Clan Sutherland

Clan Sutherland
Clan Sutherland
Crest badge
Clan member crest badge - Clan Sutherland.svg
Crest: A cat-a-mountain saliant Proper
Motto: Sans Peur ("Fearless")
Slogan: Ceann na Drochaide Bige!
Region Highlands
District Sutherland
Plant badge Butcher's Broom, Cotton Sedge
Pipe music The Earl of Sutherland's March
Gaelic name Sutharlainn

Countess of Sutherland arms.svg
Elizabeth Millicent Sutherland
The 24th Countess of Sutherland
Seat House of Tongue (by Lairg)[1]
Historic seat Dunrobin Castle

Clan Sutherland is a Highland Scottish clan whose traditional territory is located in the region of Sutherland in northern highlands of Scotland and was one of the most powerful Scottish clans. The clan seat is at Dunrobin Castle, Sutherland. The chief of the clan was also the powerful Earl of Sutherland.



Origins of the clan

The progenitor of the Clan Sutherland was also the progenitor of the Clan Murray who was a Flemish nobleman by the name of Freskin the son or possibly grandson of Ollec. Freskin's grandson was Hugh de Moravia who was granted lands in Sutherland and was known as Lord de Sudrland. Hugh's brother, William was progenitor of the Clan Murray. Hugh's eldest son (also called William) was William de Moravia, 1st Earl of Sutherland. The place name and clan name of "Sutherland" came from it being the land to the 'south' of the Norse Earldom of Orkney and Caithness. Although the senior line of chiefs who were Earls of Sutherland were known by the surname 'de Moravia', the younger sons of the family would take the surname 'Sutherland', creating the cadet branches of the Clan Sutherland.[2]

Wars of Scottish Independence

The Battle of Bannockburn took place in 1314. During the Wars of Scottish Independence, the Clan Sutherland under chief William de Moravia, 3rd Earl of Sutherland fought at Bannockburn in 1314 where the English army was defeated.[3] At the Battle of Halidon Hill in 1333, Kenneth de Moravia, 4th Earl of Sutherland later led the Clan Sutherland where the Scottish army was defeated.[3]

William de Moravia, 5th Earl of Sutherland, whose wife was the daughter of Robert the Bruce and sister of King David II of Scotland, led the clan at Kilblene where he participated in the siege of Cupar Castle Fife. Along with the Earl of March took foray into England.[3] William de Moravia Earl of Sutherland accompanied King David II of Scotland into England where both were captured at the Battle of Neville's Cross in 1346, by Durham.[3] They remained in prison for over ten years before being released. John, the son of the Earl and Princess Margaret, was designated the heir to the Throne over Robert Stewart, who eventually became King Robert II in 1371.

The modern day district of Sutherland

Branches of the clan

The two branches of Clan Sutherland most closely related to the Sutherland Earls, or Clan Chiefs, were the Lairds of and later Lords of Duffus and the Lairds of Forse. The Duffus Lairds descended from Nicholas Sutherland, only brother of William de Moravia, 5th Earl of Sutherland (d. 1370). The Forse Lairds stem from Kenneth Sutherland, only brother of Robert de Moravia, 6th Earl of Sutherland (d. 1427). (Robert's half brother John, who was already a grandson of King Robert the Bruce, predeceased his father.) Duffus, as already noted, is outside the country of Sutherland. So also is Forse, which is in Caithness.[4]

14th century clan conflicts

Raid of Dornoch 1372; The habitual enemies of Clan Sutherland were the Clan Sinclair of Caithness, Clan Mackay and the Clan McLeod to the west of Sutherland. The long dispute with the MacKays came to a head when Nicholas Sutherland of Duffus, head of one of the junior branches, murdered Mackay and his heir in their beds at Dingwall Castle where they had met in an attempt to patch up the feud. Much bloodshed followed, including a retaliatory raid on Dornoch. The cathedral was once again set on fire and many Sutherland men were hanged in the town square. After this, the feud quieted down as both sides were called away to fight against the English. In 1388 the Earl of Sutherland was a leader of the Scots invading into the west of England. He married Margaret Stewart, daughter of Alexander, Earl of Buchan, a younger son of King Robert II of Scotland.

