Virtual Vault Rev James Wallace's Description of the Isles of Orkney, 1684 (MS)
Chapter 12

Chapter 12th
The Historie of the first Plantation of the Iles of Orkney & of the Ancient and Present Possessors of them.

the first Planters of Possessors of this Countrey, wer certainlie the Pights, as the Generalitie of our Historians doe affirme, who moreover call Orkney Antiqum Pictorum regnum, the ancient Kingdon of the Pights: there being as yet in this Countrey severall strainge Antick houses, manie of which, are over growin with earth which are still called Pights houses: and the firth that runs between this & Caithnes is still from them called Pightland-firth. I.e. the firth that runs by the Land of the Pights:  Tho Buchannan (to invalidate this opinion) wold rather have itt called fretum PenthLandium from one Penthus, aman of his oun devising.  These verses of the Poet Claudian

                        ----------, Maduerunt Saxone fuso
Orcades, in caluit Pictorum Sanguine Thule.
Doe evedentlie prove that the pights, with Some other sept of the German nation, att that tyme wer the possessors and


inhabitants of these northern Iles both of Orkney and Zetland moreover to this day manie of the Inhabitants use the Norse or old Gothick Language, which is not much different from the old Teutonick, or the Language which the Pights used.  Besyde the surnames of the Ancient inhabitants are of a German Originall: for the Seaters, arre so called from Seater, one of the old German idols which they worshiped for Saturn.  The Taits are so called from Tivithe i.e. the dutch who gott that name from Twisco the son off noe and Tythea, , the famous porgenitor of the Germans.  The Keldas from the Ancient Culdees or keldeis (as Spotswood think) who wer the Ancient priests or ministers of the christian religion among the pights, so called Because they lived in cells: the Bakies from some small runing water, which in the Ancient Teutonick is called a Baikie: so the names that end in Stane, as Hourstan, Corstan, Yorstan Beistan etc. which is a Pightish or Teutonick termination of surnames, signifying the superlative degree of Comparison: and  manie more might be named, iff itt wer needfull, to show that the Pightish blood is as yet in this Countrey & that yt people wer yd first possessors of itt.  These Pights, as is generallie acknouledged, wer of a German descent, coming at first from that pairt of Germanie that borders on the Baltick sea, qr att present are the Dukedoms of Meckelburgh & pomerania: they wer so called, because they wer notable warriors & fighters; their true name (as Verstegan informs us) being Phightia that is phighters or fighters:  They are by the Romans called Picti (tho some wreiters calle them Pictari) and might have


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have been so called be them, either from some resemblance to that name of Phightian that they took to themselves, or from their singular beautie & comelie forme ; as iff they hed been a painted people.  And so Boethius in his character of them putts both these properties togither, saying of them quod erant corporibus rebustissimus candidissimisq ; the like saith Verstegan of them, that they wer tall & strong of bodie & of a verie fair Complexion.  And so is itt to this verie hour, there being no people in Scotland that more resembles the pights in these qualities, then the generalitie of our Orkney men and women does, being generallie stronglie built & verie beautifull & Lovelie.  Or the Romanes might have called them Picti, because being a people much delighting in warr, they had their sheilds painted with diverse colors for Alex. Ab Alex. Lib.2.gen.dier.c.22 observes that itt wes the way of the German nation so to doe, saying, Germani Scuta Lectissimus celeribus distinxero or they might have called them so, because possiblie to make themselves appear more terrible to their enimies, they used to paint ther bodies with the Images of Divers beasts or imprint them on their flesh with some iron instruments which gave occasion to Claudian to say of them

------------------ferroqu notatas
per legit examines Picto moriente figuras
But at what tyme the pights planted thoses Iles, is some what controverted by our wrietors.  Some saying that in the year of the world 4867 to seek out some new habitation to themselves cam first to Orkney where they left a colonie to plant the Countrey;. And then with their main bodie ferying over

