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



When Earl William St.Clair, the last of the Orcadian Jarls, surrendered in 1471 all his rights to and jurisdiction within the Earldom of Orkney, he received in exchange from James III the castle and lands of Ravenscraig in Fife, and a Scottish Act of Parliament was passed on the 20th February of the same year annexing to the Scottish Crown "the Earldom of Orkney and Lordship of Shetland, not to be given away in time to come to no person or persons except only to one of the King's sons of lawful bed". This was followed by a bull of Pope Sixtus IV, dated at the Vatican, 17th August 1472, placing the See of the Orkneys under the metropolitan of St.Andrew's. [from Orkneyinga Saga]

The revenues of the Islands were then farmed out-first to the Bishops of Orkney, and afterwards to Henry, Lord St.Clair, and various members of his house. The first known grant by the King of Scotland was in 1474 - a lease for two years to William Tulloch, Bishop of Orkney - the Crown rent consisting of £120 money, 50 chalders of bear [barley] at 8 merks per chalder, and 120 salt marts [cattle salted for winter provision] at a mark each, the total £466, 13 shillings and 4 pence Scots. The lease was renewed for three years more, with an abatement on the bear [barley], viz., at only five merks the chalder, the total amount being £366, 13 shillings and 4 pence. [From Peterkin's Notes]

On the translation of Bishop Tulloch to the See of Moray in 1478, a new lease issued to his Orcadian successor Andrew - the presentee of John of Denmark to the Bishopric [Balfour's Memorial] - the keeping of the castle of Kirkwall being included in the lease, and the same rent being stipulated, "ut in rentali nostro continetur". [From Peterkin's Notes]

The Exchequer Rolls, 1480, note Andrew, Bishop of Orkney, and Robert Yorkston, his factor; and again on 21st June 1484, Andrew, Bishop of Orkney, arrendatarii dominorum Orchadie et Schetland per his factors John Sinclare and William Leslie. The entry also refers to Henry Sinclare and to Peter Hakket and Alexander Lesk in the matter of the ferms of Sanday.

Bishop Andrew received in 1484 an annuity from John Sinclair, and another in 1485 from Henry Sinclair [Register of the Privy Seal] in which latter year the Archbishop of St.Andrew's is delegated Ambassador to "Our holy father the Pope", with instructions that he shall among other things, "impetrait and desire of our holy father a confirmation of the conventions, confederations and bands made betwixt our Sovereign Lord and the King of Denmark that last decessit of the donation and impignoration [mortgage] of the lands of Orkney and Shetland and of perpetual exonation, reunussation and discharge of the contribution of the Isles after the form of the said conventions. [From Mackenzie's Grievances]

Following the Impetration the Scottish Crown proceeded to extend over the lands of the Bishop and Odallers a new claim - that of Superiority, the first advance to which bore the harmless form of a courteous recognition of the Bishop's rights by his new Sovereign, in a Charter of Regality, 10th October 1490.

One of the rights conveyed by this instrument is the merchetis mulierum [a clause frequently found in charters, probably the right to a fine upon the marriage of a tenant's daughter]. The assumption of a concurrent sanction of the Norwegian presentee of the Kirklands (1491-2) was followed by the sole presentation - under Papal Sanction - of a Commendator and Successor to the Bishop (8th April 1498), and shortly afterward by the defiant appointment of an Archdean of Shetland, with a protest against "the temerity and presumption" of the Danish presentee (8th January 1501-2).

The Charter of Regality was confirmed in 1501, and in the civil feuds which long shook the Norwegian throne, the Scottish Patronage of the See of Orkney was thenceforth undisputed. [Balfour's Memorial] The same protecting care was accorded to the ancient capital of the jarldom, which in 1486 was made a royal burgh. [Kirkwall Records]

Although Earl William surrendered the comitial title and jurisdictions, he still retained large estates throughout all the Isles, and his immediate descendants and collateral members of the Sinclair family are found figuring in the most important events in the insular annals for two centuries thereafter, during the first seventy-five years of which the government of the Isles was almost solely in their hands. In fact, summing up the history of the period, it may be said to be a record of the doings of the Sinclairs, and of transactions connected with the Bishopric.

