Earl of Orkney, historically Jarl of Orkney, is a title of nobility encompassing the archipelagoes of Orkney and Shetland, which comprise the Northern Isles of Scotland. Originally founded by Norse invaders, the status of the rulers of the Northern Isles as Norwegian vassals was formalised in 1195. Although the Old Norse term jarl is etymologically related to "earl", and the jarls were succeeded by earls in the late 15th century, a Norwegian jarl is not the same thing. In the Norse context the distinction between jarls and kings did not become significant until the late 11th century and the early jarls would therefore have had considerable independence of action until that time. The position of Jarl of Orkney was eventually the most senior rank in medieval 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 late 10th century jarl Torf-Einarr, although the isles 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 and Shetland became part of Scotland.
The second earldom was created by James VI of Scotland in 1581 for his half-uncle Robert Stewart but after only two incumbents the title was forfeited in 1614. After the third creation of 1696, which title still exists today, the earls' influence on Orcadian affairs became negligible.
|Jarldom of Orkney (Norse)|
|Creation date||c. 892|
|Created by||Haraldr Hárfagri?|
|Peerage||Peerage of Norway|
|First holder||Sigurd Eysteinsson|
|Last holder||Jon Haraldsson|
|Subsidiary titles||Mormaer of Caithness|
|Former seat(s)||Brough of Birsay|
Rognvald Eysteinsson, Jarl of Møre fl. 865–890 [a] 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 jarldom 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 to 1066, Woolf (2007) speculates that Sigurd “the Stout” Hlodvirsson, Torf-Einarr's great-grandson, may have been the first Jarl 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 jarls 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.[b]
One of the main sources for the lives and times of these jarls 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 Jarl Magnus Erlendsson, later Saint Magnus, c. 1115. The last quarter of the saga is taken up with a lengthy tale of Jarl Rögnvald Kali Kolsson and Sweyn Asleifsson — indeed the oldest version ends with the latter's death in 1171.
After the murder of Jarl Jon Haraldsson some sixty years later, Magnus, son of Gille Brigte became the first of the Scottish earls. He may have been a descendant of Jarl Rögnvald Kali Kolsson, although this has never been corroborated. However, the line of specifically Norse jarls is said to have come to an end when Jarl 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[c]|
|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||Date of death based on the assumption Arnkel and Erlend Turf-Einarsson died at the Battle of Stainmore beside Eric Bloodaxe.|
|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[e]|
|Hlodvir Thorfinnsson||Son of Thorfinn Torf-Einarsson||c. 980||991[f]|
|Sigurd Hlodvirsson||Sigurðr digri
|Son of Hlodvir Thorfinnsson||991||1014|
|Sumarlidi Sigurdsson||Son of Sigurd Hlodvirsson||1014||"He died in his bed not long after his father's death" and is not referred to in an incident dated to 1018.|
|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[g]||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 and Erlend Thorfinnsson||Sons of Thorfinn Sigurdsson, co-rulers, later deposed together||1064||1098|
|Sigurd Magnusson||Sigurðr Jórsalafari
|Son of Magnus Barelegs||1098||1103|
|Haakon Paulsson||Son of Paul Thorfinnsson||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
Scottish Jarls under the Norwegian Crown
|Jarldom of Orkney (Scots)|
|Creation date||c. 1236|
|Created by||Haakon Haakonsson|
|Peerage||Peerage of Norway|
|Last holder||William Sinclair|
|Subsidiary titles||Mormaer of Caithness|
After the close of the Jarls' Saga on the death of Jon Haraldsson in 1230, the history of Orkney is "plunged into a darkness which is illuminated by very few written sources". The first jarl known to have held the title after the Norse dynasty came to and end in 1230 was Magnus II but the title may have been held by an unknown other prior to his investiture. 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.
The Angus Jarls
|Name||Relationship to predecessor||Rule commences||Rule ends|
|Magnus II||His parentage is unknown. Possibly a descendant of Ingrid, a daughter of Rögnvald Kali Kolsson.||1236||1239|
|?Gilbert||Possibly married to a niece of Magnus II, his existence is not certain.||1239||?|
|Gilbert (Gille Brigte)||Possibly the son of Gilbert, but there may have only been a single Gilbert.||?||1256|
|Magnus Gilbertsson||Son of Gilbert||1256||1273|
|Magnus Magnusson||Son of Magnus Gilbertsson.||1273||1284|
|Jón Magnússon||Son of Magnus Gilbertsson.||1284||1303|
|Magnus Jónsson||Son of Jón Magnússon.||1303||1320|
Strathearn and Sinclair Jarls
The lack of haste with which a new title was granted by the Norwegians to Orkney has led to the suggestion that Magnus Jonsson may have had an heir who was a minor, but who died before 1330. It is also likely that unravelling the genealogy of his potential successors and providing proofs of their descent was a time-consuming project. Whatever the reason, about a decade after Magnus's death the title was granted to Maol Íosa, Mormaer of Strathearn, a distant relative of Earl Gilbert. He ruled Orkney and Caithness from 1330 to 1350 and had several daughters, but no sons.
