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Clan Sinclair

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Title: Clan Sinclair  
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Subject: Clan Sutherland, Infobox clan/testcases, Clan Sinclair, Sinclair (surname), Clan Campbell
Collection: Clan Sinclair, Scoto-Norman Clans, Scottish Clans
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Clan Sinclair

Clan Sinclair
Mac na Ceardadh[1] or Singlear[2]
Crest: A cock rampant
Motto Commit thy work to God[1]
Region Highlands
District Caithness
Plant badge Whin[1]
Pipe music "The Sinclair's March"
The Rt. Hon. Malcolm Ian Sinclair
The 20th Earl of Caithness[1]
Historic seat Castle Sinclair Girnigoe[3]

Clan Sinclair is a Highland Scottish clan who held lands in the north of Scotland, the Orkney Islands, and the Lothians. The chiefs of the clan were the Barons of Roslin and later the Earls of Orkney and Earls of Caithness.[2]


  • History 1
    • Origins of the clan 1.1
    • Scottish-Norwegian War 1.2
    • Wars of Scottish Independence 1.3
    • Later 14th century 1.4
    • 15th century 1.5
    • 16th century 1.6
    • 17th century and Civil War 1.7
    • 18th century and Jacobite risings 1.8
      • 1715 Jacobite Rising 1.8.1
      • 1745 Jacobite Rising 1.8.2
  • Castles 2
  • Clan profile 3
  • See also 4
  • References 5
  • External links 6


Origins of the clan

No certain record exists but it is likely that the Sinclairs came from St Clare in Normandy.[4] They first went to England (before they came to Scotland) with William the Conqueror during his invasion of England.[2] The name was originally "Saint-Clair" which was a place name.[2] Richard of Saint-Clair and Brittel of Saint-Clair are both mentioned in the Domesday Book.[2] William of Saint-Clair accompanied Saint Margaret of Scotland, daughter of Edward the Exile to Scotland in 1068, where she eventually married Malcolm III of Scotland. In return for his efforts, the king supposedly granted Sinclair the barony of Roslin, Scotland "in free heritage".[2]

One of the earliest recorded Sinclairs in Scotland was Henry of Saint-Clair/Sinclair, who obtained a charter for the lands of Herdmanston in Haddingtonshire in 1160.[2]

The chiefs of Clan Sinclair, the Earls of Caithness, descend from Sir William St Clare who was sheriff of Edinburgh and who was granted the barony of Roslin (Rosslyn) in 1280.[4]

Scottish-Norwegian War

During the Scottish-Norwegian War, William St. Clair commanded a wing of Alexander III of Scotland's army in defeating Haakon IV of Norway at the Battle of Largs in 1263.[5] In 1264, William St. Clair was ordered by King Alexander of Scotland to support the forces of the king of England at the Battle of Lewes [5]

Wars of Scottish Independence

Interior of Rosslyn Chapel which was founded by William Sinclair, 1st Earl of Caithness

During the Wars of Scottish Independence, Sir William Sinclair of Rosslyn was captured at the Battle of Dunbar (1296) and died later, probably in the Tower of London.[5] Henry, his son, was also captured and later sent to St. Briavels Castle,[5] and in 1296 he swore fealty to Edward I of England.[4]

In 1303 the Battle of Roslin took place where Scots under Henry Sinclair of Rosslyn and the Clan Comyn defeated an English force.[5] The Battle of Loudon Hill took place in 1307 where Scots under Robert the Bruce, assisted by Henry Sinclair of Rosslyn again defeated the English.[5]

The family initially favoured John Balliol's claim to the throne but later it became paramount that they gave their loyalty to Robert the Bruce.[4] The Battle of Bannockburn was fought in 1314, where the Clan Sinclair fought in support of Robert the Bruce.[4] After the battle Robert the Bruce gave William Sinclair his sword.[5] The Battle of Donibristle took place in 1317, William Sinclair, Bishop of Dunkeld, rallied the Scots army to defeat an English invading force in Fife.[5]

Sir William Sinclair, heir to Henry, and his brother John were among the Scots killed at the Battle of Teba (1330).[4] They were attempting to carry Robert the Bruce's heart to the Holy Land.[4] They were buried in Rosslyn Chapel.[5] The Battle of Neville's Cross took place in 1346 where Sir John Sinclair of Herdmanston was taken prisoner[5]

Later 14th century

In 1379, Sir Henry Sinclair, who was also Admiral of Scotland claimed the Earldom of Orkney through his mother and received it from Haakon VI of Norway.[2] However the earldom of Orkney was later resigned by order of James III of Scotland.[5]

Henry I Sinclair, Earl of Orkney, Baron of Roslin, and Lord of Shetland (c.1345-c.1400), was a Scottish explorer nobleman.[4] In 1391 he conquered the Faroe Islands. He is also alleged to have voyaged as far as the Americas in 1398 (being hypothetically identified with Zichmni, who travelled with the Zeno brothers, for the first time by Johann Reinhold Forster in 1784 [6]); believers in this hypothesis claim he possibly landed in both Massachusetts and Nova Scotia.[4][7][8] The voyage to America is largely disputed. [9] According to a biography published many years after his death, he died in battle against the English around the year 1400.[5]

