Clan Sinclair

Clan Sinclair
Clan Sinclair
Crest badge
Clan member crest badge - Clan Sinclair.svg
Crest: A cock rampant
Motto: Revela Domino opera tua
District Caithness
Plant badge Gorse
Pipe music "The Sinclair's March"
Gaelic name Mac na Ceardadh or Singlear[1]

Earl of Caithness arms.svg
The Rt. Hon. Malcolm Ian Sinclair
The 20th Earl of Caithness
Historic seat Castle Sinclair Girnigoe

Clan Sinclair is a Highland Scottish clan of Norman origin who held lands in the north of Scotland, the Orkney Islands, and the Lothians which they received from the Kings of Scots. The chiefs of the clan were the Barons of Roslin and later became the Earls of Orkney and later the Earls of Caithness.[1]



Origins of the clan

The Sinclairs were a noble family which had its origins in Saint-Clair-sur-Epte, in Normandy, France. They first came to England (before they came to Scotland) with William the Conqueror during his invasion of England.[1] The name was originally "Saint-Clair" which was a place name.[1] Richard of Saint-Clair and Brittel of Saint-Clair are both mentioned in the Domesday Book.[1] 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".[1]

Chief Sir Henry Sinclair, 2nd Baron of Roslin (1060–1110) led a successful attack on England at the Battle of Alnwick (1093). One of the earliest recorded Sinclairs in Scotland was Chief Henry of Saint-Clair/Sinclair, 3rd Baron of Roslin who obtained a charter for the lands of Herdmanston in Haddingtonshire in 1160.[1] Chief William Saint-Clair/Sinclair, 4th Baron of Roslin witnessed a charter granted by King Stephen of England in 1135.[1]

Scottish-Norwegian War

The Battle of Largs took place in 1263, – Chief Sir William Sinclair, 5th Baron of Roslin (1190–1270) led the soldiers of King Alexander III of Scotland to repel the last Norwegian invasion. Today a column marks the spot where the battle took place. Every September a Viking festival celebrates the event.[2]

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.

The Battle of Lewes took place in 1264 – Simon de Montfort, 6th Earl of Leicester, England had gained great influence over other barons and bishops. They drew up the Provisions of Oxford. King Henry III objected. Civil war broke out. The rebellious barons won, capturing the King. After years of conflict the Crown was returned to his son Edward. King Alexander III of Scotland had ordered Sir William Sinclair to assist King Henry III in a bloody victory. Sinclair escaped unharmed.[2]

Wars of Scottish Independence

At the Battle of Dunbar (1296), Sir William Sinclair of Rosslyn was captured and died later, probably in the Tower of London. Henry his son was also captured and later sent to St. Briavels Castle.[2] The Battle of Roslin took place in 1303. Scots under Henry Sinclair, John Comyn, Lord of Badenoch, defeated an English force at Roslin Glen in two, possibly three, separate engagements.[2] The Battle of Loudon Hill took place in 1307 when Scots under Henry Sinclair defeat the English.[2] The Battle of Bannockburn was fought in 1314, where the Clan Sinclair fight in support of Robert the Bruce of Scotland. After the battle Robert the Bruce gave William Sinclair his sword.[2] The Battle of Donibristle took place in 1317, William Sinclair, Bishop of Dunkeld, rallies Scots army to defeat an English invading force in Fife.[2]

Sir William Sinclair, heir to Henry, and his brother John are among the Scots killed at the Battle of Teba (1330). They were attempting to carry Robert the Bruce's heart to the Holy Land. They were buried in Rosslyn Chapel.[2]

The Battle of Neville's Cross took place in 1346. Sir John Sinclair of Herdmanston is taken prisoner after the battle.[2] In 1379, Sir Henry Sinclair claimed the Earldom of Orkney through his mother and received it from King Haakon VI of Norway. Sir Henry Sinclair was also Admiral of Scotland.[1] The family obtained the Earldom of Orkney, and in 1455 received land in Caithness. The earldom of Orkney was later resigned by order of King James III of Scotland.[2]

