Our History

A Brief History of Clan Sutherland

Compiled by Andrew Sutherland

The origins of the earliest residents of Sutherland date back some 6000 years and are somewhat obscure. There were ancient Picts and Celts who built stone tombs, hill-forts, and brochs throughout their territory. The 17th century historian, Sir Robert Gordon stated, “In the year of Christ four score and two, there arrived a great company of Germans named “Catti”, a valiant people of mighty bodies who were banished out of their native land for killing of a Roman general. At their first arrival, their captain went onshore to spy the land, when he was suddenly invaded by a company of monstrous big wild cats that much molested the country. The fight between them was cruel, yet in the end he killed them all. From thence the thanes and earls of Catti, or Sutherland, even unto this day do carry on their crest or badge, above their arms, a cat sitting with one of its feet upwards ready to catch his prey.” He continued, “There is not a rat in Sutherland. And, if they do come thither in ships from other ports, which often happeneth, they die presently as soon as they do smell the air of that country.” Whatever the fate of rats in the area, there is tradition that after landing in the north of Scotland, the Catti named the area of Caithness and their chief married the daughter of the Pictish king Brude.

From the end of the 8th century onwards, Norsemen attacked Scotland, gradually gaining a foothold. By the end of the 9th century, they had conquered Orkney, Shetland, the Western Isles, Caithness and Sutherland, and by the early 11th century, the Norsemen were in control of Scotland beyond the Moray Firth. They referred to the lower half of this province a “Suderland” as it was south of their homeland and of Caithness. This is the origin of the name “Sutherland”. These groups, with their intermarriages, comprised the earliest ancestors.

A further influx of people into Sutherland occurred during the twelfth century consisting of the defeated followers of the Royal House of MacAlpin, the last truly Celtic Scottish Kings. In 1150, King David I (1124-1153) marched north into the Province of Moray to put down what would be the last in a series of rebellions.

The Sutherland forbear was Freskin de Moravia, whose father was probably a Flemish noble named Ollec with lands in Morayshire and elsewhere (“de Moravia” being “of Moray”). He was given a commission by King David I to gather the Sutherland Gaels together and clear the Norsemen from the area, and he received Strabrock in West Lothian and Duffus in Moray from King David I.

Some hold that he was therefore probably the hero of the clan legend about the killing of the last Norseman. The crucial battle took place near Dornoch where the Norse chief had gathered his men in a desperate attempt to stop the Scottish advance. The fight at first went the Norsemen’s way when they penetrated the Scot’s formation and the Sutherland chief was injured. As the chief lay wounded though, he spotted a Norse general coming up to support the attack. Finding a horseshoe at hand, he threw it with all of his might striking the Norseman squarely in the forehead, killing him, and turning the whole battle around. By the end of the day, all of the Scots’ foes had been killed or captured.

Freskin’s son William witnessed a charter in 1160; had a charter of his father’s lands between 1166 and 1171. He may have been William Fresekyn, “Sheriff of Invernaryn” named in 1204. William had three sons, Hugh, William (who was the ancestor of the Murrays, Dukes of Atholl, Earls of Mansfield and Dunmore) and Andrew.

Hugh, Lord of Duffus, the son of William and grandson of Freskin, was the heir to Duffus and Strabrock. He is referred to as Hugh Freskin and Hugh de Moravia in documents from 1195 onward. The Bishop of Moray gave him a free chapel in Duffus Castle between 1203 and 1214. By 1211 he also had Skelbo and other land in Sutherland. Hugh Freskin died before 1222 and was buried in the church of Duffus leaving three sons, William, Walter and Andrew.

Hugh is said to have strengthened the family’s royal favor by ridding the north of a ferocious band of robbers lead by one Harold Chisolm. Among the crimes, a number of Sutherland churchmen were tortured by nailing horseshoes to their feet and making them dance to entertain the followers before putting them savagely to death. On hearing of this outrage, King William the Lion ordered Hugh of Sutherland to pursue Chisolm to the death and a great fight ensued near John o’ Groats. All of the robbers were either killed or captured. Harold Chisolm and the other leaders were given a punishment to fit the crime, horse shoeing and hanging. The rest were gelded to prevent any offspring from men who were so detestable. This seems to have been a frequent punishment of the time. In 1198 an entire sept of the Sinclairs were castrated for the killing of the Bishop of Caithness.

