William, 2nd Earl of Sutherland

William, 2nd Earl of Sutherland (son of William, 1st Earl of Sutherland)


William (Sutherland), Earl of Sutherland [S.], s. and h. He paid £20 in 1263 and again in 1266 as part of a fine due to the King.[1] According to local tradition the Earl of Sutherland beat off Norse raiders in an engagement outside Dornoch, apparently in Aug. 1263.[2] In 1269 he was at Nairn[3] with William, 2nd Earl of Ross (whose sister Eupheme had m. his br., Walter of Duffus, d. 1263) and there met Archibald Heroch, Archdeacon of Moray, who became Bishop of Caithness in 1275; in which year they amicably divided the lands which had been in dispute between their predecessors for more than 30 years.[4] He attended the Parl. [S.] at Scone which on 5 Feb. 1283/4 recognised Margaret (b. circa 1282), da. of Erik II Magnusson, King of Norway, by Margaret (d. 9 Apr. 1283), da. of King Alexander III [S.], as her grandfather's heir, and later signed the letter of 14 Mar. 1289/90 from Birgham to Edward I, King of England, consenting to hte proposed marriage between Margaret, Queen of Scots, and the King's son Edward of Carnarvon (afterwards Edward II), then aged about eight and six respectively.[5] During the interregnum in Scotland after Queen Margaret's death in Orkney (circa 26 Oct. 1290) he was reckoned one of the supporters of the Bruce claim to the succession.[6] He does not appear to have taken any part in the war against King Edward I, Mar.-July 1296; but, although the King of England came north and was at Elgin, 26-29 July, when he went to Rothes, and to Invercharrad on the Deveron next day, Earl William did not come across from Sutherland to meet him but waited for a month before he went to Berwick to sign the Homage Roll on 28 Aug. 1296.[7] In May 1297 the Earl received a copy of the circular letter sent by King Edward about the proposed expedition to Flanders.[8] Although he did not take part in this expedition, he received another letter 3 months later commending his loyalty (presumably for having refrained from joining the insurrection started in May by Sir William Wallace) and calling upon him to support Sir Brian FitzAlan of Bedale, the newly appointed Keeper of Scotland. On 4 Apr. 1304 King Edward sent the Earl a letter from St. Andrews thanking him for his good faith and good will so often shown. Two years later the Earl's name was on the list of those adherents of King Edward who were to be given lands as a reward for their support.[9] The name and parentage of his wife have not been recorded.[10] Remaining constant in the allegiance which he had sworn at Berwick in 1296, he d. while Sir Aymer de Valence (afterwards Earl of Pembroke) was Guardian of Scotland in Apr. 1306-Sep. 1307, probably before the death of King Edward on 7 July 1307.[11]

[1] At a later date (1359) £15 was due from the Earldom of Sutherland every 7 years (Exch. Rolls [S.], vol. i, pp. 13, 19, 570).
[2] When Hakon V, King of Norway, was on his way south.
[3] When he witnessed a grant by the Earl of Ross to the church of Moray (Reg. Episc. Morav., pp. 278-79).
[4] Skibo Castle, land in Hasekesdale (Astel) and fishery rights at Bunnach (Bonar Bridge) (Sutherland Book, vol. i, p. 16; vol iii, pp. 7-9).
[5] Acts of Parl. [S.], vol. i, p. 424; Foedera, vol. i, p. 730.
[6] Cf. Cal. Docs. [S.], vol ii, no. 643.
[7] In company with John Comyn, 7th Earl of Buchan, Constable of Scotland; Malcolm, 5th Earl of Lennox; Donald, 6th Earl of Mar (afterwards, it is said, father-in-law of Kenneth, 4th Earl of Sutherland); Alexander Stewart, 6th Earl of Menteith; Malise, 6th Earl of Strathearn, and Sir Brian FitzAlan of Bedale, former Guardian (13 June 1291) and later Keeper (18 Aug. 1297) of Scotland for the King of England (Idem, p. 196).
[8] Idem, no. 884; Foedera, vol. i, p. 866.
[9] Rot. Scotiae, vol. i, p. 50; Sutherland Book, vol. ii, p. 1; Palgrave, Docs. [S.], p. 314.
[10] According to a letter from Bishop Browne to the then Editor, 22 Oct. 1921, citing a Dunecht charter penes Lord Cowdray, he m., Aug.-Sep. 1285, Margaret de Bruis; but it seems fairly certain that the bishop misdated a charter relating to the marriage of the 5th Earl. See p. 544, note "d" below.
[11] Petition from William, 3rd (Vth) Earl of Ross, to King Edward II (see note "d" below).