Roslin Castle in Midlothian, early seat of Clan Sinclair

Henry I Sinclair, Earl of Orkney

Henry I Sinclair, Earl of Orkney, Baron of Roslin, and Lord of Shetland (c.1345-c.1400), was a Scottish explorer nobleman. He is sometimes identified by the alternative spelling Henry St Clair. He was the grandfather of William Sinclair, the builder of Rosslyn Chapel. He is also noted for being the subject of legend that he undertook early explorations of Greenland and North America in about the year 1398.[3][4] According to a biography published many years after his death, he died in battle against the English around the year 1400.[2]

Henry II Sinclair, Earl of Orkney

Henry II Sinclair, Earl of Orkney was taken prisoner leading his tenants and associates against the English at Battle of Homildon Hill in 1402 but was soon released. In 1406 he escorted Prince James to France but the ship was captured by the English. Both were imprisoned in the Tower of London. In 1407 he escaped or was released on payment of a ransom from the Tower.[2]

William Sinclair, 1st Earl of Caithness

William Sinclair, 1st Earl of Caithness and Orkney, and Baron of Roslin, Chief of Clan Sinclair was Admiral of Scotland in 1436 and High Chancellor in 1454.[1] 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.[1] It was around this point that the spelling "Sinclair" came into general use, although the Earls of Roslin still prefer to use the older form of "St. Clair".[2]

16th century clan conflicts and Anglo-Scottish wars

Sinclair Plant badge: Whin (Gorse)

At the Battle of Flodden Field in 1513, during the Anglo-Scottish Wars, William Sinclair, 2nd Earl of Caithness was one of the nobles fighting for King James IV of Scotland. He had previously sat in Parliament. In battle King James observed Sir William leading his followers, all wearing green. The King asked and found they were of Caithness, led by the Earl. King James wrote the renewal of Sir William's Earldom on a drumhead, the only parchment available. The drumhead was carried by runner to Sir William's lady. Sir William died in battle the next day, leaving the Earldom to his son John. William, 2nd Earl helped lead the right wing of the Scottish army that beat the English left wing. Unlike some he returned to help the rest of the Scots and was killed. There was a loss of 300 Sinclairs including George Sinclair of Keiss, Henry 3rd Lord Sinclair, Sir John Sinclair of Herdmanston, The Bishop of Caithness as well as King James IV of Scotland.[1][2]

John Sinclair, 3rd Earl of Caithness (1490–1529) died at the The Battle of Somersdale/Summerdale in May 1529, leading 500 men to help James Sinclair defend Orkney. He was succeeded by his son George Sinclair 4th Earl of Caithness. William, 4th Lord Sinclair was taken prisoner.[1][2] At the Battle of Solway Moss, 1552, Scots, commanded by Oliver Sinclair of Pitcairns were beaten by the English and Oliver Sinclair was taken prisoner, he died in 1560.[2]

In 1568, Henry 3rd Lord Sinclair assisted Mary, Queen of Scots, to escape from Lochleven Castle.[2] In 1570, John Sinclair, Master of Caithness, son of George Sinclair 4th Earl of Caithness burned the local Cathedral in pursuit of men from the Clan Murray who had taken refuge in the steeple. John was later imprisoned in Castle Sinclair Girnigoe by his father until 1577.[2]

The Battle of Dail-Riabhach took place in 1576, involving the Clan Mackay and Clan Sinclair.[5] The Battle of Allt Camhna took place in 1586, involving the Clan Sinclair, Clan Mackay and Clan Gunn.[6]

Battle near Wick (1588) – 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 Jean Gordon, the divorced wife of the Earl of Bothwell, third husband to Mary, Queen of Scots. The Sinclair's Girnigoe Castle withstood a siege by the Earl of Sutherland and his forces of the Clan Sutherland in 1588. In 1589 George Sinclair 4th Earl invades and ravishes the lands of the Clan Sutherland. In 1592, 3 April, George 5th Earl of Caithness resigned Earldom in return for novodamus and remainder to his son William Sinclair. On 11 December William Sinclair of Mey was knighted by King James VI of Scotland.[2]

17th century clan conflicts and Civil War

An Adolph Tidemand painting representing Sinclair's forces landing in Norway

In 1601, 21 October, Henry 5th Lord Sinclair died and was succeeded by grandson Henry.[2] 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.[2]