Another service to the crown in this early period was the suppression of a rebellion by the Sinclairs in 1222. The trouble was over tithes imposed by the Bishop of Caithness whose seat was at Dornoch. The Sinclair Earls of Caithness had long resented the fact that the bishopric was under Sutherland control and decided to exploit the discontent over tithes, to get rid of the bishop and have the seat moved. There was soon a riot, said to be incited by Sinclair gold. The unfortunate bishop was roasted alive and his cathedral was set on fire. The rioters then headed north to join up with their Sinclair allies. Once again the Lord of Sutherland was given responsibility by the crown for restoring law and order, and for punishing Sinclair for his instigation of the incident. The Sutherland clan force was gathered and the far northeast was laid waste in a campaign of revenge and repression. Wick and Thorso were burned and the Sinclair stronghold razed to the ground. Eighty men were tried at a summer court session at Golspie and there was strict punishment for the rioters. Four of the ringleaders were roasted and then fed to the town dogs for good measure.

Hugh’s son, William, Lord Duffus and Sutherland, took the name of his lands, Sutherland, as the family name, and was created Earl of Sutherland by Alexander II. The exact date is not known but must have been about 1235. The 1st Earl of Sutherland helped Gilbert, Bishop of Caithness, in the building of Dornoch Cathedral. He is said to have died in 1248 and been buried in the Cathedral. He had a son, William.

William, the 2nd Earl of Sutherland, began appearing in documents in 1263 and attended Parliament in 1283-84. He supported the claim to the throne of King Robert I (Robert the Bruce, 1306-1329). At Berwick in 1296, he signed the homage roll, but later adhered to the English King (Edward I, ‘Longshanks,’ 1272-1307) and died about 1306-1307. He had two sons, William and Kenneth.

William, the 3rd Earl of Sutherland, was a minor when he succeeded his father the 2nd Earl in 1306-1307. In 1308-1309 the young Earl attended Parliament at St. Andrews. He fought in 1314 at the Battle of Bannockburn that gave Robert the Bruce the rule of Scotland. In 1320, he signed the letter to Pope John XXII, known as the Declaration of Arbroath, asserting full independence of Scotland from the English Crown. He died unmarried in 1330.

Kenneth, the 4th Earl of Sutherland, also son of William, the 2nd Earl, succeeded his brother William, the 3rd Earl in 1330. Earl Kenneth married Mary, daughter of Donald, Earl of Mar and his wife Helen, daughter of Llewellyn, Prince of Wales, bringing in a descent from the post-Roman British families. Earl Kenneth led his clansmen in the disastrous Battle of Halidon Hill in 1333 where the Scots attempted to raise the siege of Berwick. Unfortunately, the English had the high ground and a bog at the base of the hill hampered the Scots’ advance. By the time the advancing Scots reached the enemy lines they had lost a significant number of men to English archers, Kenneth and three other earls among them. Earl Kenneth’s elder son William was his heir and the 5th Earl of Sutherland. Earl Kenneth’s other son Nicholas married Mary, daughter and heiress of Reginald le Cheyne and of Mary, Lady of Duffus, and was the ancestor of the Sutherland Lairds of Duffus.

