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

WILLIAM, 44TH EARL ORKNEY, 1420-1471 & 39TH EARL CAITHNESS 1455-1476

Born about 1408, married
  1. Elizabeth Douglas, Countess-Dowager of Buchan and of the Garioch.
  2. Marjory Sutherland of Dunbeath

PRINCES CONTEMPORANEOUS:
NORWAY AND DENMARK: 1412 Eric VII of Pomerania; 1440 Christopher III; 1448 Christian I
SCOTLAND: 1406 James I; 1436 James II; 1460 James III
ENGLAND: 1413 Henry V; 1422 Henry VI; 1461 Edward IV
FRANCE: 1380 Charles VI; 1423 Charles VII; 1461 Louis XI
ROME: 1417 Martin V; 1431 Eugenius IV; 1447 Nicholas V; 1455 Calixtus III; 1458 Pius II; 1464 Paul II; 1471 Sixtus IV
PRELATES:
ORKNEY: 1418 Thomas de Tulloch; 1461 William VI de Tulloch - [See Historiettes]

NOTE - Martin V was elected Pope in 1417, by the five nations of Christendom. France then contended that England, Ireland, Scotland, etc., ought not to be counted one of the five, but the learned priests of Britain successfully argued at Rome the right to equality. Their chief argument, to quote Gibbon, was "that including England, Scotland, Wales, the four kingdoms of Ireland, and the Orkneys, the British islands are decorated with eight royal crowns".

From Van Bassan, fabulist:
"After the death of Prince Henry Saintclair, succeeded his son William Saintclair, Prince of Orkney [Duke of Holdenbourg], Earl of Caithness [and Stratherne], Lord Shetland, Lord Saintclair, Lord Nithsdale, Sheriff of Dumfries, Lord Admiral of the Scots Seas, Lord Chief Justice of Scotland, Lord Warden and Justiciar of the three Marches betwixt Berwick and Whithorne, Baron of Roslin, Baron of Pentland and Pentland Moor in free forestry, Baron of Cousland, Baron of Cardain Saintclair, Baron of Herbertshire, Baron of Hectford, Baron of Grahamshaw, Baron of Kirktone, Baron of Cavers, Baron of Newborough in Buchan, Baron of Roxburgh, Dysart, Polmese, Kenrusi, etc., Knight of the Cockle after the order of France [and Knight of the Garter after the order of England, Knight of the Golden Fleece], Great Chancellor, Chamberlain, and Lieutenant of Scotland, etc. - titles to weary a Spaniard".

A curious instrument, which throws some light on the state of the Highlands in 1420, and gives all example of the mixture of Celtic and Norman names, is to be found in a Manuscript in the Advocates Library, James V 4, 22, entitled "Diplomatum Collectio". [From Tytler]. As it perhaps refers to Earl William's uncle, it is here inserted in part, as follows: - John Touch, by the Grace of God, Bishop of Ross; Dame Mary of the Isle, Lady of the Isles, and of Ross; Hutcheon Fraser, Lord of Lovat; John Macleod, Lord of Glenelg; Angus Guthredson of the Isles: Sir William Farquhar, Dean of Ross; Walter of Douglas, Sheriff of Elgin; Walter of Innes, Lord of that Ilk [of Innes]; John Syncler, Lord of Deskford; John ye Ross, Lord of Kilravache; John McEan of Ardnamurchan, with many others, etc. Sir Walter Ogilvie married in 1437 Margaret, heiress of John Syncler, Lord of Deskford, and was ancestor to the Earls of Deskford, Findlater, Seafield, and Banff, who all quarter the Roslin arms.

When James I returned to Scotland in 1423, he was met at Durham by the Earls of Lennox, Wigtown, Moray, Crawford, March, Orkney, Angus and Stratherne, with the Constable and Marischal of Scotland and a train of the highest barons and gentry of his dominions, amounting altogether to about 300 persons; from whom was selected a band of 28 hostages, comprehending some of the most noble and opulent persons in the country. In the schedule containing their names, the annual rent of their estates is also set down, which renders it a document of much interest as illustrating the wealth and comparative influence of the Scottish aristocracy (Rymer's Foedera, vol. 10, pages 307-9). [From Tytler]

On succeeding to the Earldom, Earl William had scarcely been in possession a year when he was one of the five earls enumerated in the twenty hostages proposed 31st May 1421, for the redemption of James the First; and when that redemption could not be obtained, he was soon afterwards placed in the list of nobles who received a passport to visit James, King of Scots, then a prisoner in England, for which purpose the Earl received a safe-conduct for himself and twenty-four persons. His father, Henry II, almost during his whole life had been employed in business of the utmost importance, and for this reason found little leisure to cultivate the acquaintance of that sovereign for whom he held the Earldom, or to renew the obligations to which his father bad become bound on receiving investiture. Earl William had begun the same active and honourable course, and was likely to be guilty of the same neglect; and perhaps the Danish monarch was not much displeased to see such a powerful subject of another prince fail to perform the conditions stipulated on obtaining the grant, so that he might have a plausible pretext for depriving him of the possession. [From Tytler]

Thomas de Tulloch, who became Bishop of Orkney about 1422, was of far more celebrity than his immediate predecessors. Letters of safe-conduct were granted to him and eight persons in his retinue for a whole year by Henry the Sixth, King of England. He seems to have been held in much esteem by his own sovereign; for when neither Earl William nor his father had acknowledged his supremacy, King Eric committed the Earldom to him, not as a pledge or in security for debt, but as a: solemn trust, to be executed with fidelity, and recalled at the pleasure of the King, or that of any of his lawful successors. This appears evident from the tenor of his letters on receipt of the commission, which expressly declare that he will govern the people with equity and according to law, maintain peace among them to the utmost of his ability, and whenever it should please His Majesty, from whom he received the trust, or any of his successors, to demand restitution, he would readily deliver into their hands not only the citadel of Kirkwall, but the whole Earldom. [From Barry]