15th century

Henry II Sinclair, Earl of Orkney was taken prisoner by the English at Battle of Homildon Hill in 1402 but was soon released.[5] In 1406 he escorted Prince James to France but the ship was captured by the English and both were imprisoned in the Tower of London.[5] In 1407 he escaped or was released on payment of a ransom.[5]

William Sinclair, 1st Earl of Caithness (3rd Earl of Orkney and Baron of Roslin) was High Chancellor of Scotland between 1454 and 1458.[4] He had been granted the earldom of Caithness in 1455.[2][4] He split the family lands, disinheriting his eldest son, William ("the Waster"), who later became the second Lord Sinclair, instead giving the lands of Caithness to his third son, William Sinclair, 2nd Earl of Caithness, in 1476, and the lands at Roslin to his second son, Sir Oliver Sinclair.[2]

16th century

William Sinclair, 2nd Earl of Caithness was killed fighting for

  • Clan Chief's Site
  • Clan Sinclair
  • Clan Sinclair Association Canada (CSAC)
  • Clan Sinclair USA
  • Sinclair DNA / St. Clair DNA Study
  • The Clan Sinclair Trust
  • Clan Sinclair Italia - President Sir Ian Sinclair - Patron Lord Malcom Sinclair

External links

  1. ^ a b c d Clan Sinclair Profile Retrieved 15 December 2013.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l The Sinclairs of Roslin, Caithness and Goshen. By the Rev. A Maclean Sinclair. The Examiner Publishing Company. 1901.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag ah ai aj Coventry, Martin. (2008). Castles of the Clans: The Strongholds and Seats of 750 Scottish Families and Clans. pp. 529 - 533. ISBN 978-1-899874-36-1.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r Way, George and Squire, Romily. Collins Scottish Clan & Family Encyclopedia. (Foreword by The Rt Hon. The Earl of Elgin KT, Convenor, The Standing Council of Scottish Chiefs). Published in 1994. Pages 322 - 323.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag ah ai aj ak al am an ao ap aq Official Clan Sinclair Timeline Retrieved 16 December 2013.
  6. ^ Johann Reinhold Forster, Geschichte der Entdeckungen und Schiffahrten im Norden, Frankfurt an der Oder, C.G. Strauss, 1784.
  7. ^ Frederick J. Pohl, Prince Henry Sinclair: His Expedition to the New World in 1398 (1974; 1998).
  8. ^ Earl Henry Sinclair's fictitious trip to America by Brian Smith, First published in New Orkney Antiquarian Journal, vol. 2, 2002.
  9. ^ Fred W. Lucas, The Annals of The Voyages of The Brothers Nicolo and Antonio Zeno in The North Atlantic about the End of the Fourteenth Century and the Claim founded thereon to a Venetian Discovery of America: A Criticism and an Indictment (Stevens, 1898).
  10. ^ Gordon, Sir Robert. "A Genealogical History of the Earldom of Sutherland. Originally written between 1615 and 1630. Re-published in 1813. Pages 202 - 203.
  11. ^ "Caithness – Mearnscraft Needlecraft Kits". Retrieved 2009-05-11. 
  12. ^ "Scottish Clans (S)". Royal House of Stewart. Archived from the original on 2005-11-19. Retrieved 2005-11-19. 
  13. ^ The National Monuments Record of Scotland gives the original date of the castle as "around 1390", NMRS Site Reference NT26SE 21.00 [2].


See also

Sinclair hunting tartan (ancient)

Clan profile

  • Oliver Cromwell's invasion.[3] The castle was damaged by a mob of Covenanters in 1688.[3] The castle is now owned by the Sinclair-Erskine family.[3] [13] The Sinclairs also built the famed Rosslyn Chapel nearby.[3]
  • Castle Sinclair Girnigoe, near Wick, Caithness was once thought of as two castles: Castle Sinclair and Castle Girnigoe, however later theories are that it was one large fortress.[3] There is not much left of the part that is known as Castle Sinclair, but the Castle Girnigoe part is a substantial ruin that rises five stories on a cliff above the sea.[3] The castle was damaged by the Clan Campbell when it was attacked after the Battle of Altimarlech in 1681.[3] The castle is now in the care of the Clan Sinclair Trust.[3]
  • Edinburgh High School in 1595, shot and killed Bailie MacMorran in a siege at the school.[3] MacLeod of Assynt who betrayed James Graham, 1st Marquess of Montrose was later imprisoned in the castle.[3] In 1952 the castle was sold to Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother who had it restored.[3]
  • Ravenscraig Castle, near Kirkcaldy dates from the fifteenth century and is one of the first castles in Britain to have been built for both defensive and offensive artillery use.[3] The Sinclairs received Ravenscraig after they resigned the Earldom of Orkney.[3] They owned it until 1650 and it was the Sincalirs who completed the castle.[3] The property later passed to the Sinclair-Erskine family and is now in the care of Historic Scotland who have opened it to the public.[3]
  • Ackergill Tower, near Wick, Caithness,[3] was seized by the Sinclairs in 1547 but later returned to the Clan Keith. It was acquired by the Sinclairs again in 1612.
  • Braal Castle, near Thurso, Caithness, is a ruinous castle that passed to the Sinclair Earls of Caithness by 1547 and then went to the Sincalirs of Ulbster.[3]
  • Dunbeath Castle, near Dunbeath, Caithness,[3] was acquired by the Sinclairs in the 15th century.
  • Keiss Castle, near Wick, Caithness, the original castle of which was held by the Sinclairs of Keiss until they abandoned it for new Keiss Castle in 1755.[3] The old castle is now dangerously ruined.[3]
  • Castle of Old Wick, near Wick, Caithness.[3] During a feud between the Clan Sutherland and Clan Sinclair the castle was starved into submission by John Sinclair, Master of Caithness in 1595.[3] It is now in the care of Historic Scotland.[3]
  • Thurso Castle, near Thurso, Caithness is a ruinous mansion on the site of a castle.[3] It was held by the Sinclairs of Greenland and Rattar in 1612.[3] Thurso Castle was the home of Sir John Sinclair, 1st Baronet of Ulbster who compiled the Statistical Account of Scotland and who died in 1835.[3] This line of Sinclairs had been made Baronets in 1786 and Viscounts Thurso in 1952,[3] and they still live in Caithness.[3]

