John, 8th Earl of Sutherland

John, 8th Earl of Sutherland (son of John, 7th Earl of Sutherland)

John, eighth Earl of Sutherland, who was the second, but eldest surviving, son of the seventh Earl, is first mentioned in the resignation made in his favour by his father on 22 February 1455-56. Pursuant to this John Sutherland was secured in the earldom by the usual forms, under reservation of the liferent of certain lands to his father and mother. The life of this Earl was not very eventful. His record consists chiefly of charters received and charters granted by him, while he was also frequently involved in litigation.[1] Sir Robert Gordon charges the Earl with unkindness to his mother, and with ruthless cruelty towards some of his own relatives, but he says nothing about the probable cause of these and other short-comings, namely the Earl's mental weakness. A brieve of idiotry was issued by King James IV. in 1494,[2] and after the usual proceedings the Earl was, by a jury, declared incapable of managing his own affairs, and he was placed under the care of a tutor, Sir James Dunbar of Cumnock. The latter was directed by the Lords of Council on 9 February 1497-98 to convoy the Earl and his son to hte presence of King James IV., where they were to be delivered to the King, doubtless as the legal custodier of the Earl in his unfortunate condition, and of his son the heir. Sir James was to provide the expenses of the journey, and the Earl and his son were to be brought in freedom honourably to the King 'that he may consider and provide how they may be rulit according to their estate effering to their living.'[3] About the same time Alexander Sutherland of Dirlot had spoiled 'Dunrobin,' carrying off a quantity of household furniture and grain, which he and his accomplices were ordered to pay to Sir James Dunbar, the Earl's curator.[4] But although the Earl's affairs were administered by a curator he seems to have been held responsible for his actions. On 15 November 1501, decision was given in two action raised against him for spoliation. In the first of these Kinnaird of Skelbo complained against the Earl for spoliation and withholding the rents of the lands of Doll and Terrell. The defence was that they were the Earl's own heritage, and he was assigned a date on which to produce writs before the Justice Air at Elgin.[5] In the second case the complainers were his own sister Janet, widow of Alexander Dunbar of Kilcolmkill, and James Dunbar her son, who charged the Earl with taking up the rents of Kilcolmkill due to her as terce and to her son. All parties were present in Court when the case was decided, and the Earl was ordained to cease his spoliation and to pay the rents to the proper parties.[6] This is the last appearance of him on record, and he is said to have died in 1508.
     Sir Robert Gordon says this Earl married a daughter of Alexander Macdonald, Lord of the Isles, though no proof is forthcoming. Sir Robert adds that this lady was nearly drowned while crossing the ferry at Unes, and was found in a state of weakness and slain by a robber. She must have been his first wife. His second wife was apparently Fingole (said to have been a daughter of William of Calder, Thane of Cawdor), widow of John Monro of Fowlis,[7] who died some time before April 1491. She must have been the mother of Alexander named below, as he had a brother, Mr. Robert Monro. In February 1497-98 there were preparations for a divorce between her and the Earl, which the Lords of Council referred to the Vicar-General of Caithness.[8] The Earl married a third time, as between 1509 and 1512 a Catherine, Countess of Sutherland, is credited with her terce from the earldom.[9]
     The Earl had issue by first marriage:--
     1. John, ninth Earl of Sutherland.
     2. Elizabeth, afterwards Countess of Sutherland.
     The Earl had another son:--
     3. Alexander, of whose legitimate status there is much doubt. Sir Robert Gordon asserts definitely that he was illegitimate, and that his mother was a daughter of Ross of Balnagown. But there is some reason for uncertainty as to this in view of the facts stated above. He was born in 1491, and in 1509, when only eighteen, he opposed the service of his brother John as heir to their father, and requested that curators ad lites should be appointed to himself. This was done, and they advised him to renounce his right in and to the earldom in favour of his brother John and sister Elizabeth, and her husband Adam Gordon, reserving his right of succession if their heirs wholly failed. As a compensation he was secured in lands worth forty merks yearly, which sum was duly paid to him. In 1514 he, being now of age, appeared by a procurator, Mr. Robert Munro, designed his brother, and opposed the service of his half-sister Elizabeth as heir to her brother Earl John, but did not found his pretenstions on his right of blood, but on an alleged deed of entail in his favour, which, however, he did not produce. In 1515 he committed various acts of spoliation, among other feats taking possession of Dunrobin, and was incarcerated in Edinburgh Castle for wrongfully uplifting certain duties belonging to the Crown. In the year 1518 he was again in the north, and a second time seized Dunrobin Castle, which, however, he was obliged to surrender. He was killed in a conflict near Kintradwell, in the parish of Loth, in 1519 or 1520. He married a daughter of Iye Roy Mackay of Strathnaver, and had issue.[10] His descendants continued till 1829, and may still exist.

[1] Sutherland Book, i. 62-64.
[2] Acta Dom. Conc., 378, 379.
[3] Ibid., MS. vii. 174.
[4] Ibid., viii. 66, 9 July 1498.
[5] Ibid., xi. 4a.
[6] Acta Dom. Conc., xi. 4b; History of the Monros, 28.
[7] See Acta Dom. Conc., 92*.
[8] Ibid., vii. f. 114.
[9] Exch. Rolls, xiii. 268, 447.
[10] The Book of Mackay, 78; Hist. of House and Clan of Mackay, 1829, 105.

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

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