[Clan Sinclair]
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George Sinclair, 6th Earl of Caithness

From: Karen J. Matheson <>
Date: Mon, 22 Mar 1999 14:27:02 -0700

This is paraphrased from George Way of Plean & Romilly Squire's Scottish Clan & Family Encyclopedia (HarperCollins & Barnes & Noble, 1994, 1998):

George Sinclair, 6th Earl of Caithness, was forced to sell estates in 1672 to settle debts. He died without issue in 1676 and Sir John Campbell of Glenorchy claimed the title, being in possession of the mortgaged estates. He also married the widowed Countess! George of Keiss was a descendant of the younger son of the 5th Earl of Caithness and disputed Campbell's claim. Thus the battle ensued on the banks of the Altimarlach near Wick where, it has been said, "so many Sinclairs were killed that the Campbells were able to cross the water without getting their feet wet."

So George 6th Earl died in 1676 and THEN Campbell claimed the estates. George of Keiss would have been related to George 6th through George 6th's father (the 5th Earl), and therefore he did have some legal standing on which to claim the estates.
From: Niven Sinclair <>
Date: Mon, 09 Aug 1999 20:18:08 +0100

His losses were sustained in civil wars. Writing from Thurso Castle on 25th August, 1661 he fully explains the effect of those wars: "I can give an accounbt of 200,000 which I have lost to Generals Middleton and Morgan besides the burning of my houses which put me in such a condition that I had not a place to settle myself in till I laid out a thousand pounds to repair the house I live in".

There were two dispositions in favour of Glenorchy, the first dated 10th June, 1661 and the second dated 8th October, 1672 conveying all and sundry, his lands etc. The latter stipulated that, in the event on non-redemption, Glenorchy and his heirs would be entitled to use the surname of Sinclair and the arms of the House of Caithness. There can be no doubt that this particular clause had been inserted at the request of Campbell of Glenorchy to be used as a pretext for the assumption of the title of the Earl of Caithness at a subsequent period which, of course, transpired.

Indeed, when George IV died at Thurso Castle in 1676, his widow (Mary Campbell, the daughter of the Marquis of Argyll) immediately married her kinsman, Campbell of Glenorchy who was created Earl of Caithness . (The fickleness of women has no boundaries!)

Glenorchy's right was challenged by George Sinclair of Keiss. However, the Privy Council upheld Glenorchy's claim and prohibited Keiss from assuming the title of Earl.

Nevertheless, the people of Caithness were in favour of George Sinclair of Keiss because they regarded Glenorchy as an usurpur who had taken advantage of the necessities of George IV to trick him out of his lands. George Sinclair of Keiss maintained his rebellion against Glenorchy.

Glenorchy eventually invaded Caithness. The Battle of Altimarlach ensued about which I have already written but, although the Sinclairs [Girnigoe Castle] were defeated, Keiss continued to press his case and eventually laid siege to Castles Sinclair and Girnigoe which he reduced by firearms and artillery to the ruin which we see today.

For this act he was declared a rebel by the Government along with Sinclair of Broynach, Sinclair of Thura and Mackay of Strathnaver who had assisted him in his battle against the Campbells.

Eventually, through the intervention of the Duke of York, Keiss was pardoned and given the Earldom of Caithness. Glenorchy was compensated for his loss by being made the Earl of Breadalbane and Baron of Wick. However, the people of Caithness detested him so much because of his cruelties at the Battle of Altimarlach that public opinion forced him to quit Caithness altogether.

He sold his Caithness lands to the Sinclairs of Ulbster in 1719 who became the largest landowners in the County.

George Sinclair of Keiss, who became George V of Caithness, (the 45th Earl of Caithness) died without issue and was succeeded in the Earldom by his second cousin, Sir John Sinclair of Murkle. Thus the title jumped from the Sinclairs of Mey, to the Sinclairs of Keiss to the Sinclairs of Murkle and, later, it went over to the Sinclairs of Rattar before coming back again to the Sinclairs of Mey only to revert to the Sinclairs of Durran before returning to the senior branch, the Sinclairs of Mey ( i.e. if you ignore the Broynach Claim).

If you find all this confusing, you are not alone. We are truly a mixed up bunch. Sinclairs married other Sinclairs with such regularity that the different branches became inextricably interwoven until everyone could claim descent from an Earl of Caithness at some point in their family tree and, believe me, they do!!

Niven Sinclair
Last changed: 99/11/21 14:40:18 [Clan Sinclair]