1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Sutherland, Earls and Dukes of
SUTHERLAND, EARLS AND DUKES OF. The first earl of Sutherland was a certain William (d. 1284), whose father, Hugh Freskin (d. 1204), acquired the district of Sutherland about 1197. Probably about 1230 William was created earl of Sutherland. His descendant William, the 4th earl (d. 1370), was a person of some importance in the history of Scotland; he married Margaret (d. 1358), daughter of King Robert Bruce. His descendant John, the 9th earl, a man of weak intellect, died unmarried in 1514.
John’s sister Elizabeth (d. 1535) married Adam Gordon (d. 1537), a younger son of George Gordon, 2nd earl of Huntly, and a grandson of King James I., and before 1516 Gordon became earl of Sutherland by right of his wife. He was succeeded by his grandson John (c. 1526–1567), the 2nd earl of his line, who played his part in the turbulent politics of the time and was poisoned at the instigation of George Sinclair, 4th earl of Caithness. His great-grandson John, the 5th earl (1609–1663), was a strong Covenanter, being called by his associates “the good Earl John”; he fought against Montrose at Auldearn, but afterwards he rendered good service to Charles II. John Gordon (c. 1660–1733), who became the seventh earl in 1703, supported the revolution of 1688 and was a commissioner for the union of England and Scotland. He was a Scottish representative peer in four parliaments, president of the board of trade and manufactures, and lord-lieutenant of the eight northern counties of Scotland. He was active in putting down the rising of 1715. This earl, who took the name of Sutherland instead of that of Gordon, was succeeded by his grandson William (c. 1708–1750), a representative peer, who helped to suppress the rebellion of 1745. William, the next earl, died without male issue in 1766. This earl’s daughter Elizabeth (1765–1839) claimed the peerage, and although her title thereto was contested by Sir Robert Gordon, Bart., a descendant of the first Gordon earl, it was confirmed by the House of Lords in 1771.
Established in the possession of the title and the vast estates of the earldom, the countess of Sutherland was married in 1785 to George Granville Leveson-Gower (1758–1833), who succeeded his father as second marquess of Stafford in 1803. In addition to the estates of the marquessate of Stafford, Leveson-Gower inherited the Bridgewater Canal and estates from his maternal uncle, Francis Egerton, 2nd duke of Bridgewater, and these properties, together with his wife’s estates, which included almost the whole of the county of Sutherland, made him a “leviathan of wealth,” as he is called by Charles Greville. In 1833 he was created duke of Sutherland. Leveson-Gower was a member of parliament from 1778 to 1784 and again from 1787 to 1798 and was British ambassador in Paris from 1790 to 1792. From 1799 to 1810 he was joint postmaster-general. He was a collector of paintings, and purchased Stafford House, still the London residence of the dukes of Sutherland. As a landlord he greatly improved his estates in Staffordshire and Shropshire and then turned his attention to those of his wife in Sutherlandshire. He was responsible for the construction of about 450 m. of road and of many bridges, but his policy of removing a large number of his tenants from the interior to the coast aroused bitterness and criticism. However, he reduced rents and brought thousands of acres into cultivation. He died at Dunrobin Castle on the 5th of July 1833.
His elder son, George Granville (1786–1861), became the 2nd duke, but the valuable Bridgewater estates passed to his younger son, Lord Francis Leveson-Gower, who was created earl of Ellesmere in 1846. The 2nd duke’s wife, Harriet Elizabeth Georgiana (1806–1868), a daughter of George Howard, 6th earl of Carlisle, was one of Queen Victoria’s most intimate friends. She was mistress of the robes to the queen, whose refusal to part with her in 1839 led to a ministerial crisis. Some of her letters are published in Stafford House Letters, edited by her son Lord Ronald Gower (1891).
George Granville William, the 3rd duke (1828–1892), spent large sums in improving his estates. His wife Anne (1829–1888), daughter of John Hay Mackenzie, was created countess of Cromartie in 1861, and the earldom descended to her second son Francis (1852–1893). When he died without sons the earldom fell into abeyance, but this was terminated in 1895 in favour of his daughter Sibell Lilian (b. 1878), the author of The Days of Fire and other books.
In 1892 Cromartie Leveson-Gower (b. 1851), who had been M.P. for Sutherlandshire, became 4th duke of Sutherland. His wife, Millicent Fanny, daughter of the 4th earl of Rosslyn, became well known in literary as well as in social and philanthropic circles.
See Sir Robert Gordon and George Gordon, Genealogical History of the Earldom of Sutherland (Edinburgh, 1813); and also the article Stafford, Earls and Marquesses of.