Origins of the Clan



The progenitor of the Clan Sutherland was also the progenitor of the Clan Murray who was a Flemish nobleman by the name of Freskin de Moravia. This is why the original Clan Sutherland chiefs who also held the title Earl of Sutherland were all called by the surname de Moravia. The de Moravia line was also the senior line of Murrays. Hugh de Moravia was the grandson of Freskin de Moravia, who was known as Lord de Sudrland. His son, great-grandson of Freskin was William de Moravia, 1st Earl of Sutherland. The clan name of Sutherland, originally de Sudrland is obviously the place name in the Highlands, Scotland.

Battle of Dornoch 1150c; The Sutherland forbear was Freskin de Moravia, whose father was probably a Flemish noble named Ollec with lands in Morayshire and elsewhere (”de Moravia” being “of Moray”). He was given a commission by King David I of Scotland to gather the Sutherland Gaels together and clear the Norsemen from the area, and he received Strabrock in West Lothian and Duffus in Moray from King David I of Scotland. Some hold that he was therefore probably the hero of the clan legend about the killing of the last Norseman. The crucial battle took place near Dornoch where the Norse chief had gathered his men in an attempt to stop the Scottish advance. The fight at first went the Norsemen’s way when they penetrated the Scots formation and the Sutherland chief was injured. As the chief lay wounded though, he spotted a Norse general coming up to support the attack. Finding a horseshoe at hand, he threw it with all of his might, striking the Norseman squarely in the forehead, killing him, and turning the whole battle around. By the end of the day, all of the Norsemen had been killed or captured.

Battle of John o’ Groats; Chief Hugh de Moravia, grandson of progenitor Freskin de Moravia is said to have strengthened the family’s royal favor by ridding the north of a ferocious band of robbers led by Harold Chisholm. Among the crimes, a number of Sutherland churchmen were tortured by nailing horseshoes to their feet and making them dance to entertain the followers before putting them savagely to death. On hearing of this outrage, King William I of Scotland (William the Lion) ordered chief Hugh of Sutherland to pursue Chisolm to the death and a great fight ensued near John o’ Groats. All of the robbers were either killed or captured. Harold Chisolm and the other leaders were given a punishment to fit the crime, horse shoeing and hanging. The rest were gelded to prevent any offspring from men who were so detestable. This seems to have been a frequent punishment of the time. In 1198 an entire sept of the Sinclairs were castrated for the killing of the Bishop of Caithness.

Rebellion of the Sinclairs 1222; The trouble was over tithes imposed by the Bishop of Caithness whose seat was at Dornoch. The Clan Sinclair Earls of Caithness had long resented the fact that the bishopric was under Sutherland control and decided to exploit the discontent over tithes to get rid of the bishop and have the seat moved. There was soon a riot, said to be incited by Sinclair gold. The unfortunate bishop was roasted alive and his cathedral was set on fire. The rioters then headed north to join up with their Sinclair allies. Once again the Lord of Sutherland was given responsibility by the crown for restoring law and order, and for punishing Sinclair for his instigation of the incident. The Clan Sutherland force was gathered and the far northeast was laid waste in a campaign of revenge and repression. Wick and Thorso were burned and the Sinclair stronghold razed to the ground. Eighty men were tried at a summer court session at Golspie and there was strict punishment for the rioters. Four of the ringleaders were roasted and then fed to the town dogs for good measure.



Wars of Scottish Independence

      Battle of Bannockburn, 1314, During the Wars of Scottish Independence, the Clan Sutherland under chief William de Moravia, 3rd Earl of Sutherland fought at Bannockburn in 1314 where the English army was defeated.

      Battle of Halidon Hill, 1333, Kenneth de Moravia, 4th Earl of Sutherland later led the Clan Sutherland at Bannockburn where the Scottish army was defeated.

      William de Moravia, 5th Earl of Sutherland, whose wife was the daughter of Robert the Bruce and sister of King David II of Scotland, led the clan at Kilblene where he participated in the siege of Cupar Castle Fife. Along with the Earl of March took foray into England.