William, 5th Earl, succeeded his father in 1333. His first wife was Princess Margaret, daughter of Robert the Bruce and sister of King David II (1329-1371). He is believed to have fought at Kilblene, participated in the siege of Cupar Castle, Fife, and with the Earl of March, took part in a foray into England. King David gave Earl William the overlordship of the MacKay land of Strathnaver, an important territorial expansion. In 1346-1347,after the death of the Princess Margaret his Countess, the Earl married Joanna Menteith, from whom the later Earls descend. The Earl accompanied King David II into England where both were captured at the battle of Neville’s Cross by Durham in 1346. In 1351, the Earl had a safe conduct to confer at Newcastle on the King’s ransom. For the King’s return to Scotland, the Earl gave his infant son and heir as hostage. In 1357, both the Earl and his son became hostages for payment of the King’s ransom and they remained in England for more than ten years. 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. However, John had died of a plague in England in 1361. Had it not been for that plague, the Stewarts might never have come to the thrones of Scotland and England. Earl William died in 1370, perhaps killed in revenge for his part in the murder at Dingwallof Iye Mackay, the chief of that clan and his son Donald. Earl William had three sons, John, mentioned above, Robert, the 6th Earl of Sutherland and Kenneth, ancestor of the Sutherland Lairds of Forse. Kenneth married the daughter of Andrew Keith of Inverugie and Strabrock and granddaughter of John Keith and the Cheyne heiress Mariota. Mariota’s sister had married Kenneth’s uncle Nicholas, son of Kenneth the 4th Earl and brother of William the 6th Earl.

The great clan wars of the region mainly occurred from the late 14th through the late 16th centuries. The Bishops of Caithness, the Scottish crown and the Gaelic clansmen between Dornoch, Lairg and Helmsdale were close allies of the Sutherlands. Their habitual enemies were the Sinclairs of Caithness, the Mackays and the McLeods to the west of Sutherland. The long dispute with the MacKays first came to a head in 1372, when Nicholas Sutherland of Duffus, head of one of the junior branches, murdered Mackay and his heir in their beds at Dingwold 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.

Robert, the 6th Earl of Sutherland may well have been the source of the name “Dunrobin”, “Dun Robin” being Gaelic for Robin’s hill or fort. In 1400-1401 he gave his brother Kenneth a charter that includes the earliest known reference to Dunrobin Castle. The Earl was a leader of the Scots invading into the west of England in 1388. He married Margaret Stewart, daughter of Alexander, Earl of Buchan, a younger son of King Robert II. During his long chief-ship, there was a temporary alliance with the MacKays against the McLeods who invaded Strathnaver in 1407 on rumors that MacKay was mistreating his wife, a McLeod heiress. Since both Sutherland and MacKay country were laid waste, the old rivals joined forces to pursue the McLeods, catching them somewhere near Loch Shin where the invaders were killed except for the last man who escaped his pursuers by throwing away his sword and targe and out sprinting his pursuers over the hills. This day became known as “The Great Slaughter” and gave the Sutherlands the upper hand in dominating their local clan rivals. Earl Robert is said to have died in 1442. He had sons John, the 7th Earl, Robert and Alexander.

John, the 7th Earl of Sutherland, was probably one of the hostages for King James I, who was held in England from 1406 to 1424. The Earl was confined at Pontefract Castle in Yorkshire. From there, in 1444, he gave a charter of Torboll in Sutherland to his kinsman Alexander Sutherland of Duffus. In 1448, he was at Dunrobin and in 1451, with his wife Margaret Baillie, a famous beauty of her time, was given land in the Parish of Loth in Sutherland. Earl John died in 1460 and was buried in the chapel of St Andrew’s at Golspie in Sutherland. His children included Alexander, named Master of Sutherland in 1449 but who died by 1456, John the 8th Earl of Sutherland, Nicholas, Thomas Beg (Little Thomas), ancestor of the Sutherlands in the Helmsdale river valley, Robert, Janet and Thomas Mor (Big Thomas) the Earl’s illegitimate son, whose two sons were killed by their uncle John, the 8th Earl of Sutherland.

John, the 8th Earl of Sutherland, was mentioned in 1455-1456. He married Margaret, daughter of Alexander MacDonald, Lord of the Isles, and had one son John, who would become the 9th Earl. Margaret nearly drowned while crossing the river Unes between Dornoch and Golspie and was killed by a robber. The Earl’s second wife was Fingole, daughter of William of Calder, Thane of Cawdor, widow of John Monro of Fowlis. He had a second son, Alexander, and a daughter Elizabeth.

Earl John made the mistake of marrying his daughter Elizabeth to Hon. Adam Gordon of Aboyne, younger son of the ambitious Earl of Huntly. In 1494, Gordon and his wife had the Earl declared incapable of managing his affairs and the Earl was kept in close confinement for the next 14 years. When he died in 1508, the same couple had his son declared incapable, too.