Earl William had died before the 9th February 1481, when there is an agreement entered into between his disinherited heir, William St.Clair, Prodigus "the Waster", Master [heir apparent] of Orkney, and Sir Oliver St.Clair of Roslin, which refers to their father, the Earl, as being dead; [Hay's Genealogie] and from the Rentals of 1502-3 it appears that in that year Sir Robert Sutherland, Sir John Sinclair, and others entered into use and adverse occupation of lands in Orkney to the prejudice of the heir-of-line male Henry Sinclair - elder son of the disinherited Master - who obtained a tack [lease] of the Isles in 1485, [Balfour's Memorial] and the same year granted an annuity to the Bishop. [Register of the Privy Seal]

On the 26th January 1488-9, the Scottish Parliament passed an Act recognising Henry Lord Saintclair as "Chief of that blood", and willing "therefore that he be called Lord Saintclair in time to come".

Soon after the accession of James IV, a lease of the ancient Earldom of Orkney and Shetland was granted 28th May 1489, to Henry Lord Sinclair. The rent was continued at the same rate as in the Bishop's leases, viz., £366, 13 shillings and 4 pence Scots, as some atonement, perhaps, for the ill-requited devotedness of his grandfather to the former King. [From Peterkin's Notes]. The tack [lease] was granted for 13 years "land and Lordship of Orkney and Shetland, with their pertinents," etc.; and besides a lease of the castle of Kirkwall and fortalices, there is also a grant of jurisdiction for the same period, "Officiis Justiciariae Folderiae et Baliatus dictarum terrarum et dominiorum". On the same date there is an assedation and grant consisting of three instruments in precisely similar terms to his brother-in-law Patrick, Earl of Bothwell.

After the irresponsible episcopal rule, the appointment of Henry Lord Sinclair as Captain-General and Governor of the Islands, and the recognition of Sir David Sinclair as the Norse representative and Foud of Shetland (1491), gave hope of better times, for after, the tyranny of strangers the Orkneyans were prepared to rejoice in the return of kindred rulers, - and Sir David was the son and Lord Henry the grandson of their last Earl William. With the tastes and accomplishments, and some of the vices of their time, the Sinclairs were popular in the Islands and favourites in the Courts of Denmark and Scotland, They were in the main just, humane, and generous; they exposed unsparingly the rapacity and frauds of their episcopal predecessors, relaxed their intolerable imposts upon some of the districts, redressed much individual injustice, and liberally relieved the impoverished population. [Balfour's Memorial]

There are still a few instances of the connection with Norway. In 1485 the Lawman of Bergen reverses a sale of hinds in Shetland as being contrary to law. His decree is made in convention with the Law-man [President of the Althing and Chief judge], Council-men, and Lagrett-man in Shetland. [From Mackenzie's Grievances].

Sir David Sinclair, Foud of Shetland, was Captain of the Palace Guard at Bergen. In 1498 he acquired from his brothers and sisters a charter of their interests in the estate of Swynbrocht, and the pertinents etc. [From Peterkin's Notes]. As all their seals are stated to be appended entire, if extant this charter will be of value in determining the seniority of the sons of Earl William. [Note - seniority can be determined from the cadency marks on their seals]

On the first May 1501, the lease to Lord Sinclair, with the keeping of the castle of Kirkwall, and the jurisdictions of justiciarie, fouderie, and bailliary, was renewed for 19 years, an addition being made of hams "for the King's use" to the rental, which was thereby extended to £433, 6 shillings and 8 pence. [From Peterkin's Notes].

On the 4th June 1498, by Royal instrument, St.Magnus' Cathedral secured a grant of the Isle of Burray; and the Bishopric Charter of Regality was confirmed in 1501; and a letter directed by James IV to Lord Sinclair, then Captain-General and Governor of the Isles, charged him "to stop no Law-man in the supplying of the said reverend father, his servants and officers, in the ministration of justice". [From Mackenzie's Grievances] And the next year after there is another letter to the same effect, directed " to the Lawman of Orkney".

After confirmation of his lease, Lord Sinclair had Rentals prepared in 1502-4 showing the charges payable by all occupiers and owners of land. In this census many Sinclairs appear enumerated as in possession of estates. They are probably not of descent from the last Earl, but from his predecessors, collaterals to whom appear in Orkney at an early date, e.g.
in 1364 Thomas de St.Clair, ballivus for the King of Norway, and Alexander de St.Clair, his son, attest an instrument at Kirkwall;
in 1391 Richard de St.Clair is a witness;
in 1418 John St.Clair, brother of Earl Henry II, is Foud of Shetland;
in 1426 Thomas Sincler is opposed to the malpractices of Sir David Menzies;
in 1434 John and Thomas St.Clair, armigeri, are in Denmark with Earl William, and append their seals to his document of Installation;
[in 1446] Alexander Sinclare sets his seal to the Diploma,
while in 1437 William and Edward de Sco.Claro, armigeri, attest a precept of infeftment.
The last William is perhaps to be identified as the son of John St.Clair, Foud of Shetland, who served the Emperor Henry in the Holy Wars.

