John Stewart, Lord
Kincleven and later the 1st Earl of Carrick, was the third of five
sons born to Robert Stewart, Earl of Orkney and Strathearn, and his wife Jean Kennedy, daughter of Gilbert Kennedy, 3rd
Earl of Cassilis. He was also the grandson of King James V,
whose mistress, Euphemia Elphinstone, had given birth to Robert Stewart in
about 1533. James had recognized Robert
as his son and had him educated, along with his other illegitimate sons, for a
career in the Church. (Robert Stewart,
being far from a pious man, however, never did more than take pensions from
birth year of John Stewart is not certain, but he was often said to be the
third son, between Patrick and James, and was probably born around 1576
(Cracroft). At that time, his father had
not yet received the earldom of Orkney but did hold lands in Orkney and
Shetland. However, Jean Kennedy, John’s
mother, “does not appear to have set foot in the islands at all,” and all of
Robert’s legitimate sons, including John, were “educated in the south” (P. Anderson
Robert, 131). John had three sisters—Mary, Christian, and
Elizabeth. There were also six half-brothers
and several half-sisters, illegitimate children of Robert Stewart, all of whom
made their appearance in Orkney while Lady Jean remained in Edinburgh.
various documents, it is possible to detect some of the personal undercurrents
in these relationships. In 1585, when
Robert Stewart was created earl of Orkney, the entail (right of inheritance)
was to his sons Henry, Patrick, James, and Robert—John’s name being
omitted. If the line of legitimate sons
failed, the entail was to Robert’s illegitimate sons—James and Robert—then to
his nephew, Francis, Earl of Bothwell.
When Robert died in 1593 and the earldom passed to Patrick (Henry having
predeceased his father), the papers drawn up for Patrick in 1600 named
Patrick’s sons as heirs and then, behind them, his “second brother, John” (Steuart
2922). This time, brother James is not mentioned. These omissions could have been clerical
errors, but the fact that their mother Jean was also omitted from Earl Robert’s
will—when his mistresses were all named—leads one to wonder what family
dynamics were at work here.
hardly possible to say that Patrick’s naming his brother John was due to a
special friendship between the two because the first time John’s name appears
in the historical record in 1594 (the year after the father’s death), it is in
an indictment against him for conspiring with a witch to poison his brother
Patrick, who discovered poison in the possession of John’s servant, Thomas
Paplay (Paul 440).
Stewart, at that time styled Master of Orkney, a title for younger sons of an
earl, was suspected, and Paplay was arrested and tortured mercilessly. During the torture, he gave up the name of
one Alesoun (or Alison) Balfour, a “known notorious witch” (“Witchcraft”).
Alesoun Balfour refused to confess or implicate John Stewart, despite the fact
that her husband and son were cruelly tortured before her eyes. It was only when her daughter was put to
torture that she “confessed.” Though she
later recanted, she was tried and put to death on 15 December 1594. In 1596, John Stewart, Master of Orkney, was
indicted for “consulting with witches, for [the] destruction of [the] Earl of
Orkney” ("Witchcraft"). Now, John would
have been only about seventeen when the incident occurred and nineteen at the
time of the indictment. Perhaps the
mixture of his youth and the forced confessions are enough to persuade us that
John was not involved in this incident and that Patrick was sure enough of his
brother’s loyalty that he did, in fact, place him in line for the earldom if
his own male line failed. Whatever the
case, John Stewart got his revenge eighteen days after his acquittal when he
murdered the inquisitor of Alesoun Balfour, who just happened to be Patrick
Stewart’s chamberlain (“North Isles—Eday”).
the grandson of James V meant, of course, that he was a first cousin of James
VI, son of Mary, Queen of Scots, and Lord Darnley. Through James V’s mother, Margaret Tudor,
sister to England’s King Henry VIII, the Stewarts stood in line to inherit the
throne of England should the Tudor line fail, which it did on 24 March 1603 at
the death of the unmarried English queen, Elizabeth I.
|Coronation of James I of England|
VI departed Scotland in April, taking his cousin, John Stewart, along with him
for the ceremonies related to his accession to the crown, which would make him
James I of England. John Stewart must
have enjoyed the festivities, as we learn from thirteen-year-old Lady Anne
Clifford, daughter of George, 3rd Earl of Cumberland, who kept a
diary, that John Stewart, Master of “Orckney” and Sir John Murray of
Tullebardine “came thither to see us” at Hampton Court because they “were much
in love with Mrs. Carey” (Progresses
196). (Which Mrs. Carey is referenced here is unclear.)