The Bishop swore fealty to King Eric in 1420, in the church of Vestenskov in Laland, undertaking the administration of the Islands according to the Norsk law-book and the ancient usages. The document is endorsed "Biscop Thomes breff [officer of authority] af Orknoy at han skal balde Orknoy til myn herres konnungens hand, oc hans efter kommende, oc lade han mit Noren lagh". On the 10th July 1422, he received as a fief from the King "the palace of Kirkwall and pertinents, lying in Orkney, in Norway, together with the lands of Orknoy and the government thereof". The document is endorsed "Item biscop Thomes aff Orkney breff [officer of authority] um Kirkwaw slot i Orknoy, oc urn landet oc greves-chapet ther samestads. [From Orkneyinga Saga]. Though this prelate seems to have been well qualified for the trust in as much as he had the confidence of the Prince, as well as the affection of the people, his administration was only of one year's duration. [From Barry]

A Scottish gentleman, David Menzies, of Wemyss, Chief of the Clan Menzies, and uncle to Earl William, was in 1423 entrusted by King Eric with the administration of the Isles; and the Bishop himself and Walter Fraser subscribed his obligation as sureties. This precaution was, however, of no effect, as it could not supply the defect of principle, nor restrain within due bounds a man who seems to have been naturally addicted to arbitrary sway and rapine. Within four years his depravity displayed itself in such various acts of wickedness that the Islesmen, groaning under his power, in 1426 preferred a complaint against him to King Eric containing no less than thirty-five articles of accusation, setting forth that they had been subjected to oppression and wholesale spoliation during the period of his administration. Among the charges preferred against him, it was asserted that he diminished the value of money by one-half, that he threw the Law-man [President of the Althing and Chief judge] of the Islands unjustly into prison, and illegally possessed himself of the public seal and law-book of the Isles, which the Law-man's wife had deposited on the altar of the Church of St.Magnus for their security; that he exacted fines and services illegally and with personal violence, and was guilty of many other acts of tyrannical oppression. [Orkneyinga Saga]. Amongst others enumerated in this document is one Thomas Sincler, who seems to have taken a foremost part in bringing about some limitation to the excessive power assumed by Sir David Menzies. Thomas Sincler proceeded to Denmark and obtained authority to correct Sir David's irregularities, but the latter was little inclined to tolerate any power in supersession of his own, and he exiled Thomas to Scotland. In Article XI a reference is made to "John Craigie, sister's son" etc. [Balfour App.] If this can be construed to mean that John Craigie was Thomas Sincler's sister's son, we can conclude that Thomas was a son of Earl Henry I and brother to Margaret St.Clair, daughter of Earl Henry by Elisabeth de Stratherne, whom we have seen was married to James of Cragy, which fact is recited in the attestation of 1422 by the Law-man and Canons of Orkney". [Orkneyinga Saga]

To rectify the disorders which such an administration must have produced, and restore among the people contentment and tranquility, Bishop Thomas, whose character was firmly established, was in 1427 reinstated in the government of the Earldom, the functions relating to which he performed with honour for the seven years intervening until the young Earl received his formal investiture. [From Barry]

That about this period the Orcadians were becoming Scotticised is evidenced by a deed of gift in English or Scottish made on the 6th day of June in 1433, by one "Duncan of Law" of a house in Kirkwall to one "Donald Clerke" as a marriage portion with Jonet Law, sister of the donor. [Tudor]

Earl William had taken the title before receiving investiture, for on 10th July 1424, he is so styled, and in 1426 he appears as Earl of Orkney on the assize at Stirling for the trial of Murdoch, Duke of Albany, [From Orkneyinga Saga], and on the 30th May 1428, he is described as Earl of Orkney in an enumeration of those present at Edinburgh dealing with a complaint preferred by his mother Egidia, the Lady of Nithsdale and Countess Dowager of Orkney, with regard to the spoliation of her Nithsdale possessions. His brother-in-law, James Douglas, Earl of Avondale, afterwards seventh Earl of Douglas, was also present on that occasion. [Roslyn Chartulary]

If we had not known the extensive properties that Earl William possessed in Scotland, the high dignity to which he had been raised, and the important duties which be had been called on to perform, we should have been at a loss to assign reasons for the time he had suffered to elapse previously to the application for the investiture of his Earldom. An opportunity, however, now occurred which he embraced for that purpose, and his attempts were crowned with final success. But even before this period his interest does not seem to have been altogether neglected, since one of the articles of charge against Menzies was that he had appropriated to himself rents which belonged to his nephew, the Earl, and had refused to set the public seal to the evidence which he had brought to prove his right. [From Barry]

Between his father's death and his preference of claim, doubts had arisen respecting Earl William's rights; and other claimants had, it is probable, appeared to avail themselves of that doubt. To clear up this matter, and to free himself from applications from other quarters, as well as to do justice to this celebrated personage, Eric, King of Norway, issued an order to Thomas, Bishop of Orkney, and others, to search the archives, records, and all other evidences, in order to ascertain the point in dispute. That venerable prelate joined those that were named with him to form a jury for executing the business; and after having in the most solemn manner traced his pedigree from the very first of the earls, ascertained his, Earl William's, right beyond the possibility of contradiction (1434). [Barry]. One of the witnesses to this memorable document, which was executed at Kirkwall, is an Alexander Sinclair, who appends his seal thereto.

The Earl crossed over to Denmark, and King Eric having before him the report of his Royal Commissioners, granted investiture on the 12th August 1434, on terms nearly similar to those imposed on Earl Henry I in 1379. Moreover, he was to hold for the king and his successors the castle of Kirkwall, which his grandfather Earl Henry I had erected without royal consent. Amongst his sureties [Hay's Genealogie]were some of Scotland's most puissant nobles, viz., Archibald III, 5th Earl of Douglas; William, 2nd Earl of Angus; Henry, Bishop of Aberdeen; Robert, Bishop of Caithness: also Sir Alexander Ramsay and John de St.Clair, and Andrew Crichton, Armigeri: a Thomas Sincler, Armiger, also appears affixing his seal as a party to the Deed of Investiture.