This digression may help to account for the number of Sinclairs presently passing under review other than the direct descendants of Earl William. David Sinclair, a prudent and discreet man, resident at Kirkwall, on account of the cordial affection he bears to her, conveys his land and dwelling-house to his wife Sonneta and their children, reserving, however, the life use of same to himself. Dated at the said residence in Kirkwall 11th September 1491.

In Lord Sinclair's rental his brother Sir William holds nearly all Sanday and Westray; a Sir John Sinclair (perhaps either Sir John of Dryden - "the Queen's knight" - or the Bishop-nominate of Caithness) has lands in North and South Sandvik; Gilbert and Richeart Sinclair in South Ronaldsay; while in Stromness, Magnus Sinclair has the Bu [the principal farm or manor house on an Odal estate] of Karstane, Alexander Sinclair has Stanagar in Inner Stromness, David Sinclair has Mydhous there, and his son William has also a property in Inner Stromness while James Sinclair has land in Utter Stromness. [From Peterkin's Rentals]. NOTE - Midhouse, Netherhouse, etc., all indicate relative position to the main house in the neighbourhood.

In the "Skat of Shetland", a contemporaneous compilation, Henry Sincler is entered for the lands of Skatnes and Burrowland, and Sandy Sincler for Schevsbrocht.

Orkney was then in capable hands, with Lord Henry as Captain-General and Governor of the Isles, Sir David, Foud of Shetland and Captain of the Palace Guard of Bergen, and Edward Sinclair defeating the English raiders at Papdale, St.Ola's slaying their leader Sir John Elder, 13th August 1502. [Jo. Ben] It was probably by the family influence that an act of the Scottish parliament in 1503 to annul all foreign laws within the realm was so altered as to spare the native laws of Orkney and Shetland. The act "as originally proponit and read" stands as it is here copied: "Item that all our Sovereign Lord’s lieges be under his obeisance & i spe'ale all the Isles [but wt. in Orkney, Shetland & the Isles & other places] [These bracketed words are ruled out in the original copy] be ruled by our Sovereign Lord’s own laws & the common laws of the Realm and by no other laws". - Fol. Stat. 2, 244.

Among the acts "advised and concluded", it appears in these terms: "Item It is statute and ordained that all our Sovereign Lord's lieges be under his obeisance and in special the Isles be Ruled by our Sovereign Lord's own laws and the common laws of the Realm and by no other laws". - Fol. Stat. 2, page 252. Thus, as originally framed, the bill had reference to, Orkney, Shetland, and the Isles, but was passed in an amended form having application to the last only. The Isles here meant are the Hebrides. [From Mackenzie's Grievances]

Sir David Sinclair of Swynbrocht being "sick in body, never the less hale in mind", executed his Testament at Tingwall, Shetland, on the 9th of July; 1506. Directing his body to be buried in St.Magnus' Kirk at Tyngwall, and praying James IV to protect his testamentary disposition, he proceeds to make numerous bequests which afford an insight into the conditions of the time. He leaves to each of his sons 100 merks of land, and to each daughter 50 merks: to my Lord Sincler the Shetland pension for the current year, and such lands as the testator possessed there after the death of his father the Earl, also his best silver stope (tankard) and his ship called the "Carvel" with her pertinents, etc.

There are bequests to Lady Sincler; to the son and heir of Henry Lord Synclar; to Sir William Sincler, Earl of Caithness, he demises his innes in Edinburgh: to Sir William Sincler the Knight [of Warsetter], valuable portions of his wardrobe; to "Sandy Sincler my brother, some 6 ells of green cloth; to my sister dwelling in Orkney, all my goods that are in Pappay and Housbe; to Magnus Sincler, my blue doublet set with precious stones and my golden chain which I wear daily; to James Sincler, captain for the time in Dingwell, all my gear that is in Ross; to Sir Magnus Harrode, two nobles, and the Book of Good Manners; to the Provost of Byrrone, "my signet"; to the poor folk that came out of Orkney with me I leave them their own land or else also good"; his golden chain or collar which the King of Denmark gave him was left to St.George's altar at Roeskilde, the ancient Danish capital.

Bequests are also made to the Cathedral Kirk of Orkney; to Saint Magnus Kirk in Tyngwell; and to the Corss Kyrk [the signal in Norse times for clerical assemblies] in Dunrossness; with ships, lands, cattle, etc., etc., to various persons of names now well known in both archipelagoes. Magnus Sincler, John Mude, etc., attest the execution.

