|Earldom of Orkney
(creation of 1696)
Arms of the 8th Earl of Orkney:
Quarterly: 1st and 4th grandquarters, Argent on a Saltire Gules a Lymphad sails furled Or a Chief Ermine (Fitz-Maurice); 2nd grandquarter, quarterly: 1st and 4th, Gules three Cinquefoils Ermine (Hamilton); 2nd, Argent a Lymphad sails furled Sable (Arran); 3rd, Argent a Heart Gules imperially crowned Or on a Chief Azure three Mullets of the first (Douglas); over all at the fess point an Escallop Or for difference (for Lord George Hamilton, 1st Earl of Orkney); 3rd grandquarter, quarterly: 1st and 4th, Gules three Lions passant guardant per pale Or and Argent (O'Brien); 2nd, Argent three Piles meeting in the point issuing from the chief Gules; 3rd, Argent a Pheon Azure.
|Creation date||3 January 1696 (third creation)|
|Monarch||William II of Scotland|
|Peerage||Peerage of Scotland|
|First holder||Lord George Hamilton|
|Present holder||Peter St John, 9th Earl of Orkney|
|Heir apparent||Oliver robert St John, Viscount Kirkwall|
|Remainder to||heirs whatsoever of the 1st Earl (a woman can succeed if she has no brothers or if all her brothers died childless)|
|Subsidiary titles||Viscount of Kirkwall
|Former seat(s)||Kirkwall Castle|
The Earl of Orkney was originally a Norse jarl ruling Norðreyjar (Orkney, Shetland, Caithness and Sutherland). Originally founded by Norse invaders, the status of Norðreyjar as a Norwegian vassal was formalised in 1195. Although the term Jarl looks similar to Earl, and the Jarls were succeeded by Earls in the late 15th century, a Norwegian Jarl is not the same thing; in fact, the position of Jarl of Orkney was the most senior rank in mediaeval Norway except for the king himself.
The Jarls were periodically subject to the kings of Alba for those parts of their territory in what is now mainland Scotland (i.e. Caithness and Sutherland). In 1232, a Scottish dynasty descended from the Mormaers of Angus replaced the previous family descended from the Mormaers of Atholl, although it remained formally subject to Norway. This family was in turn replaced by the descendants of the Mormaers of Strathearn and later still by the Sinclair family, during whose time Orkney passed to Scots control.
Rognvald Eysteinsson, Earl of Møre fl. 865–890[Note 1] is sometimes credited with being the founder of the jarldom. By implication the Orkneyinga saga identifies him as such for he is given "dominion" over Orkney and Shetland by King Harald Finehair, although there is no concrete suggestion he ever held the title. The Heimskringla states that his brother Sigurd was the first to formally hold the title.
Sigurd's son Guthorm ruled for a year and died childless. Rognvald's son Hallad then inherited the title. However, unable to constrain Danish raids on Orkney, he gave up the earldom and returned to Norway, which "everyone thought was a huge joke." Torf-Einarr then succeeded in defeating the Danes and founded a dynasty which retained control of the islands for centuries after his death. Smyth (1984) concludes that the role of the brothers Eysteinsson lacks historical credibility and that Torf-Einarr “may be regarded as the first historical earl of Orkney”. Drawing on Adam of Bremen's assertion that Orkney was not conquered until the time of Harald Hardrada, who ruled Norway from 1043–66, Woolf (2007) speculates that Sigurd “the Stout” Hlodvirsson, Torf-Einarr’s great-grandson, may have been the first Earl of Orkney. Dates are largely conjectural, at least until his death recorded in 1014.
Assuming Torf-Einarr is a genuine historical figure, all of the subsequent earls were descended from him, save for Sigurd Magnusson, whose short rule was imposed by his father Magnus Barelegs, and who later became Sigurd I of Norway.
One of the main sources for the lives and times of these earls is the Orkneyinga saga, which has been described as having "no parallel in the social and literary record of Scotland". One of the key events of the saga is the "martyrdom" of Earl Magnus Erlendsson, later Saint Magnus, c. 1115. The last quarter of the saga is taken up with a lengthy tale of Earl Rögnvald Kali Kolsson and Sweyn Asleifsson — indeed the oldest version ends with the latter's death in 1171.
After the murder of Earl Jon Haraldsson some sixty years later, Magnus, son of Gille Brigte became the first of the Scottish earls. He may have been a descendent of Earl Rögnvald Kali Kolsson, although this has never been corroborated, and was a descendent of Earl Harald Maddadson on his mother's side. However, the line of specifically Norse earls is said to have come to an end when Earl Magnus II was granted his title by Haakon IV of Norway c. 1236.
