Earl of Orkney - Encyclopedia

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EARL OF ORKNEY, a Scottish title held at different periods by various families, including its present possessors the Fitzmaurices. The Orkney Islands were ruled by jarls or earls under the supremacy of the kings of Norway from very early times to about 1360, many of these jarls being also earls of Caithness under the supremacy of the Scottish kings. Perhaps the most prominent of them were a certain Paul (d. 1099) who assisted the Norwegian king, Harald III. Haardraada, when he invaded England in 1066; and his grandson Paul the Silent, who built, at least in part, the cathedral of St Magnus at Kirkwall. They were related to the royal families of Scotland and Norway.

In its more modern sense the earldom dates from about 1380, and the first family to hold it was that of Sinclair, Sir Henry Sinclair (d. c. 1400) of Roslin, near Edinburgh, being recognized as earl by the king of Norway. Sir Henry was the son of Sir William Sinclair, who was killed by the Saracens whilst accompanying Sir James Douglas, the bearer of the Bruce's heart, to Palestine in 1330, and on the maternal side was the grandson of Malise, who called himself earl of Strathearn, Caithness and Orkney. He ruled the islands almost like a king, and employed in his service the Venetian travellers Nicolo and Antonio Zeno. His son Henry (d. 1418) was admiral of Scotland and was taken prisoner by the English in 1406, together with Prince James, afterwards King James I.; his grandson William, the 3rd earl (c. 1404-1480), was chancellor of Scotland and took some part in public affairs. In 1455 William was created earl of Caithness, and in 1470 he resigned his earldom of Orkney to James III. of Scotland, who had just acquired the sovereignty of these islands through his marriage with Margaret, daughter of Christian I., king of Denmark and Norway. In 1567 Queen Mary's lover, James Hepburn, earl of Bothwell, was created duke of Orkney, and in 1581 her half-brother Robert Stewart (d. 1592), an illegitimate son of James V., was made earl of Orkney. Robert, who was abbot of Holyrood, joined the party of the reformers and was afterwards one of the principal enemies of the regent Morton. His son Patrick acted in a very arbitrary manner in the Orkneys, where he set the royal authority at defiance; in 1609 he was seized and imprisoned, and, after his bastard son Robert had suffered death for heading a rebellion, he himself wws executed in February 1614, when his honours and estates were forfeited.

In 1696 Lord George Hamilton was created earl of Orkney (see below). He married Elizabeth Villiers (see below), and he was succeeded by his daughter Anne (d. 1756), the wife of William O'Brien, 4th earl of Inchiquin. Anne's daughter Mary (c. 1721-1791) and her granddaughter Mary (1755-1831) were both countesses of Orkney in their own right; the younger Mary married Thomas Fitzmaurice (1742-1793), son of John Petty, earl of Shelburne, and was succeeded in the title by her grandson, Thomas John Hamilton Fitzmaurice (1803-1877), whose descendants still hold the earldom.

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