      Battle of Neville’s Cross, 1346, William Earl of Sutherland accompanied King David II of Scotland into England where both were captured at the battle of Nevill’s Cross by Durham. They remained in prison for over ten years before being released. John, the son of the Earl and Princess Margaret, was designated the heir to the Throne over Robert Stewart, who eventually became King Robert II in 1371



Branches of the clan

      The two branches of Clan Sutherland most closely related to the Sutherland Earls, or Clan Chiefs, were the Lairds (and later Lords) of Duffus and the Lairds of Forse. The Duffus Lairds descended from Nicholas Sutherland, only brother of William de Moravia, 5th Earl of Sutherland (d. 1370). The Forse Lairds stem from Kenneth Sutherland, only brother of Robert de Moravia, 6th Earl of Sutherland (d. 1427). (Robert’s half brother John, who was already a grandson of King Robert the Bruce, predeceased his father.) Duffus, as already noted, is outside the country of Sutherland. So also is Forse, which is in Caithness.

      Raid of Dornoch 1372; The habitual enemies of Clan Sutherland were the Clan Sinclair of Caithness, Clan MacKay and the Clan McLeod to the west of Sutherland. The long dispute with the MacKays came to a head when Nicholas Sutherland of Duffus, head of one of the junior branches, murdered Mackay and his heir in their beds at Dingwall Castle where they had met in an attempt to patch up the feud. Much bloodshed followed, including a retaliatory raid on Dornoch. The cathedral was once again set on fire and many Sutherland men were hanged in the town square. After this, the feud quieted down as both sides were called away to fight against the English.

      In 1388 the Earl of Sutherland was a leader of the Scots invading into the west of England. He married Margaret Stewart, daughter of Alexander, Earl of Buchan, a younger son of King Robert II of Scotland.



15th Century & Clan Conflicts

      Battle of Harpsdale, 1426, Chief Angus Dow Mackay of the Clan MacKay, with his son Neil, enters Caithness with all hostility, and spoils the land. The inhabitants of Caithness assembled with all diligence, and fought with Angus Dow Mackay at Harpsdale, where there was great slaughter on either side. Soon after King James I came to Inverness, of intention to pursue Angus Dow Mackay. Angus Dow Mackay came and submitted himself to the King’s mercy, and gave his son Neil in pledge of his obedience in time coming, which submission the King accepted, and sent Neil Mackay to remain in captivity on the Bass Rock, in the Firth of Forth, he was afterwards called Neil Bhasse Mackay.

      Battle of Drumnacoub, 1431, Angus Dubh Mackay defeats Angus Murray and the Sutherlanders on the slopes of the mountain Ben Loyal near Tongue.

      Battle of Ruoig-Hansett, 1437, The Caithness men overthrown at Sandside Chase by Neil Bhasse Mackay after his release from the Bass Rock. He skirmished with some of the inhabitants of that province at a place called Sanset, where he overthrew them with slaughter on either side. This conflict was called Ruaig-hanset, that is the Chase at Sanset. Neil Bhasse died shortly after.

      Battle of Skibo and Strathfleet, 1480, John MacDonald of Islay, Earl of Ross invaded Sutherlandshire and fought against men of the Clan Sutherland and Clan Murray.

      Battle of Auldicharish, 1487, To take revenge on the Clan Ross, chief Ian MacKay of Clan MacKay helped by a force from Clan Sutherland marched south invading the territory of Clan Ross and began laying waste to it. Chief Alistair Ross gathered his forces of 2000 men and engaged in a long and desperate battle with the invading forces. In the end the battle went against the Rosses with the MacKays and Sutherlands gaining the upper hand. The Ross chief was killed along with many of his clan.



16th Century & Clan Conflicts

      1517 - Elizabeth de Moravia, 10th Countess of Sutherland married Adam Gordon, son of Gordon of Huntly. Their son Alexander Gordon would become the legal heir to the Earldom of Sutherland and overall chieftenship of the Clan Sutherland.

      1517 - Battle of Torran Dubh, the Clan Sutherland, encountered John Mackay and his company at a place called Torran Dubh, beside Rogart, in Strathfleet, where there ensued a fierce and cruel conflict and the MacKays were defeated.

      1542 - Battle of Alltan-Beath, Chief Donald MacKay of Strathnaver decided to invade and molest the lands of Clan Sutherland. He burned the village of Knockartoll and stole many goods from Strathbrora. The Clan Sutherland and Clan Murray, led by Hutcheon Murray of Abirscors with Gilbert Gordon of Garty, decided to attack the MacKays. They attacked the MacKays at a place called Ailtan-Beath. After the battle the MacKays fled and much of the stolen booty was recoverd. Donald MacKay was captured and imprisoned in Foulis Castle, Ross-shire by commandment of the Queen Regent.

