Sinclair, George (1566?-1643) (DNB00)

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SINCLAIR, GEORGE, fifth Earl of Caithness (1566?–1643), born about 1566, was the son of John, master of Caithness, who died of ill-treatment while in prison at Girnigo in 1576, by Lady Jean Hepburn, only daughter of Patrick, third earl of Bothwell, and widow of John Stewart (1531–1564?) [q. v.], prior of Coldingham. He succeeded his grandfather George, fourth earl [q. v.], in 1582. In 1584 his office of justiciary of Caithness was reduced at the instance of the Earl of Huntly (Acta Parl. Scot. iii. 357–60; Gordon, Earldom of Sutherland, p. 178). Not long afterwards he resolved to take vengeance on his father's gaolers, David and Ingram Sinclair, running the one through the body, and, shortly afterwards, shooting the other through the head (Gordon, p. 180). He deemed it advisable to come to terms with the Earl of Sutherland, and the two earls were reconciled in the presence of Huntly (ib. p. 181); on 18 May he received a remission under the great seal for the murder of David Hume and also of the Sinclairs (Reg. Mag. Sig. Scot. 1580–1593, No. 826). In February 1594–5 the bond which Huntly, Caithness, and nobles of catholic sympathies had entered into with the rebellious Earl of Bothwell was revealed to the privy council by Scott of Balwearie (Reg. P. C. Scotl. v. 205; Calderwood, Hist. v. 359–60), and in 1606 Caithness, Sutherland, and other nobles suspected of papacy were ordered to confine themselves within the bounds of certain towns (ib. vi. 608). But, though at one in religious matters, the two earls continued so hostile to each other that on 7 Aug. of the same year both were commanded to sign an assurance to keep the peace under pain of rebellion (Reg. P. C. Scotl. vii. 233), and on 1 Nov. 1608 they were again commanded to sign a similar assurance to last until 1 Jan. 1610, and to find caution in ten thousand marks (ib. viii. 186). Baulked of his customary excitement from his feud with Sutherland, Caithness amused himself with an outrage on some servants of the Earl of Orkney, who had been forced to touch at Caithness through stress of weather. After making them drunk with whisky he shaved one side of their heads and beards, and sent them to sea, although the storm had not abated (Gordon, p. 258). On 3 March 1609 the king wrote a letter to the council about the outrage (Reg. P. C. Scotl. viii. 570–1), and Caithness finally bound himself in future to allow a free and safe passage to all his majesty's subjects through Caithness. In the following year complaint was made by Sir Robert Gordon to the king that Caithness was employing one Arthur Smith to coin false money which was being circulated throughout the northern counties. A commission having been granted to Gordon to apprehend Smith, certain of the Sinclairs were killed in endeavouring to rescue him, while Smith himself, to prevent his escape, was put to death by his captors. Both parties thereupon complained to the privy council; but the matter was finally adjusted on 28 May 1612, when criminal proceedings were relinquished on condition that the two earls came under an obligation to keep the peace to each other (ib. ix. 382).

