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THE SINCLAIRS OF MURKLE

The estate of Murkle is in the parish of Olrig.

I. JAMES SINCLAIR, FIRST OF MURKLE, was the second son of John, Master of Caithness, and grandson of George, fourth Earl of Caithness. He is frequently, but erroneously styled Sir James; the only knight of the family having been his son and successor, Sir James

The original estate of Murkle, as possessed by James Sinclair, and his wife, and their son Sir James, was acquired at various times between 1586 and 1637, chiefly from George, fifth Earl of Caithness, and his son William, Lord Berriedale; the Bishops of Orkney and Caithness; and the Earls of Sutherland. Without attempting to trace the various changes of possession which took place from time to time, it is sufficient to say that the family estate in which Sir James Sinclair was infeft consisted of Murkle, East and West, and Clairdon; one-half of Ormlie, Thurdistoft, Acharascal, and Carnabiud, Lybster, and Borrowstone, all held of the Earl of Caithness; one-half of Ormlie, held of the Bishop of Caithness; Downreay, held of the Bishop of Orkney; and Broynach, held of the Earl of Sutherland. Subsequently the following lands were acquired by the family, viz. - Isauld, in 1723, by Alexander Sinclair of Murkle, ninth Earl of Caithness; and Brubster and Brims in 1726-27, by his brother, Lord Murkle, to whom Alexander succeeded, as heir of conquest.

James Sinclair, first of Murkle, married Elizabeth Stewart, daughter of Robert, Earl of Strathearn and Orkney, a natural son of King James V, and he had two sons and a daughter: -

  1. James; his successor
  2. Francis, who served in the German wars, and who is stated by Gordon to have held the rank of Serjeant-major. In 1621 he had returned to Scotland, and married (Contract of Marriage, 19th July 1621) Janet, daughter of Alexander Sutherland of Forse, by whom he had a son, James, who left no issue. In a procuratory of resignation of Murkle. by Sir James Sinclair in 1644, James Sinclair is mentioned as "eldest lawful son" of Francis, his brother, and in the Peerage case it was held that there was no other son of Francis
  1. Agnes, who married John McKay of Dirlot and Strathy
James Sinclair had also a natural son, John Sinclair, first of Assery. (Peerage case)

II. SIR JAMES SINCLAIR, KNIGHT, appears to have been twice married. In January 1633 a disposition was granted by him, with consent of Dame Margaret Dundas, his spouse, of part of the lands of Ormlie; and in October 1634 there is a contract of marriage between him and Jean, eldest daughter of William Stewart of Burray, who is therein designed of "Manur". By Jean Stewart he had two sons and five daughters: -

  1. John, afterwards eighth Earl of Caithness
  2. David of Broynach, who died between 1713 and 1716. David Sinclair of Broynach married a daughter of William Sinclair of Dun, by whom he had a son, James, and a daughter, Elizabeth. (See proof in Peerage case). James died about 1754, without issue. Elizabeth married James Whyte, in Meikle Clyth, afterwards in Thurso, and had two daughters, Henrietta and Jean. Henrietta Whyte married William Miller, and had a son, James, and a daughter, Isabella. Jean Whyte married Donald Oagg, weaver and merchant in Thurso, and had two sons, James and Donald, and two daughters, Janet and Anne. On the death of Lady Fife, only daughter of Alexander Sinclair of Murkle, ninth Earl of Caithness, James and Isabella Miller, and Donald and Anne Oagg, claimed and obtained a share of her executry, (Receipt, 26th September 1789) as the great grandchildren of David of Broynach, Lady Fife's grand-uncle.

    By Janet Ewen, who was his servant, David of Broynach had two sons, David and Donald, and two daughters. David, the eldest son, enlisted as a soldier, and married one Margaret More or McKay, by whom he had a son, James, who resided in Reiss, and John, who was alive in 1767. Donald Sinclair, David's second son, went to sea, and married, and had a son and five daughters, who were all dead in 1767 except one named Anne, who married Alexander Millis, merchant in Banff. Janet Ewing was buried in the Old Kirk of Olrig, under Durran's seat.

