Back to Fiona's Finding Service
Back to Index | Next page


The Earldom of Orkney and Lordship of Zetland was first conferred by Harald Harfragi, King of Norway, upon Rognvald, Earl of Moeri, who died 890. It remained in the possession of his descendants for upwards of 350 years, until the year 1231, when Earl John, the then possesor of the title, was slain in the cellar of an inn at Thurso, where he endeavoured to conceal himself, by Hanef Ungi, commissioner for King Hakon to Orkney, Snaekoll Gunnason, grandson of Earl Rognvald, and Aulver Illeit.

The Earldom of Orkney and Caithnes was thereafter, in 1232, granted to Magnus, the second son of Gilbride, Earl Of Angus, by King Alexander II of Scotland, which grant was thereafter confirmed by the King of Norway. Earl Magnus died in 1239, amd was succeeded by his brother Gilbride, father of Gilbride, third Earl of this line, whose son Magnus, fourth Earl, died in 1284, and was succeeded by his brother John, fifth Earl, on the death of whose son, Magnus 6th Earl, leaving two daughters, the succession passed into the line of Malise, Earl of Stratherne, his son in law.

Malise, Earl of Stratherne, fell at the Battle of Halidon Hill in 1333, and was succeeded by his son Malise, Earl of Stratherne, Caithness and Orkney, who had no male issue. He had, however, five daughters, of whom Elizabeth married Henry St. Clair (afterwards created Earl of Orkney in 1379) a son of William St. Clair of Roslin.

Henry, Earl of Orkney, was succeeded by his son Henry, upon whose death about the year 1418, the honours were inherited by his son William, the last Earl of Orkney under the sway of the Kings of Norway. Three years later, in 1471, the islands of Orkney and Zetlad having become part of the patrimony of the Scottish King (James III) through his marriage with Margaret, daughter of Christian I, King of Denmark, Sweden and Norway, by being wadsetted in security of 58,000 florins, part of the dowry of that princess remaining unpaid, William St Clair was induced by the King to renounce his right to the Crown of Scotland in exchange for the more lucrative lands of the Castle of Ravenscraig, near Dysart in Fife.

William, last Earl of Orkney, married (first) Lady Margaret, daughter of Archibald, fourth Earl of Douglas, and had issue:

  1. William, ancestor of the Lords Sinclair
He married (second) Marjory, daughter of Alexander Sutherland of Dunbeath, and had issue:
  1. Oliver, ancestor of the St Clairs of Roslin,
  2. William, first Earl of Caithness
  3. Sir David, who obtained the lands of Sumburgh and others in Shetland under a deed by his brothers and sisters, dated at Edinburgh on 3rd December 1498. He held the position of Great Fowde of Zetland as well as that of Captain General of the Castle of Bergen in Norway. His will, which is dated 9th July 1506, has been printed in the Miscellany of the Bannatyne Club, and from it is learned that he bequeathed his heritable estate to Lord Sinclair, from whom in turn it passed to the Crown. A gold chain which had been presented to him by the Danish King, he left to St George's Altar in the Cathedral of Roeskilde in Denmark. St Magnus Church, Tingwall, was to receive a cup; while his black velvet coat was to be divided between that church and the Cross Kirk of Dunrossness in the proportions of two-thirds and one third.
  4. Mr. Alexander
  5. George
  6. Robert
  7. Arthur
  8. John, Bishop of Caithness
  9. Elenora, Countess of Athole
  10. Elizabeth
  11. Margaret, married 1480, David Boswell of Balmuto
  12. Catherine
  13. Euphemia
  14. Marjorie
  15. Mary
By charter under the Great Seal, dated 26th January 1531, the earldom lands were feued to James, Earl of Moray, but by Act of Parliament, in 1540, they were re-annexed to the Crown.

The title remained dormant until the year 1567, when the notorious James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell, was created Duke of Orkney by Queen Mary, but upon his death, in 1577, it again reverted to the Crown.

The lands of the Earldom had, however, previously, on 25th May 1565, been conferred on Sir Robert Stewart of Strathdon, a natural son of King James V, who, by patent, dated 28th October 1581, was created Earl of Orkney and Lord of Zetland.

The oppressions of this Earl upon the unfortunate inhabitants of Shetland form one of the darkest pictures in the history of the islands. Earl Robert married Lady Jean Kennedy, daughter of Gilbert, fourth Earl of Cassilis, died in 1592, and was succeeded by his eldest son Patrick.

Earl Patrick Stewart was confirmed in the Lordship of Zetland by charter under the Great Seal dated 15th May 1600. By the enforced labour and oppression of the islanders he built the Castle of Scalloway in the year 1600. After living a life of great disorder and turbulence he at length was captured in his own Castle of Scalloway and conveyed to Edinburgh, where, having been tried and found guilty of high treason, he was condemned and beheaded on 6th February 1614, when the lands again returned to the Crown.

By Charles II, the Earldom of Orkney and Lordship of Zetland were leased for five years to Sir John Buchanan of Scotscraig, Knight, with entry at Whitsunday, 1627, but this grant appears to have been immediately canceled, for on 19th May 1627, the same subjects are leased for five years to Sir Archibald Napier (afterwards Lord Napier of Merchiston), Treasurer Depute of Scotland. Sir Archibald sub-let his rights for an augmented rental of 7000 merks, to Sir William Dick of Braid, merchants, burgess, and afterwards provost of Edinburgh, and in 1629, he resigned his lease in the hands of the King, together with his sub-tack, to Dick, which the King conferred upon John Murray, Earl of Annandale, for the period of eight years, from Whitsunday, 1629.