White, G. H. (1953) The Complete Peerage, vol. XII. London: The St. Catherine Press.


William, second Earl of Sutherland, who is said to have been quite a youth at his father's death. He appears in the Exchequer Rolls of 1263 and 1266, when £20 in each year was paid as part of the fine due to the King, and at a later date the sum of £15 was exigible from the earldom of Sutherland every seven years.[1] In 1269 the Earl appears as a witness to a charter by William, Earl of Ross, at Nairn, granting lands to the church of Moray.[2] On 22 September 1275 the Earl, yielding to the advice of friends, made a final agreement with the then Bishop of Caithness in regard to certain lands which had been in dispute between Bishop Gilbert and the first Earl. An amicable arrangement was now made, both parties yielding somewhat, and signed in the cathedral of Dornoch.[3] Except appearing as a witness to charters, one of which indicates that he held lands in Aberdeenshire,[4] the Earl is little heard of until, in February 1283-84, he attended the Parliament at Scone which accepted the infant Margaret of Norway as Queen of Scotland failing direct issue of King Alexander III. or his lately deceased son.[5] The Earl also took his share in public affairs after King Alexander's death, and in the interregnum which followed, rather inclined to the English party, though he was one of the supporters of the claims of Bruce to the vacant throne. For the most part, however, he remained in his own country, though he signed the homage roll at Berwick on 28 August 1296. After this he adhered faithfully to the English King, and in 1306 was still his partisan, and died in that allegiance between April 1306 and September 1307.[6] He had issue two sons:--
     1. William, third Earl of Sutherland.
     2. Kenneth, fourth Earl of Sutherland.

[1] Exch. Rolls, i. 13, 19, 570.
[2] Reg. Moraviense, 278, 279.
[3] The agreement is much too long to be quoted fully here, but will be found at length in the Sutherland Book, iii. 7-9; cf. i. 16.
[4] Reg. Moraviense, 469.
[5] Acta Parl. Scot., i. 242.
[6] Sutherland Book, i. 20, 21, and authorities cited.