Not long after this there arose a great discord betwixt the Earl of Orkney and Archibald III, 5th Earle of Douglas, the third of that name, for the sherrifship of Nithsdale, and the Barony of Hectford, Grahamshawe, Kirktone, Roxburgh and Cavers, together with the Wardenry of the three Marches betwixt Berwick and Whithorne, so that the Prince would not suffer the Earl of Douglas to pass to Edinburgh through his ground. [From Van Bassan]

The Dauphin of France, who had been betrothed to Margaret, the daughter of the Scottish King, had now (1434) attained his thirteenth year, and the Princess herself was ten years old. It was accordingly resolved to complete the marriage, and with this view two ambassadors, the Duc de Longneville and the Marquis de Saluses, were sent by King Charles VII of France to the Scottish Court to escort Princess Margaret back to France, and to renew the ancient amity existing betwixt the two crowns. Immediately the King commanded all to be in readiness, so that by the 20th of June William St.Claire, Earl of Orkney, Lord Admiral of Scotland, had 46 good ships in readiness to transport the Lady Margaret and her train. [Balfour's Annals]. The fleet which carried her to her future kingdom, where her lot was singularly wretched, was commanded by the Earl of Orkney.

The Bishop of Brechin, Sir Walter Ogilvie, the Treasurer, Sir Herbert Harris (?). Sir John Maxwell of Calderwood, Sir John Campbell of Loudoun, Sir John Wishart, and many other barons, attended in her suite. They were waited on by 140 youthful squires and a guard of 1,000 men-at-arms, and the fleet consisted of three large ships and six barges. They took shipping at Dumbarton, and arrived on the 20th of June and had a very prosperous voyage to France, notwithstanding the hostile designs of the English Court. In defiance of the truce which then subsisted between the two kingdoms, the English government determined if possible to intercept the Princess upon her passage to France, and for this purpose fitted out a large fleet, which anchored off the coast of Bretagne. The project was, however, unsuccessful. The English were drawn away from their watch by the appearance of a company of Flemish merchantmen, laden with wine from Rochelle, which they pursued and captured; but the triumph was of short duration, for almost immediately after a Spanish fleet appeared in sight, and an engagement took place, in which the English were beaten, their Flemish prizes wrested from their hands, and they themselves compelled to take to night.

In the midst of these transactious the little Scottish squadron with the Dauphiness-elect and her suite safely entered the port of Rochelle and disembarked at Neville Priory, where she was received by the Archbishop of Rheims and the Bishop of Poictiers and Xaintonge. The marriage was celebrated on the 6th July 1435, [Balfour's Annals] in the Cathedral church of Tours with great solemnity and much magnificence, in the presence of the King and Queen of France, the Queen of Sicily, and the nobility of both kingdoms. [Tytler]

Van Bassan writes: - "Earl William was much esteemed of by the King, and was therfore desired to go to France with the Lady Margaret, the King's sister, who was desired in marriage by the French King's son, which he did with great triumph, for he was accompanied with one hundred brave gentlemen, whereof twenty were well clothed with cloth of gold, and had chains of gold, and black velvet foot-mantles; twenty in real cramosine velvet, with chains of gold, and black velvet foot-mantles; twenty in white and black velvet, signifying his arms, which is a ragged cross in a silver field; twenty clothed with gold and blue coloured velvet, which signified the arms of Orkney, which is a ship of gold with a double tressure [border], and fleur-de-lys going round about it, in a blue field; and twenty diversely coloured, signifying the diverse arms he had; who, when he was arrived in France, he was honoured of all men, and loved of the King, who made him Knight of the Cockle, after the order of France. And after the nuptial rites were celebrated, he took his leave of the King and the Court of France, and returned home to his own country; but they were all sore displeased at his departure. But when he was returned (from) same, home into Scotland, he was welcomed of the King and all his friends, and with gladness accepted of them all".

At the Christmas festival 1436, James the First was at Perth, residing in the Dominican monastery. The Queen and her ladies were also resident therein, and James, unconscious of his fate, moved among them with his usual gallantry. One of his attendant knights, remarkable for his personal accomplishments, received from him the soubriquet of King of Love. James was one evening playing with him at some amusing game, when he indulged in a sportive satire on his new title. "Sir King of Love," said he, "it is not long since I read a prophecv spoken some time ago, which set forth that this year a king should be slain in this land; and well ye wot, Sir Alexander, there are no kings in this realm but you and I Let me therefore counsel you to be wary, for I let you know that under God I shall take care of my own safety sufficiently, being under your kingship, and in the service of Love". [Scottish Wars].

Shortly after the above circumstance the King was in his own apartment, conversing with some ladies and several of his friends on various subjects. A favourite squire drew near and whispered to the King, "In sooth my Liege, I verily dreamt last night that Sir Robert Graham had slain your Majesty". It is not improbable that this was intended as a timely hint to James, but the squire was, sharply reproved by the Earl of Orkney, the same nobleman who founded the chapel at Roslin, who commanded him to be silent, and to tell no such tales in the royal presence. It made some impression on James, however, who had latterly been troubled with dreams of similarly fateful import. He was put to death on the 20th February 1437-8, notwithstanding all the efforts to further his escape resorted to by the ladies of his court. Lady Katherine Douglas thrust her arm into the bolt of the door, but the delicate arm-bone was in a moment broken by the violence of the assassins, who burst open the door and scrupled not to trample down and wound several of the fair defenders. Elisabeth Douglas having fallen into the cellar whilst attempting to extricate the King, had to remain a powerless witness to his heroic defence, The regicides all suffered the extreme punishment permitted, and the memory of the leader, Sir Robert Graham, was long remembered with abhorrence in the current rhyme: -

"Sir Robert Graeme,
Who slew our King,
God gave him shame."
[From Scottish Wars]

The two ladies mentioned would have been nearly related to Earl William.

