Hugh, son of William

Hugh, of Sutherland (son of William)


Hugh, son of William, son of Freskin, styled also Hugh Freskin and Hugh de Moravia, appears under the first designation in various charters from 1195, frequently along with his brother William, who also in a charter about 1200, already cited, styles him lord and brother. He inherited the lands of Duffus and Strabrock, and Brice, Bishop of Moray, granted to him, as Lord of Duffus (between 1203 and 1214), a free chapel in his castle of Duffus.[1] Some time before 1211 he had acquired, by grant or otherwise, a large tract of land in Sutherland. How extensive that was does not appear, but it included Skelbo, in Dornoch parish, on one side, and the greater portion of Creich parish on the other, and perhaps was identical with the later earldom. In any case he granted Skelbo, and the lands of Invershin and Fernebucklyn to Gilbert de Moravia, Archdeacon of Moray, who afterwards gave them to his own brother Richard. Hugh Freskin died possibly before 1214, but certainly before 1222, at which date his son William had succeeded, and he was buried in the church of Duffus. He is called, perhaps on account of his benefactions to the Church, the blessed Hugh, and seems to have been honoured with canonisation. The name of his wife is not known, but he had three sons:--
     1. William, son and heir, who became Lord and Earl of Sutherland.
     2. Walter, who succeeded to the lands of Duffus, and married Euphemia, daughter of Ferquhard, Earl of Ross. He died about 1263, and was buried at Duffus. His line ended in two heiresses, and his estates finally passed to the Keiths of Inverugie and Sutherlands of Duffus.
     3. Andrew, designed son of Hugh de Moravia in the charter already cited, of the chaplainry of Duffus, between 1203 and 1214. He was then parson of Duffus, and in 1222 he was elected Bishop of Moray. In his time the cathedral of Moray was removed to Elgin, and he may have built, or at least commenced the erection of, the cathedral church. He died in 1242.

[1] Reg. Moraviense, No. 211.

Sources: Balfour Paul, J. (1911) The Scots Peerage, vol. 8. Edinburgh: David Douglas.