was still in the London area in November 1604, when once again letter writers
were reporting on his shenanigans. On
November 7, Edmund Lascelles wrote to Gilbert Talbot, 7th Earl of
Shrewsbury, to tell him about the arrival of the king at Whitehall from
Royston. Before closing, he added a bit
of court gossip: “Mr. Thomas Somerset and the Master of Orkney fell out in the Balowne
Court at Whithall. Boxes on the eare passed on eyther side, but no further hurt doon; Mr. Sommerset was commanded to the Fleet,
whear he is yet, and the Master of Orkney to his chamber; what more will be
doon in it we know not yet” (Progresses 465).
Now, it is
a bit unclear exactly what is meant by the term “Balowne Court,” but apparently
there was a game, invented by the Romans but still popular in England at the
time, played with a “Balowne, or Balloon, Follis [leather bag or handball]. . .
filled with wind” and requiring the use of a gauntlet (or glove) made of
leather thongs. The players protected their arms with wooden bracers like those
worn by archers to protect the forearm (Fosbroke 2:682). If this is, in fact, the intended meaning of balowne court, we can perhaps conclude
that Somerset and Stewart were playing a game of some sort when they fell to
Young Thomas, later 1st
Viscount, Somerset was at that time a freshly received student at Gray’s Inn,
one of the Inns of Court where young men were educated for the law. He was also a member of the House of Commons,
and though he was obviously no slouch, the fact that he was sent to the Fleet
while Stewart was confined “in his chambers” probably is explained by their
social difference at this point in time, though it must be noted that the Fleet
did not hold common criminals, as Newgate did, but troublesome nobles or political
and religious dissidents.
|Lady Elizabeth Howard|
Now, it should be noted
here that just nine days before this scuffle, on 26 October 1604, John Stewart,
aged 28, had married Lady Elizabeth Howard Southwell, aged 40 and the mother of
six children. It seems that with a
Scotsman on the throne of England, marriages with Scots, especially those close
to the king, were highly prized.
Elizabeth’s father was widower Charles Howard, 1st Earl of
Nottingham, whose “determination to be identified with the royal house” is
shown not only by his daughter’s marriage to John Stewart, but by his own
marriage on 2 June 1604 to Margaret Stewart (Brown 571). He was 67 and she, a teenager. Margaret was
sister to James Stewart (or Stuart, as they were now beginning to style
themselves), 3rd earl of Moray, and a granddaughter on her mother’s
side to James Stewart, the Regent Moray (d. 1570)—another illegitimate son of
James V, a half-brother to Robert Stewart, and a half-uncle to John Stewart,
Master of Orkney. These relationships
seem to have trumped, in Nottingham’s mind, the December-May nature of the
It is possible that
Nottingham desired these marital connections to the royal house of Stuart
inasmuch as he had been related to the previous monarch, Elizabeth I. What is more, his first wife, Catherine
Carey, had been a lady-in-waiting to Queen Elizabeth but, even more than that,
a dear personal friend and confidante of the queen. Certainly it would be
nice to maintain such connections with the royal family, but Nottingham had
still one more reason to push for a secure position in the new monarchy: he had
been instrumental in the queen’s decision to execute Mary, Queen of Scots, mother
of James VI and I. Nottingham had been
appointed as one of the commissioners for the Scottish queen’s trial for treason,
and, though he had not actually sat at the trial, he had led some of the
examinations in London in preparation for trial. Contemporaries noted, in addition, that it
was through the urging of Nottingham that Elizabeth had finally decided to sign
her cousin’s death warrant (“Howard”).
King James had never really known his mother and had been raised as a
Protestant, but there were times when he first came into his majority, that he
greatly resented what his “handlers” had done to his mother. Better not to take chances, but to push
forward with new alliances that prove friendship with the new king.
Before her marriage to
John Stewart, Lady Southwell had been serving as lady-in-waiting to James’s
queen, Anne of Denmark. By early
February 1604, it was already being “confidently reported” that the Lady would
marry John Stewart, Master of Orkney. Edward
Somerset, 1st earl of Worcester, had commented on the impending
marriage in a letter to another courtier, adding this note about the
environment in which the ladies-in-waiting served: “[T]he plotting and mallice amongst them is sutche, that I
thinke Envy hathe teyd an invisible snake abowt most of ther neks to sting on
another to deathe.” Perhaps it was time
for Lady Elizabeth to move on, albeit with a husband about half her age (Progresses 464).