About the time of these events the Earl married his cousin, Elizabeth Douglas, daughter of Archibald II, Earl of Douglas, Duke of Touraine, and Marshal of France. She had previously been twice married, first to John Stewart, Earl of Buchan and Constable of France (son of the Regent Albany), who perished so gloriously at Verneuil, 16th August 1424, in company with his father-in-law. By him she had a daughter Margaret, who married George, 2nd Lord Seton, and became progenitrix of the great families of Seton, Earl of Winton and Montgomerie, Earl of Eglinton. [From Burke's Peerage and Nisbet's Heraldry]

The Countess-Dowager of Buchan married secondly Thomas Stewart, [See Ballad of "Lord Thomas Stuart", which attributes his death to poison] styled Earl of the Garioch, a natural son,of Alexander, Earl of Mar, who in 1426 obtained a charter securing the Mar succession to Sir Thomas, but the latter predeceased the Earl of Mar, who died in 1435, and on the 6th May 1437, James the Second granted the Earldom of the Garioch to his. "well beloved cousin Elizabeth, spouse of cousin William, Earle of Orkney and Lord Sinclere". [from Hay's Genealogie]

Continuing Hay: "Shortly after Earl William returned from his embassy to France he married an honourable Lady, Dame Elisabeth Douglas, Countess of Buchan, etc., spouse to the Right Hon. John Stewart, Earl of Buchan and Constable of France, who together with the father and brother was slain in France, at the battle of Verneuil, which was the cause of her return to Scotland: but they stayed not long together, for they were separated because of consanguinity and affinity, for both this dame Elisabeth Douglas and Giles Douglas, mother to this William, the Orcadian Prince, were the daughters of two brothers-german [full brothers], and also Giles, Princess of Orkney, and Robert, the Duke of Albany, and father to this John Stewart, were nearer related: for Egidia, mother to this Dame Gyles, was Duke Robertís sister; yet for all this the Prince, not contented with this seperation, sent to the Pope, who dispensed therwith, and so he married her anew again into St.Mathieus, the church where they were seperated. After the which time she was holden in great reverence, both for her birth and for the estate she was in; for she had serving her 75 gentlewomen, wherof 53 were daughters to noblemen, all clothed in velvets and silks, with their chains of gold and other pertinents; together with 200 riding gentlemen, who accompanied her in all her journeys. She had carried before her when she went to Edinburgh, if it was darke, 80 lighted torches. Her lodging was at the foot of the Blackfriar Wynd; so that, in a word, none matched her in all the country, save the Queen's Majesty. After the marriage of these noble persons, Prince William made all the bonds of Manred his father had, to be renewed and signed, paying to every one of his Fialls according to their estate, as to Lords he gave two hundred pounds, to Barons one hundred. In his house he was royally served in gold and silver vessels, in most princely manner, for the Lord Dirltone was his Master Household, the Lord Borthwick was his Cup-bearer, and the Lord Fleming his Carver, under whom, in time of their absence, was the Laird of Drumlanrig, surnamed Stewart, the Laird Of Drumelzier, surnamed Tweedie, and the Laird of Calder, surnamed Sandilands. He had his halls and his chambers richly hung with embroidered hangings; he builded the church walls of Roslin, having rounds with fair chambers, and galleries theron. He built also the fore-work that looks to the north-east; he built the bridge under the castle, and sundry office houses. In the south-east side therof, over against the chapel wall, he made plain the rock on which the castle is built, for the more strength therof, and he planted a very fair fruit orchard".

In 1441 Thomas, Bishop of Orkney, repaired to Flanders, in all probability for the purpose of confirming the amicable correspondence existing between Scotland and that country, and congratulating them on the cessation of foreign war and domestic dissension, but the precise object of his mission is not discoverable. The same year died Earl James "the Gross" of Douglas, and the ability, pride, and power of that House was revived with appalling strength and vigour in William, his son and successor, who became 8th Earl. His mother the Lady Beatrix Sinclair, was descended from the sister of King Robert the Third, and was a daughter of the House of Sinclair, Earl of Orkney, which gave him the alliance of this northern Baron. [From Tytler]

Hay continues: "But Earl William's age creeping on him made him consider how he had spent his time past, and how to spend that which was to come. Therefore, to the end he might not seem unthankful to God for the benefices he receaved from him, it came in his mind to build a house for God's service, of most curious work, the which that it might be done with greater glory and splendor, he caused artificers to be brought from other regions and foreign kingdoms, and caused daily to be abundance of all kind of workmen present, as masons, carpenters, smiths, barrow-men, and quarriers, with others; for it is remembred that for the space of thirty-four years before he never wanted great numbers of such workmen. The foundation of this rare work he caused to be laid in the year of our Lord, 1446, and to the end the work might be the more rare; first, he caused the draughts to be drawn upon Eastland boords, and made the carpenters to carve them according to the draughts theron, and then gave them for patterns to the massons that they might therby cut the like in stone; and because he thought the massons had not a convenient place to lodge in near the place where he built this curious college, for the towne then stood half a mile from the place where it now stands, to whit, at Bilsdone burne, therefore he made them to build, the town of Roslin, that now is extant, and gave everyone of them a house, and lands answerable thereunto; so that this town, at that time, by reason of the great concourse of people that had recourse unto the Prince (for it is remembered of him that he entertained all his tenants that were any way impoverished, and made serve all the poor that came to his gates, so that he spent yearly upon such as came to beg at his gates 120 quarters of meal), became very populous, and had in it abundance of victuals, so that it was thought to be the chiefest town in all Lothian, except Edinburgh and Hadington. He rewarded the massons according to their degree, as to the master masson he gave 40 pounds yearly, and to everyone of the rest 10 pounds, and accordingly did he reward the others, as the smiths and the carpenters with others. About this time Edward Saintclair of Dryden coming with four gray hounds and some ratches to hunt with the Prince "met a great company of rats, and among the rest one old blind lyard one, with a straw in his mouth led by the rest, whereat he greatly marveled, not thinking what should follow; but within fewer days after, to whit, upon the feast day of Saint Leonard, in the year of our Lord, 1447, the Princess, who took great delight in little dog, caused one of the gentlewomen to go under a bed with a lighted candle to bring forth one of them, that had young whelps, which she doing, and not being very attentive, set fire on the bed, whereat the fire rose and burnt the bed, and then passed to the ceiling of the great chamber in which the Princess was, whereat she, with all that were in the dungeon, were compelled to fly. The Prince's Chaplain, seeing this, and remembering of all his Master's writtings, passed to the head of the dungeon where they were, and threw out four great trunks where they were. The news of this fire comeing to the Princeís ears, through the lamentable cries of the ladies and gentlewomen, and the sight therof coming to his view in the place where he stood, to whit, upon the College Hill, he was sorry for nothing but the loss of his Charters and other writings; but when the Chaplain, who had saved himself by coming down the bell-rope tied to a beam, declared how his Charters and writs were all saved, he became chearful, and went to re-comfort his Princess and the Ladies, desiring them to put away all sorrow, and rewarded his Chaplain very richly. Yet all this stayed him not from the building of the College, nether his liberality to the poor; but was more liberal to them than before - applying the safety of his Charters and writings to God's particular Providence. Not long after this died the Lady Elisabeth Douglas, his Princess, after she had borne to the Prince one son named William, and a daughter, to whit, Katherine, who was married to Alexander Stewart, Duke of Albany, Earl of March, and brother to King James the Third".

