John R Tudor.

The Orkneys and Shetland; their past and present state online

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in Dunrossness on the Mainland of Shetland, and in Foula 3 and
in the last-named island ^ the Lewismen, as these raiders were
always termed by the natives, are said to have cut and burnt
down the trees to prevent their being used as a place of refuge
for the inhabitants.

The annual tribute of a hundred marks, payable in respect
of the Hebrides, and known as the " Annual of Norway,"
had now been unpaid for many years, and the arrears, with
the fines for non-punctual payment, amounted to a lar-ge sum,
and after fruitless negotiations between Christian the First,
King of Denmark, Sweden, and Norway, and James the
Second of Scotland, for the settlement of the matter, it was
agreed to refer the questions in dispute to Charles the Seventh
of France, who recommended the marriage of Margaret, Chris-
tian's daughter, to the son and heir of James. The death of
the last-named monarch at the siege of Roxburgh for a time
put an end to the negotiations, and it was not until the 8th of
September, 1468, that the contract- of marriage between Margaret
and James the Third was signed. By this contract, in return
for the dowry settled by the Scottish monarch. Christian relin-
quished all claims, both past and prospective, in respect of the
Annual of Norway, pledged the Orkneys for the sum of

^ Low's Tour, p. 103.

- Peterkin's Rentals, Appendix, pp. 7-14.


50,000 florins of the Rhine, and agreed to pay a further sum of
] 0,000 florins before the departure of Margaret to Scotland.

Before that event took place Christian, however, powerful
monarch as he was, could only find 2,000 out of the stipulated
10,000 florins, and for the balance of 8,000 pledged Shetland
on similar terms to those on which the Orkneys had already
been mortgaged. That the transaction was originally, what it
was said to be, merely a temporary pledging, is shown by all
the attendant circumstances, and even as late as 1668 the right
of redemption was said by the Plenipotentiaries assembled at
Breda not only not to have been barred by prescription, but to
be imprescribable.

A few years back one would have said that the idea of
Britain handing over or back the Orkneys and Shetland, to
whichever of the three Scandinavian powers the right of redemp-
tion may now belong, was the dream of an idiot, but in these
days of the awakening of the national conscience it is hard
to tell what may happen. Whether the most ardent of the
Philo-Scandinavians amongst the Orcadians and Shetlanders
would care to sever their connection with the British Crown
and become the inhabitants of far-ofT dependencies of some
second-rate European power, is, however, somewhat doubtful.



"Six centuries of Odal sub-division had minutely inter-
mingled the lands, rights, and privileges of every Townland.
At each succession the Odalsjord was shared among the Odal-
born, male and female — the Jarl claimed for himself or for
the crown all lands forfeited and unredeemed, and seized as
idtvnus hceres every inheritance lapsed or unclaimed — the
Bishop asserted the Church's right to the gifts of the pious,
a share of the forfeits of the guilty, the teinds of all, and
the corban perpetuity of every indulgence once permitted to
a Churchman- — and Scottish settlers claimed Odal lands and
Odal rights by descent, affinity, or purchase. Thus the Odals-
jords and their vague and customary pertinents were mixed in
alternate patches, ridges, or furrows, not only with other Odals,
but with the claims of Jarl, Bishop, or settler, as, undefined, but
more arbitrarily expansive. Even before the Odallers' final
change of masters, two centuries of such foreign and native
influence had prepared the way for such a revolution, by
modifying his privileges, altering his customs, and effacing
much even of his own memory of their origin and traditions.
But his spirit was still unbroken, he was still a Thingman, his
order was still that of the Gofugar and Goedingar of the Sagas,
the proceres commtinitatis, whose wealth and influence pointed
them out as marks of the oppressor. Their Odal lands,


pertinents, and immunities, were still the field whence lawless
])Ower could reap a golden harvest, and more than a century of
Scottish oppression was still required to level the Peasant Noble
of Orkney with the Tacksman or Husbandman of the Earldom
or Bishopric." ' Such is the graphic picture Balfour gives of
the state of the Orkneys when they passed from under the
Danebrog to beneath the folds of the white cross standard of

