Patrick Stewart, 2nd Earl of Orkney

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Coat of arms of Earl Patrick. The first and fourth quarters show the Scottish royal arms debruised by a ribbon, a symbol of bastardy, while the second and third quarters show the arms of the Earldom of Orkney

Patrick Stewart, Earl of Orkney, Lord of Zetland[nb 1] (c. 1566[1] – 6 February 1615) was a Scottish nobleman, the son of Robert, Earl of Orkney, a bastard son of King James V. Infamous for his godless nature and tyrannical rule over Orkney and Shetland, he was executed for treason in 1615.


Patrick was the second of five sons born to Earl Robert and his wife Lady Jean Kennedy. On the death of his uncle Lord Robert[nb 2] in 1581, he was given the gift of the Priory of Whithorn.[2] On the death of his elder brother Henry around 1588, he became heir to the Earldom of Orkney. In his youth Patrick was a good friend of his cousin James VI; however, their relationship became strained in the 1590s after Patrick succeeded his father as Earl of Orkney. An early example of his rapacity occurs in 1594, when he was accused of spoiling a Danzig ship; however he was absolved of this crime.[3] The same year he accused three of his younger brothers of conspiring to kill him, after he caught one of John's servitors with poison on him. The servitor was tortured and executed, along with Margaret Balfour, a witch who supposedly aided in the conspiracy; the brothers, however, were later acquitted.[4]

The ruins of the Earl's Palace

Patrick became a prominent figure at Court, and served as a "sewer" (assistant) to the King at the baptism of his son Prince Henry Frederick in 1594.[3] He ruled Orkney and Shetland in the manner of an independent sovereign, severely oppressing the islanders and getting into massive debt.[3] In 1599 he built Scalloway Castle on the Mainland of Shetland, partly to strengthen his power there against his half-uncle Laurence Bruce, who had been appointed Sheriff of Shetland by the deceased Earl Robert. Patrick also feuded with George Sinclair, the Earl of nearby Caithness. In March 1599, James VI ordered Patrick and George to furnish their strongholds against the possibility of an invasion by the exiled Earl of Bothwell. This scare was renewed in July 1601. In 1607 Earl Patrick began the construction of the Earl's Palace in Kirkwall, the capital of Orkney.

Patrick joined the King in a hunting trip in Teviotdale in the Scottish borders in March 1600. The hunting party was shadowed by an agent of the English border warden who noted the Earl's presence.[5]

Earl Patrick's financial mismanagement and his brutality against the local population led to him being summoned before the Privy Council in 1609, and then imprisoned, firstly in Edinburgh Castle and then in Dumbarton Castle.[3]

Rebellion and death[edit]

After Earl Patrick's imprisonment, he sent his illegitimate son Robert Stewart to raise a rebellion in Orkney in his favour.[3] Robert seized the Palace of Birsay with thirty companions in May 1614, then occupied the Earl's Palace, the castle and St Magnus' Cathedral in Kirkwall. As many as 700 rebels subscribed to a band which claimed their action was restoring royal justice in Orkney under the direction of Robert Stewart during the Earl's absence. Robert was defeated by a force commanded by the Earl of Caithness at the end of September, after a five-week siege of the Earl's Palace. The Earl of Caithness battered the Palace with 140 cannon shot; he said the castle was so strong that some of his cannonballs broke in two like golf balls. Twelve of Robert's men were hanged at the castle gate.

Robert was taken to Edinburgh, put to trial, and hanged with five others. Robert and his father denied they had planned the rebellion together but Robert's accomplice, Patrick Halcro, insisted he had acted on Earl Patrick's instructions. Evidence was taken in Orkney from a servant Margaret Buchanan who claimed she had read instructions for Halcro written by the Earl. She said that Halcro showed the paper to Robert who tore it into pieces and they both told her it were better so, that it could do no hurt in time coming, and "the Earl of Orkney should not want his head for it."[6] Robert's execution evoked much sympathy from the people, due to his young age, around twenty-two, and his "tall stature and comlie countenance".[3]

The trial of Earl Patrick followed that of his son. His titles were forfeited and he was sentenced to death, but his execution was postponed after a plea from the chaplains, who, finding him so ignorant he could barely recite the Lord's Prayer, wanted time to educate him and give him Communion.[3] The execution eventually took place on 6 February 1615, when he was taken to the Market Cross in Edinburgh and beheaded.[3]

Marriage and marriage plan[edit]

In 1595 King James suggested the Earl's marriage to Emilia, a sister of Count Maurice of Nassau. An envoy, Colonel Stewart, proposed the plan to the States to cement a league between Scotland and the Netherlands, but objections included the earl's doubtful title to Orkney and Shetland, and that Emilia was not willing to dwell so far from her home and family. Patrick had partly funded the Colonel's mission, which was resented by the Scottish resident ambassador-lieger and consul to the States General, Robert Deniston.[7]

Patrick instead married Margaret Livingston, the wealthy widow of Sir Lewis Bellenden and a daughter of the Lord Livingston. After squandering her fortune, Patrick left her to die in poverty. They had no children, though Patrick did have several bastards:[3]

  • Robert Stewart, son of Marjorie Sinclair (who was present with her son at the siege of Kirkwall and was wounded in the hand)
  • Mary Stewart
  • Catherine Stewart, married John Sinclair of Ulbster



  1. ^ "Zetland" is an archaic spelling of "Shetland".
  2. ^ This Lord Robert generally had "secundus" or "junior" appended to his name, in order to distinguish him from his brother.
  1. ^ Peter D. Anderson, Black Patie: the Life and Times of Patrick Stewart, Earl of Orkney, Lord of Zetland (Edinburgh, 1992), 148-49.
  2. ^ Register of the Privy Seal, vol. 8, (1982), 485, no. 2742.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i Balfour Paul, Sir James, in The Scots Peerage, Volume VI (Edinburgh, 1909), pp. 575-7
  4. ^ Steuart, Archibald, in The Scots Peerage, Volume II (Edinburgh, 1907), pp. 440-1
  5. ^ HMC, Calendar of the Manuscripts of the Marquis of Salisbury at Hatfield House, vol.10 (1910), 47
  6. ^ Ancient Criminal Trials, vol.3 issue 1, (1833), 272-308
  7. ^ HMC, Calendar of the Manuscripts of the Marquis of Salisbury at Hatfield House, vol.5 (1894), 110, 111, 167


Preceded by
Robert Stewart
Earl of Orkney
Succeeded by

External links[edit]