In 1446 Earl William was summoned by the Norwegian Rigsraad to appear at Bergen on next St.John's Day, to take the oath of allegiance to King Christopher, the successor of King Eric of Pomerania and on the 25th April 1448, he appears obtaining from Thomas de Tulloch, Bishop of Orkney, the patronage of St.Duthac's chapel in Kirkwall. [From Orkneyinga Saga and Hay's Genealogie]

In "Balfour's Annals", under date 1451, we read: William St.Clair, Earl of Orkney, is sent this year to uplift the Earl of Douglasís rents in Galloway and Annandale; and although he was Lord Chanceller of Scotland, and had a reasonable army, yet he returned without effectuating his deseing, being oppossed by the Earl of Douglasís frinds and followers (the Earl himself being in Italy). Although the Earl of Douglas was in Italy, through the agency of his mother, Lady Beatrix, who at this time (1452) repaired to England, he continued that secret correspondence with the party of the Yorkists, which appears to have been begun by the late Earl. [Tytler]. In 1454-5 the castle of Abercorn was besieged by the Earls of Orkney and Angus, at the head of 6,000 men, as Lord Hamilton was in league with the rebellious Earl of Douglas. Upon the representation of friends Lord Hamilton passed over to the royal camp, and was committed to the custody of the Earl of Orkney, who kept him in honourable captivity in Roslyne Castle for a few days, after which he was restored to his dignity and lands. His defection was fatal to the House of Douglas. [Scottish Wars]

On the 28th August 1455, King James the Second grants Earl William the Earldom of Caithness, nominally in compensation for his rights to the Lordship of Nithsdale and the various offices appurtenant thereto, but really in recognition of his undoubted hereditary right to that county as the heir male of Malise II of Caithness and Orkney, by which fact his father had succeeded to Orkney in right of Isabella de Stratherne, ultimate sole heiress of Malise. In the deed he is described as "William, Earl of Orkney, Lord de Saint Clair, our Chancellor and cousin". [Hay's Genealogie]. On the 13th June 1456, Roslin is erected into a Burgh of Barony by charter under the Privy Seal. The recital sets forth: "James, by the grace of God, King of Scots, etc. Forasmuch as we have for the zeal, singular love, and affection, that we have for our well beloved cousin and chancellor William, Earl of Orkney and of Caithness, Lord Sinclair, infeft his town of Roslin, a Burgh in Barony, with Cross and Merkat, etc.".[Hay's Genealogie]

The same year, 1456, on the 15th November his father-in-law, Alexander Sutherland of Dunbeath, makes his will in the presence of the Earl at Roslin Castle, and from the inventory of property attached to this testament, both of which are still extant, he was a person of great consequence. [Hay's Genealogie]. The Earl of Orkney had married his daughter Marjory, by his wife Mariota, daughter of Donald, Lord of the Isles and Earl of Ross. As a curious instance of the customs of those times, it is recorded that when Alexander, Lord of the Isles and Earl of Ross, was dining in Edinburgh with the Earl of Orkney, the latter asked, "What light was wont to be burned in his presence ?" McDonald turned about, and seeing Lachlan MacLean behind him, desired the Earl to enquire at the man standing. MacLean said, "There was no other light but wax burned before MacDonald". [History of the MacDonalds, Manuscript Gregory Collection, Col. Reb. Alb., 306]

An incident now (1456) occurred which drew the attention of the Norwegian suzerain to the Orkneys. Biorn, son of Thorleif [Thorleif's father (or grandfather) Biorn, also Governor of Iceland, was slain by the English in 1467] the Lieutenant of Iceland, having been driven by a storm into a harbour in the Orkneys, had been seized by the Scottish authorities, contrary to the faith of treaties, and cast with his wife and attendants into prison. Christian, the Danish King of Norway, remonstrated thereupon, and also on account of the Annual of Norway due for the Western Isles and the Kingdom of Man by virtue of the treaty concluded between James the First and Eric, King of Norway. [Balfour].

King James the Second dying in 1460, the estates elected 6 Governors for the government of the realm during the young king's minority (James the Third), viz., the Bishops of Glasgow and Dunkeld, Lord Chancellor, the Earl of Orkney, with the Lords Grahame and Boyd. [Tytler]

This year also - 1460 - the king's commissioners in Kirkwall certify to King Christian I that John of Ross, Lord of the Isles, has for a long time most cruelly endeavoured to depopulate the Islands of Orkney and Shetland by burning the dwellings and slaying the inhabitants, and that in these circumstances Lord William St.Clair, the Earl of Orkney and Caithness, had been prevented from coming to the king. [From Orkneyinga Saga]

On the 28th June 1461, Bishop William of Orkney writes to the king from Kirkwall excusing the earl for not having come to take the oath of allegiance, because in the month of June of that year he had been appointed one of the regents of the Kingdom of Scotland on account of the tender years of the Prince (King James III), and therefore was personally resident in Scotland. The Bishop also repeats the complaint against John of Ross, Lord of the Isles, and the bands of his Islesmen, Irish, and Scots from the woods "who came in great multitudes in the month of June with their ships and fleets in battle array, wasting the lands, plundering the farms, destroying habitations and putting the inhabitants to the sword, without regard to age or sex". Tradition still points in several parts of the Islands to "the Lewismens graves," probably those of the invaders who were killed in their plundering expeditions throngh the Isles. [From Orkneyinga Saga]

There is a record preserved at Kirkwall of the set of the threepenny lands of Stanbuster, in the parish of St.Andrew's, executed by Bishop Thomas on the 12th July 1455, and confirmed by his successor in 1465. Bishop Thomas must have died before 28th June 1461, as from the foregoing letter we find his successor in office on that date. William (VI) de Tulloch was the last bishop during the overlordship of Norway, and tendered his oath of allegiance in 1462. [From Orkneyinga Saga]. This conduct, we learn, was the initial cause of those circumstances which resulted in the transference of Orkney from Norway to Scotland.