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



On the death of William, first Earl of Sutherland, in 1248, he was succeeded by his only son, William, as the second Earl of Sutherland, who, according ot the tradition in the family, was young at the time of his father's death, and as he survived till the year 1307, he was thus in possession of the earldom of Sutherland for about sixty years. Sir Robert Gordon devotes to this Earl of Sutherland a large space of his work. The reason for this arises partly from the author's having confounded the earl with his son, the third earl, but chiefly from large digressions about the Gordon family.[1]
     The first recorded notices of the second Earl of Sutherland appear in the Exchequer Rolls for 1263 and 1266, when the sheriff of Inverness, whose jurisdiction then included Sutherland and Caithness, accounted in each year for £20 as part of the fine due to the king from the Earl of Sutherland. Similar fines were also paid at the same time by the bishop of Ross and Earl of Caithness. Why these sums were exacted does not appear. They may have had some reference to the Norwegian invasion of 1263, but it is to be noted that at a later date £15 was exigible from the earldom of Sutherland every seven years.[2]      Earl William, in the beginning of the year 1269, was at Nairn, and witnessed a charter by William, Earl of Ross, who confirmed to the church of Moray a grant of lands made by his brother-in-law the late Freskin of Moray, Lord of Duffus.[3] One of the other witnesses to the same writ was Archibald Heroch, archdeacon of Moray. A few years later the archdeacon was elected bishop of Caithness, and one of his first acts in his new sphere was to enter into an agreement with the Earl of Sutherland to put an end to a controversy about certain lands, which had continued from the days of Bishop Gilbert. The lands in question were the castle and lands of Skibo, Sytheraw now Cyderhall, Migdell, Sordell, Creich, with the fishings of Bonar, Evelix, Proney, Thorboll, Lairg and others. The bishop's predecessors had claimed right to these lands and the castle of Skibo, in the name of the church of Caithness, a claim which had been disputed both by the present earl and his father, to the great expense of both parties. Matters had become so serious that for the sake of the church a number of prelates and noblemen now interposed, and after some discussion, the controversy was settled by the earl agreeing to give to the church the castle of Skibo, the lands of Skibo, Cyderhall and others, while Evelix and all the other lands were resigned by the bishop to the earl and his heirs. The bishop also, to secure the benefits conferred, granted to the earl the lands of Owenes, valued at half a merk, and the privilege of presenting a chaplain to celebrate perpetually at the altar of St. James, in the church of Dornoch, for the souls of the earl, his predecessors and successors, assigning to the chaplain five merks a year for his maintenance. The agreement was made and sealed in the cathedral church at Dornoch, 22d September 1275, by the bishop, dean, archdeacon, precentor, and chancellor of Caithness on the one side, and Earl William, Sir William of Montealto, Sir Andrew Moray, Sir Alexander Moray, and Sir David of Inverlunan on the other side.[4]
     Probably about the same date the earl witnessed a charter by Sir David of Inverlunan to the monks of the priory of Beauly.[5] About 1284, he was also a witness to a charter by John Moray, son of Malcolm Moray, to his brother, William Moray, of the lands of "Culnacloich" and "Ruthtrelen" in Strathbogie.[6] The granter held these lands of the Earl of Sutherland, and we thus learn that the latter possessed lands in Aberdeenshire, though there is no evidence as to how or when they were acquired.
     In the same year we find the earl making his first appearance in affairs affecting the whole kingdom. King Alexander the Third, owing to the deaths, within a short space of one another, of his eldest son and his daughter, was left without an heir, except his infant granddaughter, popularly known as "The Maid of Norway." He therefore summoned a meeting of Parliament at Scone to consider the state of the succession. At this assembly the Earl of Sutherland was present, and along with the other barons of the realm, bound himself to accept the infant Margaret, daughter of Princess Margaret of Scotland and the King of Norway, as queen of Scotland, failing any issue of King Alexander or of his lately deceased son.[7] As is well known, any hopes of such issue were disappointed, and Scotland was threatened with all the evils of a long minority by the death of its monarch and the youth of its future queen.
     What part the Earl of Sutherland took immediately after the sudden death of King Alexander, or whether he sided at first with either of the factions which then began to contend for the succession, is nowhere on record. But we find him joining with the other nobles and magnates of the kingdom in the letter which they addressed to King Edward the First from Birgham on 17th March 1290, consenting to the proposed marriage between the young Prince of Wales and the infant Queen of Scotland. The Estates had already agreed to the treaty arranged at Salisbury in the previous November, stipulating that the young queen was to be brought from Norway, either to Scotland or England.[8] A later meeting of the Estates was held at Birgham on 18th July 1290, when the marriage was finally arranged, and a treaty made with Edward in terms which secured the independence of Scotland. The Earl of Sutherland was probably present at this parliament, but there is no detailed record of its proceedings.[9]
     The hopes entertained regarding the proposed marriage were frustrated by the death of the "Maid of Norway" while on her way to Scotland. Dissensions then arose among rival claimants to the throne, but in connection with these and the proceedings which followed, the name of the Earl of Sutherland does not occur. He would appear to have betaken himself to his own country of Sutherland, as in the summer of 1291, when Edward the First visited various towns of Scotland, exacting homage from the places where he stayed, and appointing officers to receive the oaths of those who lived in remote districts, the castellan of Inverness was directed to take the oath of the Earl of Sutherland. The earl was to give his oath of fealty to the constable, Sir William Braytoft, and then they were jointly to receive the homage of the sheriff, bailies, and others of the county.[10] It is not stated whether this was done, but probably it was, and, as will appear, the earl did homage personally at a later date to the English king. The report upon the claims of the rival competitors for the crown of Scotland was to be given in on 2d June 1292. The final decision was fixed for the 15th October, and, after some delays, decree was given for John Baliol on 17th November 1292. Between these dates there appears in the English records an attestation by the Earl of Sutherland that he had sworn to assist Robert Bruce, lord of Annandale, with all advice and aid in prosecuting his claim to the throne.[11] The earl had evidently, whatever his previous opinions, been won over to the party of Bruce.
     During the next few years the Earl of Sutherland's name is not mentioned in any record. His attachment ot the party of Bruce may have indisposed him to pay court to Baliol. He does not appear to have joined the army of the northern earls who in 1296 revolted against Edward's tyranny, and indeed he would seem to have remained constant to the English party, as at this date did Bruce himself and many of his adherents. The earl, however, gave his oath of fealty to King Edward at Berwick on 28th August of that year, his name being conjoined with those of the Earls of Strathern, Buchan, Mar, Menteith and Lennox, and other magnates, including Brian Fitz Alan, who had been one of the regents of Scotland.[12] In May of the following year the king issued to the earl as well as to Bruce and a number of Scottish nobles a letter requiring him to give special credence to the instructions and statements made by Hugh Cressingham, the treasurer, and other officers as to the king's expedition to Flanders. These statements referred to the benefits and favours to be bestowed upon such Scotsmen as chose voluntarily to accompany the expedition.[13]
     It does not appear that the Earl of Sutherland accepted the invitation to go abroad, as a few months later another royal missive was directed to him in cordial terms, making no reference to Flanders, but giving him special thanks that the had always, and particularly in these days, conducted himself well and faithfully in Scotland. The letter further informed the earl that Brian Fitz Alan, who had sworn fealty along with him at Berwick, was appointed Guardian of Scotland, and he is enjoined by his homage, fidelity and love to King Edward, and the peace of the realm, to assist the new governor. He is desired to continue, as he had begun, manfully and laudably, from good to better, and to aid with his horses, arms, and whole power in repressing the malice of the king's enemies in Scotland, as often as was necessary, and as he should be required by Fitz-Alan.[14] The terms of this missive indicate that up to that time the Earl of Sutherland had continued faithful to his oath of homage; and he was still an adherent of Edward in the beginning of 1304. This we learn from a letter written by the king, then at St. Andrews, addressed to him as the "faithful and loyal William, Earl of Sutherland." The king accepts his fidelity and thanks him for his good faith and good will so often shown, expressing willingness to serve him in return.[15] This early royal letter is now in the Public Record Office, London, and a facsimilie of it is given in volume second of this work. It is rare that missive letters of so early a date are preserved, an this is one of the earliest of such docuemnts addressed to a nobleman of Scotland. Two years later we find the earl's name inscribed among those adherents of Edward to whom he promised lands as a reward for their services in his last campaign. The lands required by the earl were those of Thomas of Folays, apparently in Moray.[16]
     Sir Robert Gordon states that the second Earl of Sutherland was at the battle of Bannockburn, and manfully assisted Bruce in his brilliant victory, and that he died in the year 1325 at a great age; but this is disprovd by contemporary evidence recently discovered. In a letter or petition from William, Earl of Ross, to King Edward the Second, which, though undated, must from its contents have been written in the spring or early part of the year 1308, the earl says, "Be pleased to know that William, formerly Earl of Sutherland, was at the faith of our lord, your father. And when he died, Sir Aymer de Valence, then Guardian of Scotland, granted the ward of that earldom to our younger son John to answer for the issues of the earldom, saving his expenses."[17] There is a further reference to the heir, but the letter will again be cited in the next memoir. Sir Aymer de Valence was appointed Guardian of Scotland in April 1306, and was superseded in September 1307. The death of the second Earl of Sutherland must therefore have taken place between these two dates, and may have preceded that of King Edward the First, who died in July 1307. It is probably that the earl was buried in the cathedral church of Dornoch, the erection of which his father, the first earl, did so much to promote, and to which he himself contributed.
     The second Earl of Sutherland had issue two sons:--
     1. William, who succeeded as third Earl of Sutherland.
     2. Kenneth, who succeeded his brother as fourth Earl of Sutherland. Of these two earls memoirs follow.