How matters Avould have worked out had the islands been
left to shape their own destinies by the ordinary course of
natural laws may be doubtful, but that sooner or later a social
cataclysm of some sort must have upset the existing state of
society is evident. James HI., however, was clearly determined
from the first, that he would not have another vassal, who at any
moment might become a source of danger to his kingdom; and
as William, Earl of Orkney, who had been created Earl of
Caithness by James II. in 1455, was anxious to have the right
of succession to that title taken from his eldest son William,
by his first marriage with Lady Margaret Douglas daughter of
Archibald fourth Earl of Douglas, and re-granted to his son
William by his second marriage with Marjory daughter of
Alexander Sutherland of Dunbeath, he readily yielded up all
his rights in and to the earldom of Orkney in exchange for
a grant of the lands and castle of Ravenscraig in Fifeshire,
a pension of fifty marks, and an alteration of the right to the
succession of the Caithness earldom in accordance with his
wish. His eldest and disinherited son William, succeeded to
the castle and lands of Ravenscraig, and in 1489 /lis son
Henry was created,- as being "chieff of yat blude," Baron
Sinclair, the thirteenth holder of which title is now the
representative, through Catherine daughter of John, seventh
baron, of "the lordly line of high St. Clair."

As soon as the exchange was effected the earldom of
Orkney and lordship of Shetland were, by an Act passed on the

^ Balfour's Oppressions, p. xxxiv.
^ Douglas's Peerage, vol. ii. p. 468.


20th February, 147 1, annexed to the Scottish Crown "nocht
to be given away in time to cum to na persain or persaines
excep alenarily to ane of ye kings sonis of lauchful bed."

This, however, was not enough, and as, in those days,
people had not yet come to question the power of the Holy
See to grant countries, together with the human chattels thereto
belonging, to any one who went the right way to obtain the
sanction of the successor of St. Peter, Innocent VIII. was
asked to hall-mark the whole transaction with his blessing.
The earldom and lordship were then farmed to William, sixth
Bishop of Orkney of that name, who had been one of the
commissioners for arranging the marriage with Margaret of
Denmark, and on his translation to the see of Moray in 1477,
Andrew, his successor in the diocese of Orkney for six years
longer, was enabled to squeeze the unfortunate people subject
to his tender mercies. Both of these episcopal publicans seem
to have been under some misapprehension as to what was
])roperty belonging to the earldom, of which they were only
tacksmen, and what were properly bishopric estates, with the
natural result, that, on Bishop Andrew's tack terminating in
1485, whilst the Crown property had largely decreased the
estates of the bishopric had as largely increased. The earldom
was now farmed out to Henry Sinclair, not as yet Baron
Sinclair, probably as some recompense for his grandfather's
unnatural conduct towards his father ; and under his rule,
although he corrected some of the wrongs of the right reverend
publicans who had preceded him, the Scotticising the .institu-
tions of both the Orkneys and Shetland, according to Balfour,
went on unchecked. Lord Sinclair fell on the 9th of
September, 15 13, at that fatal field of Flodden where the
chivalry of Scotland went down, like swathes of grass before
the mowers, under the pikes of the sturdy yeomanry of " the
north countree," sacrificed by the pig-headed, Stewart-like
obstinacy of their monarch. At Flodden, the announcement
in Edinburgh of the terrible issue of which fight, Aytoun,
a former sheriff-depute of Orkney and Zetland, has so


ringingly described in his Lays of the Scottish Cavaliers^ some
five hundred Caithness Sinclairs under William second Earl of
Caithness, who had been previously under attainder, perished
as well as Henry, first Lord Sinclair. Calder mentions a
tradition that, an evening or two before the battle, James IV.
saw a fine body of men clad in green, marching in to join
his forces, and on being told that they were the men of
Caithness under their earl, " The king mused a little and
then said, ' Well, if that be William Sinclair I will pardon
him.' ' There being no parchment in the camp James ordered
the deed of removal of forfeiture to be extended on a drum-
head. When the document had received the royal signature it
was cut out and handed to the Earl, w^ho forthwith despatched
one of his men with it to Caithness, shortly enjoining him to
deliver it into the hands of his lady, so that in the event of his
faUing in battle the family might be secured in their titles and
lands. The bearer of it was the only one of the Caithness
corps that ever returned — the rest having been all killed in the
engagement. The Earl, on his way south, had crossed the Ord
of Caithness on a Monday, and for a long time after, no Sinclair
would cross it on that day of the week, or wear anything ap-
proaching the colour of green." ^ Margaret, widow of Lord
Sinclair, on his death succeeded to such rights as he had held
in the Earldom, and by successive grants held them till
James V. resumed possession in 1540. The Orcadians, how-
ever, seem to have objected to being ruled by a distaff, and in
the year 15 15 the Odallers elected Sir James Sinclair, a cadet
of the family with the baton sinister, as their leader. After
a time they refused to pay any scat or rents to Lady Sinclair ;
and in 1526 compelled her son William Lord Sinclair to
surrender the castle of Kirkwall, and to fly into Caithness ;
whence he returned in the following year with his cousin
John Earl of Caithness and a large force at his back, only
to be signally defeated at Summerdale or Bigswell, on the
north side of the Ward Hill of Orphir, by the Orcadians under
^ Calder's History of Caithness, p. 93.