This seal of John, eighth Earl of Sutherland is from a sasine to Hugh, son of Angus Sutherland of Torbol, dated March 29, 1492. It bears three mullets (stars) with more points than usual, and it is crested by a stag’s head. The wildcat was adopted as a crest in the 17th century.

Alexander, an illegitimate son of Earl John by a daughter of Ross of Balnagown, was born in 1491. He opposed the succession of his brother, the 9th Earl, in 1509. Gordon and his wife, Alexander’s half sister Elizabeth had Alexander declared a bastard and banished from Sutherland where the clansmen were dangerously inclined to his cause. In 1515, he seized and held Dunrobin Castle but was captured and beheaded. His head soon perched on the loftiest point of the cathedral. This fulfilled the prophecy of a local witch who told them that his head would be the highest that there ever was in Sutherland. Doubtless, Alexander interpreted the saying rather differently.

In 1493, John, the 9th Earl of Sutherland, was taken with his father at a young age to King James IV. He succeeded his father as ward of the Crown in 1508, the Earldom being administered by Andrew Stewart, Bishop of Caithness. At Perth in 1514, the 9th Earl was pronounced legally incapable and confined as his father was. In the question of his successor, the Earl declared that his sister Elizabeth and her husband the Hon. Adam Gordon were his nearest heirs. His death a month later in 1514 marked the end of the Freskin line of Earls of Sutherland. The title was inherited by his sister Elizabeth Gordon who, after a protracted lawsuit and some bloodshed, became Countess of Sutherland in her own right. From that time until 1766, the Sutherland inheritance was held by the Gordon family who did not adopt the name of Sutherland until the early 18th century.

Elizabeth, the 10th Countess of Sutherland, succeeded her brother John by “infeftment” of 1515, resigning the earldom to her eldest son Alexander, the ancestor of the family of Gordon, Earls of Sutherland. The earls would not bear the name of Sutherland again until William Sutherland, the 17th Earl, adopted it. She was succeeded in 1530 by her grandson, the 11th Earl (“Good John Earl”). The Countess Elizabeth died at Aboyne Castle, Deeside in Aberdeen in 1535.

John Gordon, the 11th Earl of Sutherland and his wife were assassinated by his aunt Isabelle Sinclair, the widow of a Sutherland cadet, at Helmsdale Castle in 1567 in an attempt to gain the Earldom and estates for her own son who was second heir. When the Earl’s family called at her castle after a day’s hunting, she prepared a poison meal for them and served it in her private apartments so that she could watch its affect. Unfortunately for her, the Earl’s heir Alexander had gone back out to continue the hunt. By the time he returned, the Earl and his wife had already begun to feel the poison at work. Staggering to his feet as his son came into the room, the Earl gathered up the entire meal in the table cloth and threw it from the window saying, “We’re all poisoned here Alec, let’s back to Dunrobin where the Sinclair bitch can harm us no more.” The plot misfired again when Isabelle Sinclair’s own son, who had returned to the hunt with Alexander Gordon, went straight to the kitchen where unsuspecting servants gave him the remains of the poison food. He, the Earl and the Countess died in horrible agony two days later. Isabelle Sinclair was tried and condemned for the murder, cheating the hangman by committing suicide the night before her execution.

Helmsdale Castle, where the 11th Earl of Sutherland was poisoned by Isabelle Sinclair.

Alexander Gordon survived as the 12th Earl of Sutherland, although he was still a minor and was placed under the guardianship of the Earl of Caithness who many people thought was behind the whole affair. Immediately, the young Earl was married to one of Sinclair’s daughters. Sir Robert Gordon pointed out that this was quite an unfit match, a youth of 15 married to a 32 year old woman. But it was enough to cover her incountenance and evil life. In 1573, Earl Alexander reached his majority, regained his estates, and divorced his obnoxious Sinclair wife. He waged all out war with her father 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.