Sir David Sinclair died in July or August 1507. A notarial transcript was made in 1525, at which time the Will doubtless came into effect. His vessel, called the "Carvel", is no doubt the "Yellow Carvel" of Scottish records, and would have proved useful to Lord Henry, who in 1512 was apparently Lord High Admiral, having command of the "Great Michael," the Scottish flagship.

Lord Sinclair fell at Flodden the following year (9th September 1513), and as his son was in minority, Lady Margaret became Baroness-Regent and ruler of the Isles, in which capacity she soon came into conflict with her brother-in-law, Sir William Sinclair of Warsetter, his family and near kinsmen.

NOTE - "Yellow Carvel": May the Orcadian fleet have provided a nucleus for the Scottish navy. The first admiral on record is Henry I of Orkney, next after whom are his son Henry II (1412) and grandson William I (1435). Henry, Lord St.Clair, commands in 1512 the flagship the "Great Michael", and thereafter the office passes heritably to the Hepburns of Bothwell, evidently because of their St.Clair connection and the minority of the fifth Lord.

NOTE - Bishop Arnthor of Bergen certifies on 11th August 1512, that he has seen the Testament of Her David Syncklare demising half of Samphray to Dr. Hans Eek, who sold 12 marks land there by deed at Bergen 21st July 1512, in which he is described as "Dr. Hans Eek of Gestryalandh, vicarius; Skatzta hogbwreen herres Jacob med gudz nad konunges aff Skotlandh kappelan". He is doubtless ancestor of the family of Hawick of Scatsta, Shetland.

From a notarial protocol in the possession of Lord Sinclair, there is preserved to us a Decree of the Lawman of Orkney and Shetland and his Council, affirming a sale of land as being according to Insular law. The Decree is dated at Kirkwall in June 1514, and to this "Matter of Heritage" Sir William Sinclair of Warsetter is a party to the record - a noble and potent man - who notwithstanding has to submit to the law of the land. [From Mackenzie's Grievances].

Also in another decree anno 1519, the High Foud or Lagman - for so the chief judge was called - in order to give a sacred and venerable authority to his sentence; confirms if "by the faith of the law-book", as now-a-days men confirm their testimony by the faith of the Holy Gospels. [From Mackenzie's Grievances].

It was about this time that Sir William Sinclair of Warsetter took Noltland Castle by storm, but restored it to Dr. Edward Stewart, the Bishop who had succeeded to the prelacy in Isles. In "Theiners Vetera Monumenta" this appears under date 13th December 1523, "Duke of Albany ruled Scotland as governor a pontifice petit, ut John Beynston, Edward Bishop of Orkney were brothers in coadiutorem concedat". Bishop Stewart was not only of illustrious birth, but of an excellent character. [From Barry].

He enlarged the cathedral by adding the three first pointed piers and arches at the east end, and the fine east window, which is early middle pointed, of four unfoliated lights, in two divisions, its head filled with a rose of twelve leaves. [Clouston's Guide]. His arms are amongst the heraldic decorations on the ceiling of the Cathedral Church of St.Machar, Aberdeen, and also ornament St.Magnus' Cathedral - Or [gold background], a fess [band] checky azure [blue] and argent [silver] within a double tressure [border] flowered counter flowered [alternate fleur-de-lys]. [Catalogue Heraldic Exhibition, Edinburgh]

He had, for a successor in the episcopal dignity Thomas, Bishop of Orkney, whose only action of note was the donation which he made for maintaining the choristers in the Cathedral. [From Barry].

NOTE - The Orcadian Law-book was required to be produced in 1575. Nicol Randal versus Robert, Earl of Orkney, for dispossession of the Isle of Gairsay, the odal inheritance of plaintiff.

NOTE - Provost Craigie of Kirkwall (about 1660) in a Manuscript under his own hand, writes, "That on pretence of distraining for a private debt, Earl Patrick Stewart seized upon the charter-chest of Kirkwall, and destroyed all the town's charters and records".

As early as 1515 [Balfour's Memorial] the Islanders elected as their leader and virtual Governor; James Sinclair, a natural son of Sir William Sinclair of Warsetter, Lord Henry's brother, and for a few years all went well.