the leadership of Sir James, when the Earl of Caithness and
most of his men were slaughtered. Balfour says Sir James
captured Lord Sinclair, beheaded Nicol Hall the Lawmnn, and
seized the islands, and that the fight took ])lace in 1529. John
Bellenden, generally known as Jo Ben, who wrote in 1529, gives
1527 as the year in which the fight took place, and adds,
"Cathenenses omnes obversi fiierunt et interfecti, adeo ut ne
([uidam unus superfuit." The accounts of the wliole contror
versy between Sir James and his legitimate kith and kin arc
very conflicting, as the invasion or attempt to put down re-
bellion, whichever it may be termed, appears to have been
duly authorised by James V., who nevertheless pardoned
Sir James, and granted him, under false representations, the
islands of Sanday and Eday, though Sinclair of Strome and
others who had taken part in the battle were not respited
till 1539. James V. had now, 1540, resolved to see for himself
the state of the different islands subject 'to his crown, and in
the course of his voyage round to the Western Isles called in
at Kirkwall, where he was entertained in what was then the
episcopal palace, a house or houses till within a few years ago
standing on the west side of Victoria Street, by Bishop Max-
well. According to Principal Gordon, i of the Scots' College ai
Paris, who visited the Orkneys in 1780, the bed in which James
slept was still preserved till the middle of that century. " It
was of wainscot gilded over ; but some Cothic gentleman
thought proper to convert it into a gate to an inclosure. This
I had from a friend who saw the bed in its first and last state."
James having put the bishop to rights in a i^w particulars in
which, like an Orcadian prelate, he had gone astray, and find-
ing the earldom too good a thing to be allowed any longer to
remain for any lengthy period out of the royal hands, in spite
of her protests, revoked all tacks and leases to Lady Sinclair.
The earldom with its rights was then leased to that " minion "
of James, Oliver Sinclair, whose gross ignorance of military
matters or gross treachery led to the shameful defeat of

^ Arch. Scot. vol. i. p. 261.



Solway Moss, when 300 English horsemen, under Dacrc
and Musgrave, routed 10,000 Scottish troops and captured
over 1,000 prisoners, a defeat which, with the defection of
that turbulant nobiHty so often the bane of Scottish monarchs,
broke the heart of the King of the Commons. Sinclair was,
however, not permitted to enjoy his tack without litigation,
as Marie of Guise, the Queen Dowager, laid claim to the earl-
dom and its rights as part of her dower. Whether Sinclair
ever got anything out of his lease, or whether the rents and
revenues of the earldom were collected on behalf of the Queen
Dowager to the date of her death in 1560 by Bonot the
Frenchman and the Earl of Huntly, whom at different times
she appears to have appointed governors of the islands, seems
doubtful. According to Balfour/ respites and pardons for
murder were for nearly twenty years the sole records of the

Robert Reid, Prior of Beauly, who had in 1540 succeeded
Maxwell as Bishop of Orkney, was probably the most en-
lightened and one of the ablest of all the prelates who held
that see whether before or after the Reformation. He not
only rebuilt the parish church of St. Ola, now degraded into
a dwelling-house ; restored the old Bishop's palace, in which
King Hakon had breathed his last, and added to it a square
and a circular tower, of which the latter is still standing :
lengthened the nave of the cathedral ; reorganised the chapter :
but also founded the grammar-school. To his wise fore-
thought also Scotland is indebted for the University of
Edinburgh, he having by his will bequeathed the sum of 8,000
marks for the purpose of endowing three schools, one for
grammar, another for poetry and oratory, and a third for civil
and common law. As one of the commissioners appointed by
the Scottish Estates, Reid attended in 1558 the marriage of
Mary to Francis the Dauphin of France, was wrecked at
Boulogne in going, and died at Dieppe on his way home,
poisoned, with his brother commissioners, the Earls of Rothes
1 Balfour's Oppressions, p. xlv.


and of Cassillis and Lord Fleming, Chancellor of Scotland,
it was believed, through Guisean treachery. The bodies of all
four were embalmed and interred in the chapel dedicated to
Saint Andrew in the church of Saint James, Dieppe, where in
1872 Abbe Cochet, Inspector of National Monuments for Seine
Inferieure, put up a mural tablet to the Bishop's memory.