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over Pightland firth & passing thoro Caithnes, Ross, Murrey Marr & Anguis, att Last setled themselves in fife &Lauthian which from them is by our wreitors called PictLandia, others mre probablie conceive that the Pights did not setle  hear till the tyme of Reuther king of Scots: at which tyme the Scots by ane intestine division warring upon on anather each partie being assisted by Considerable numbers off the Pights, they fought so desperatlie that besyde Gethus king of pights the greatest number of both the Scotish & Pightish nobilitie wer killed, togither with manie thousands of the Comons of both nations which great slaughter with the invasion of the Britons att the same tyme constrained the Pights who perceived them selves unable to resist them to flie some by Land and some be sea to Orkney where they abode for a tyme, and made Gothus the brother of the forsaid Gethus to be their king and after some for years haveing Left some off their number to people and plant the Countrey, the  returned to Lauthian, and haveing expelled the Britons, settled themselves again in their ancient possessions.

The Countrey being thus planted the people grew and multiplied & for a Long tyme wer governed by Kings of thirr oun, after the manner of the Pights & other nations.  There is still a place in this Countrey that by reason of its name and Antick forme wold seem to have the residence off some of those kings for it is called Cuningsgar, tho now itt be deservedlie appropriate to be a dwelling house to the reverend minister of Sandwick.  But the memorie of the names & actions of those kings are by the iniquitie of tyme & carelessnes of our wrietors buried in silence.  Onlie wee find mention made

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made off those tuo.  Belus king of Orkney Holinshed calls him Bladus and Boethius Balus But itt is more likelie he was called Belus for there is at this tyme a stone in the kirk of Birsa (where propablie that kind had his residence) as at this hour one of our kings cheefest palaces is remaining) haveing his name Belus engraven one itt in ancient characters.  This Prince, upon what provocation it is not recorded, lev’d ane armie & crossing Pightland firth invading Caithnes & Ross and making prey off all that he mett with.  But Ewen the second being att that tyme k of Scotland, hearing of this invasion, came with with his armie so unexpectedlie upon him & assaulted him so vigorouslie that he put his souldiers to flight, a great manie escaping by boat, but Belus himself wes put to that straite that he flew himself least he should fall into his enemies hand.
After him wee read of another king of Orkney called Gan9 in the tyme of Caratacus k of Scots & off him it is reported that Claudius Cesar being in England, after he had setled the Roman interest there, Ano Christi 43 [8] took a resolution to invade and subdue Orkney, pretending yt that people had assisted the Scots against him, but indeed that he might get some glorie to himself by vanquishing of so remote a people.  And so he comes with his navie and forces to this Countrey, where the the people did resist him manfullie ; yet being over powred they wer at lasst vanquished, and there king Ganus with his wife & children apprehended and wer caried with him to Rome where they with some noble Britons wer led in triumph.  This Historie Boethius reports out of Beda Tranquill9 Eutro


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Eutropius besyde some later wreiters.  So Hartmannus Shedel in his generall Historie of the severall ages of the world speaking of the Emperor Claudius sayes, quod Orchades insulas Romano adjecit imperio sexto quo profectus erat mense roman redijt et Triumphavit maximo apparatu.  To this Juvenall respects when he sayes in his 2 Satyre,

Littora Juberne promaximus et modo captas
Orcadas, et minima contentos nocte Britannes

Sometyme after the Romans hed not such cause to triumph over Orkney for when Agricola wes their generall in Britain, he sent a navie to saile about Britain to discover ye quantitie of itt, or whither itt wes ane ile or not and after they had coasted for manie dayes to ward the north they came at last in sight of Orkney (which Tacitus for want of better information imagins to be unknown before that tyme).  But fearing to pass thoro Pightland firth for fear of shoals, they apprehended some off the Husbandmen that lived in the nixt ilands Constraining them to goe aboard & pilote them thoro the firth ; But they suspecting that the Romans hed a hostile desidne upon their Countrey, not careing for their oun lives they entred the straite at such a inconvenient tyme, that the ships wer born with the violence off the stream against the rocks & shelves in such manner that they wer almost torn and drouned & lost withoutrecoverie: onlie some few of the navie that wer not so haistie to follow, perceiving the sadd loss of their fellows returned by the same way they cam, & reported these lamentable tydings to Agricola.  And indeed there is a place in Shapinsha overanent which are impetuos tydes and dang

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dangerous shoals, att this day called Agricola ;But whither itt gott that name from this accident I am not able to determine.