The Baroness-Regent in 1520 got the lease extended for 19 more years at the same rent, but now fell in troublous times. The Rents were withheld for three years (1523-5) on the plea of a general devastation by the English fleet in Orkney and Shetland: her son, Lord William, was forced to surrender her castle of Kirkwall, and fled to Caithness, 1528. The year following; Lord William, in alliance with his cousin John Sinclair, Earl of Caithness, and supported by the sanction of the King's Letter of Four Forms [Balfour's Memorial] mustered a very considerable military force and embarked for the Isles, sanguine of victory.

However, James Sinclair, the Governor, rallying the Islesmen for a patriotic effort, encountered the invaders on the confines of the parish of Stennis, routed them completely in the Vale of Summerdale, slew the Earl with 500 of his followers, took prisoner Lord Sinclair, beheaded Nicol Hall the Lawman, and took forcible possession of the Islands. [Balfour's Memorial] There existed a very bitter feeling of animosity between the Islanders and the Scottish invaders, which receives illustration from a complaint of William Lord Sinclair that Sir James had been guilty of excessive cruelty.

Previous to the fight at Summerdale he slew several of his lordship's friends and attendants in the castle of Kirkwall; and a week or two after the battle, among other atrocities, he put to death in cold blood thirty men who had fled for sanctuary to the Cathedral of St.Magnus and other places of worship in the country. It is stated in the complaint that he dragged them by force out of the church, stripped them naked, and then killed them, "in his contemption of God and holy kirk, and breaking of the privilege of the Girth". [From History of Caithness].

It is difficult to reconcile the royal policy with reference to this transaction. King James had sanctioned the invasion, and on the defeat of the Scottish Sinclairs he continued to assert his dignity by renewing Lady Sinclair's rights, and by signing an ineffective Few Charter to his illegitimate brother James, Earl of Moray (1530-1); yet he next proceeds to give but one more feudal Grant, and that was to the victorious Governor (1535), whom he knighted and rewarded with lands and legitimation. [From Balfour's Memorial].

Sir James had powerful influence at Court. By his marriage to Lady Barbara Stewart, sister of Henry, Lord Methven (who had married Margaret Tudor, the King's mother); he became connected closely with the royal families of Scotland and England. Relying on these influences, be solicited and secured a grant of the islands of Sanday and Eday, representing them, it is said, as being infertile holms [uninhabited islands] or trivial islets, fit only for domestic pasturing.

His grant of the Islands contained every feudal right, and was the first infraction of Odal succession by a clause of single primogeniture. Balfour's Memorial [Balfour] In 1536 or 1537 this valorous knight fell by accident into the sea and was drowned, leaving behind him the reputation of a brave man, emulous of nothing so much as the freedom and independence of his country. [Mackenzie's Manuscript Notes] [From Mackenzie's Grievances] It is otherwise stated that being threatened with the royal displeasure on the discovery of his imposture, he cast himself over a precipitous rock in Deerness, called the Gloup of Linkness, and perished. Jo Ben's account confirms the parochial locality, and adds that he had lost his reason. At Stirling, on the 18th April 1539, a letter issued under the Privy Seal to "Barbara Stewart, relict of umquhile [deceased] James Sinclair; of Sanday, knight, her heirs and assignees, of the gift of all goods, moveable and immoveable, etc., which pertained to the said umquhile [deceased] James, and now pertain to our sovereign lord be reason of escheat, because the said umquhile [deceased] James wilfully slew himself". [From Barry]. Lady Barbara afterwards married McLeod, the Breve [officer of authority] of Lewis; and Margaret, her daughter by Sir James, married Magnus Halcro. [From Peterkin's Notes].

An interesting incident in the Isles was the visitation of Sir John Clare, Admiral of the English fleet, who landed a body of soldiery to destroy the places of strength, but a hurricane suddenly arising divided his forces, and the Orcadians put nearly all to the sword. This happened on the 31st August 1538.

NOTE - "The Description of the Isles of Orkney", by John Bellenden the Benedictine, attributed to 1529, must have been written at a later period, for in referring to Earl John of Caithness, slain at Summerdale in 1529, he makes him grandfather to the Earl now living. The "Description" must thus have been written later than 1582. Bellenden is also inaccurate in dating the battle as in 1527, an error impossible to make if written two years after so important an event.

A memorable event occurred about this time - the visit of James V to the Isles. In 1536 he embarked from the Forth in a fleet consisting of five gallant vessels, attended by Lindsay, then the most skilful navigator in the Scottish seas. Having reached Orkney, the royal squadron moored in the Bay of Kirkwall; and although the House of Stuart and the family now on the throne of Great Britain derive their claims by descent from Rognvald the Mighty, Jarl of Orkney, King James V is the only monarch, Scottish or British, who has ever touched the soil of these Islands since the Scottish impignoration [mortgage]. [From Peterkin's Notes].