15th century and clan conflicts

The Battle of Drumnacoub was fought in 1431, Angus Dubh Mackay defeats Angus Murray and the Sutherlanders on the slopes of the mountain Ben Loyal near Tongue.[5]

The Battle of Skibo and Strathfleet was fought in 1480, John MacDonald of Islay, Earl of Ross invaded Sutherland and fought against men of the Clan Sutherland and Clan Murray. The Sutherlanders were victorious.[6]

The Battle of Auldicharish was fought in 1487, To take revenge on the Clan Ross, chief Ian MacKay of Clan MacKay helped by a force from Clan Sutherland marched south invading the territory of Clan Ross and began laying waste to it. Chief Alistair Ross gathered his forces of 2,000 men and engaged in a long and desperate battle with the invading forces. In the end, the battle went against the Rosses with the MacKays and Sutherlands gaining the upper hand. The Ross chief was killed along with many of his clan.[7]

16th century and clan conflicts

Clan Sutherland Highlander

William Sutherland, 4th Laird of Duffus was killed leading the clan against the English at the Battle of Flodden Field in 1513.[8]

In 1517 Elizabeth de Moravia, 10th Countess of Sutherland married Adam Gordon, son of Gordon of Huntly. Their son Alexander Gordon would become the legal heir to the Earldom of Sutherland and overall chieftainship of the Clan Sutherland.

In 1517 the Clan Sutherland, encountered John Mackay and his company at a place called Torran Dubh, beside Rogart, in Strathfleet, where there ensued a fierce and cruel conflict known as the Battle of Torran Dubh, where the Mackays were defeated.[9]

The Battle of Alltan-Beath took place in 1542, Chief Donald MacKay of Strathnaver decided to invade and molest the lands of Clan Sutherland. He burned the village of Knockarthur and looted Strathbrora. The Clan Sutherland and Clan Murray, led by Hutcheon Murray of Abirscors with Gilbert Gordon of Garty, decided to attack the MacKays. They attacked the MacKays at a place called Ailtan-Beath. After the battle the MacKays fled and much of the stolen booty was recovered. Donald MacKay was captured and imprisoned in Foulis Castle, Ross-shire by commandment of the Queen Regent.[10]

In 1545 at Dingwall, the Earl of Sutherland entered into a bond of manrent with John Mackenzie of Kintail for mutual defense against all enemies, reserving only their allegiance to the youthful Mary, Queen of Scots.[11]

In 1547 John Gordon, 11th Earl of Sutherland leads clan against the English army at the Battle of Pinkie Cleugh[3]

In 1555 the Battle of Garbharry was fought, which was the last battle between the Clan Mackay and the Clan Sutherland.[12] In 1586 the Battle of Leckmelm took place where the Sutherlands, Mackays and MacLeods defeat the Clan Gunn.[13]

In 1588, the Battle near Wick, Alexander Gordon, 12th Earl of Sutherland divorced his obnoxious Sinclair wife in 1573. He waged all-out war with her father and Clan Sinclair before gaining a decisive victory outside Wick in 1588, when more than a hundred Sinclair clansmen were killed in a pitched battle on the seashore. Earl Alexander later married the divorced wife of the Earl of Bothwell, third husband to Mary, Queen of Scots. Sinclair & Girnigoe Castle withstood a siege by the Earl of Sutherland 1588. In 1589, George Sinclair, 4th Earl of Caithness, invaded and laid waste the lands of the Clan Sutherland.

17th century and Civil War

In Sir Robert Gordon's time during the 17th century the Clan Sutherland began to acquire the reputation for enthusiastic and pious Protestantism. This is probably what made the Gordon Earls of Sutherland begin to distance themselves from their Gordon of Huntly cousins who were Catholics and later Jacobites. Sir Robert's nephew, for example, was known as the Covenanting Earl and the clan was involved with the troubles through the 17th and 18th centuries but was supportive of the British Crown. In 1645 John Gordon, 14th Earl of Sutherland leads the clan against the royalists at the Battle of Auldearn but is defeated.[3]

In 1650, the Clan Sutherland along with the Clan Munro and the Clan Ross joined forces with the Scottish Argyll Government to fight against James Graham, 1st Marquess of Montrose and his Royalist Army of foreigners, who they defeated at the Battle of Carbisdale.

In 1685, John Gordon, 16th Earl of Sutherland, raised men of the Clan Sutherland to oppose the Earl of Argyll's expedition. The Earl of Sutherland also raised two regiments from the clan after the Glorious Revolution of 1688. The second of which he was a Colonel in command in Flanders in 1694.[3]

18th century and Jacobite Uprisings

In 1719, a detachment of men from the Clan Sutherland fought for the British government at the Battle of Glenshiel where they helped to defeat the Jacobites. The Clan Sutherland also supported the British government during the Jacobite uprisings in 1745-1746. The Earl and chief of Clan Sutherland had been of the surname Gordon ever since the early 16th century and their now distant cousins, the chiefs of Clan Gordon were themselves divided with half supporting the Jacobites and half supporting the government. The 2nd Duke of Gordon had followed the Jacobites in 1715, but the 3rd Duke of Gordon supported the British government by the time of the 1745 uprising. However, his brother raised two regiments against him to fight as Jacobites at the Battle of Falkirk (1746) and the Battle of Culloden.

