Earldom of Sutherland

Gules, three mullets or, on a bordure of the second a double tressure flory counterflory of the first
Creation date1230
Created byAlexander II of Scotland
PeeragePeerage of Scotland
First holderWilliam de Moravia
Present holderAlistair Charles St Clair Sutherland, 25th Earl of Sutherland
Heir presumptiveLady Rachel Elizabeth Sutherland, Mistress of Sutherland
Remainder toheirs general of the body of the grantee
Subsidiary titlesLord Strathnaver
Seat(s)House of Tongue Dunrobin Castle
MottoSans peur ("Fearless")[1]

Earl of Sutherland is a title in the Peerage of Scotland. It was created circa 1230 for William de Moravia and is the premier earldom in the Peerage of Scotland. The earl or countess of Sutherland is also the chief of Clan Sutherland.


The original line of earls of Sutherland had the surname "de Moravia" although they sometimes used the surname "Sutherland", taken from their hereditary title. The name de Moravia meant "of Moray" or "of Murray". The de Moravias who were earls of Sutherland and chiefs of Clan Sutherland, arguably shared their early paternal ancestry with the chiefs of Clan Murray through their shared progenitor Freskin de Moravia. Various branches of the Murray Clan claim descent from Freskin, including those who were earls and later dukes of Atholl. Current research is underway via male-line Y-DNA studies in collaboration with both branches of these clans to determine if any modern branches share an early medieval ancestor. From Robert, 6th Earl (d. 1444) onward the surname Sutherland was used.

Elizabeth Sutherland, 10th Countess of Sutherland (1470–1535) married Adam Gordon, a younger son of George Gordon, 2nd Earl of Huntly, chief of Clan Gordon. Their first son is Alexander Gordon, Master of Sutherland, whose descendants were several of the next earls of Sutherland, who all used the surname Gordon. The title was again held by a long string of men, until the death of William Gordon, 18th earl, without sons, when the title passed to his daughter Elizabeth, 19th Countess of Sutherland (1765–1839).

The 19th Countess of Sutherland then married George Granville Leveson-Gower in 1785; he inherited the title of Marquess of Stafford from his father in 1803. The marquess held vast lands and wealth, having inherited from his father, the first marquess of Stafford, from his maternal uncle, the second duke of Bridgewater, and also holding much property associated with the Earldom of Sutherland, which belonged to his wife. He was made Duke of Sutherland in 1833.

The duke's son, also named George, inherited the Earldom of Sutherland from his mother and the Dukedom of Sutherland from his father. The two titles continued united in the Leveson-Gower family until the death of the fifth duke in 1963. The earldom passed to his niece Elizabeth, 24th Countess of Sutherland (1921–2019), while the dukedom had to pass to a male heir and was inherited by John Egerton, 5th Earl of Ellesmere (1915–2000).

The subsidiary title associated with the earldom is Lord Strathnaver (created 1230), which is used as a courtesy title by the earl's or countess's eldest son and heir. (There is no evidence of Sutherland use of this title from 1230 although later on the Gordons adopted it, but it was never formally approved by king or government. The title is disputed by Clan Mackay whose early chiefs are all titled "of Strathnaver" from Iye MacAiodh 1st of Strathnaver (b. about 1210) to at least Sir Donald Mackay who was created as the first Lord Reay in 1628. There is independent evidence of the recognition of this title in reference to "the noble Angus Aodh of Strathnaver" in a charter to Angus by the Lord of the Isles in 1415, in a 1504 'Gift of Non-entry' by James IV: "our lovit Y Mcky in Strathnaver". The title is also implicit in the 1517 bond of friendship between Adam Gordon and Aodh Mackay and then his son John's 1518 renewed bond that refers to John Mackay as "of Strathnaver". Other confirmations are from 1540 in a charter from the Bishop of Caithness : "Donald Mackay of Strathnaver", a 1623 Privy Council commission: "Sir Donald Mackay of Strathnaver".[2][3])

The family seat is Dunrobin Castle, near Golspie, Sutherland in Scotland.