During his visit he confirmed the Burghal Charter of Kirkwall, 8th February 1536, and is said to have held a Thing [a general assemblage of Free men] in the very ancient tenement still dignified as the Parliament Close. [Balfour's Memorial]. While in the burgh he was hospitably entertained by Bishop Maxwell in the modern episcopal palace. Robert Maxwell had succeeded Dr.Stewart in 1525. He ornamented the cathedral interior with stalls in the quire, which had curious carvings of arms of former bishops and other devices. He also furnished the tower with a set of finely toned bells, which are still rung daily in a particular chime. [From Clouston's Guide and Peterkin's Notes]. The bells carry inscriptions that they were "made by Master Robert Maxwell, Bishop of Orkney", and display the Maxwell arms: Argent [silver background], saltier sable [black], with annulet [ring] or [gold] in the centre, maternal difference for Eglinton. [Anderson's Guide].

Returning to Scotland, King James granted in 1539 (19th September), a 19 years' Respites to Edward Sinclare of Strom, Magnus Sinclare of Warsetter, John Sinclare of Tohop, William Sinclare of Houss, Olave Sinclare of Halvera, Magnus Sinclare, Lawrence Sinclare, James Sinclare, etc., for being art and part in the slaughter of the Earl of Caithness at Summerdale, Sir James of Sanday, the leader, had already passed beyond the need of all earthly pardon. From the names enumerated it is evident the Islesmen were very unanimous in their resistance.

Edward Synclar of Strom, Fold of Shetland, appears 24th June 1536, granting a charter, to which he appended his proper seal; and Olave Sinclayr of Havera, head Fold of Shetland, is so noted in a decree dated 10th December 1546.

The favourable, leases to Margaret Lady Sinclair terminated soon after the kings visit to Orkney, by a general Act of Revocation and Annexation, 10th December 1540. [From Peterkin's Notes].

"The lands and lordship of Orkney and Shetland, and the isles pertaining thereto, and their pertinents" were resumed to the crown amongst other gratuities, which are enumerated and annexed in very anxious and pointed terms. And the said island is being annexed to remain perpetually with the crown, may neither be given away in fee nor frank-tenement to any persons, whatever estate or degree they be of, without awise decree and deliverance of the whole Parliament, and for the great reasonable causes concerning the welfare of the realm, first to be avisit and digestlie considered by the whole estates. And albeit it shall happen our sovereign Lord that now is, or any his successors kings of Scotland, to analie and dispone the said lordships, lands, etc., that the alienation and disposition shall be of none avail. But it shall be lawful to the king for the time to reserve the lands to his own use whenever it likes his grace, but (i.e. without) any process of law.". [From Peterkin's Notes].

The last lessee of the Sinclair family was Oliver Sinclair, of Pitcairn, who obtained two successive leases, extending to eight years, of the Crown rights, rents, scatts, and admiralty jurisdiction of Orkney and Shetland (which had of old belonged to the Earldom ere it was annexed to Scotland), for which he paid the advanced rent of £2,000 per annum. The first lease was dated 20th April 1541, and was continued notwithstanding the protest of Lady Margaret Sinclair, of 10th September following Oliver's right expired in 1548. [From Peterkin's Notes]. The name of Oliver Sinclair is associated in the recollections of every reader of Scottish history with one of the most humiliating transactions recorded in its pages - the disloyalty of the Scottish nobles, the dishonour of the Scottish arms at Solway Moss, and the miserable captivity of the army which ensued.

The premature death of James V and the extinction of the House of St.Clair as rulers in Orkney may be reckoned contemporary; and nothing now remains to remind the visitor of the scenes of their former greatness at their ancient "home" except the debris of their castle. [From Peterkin's Notes].

NOTE - Even the debris of Kirkwall Castle is now removed, and a modern hotel has been erected on the Castle "Stance".

Oliver Sinclair did not enjoy undisturbed possession of his tack [lease], for on the 10th December 1543, a litigation betwixt him and the Queen Dowager was agitated in Parliament before the Lords of the Articles and Secret Council.

