curse of an earl
Castle: The fairy-tale-like castle facing the North Sea a mile
or so north of Golspie in Sutherland is Dunrobin Castle. The Sutherland
family can trace their ancestry back to Freskin of Moravia, and
one of his descendants, Hugh, migrated to Sutherland in the days
of William the Lion, with the 1st Earl of Sutherland being created
oldest part of the castle dates from about 1275 but it was from
the strong additions made at the end of the fourteenth century
by Robert the 6th Earl that the castle takes its name. He had
married the daughter of the infamous Wolf of Bedenoch in 1389
and had to have a fitting and impressive home to offer her.
ninth Earl inherited a mental weakness and was considered not
capable of fulfilling his duties, so was placed in the care of
his sister, Lady Elizabeth, until he died. There followed a wrangle
over who should inherit -- his sister or Alexander, a half-bother.
Lady Elizabeth won --but it wasn't a decision Alexander was prepared
to accept. Local skirmishes took place all over Sutherland until
Alexander was killed in one of them and his head borne back on
a spear to be displayed on a turret at Dunrobin!
Elizabeth had married a Gordon and insisted on keeping her married
name so for the next few generations the Sutherland Earls were
Gordons! Some of the would-be competitors for the Earldom who
had resented a woman succeeding weren't content to let matters
rest, however. When her grandson succeeded Lady Elizabeth, the
'Good Earl John', as he was called, was in exile for taking part
in Huntly's Rebellion, but returned to his home in 1567. With
his wife and young son he accepted an invitation to dine at Helmsdale
Castle. Young Alexander went out hunting and returned to Helmsdale
to find his mother dead and his father dying. With his last breath
Earl John warned his son not to drink the wine that Lady Isobel
Sinclair was offering. At one fell swoop she had planned to be
rid of all who stood between the earldom and her son -- but her
son, who had also been Out hunting, returned and helped himself
to a glass of the poisoned wine!
Sutherlands were always strong supporters of the Government in
the Uprisings. Dunrobin was captured by Bonnie Prince Charlie's
supporters in 1746 but the Earl escaped to turn the tables on
them and recapture the castle. To Dunrobin belongs the distinction
of being the last castle to be taken in war.
the Earldom passed to a female, perhaps the best known Sutherland
of all, for the Countess Elizabeth was only a year old when she
inherited. Again there was the inevitable dispute, but the House
of Lords decided in her favour. Most of her early life was spent
out of Scotland, her husband being appointed as Ambassador to
France. One of the tales told of her recounts her exploits smuggling
in clothes to Marie Antoinette in prison.
and her husband, who was ultimately created 'Duke of Sutherland'
were the instigators, with the best of intentions as is now acknowledged,
of what became known as the infamous Sutherland Clearances. In
its time the castle has been used as a Naval Hospital during the
First World Wax, then later as a boys' boarding school.
ghost who haunts Dunrobin was a daughter of the fourteenth Earl.
In the 1600's Margaret fell in love with someone considered not
at all suitable, and strongly resisted her father's attempts to
marry her off to the favoured suitor. Foiled in an attempt to
elope, Margaret was locked up in the attic. Her maid was allowed
to tend her however, and she offered to act as a go-between. On
a set night she arranged for Margaret's lover to be at the foot
of the wall with horses at the ready, while she smuggled in a
rope for the get-away. But the Earl had always suspected that
his daughter might try something like this and had set his own
servant to spy.
as Margaret was climbing out the window her father burst into
the room. Terrified, Margaret lost her grip and plunged to her
death. Her lover put a curse on the Earl and Margaret still haunts
the upper corridors of the castle, sobbing and wailing for her
lost love and her life' brought to such an untimely end.
you would like to visit this area as part of a highly personalized
small group tour of my native Scotland please e-mail me:
to Scottish Castles