Ancestors of the earls of Sutherland

Lozenge-shaped arms of the Countess of Sutherland

Different sources give different accounts of the ancestors of the earls of Sutherland. The generally accepted ancestry is that William de Moravia (William Sutherland), 1st Earl of Sutherland in the peerage of Scotland (died 1248) was the son of Hugh de Moravia, who in turn was a grandson of Freskin, a Flemish knight.[4] William Fraser, writing in the 19th century gives a similar account but states that Hugh was actually the son of Freskin, rather than his grandson.[5] Sir Robert Gordon (1580–1656), the 17th century historian of the House of Sutherland, and a younger son of Alexander Gordon, 12th Earl of Sutherland, stated that William de Moravia (William Sutherland), 1st Earl of Sutherland (died 1248) was the son of Hugh, Earl of Sutherland who was nicknamed Hugh Freskin, who was in turn son of Robert Sutherland (Earl of Sutherland and founder of Dunrobin Castle), who was son of Walter Southerland (Earl of Sutherland), who was son of Alane Southerland, Thane of Sutherland.[6]

Earls of Sutherland

Dunrobin Castle has similar architecture and partly exposed semi-green foundations as some medieval French castles such as Josselin Castle but is of the pan-19th century Scottish Baronial architecture with a formal French garden and is the seat of the Earls or Countesses of Sutherland – a title which passes to eldest female heirs on lack of male heirs.

Although the original line of earls had the surname "de Moravia" in the direct male line, historian Sir Robert Gordon, 1st Baronet, who was a younger son of Alexander Gordon, 12th Earl of Sutherland, states in his book A Genealogical History of the Earldom of Sutherland that the original line in fact used the surname "Sutherland".[7] According to modern historians of the Cambridge University Press, from Robert, 6th Earl onwards they used the surname Sutherland.[8]

Present peer

Alistair Charles St Clair Sutherland, 25th Earl of Sutherland (born 7 January 1947) is the son of Charles Noel Janson and Elizabeth, Countess of Sutherland. At birth, he was given the names Alistair Charles St. Clair Janson; in 1963 he became Lord Strathnaver, when he also changed his surname to Sutherland. He was educated at Eton College and Christ Church, Oxford, graduating BA.[9]

He worked for the Metropolitan Police between 1969 and 1974 and for IBM between 1976 and 1979.[9]

On 9 December 2019, he succeeded as Earl of Sutherland in the peerage of Scotland (created 1235).[9]

On 29 November 1968, as Strathnaver, he married firstly Eileen Elizabeth Baker, daughter of Richard Wheeler Baker; they were divorced in 1980,[9] having had two daughters:

On 21 March 1980, Sutherland married secondly Gillian Murray, daughter of Robert Murray, and they had a son and a daughter:[9]

Sutherland's heir apparent, Alexander, Lord Strathnaver, died in a fall at cliffs near Thurso Castle on 3 September 2022.[10] The present heir presumptive is Sutherland's eldest daughter, Lady Rachel Sutherland, Mistress of Sutherland.[9]

Line of succession

See also


  1. ^ Mosley, Charles, ed. (2003). Burke's Peerage, Baronetage & Knighthood (107 ed.). Burke's Peerage & Gentry. p. 3824. ISBN 0-9711966-2-1.
  2. ^ Grimble, Ian (1965) Chief of Mackay, Routledge & Keegan Paul, London
  3. ^ Mackay, Angus(1906), The Book of Mackay,Norman Macleod, Edinburgh
  4. ^ Sutherland, Malcolm (1996). A Fighting Clan, Sutherland Officers: 1250 – 1850. Avon Books. p. 3. ISBN 1-897960-47-6.
  5. ^ Fraser, Sir William (1892). The Sutherland Book. Vol. 1. Edinburgh: s.n. pp. 4-5 and contents. Retrieved 18 January 2021.
  6. ^ Gordon, Robert (1813) [Printed from original manuscript 1580 – 1656]. A Genealogical History of the Earldom of Sutherland. Edinburgh: Printed by George Ramsay and Co. for Archibald Constable and Company Edinburgh; and White, Cochrance and Co. London.
  7. ^ Gordon, Robert (1813) [Printed from original manuscript 1580 – 1656]. A Genealogical History of the Earldom of Sutherland. Edinburgh: Printed by George Ramsay and Co. for Archibald Constable and Company Edinburgh; and White, Cochrance and Co. London. p. 30. William Southerland, the first of that name, Earl of Southerland" (synonymous with "Sutherland") and also to line "Vnto Earle Hugh succeeded his sone William Southerland, Earle of Southerland
  8. ^ Greenway, D.E; Pryde, E.B; Roy, S. Porter, eds. (1996). Handbook of British Chronology. Cambridge University Press. p. 521. Retrieved 16 January 2021.
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h i Burke's Peerage, volume 3 (2003), page 382
  10. ^ a b "Highland aristocrat Lord Strathnaver dies in accident at cliffs". BBC News. Retrieved 6 September 2022.