Thereon, McGill, an advocate, made protestation that whatever their lordships might do "anent the matter persued by the Queen’s Grace against Oliver Sinclair touching the delivering of the castle of Kirkwall, in Orkney, should turn him to no prejudice anent his right, tack, and assedation which he has of the same", and objected to the competency of the Court; but they repelled the objection, "because the action concerns the Queen’s Grace, who has the same privilege as our sovereign lady, her daughter, has in that behalf". The cause was resumed the day after, and the record bears, "That where her Grace obtained a decree of the Lords of Council decerning and ordaining her Grace to be answered and obey it of the males, fermes, profits, and duties of all lands and lordships, and suchlike of all castles and houses given and granted to her in dowry by our deceased Sovereign Lord, not the less the said Oliver has and withholds from her Grace her castle of Kirkwall, lying within the lordship of Orkney, and will not deliver the same to her without he be compelled"; "the Queen’s Grace being personally present, and the said Oliver Sinkler compearand by Master James McGill," who denied that Oliver or his servant had refused to give up the castle, a term was allowed the Queen-Dowager to prove the fact.

At a subsequent sederunt, the Queen being present, and neither Oliver nor his lawyer appearing, he was ordained to "deliver to the Queen's Grace or her factors, her said place and castle of Kirkwall," as he had not appeared to show cause why he should not have previously done so, having denied that he retained it, "howbeit the said Oliver and his factors has and withholds the same as that, as was clearly proved before the said Lords". [From Peterkin's Notes].

These are the only notices of Oliver Sinclair as Governor of the Isles, unless he is the person referred to by Bishop Bothwell in a letter dated 5th February 1560, stating that he was opposed in some of his church reforms by the Sinclairs "instigated by the Justice Clerk".

Henry Sinclair, his brother Robert, and their father [Oliver] opposed any change. "Henry's father said he would on no sort consent...." [Craven]

Robert Reid, prior of Beauly in commendam, became Bishop of Orkney in 1540. He was eminent for his enlightened views and conspicuous ability. A foundation Senator of the College of Justice, he afterwards held the Presidency till his death. He was also President of the Scottish Parliament; auditor of Exchequer; commissioner for a treaty of peace between Scotland and England; and one of the embassy to France to arrange the marriage of Mary, Queen of Scots, with the Dauphin. [From Barry] Whilst executing the last mission, he was wrecked near Boulogne, and, being seized with a disorder, ended his days at Dieppe in 1558. He added three Romanesque pillars to the west end of St.Magnus' Cathedral (as also the magnificent porch which serves it for entry), the interior arches above which seem never to have been finished [Clouston's Guide] and not only rebuilt the old parish church of St.Ola [Tudor] but restored the ancient Bishop's Palace, adding to it a circular and a square tower called the Mense or Mass Tower. The circular tower is square within, and embellished with well-executed engravings. The walls are of red freestone interspersed with white, and on the north side is a well-preserved statue of Bishop Reid. [Clouston's Guide]

On the 28th October 1544, by a new erection be remodelled the ecclesiastical foundation of his cathedral, a chapter being established, consisting of seven dignitaries, seven prebendaries, thirteen chaplains, a sacristan, and six choristers. These were as follow: -

Dignitaries -

  1. The provost or dean, prebendary of Holy Trinity and rector of South Ronaldsay and Burray (Mr. Malcolm Halcro)
  2. The archdeacon, chaplain, of St.Ola, with the tithes of Birsay and Harray (Mr. John Tyrie)
  3. The precentor, prebendary of Orphir, with tithes of Stenness (Sir Nicholas Hawcro)
  4. The chancellor, prebendary of St Mary in Sanday (Mr. Alexander Scott)
  5. The treasurer, rector of St.Nicolas in Stronsay (Sir Stephen Culross)
  6. The sub-dean, also the bishop's butler, rector of Hoy and Walls (Mr. Peter Houston)
  7. The sub-chantor, prebendary of St.Colme (Sir Magnus, Strang)
Prebendaries -
  1. Of St.Cross, in Sanday, who attended to the bells and saw that the floor was kept clean (Sir Thomas Richardson)
  2. Of St.Mary, in Evie, who attended to the roof and windows
  3. Of St.Magnus, who acted as confessor to the households of the chapter (Sir Hugh Halcro)
  4. Of St.John (Mr. Henry Barton)
  5. Of St.Laurence (John Maxwell)
  6. Of St.Catherine
  7. Of S.Duthac's
The sacristan was also rector of the parish of St.Columba in Sanday, now known as Burness parish. [From Tudor].