One of the first properties acquired by John
Stewart was a gift from the Earl of Nottingham, his father-in-law. The accounts of the Paymaster of Works (1600-1601)
has the following entry: “The Ladie Southwell, for money by her La . [Ladyship] layde out for the
repayringe of the house called Hances house, sometymes appointed for an
Armorie, adioyninge to her Mat [Majesty’s] Orcharde at Whitehall” (“Bowling
Green”). Property adjoining the orchard at Whitehall was prestigious
indeed and goes some way toward confirming Earl Charles’ social ambitions for
his daughter and her new husband.
|Whitehall Palace with Bowling Green at left|
The next big step for
John Stewart occurred on 10 August 1607 when King James created a title
for him, Lord Kincleven (variously spelled as Kinclaven). For his
financial support, he obtained charters in 1616 “of the dominical lands and
mill of the Monastery of Crossregal, of the lands of Ballorsom, and of the
lands of Knockronnall, and the barony
of Grenane,” which were parts of the ancient but then extinct earldom of
Carrick in Ayrshire (W. Anderson 597).
Stewart received these honors despite the
fact that his brother, Patrick, 2nd earl of Orkney, and Patrick’s
son Robert had been found guilty of treason and executed in 1615. That John seems to have played no role at all
in the intrigues and rebellions of Patrick and Robert testifies to his loyalty
to the government of his cousin, King James VI and I, in whose train he had
traveled to London in 1603 and to whom he owed his title and his advantageous marriage. Nor had he been involved with the treasonous
activities of his father, who was imprisoned in the late 1570s.
After King Charles I
came to the throne in 1625, Kincleven sought the title Earl of Carrick in view
of his possession of these lands. The
process to renew the earldom in Stewart’s name was soon halted, however, when
Sir John Hope, the Lord Advocate, advised the Privy Council that the earldom of
Carrick “was one always borne by the heir-apparent to the Crown” (Tudor 368) and could not
be transferred to Stewart.
|Orkney Islands, Eday upper center|
However, Kincleven pointed out that “the title he had assumed was derived from Carrick in Orkney and not Carrick in Ayrshire” (Balfour 441). This is an interesting sleight-of-hand in that Stewart did
not receive the charter for Eday, where Orcadian Carrick supposedly lay, until
he received the letters patent for the title Earl of Carrick (in Orkney)
(“Eday, Carrick House”).
Some have even
speculated that Stewart deliberately named a corner of his holdings Carrick afterward,
in order to meet the letter of the law. This
conjecture is based on the fact that there is no evidence of a place named
Carrick in Orkney before this time (Crichton-Stuart). What’s more, the place
name Carrick derives from the Gaelic word caraig,
meaning crag, while place names in Orkney are almost exclusively
derived from Norse origins, Orkney having belonged to Norway until1468 (Bell
247). But whether it existed at the
moment of Lord Kinclevan’s argument, the king was content with this solution, and
the patent for the earldom of Carrick was delivered to Stewart by the Lord
Chancellor on 14 December 1630, “which patent
the said earl accepted on his knees, his
ambition now being gratified” (W. Anderson 597). Certainly, he became busy in 1631 building Balmerino House in Leith (Gentleman’s 595) and in 1633 building
Carrick House on his lands in Eday (Bell), which may have been an attempt to
bolster his prestige and his claim to the name Carrick.
Once Stewart had been created an earl, it necessarily followed that he would acquire a
coat of arms, which has been described, thus: "The arms of this Earl were
quarterly, first and fourth or [gold], a lion rampant gules [red], armed and langued
azure, within a double tressure flory-counterflory gules, and all again
within a bordure company azure and argent; second and third, azure, a galley at
anchor within a double tressure flory counterflory or” (Crichton-Stuart 102).
With the earldom there
also came new charters and commissions.