As Hugh Freskin was the first known owner of the territory of Sutherland, and the direct and immediate ancestor of the Sutherland family, it was natural to expect that Sir Robert Gordon would give a full and detailed account of him. Sir Robert, indeed, does devote a full chatper to "Hugh Sutherland, Earl of Sutherland, nicknamed Freskin," under the eighth secion of his history, but only a small portion is pertinent to Hugh Freskin.[1] The writer was ignorant of the existence of Freskin, the father of Hugh Freskin, and places the latter immediately after Robert, the second earl, as the third earl, implying that he was the immediate successor of Robert, the second earl. But this Robert, his title of Earl of Sutherland, and the title of earl assigned to Hugh Freskin, are all alike apocryphal.
     Hugh Freskin first occurs as a witness to a grant by Robert, bishop of St. Andrews, in favour of Herbert, bishop of Glasgow, of the church of Lochorwart, now Borthwick, in Midlothian. This charter was made in presence of King David the First, his son Prince Henry, and a large number of clergy and barons; Hugh, son of Freskin, being the last person named.[2] In a charter by King William the Lion of the church of Kingussie, two of the witnesses are Hugh Freskin and William his brother.[3] In another charter by King William the Lion to the abbots and monks of Kinloss, of the lands of Strathisla, two of the witnesses are thus designated, "Willelmo filio Freskyn, Hugone filio Freskyn."[4] These separate and independent charters thus establish that Hugh Freskin was a son of Freskin.
     The charter or grant by which Hugh Freskin acquired the territory of Sutherland has not been preserved; but there is evidence still extant to show that he was the owner of that district. He granted to Gilbert, archdeacon of Moray, the lands of Skelbo, Invershin, and Fernebucklyn, which are described as part of the granter's lands of Sutherland, towards the west.[5] These lands probably included the whole parish of Creich. That charter was confirmed to the grantee by King William the Lion.
     Gilbert the archdeacon was a member of the family of De Moravia, and was probably a relative of Hugh Freskin himself, although no relationship is indicated in the grant. It was made to Gilbert, not as representing the church, but as an individual, to himself and to his heirs of his kindred to whom he should give the lands. Availing himself of that destination, Gilbert, when he became bishop of Caithness, granted the lands of Skelbo and others to Richard Moray, his brother.[6].
     In noticing these grants of Skelbo and other lands, Sir Robert Gordon inspected the original charter by High Freskin, and the confirmation of it by King William the Lion, which are still extant among the Earl of Sutherland's writs.[7] He must therefore have seen that Hugh Freskin is never in any one of these designated Earl of Sutherland, but only and invariable Hugh Freskin, which plainly proves that he never held the title of Earl of Sutherland attributed to him by Sir Robert.
     The territory of Sutherland which was possessed by Hugh Freskin did not comprehend the whole, but only a portion of the modern county. From the Norse writers we learn that at an early period the earldom of Caithness, when held by Norwegian earls, included both the modern counties of Caithness and Sutherland. The district known as Sudrland, Sutherland, or the south part of Caithness [Cataibh], was, speaking broadly, that territory which lay south of the great chain of hills which runs across the county from the hill of Ord to Forsinard, and thence westward to Suilven in Assynt. It embraced only the modern parishes of Dornoch, Creich, Golspie, Rogart, Clyne, and Loth, with part of Kildonan and Lairg, thus excluding the districts of Assynt, Edderachillis, Durness, and Strathnaver or Farr, which now form part of the modern county. These parishes are the most thickly populated, and probably in Hugh Freskin's day they represented the more cultivated and civilised portion of the neighbourhood.
     We further learn from Norwegian sources that about the year 872 Caithness and Sutherland were conquered by a combination of Norse earls, who also held sway over Ross and Moray. A century later, Earl Sigurd, the Stout, is said to have ruled Caithness, Ross, Moray, and both divisions of the modern Sutherland. He married, as his second wife, a daughter of Malcolm the Second of Scotland, by whom he had a son, Thorfinn. In 1014, on Earl Sigurd's death, Thorfinn, then only five years' old, was made earl of Caithness and Sutherland by his grandfather, King Malcolm, who also assisted him in the government. King Malcolm died in 1034, and his successor demanded from Earl Thorfinn a tribute for his earldom of Caithness. The earl refused, and war broke out. Yet though the district then known as Sutherland was apparently at the time estranged from the earl's allegiance, as the Scottish king was able to raise an army there against him, Thorfinn subdued the country and overran Ross and a great part of Scotland, even, it is said, to Fife.[8]
     Earl Thorfinn held all his acquisitions together until his death, the year of which event is variously stated as 1057 or 1064, but after that we learn that many provinces which he had subdued fell off from the authority of his successors, and their inhabitants sought the protection of those native chiefs, who were territorially born to rule over them.[9] One of these districts appears to have been that called Sutherland, as more than once it was overrun by adherents of the Norwegian earls, who were being gradually obliged to confine their dominion to Caithness and the Orkneys. So late as 1136, the inhabitants of Sutherland took part in a war between two competing claimants for the earldom of Orkney, and, in revenge, the country was laid waste in 1139. This date was some years later than the confiscation by King David the First of the lands of Moray, and it may be that his attention was at the same time directed to the disturbed state of the district of Sutherland. A total absence of authentic information renders it impossible to deterine the point, but it is not improbable that King David in his desire to civilise his kingdom, and to form another bulwark against the Norwegian earls, took advantage of the subdued state of Sutherland to plant new settlers there.[10] Hugh Freskin may, therefore, not have been the first of his family to hold land in Sutherland, although the first on record. His father, Freskin, may have held the territory, insecurely perhaps, but fortified therein by his large possessions in Morayshire, which were more under control. And this may account for the Morayshire lands passing apparently to the younger son of Freskin, the more extensive property in Sutherland being held by the elder. That the Norwegian sagas, or historians, do not take notice of Freskin and his family does not affect the question, as they preserve to us no names of native chiefs or rulers, except two, who seem to have favoured the invaders. A few persons who made themselves obnoxious to the reigning earls are named, but peaceful settlers, however prominent, were not worthy of notice. Besides, the sagas as they approach the end of the twelfth century record events much more briefly, and in many cases show a total ignorance of Scottish affairs.
     Lord Hailes suggests that the family of Freskin may have received a grant of South Caithness or Sutherland on the forfeiture of Earl Harald Maddadson in the reign of King William the Lion. But it does not appear that Harald was forfeited. He had occupied the district of Moray, and, about 1196, King William led an army north to the borders of Caithness to drive him out, when Harald, finding himself too weak to resist, submitted, and was permitted to retain half of Caithness, while the other half was given by the king to a younger Harald. In 1202, it is said, Earl Harald, being again threatened with punishment, made a second submission;[11] but in the account nothing is said of forfeiture, nor is there mention of Sutherland as being under Harald's rule. As already stated, that province was never strong in its allegiance to the Norse earls, and was by this time an integral part of the Scottish kingdom.
     Hugh Freskin probably died about the year 1214, and was succeeded by his only son, William, of whom a memoir follows.

