Books, Characters, General, Highland Menage (16th century Scotland), Historical Reference, Research, Scotland

Scandalous Sinclairs: Fact and Fiction

photo of queen and corgi

Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother (grandmother of William and Harry) owned Castle Mey

Much of what you’ll read about the Sinclairs of Caithness in A Lady’s Vengeance, Highland Menage 4, is true.

“The Castle of Mey was built by George, the 4th Earl of Caithness, for his second son William Sinclair [called “Will” in A Lady’s Vengeance]. When visiting the family seat Girnigoe Castle in 1573, William was murdered by his older brother John, who had been imprisoned there for about six years by his cruel father.

John had been planning an escape but William found out about it and told their father.”
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Lady Alana Sinclair, second daughter of the 4th Earl of Caithness, is fictional. The idea for her (fictional) older sister came from the real daughter of the 5th earl, (Alana’s nephew, George). “The castle is reputedly haunted by The Green Lady, ghost of Elizabeth Sinclair, the daughter of the 5th Earl of Caithness.

Apparently, the Earl was not impressed when he found out his daughter had fallen in love with a servant, and locked here up in a castle attic. The heartbroken Elizabeth committed suicide by jumping from a castle window.”

Lady Jean Hepburn married John Sinclair, Master of Caithness, as her second husband. Fictional Alana meets Lady Jean her first night at Castle Girnigoe. Lady Jean’s brother was the Earl of Bothwell, well known for marrying Mary, Queen of Scots. He was later charged with treason for murdering Mary’s previous husband, Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley.

painting by unknown artist

James Hepburn, brother to Jean who married John Sinclair, Master of Caithness

As we see in Highland Menage 4, (fictional) Lady Jean was trouble. I based this on finding: “In January 1560, the English agent Thomas Randolph wrote that he knew some scandal concerning Jean, ‘a mirrie matter, worthe the reporting,’ but gave no further detail. Calendar of State Papers Scotland, vol. 1 (1898), 290 — from Wikipedia>

And now for nasty cousin William getting away with murder: In truth it was fictional Alana’s brother William who did this:

“In 1595 a mutiny broke out among the scholars and gentlemen’s sons attending the High School of Edinburgh, arising from a dispute with the magistrates as to their vacation.

They laid in provisions in the schoolroom, manned the same, and took in arms with powder and bullets; and refused all entrance to masters or magistrates until their claims were conceded.

After a day passed in this manner, the Council resolved on strong measures,. and a posse of officers, headed by Bailie John Macmoran, proceeded to the school, and failing to persuade the scholars to surrender, attempted to prize open the doors.

The scholars, finding no attention paid to their threats, to “put a pair of bullets through the best of their cheeks”, unless they desisted, “one Sinclair, the Chancellor of Caithness’ son, presented a gun from a window, direct opposite to the bailies’ faces, boasting them and calling them buttery carles.

Off goeth the charged gun, pierced John Macmoran through his head, and presently killed him, so that he fell backward straight to the ground without speech at all”.

The culprit was William, afterwards Sir William Sinclair of Mey; but in the end he and seven other youths implicated got clear off.”

And that doesn’t even mention all the feuding, attacking, and more conducted by Alana’s father…

[Domestic Annals of Scotland from the Reformation to the Revolution, Volume 1 by Robert Chambers, MDCCCLVIII (1858) page 262]

castle of mey

Castle of Mey, Thurso

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