|Name||Byname||Relationship to predecessor||Rule commences||Rule ends|
|Sigurd Eysteinsson||Sigurðr inn riki
|Brother of Rognvald Eysteinsson||c. 892[Note 2]|
|Guthorm Sigurdsson||Son of Sigurd Eysteinsson||c. 892||c. 893|
|Hallad Rognvaldsson||Son of Rognvald Eysteinsson||c. 893||c. 895|
|Son of Rognvald Eysteinsson||c. 895||910|
|Arnkel Torf-Einarsson||Son of Torf-Einarr Rognvaldsson||910||with Erlend and Thorfinn to 954[Note 3]|
|Erlend Torf-Einarsson||Son of Torf-Einarr Rognvaldsson||910||with Arnkel and Thorfinn to 954|
|Thorfinn Torf-Einarsson||Þorfinnr hausakljúfr
|Son of Torf-Einarr Rognvaldsson||910||with Erlend and Arnkel to 954
|Arnfinn Thorfinnsson||Son of Thorfinn Torf-Einarsson||963|
|Havard Thorfinnsson||Hávarðr inn ársæli
|Son of Thorfinn Torf-Einarsson||On Arnfinn's death|
|Ljot Thorfinnsson||Son of Thorfinn Torf-Einarsson||On Havard's death||c. 980[Note 5]|
|Hlodvir Thorfinnsson||Son of Thorfinn Torf-Einarsson||c. 980||991[Note 6]|
|Sigurd Hlodvirsson||Sigurðr digri
|Son of Hlodvir Thorfinnsson||991||1014|
|Sumarlidi Sigurdsson||Son of Sigurd Hlodvirsson||1014||with Brusi and Einar to c. 1016|
|Brusi Sigurdsson||Son of Sigurd Hlodvirsson||1014||with Einar and Sumarlidi to 1016
with Einar to 1025
|Einar Sigurdsson||Einar rangmunnr
|Son of Sigurd Hlodvirsson||1014||with Brusi and Sumarlidi to 1016
with Brusi to 1025
with Brusi and Thorfinn to 1026
|Thorfinn Sigurdsson||Þorfinnr inn riki
|Son of Sigurd Hlodvirsson||c. 1025[Note 7]||with Brusi and Einar to 1026
with Brusi to 1031
alone to 1036
with Rögnvald 1036 to 1046
alone to c.1064
|Rögnvald Brusason||Son of Brusi Sigurdsson||c. 1036||with Thorfinn to c. 1046|
|Paul Thorfinnsson||Son of Thorfinn Sigurdsson||1064||with Erlend to 1098|
|Erlend Thorfinnsson||Son of Thorfinn Sigurdsson||1064||with Erlend to 1098|
|Sigurd Magnusson||Sigurðr Jórsalafari
|Son of Magnus Barelegs||1098||1103|
|Haakon Paulsson||Son of Paul Thorfinsson||1104||alone to 1106
with Magnus to 1116
alone to 1123
|Magnus Erlendsson||Later "Saint Magnus"||Son of Erlend Thorfinnsson||1106||with Haakon to 1116|
|Harald Haakonsson||"Smooth-tongue"||Son of Haakon Paulsson||1123||with Paul to c. 1130|
|Paul Haakonsson||Son of Haakon Paulsson||1123||with Harald to 1130
alone to 1136
|Rögnvald Kali Kolsson||Later "Saint Rögnvald"||Son of Gunnhild, daughter of Erlend Thorfinnsson||1136||alone to 1138
with Harald Maddadsson 1138 to 1151 and 1154 to 1158
with Harald and Erlend Haraldsson 1151 to 1154
|Harald Maddadsson||"the Old"||Son of Margaret, daughter of Haakon Paulsson||1138||with Rögnvald to 1151 and 1154 to 1158
with Rögnvald and Erlend Haraldsson 1151 to 1154
alone 1158 to 1191
with Harald Eiriksson to 1198
alone to 1206
|Erlend Haraldsson||Son of Harald Haakonsson||1151||with Harald Maddadsson and Rögnvald Kali Kolsson to 1154|
|Harald Eiriksson||Haraldr ungi
|Son of Ingiríðr, daughter of Rögnvald Kali Kolsson||1191||with Harald Maddadsson to 1198|
|David Haraldsson||Son of Harald Maddadsson||1206||with Jon to 1214|
|Jon Haraldsson||Son of Harald Maddadsson||1206||with David to 1214
alone to 1231
Some time after Magnus Jonsson's death, around 1331, the Jarldom was granted to Maol Íosa (Malise), Mormaer of Strathearn, a distant relative of the first Earl Gille Brigte. Maol Íosa ruled Orkney and Caithness from 1331 to 1350. He left several daughters, but no sons. After a 3 year vacancy, Orkney passed to his son-in-law, the Swedish councillor Erengisle Suneson. However, Suneson was ambitious, and was caught plotting to depose the Norwegian king; he was ejected from the Jarldom in 1357.
At about this time, Haakon VI, the Norwegian king, married the daughter of Valdemar IV, the King of Denmark. The sudden death of the Swedish king's rebel son, from plague, triggered the foreign policy obligations Haakon had to Valdemar, as a result of the marriage. These drew Haakon's attention away from Orkney, until the death of Valdemar, in 1375. Meanwhile, the Jarldom lay vacant.