In 1630, Earl John was named Commissioner of Fisheries. On 14 January 1632, Charles I showed his
favor when he “erected Carrick and the port of Calf Sound in the island of Eday
in Orkney into a burgh of barony” (Crichton-Stuart). The term burgh
of barony refers to a town on estates held by a landowner directly from the
crown. Sometimes landowners who were
granted burghs of barony were also given authority to hold weekly markets, to
collect taxes, to oversee criminal courts, and even to apply the death penalty,
but historians have pointed out that “there is no indication that any form of
municipal government was ever constituted” in Earl Carrick’s lands
(Crichton-Stuart). Two and a half years
later, on 14 June 1634, Stewart was also given a charter of the easterly and
westerly lands of Corstorphine, near Edinburgh, with an entailment for his
heirs (Paul 441).
In 1633, the earl of
Carrick undertook the building of Carrick House, located on Calf Sound on the
eastern side of Eday (see below). It looks out to
sea between the so-called Red Heads of Eday.
|Carrick House, Eday|
According to one source, Stewart chose this
remote location due to “some discontent which fell out between him and his Lady” (Brand
37). Be that as it may, Carrick House was a two-and-a-half
storied house with a slated roof and crow-step gables, which were in vogue among
the Scottish baronial set of the day. The
date 1633 can still be seen in the round-arched keystone in the north wall, but
the arms engraved above the door are those of subsequent owners, the family of Sir John Buchanan (Bell 238). Over the years, additions have been made to
the house, which still stands intact today, and even now in the fall of 2014 renovations are being done by Orkney-based Colin Watson Stonework, in particular the Buchanan arms (see at left and below) (Watson).
|Work at Carrick House, 2014|
However, it was Stewart himself who established on the site twelve
salt-pans—shallow containers or depressions where salt water is left to
evaporate, leaving usable salt for human use.
He apparently had a view toward foreign trade in salt but died before he
could bring his idea to fruition. Only
one of the salt-pans can be seen at the present time (Brand 38).
|New Stonework of|
Buchanan Arms (Watson)
As the Reformation
advanced in Scotland, the Stewarts, like other Scottish barons of the day,
found themselves in tumultuous times.
Robert Stewart’s half-brother, James Stewart, 1st earl of
Moray—another illegitimate son of James V—was one of the strongest champions of
the Presbyterian cause against his Catholic half-sister, Mary, Queen of Scots. As Regent of Scotland, he had made sure that
the young King James VI was raised as a Protestant, and in 1588 the king
appointed his half-uncle, Robert Stewart, to his commission against the
Jesuits, who were being obliged to leave the country. Still, this is no sign of inward belief, and
it is known that a Roman Catholic funeral service was offered at the elder Stewart’s
passing in 1592 (Tudor 253).
Then in August and
September of 1643 came the signing of the Solemn League and Covenant, an
agreement between Presbyterian Scots and the Cromwellian Parliamentarians in England, who opposed
Charles I, by which a Presbyterian-parliamentarian union of England, Scotland,
and Ireland was formed. Signing the
Covenant was a prerequisite to office-holding in England and Scotland, so, not
surprisingly, John Stewart did subscribe the Covenant (Balfour 441).
|The Solemn League and Covenant|
The exact date of John
Stewart’s death is unknown. According to The Peerage, he died somewhere between late
1643 and early 1645/46 (“John Stewart”). We know that the Covenant did not make its way to Kirkwall in the Orkneys until December 1643, and since Stewart did accept the Covenant, we know he was still alive at that time. He would have been sixty-seven at the time.
Stewart left only one surviving legitimate child, Margaret Stewart, born c.
1605, who, in 1630, married the Englishman Sir Matthew (John) Mennes, who
became a Knight of the Bath at the coronation of Charles I.
he had tried to obtain his brother’s lands in Orkney, he had failed, (P.
Anderson “Stewart”) and at his death in 1643, the titles and honors he had been
awarded by the Stewart kings became extinct.
summing up, the life of John Stewart provides us a look into the system of court
patronage and how illegitimate sons—and grandsons—of kings could cultivate
friendships, make advantageous marriages, and scrap together baronies for
themselves—albeit in the forgotten northern isles. Carrick in Orkney was probably a non-existent
place when Stewart received the title Earl of Carrick in Orkney. Eday is an island only about eight miles long
and (today) “home to 150 people who are vastly outnumbered by the isle’s
wildlife and bird population” (“Eday”). It
was probably not much different when it belonged to John Stewart, but the land
perhaps mattered less to Stewart than the title, which gave him at least the pretense
of equality among the peers of the realm.
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(c) Eileen Cunningham 2014