The earldom was then left vacant for about three years,[i] following which Erengisle Suneson was a titular earl for a few years but when his right to the title lapsed prior to 1360 the jarldom lay vacant again. Haakon VI, the Norwegian king, had 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.
In 1375, Haakon decided upon Alexander of Ard, the son of Maol Íosa's daughter Matilda and Weland of Ard (Aird, west of Inverness) as Suneson's successor. However, Alexander was merely appointed "Lieutenant, Captain and Keeper" of Orkney for a year on 30 June 1375. This was to be a probationary role, the intention being that if Haakon had been satisfied by Alexander's behaviour after a year, he would be appointed as jarl. However, Haakon did not do so, possibly because Alexander failed to deal with the violence that had become rife during the long absence of an earl's authority. In 1379, the jarldom was granted to another grandson of Maol Íosa, Henry Sinclair, by Haakon VI on 2 August 1379.
|Name||Relationship to predecessor||Rule commences||Rule ends|
|Maol Íosa||A descendant of Malise II, Earl of Strathearn and Matilda, a daughter of Earl Gilbert.||1330||1350|
|Erengisle Suneson||Married to Agneta, daughter of Maol Íosa.||1353||before 1360|
|Alexander of Ard||Son of Maol Íosa's daughter Matilda and Weland of Ard. Appointed as "Lieutenant" only.||1375||1376?|
|Henry Sinclair||Son of Maol Íosa's daughter Isabella and William de Sinclair of Rosslyn.||1379||1401|
|Henry II||Son of Henry I||1404?||1420|
|William||Son of Henry II. David Menzies acted as "Guardian" from 1422 to 1434. William was de facto jarl from 1424. He was granted the newly created title "Earl of Caithness" in 1455.||1434||1470|
When James III of Scotland married Margaret of Denmark, her father, Christian I, king of the Kalmar Union, was unable to immediately provide a dowry. Instead, he promised that he would provide the dowry at a later date, and pledged the 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 the 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 the Norðreyjar to be forfeit (and forwent 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.
Dukes of Orkney
- 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 Mary was forced to abdicate.
Earls of Orkney, Second Creation
The second earldom was created by James VI of Scotland. The Stewart earls were based at Kirkwall Castle, which had been built by Henry I Sinclair. It was demolished on the forfeiture of the title in 1614.
|Name||Relationship to predecessor||Rule commences||Rule ends|
|Robert Stewart||Illegitimate son of James V||1581||1593|
|Patrick Stewart, 2nd Earl of Orkney||Son of Robert Stewart||1593||1614 (forfeited)|
Earls of Orkney, Third Creation (1696)
|Earldom of Orkney|
(Third creation of 1696)
|Creation date||3 January 1696 (Third creation)|
|Created by||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|
|Subsidiary titles||Viscount of Kirkwall |
The last creation of the earldom was in favour of the man who in 1735 would become the first Field Marshal of Great Britain, Lord George Hamilton, the fifth son of William Douglas, Duke of Hamilton. The peerage was created with "remainder to the heirs whatsoever of his body", meaning that the title can be passed on through both male and female lines. The title passed to the O'Brien family, then to the Fitzmaurice family, and later to the St John family. The subsidiary titles of Viscount of Kirkwall and Lord Dechmont were created at the same time as the earldom.
|Name||Relationship to predecessor||Period|
|George Hamilton, 1st Earl of Orkney||None||1695–1737|
|Anne O'Brien, 2nd Countess of Orkney||Daughter of 1st Earl||1737-1756|
|Mary O'Brien, 3rd Countess of Orkney||Daughter of 2nd Countess||1756-1790|
|Mary FitzMaurice, 4th Countess of Orkney||Daughter of 3rd Countess||1790-1831|
|Thomas FitzMaurice, 5th Earl of Orkney||Grandson of 4th Countess||1831-1877|
|George FitzMaurice, 6th Earl of Orkney||Son of 5th Earl||1877-1889|
|Edmond FitzMaurice, 7th Earl of Orkney||Nephew of 6th Earl||1889-1951|
|Cecil FitzMaurice, 8th Earl of Orkney||First cousin twice removed of 7th Earl - great-grandson of Frederick Fitzmaurice, third son of the fifth Earl.||1951-1998|
|Peter St John, 9th Earl of Orkney||Third cousin of 8th Earl||1998 to date.|
The 9th Earl is the son of Frederick Oliver St John, son of Isabella Annie Fitzmaurice, daughter of James Terence Fitzmaurice, fifth son of the fifth Earl. The heir apparent is the present holder's son Oliver Robert St John (b. 1969), who holds the courtesy title, Viscount Kirkwall.