But yet it seems that Orkney wes a Considerable thing in the eyes of the Romanes: for Polydor Vergil Lib. 3 Anglice Historie, speakeing of the division of the Empire among ye sons of Constantine the great reckons Orkney among the famous kingdoms that fell to the shaire of his sone Constantine, sayes he, Huic sorte evenit Britannia cum Gallia Hispania et Orchadibus.

This Countrey belike continued thus under the government of their owun Princes, till the fatall ruin & subversion of the pightish kingdom in Scotland in the year of our Lord 839 [9] .  Att what tyme Kenneth the second that martiall king of Scots haveing in manie Battells overthroun the Pights and at lasst expelled them out of all Scotland seizing on fife Lauthian & the other lairge territories that they had therein, he persewed them to Orkney, vanquishing these iles and adding them to his other dominions.

Orkney being thus annexed to the imperiall Croun of Scotland, itt continued manie years under the Government of the Scotish & their lifetennants, till about the year of our Lord 1099.  Att what tyme Donald Beane Lord of the Iles, haveing usurped the Croun and caused himself be proclaimed king of Scotland and being thereupon hardlie putt to itt by the injured heir & discontented nobilitie, that he might not lose what he hed unjustlie usurped, he invited Magnus

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King of Norwey to come to his assistance with aneoffer of ye Iles for his pains: who comeing with his navie invaded Orkney & the western iles putting Garisons in all Convenient places.

By this means the Norwegians gett possession of this Countrey,who held itt for the space of 164 years when they came to lose all again upon this occasion Anno 1263, Alexander the 3 being then king of Scotland Acho k. of Norwey, hoping from the divisions that wer then in the kingdom and the famine that wes sore pressing the land, to make some further Conquest in Scotland, he comes with a great Armie of Danes and Norwegians to the west iles & overcomes Arrand & Bute (which wer the onlie iles which at that tyme wer under the dominion of the Scots) and from this success hoping for greater maters he Lands on the Continent & takes in the Toun and castle of Air.  But k. Alexander, haveing assembled a great Armie assaultes him in battell at largis kills his nepheu a man of great renoun, and after a great slaughter of his souldiers (to the number of twentie four thousand) putts the remander to flight Immediatlie  upon this defeat, king Acho hears of Another sadd loss, namlie that his fleet, containing the number of 150 ships, wes by ye force of ane outragious tempest, all drouned & broken against ye rocks, except four in which he presentlie embarqued & fledd away to Orkney.  Being come thither, he sent to norwey & denmark for a new Armie and fleet, with ane intention again to invade Scotland the next sumer, But he died in the beginning of the following year. Janr 21 Ao 1264 & wes buried in that place qr the Cathedrall now stands, under a marble stone which is seen to this day.            After

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After his death king Alexander invaded the ile of Man and the western iles, which after some opposition he recovered.  And intending to make the like attempt for the recovery of Orkney & Zetland, there came ambassadors to him from Magnus K. of Norwey & denmark who succeeded his father Acho in these kingdoms.  A right Godly prince and one that feared God.  After Severall Treaties it was a Last condesended upon that l. alexr should pey to the king of Norwey the soume of 4000 merks sterling, with the soume of ane hundreth merks by year: and that for this magnus king of Norwey should quite all right that he might pretend to the Iles of Orkney and Zetland and the other iles of Scotland, which accordinglie he did by letters under his great seall Renuncing and giving over all right or claime that he hed or might have both for him & his successors, to these and all the other iles of Scotland.  And for the better Confirmation hereof a marriage was agreed upon betwixt the Ladie Margaret daughter to k. Alexr and Hangonanum (or Hannigo or Aquine as others call him) [10] sone to k. Magnus, both children to be compleeted when they came to a marrygable estate.

