Precedence of the earl of Sutherland, 1617.

Scope and Content

A collection of documents relating to the earldoms of Caithness and Orkney.

ff.4r-14r A Short discourse of the Earle of Sutherland, his Precedencie in Parliament befor the Earle of Catteynes. Anno Domini, 1617. ff.1, 2 appear to be wrapping papers to this. f.3r has a line decorated capital identical to that of the title page and the words 'A Short discourse of the Earle of'. Sets out to prove the greater antiquity of the earldom of Sutherland, to justify the precedence in parliament by eight degrees over the earl of Caithness, showing continual possession in writs and charters. Marginalia in the hand of the main text and in a second hand.

ff.15r-17r A reply to the above [incomplete] [in a different hand].

f.21r: a transcript [in a different hand] dated 7 November 1671, of a purported charter of Malcolm Canmore, king of Scotland, to Ronald [sic] earl of Caithness as a reward for defending the person of the king during the war against Macbeth, dated 22 May 1060, with cover label for same f.22v.

ff.23, 24 Summary valuation of the lordships of 'Wilzeme Sinclar prince off Orknay and lord of Zetland' [William Sinclair earl of Orkney] in a seventeenth century hand.

f.25r A summary pedigree of the Sinclair family, in the same hand as f.21 tracing descent from William Sinclar who came from France in the time of Malcolm Cranmore, down to 'John Lord Sinclar who maried Marie Weymes daughter to the Earle of Weymes' [John 9th Lord Sinclair married Mary, daughter of John, 1st earl Wemyss in July 1631].

f.25v Supplementary genealogical notes [in a different hand].

f.26 a wrapper to f.25 with title.

Line drawing f.1r, f.20v.

Administrative / Biographical History

The first earl of Sutherland was created around 1230 when William, son of Hugh Freskin, was given the title; his father had acquired the district of Sutherland about 1197. The title passed to the Gordon family by marriage in the 16th century. John, the 5th earl (1609-1663), was a strong Covenanter, fighting against Montrose at Auldearn, but eventually proved his loyalty to Charles II. The seventh earl, John Gordon (c.1660-1733), was the first to use the name Sutherland instead of Gordon; he supported the revolution of 1688 and was appointed to the commission to negotiate the union of England and Scotland. He was president of the board of trade and manufactures, and lord-lieutenant of the eight northern counties of Scotland. He was active in putting down the rising of 1715. On the death of the 17th earl, the sole heir was his daughter Elizabeth; by an earlier ruling the earldom should have passed to the Gordons of Huntly, but Elizabeth opposed this in the House of Lords and won. She then married George Granville Leverson-Gower (1758-1833), later marquess of Stafford. He had enormous estates in Staffordshire and shopshire and through Elizabeth inherited most of Sutherland. He was made first duke of Sutherland in 1833. He was an improving landlord but was responsible for moving most of his inland tenants to the coast, creating great bitterness. The duke settled at Dunrobin Castle near Golspie, still the family seat today.

The first recorded earl of Caithness and Orkney was the Norwegian Rognvald of the house of Odin, granted the joint title by King Harald of Norway in 871. The title later passed to the Scottish house of Atholl and eventually to the Sinclairs or St Clairs in 1455. This Norman family had had lands at Rosslyn in Lothian, but marriage to the co-heiress of the earl of Orkney and Caithness brought the earldom of Orkney into the family in the 14th century and a later Sinclair, William, the 3rd earl of Orkney, was also granted the earldom of Caithness. However in 1470 he was forced to resign Orkney to James III, who was concerned about the power wielded by the Sinclairs in the North. They were given Ravenscraig Castle in Fife as compensation. The earldom of Caithness passed briefly to Sir John Campbell of Glenorchy after the death of the 6th earl George Sinclair, but he was opposed by George Sinclair of Keiss, who eventually was granted the title by the privy council in 1681, and the earldom remained in the Sinclair family.

The earldom of Orkney was granted to Mary Queen of ScotsÂ’ half-brother, Robert Stewart in 1567, but his family soon lost the title again in rebellion against the monarch. The lands and title remained with the crown until 1696 when Lord George Hamilton was created earl of Orkney, the title then passed through several female heirs, countesses of Orkney in their own right, to the present holders, the Fitzmaurices.


Single item

Access Information

By appointment with the Keeper of Manuscripts. Access to records containing confidential information may be restricted.

Acquisition Information

From the Library of James David Forbes and originally classified within the Forbes collection as ForCS468.S9, 1929


Call number used to be ms65

Other Finding Aids

Individual Manuscripts and Small Collections database available as part of Manuscripts Database.

Physical Characteristics and/or Technical Requirements

Binding: quarter calf with marbled boards, embossed Precedence of the Earle of Sutherland on spine.Paper: 19.7x15.3cm and 20.3x30.3cm approx folded

Archivist's Note

Description compiled by Maia Sheridan, Archives Hub project archivist, based on material from the Manuscripts Database

Conditions Governing Use

Applications for permission to quote should be sent to the Keeper of Manuscripts. Reproduction subject to usual conditions: educational use and condition of documents.