The Battle of Kringen took place in 1612, Otta, Norway, George Sinclair was killed with most of his men in an ambush.[2] In 1614, Henry Sinclair Wadsetter (1570–1614) died leading 100 men to besiege the Kirkwall Castle. He became paralyzed and died at night. Kirkwall Castle was an Orkney waterfront stronghold built by Prince Henry in 1390.[2]

In 1650, James Graham, 1st Marquess of Montrose was defeated at the Battle of Carbisdale. He was supported by the Sinclairs and Major Sinclair helped Montrose to escape but he was later betrayed by MacLeod of Assynt, imprisoned in Ardvreck Castle, tried and killed.[2] At the Battle of Dunbar (1650) Sir William Sinclair of Rosslyn was killed leading the Clan Sinclair. He was the last Knight to be buried in full armour below Rosslyn Chapel. General Monck sacked Rosslyn Castle but the Chapel was spared although used for stabling horses. Sir John Sinclair of Rosslyn sent to Tynemouth Castle.[2] In 1651, at the Battle of Worcester the Clan Sinclair led by John 9th Lord Sinclair fought for King Charles II. John Sinclair was captured by Cromwell's forces Imprisoned in the Tower of London and then at Windsor Castle until 1660 when he was liberated by General Monck.[2] In 1657, George Sinclair 6th Earl of Caithness was present when Oliver Cromwell was proclaimed Chief Magistrate of the three nations in Edinburgh.[2]

The Battle of Altimarlech took place in 1680, A battle took place between Clan Campbell and Clan Sinclair. Legend has it that so many Sinclairs were killed that the Campbells were able to cross the river without getting their feet wet. Clearly, however, the Sinclairs had influence in high places as only a few years later, in 1681, they regained the earldom by an order of Parliament.[7][8] In 1698, George Sinclair 7th Earl of Caithness died. He was succeeded by John Sinclair of Murchill (Murkle) 8th Earl, his cousin.[2]

18th century and Jacobite Uprisings

During the 1715 Jacobite Risings the Clan Sinclair supported the Jacobite cause, however by the time of the 1745 Jacobite Rising the Clan Sinclair supported the British Hanoverian Government.[2]

1715 Jacobite Rising

Interior of Rosslyn Chapel

In 1708, Chief John, Master of Sinclair (Son of Henry Lord Sinclair) Kills Ensign Schaw and Captain Alexander Schaw in duels. He was exiled to Prussia but later pardoned by Queen Anne of Great Britain.[2] In 1715, John Master of Sinclair captured a vessel with 420 stand of arms bound for the Earl of Sutherland.[2] In 1715, at the Battle of Sheriffmuir David Sinclair of Brabsterdorran fights for Jacobite cause, as did John, Master of Sinclair who fled to Orkney and then to Europe.[2] In 1733, 3 November, John Sinclair of Murkle the younger son of John 8th Earl created Lord Murkle.[2] 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.[2] 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.[2] In 1739, 17 June, Major Malcolm Sinclair 'A good and faithful servant of Sweden' was charged with affairs of State, he was assassinated at Grunberg in Siesia by agents of Czarina Anna of Russia.[2]

1745 Jacobite Rising

In 1745, 4 June, Sir James Sinclair of Rosslyn, a Lieutenant general with The Royal Scots was appointed the Commander of the British Forces in Flanders.[2] In 1746, 16 April, at the Battle of Culloden. Sir James Sinclair of Rosslyn commanded The Royal Scots on the British Hanoverian government side. About 500 Caithness Sinclairs were ready to join the Jacobites, but instead followed their chief James Sinclair, who supported the British Hanoverians.[2] In 1750, Sir William Sinclair of Dunbeath Founded Baptist Church at Keiss.[2]

Colonial wars

In 1759, Lt. A. Sinclair Carried the Colours for General Wolfe at the Battle of the Heights of Abraham. He later became a Major General.[2] In 1761, 10 March, Sir James Sinclair M.P. who should have been 11th Lord Sinclair was gazetted a General.[2] In 1777, 29 December, at the Battle of Charlestown, Virginia, USA John Sinclair, son and heir of William, a Major in 76th Foot wounded in the groin by a musket ball when reconnoitering with Sir Henry Clinton.[2]