[1] Thus an entire folio page is devoted to the account of a single combat in 1267, between Sir Adam Gordon and Prince Edward of England, better known as Edward the First, or "the Hammer of Scotland." Notwithstanding the strength, manhood and valour displayed by his ancestor on that occasion, Sir Robert shows that the great personal combat only resulted in a drawn battle. Similarly he extols the bravery of Sir William Gordon, who was slain in the Holy Land, and of Sir Adam Gordon, son of Sir William, for assisting Sir William Wallace "in his most dangerous exploits." Sir Adam, it is said, died in 1312, and his widow built the chapel of Huntly in the Merse, in the same place "wher the boar was slain by the Gordon in King Malcolm Kean Moir his dayes." This refers to a fable as to the origin of the great family of Gordon, who carry, as part of their armorial ensigns, three boar's heads coupéd, in commemoration of the alleged exploit. [Genealogy, pp. 34, 35, 37, 38.]
[2] Exchequer Rolls, vol. i. pp. 13, 19, 570.
[3] Registrum Moraviense, pp. 278, 279.
[4] Vol. iii. of this wofe, pp. 7-9.
[5] History of Beauly Priory, by E. C. Batten, pp. 60, 61.
[6] Registrum Moraviense, p. 462.
[7] Acts of the Parliaments of Scotland, vol. i. p. 424.
[8] At Birgham, 14th March 1290. Stevenson's Historical Documents, vol. i. p. 129.
[9] Cf. Foedera, vol. i. pp. 735, 736.
[10] Foedera, v ol. i. p. 774.
[11] Calendar of documents relating to Scotland, vol. ii. No. 643.
[12] Ibid., vol. ii. p. 193; Historical Documents, vol. ii. p. 66.
[13] Foedera, vol. i. p. 836; Historical Documents, vol. ii. p. 169.
[14] Rotuli Scotiæ, vol. i. p. 50.
[15] Vol. ii. of this work, p. 1.
[16] Palgrave's Documents, p. 314.
[17] Vol. iii. of this work, p. 10.

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

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