Castles that were either built by the Sinclairs or came into their possession have included amongst many others:

The ruins of Ravenscraig Castle
The Castle of Mey, former seat of the Sinclairs of Mey
The ruins of Castle Sinclair Girnigoe, historic seat of the Earls of Caithness, chiefs of Clan Sinclair
The ruins of Roslin Castle, former seat of the Sinclair Barons of Roslin


In 1745, 4 June, Sir James Sinclair of Rosslyn, a Lieutenant general with the Royal Scots regiment was appointed the Commander of the British Forces in Flanders.[5] In 1746, 16 April, at the Battle of Culloden Sir James Sinclair of Rosslyn commanded the Royal Scots regiment on the British Hanoverian government side.[5] About 500 Caithness Sinclairs were ready to join the Jacobites, although the Earl of Caithness, their chief supported the British Government.[5] In 1750, Sir William Sinclair of Dunbeath Founded Baptist Church at Keiss.[5]

1745 Jacobite Rising

On 17 June 1739 Major Malcolm Sinclair 'A good and faithful servant of Sweden' was charged with affairs of State, he was assassinated at Grunberg in Silesia by agents of Tsaritsa Anna of Russia.[5]

In 1736, Sir James Sinclair of Rosslyn resigned his office as hereditary Grand Master Mason of Scotland to the Scottish Lodges on their foundation. He was later reappointed for his life.[5] The Sinclairs of Roslin (Rosslyn) laid claim to be hereditary Grand Master Masons of Scotland.[4] In 1739 forty-four Scottish Freemasons' Lodges met in Edinburgh to found the Grand Lodge of Scotland.[4] William St Clair was a candidate for Grand Master and promptly became the first elected Grand Master after offering to surrender his hereditary rights.[4]

In 1733, 3 November, John Sinclair of Murkle the younger son of John 8th Earl created Lord Murkle.[5] In 1736, Sir James Sinclair glazed the windows for the first time of Rosslyn Chapel, relaid the floor with flagstones and repaired the roof of the chapel.[5]

In 1708, Chief John, Master of Sinclair (Son of Henry Lord Sinclair) after killing two men in duels was exiled to Prussia but later pardoned by Anne, Queen of Great Britain.[5] In 1715, John Master of Sinclair captured a vessel with 420 stand of arms bound for the Earl of Sutherland.[5] In 1715, at the Battle of Sheriffmuir, David Sinclair of Brabsterdorran fought for Jacobite cause, as did John, Master of Sinclair who fled to Orkney and then to Europe.[5]

1715 Jacobite Rising

During the Jacobite rising of 1715 the Clan Sinclair supported the Jacobite cause, however by the time of the Jacobite rising of 1745 the Clan Sinclair supported the British Hanoverian Government.[5]

Sinclair dress tartan(modern)

18th century and Jacobite risings

[5] The

In 1650 Major Sinclair assisted Oliver Cromwell was proclaimed Chief Magistrate of the three nations in Edinburgh.[5]

[5] The

In 1601, 21 October, Henry 5th Lord Sinclair died and was succeeded by grandson Henry.[5] In 1606, George 5th Earl of Caithness, was, by an Act of Parliament allowed to change the name of Girnigoe Castle to Sinclair Castle. See: Castle Sinclair Girnigoe.[5]

A Victorian era, romanticised depiction of a member of the clan by R. R. McIan, from The Clans of the Scottish Highlands, published in 1845.

17th century and Civil War

In 1588 novodamus and remainder to his son William Sinclair. On 11 December William Sinclair of Mey was knighted by King James VI of Scotland.[5]

John Sinclair, 3rd Earl of Caithness (1490–1529) died at the Morays.[4]


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