Adam Bothwell, the first Protestant Bishop of Orkney, was a
prelate of a different stamp, and one of his first acts on being
inducted into his see was, in 1560, to feu the Castle of Nolt-
land in Westray with the lands thereto belonging to his brother-
in-law Sir Gilbert Balfour, who a few years afterwards obtained
from the Prebendary of St. Catherine a feu of other church-lands
in Westray, Sanday, and Stronsay.

James V., who, though a wise, able, and politic monarch.,
was anything but a saint where the other sex was con-
cerned, had, by Eupheme daughter of the first Baron Elphin-
stone, a son, who was to prove the Malleus Orcadensium, such
as none of the preceding donatories had been. They had
scourged them with whips, he was to scourge them with scorpions.
By his first charter,^ dated the 19th December, 1564, Lord
Robert Stewart, as he was then styled, was granted not only
all the Crown rights and possessions in the Orkneys and
Shetland, but also the estates of all the Odallers in those
islands, as well as being created Sheriff" of both groups. This
charter, however, though not expressly revoked, was not for a
time acted on, as Gilbert Balfour, now master of the Queen's
Household, was about the same period appointed Governor
and Sheriff of both the Orkneys and Shetland ; and Lord Robert,
as a sop to Cerberus for the nice, meaty Orcadian bone,
which was about apparently to be taken still further from
his reach, was created Abbot of Holyrood on the i6th of
April, 1567. His sister Mary was now about to commit
the irrevocable mistake which, in spite of all her charms and
beauty (and what almost will not men pardon in a beautiful
woman) did more than anything else to l)last her reputation
^ PeterUin's Notes, Appendix, p. ?.

K 2


both at the time and in the pages of history — her infatuated
marriage with James, Earl of Bothwell, whom, probably
because of his descent through his mother, Agnes Sinclair,
from the illustrious, if unfortunate, St. Clairs of the Isles, she
created Duke of Orkney.

His brief honeymoon over, and the gods of war having
pronounced against him at Carberry, Bothwell fled northwards
only to be repulsed from Kirkwall by Gilbert Balfour. Con-
tinuing his flight to Shetland, he for a time " lived upon the
enemy," and by his levying forced supplies of cattle from the
inhabitants, created a precedent for the ox and sheep money
of the Stewarts, an exaction continued by succeeding donatories,
and existing at the present day as a legal burden under some
other name. Kirkaldy of Grange, to whom Mary had yielded
at Carberry, and Adam Bothwell, now anxious to sever with
the axe the knot matrimonial which he himself had tied so
short a time previously, were like bloodhounds hunting the
accursed plotter of the Kirk of Field tragedy ; and driving him
from his last shelter on Scottish ground, compelled him to take
flight again to Norway, where he was seized as a pirate and
imprisoned in the Castle of Malmoc, in which he died ^ in the
year 1576.

After Mary's escape from Lochleven, defeat at Langside, and
fatal flight into England, Gilbert Balfour, who seems to have
adhered loyally to his ill-starred mistress through good report
and evil, was compelled to take refuge in Sweden, where he
eventually died in the service of King Eric XIV. Balfour
fallen, Lord Robert, who had on the 30th of September, 1 568,-
exchanged the temporalities of the Abbey of Holyrood for
those of the Bishopric of Orkney with Adam Bothwell, who
left his diocese to the pastoral care of a deputy shepherd one
Mr. James Annand,'*^ now saw his ojjcning, and, again sheriff of

' Potit's Mary Sliiart, p, 297. - Balfaur's Oppressions, p. xlvii.

^ In 1569 the excliange with Lord Robert was charged against Adam
Bothwell at the General Assembly as being simoniacal, and it was stated
that, in conKequence of his neglect of his diocese, "not only ignorance is


both groups, was enabled to develop his natural talent for
"gripping" to the full.

