Motto: Commit thy work to God
Caithness is the traditional home of the clan Sinclair. However, the name itself is of Norman-French origin, from St. Clair in the district of Pont d’Eveque, Normandy. The first of the name in Britain was Walderne, Count de Santo Claro, who came to England with William the Conqueror. His son by Margaret, daughter of Richard, Duke of Normandy, was William de Sancto Claro, one of a group of Norman knights who settled in Scotland during the reign of David I. Another source claims his mother was Eleanor de Dreux, granddaughter of the sire of Cowey.
His William de Santo Claro, is generally regarded as the progenitor of the Scottish family. He received a charter of the barony of Roslin in 1280. William’s great grandson, Henry, married a daughter and co-heiress of the Earl of Straherne, Caithness and Orkney, and so established the family in the north. The eldest son of this marriage, Henry Sinclair of Roslin, obtained from King Haco VI of Norway, recognition of his claim to the Earldom of Orkney. William, third Earl of Orkney, received a grant of the Earldom of Caithness in 1455 from James II, he was also the founder of the Roslin Chapel, famed for its medieval architecture and as Prince of Orkney is commemorated in the celebrated ‘Prince’s Pillar’.
In 1470 the Earl of Orkney and Caithness was compelled to resign Orkney to the Scottish Crown in exchange for Ravenscraig Castle, Kirkcaldy in Fife. James III had resented the semi-royal status inherited by the Sinclair’s Norse links. The Sinclairs held a number of Castles in Caithness, notably at Nosshead where they had Castle Sinclair in the 15th century and Girnigoe, in the 17th century. They eventually lost these to the Gordons.
Further fracas ensued with the Campbells over a dispute over the title lands in the 17th century. At the time of the last Jacobite rising in 1745, the Sinclairs were estimated to be able to raise 1000 fighting men. Although they were ready to fight with Prince Charles, as a result of the Battle of Culloden they decided to disband, and their chief Alexander 9th Earl lived until 1765, the last surviving peer to have served in the Scots parliament and a firm opponent of the Treaty of Union.
The Sinclairs of Ulster are an illegitimate branch descending from the fourth Earl and still have estates in Caithness.
The Sinclairs of Roslin, now represented by the Earls of Rosslyn, were long hereditary Master Masons of Scotland.
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