Quoting Tytler, under date 1466: An event which soon after occurred in Orkney had the effect of renewing the intercourse between the Courts of Scotland and Denmark, although the auspices under which it was resumed were at first rather hostile than friendly. Tulloch, Bishop of Orkney, a Scotsman, and a prelate of high accomplishments and great suavity of manner, enjoyed the esteem of Christian of Norway and Denmark, and appears to have been entrusted by this northern potentate with a considerahle share in the government of those islands, at that time the properly of the Norwegian Crown. In some contention or feud between the Bishop and the Earl of Orkney, a baron [of a violent character and] of great power, the prelate had been seized and shut up in prison by a son of Orkney, [The Master of Orkney thus occasioning the loss of Orkney, hence his disinherison] who showed no disposition to interfere for his liberation. Upon this Christian directed letters to the King of Scotland, in which, whilst professing his earnest wishes that the two kingdorus should continue to preserve the most friendly relations to each other, he remonstrated against the treatment of the Bishop, requested the King's interference to procure his liberty, and intimated his resolution not to permit the Earl of Orkney to oppress the liege subjects of Norway.

So intent was Christian upon this matter that additional letters were soon after transmitted to the Scottish King, in which, with the design of expediting his deliberations, a demand was made for the payment of all arrears due by Scotland to Norway, and reiterating his request not only for the liberation of the Bishop, but for the restoration to the royal favour of Sir John Ross of Halkett, the same who had distinguished himself in the famous combat between three warriors of Burgundy and three champions of Scotland. These representations had the desired effect. The Bishop of Orkney appears to have been restored to liberty, and Ross was recalled from banishment and admitted to favour. On the failure of the Norse jarls in the middle of the fourteenth century the Earldom of Orkney had passed by marriage into the ancient and noble House of St.Clair, who received their investiture from the monarch of Norway, and rendered oath of allegiance to that Crown.

On the 8th September 1468, a contract of marriage was signed between James III of Scotland and Margaret, daughter of King Christian of Norway, Sweden, and Denmark, by which after discharging the arrears of tribute, styled the Annual of Norway, due by Scotland for Man and the Hebrides, King Christian engaged to pay a dowry of 60,000 florins with his daughter, stipulating for certain jointure lands (including the palace of Linlithgow and the castle of Doune) and her terce of the royal possessions in Scotland, if left a widow. Of the dowry 10,000 florins were to be paid before the departure of the Princess, and the Islands of Orkney were pledged for the balance of 50,000 florins, to be held by the Crown of Scotland until Christian or his successors, Kings of Norway, should redeem them by payment of that sum. Only 2,000 of the 10,000 florins were paid, and Shetland was impignorated [mortgaged] for the balance of 8,000 florins under the same conditions (20th May 1469), and both groups were thus mortgaged sub firma hypotheca et pignore for 58,000 florins of the Rhine of 100 pence each, or about £24,166 13 shillings and 4 pence sterling. Such was the important transaction on which Britain founds her possession of the Isles, or, as they were generally styled, the Countries of Orkney and Shetland. The transaction was only an Impignoration [mortgage] such as Danish necessities had been frequently forced to make of possessions and territories of which no permanent cession could have been intended, such as Funen, Slesvig, and, more than once, the City and Castle of Copenhagen. Even while creating a new and temporary right for Scotland, it did not extinguish the reversionary claims or present interest of Norway; for that power is found making valid grants and decrees - 1485-1500 - and the Scots Parliament expressly recognised the ancient native laws in the Islands (1567) a century after the Impignoration [mortgage]. The Plenipotentiaries of Europe assembled at Breda in 1668 attested that the Right of Redemption was unprescribed and imprescribable. Whether this right be still vested in Denmark, or transferred to Sweden with the Norwegian Crown, are questions of the Law of Nations, decided for the present by British preponderancy of metal. [Balfour's Memorial]

William Saint Clair, the last of the Orkneyan Jarls, had many objects to gain in the transfer of the Sovereignty of the Islands. More refined and less ignorant than the contemporary herd of nobles, who suspected his studies of subjects unearthly and unholy, he could appreciate, even with some pride, the cloudy romance of his ancestral sagas; but a foreigner by descent if not by birth, he had few sympathies with the Islanders. He was the most liberal patron of Scottish literature and art in his day. His efforts to consolidate his power and increase his estates had offended the King, estranged the Odallers, and embroiled him with the Bishop and the Lawman; his family partialities had awakened bitter feud between him and his eldest son; and as the vassal and high dignitary - of two kings, ruling a province of the one, dangerously near the coast of the other, he might easily become an object of suspicion or umbrage to either or both. Indeed, clouds had already arisen between the Scottish Earl and his Norwegian suzerain, and the substantial splendour of the dignities, titles, lands, and pensions of his Scottish connection outshone the shadowy jurisdictions and waning revenues of his ancient jarldom. The Impignoration [mortgage] released him from an irksome and unsafe position, enabled him to enhance his Scottish influence, to aggrandize a favourite son by disinheriting an unloved heir of his Odal birthright, and to gratify at once his ambition, affection, and hatred. With the same worldly wisdom which led him to recover at the first favourable opportunity possession of Caithness, in quittance of his claims all Nithsdale, he accepted in 1471, on the 12th May as evidenced by grant of James III, and with the full consent of the King of Norway, the castle and lands of Ravenscraig in Fife, in exchange for his rights to the Earldom of Orkney. On the 20th September following he received a discharge or quittance from the same monarch, James, in respect of any obligations existing with regard to Orkney.