This Magnus K. of Norwey was a man of great piety and devotion, for which he was reputed a Saint Commonly called St Magnus.  He much advanced the Christian Religion in this Countrey whose patron he is held to be, & is thought to have founded that Stately Edifice in kirkwall ; whis is now the Cathedrall, called from him St magnus Kirk.  The opinion of his Sanctity & miracles made him so famous yt the day where in king Robert Bruce gave that great and memerable defeat to the English at Bannockburn there was seen ryding theron Aberdeen a Horseman in shining arm-

armour who told them of the victory and there after was seen ryding on his horse over pightland firth whereupon it was concluded (saith Boethius who exports this storie) that it was St Magnus.  And upon that account the king after the victorie ordered that forever after five pounds sterling should be peyed to St Magnus kirk in kirkwall out of the customs peyable be the citie of Aberdeen.

Orkney being in this manner recovered from the hands of the danes & norwegians, it continued ever after annexed to the croun of Scotland.  King Alexr giving the propertie of it to a nobleman
surnamed Speir Earl of Caithnes whose son magnus speir Earle of Caithnes Orkney & Zetland was in great repute in the dayes of K. Robert Bruce.

But he dying without heirs male, his daughter Elizabeth Speire succeeded him in the estate & was married to Sr william Sinclair, who accompanied Sir James Douglas when he went to carie the Bruce'’ heart to Jerusalem.  He wes great grandchild to Wilielamus de Sancto clare second for to Voldonius Earle of Saint Clare in france and the Earledom of Orkney & Zetland fell to him about sixty & odd years after the recoverie of it from the Danes.

This sir William by his wife Elizabeth Sparrie had a son called william also who wes created Earle of Orkney & Zetland by k. David Bruce.  He maried first Florentina daughter to the king of Denmark and after hir death was married to Jean Halyburton daughter to Walter Lord Dirleton. [11]                                                                                                To

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To him succeeded his sone Henrie Sinclair usually called prince of Orkney, he was also created duke of Olenburg by Christian the first K. of Denmark.  He married Geils or Egidia Douglas daughter to William Douglas Lord of niddisdale & of Geils Stewart daughter to King Robert the second.  He was usually stilled knight of the Cockle, Knight of the Garter, knight of the Golden fleece (which are the principall orders of Knighthood in Scotland, England, france and Germanie) and prince of Orkney.  so much was he honored & favoured be K. Robert the third, that when he was to send his sone Prince James (afterwards K. James the first) to france he appointed this Henrie Prince of Orkney to be his Governour, who takeing ship with him at ye Bass came the length of Ham-burg-head where by reason of the sicknes & indisposition of the young Prince, they wer necessitated to land & so wer both detained prisoners be ye English in the year 1406.

He hade a daughter called Beatrix Sinclair who was married to James the Gross Earle of Douglas and in the inscription that is upon her tomb at Douglas, her father the Earle of Orkney is stiled Lord of the Iles & Lord Sinclair.

To him succeeded his sone william Sinclair, Earle of Orkney & Zetland.  He married Elizabeth Douglas daughter to Archibald Earle of Douglas surnamed Tineman by whom he hade a daughter that afterward was married to alexander duke of Albanie second sone to king James the second.  In the douglas historie wee find a note of this earle’s titles that he was knight

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knight of the Golden fleece & of the Cockle prince of Orkney duke of Holdenburg Earle of Caithnes Lord Sinclair, Lord of niddisdale with the valleyes of neth Sheriff of Dumfriese Great Admirale of Scotland warden of the marches, Great Justice Generall, Baron of Erkford, Caverton, Cousland, Roslin, pentland,, Harbarshire, dysart, newbrogh in Buchan.  But for all these promising Titles either his power wes not Answerable or he wold not show it for being ordered by K. James the second (at that tyme that William Earle of Douglas hade fallen into the kings displeasure) to goe & intromitt with his goods and rents in Galloway and Douglas to saitisfie complainters therewith he went according to Order, But he went in vain for he wes but mocked be the tennents & returned with out doing anie harme. Yet questionles he wes a man of great power & eminencie for he wes verie intimate with the king whom he followed and assisted in allhis difficulties & by him was made Lord Chancellor of the kingdom & life tennant after that yt office hade been taken from the Earle of Douglas and from the same king he gott a Confirmation of Caithnes united into a Barronie with his lands of Orkney in Compensation of hisclaime to the Lordship of niddisdale & of other offices & pensions that he pretended.  This Confirmation is dated Aprile 29 Anno 1456 in which he calls him his Chancellor & Cusin.

to him succeeded his sone Robert Sinclair Earle of Orkney:  but he being (as I am informed) forfaulted for non Compeirance to the parliament, the Earledom of Orkney and Lord


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Lordship of Zetland wes again anexed to the Croun and so itt continued till the reigne of Q. Marie.