    David of Broynach had also, by one Janet Ewen or Ewing, a son, David, who was reputed to be illegitimate and on his death the Earl refused to permit him to be buried in his burying-place. On the death of Earl Alexander, James Sinclair, in Reiss, son of the reputed illegitimate son, David, and grandson of David of Broynach, claimed the title, on the allegation of his father's legitimacy, in opposition to William Sinclair of Rattar. In conjoined claims to be served heir before the Macers, after proof by both parties, the jury, on 28th November 1768, pronounced a verdict by a majority in favour of Rattar, which, after various proceedings before the Court of Session, was confirmed. In 1786 James Sinclair threatened to renew his claim to the title; but in 1788 he died, and the question of his father's legitimacy became unimportant, inasmuch as he had no issue, and no other heir-male of his grandfather then remained alive.
  1. Jean, the eldest daughter. (Disposition by her mother, 18th May 1692)
  2. Mary, who married, first, George Sinclair of Forss, and, on his death, William Sutherland of Geise
  3. Anne, "Mistress of Stemster", who married Alexander Sinclair of Stemster, son of Alexander of Latheron
  4. Barbara, who married James Cunningham of Reaster
  5. Katharine, who married Walter Innes of Skaill
III. JOHN SINCLAIR OF MURKLE succeeded to the earldom of Caithness in 1698 as the eighth Earl, and died in 1705. He married Jean Carmichael of the Hyndford family, by whom he had four sons and a daughter: -
  1. Alexander
  2. John, Lord Murkle, of the Court of Session, who married Jean, daughter of the first Earl of Cromarty, and his wife, Anne, daughter of Sir James Sinclair of Mey. He died in 1755 without issue
  3. Francis, who died without issue in 1762. In a disposition in 1760 by him of the lands of Milton of Lieurary and others, he settles the lands on the "heirs-male of the marriage then subsisting between him and Mrs. Janet Morrison"
  4. Archibald, who also died without issue. (Peerage case)
  1. Lady Janet, who married David Sinclair of South Dun, by whom she had a daughter, Janet, who married Stewart Threipland of Fingask, and other children
IV. ALEXANDER SINCLAIR OF MURKLE, NINTH EARL OF CAITHNESS, married Margaret, daughter of the first Earl of Rosebery, by whom he had an only child:
  1. Dorothea, who married James, Earl of Fife, and died without issue.

Earl Alexander had two natural sons, George Sinclair in Geise, who died without issue, and Peter, who had a son, James, who died without issue, and seven daughters, of whom six married and had issue.

William Sinclair of Rattar was the lawful heir of Earl Alexander on failure of his own famlily, they being descended from two brothers, James Sinclair, first of Murkle, and Sir John Sinclair, first of Greenland and Rattar. But they do not seem to have been on friendly terms, for in his correspondence with George Sinclair of Woodhall, Lord of Session, in reference to a settlement of his estates, Earl Alexander says: "Rattar is next tho' very remote. Though he lives within four miles of me he never comes to see me, from which it seems he is disobliged because I did not give him all I had, and depend for subsistence on his generosity. He cannot be very wise, for he could not have taken a more effectual way to disappoint his expectations".

Earl Alexander died in 1765, In 1761 he executed an entail of the estate of Murkle and his other lands, by which, on failure of his own heirs therein mentioned, the property was disponed to Lord Woodhall and the heirs-male of his body, and failing them to his, Lord Woodhall's, nearest lawful heirs-male of line and under this destination the succession was taken up on the Earl's death by Sir John Sinclair of Stevenson, Lord Woodhall's nephew. The Sinclairs of Stevenson are descended from the Sinclairs of Longformacus, a branch of the family of Roslyn. Sir Gregory Sinclair, third son of Sir William of Roslyn, flourished in the reign of Robert the Bruce, and the first Sinclair of Stevenson was George, second son of Matthew, ninth Laird of Longformacus, who died about 1620. His son, John, was a merchant in Edinburgh, and was created a baronet, and purchased Stevenson and other lands. He is now represented by Sir Robert Charles Sinclair of Stevenson and Murkle, his lineal descendant, and ninth baronet of Stevenson.

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