NOTE - There was nothing extraordinary in King Christian pawning Orkney. He had often placed Copenhagen in pledge.

NOTE - In the treaty concluded between Denmark and England in 1667, this article was inserted: "That the suspension of the restitution of Orkney and Shetland should not have any effect to the prejudice of the King of Denmark and Norway, nor diminish his right to recover them, which is acknowledged to remain open, entire, and unviolated, and which he may prefer at a more convenient time"

NOTE - Forty years after the Impignoration [mortgage] (1508) this curious entry occurs in the minutes of the Lords of the Articles: "Compearit [appeared with] John Skrimgeour Master and asked Instruments that he advertised the Lords foresaid how that the time of his being in Denmark he knows that the discharge of Orkney and Shetland myt have been had sovirly to the King's grace and that therefor the Lords should now labour for the same". On 6th December 1567, a Committee of the Scottish Parliament considered, "Whether Orkney and Shetland shall be subject to the common law of this realm or if they shall brook their own laws". The Committee "finds they ought to be subject to their own laws. In 1587 a commission was granted to certain persons, with power to heir determine and conclude in the matter of the answer to the petitionis of the King of Denmark anent Orkney". A Scottish embassy to Denmark contracted with Christian IV, and his four Regents and Governors on 20th August 1589, when, in addition to the matrimonial contract between James VI and Anne of Denmark, this was also read and exhibited before Christian and his Regents: "Together with the form and tenor of the attestations sealed subscribed and delivered by them to the said Regents anent the Isles of Orkney proporting in effect a grant made at their requisition by the foresaid King and Regent is that all further claim or repetition of the foresaid isles upon whatsoever pretended right or interest alleged thereto be that Crown shall be superseded and continued for their parts unto the said elected Princes perfect age. And the said Ambassadour's acceptation thereof in name foresaid always but prejudice of whatsoever right or title acclamed thereto by other of the Crowns as at more length is contained in the said attestation. Whereof the authentic signatures by the hands of the said all four governors bearing the date foresaid was likewise exhibited and read before his highness and Lords foresaid". And it finds that the Ambassadors have conformed themselves in every point to their commissions and instructions. The proceedings of the embassy were ratified in 1592 by James VI

NOTE - Cottonian Manuscript, British Museum (Titus. chapter 8; article 71. f. 134) "Notes on King of Denmark's Demand of the Orcades" Orcades, 1587.

"Frederik, King of Denmark, told Daniell Rogers that the King of Scotts dallied with him, and that he had not answered him to make restitution of the Orcades when he sued for his daughter Anne to be his wife; neither kept promise in showing such letters as he pretended to have from the King of Denmark, by which it would appear that he weare released from the contract by which his predecessors were bound at all times to be ready uppon the receipt of one hundred thousand gilders, to restore the Orcades unto the kingdome of Denmark again, which he must needs have again, for that the state of his kingdom had put him in mind of his oath, which he made when he was contracted".

In 1549 an assessment was levied in Norway by Christian III for the purpose of paying off the sum for which Orkney and Shetland were pledged. In 1804, Napoleon Bonaparte in a proclamation addressed to the army assembled at Boulogne for the invasion of Britain, descanted on the claim of the Danish King of Norway to the Orkneys.

NOTE - Section 35 of the Agreement, Promise or Hand-binding of Frederik the First to Norway in 1524 is as follows: - " Should we again be able to release or recover to Norway's Crown the Orkney and Shetland Islands which our dear Lord and Father Christian I pawned or parted with without the will or consent of the Norwegian State Council, etc., etc."

William Tulloch, the Bishop of Orkney, was a Norwegian prelate, but a Scottish priest, and if he had any doubts of transferring the spiritual allegiance of his diocese from Drontheim to St.Andrew's, they were speedily relieved by his appointment as Confessor to the Queen, and removed by a favourable Tack [lease] (27th August 1472) of the newly acquired demesne of the Scottish Crown. Indeed, the change was almost essential to his safety, for his frauds and rapacity had provoked the Earl to seize and imprison him, and he owed his liberty only to the express solicitation of the Kings of Denmark and Scotland, with both of whom he had the address to make a merit of his sufferings as a martyrdom for his devotion to their incompatible interests. The warm commendations of Christian were so ably seconded by the Bishop's services to James that the Queen's Confessor became successively Lord Privy Seal, Ambassador to England, and Bishop of Moray. [Balfour's Memorial]

King Christian addressed a letter to the Communities of Orkney and Shetland on the 28th May 1469, desiring them to pay obedience and skatt [Tribute for Orcadian defence] to the King of Scots till redeemed by the King of Norway, in sequence to which a bull of Pope Sixtus IV, dated at the Vatican 17th August 1472, placed the See of the Orkneys under the metropolitan Bishop of St.Andrew's. [From Orkneyinga Saga]

On the 9th September 1476, Earl William assigns to Sir Oliver Sinclere, knight, his son by his spouse Lady Marjory of Sutherland, and his heirs male, the Baronies of Roslin and Herbertshire, remainder to his brother-german [full brother] William and his heirs male, remainder to the heirs male of the Earl and Marjory Sutherland; to which charter are appended the seals of "our beloved cousins, Sir James of Ledale of Halkerstone, Knight, and Master George Carmichael, Treasurer of Glasgow for the mail sekurnes". In the same year Earl William resigned the Earldom of Caithness, and thereupon a charter was issued by James the Third to his son William of the second marriage. [from Hay's Genealogie]

In 1478; by order of Parliament, William, Earl of Caithness, is decerned to refund to the Burgh of Innerkeithen, the petty customs of the Burgh of Dysart, intromitted with by him for 17 years; This order was made by Parliament in 1478, so it is clear he only intromitted with those customs 7 years. Yet this requires examen, for though he gets Ravensheugh near unto Dysart in 1471, it is not known when he got Dysart itself. [W. de Sco Claro lord of Dyserth is a witness in 34 David II (1364)]

Earl William of Orkney died before 3rd July 1480, when he is referred to as the quondam [the deceased] "per pestiferum morbum, qui a vulgaribus le quhew discebatur". He was a man of rare parts, having in him a mind of most noble composition, a piercing wit, fit for managing great affairs; he was famous not only for moral virtue and piety, but also for military discipline; in high favour with his Prince, and raised to the greatest dignities that in those times a subject had. He was averse from putting criminals to the rack, the tortures whereof make many a innocent person confess himself guilty, and then with seeming justice be executed, or if he prove so stout as in torment to deny the facts, yet he comes off with disjointed bones and such weakness as renders himself and his life a burthen ever after".