- Assuming an identification of Rognvald with "Ragnall son of Albdann" in 865.
- Anders Stølen has argued that Magnus Barelegs's mother was a daughter of "Ragnvald jarl" as stated in the genealogical text Sunnmørsættleggen who has in turn been identified as Rognvald Brusason (grandson of Sigurd Hlodvirsson) by Ola Kvalsund.
- Muir (2008) suggests Sigurd Eysteinsson may have died c. 874.
- Muir (2005) has a death date for Thorfinn of 976, which leaves only four years for three subsequent jarls to rule before his son Hlodvir.
- Muir (2005) dates the meeting of Ljot's brother Skuli with Malcolm II to 978. Subsequent to that Skuli and "Earl MacBeth" fought two battles with Ljot. Skuli was killed in the first, Ljot in the second. Canmore states that the battle at Skitten Mire where Ljot Thorfinnsson was mortally wounded took place "between 943 and 945" although this does not square with either Muir (2005) or Earl Thorfinn (his father) dying c. 963.
- Woolf (2007) implies Hlodvir's death may have taken place earlier as his son Sigurd "may well have been an active leader since the 980s".
- "When Thorfinn came of age he asked Earl Einar for a third of the islands". Thorfinn is said to have been five years old when his father died at the Battle of Clontarf in 1014.
- Blazon: "Azure, a lymphad at anchor or flagged gules sails furled argent oars erect in saltire within a double tressure flory of the second" as shown today in the 1st quarter of the arms of Sinclair, Earl of Caithness.
- Crawford (2013) states that there was no Earl of either Orkney or Caithness from c. 1350 to 1379 but later in the text elaborates on Erengisle Suneson's status as earl from 1353-1360. It is possible Suneson never actually visited the earldom although he continued to use the title for decades after the death of his wife prior to 1360, at which point his rights to it would have ceased.
- Crawford (2013), pp. 15, 73, 143
- Crawford (2013), p. 83
- Crawford (2013), p. 165
- Thomson (2008), p. 132
- Radner (1978), FA 330
- Thomson (2008), p. 22
- Muir (2005), Preface: Genealogical table of the Earls of Orkney
- Pálsson & Edwards (1981), p. 10, Chapter 4
- Sturluson (1992), Chapter 99 "History Of The Earls Of Orkney".
- Pálsson & Edwards (1981), p. 10, Chapter 5 "A poisoned tooth"
- Thomson (2008), p. 30, quoting chapter 5 of the Orkneyinga saga.
- Thomson (2008), p. 29
- Smyth (1984), p. 153
- Woolf (2007), p. 307
- Stølen (1988), p. 259
- Larsen & Sulebust (1994), p. 213
- Crawford (1987), p. 221
- Pálsson & Edwards (1981), p. 10, Introduction
- Beuermann (2011), pp. 148–49
- Muir (2005), p. 127
- Crawford (1987), p. 54
- Crawford (1987), p. 55
- Johnston, A.W. (July 1916) "Orkneyinga Saga". JSTOR/The Scottish Historical Review. Vol. 13, No. 52. p. 393. Retrieved 27 January 2014.
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- "Upper Bowertower, Stone Lud". Canmore. Retrieved 27 January 2014.
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- Muir (2005), p. 45
- Muir (2005), p. 53
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- Muir (2005), p. 61
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- Crawford (2013), p. 26
- Crawford (2013), pp. 280–81
- Crawford (2013), p. 282
- Crawford (2013), p. 293
- Crawford (2013), pp. 307, 429
- Thomson (2008), pp. 145–46
- Crawford (2013), pp. 307, 427
- Crawford (2013), p. 429
- Debrett's Peerage & Baronetage (1968) p. 206, as shown in 1st quarter of arms of Sinclair, Earl of Caithness.
- Moule, Thomas (1842) Heraldry of Fish: Notices of the Principal Families Bearing Fish in Their Arms London, p. 175, retrieved 14 April 2018.
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- Crawford (2013), pp. 317–20
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- Crawford (2013), p. 322
- Crawford (2013), p. 321
- Crawford (2013), pp. 327–28
- Crawford (2013), p. 328
- Crawford (2013), pp. 319–322
- Thomson (2008), p. 220
- "Kirkwall, Castle". CANMORE. Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland. Retrieved 1 April 2018.
- "Peter St. John" University of Manitoba. Retrieved 1 April 2018.
- Beuermann, Ian (2011), "Jarla Sǫgur Orkneyja. Status and power of the earls of Orkney according to their sagas", in Steinsland, Gro; Sigurðsson, Jón Viðar; Rekdal, Jan Erik; et al. (eds.), Ideology and power in the viking and middle ages: Scandinavia, Iceland, Ireland, Orkney and the Faeroes, The Northern World: North Europe and the Baltic c. 400–1700 A.D. Peoples, Economics and Cultures, vol. 52, Brill, ISBN 978-90-04-20506-2
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