[1] The larger portion of Sir Robert Gordon's chapter on Hugh Freskin is occupied with notices of Bertram, or Bertrand Gordon, and Roger Gordon, his father, who were concerned in the killing of King Richard the First of England. Sir Robert Gordon was very partial to all of the name of Gordon, and he omits no opportunity of introducing them into the history of the Sutherland family, centuries before the real connection with the Gordons was formed by the marriage of Adam Gordon of Aboyne to the heiress of Sutherland
[2] Registrum Episcopatus Glasguensis, vol. i. p. 13. This charter must have been granted before 1152, when Prince Henry died.
[3] Registrum Moraviense, p. 14, No. 19.
[4] Shaw's Moray, Appendix, p. 406.
[5] Vol. iii. of this work, p. 1.
[6] Ibid., p. 6.
[7] Genealogy of the Earls of Sutherland, p. 28.
[8] Torfacus, Book i. caps. 4, 10, 12 and 13.
[9] Collecteana de rebus Albanicis, p. 346.
[10] We learn from the Register of Dunfermline that, between 1146 and 1153, King David had sufficient hold over Sutherland so called as to grant lands near Dornoch to Andrew, bishop of Caithness, to be held by no other tenure than that of the king's service, which implies that the district was then subject to the Scottish Crown, and not to the Norwegian earls. [Registrum de Dunfermelyn, pp. 14, 15.].
[11] Hoveden, quoted by Skene, Celtic Scotland, vol. i. p. 482.

Source: Fraser, W. (1894) The Sutherland Book. Edinburgh: Privately Printed.