It is said he was a knight of the Cockle. Hay narrates: " I have seen at his mantle, on his tomb, a medal which appeared to represent Saint Michael, yet being a little defaced I can't positively certify the business. It is certain he was in great favour with Lewis XI of France, who established those Knights of Saint Michael at Amboise in 1469. " Sir James Balfour in his Peerage tells us Earl William was Knight of the several orders of the Thistle, St.Michael, and of the Golden Fleece, as he has seen the same set forth in a charter.

He frequently appears in Scottish record works. At Dundee in 1435 he becomes responsible for one Nicholas Ayncroft, and the same year there is remission of fines of his men of Dysart for forestalling the burgh of Inverkeithing. In 1448 William, Earl of Orkney, and others, made reprisals on the English in two raids, burning Alnwick and Warkworth, and in 1449 he receives remission of customs on his hides. His first wife died in or before 1452, when the lands of Coule and lands in the Earldom of Moray fall in the king's hands by reason of the death of the Countess of Buchan, and in 1456 the Earl of Orkney's terce of Mar is let to Sir Alexander Seton of Gordon for an agreed price, in consequence of the non-payment of which - 40 demys of gold - it was forcibly taken from William Seton of Echt, brother-german [full brother] of Sir Alexander, by William Sinclare on behalf of the Earl of Orkney by reason of rights of his quondam [deceased] spouse. On the 16th April 1452, he gets Dysart relieved of duty on salt. On the 1st July 1454, 7th July and 28th August 1455, entries are noted, "In presence of the magnificent and potent lord William Earl of Orkney, lord of Sancto-claro and chancellor of Scotland"; in 1455 "white spurs" are "the reddenda of Herbertshire," while in 1456 the castleward of his baronies of Roslin, Cousland, and Pentland is assessed at £4, and he is entered as having transported the "great bombard" to Threave and back. In 1460 there is reference to his expenses when the king went to Aberdeen; and in 1468 and on 20th November 1469, the Earl of Orkney is one of the Barons of Parliament. In 1468 Earl William grants to Sir James Creighton of Carnes a charter of Cairniehill, to be holden blench for a penny. [from Hay's Genealogie]

Earl William died about 1481, surrendered the title and jurisdiction of Orkney in 1471, and five years later - 1476 - abdicated his remaining Earldom of Caithness in favour of his second son of the name of William, who was second son of his second marriage, thus passing over the claims of his eldest son William of the first marriage, who was ancestor of the Lords Sinclair of Ravenscraig, now reputed extinct in the male line, as also the claims of his second son, Sir Oliver St.Clair of Roslin, eldest son of the second marriage, ancestor of the St.Clairs of Roslin

By his first wife, Elizabeth Douglas, Countess-Dowager of Buchan and of the Garioch (dead in 1452) the Earl had:

  1. WILLIAM Prodigue, "the Waster", Master of Orkney and Caithness, to whom during his life he had given the Barony of Newburgh in Aberdeenshire. This William of Newburgh was ancestor to the Lords Sinclair and they of Warsetter, of Tohop, Saba and Grottsetter, whom see.
  2. KATHERINE, married to Alexander, Earl of March, Duke of Albany, second son of King James II, but sentence annulling the marriage between the parties was pronounced by the official of Lothian (2nd March 1477-8) on account of propinquity of blood. They had one son Alexander, who married Margaret, daughter of the Lord Crichton, and had a daughter Margaret, married to David, Lord Drummond. [From Nisbet's Heraldry]. In a parliament held in presence of his younger brother John, the Governor, Alexander of Albany, affirmed his claim to the succession failing James V; yet notwithstanding his challenge, being more fit for a cowl, gave over all title he had in his brother's favor, whereupon to deprive him ever hereafter of lawful succession, they turned him into a priest. He had first the priory of Whitherne in Galloway; afterwards the abbey of Inchaffray; then that of Scone; was consecrated bishop of Moray, 1527, and dying in 1534 was buried at Scone.

By his second wife, Marjory Sutherland, Earl William had several sons and daughters:

  1. SIR OLIVER, founder of the cadet branch of the St.Clairs of Roslyn, the Sinclairs of Pitcairn, Ethay, etc.
  2. WILLIAM II, founder of the cadet line of Sinclairs, Earls of Caithness.
  3. JOHN, Canon of Glasgow, 3rd July 1480; Bishop-nominate of Caithness for 24 years. John Sutherland, slain at Wick, 1569, was grandson to his daughter Katherine. [History of Caithness; notes]
  4. SIR DAVID of Swynbrocht, knight, Foud of Shetland, etc., who left issue.
  5. ALEXANDER, mentioned 1498 and 1506
  6. GEORGE, mentioned 1498.
  7. ROBERT, mentioned 1498 and 1504. On the 27th February 1506-7, he receives a royal grant of house and land in Edinburgh with annuity.
  8. ARTHUR, mentioned 1498 and 1504.
  1. ELEANOR, married John Stewart, Earl of Atholl, half-brother of James III (mentioned 1480).
  2. ELISABETH, wife of Sir John Houston, of Houston.
  3. MARGARET, married Sir David Boswell of Balmuto, styled of Glasmouth in a record 16th February 1492-3 (Exchequer Rolls).
  4. EUPHEMIA.
  5. MARJORIE, married Andrew Leslie, Master of Rothes.
  6. MARIETTA
The seniority of the sons of the second marriage though undetermined, is probably in accordance with the order here given.

NOTE - The last Earl of Orkney had by each of his two marriages a son named William. See page 167 for two brothers Sinclair, each named Laurence; and on page 295 there are two each named William. This confusing custom occurs in other Scottish families, but only with brothers-uterine.

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


e-mail to:fnsnclr@btinternet.com