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Clan Sutherland

Clan Sutherland

By the opening of the 10th century the Norsemen had conquered all the offshore islands of Scotland. The Orkney earls married into the Scottish royal house, and by the 11th century Earl Thorfinn the Mighty ruled territories that included the Caithness peninsula and an extensive coastal are to its south which was called Sudurland, or Southland. It extended into Ross-shire, whose country town is called Dingwall, the name the Scandinavians gave to their legislative assembly places. It was somewhere near here that Thorfinn defeated his cousin King Duncan, and chased him south into Mac Beth's realm of Moray, where Duncan was murdered. Early in the 13th century Sutherland was erected into a Scottish earldom, and granted to a nobleman of Moray whose family was probably of Flemish origin, though it had married into the royal house of Moray. A Sutherland clan evolved, with a Chief powerful enough to protect the most northerly cathedral on the mainland, at Dornoch. Only a very small portion of its mediaeval structure survives in the 19th-century church which stands on the same site; and the earldom itself fared little better. For the 14th and 15th centuries were a period of baronial anarchy in Scotland, with the crown in eclipse under weak kings or during the reigns of minors. The Gordons were invested with vice-regal powers in the north, and used these to seize the Sutherland earldom. The Earl of Huntly's second son, Adam Gordon, obtained in 1494 a "brieve of idiocy" against Earl John of Sutherland, although he had possessed the wit to maintain himself in this office through troubled times for nearly forty years. Adam Gordon married the Earl's daughter in about 1500. He brought a further charge of bastardy against his younger son. The death of King James IV at Flodden in 1513, with the flower of Scotland's nobility, made it easier for the Gordon's to consummate their crimes. Adam Gordon called himself Earl of Sutherland without ever obtaining a title from the crown, murdered one of Earl John's sons, and terrorised the Sutherland heirs so that they did not dare to advance their claims. In 1601 Adam Gordon's descendant obtained a remarkable grant from James VI which provided that the earldom should never be lost to the Gordons through an heiress. If the line of Adam Gordon should fail, it would pass to the Gordons of Huntly who had no claim to it by descent. This stipulation led to a legal battle for the earldom when the Earl died in 1766, leaving an only daughter. The nearest Gordon heir claimed that he was the true Earl according to the charter of 1601. But the House of Lords, sitting as supreme court of appeal, was shewn that there had been an heir male in 1515 when Adam Gordon usurped the earldom, and his Sutherland descendant was there to inquire how many centuries were required to legalise Gordon crimes. Their lordships responded by bestowing the earldom on the late Earl's daughter, who carried it to her husband, a member of the fabulously wealthy English family of Leveson-Gower, who was created 1st Duke of Sutherland. Meanwhile the Sutherlands of Forse continue to represent the disinherited line of the old Sutherland chiefs. They descend in the direct male line from Kenneth, second son of the 6th Earl.

Septs of Clan Sutherland:
Cheyne, Federith, Gray, Keith, Mowat, Oliphant, Duffus

A cat sejant erect guardant proper.

Sans peur

Without fear

Stand Sure

Butcher's broom, Cotton sedge


Place name: Scotland

Ceann na Bige
(The head of the little bridge)

The Earl of Sutherland's March

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