On 12 Nov. 1612 Caithness was appointed to a commission of the peace (ib. p. 487), and in the following year he recommended himself to the privy council by delivering up his kinsman, Lord Maxwell, who had taken refuge at Castle Sinclair (Gordon, p. 289). On 26 May 1614 he received a commission for the pursuit, capture, and punishment of certain pirates infesting the coasts between Peterhead and Shetland (Reg. P. C. Scotl. x. 241), and on 12 July he was named one of a commission for the apprehension of jesuit priests in Caithness (ib. p. 251). On 6 Aug. following he was appointed the king's lieutenant for the repression of the rebellion of the Earl of Orkney, a task in every way congenial to him (ib. p. 262; Gordon, p. 299; see art. Stewart, Patrick, second Earl of Orkney). The Earl of Orkney having been warded in the castle of Dumbarton, his natural son, Robert Stewart, had fortified himself in Kirkwall, and openly defied the king's authority; but Caithness was entirely successful in the expedition against the son, compelling the garrison to surrender by Michaelmas day (Calderwood, Hist. vii. 193–4; Gordon, p. 300; Reg. P. C. Scotl. ix. 701–6, 711–14). Shortly afterwards Caithness visited the king in London, when he received for his services a pension of one thousand crowns (Gordon, p. 310). But in the following year his irrepressible lawlessness completely lost him the king's favour. Lord Forbes having inherited some lands in Caithness from his brother-in-law, George Sinclair, Caithness resolved at all hazards to compel him to resign them. He therefore, in November 1615, secretly instigated the clan Gunn to burn the corn of Forbes's tenants in Sansett, and, to remove suspicion from himself, spread the rumour that it had been done by the Mackays (Gordon, p. 322). When complaints were made against him to the privy council, he is said to have caused the witnesses to be drowned, so that no actual proof could be found against him (Hist. of James the Sext, p. 390). Several complaints were made against him by Lord Forbes for reset of the incendiaries, and on 11 June he was denounced for not exhibiting them (Reg. P. C. Scotl. x. 1541); he was in the same year denounced a rebel for his papistical opinions (ib. passim); but he finally obtained remission by paying an indemnity of two thousand marks, by renouncing the pension of one thousand crowns bestowed on him by the king, and by resigning the sheriffdom of Caithness (Hist. of James the Sext, p. 391). Latterly he got hopelessly in debt, and endeavoured openly to defy his creditors. On 1 June 1619 he was denounced as a rebel for remaining pertinaciously at the horn (Reg. P. C. Scotl. xi. 583); on 25 Oct. 1621 his son, Lord Berriedale, who had been imprisoned for his father's debts, was compelled to complain against him to the council.

Various fulminations were issued against Caithness in 1621 without the least effect, and at last, on 19 Dec. 1622, a commission was granted to Sir Robert Gordon to reduce him to obedience either by negotiation, or, if that failed, with fire and sword (ib. xiii. 124). Negotiation failed, and on 10 June 1623 a commission for fire and sword was given (ib. p. 281), all the lieges of the north being commanded to assist (ib. p. 283). It was entirely successful, Caithness fleeing precipitately to Orkney, and thence to Shetland. On 30 March 1624 a proclamation was issued warning all mariners against assisting him from Shetland back to Orkney or Caithness (ib. p. 391); but on 10 June 1624 the proclamation against intercommuning with him was cancelled, and a new protection was granted him to come to Edinburgh and deal with his creditors (ib. p. 523). From his creditors he obtained during his last years an aliment out of his estates. He died at Caithness in February 1643, in his seventy-eighth year. By his wife, Lady Jean Gordon, only daughter of John, fifth earl of Huntly, he had three sons and a daughter: William, lord Berriedale, who predeceased his father; Francis; John, who entered the service of Gustavus Adolphus, and was slain at Donauwerth in 1631; and Anne, married to George, thirteenth earl of Crawford.

The fifth earl of Caithness was succeeded by his great-grandson George, son of John, master of Berriedale. As, through the folly of his grandfather, he had become hopelessly in debt, his principal creditor, Sir John Campbell of Glenurchy (afterwards first Earl of Breadalbane) [q. v.], on the earl's death in 1672, took possession of the estates, and in June 1677 was created Earl of Caithness. The title and estates were, however, claimed by George Sinclair of Keiss, son of Francis, the second son of the fifth earl, who took possession of certain lands in Caithness by force. In 1680 he endeavoured to cope with a force sent against him under General Dalziell, but was totally defeated. Nevertheless, his claim to the title was finally sustained by the privy council in 1681, whereupon Campbell relinquished it, and was created Earl of Breadalbane.

[Reg. Mag. Sig. Scot.; Reg. P. C. Scotl.; Calderwood's Hist. of the Church of Scotland; Gordon's Earldom of Sutherland; Pitcairn's Criminal Trials; Hist. of James the Sext, in the Bannatyne Club; Douglas's Scottish Peerage (Wood), i. 247.]

T. F. H.