Sunday, May 26, 2013

The Three Williams Sinclair

Crest of the Sinclair Earls of Caithness
Though I know little about my fourteenth great-grandfather, one of the actions he took speaks volumes about his character.  In 1436, the earl’s first son was born and was named after himself, William.  This lad was the son of the earl’s first wife, Lady Elizabeth Douglas. 

Nithsdale Arms of Sir William Douglas
Unfortunately, as young William grew up, he did not meet up to his father’s expectations.  In fact, so far was he from what his father wanted in a son that he has become known in history as William the Wastrel.  No doubt, he broke his mother’s heart as well.  Only 43 at her death, she left behind young William, aged 15, and two daughters. 

Sutherland Crest

Earl William married again five years later in 1456 to Margaret Sutherland, the daughter of Alexander Sutherland of Dunbeath and my fourteenth great-grandmother.  In 1458, Margaret gave birth to Earl William’s second son, and again the boy was named William. 

It was not altogether uncommon for siblings to have the same name in the Middle Ages, but I can’t help wondering if Earl William wasn’t already seeing behavior from William the Elder that made him seek a more admirable namesake in his younger son.

15th-Century Caithness
By 1477, the younger son was apparently showing himself to be more worthy of his father’s esteem, for at this time, the Earl, almost 70 years old and undoubtedly thinking of what would happen upon his demise, made the unusual decision to resign his earldom in favor of William the Younger, who was not yet quite 20.  By doing so, he may have felt he was protecting Caithness from the depredations of William the Elder, now a middle-aged man of 41.

Though it was customary for the elder son to inherit the title, by resigning his title in his own lifetime, Earl William was able to secure the succession for the younger son.  To the elder William, he gave the right to call himself 2nd Lord Sinclair, a lesser title in the peerage created for the father before he had been made Earl of Caithness and Orkney. 

"Earl of Caithness."  Wikipedia.
"Lord Sinclair."  Wikipedia.
"William Sinclair, 1st Earl of Caithness."  Wikipedia.,_1st_Earl_of_Caithness
© Eileen Cunningham, 2013



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