      1545 - at Dingwall, the Earl of Sutherland entered into a bond of manrent with John Mackenzie of Kintail for mutual defense against all enemies, reserving only their allegiance to their youthful Queen, Mary Stuart.

      1555 - Battle of Garbharry, last battle between the MacKays and forces of the Earl Sutherland.

      1586 - Battles of Allt Camhna and Leckmelm, involving the Clan MacKay, Clan Gunn, Clan Sinclair, Clan Sutherland and Clan MacLeod.

      1588 - Battle near Wick, Alexander Sutherland, 12th Earl of Sutherland divorced his obnoxious Sinclair wife in 1573. He waged all-out war with her father and Clan Sinclair before gaining a decisive victory outside Wick in 1588, when more than a hundred Sinclair clansmen were killed in a pitched battle on the seashore. Earl Alexander later married the divorced wife of the Earl of Bothwell, third husband to Mary Queen of Scots. Sinclair & Girnigoe Castle withstood a siege by the Earl of Sutherland 1588. In 1589 George Sinclair 4th Earl of Caithness invaded and laid waste the lands of the Clan Sutherland.



17th Century & Civil War

In Sir Robert Gordon’s time during the 17th century the Clan Sutherland began to acquire the reputation for enthusiastic and pious Protestantism. This is probably what made the Gordon Earls of Sutherland begin to distance themselves from their Gordon of Huntly cousins who were Catholics and later Jacobites. Sir Robert’s nephew, for example, was known as the Covenanting Earl and the clan was involved with the troubles through the 17th and 18th centuries but was supportive of the British Crown.

Battle of Carbisdale, 1650, During the Civil War the Clan Sutherland along with the Clan Munro and the Clan Ross joined forces with the Scottish Argyll Government to fight against James Graham, 1st Marquess of Montrose and his Royalist Army of foreigners. The Royalist Army led by Scotsman James Graham, 1st Marquess of Montrose was mainly made up of soldiers from Denmark and Germany. The Royalists were defeated by the Scottish Argyll Government forces. The Marquess of Montrose escaped the battle but due to wounds and ill health gave himself in to Macleod of Assynt who in turn handed him in to the government. He was brought a prisoner to Edinburgh, and on 20 May sentenced to death by the parliament. He was hanged on the 21st, with George Wishart’s laudatory biography of him put round his neck. Shortly after Montroses death the Scottish Argyll Covenanter Government became Royalists and opposed the English parlimntrians of Oliver Cromwell.



18th Century & Jacobite Uprisings

In 1719 a detachment of men from the Clan Sutherland fought for the British government at the Battle of Glenshiel where they helped to defeat the Jacobites. The Clan Sutherland also supported the British government during the Jacobite uprisings in 1745-1746. The Earl and chief of Clan Sutherland had been of the surname Gordon ever since the early 16th century and their now distant cousins, the chiefs of Clan Gordon were themselves divided with half supporting the Jacobites and half supporting the government. The 2nd Duke of Gordon had followed the Jacobites in 1715, but the 3rd Duke of Gordon supported the British government by the time of the 1745 uprising. However, his brother raised two regiments against him to fight as Jacobites at the Battle of Falkirk (1746) and the Battle of Culloden.

Unfortunately when the Jacobite Uprisings began in 1745 the Jacobites stormed Clan Sutherland’s Dunrobin Castle without warning. The Earl of Sutherland who had changed his surname from Gordon to Sutherland; William Sutherland, 17th Earl of Sutherland narrowly escaped them through a back door. He sailed for Aberdeen where he joined the Duke of Cumberland’s army.

The redeeming parts of the Jacobite Uprising came for Clan Sutherland when they defeated a Jacobite force under the Earl of Cromartie, chief of Clan MacKenzie as it made its way to join Prince Charlie at Culloden.