In 1375, Haakon decided upon Alexander de l'Ard, another son-in-law of Maol Íosa, as Suneson's successor. However, after having been stung by Suneson's behaviour, Alexander was merely appointed Captain of Orkney. This was to be a probationary role, the intention being that if Haakon had been satisfied by Alexander's behaviour after a year, Alexander would have been appointed Jarl. However, Alexander's interests were mainly in Scotland, so he took little interest in his Captainship, and was sacked as a result.
Alexander had also inherited some of Maol Íosa's property in Caithness. In 1375 he gave these lands to Robert, the Scottish king. Several writers portray this as the transfer of an Earldom of Caithness; however, it only involved property, and Caithness remained part of the Jarldom of Orkney. Although successive Jarls of Orkney were related, they each acquired the position by being personally appointed to the role by the Norwegian king; the Jarldom was not inheritable.
In 1379, the Jarldom of Orkney was granted to yet another son-in-law of Maol Íosa, Henry Sinclair, by King Haakon VI Magnusson. Henry ruled until his death in 1401, and was succeeded by a son named Henry, who was followed by his son William. In 1455, the King of Scots granted William the newly created title Earl of Caithness, in acknowledgement of William's pre-existing control over Caithness, and as an attempted assertion of Scottish authority over the region.
When James III of Scotland married Margaret of Denmark, her father, Christian I, king of Norway-Denmark, was unable to immediately provide a dowry. Instead, he promised that he would provide the dowry at a later date, and pledged Norðreyjar as security for his promise. In 1470, James persuaded William to quitclaim his rights over Orkney and Shetland only, in return for lands in Fife; technically Norðreyjar remained in existence as a Norwegian Jarldom, but William's authority became limited to the mainland parts, while Orkney and Sheltland became Jarl-free.
After a few years, it became clear that the dowry was unlikely ever to be paid, so in 1472, James declared Norðreyjar to be forfeit (and forewent the dowry). As an immediate consequence, the diocese of Caithness was transferred from the Archdiocese of Niðaróss (Trondheim), in Norway, to that of St Andrews, in Scotland.
William retained his authority over the lands he had not quitclaimed, using his Scottish title Earl of Caithness in connection with them. In 1476, he resigned the Earldom in favour of his son William, but lived another 8 years.
The next Orkney title was the dukedom of Orkney, which was given to James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell, husband of Mary, Queen of Scots, in 1567. Later that year, however, he forfeited the title when his wife was forced to abdicate.
The last creation of the earldom was in favour of the man who would become the first British Field Marshal, Lord George Hamilton, the fifth son of William Douglas, Duke of Hamilton. By marriage, the title passed to the O'Brien family, then to the Fitzmaurice family, and finally to the St John family. The present earl holds the subsidiary titles of Viscount of Kirkwall and Lord Dechmont. Both subsidiary titles were created at the same time as the earldom, in 1696.
The third creation came in 1696 when the soldier Lord George Hamilton was made Lord Dechmont, Viscount of Kirkwall and Earl of Orkney in the Peerage of Scotland. Hamilton was the fifth son of William Douglas-Hamilton, Duke of Hamilton and 1st Earl of Selkirk and his wife Anne Hamilton, 3rd Duchess of Hamilton. The peerages were created with remainder to the heirs whatsoever of his body, which means that the titles can be passed on through both male and female lines. Lord Orkney was succeeded by his eldest daughter Anne, the second Countess. She married her first cousin William O'Brien, 4th Earl of Inchiquin. On her death the titles passed to her daughter, the third Countess. She married her second cousin Murrough O'Brien, 1st Marquess of Thomond (the nephew of the fourth Earl of Inchiquin). She was succeeded by her daughter, the fourth Countess. She married the Hon. Thomas Fitzmaurice, second son of John Petty, 1st Earl of Shelburne and younger brother of Prime Minister William Petty, 1st Marquess of Lansdowne. On her death the titles passed to her grandson, Viscount Kirkwall's son, the fifth Earl. He sat in the House of Lords as a Scottish Representative Peer from 1833 to 1874.
His son, the sixth Earl, was a Scottish Representative Peer from 1885 to 1889. He was succeeded by his nephew, the seventh Earl. On his death the peerages passed to his first cousin twice removed, the eighth Earl. He was the great-grandson of the Hon. Frederick Fitzmaurice, third son of the fifth Earl. The succession was approved by the Court of the Lord Lyon in 1955. He died childless and was succeeded by his third cousin, the ninth Earl. He is the son of Frederick Oliver St John, son of Isabella Annie Fitzmaurice, daughter of the Hon. James Terence Fitzmaurice, fifth son of the fifth Earl of Orkney. Lord Orkney lives in Canada and has been a professor at the University of Manitoba. His paternal grandfather Sir Frederick Robert St John was the youngest son of the Hon. Ferdinand St John, third son of George St John, 3rd Viscount Bolingbroke and 4th Viscount St John. Consequently, Lord Orkney is also in remainder to the viscounties of Bolingbroke and St John and their subsidiary titles.