Nixt vnto Robert succeeded Hugh Southerland earle of Southerland, called Freskin, in whose dayes Herald Chisholme, (or Herald Guthred) thane of Catteynes, accompanied with a number of scapethrifts and rebells, (so the historie calleth them) began to exercise all kynd of misdemeaners and outrages, which vncivill people, incensed with want and hatred, doe not vsuallie omitt, by invading the poore and simple with cruell spoilings; these rebells haveing ranged abrod in Catteynes, and not being satisfeid with what they had done ther, they turne ther course toward Southerland. Earle Hugh spedelie conveined some of the inhabitants of Southerland, and defended that cuntrie from ther furie. Whervpon Herauld returned agane into Catteynes, and being offended at John bishop of Catteynes for defending the liberties of his church, and for staying him from obtaining what he had desired from the king in prejudice of his bishoprick, he apprehended bishop John, pulled out his toung and both his eyes, then killed him most cruellie.
     King William coming out of England the yeir of God one thousand one hundred thrie score and eighten, wher he had been for that tyme, and hearing of this cruell and barbarous fact, he pursued Herald with the most of his complices, even vnto Dungesby in Catteynes, and apprehended them. He commanded exact justice to be done, lege talionis. Herald had first his eyes pulled out, then he wes gelded, and lastlie, he was publictlie hanged. All his whole linage and familie wer in lyk manner gelded, and their blood vtterly extinguished, leist any succession should spring from so detestable a seid: vt honimin vnius ætate scelestus ille sanguis extinguereter, sayet Boethius, in his 13th book of his historie. In memorie whereof, the place where they were gelded is at this day called the Stonnie Hill, that the exemplarie punishment of so odius a fact might remayn to all posteritie. The rest of the offenders, his followers, were al diverslie punished, to the terror of others: All of them, both chieftan and servants, had a competent and ignominious death deservedlie drawen on by demerite.
     This Hugh Fresken, erle of Southerland, disposed by his charter, vnder his seale, vnto Mr Gilbert, archdeacon of Morray, and to his heirs, the lands of Skelbo, Inwershin, and Ferrinbusky, lying within Southerland. This charter wes confirmed by King William the Lyon, the 29th day of Aprile, at Slishcheles, and the king's great seale wes annexed thereto; which is yet extant among the Erle of Southerland's writs: and I had a sight of it from James Southerland, tutor of Duffus, it being then among his nevoyes writs. Heir it is to be observed, that in the originall confirmation, their is neither mention maid of the yeir of Chryst, nor of the yeir of the king's raigne, onlie ther is the day of the moneth, with the king's seale annexed therevnto.
     When Phillip August, king of France, had wars with Richard the First, king of England, surnamed Coeur de Lyon, William, king of Scotland, sent a companie of valiant men to assist Phillip, as he had befor sent aid vnto King Lues the Seaventh against King Henry the Second, by vertue of the old allyance contracted betuixt the two kindomes of France and Scotland. King Richard being in France, he beseigeth Vsoudun in berry. Phillip beseidgeth Vernon; yet he leaves the town, and flies to King Richard to draw him to feight; who, finding himself too weak, retires with his army. Phillip returneth to his seidges, and wunes the toun, notwithstanding all the attempts of Richard, who now dealls for truce, which he doth obteyne for fyve yeirs. He taketh breath, to seik revenge vnder the cullor of peace; but God had otherwise disposed. Phillip had dissolved his owne army and the Scottish supplies, dispersing them in guarisons, wher they might refresh themselves. In this meantyme Richard wes advertysed that Vidomar, viscount of Limoges (being his subject) had found great treasure in his ground. Vidomar (as sayet Hoveden) sent and offered a good share to King Richard, which the king refused, pretending that treaseus trouvé (found treasure) wes whollie his, by vertue of his prerogative royall, or els mislyking that the viscount should mak the division. Vidamor then flies to Chaluz, Caalac, or Gaillard (a toun in Limousin, diverslie named by the historiens), held by the French and ther confederats, although it wes of the province of Guienne, then belonging to the Englesh. The viscount gave a great portion of the treasour to the souldiers of that fort, that they might the more couragiouslie defend it, and so left them.
     King Richard (as one that culd not avoyd his fatall destinie) hasteth into Limousin, and beseidgeth the toun, which was manfullie defefnded by Bartram Gordoun and others, placed ther by King Phillip, to keip that fort against the Englesh. After many fierce assaults, Richard perceaving that all his attempts wer resisted, he ceassed to assaill the toun, meaning to undermyne the walls, which otherwise wold verie hardlie be gotten, considdering (as sayeth Holinshed) the stoutnes of them within, and also the naturall strenth and situation of the place itselff: Bot whilst King Richard went about with Marchand (generall of the Brabantines) to view the toun, (the better to considder the place, and which way he might best convey the course of his mine) he came vnadvysedlie so farr within danger, that he was shott by Bartram Gordon from the walls, with ane barbed arrow, in the shoulder, wher it joyned to the neck; Bertram haveing, befor his shott, maid his prayer to God, that he wold direct the arrow, and delyver the innoncency of the beseidged from oppression.
     Richard his desyre to follow the siedge maks him to neglect his wound, which impairs, being vndrest. Within tuelve dayes thereefter, the toun wes rendered vnto him, bot litle treasure found therein. He commanded all the people of the fort to be hanged, except Bertram Gordon, who had given him his deidlie wound, whom (as sayeth Hoveden) he had destined to a most rigorous and ignominious death, iff he had convalesced. Bot Richard toke not that which he hounted after, with a desyre so vnsemly for a great prince. Instead of taking of old, (seiknes increasing with the anguis of his incurable wound) death surprised him at the tuelff dayes end; who leveing his lyff vpon so light ane occasion, leawes a notable example of the vanitie of this world, in the lightnes of human spirits, who suffer themselues to be transported with crueltie and covetousnes, tuo miserable counsellours both to great and small. O how glorious is it for a prince, (as Hoveden notteth) to begin and end his action in Him who is the begining of this king, (sayeth Samuell Daniell) wes his violent proceeding in a bussines of treasure with Stephan Thurstane, seneshall of Normandie, so wes it likewise the last, and the cause of his destruction.
     Richard being despaired of longer lyff, began to dispose of his estate, leiveing to his brother John all his kingdomes, and thrie pairts of his treasure, and the fourth pairt to his servants; which done, he caused Bertram Gordon (whom Ranulphus Cistrensis called Bertrand) to be brought befor him; of whom he demanded, how he darred to shoot at the persone of a king, or wherin had he so much offended him that he aymed at him, and killed him, rather than Generall Marchand, who wes then in his company, viewing the walls? To whom Bertram replyed resolutelie and boldlie, without shew of fear: never excuseing his own fault, but alledgeing the necessitie of his case, and the justice of God his work in it: I purposed (sayeth he) to slay thee, and aymed cheiflie at thee, becaus thow didest heirtofore kill my father Roger, and tuo of my brethren, and woldest also now have slain myself, iff I had happened into thy hands; therefore I intended to revenge their deaths, not careing in the meantyme what become of myselff, so that I might in any way obteny my will of thee, who in such sort hath bereft me of my deirest friends, and hath done so great mischieff to the world: and I am exceeding glaid that fortune hath so assisted me in my revenge. Doe therefore thy worst vnto me, and revenge thyn own death with the greatest torment thow canst devyse; I defy thee. The king wondering at his constancie and confidence, and pondering his talk, frielie pardoned him, and commanded that he should be set at libertie. But how soon King Richard wes deid, Marchand caused Bertram Gordoun to be tormented and slain; which happened in the yeir of God 1199. These are the first of the surname of Gordoun that I doe find by ther proper names expressed in historyes.
     Now let us returne to mak end of Hugh Erle of Southerland, who keiped his cuntrey and the inhabitants thereof frie from the oppression of others all the dayes of his liffe.

Gordon, R. (1813) A Genealogical History of the Earldom of Sutherland, from its origin to the year 1630; written by Sir Robert Gordon of Gordonstoun, Baronet. With a Continuation to the Year 1651. Edinburgh: Ramsay & Co.

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