In 1746 as the Earl of Cromartie and his forces were travelling to meet Charles Edward Stuart they were attacked by the Clan Sutherland near Bonar Bridge. The Earl of Sutherland himself had already escaped south to join the Duke of Cumberland’s army after his lands had been wasted. However, many of his clan still remained in the hills, commanded by a man from Golspie who attacked the MacKenzies. Most of the Jacobite officers were captured, many of the men were killed and the rest were driven onto the shore where several were drowned trying to swim the Bonar Firth. Thus the Clan MacKenzie were prevented from joining the Jacobite army at the Battle of Culloden.

However despite all these efforts by the Earl of Sutherland to defeat the Jacobites, including his victory at Bonar Bridge, he struggled to prove to the parliament in London that he had not had Jacobite sympathies. Many in London accused him of being a Jacobite.



Clan Chiefs

The chief of Clan Sutherland was whoever held the title Earl of Sutherland and was not necessarily someone by the name of Sutherland. The family who are first known to have been in possession of this title was a line from the Clan Murray who were known by the surname “de Moravia”. The Earldom passed by right of marriage to a younger son of the chief of Clan Gordon early in the 16th century.

This line of Gordons who were Earls of Sutherland changed their surname from Gordon to Sutherland in the 18th century during the Jacobite Uprisings. However, later on during the 18th century, the Earldom which was promoted to the rank of “Duke” passed to various people from different family lines within the Clan Sutherland.

The Earl of Sutherland was the chief of the clan, but on the accession to the earldom in 1766, of Countess Elizabeth, the infant daughter of the eighteenth earl, and afterward Duchess of Sutherland, as the chiefship could not descend to a female, William Sutherland of Killipheder, who died in 1832, and enjoyed a small annuity from her grace, was accounted the eldest male descendant of the old earls. John Campbell Sutherland, Esq, of Fors, was afterwards considered the real chief.


The line of the Gordon Earls of Sutherland, who afterwards held high offices and honours in the State, came to an end with the death of William, nineteenth Earl, at Bath in 1766. The title and estates were then claimed by Sir Robert Gordon of Gordonstown and George Sutherland of Fors, and the case, in which the celebrated Lord Hailes took part, remains among the most famous in our legal annals. It was finally decided, however, by the House of Lords in 1771 in favour of the late Earl’s only surviving daughter, Elizabeth. This lady married, in 1785, George Granville Leveson-Gower, Viscount Trentham, afterwards second Marquess of Stafford, who was, in 1833, created Duke of Sutherland. From that time to this the distinguished holders of the Sutherland titles have been of the Leveson-Gower family, and only distantly related, through the two heiresses named Elizabeth, of the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries respectively, to the original heads of the clan of the name of Murray or Sutherland. Meanwhile the actual chiefship of the clan by male descent was believed to be vested in William Sutherland of Killipheder, who enjoyed a small annuity from the Duchess-Countess, and died at a great age in 1832, and after him in John Campbell Sutherland of Fors, in the county of Caithness. The last-named died about 1917, leaving five daughters but no son. In the course of the intervening centuries the race of the famous Freskin the Fleming has made a mighty record in the history of Scotland.

The current Chief of Clan Sutherland is Elizabeth Millicent, Countess of Sutherland



Clan Castles

      Dunrobin Castle is the seat of the chief of the Clan Sutherland.

      Duffus Castle had been owned by the Clan Sutherland since the 1350s until 1705.



Clan Profile

      Gailic Names: Suithearlarach (Singular) & Na Suithearlaraichean (Collective)

      Motto: “Sans Peur” (French for “Without Fear”)

      Slogan: “Ceann na Drochaide Bige!” (Gaelic for “The Head of the Little Bridge!”)

      Pipe Music: “The Earl of Sutherland’s March”

      Crest: A cat-a-mountain saliant Proper

      Supporters: Two savages wreathed head and middle with laurel, holding batons in their hands proper.

      Plant Badge: Butcher’s Broom, Cotton Sedge

      Animal Symbol: Cat.

      Arms (Earl of Sutherland as recorded for the fifteenth Earl, 1719):

      Shield: Gules, three mullets Or, on a bordure of the second a double tressure flory counterflory of the first.



Clan Tartans

      Old Sutherland (Ancient)

      Old Sutherland (Dress)

      Old Sutherland (Modern)

      Old Sutherland (Muted)

      Old Sutherland (Weathered)

      Sutherland (Modern)



Septs of Clan Sutherland


















Allied Clans

      Clan Gordon

      Clan Murray

      Clan Oliphant

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