Sir Robert Gordon, the great Sutherland Historian, was the son of this Alexander and his history, written in the 1620s, gives us a good picture of the clan and of the county at this time. Gordon and Murray were the most common surnames. Sutherland was confined to the few pockets of clansmen immediately subjected to the survivors of the old line. The land was wild and isolated, especially in winter when the weather invariably closed the few routes to the south. Sir Robert told the tale of how his elder brother, John Gordon, the 13th Earl, was caught in an impenetrable blizzard on the short journey from Dornoch to Dunrobin. As the snow closed in, his men offered him whisky to keep out the cold. The Earl wisely declined, preferring a clear head to a warm throat. Sure enough, one after another, his piper, his chamberlain, his bodyguard and even his serving boy wandered off the track into the snow and were never seen again. The Earl reached his castle alone with an understandable vow never to carry whiskey in his train again. Which doubtless, like most vows of its kind in the Highlands, was kept only for a few months.

In Sir Robert’s time too, the clan began to acquire the reputation for enthusiastic and pious Protestantism. This is probably what made the Earls begin to distance themselves from their Gordon cousins who were Catholics and later Jacobites. Sir Robert’s nephew, for example, was known as the Covenanting Earl and the clan was firmly Whig for all of the troubles through the 17th and 18th centuries.

John Gordon, the 14th Earl was educated at St. Salvator’s College, St. Andrew’s and was a contemporary of Montrose whom he afterwards opposed, having signed the Covenant in 1638. He was appointed Keeper of the Privy Seal of Scotland in 1649.

In 1702, 15th Earl, George Gordon, broke with Huntly, dropped the Gordon surname and reverted to the territorial title. Sutherland was soon spreading again through the district as the clansmen in Gaelic fashion adopted the name as well. There is evidence of this at the famous Dornoch witch trial of 1722, the last such case in Scotland, where almost all of the court officials were named Sutherland. The troubles began when a Dornoch woman was blamed by her neighbors for a series of misfortunes. The main argument against her was that she had turned her own daughter into a horse. The key evidence was that the fingers of the girl’s left hand were molded together. The mother explained this as a burning accident in childhood, but the court accepted this as the remains of a hoof. The unfortunate woman was taken out for burning. It is said that as she was lowered into the flames she cursed all the Sutherlanders predicting the misfortunes to befall them during the next 100 years.

Some of the misfortunes stemmed from the Jacobite Rebellions. John Gordon, the 16th Earl of Sutherland, supported the Crown in the 1715 Rebellion and was created Lord Lieutenant of nearly the whole of the north of Scotland. By the time of the Jacobite rising of 1745, the loyal clans had been put at several disadvantages. Unlike the Jacobites, they had largely complied with the disarming act passed after the last outbreak and were mostly without effective weapons. Also, the English tended to view all highlanders as Jacobites, regardless of their record of loyalty to the Whig cause.

William Sutherland, the 18th Earl, failed to raise and arm the clan quickly enough to take effective action against the Pretender, Bonnie Prince Charlie, when he was in the highlands. This incurred suspicions of disloyalty in London. He was then forced to disband the militia when the clansmen deserted to bring in the harvest, leaving Sutherland open to the rebels when they returned to the north in February 1746. This led to the last storming of a fortress in British history when the Jacobite Earl of Cromartie brought 500 rebels against Dunrobin. He narrowly missed the Earl who escaped through a back entrance and sailed for Aberdeen where he joined Cumberland’s army.

The one redeeming episode of the ’45 for the Sutherlands was a victory over the Earl of Cromartie’s force as it retreated to join Prince Charlie at Culloden. Thinking that all of the Sutherlands had dispersed, the Jacobite officers foolishly allowed their men to march ahead, confident that they could quickly catch up on their horses. But, there were still some Sutherland men in the hills above Dunrobin led by a resourceful Golspie man who gathered his forces together and came down between the two parts of the rebel contingent near Bonar Bridge. Most of the Jacobite officers were captured, many of the men were killed and the rest were driven onto the shore where several were drowned trying to swim the Bonar Firth. Unfortunately, despite this victory, those in London were still inclined to associate the Sutherlands with the Cromartie rebels that they had defeated. Before dying in 1750, the Earl spent the next several years in a vain attempt to obtain compensation for the extensive damage done to his estates by the rebels.