Sinclair castles

Castle Sinclair Girnigoe in Caithness

Castles that were either built by the Sinclairs or came into their possession include:

  • Castle Sinclair Girnigoe is perhaps the best-known Sinclair Castle. It was dramatically situated on the cliffs just outside Wick. Although now ruined, it is well worth a visit and it still contains both a secret chamber in the vaulting of the kitchen ceiling and a grim dungeon where, it is said, the 4th Earl of Caithness imprisoned his son and heir and fed him salt beef so that eventually he died mad with thirst.
  • Castle of Mey is another former Sinclair property which although was originally known as the Castle of Mey, its name was changed for a time to Barrogill Castle. It was built by George Sinclair, 4th Earl of Caithness. In 1952 the castle was purchased by HM The Queen Mother who changed its name back to Castle of Mey.

Clan profile

Sinclair hunting tartan (ancient)
  • Clan Chief: Malcolm Ian Sinclair, 20th Earl of Caithness
  • Crest badge: Note: the crest badge is made up of the chief's heraldic crest and motto,
    • Chief's motto: Commit thy work to God (sometimes styled as Latin "Revela Domino opera tua")
    • Chief's crest: A cock rampant
  • Clan plant badge: Whin
  • Lands: Midlothian, Orkney and Caithness
  • Gaelic Name: Mac na Ceardadh
  • Origin of Name: Placename, French de Sancto Claro
  • Pipe Music: Spaidsearachd Mhic nan Cearda (The Sinclair's March)


Sinclair red tartan

The clan has the following septs:

  • Budge
  • Caird
  • Clouston
  • Clyne
  • Laird
  • Linklater
  • Lyall
  • Mason
  • Purdie
  • Snoddy
  • Peace


The archives for the Sinclair Family Papers are maintained by the Archives of the University of Glasgow (GUAS).

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m The Sinclairs of Roslin, Caithness and Goshen. By the Rev. A Maclean Sinclair. The Examiner Publishing Company. 1901.
  2. ^ 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 "Official Clan Sinclair Timeline". 
  3. ^ Frederick J. Pohl, Prince Henry Sinclair: His Expedition to the New World in 1398 (1974; 1998).
  4. ^ Earl Henry Sinclair's fictitious trip to America by Brian Smith, First published in New Orkney Antiquarian Journal, vol. 2, 2002.
  5. ^ "Battle of Dail-Riabhach@ElectricScotland". 
  6. ^ "Genealogical History of the Earldom of Sutherland" .p.183. By Sir Robert Gordon (1580–1656).
  7. ^ "Caithness – Mearnscraft Needlecraft Kits". Retrieved 2009-05-11. 
  8. ^ "Scottish Clans (S)". Royal House of Stewart. Archived from the original on 2005-11-19. Retrieved 2005-11-19. 
  9. ^ The National Monuments Record of Scotland gives the date as "around 1390", NMRS Site Reference NT26SE 21.00 [1].

External links

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Clan Sinclair — La famille Sinclair est une famille écossaise. Sinclair devint le nom du clan écossais qui lui est rattaché, et dont font partie les Rosslyn et les Caithness. Sommaire 1 Variantes du nom 2 Histoire 3 Membres importants …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Clan Sinclair Trust — The Clan Sinclair Trust[1][2] is a Scottish trust which was formed with the main objective of rescuing and preserving Castle Sinclair Girnigoe and of developing a visitor centre and library. The Chief Executive is Malcolm Sinclair, 20th Earl of… …   Wikipedia

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  • Sinclair (surname) — Sinclair Family name Revela Domino opera tua Meaning Taken from the hermit saint; this derivation of the St. Claire surname …   Wikipedia

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  • Sinclair — may refer to:People* Sinclair (surname), list of people with this surname * Sinclair Lewis, Nobel Prize winning American writer * Clan Sinclair, Scottish familyCompanies* Sinclair Broadcast Group, operator of American television stations *… …   Wikipedia

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