In 1745, the fighting force of the Clan Sutherland was given as 2,000 men.[14] Unfortunately when the Jacobite Uprisings began in 1745 the Jacobites, under the Earl of Cromarty, stormed Clan Sutherland's Dunrobin Castle without warning. The Earl of Sutherland who had changed his surname from Gordon to Sutherland; William Sutherland, 17th Earl of Sutherland narrowly escaped them through a back door. He sailed for Aberdeen where he joined the Duke of Cumberland's army.[3]

The redeeming parts of the Jacobite Uprising came for Clan Sutherland when they defeated the same Jacobite force under the Earl of Cromartie, chief of Clan MacKenzie as it made its way to join Prince Charlie at Culloden, in what became known as the Battle of Littleferry. However despite all these efforts by the Earl of Sutherland to defeat the Jacobites, including his victory at Littleferry, he struggled to prove to the parliament in London that he had not had Jacobite sympathies.[15][16]


The chief of Clan Sutherland was whoever held the title Earl of Sutherland and unlike many Scottish clan chiefs, they did not necessarily have the name of Sutherland. The family who are first known to have been in possession of this title was a line who were known by the surname "de Moravia". The Earldom passed by right of marriage to a younger son of the chief of Clan Gordon early in the 16th century (although not without opposition from her bastard half-brother, Alexander Sutherland of Beridale, a natural son of her father, the Earl John. He married a daughter of Iye Roy-Mackay of Strathnaver and had descendants).

This line of Gordons who were Earls of Sutherland changed their surname from Gordon to Sutherland in the 18th century during the Jacobite Uprisings. However, later on during the 18th century, the Earldom which was promoted to the rank of "Duke" passed to various people from different family lines within the Clan Sutherland.

The Earl of Sutherland was the chief of the clan, but on the accession to the earldom in 1766, of Countess Elizabeth, the infant daughter of the eighteenth earl, and afterward Duchess of Sutherland, as the chiefship could not descend to a female, William Sutherland of Killipheder, who died in 1832, and enjoyed a small annuity from her grace, was accounted the eldest male descendant of the old earls. John Campbell Sutherland, Esq, of Fors, was afterwards considered the real chief.[17]
These almost obliterated remains are associated with the domestic as well as the traditionary history of the Strath Uillidh Sutherlands, a nobly-descended and gigantic race. Their first ancestor was Alexander, son of John, 8th Earl of Sutherland, by his second Countess, a daughter of Ross of Balnagown. His sister Elizabeth, by his father's first marriage, on the death of her brother John, 9th Earl, who died unmarried, succeeded to the titles and estates, to the prejudice of her half-brother Alexander, on the plea-in-law that his father and mother being cousins-germain, their marriage, by the canon law, was illegal, and that he was therefore, illegitimate. Elizabeth married Adam, Viscount of Aboyne, second son of the Earl of Huntly. With him and his wife, Alexander, by force of arms, disputed the right to the titles and estate of Sutherland. He was killed in a battle fought at Alltachuilain, below Kintradwell, in the parish of Loth. Kilphedder was the place of his residence, and his descendants, occupied the lands for generations on payment of a merely nominal rent to the Earls of Sutherland. With the melancholy and affecting death of one of his descendants, the ruins at Kilphedder are more immediately connected. This individual, a William Sutherland of Kilphedder, was a man of gigantic strength and stature. He repaired and extended the residence of his ancestors.[18]
The line of the Gordon Earls of Sutherland, who afterwards held high offices and honours in the State, came to an end with the death of William, nineteenth Earl, at Bath in 1766. The title and estates were then claimed by Sir Robert Gordon of Gordonstown and George Sutherland of Fors, and the case, in which the celebrated Lord Hailes took part, remains among the most famous in our legal annals. It was finally decided, however, by the House of Lords in 1771 in favour of the late Earl’s only surviving daughter, Elizabeth. This lady married, in 1785, George Granville Leveson-Gower, Viscount Trentham, afterwards second Marquess of Stafford, who was, in 1833, created Duke of Sutherland. From that time to this the distinguished holders of the Sutherland titles have been of the Leveson-Gower family, and only distantly related, through the two heiresses named Elizabeth, of the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries respectively, to the original heads of the clan of the name of Murray or Sutherland. Meanwhile the actual chiefship of the clan by male descent was believed to be vested in William Sutherland of Killipheder, who enjoyed a small annuity from the Duchess-Countess, and died at a great age in 1832, and after him in John Campbell Sutherland of Fors, in the county of Caithness. The last-named died about 1917, leaving five daughters but no son. In the course of the intervening centuries the race of the famous Freskin the Fleming has made a mighty record in the history of Scotland.[17]

