtained a Crown charter in 1740 (Retour, 10th February 1740) and married Margaret, daughter of John Sinclair of Barrock, by whom he had two sons: -
  1. Sir John
  2. William, who married Elizabeth, daughter of Richard Sinclair, merchant in Thurso, second son of Alexander Sinclair, last laird of Dun. He had a son, John, captain in the 79th Foot, who was killed at Waterloo, and a daughter, Williamina, who died unmarried. It is thought he had a second daughter, who was married
IX. SIR JOHN SINCLAIR OF MEY was served heir of taillie and provision in 1763, and married Charlotte, second daughter of Eric, Lord Duffus, by whom he had a son and a daughter: -
  1. Sir James
  1. Margaret, who married the Reverend William Leslie, of Darkland, by whom she had a son and seven daughters, viz., Archibald, who married, and left issue; Charlotte, who married Arthur Geddes, and had issue;: Anne, who married Charles Black, and had issue; Elizabeth, who married Captain Van Barly, and had issue; Isabella, who married James Imlach, and had issue; Jessie or Janet, who married Colonel Peter Dunbar, and had issue; Mary, who married Patrick Cameron, and had issue; and Helen, who married Peter Brown of Linkwood, and had issue
X. SIR JAMES SINCLAIR OF MEY, eighth baronet, and ninth in descent from George of Mey, Chancellor of Caithness, was served heir to his father in 1785; and on the death of John, eleventh Earl of Caithness, he was served in May 1790, as nearest and lawful heir-male of William St. Clair, second Earl of Caithness of the line of St. Clair, and thereafter took the dignity of Earl of Caithness.

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