Upon the expiry of this lease, in 1637, Sir William Dick obtained a direct tack from the sovereign for six years, at an annual rent of £35,733 6s 8d Scots.

As early as 13th January 1632, William [Douglas], Earl of Morton, obtained from the King a liferent tack of the Earldom of Orkney and Lordship of Zetland, which, however, was not to come into effect until the expiry of the lease granted to Sir William Dick in 1629, and was in security only of a pension of 52,000 merks Scots. By charter under the Great Seal, dated 15th June 1643, a wadset of the Earldom and Lordship to the Earl of Morton and his heirs male, for the sum of £30,000 sterling, by the Crown, was confirmed.

William, seventh Earl of Morton, died in Orkney on 7th August 1648, and was succeeded by his son, Robert, eighth Earl, who did not long survive his father, dying on 12th November 1649. He was succeeded by his son William, ninth Earl, from whom the wadset of the Lordship was set aside, and annexed to the Commonwealth in 1657. On the Restoration he was again confirmed in his title, which confirmation was ratified by Parliament in 1661. He died without issue in 1681, when the estates fell to his uncle Sir James Douglas of Smithfield, who became tenth Earl of Morton, and died in 1686, succeeded by his son James, eleventh Earl, who obtained, in 1707, a ratification of the Lordship and Earldom from Parliament, and died unmarried in 1715, when the succession opened to his brother Robert.

Robert, twelfth Earl of Morton, died unmarried in 1730, when the honours and estates devolved upon his brother George, whose son James, fourteenth Earl of Morton, obtained an irredeemable right to the Earldom of Orkney and Lordship of Shetland in 1742. On the abolition of Heritable Jurisdictions in 1748, he was awarded £7147 as compensation for the loss of his office as Steward and Justiciar of Orkney and Zetland. In 1766 he disponed his whale rights in Orkney and Zetland to Sir Laurence Dundas, Bart. of Kerse, in the County of Stirling, for £63,000. Sir Laurence Dundas was descended from the ancient family of Dundas of Fingask, cadets of Dundas of that ilk. He died 21st September 1781, leaving an only son, Sir Thomas Dundas, who was created Baron Dundas on 13th August 1794, and died 14th June 1820, succeeded by his son. Laurence, second Baron Dundas, born 10th April 1766, was advanced to the dignity of Earl of Zetland, 2nd July 1838. He died 19th February 1839, having married 21st April 1794, Harriet, daughter of General John Hale, who died 18th April 1834, and had issue:

  1. Thomas, 2nd Earl
  2. Hon. John Charles, Lord Lieutenant of Orkney and Zetland, born 21st August 1808, died 14th February 1866; married 27th March 1843, Margaret Matilda, eldest daughter of James Talbot of Maryville Co., Wicklow, and had issue:
    1. Laurence, third Earl
    2. Hon. John Charles, Lord Lieutenant of Orkney and Zetland, 1872-92, born 21st September 1845, died 13th September 1892; married 2nd August 1870, Hon. Alice Louisa Wood, daughter of Sir Charles, first Viscount Halifax, and had issue.
    3. Hon. William Fitzwilliam James, born 8th May 1860
    4. Hon. Cospatric Thomas, born 5th November 1862;
    5. and six daughters
THOMAS, SECOND EARL OF ZETLAND, born 5th February 1795, died without issue: 6th May 1873, having married 6th September 1823, Sophia Jane, youngest daughter of Sir Hedworth Williamson, Bart., who died 21st May 1865. He was succeeded by his nephew.

LAURENCE, THIRD EARL OF ZETLAND, born 16th August 1844, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, 1889-92, was raised to the dignity of Marquis of Zetland and Earl of Ronaldsway on 22nd September 1892. He married 3rd August 1871, Lady Lilian Elizabeth Selena Lumley, third daughter of Richard, ninth Earl of Scarborough, and has issue:

  1. Thomas Lord Dundas, born 19th January 1874, died 11th February 1874
  2. Lawrence John Lumley, Earl of Ronaldshay, born 11th June 1876
  3. Lord George Heneage Lawrence, born 1st July 1882
  4. Lady Hilda Mary, born 14th November 1872, married, 9th July 1892, Charles, fourth Lord Southampton
  5. Lady Maud Frederica Elizabeth, born 9th July 1877
The Lordship of Zetland, at the present time, extends to 895 merks 2 ures, and is made up as follows:-
 Unst                               289 merks 0 ures
 Fetlar                             155 merks 2 ures
 North Yell                          49 merks 4 ures
 Mid and South Yell                  24 merks 0 ures
 Nesting                             11 merks 4 ures
 Sandsting and Aithsting             36 merks 0 ures
 Tingwall, Whiteness and Weisdale   220 merks 0 ures
 Lerwick and Gulberwick              31 merks 4 ures
 Quarff                              78 merks 4 ures
                                    895 merks 2 ures
besides certain skat, umboth, feu, and other duties, exigible from various lands throughout the islands. The lands of the Earldom in Orkney are of considerable extent.

Back to Fiona's Finding Service
Back to Index | Next page