The current Chief of Clan Sutherland is Elizabeth Millicent, Countess of Sutherland.


Clan Profile

  • Gaelic Names: Suithearlarach (Singular) & Na Suithearlaraichean (Collective)
  • Motto: "Sans Peur" (French for "Without Fear")
  • Slogan: "Ceann na Drochaide Bige!" (Gaelic for "The Head of the Little Bridge!")
  • Pipe Music: "The Earl of Sutherland's March"
  • Crest: A cat-a-mountain saliant Proper
  • Supporters: Two savages wreathed head and middle with laurel, holding batons in their hands proper.
  • Plant Badge: Butcher's Broom, Cotton Sedge
  • Animal Symbol: Cat.
  • Arms (Earl of Sutherland as recorded for the fifteenth Earl, 1719):
  • Shield: Gules, three mullets Or, on a bordure of the second a double tressure flory counterflory of the first.


  • Old Sutherland (Ancient)
  • Old Sutherland (Dress)
  • Old Sutherland (Modern)
  • Old Sutherland (Muted)
  • Old Sutherland (Weathered)
  • Sutherland (Modern)


  • Cheney
  • Cheyne
  • Chiene
  • Clyne
  • Duffes
  • Duffus
  • Federith
  • Gray
  • Grey
  • Keith
  • Mouat
  • Mowat(t)
  • Murray
  • Norman
  • O'May


  1. ^
  2. ^ "A Fighting Clan, Sutherland Officers: 1250 – 1850” by Malcolm Sutherland. Page 3. Avon Books. ISBN 1897960476.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h "A Fighting Clan, Sutherland Officers: 1250 – 1850” by Malcolm Sutherland. Page 7 - 9. Avon Books. ISBN 1897960476.
  4. ^ "A Fighting Clan, Sutherland Officers: 1250 – 1850” by Malcolm Sutherland. Page 12. Avon Books. ISBN 1897960476.
  5. ^ "Genealogical History of the Earldom of Sutherland. p.65 - 66, by Sir Robert Gordon (1580 -1656).
  6. ^ ’Conflicts of the Clans’ published in 1764 by the Foulis press, written from a manuscript wrote in the reigh of James VI of Scotland. [1]
  7. ^ "History of the Clan and House of the Name MacKay" (1829). p.P.86. by Robert MacKay: Quoting from the "Geanealogical History of the Earldom of Sutherland" by Sir Robert Gordon (1580 - 1656)
  8. ^ "A Fighting Clan, Sutherland Officers: 1250 – 1850” by Malcolm Sutherland. Page 11. Avon Books. ISBN 1897960476.
  9. ^ "History of the House and Clan of the Name MacKay" by Robert MacKay (1829). p.100 - 106: Quoting from "Genealogical history of the Earldom of Sutherland" by Sir Robert Gordon (1580 -1656)
  10. ^ "History of the House and Clan of the Name MacKay" by Robert MacKay (1829). p.114 - 118: Quoting from "Genealogical history of the Earldom of Sutherland" by Sir Robert Gordon (1580 -1656)
  11. ^ History of the Mackenzies, with genealogies of the principal families of the name, by Mackenzie, Alexander, 1833-1898[2]
  12. ^ "History of the House and Clan of the Name MacKay" (1829). p.126 - 127 by Robert MacKay: Quoting "Genealogical History of the Earldom of Sutherland" by Sir Robert Gordon (1580 - 1656)
  13. ^ "Genealogical History of the Earldom of Sutherland" .p.183. By Sir Robert Gordon (1580 - 1656).
  14. ^ "The Scottish Clans and Their Tartans”. W. & A. K. Johnston Limited. Edinburgh and London. 1886. Page 95.
  15. ^ "". 
  16. ^ "A Fighting Clan, Sutherland Officers: 1250 – 1850” by Malcolm Sutherland. Page 32. Avon Books. ISBN 1897960476.
  17. ^ a b "". 
  18. ^ "". 

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