For a while William, the 18th Earl of Sutherland, steadied the family fortunes. But in 1766, when he was only 30, the Earl and his wife died of an illness while at Bath. This left a one-year-old girl as their only heir, whose title was bound to be disputed. In the lawsuit that followed, known as the “Sutherland Peerage Case”, the old Sutherland house of Forse claimed superior rights, but the verdict was finally given in favor of the infant countess in 1771. Elizabeth married an Englishman, George Granville Leveson-Gower whose father, the Earl of Gower, was created the Marquess of Stafford, titles to which he himself succeeded in 1803. As the husband of a great landed heiress, to whose inheritance he added substantial acreages of his own at Trentham in Staffordshire and Lilleshall in Shropshire, Lord Stafford had considerable influence, becoming the 1st Duke of Sutherland.

At first the union of the tremendous industrial wealth of the Gowers and the largest estate in Scotland was promising for both sides. But, a growing number of liberal reformers were beginning to regard the highland way of life as outmoded. Unfortunately, the Countess’s husband, the 1st Duke, and even more his estate manager James Loch, were among these reformers, who were determined to replace the subsistence farming with a more rational system of sheep in the hills and the population on the coast in fishing and manufacturing.

Using his great personal wealth, the 1st Duke virtually destroyed the old ways of life in Sutherland. During “The Clearances” of 1814 to 1819, the clansmen were brutally evicted from their mountain homes and some of them were moved to plots on the coast where they could build cottages. Children here were at times tied to long ropes to prevent them from being blown off the cliffs into the sea. Here they could earn money working in industries, financed by Levenson-Gower, such as collecting and drying seaweed for use as fertilizer in the south. When they resisted, James Loch and the sheep farmers he brought in, like Patrick Sellar, simply burned their homes to the ground. The reports of houses being burned down over the heads of those reluctant to leave were not rare and are well documented.

In the book Gloomy Memories in the Highlands of Scotland, Donald McLeod tells of one eviction he witnessed in which Patrick Sellar set fire to the house of a hundred year old widow who lay bedridden within. As she screamed for help, her neighbors told Sellar of her great age. “Damn the old witch”, he replied, “She had lived long enough. Let her burn.” Friends pulled her from the flames, but she died five days later. Sellar was tried for arson and manslaughter, but the jury plainly, keeping a wary eye on the great house’s interest, acquitted him.

Armed resistance was useless. Women who blocked the paths and roads leading to their homes with aprons filled with stones were ridden down, knocked down, clubbed senseless, and left bleeding on the ground until their friends and families could return for them. Some young soldiers, who served in the War of 1812 on assurances that their families would be left in peace, returned to discover that their families were gone.

Without roofs over their heads and without any place to go, the dwindling population contended with famine and periodic outbreaks of Cholera. What embittered the Sutherlands is that this was done by outsiders in the Countess’s name. The clansmen were unable to appeal to their chief in traditional highland fashion. Their plight was made worse by the failure of the new industries and agriculture on the coast. Many of the thousands that were evicted preferred immigration to resettlement.

This resentment was made clear more than 30 years later, at the time of the Crimean War. As usual, it was a matter of honor for highland chiefs to raise troops from their own lands. George, the 2nd Duke of Sutherland and son of the Countess Elizabeth and the greatest landowner of all, unbelievably appointed as his recruiting agent, the very same James Loch who had organized the clearances in his parent’s time. Not a single man enlisted. In an attempt to avoid humiliation, the Duke came north in person to address a packed meeting of the clan at Golspie. He warned the men of the Russian menace, reminded them of their great service in the past and invited them to enroll on the spot. Again there was no response until an old clansman stepped forward to say, “I am sorry for the reception your Grace’s proposals are meeting here. But there is a cause for it. It is the opinion of this county that should the Czar of Russia take possession of Dunrobin Castle, we would not expect worse treatment at his hands than we have experienced in the hands of your family for the last 50 years. But one comfort you have. Though you cannot find men to fight, you can supply those who do fight with plenty of mutton and beef.” Of course the resentment was not universal, nor did it last forever. The very same 93rd Regiment to which the Duke tried to recruit his men won great honor as “The Thin Red Line” at Balaclava soon afterwards, with many Sutherland men among the heroes.