His enormities and exactions are set out under nearly
forty heads, in " The Complaints of the Inhabitants of Orkney
and Zetland in tlie Year 1575," given at length in Balfour's
Oppressions of Orkney and Zetland ; and a Turkish Pasha of
either ancient or modern days, or a Spanish Viceroy in the
early days of the Hispano-American concjuests, would have
found it hard to have given points to this Very Reverend
robber in high place. He not only deforced the king's officers,
imprisoned his lieges, executed and banished them without
trial ; made, as the purser did in the sailor's story, dead men
chew tobacco, otherwise convicted men, who had shuffled off
this mortal coil, of any offences that came first to mind, for the
purpose of procuring escheats ; lived upon the natives by
compelling them to entertain him on his progress through the
islands ; played booty with pirates ; granted licenses for " men
to fight singular combats ; " tampered with the system of weights
and measures — but in this item succeeding donatories were to
improve vastly ; stopped the ferries to the mainland, and had
all ships searched lest complaints should by any chance con-
vince those in power that he was stretching his exactions
a little too far, even in those days of high prerogative ; but,
cruellest blov/ of all, twisted the old system of Things and the
Odal laws to suit his own purpose.

Visions of obtaining for himself the semi-regal position

increased, but afo mo.~t abundantly all vice and horrible crimes are thee
committed, as the number of six liundreth persons, convict of incest, adultery,
and fornication in Zetland beareth witness." Probably, however, Eoihwell's
greatest crime was styling " himself w ith Roman titles, as Reverend Father
in God, which pertaineth to no minister of C'hrist Jesus, nor is given them
lu Scriptures." In his defence the Bishop admitted "That it is true, that
in the 58 year of God, before the reformation of religione, he was accord-
ing to the order then observed, provided to the Bishopric of Orkney."
This shows the see was filled up immediately on Rotiert Reid's death, an
historical fact not generally known. See Ads of Gemnil Assemblies, 1 560 —
1618, vol. 1. p. 162.


enjoyed by the old Norse Jarls appear also to have floated
before his eyes, and in 1572 i we find him intriguing for this
end with the King of Denmark, who seems to have lent a
not unwilling ear to his proposals.

Not merely content with " stressing the Odallers," and such
small game, Lord Robert must also interfere with Balfour of
Westray, and other feuers of those church-lands which Adam
Bothwell and the smaller clerical fry were granting broadcast
over the islands. Gripping the lands of, and oppressing the
Odallers, were, however, one thing ; but when l^ord Robert laid
his covetous grasp on these larger properties it was a case of
a hawk picking out hawks' een and not to be borne, and
proceedings were taken against him before the Lords of
Council, which for a time deprived him of his pashalik.

However, owing to the civil tumults of the time, these pro-
ceedings seem to have lapsed, and in 158;, James VL, who,
pedant and prig as he was, was better fitted to be bailie of a
third-rate Scotch borough than monarch, as he was to become,
of England, Scotland, and Ireland, confirmed the charter granted
by Mary in 1564, in favour of " dicte nostre matris dilecto
fratri Roberto Stewart, consanguineo nostro, &c.," created his
bastard uncle Earl of Orkney, and added all those rights of
Justiciary, x'Ydmiralty, &c., which Lord Robert had formerly been
charged with usurping. In 1585, the original excambion or
exchange with Adam Bothwell, was confirmed, only however to
be in 1587 revoked, together with all other grants to" dicte nostre
matris dilecto fratri," by his fickle-minded, toady-havmted
nephew, who annexed the bishopric to the crown and farmed out
the earldom to his Chancellor and Justice-Clerk, who were
commissioned to inquire into " the oppressions of Lord Robert
Stewart lait Erie of Orkney."

Two years later, nevertheless, found the Earl with a new
charter, which, on his death in 1591, was ratified by Act of
Parliament to his son and worthy successor, Patrick.

Earl Robert by his marriage with Lady Janet Kennedy?

' Balfour's Opprcsiions, p. 3.


daughter of Gilbert third Ivirl of CassilUs, liad Henry, wliu
died in liis father's Hfetime, Patrick his successor, Jolm, who
was created Lord Kinclaven and Earl of Carrick, and several
daughters. In addition to his legitimate offspring he had at
least four illegitimate children, the Hon. Sir James Stewart of
Tullos, the Hon. Sir Robert Stewart, (xeorge Stewart, and
I'^^dward Stewart of Brugh, South Ronaldsay. Of the illegiti-
mate sons, the first two were legitimated by Queen Mary l)y
special charter; and from Edward Stewart were descended the
Stewarts of lirugh, a family wliich only became extinct in the
direct male line a few years bnck.'

Earl Patrick had hardly succeeded to the inheritance
obtained by fraud, treachery, and crime of every description
bequeathed by his father, before he in his turn was ])etitioned

Online LibraryJohn R TudorThe Orkneys and Shetland; their past and present state → online text (page 7 of 59)