The deed, which is still extant, was signed by the bishop and the other members of the chapter, "apud ecclesiam nostram cathedralem, coram [in presence of] his testibus nobilibus honestis ac discretis viris Patricio Chene de Essilmonth milite, Patricio Mowate de Boquhelly, Alexandre Banerman de Waterton, Edwardo Sinclair de Strom, Alexandro Innes ccustabulario Orchaden, Thoma Tulloch de Fluris, Jacobo Cragy de Burgh, Johanne Randaile de eodem, Gilberto Sclater de Burnes, Jacobo Cummvng, Henrico Frenche, magistro Roberto Glen, Henrico Reid, et magistro Petro Galbrath notario publico, cum diversis allis" [From Peterkin's Rentals]. This foundation was confirmed by a Bull under the seal of David Bethune, Archbishop of St.Andrew's, Cardinal and Papal Legate, on the 30th June 1545.

Bishop Reid is the true founder of the University of Edinburgh, for by his will he left 8,000 merks for the purpose of founding a college there, to consist of three schools - one for grammar, one for poetry and oratory, and one for civil and common law. For the said sum a decree was obtained by the King's advocate. He also conceived the design of building a college in the immediate vicinity of the Cathedral for the instruction of youth in grammar and philosophy; and both granted ground and built some part of a square, which he intended should serve for that purpose. His only writings were a geographical description of the Isles of Orkney, and a genealogical and historical account of the family of Sinclair, both of which were written at the desire of the King of Denmark, and were extant in manuscript in the last century. [From Barry]. His arms show on an old building in Victoria Street, Kirkwall, viz,, Azure [blue background], a roebuck's head erased [cut at neck] proper [natural colours].

In 1554 one Boutot, a Frenchman, is made Governor of the Orcade Isles; while the same year Huntly, the Regent, is deprived of inter alia the government of Orkney and Shetland which he had. [Balfour’s Annals]. The appointment of Boutot is stated to have been very unpopular, It would appear that the revenues of the Isles formed part of the dowry of Queen Mary of Guise, and that she retained them till her death on the 10th June 1560. On the 26th May 1564, Lord Robert Stuart acquired a charter of the Isles, with pertinents, fortresses, jurisdictions, etc.; but this grant was soon destined to fall before the gifts conferred on a greater favourite.

When Queen Mary espoused James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell (grandson of the fourth Lord Sinclair) - 14th May 1567 - she created him Duke of Orkney, and the Isles, jurisdictions, etc., were all "erected in one whole and free duchy, to be called the duchy of Orkney for ever". However, after his flight from Carberry Hill, his dukedom instead of continuing dissolved for ever.

In 1581 Lord Robert Stuart acquired the Isles and became Earl of Orkney and Lord of Shetland, but with the execution of his son and successor Earl Patrick, in 1614, the brief career of the Stewart line came to an end. [From Peterkin's Notes].

Orkney has been an honourable title from the remotest ages, and we are told how Belus was King of the Orkneys before the birth of Christ; how Ganus their king was taken prisoner by Claudius Caesar, centuries before even the Norse occupation; but the honourable title has now passed to Irish titulados, on which circumstance a modern writer descants: - " It is most singular to find a repetition of the venerable and historic title first bestowed by King Harald Harfagri at the Norwegian conquest of the Orkneys, soon after A.D. 872, upon Rognvald, Earl of Moeri - gloriously borne by these Princes for nearly four centuries - hallowed by the martyrdom of St.Magnus and the devotion of St.Rognvald - handed on through the lines of Atholl, Angus, Stratherne and St.Clair - resigned to the Crown of Scotland by the still living family of St.Clair, with the Orkneys themselves in 1469 conferred as a duchy upon Bothwell by Queen Mary in view of their marriage - now held, along with a Viscounty of Kirkwall, by a family of origin totally alien to Orkney, and connected only with Tipperary. It is no want of respect either for the great House of Hamilton or for the noble family of which we are speaking, to suspect that the intense hatred of William II for Scotland - that hatred which found: two of its sweetest moments in arranging the massacres of Glencoe and of Darien - sought and found a childish indulgence in the invention of this later peerage". [Article-Scottish Review, January 1886]

NOTE - In the complaint of 1575, one of the charges preferred against Robert Stewart, the Abbot Earl, was sending his Maister Household, Gawin Elphingstone, and Henry Sinclair, his chamberchyld, to the King of Denmark in order to offer Orkney and Shetland to him, and attributed this to his fearing sometime God's judgment. It is alleged that Elphinstone got the Danish King's confirmation of Lord Robert's title, which came home in a strictly private way "enclosed in a bolt of Holland Clayth".

NOTE - Patrick, Earl of Orkney, was Provost of Kirkwall in 1604. He set up a mint and coined money in Orkney.

NOTE - Sir Alex McCulloch of Mirtone, knight, first (chief) falconer of the King going to Orkney for falcons, was married to Marjory Sinclair. Charter, 17th February 1499.

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