The 2nd Duke of Sutherland assumed the additional name of Sutherland, making the surname Sutherland-Leveson-Gower. His wife, Duchess Harriet, was a Carlisle Howard and Mistress of Robes to Queen Victoria. It was the 2nd Duke who commissioned Sir Charles Barry, architect of the Houses of Parliament, to transform Dunrobin from a traditional Scottish Castle into a vast palace in Franco-Scots style. Barry encased the ancient parts and added all the main rooms now seen by the public. This architect also worked on the Duke’s houses of Cliveden in Buckinghamshire and Trentham Hall in Staffordshire.

The 3rd Duke, George Sutherland Leveson-Gower, built the Highland Railway that passes the gates of Dunrobin. Trains still stop at the little Victorian station. The 3rd Duke’s first wife, Duchess Anne, also Mistress of the Robes, was a Mackenzie from Rossshire and was created Countess of Cromartie in her own right with limitations to her younger son, who was to become 2nd Earl of Cromartie and grandfather of the present Earl of Cromartie.

Cromartie Sutherland Leveson-Gower, the 4th Duke, like the previous three Dukes, was a Knight of the Garter and Lord Lieutenant of Sutherland. His wife, the tall and beautiful Duchess Millicent, was a daughter of the 4th Earl of Rosslyn. She was a more successful philanthropist than the 1st Duke, doing endless good works. She invented Highland Home Industries, arranged for the trademark for Harris Tweed, built a technical school in Golspie and fought industrial diseases in the Potteries. Duchess Millicent was a great late Victorian and Edwardian hostess.

The 5th Duke of Sutherland, George Granville Sutherland, held several ministerial offices, and served in both the Army and the Royal Navy during World War I. During this war, Dunrobin was used as an auxiliary Naval hospital (a plaque in the Entrance Hall commemorates this). Unfortunately in 1915, a fire did significant damage to Dunrobin. The Scottish architect Sir Robert Lorimer conducted repairs, simplified the main tower and remodeled much of the interior. The 5th Duke’s first wife was Lady Eileen Butler, daughter of the 7th Earl of Lanesborogh and his second wife was Clare, Duchess of Sutherland. When the 5th Duke died in 1963 without issue, he was succeeded in all of his estates by his niece, the only daughter of his younger brother Lord Alistair Sutherland-Leveson-Gower M.C. who had died in 1921.

Miss Elizabeth Millicent Sutherland-Leveson-Gower became Countess of Sutherland in her own right and the 24th holder of the title. She was married to Mr. Charles Janson and they had three sons and a daughter. Her eldest son, Alistair, formerly Lord Strathnaver, became the 25th Earl of Sutherland on the passing of the Countess in December of 2019.

The Dukedom of Sutherland is a United Kingdom title that could not pass through female heirs. It was inherited by the 5th Duke’s nearest male relative, John Egerton, 5th Earl of Ellesmere, a descendant of the second son of the 1st Duke. Thus there was a break between the title of Duke and the Sutherland and Staffordshire estates that is unlikely to be reunited.

This history is an amalgamation of the following sources:

  • “A Short History of the Clan Sutherland, the Families of Sutherland, Forse and Duffus, 12th – 19th century” by Daniel J. J. Sutherland at http://www.duffus.com/ashort.htm
  • Clan Sutherland, compiled by Alan McNie, Cascade Publishing Company, Jedburgh, Scotland, 1986.
  • “Clan Sutherland”, Recorded and Produced by J.B. Tapes, Ltd., Roxburgshire, Scotland.
  • “Clan Sutherland – A Personal View” by Gordon Douglas Duffus at http://www.duffus.com/clan.htm
  • “Dunrobin and the Sutherlands”, Dunrobin Castle (souvenir booklet), Designed and published by Pilgrim Press Ltd. 1996.