Att what tyme James Hepburn Earle of Bothwell was by her created duke of Orkney, by that dignitie to make him the more worthie to be a Husband to h er selfe who were married be Adam Bothewell Bishop of Orkney in the palace of Holy-roodhouse after the manner of the reformed church, on the 15 of Maij 1567.  He perceiving how much he wold be envyed be the Nobility for that marriage & for a suspicion they hade that he was the murtherer of her former husband, caused build a strong castle in Westra called Noutland, to be a place of retreat, in case a storm should fall.  And so it came to pass, for being deserted by the Queen at Carberry hill, & pursued be the Lords of the Congregation, he made to sea with two or three ships which he prepared befor hand for that purpose, and cam to Orkney: But being denyed enterance into the castle of Kirkwall (the castle of Noutland not being fullie finished) By Gilbert Balfour the keeper of it, he betook himself againe to sea playing the pyrate, and making prey of all ships that he could master & liggt upon till at last he was driven from this Countrey be William Kirkaldie of Grange & so flieing from here? to Zetland & from thence to norwey, he was there apprehended & Conveyed to denmark where he was pute into a vile prison, in which after the space of ten year he made a base end, answerable to the wicked life he hade led.

After the deat and forfeiture of James Hepburn duke of Orkney, The Lord Robert Stewart uncle to King James the

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the sixth by his mother (for he was Naturall sone to King the 5) was made Earle of Orkney in august Anno 1581.  And being befor provyded to the Abbacie of holyrood house he made ane excheange of that with Adam Bothwell for the Bishipric of Orkney & so became sole Lord of the whole Countrey.  He built or repaired the Castle of Birsa (the cheef residence of the Earles of ) haveing this inscription above the gate, Dominus Robertus Stuartus filius Jacobi quinti Rex Scotorum hoc opus instruxit which inscription (togither with the motto that he had above his arms  Sicfuit est et orit) I am informed he did militat some thing against his sone when he was pannelled for his life.  In his tyme k. James the Sixt was married to Queen Anne the king of denmark’s sister, at what tyme there was a new renunciation of the right the yd kings of Denmark might pretend to these iles of Orkney & Zetland.

To him succeeded his sone Patrick Stewart, Earle of Orkney.  he was a great oppressor of the Countrey.  Spotswoods character of him is in these words “This noble man (saies he) haveing undone his estate by ryot and prodigalitie did seek by unlawfull shifts to repair the same, making (unjust) acts in his courts and exacting penalties for the breach thereof.  If any man was tried to have concealed any thing that might inferr a pecuniary mulct and bring profite to the Earle, hislands & goods were declaired escheated or if they went furth of the ile without his Licence or his deputies, upon whatsoever occasion, they should forfeit their moveables, or if any person did sue for Justice before anie other Judge then his deputies, his goods were


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wher escheated, and which of all his acts was most inhumain he ordained that if any man was tried to supply or give relife into Ships or any vessells distressed be tempest, the same should be punished in his person and fyned at the Earle his pleasure.  These acts produced be the Complainers and Confessed be the Earle himself were by the Councell decerned unlawfull and the execution yrafter prohibited in all tyme.  These oppressions moved k. James the sixt that he might deliver that Injured people from so great a tyrannie to purchase Sr John Arnots right to whom the Earle had Impignorat his estate.  And so he took the Countrey in his own hand, sending Sr James Stewart to it, whom he made chamberlan & sherrif of the Countrey in [scorings out] who came & intromitted with it, takeing possessions of the Castles of Birsa & kirkwall.  The Earle, at this tyme being imprisoned in the Castle of Dunbarton, sent his base son robert Stewart with ane express comand to take these houses back againe, who accordinglie did so.  But the Earle of Caithnes, being Comissioned be the king to be Lifetenant in these bounds with order to recover these castles and pacifie the Countrey, shortlie after his comeing, took in the castle of kirkwall, which he demolished, & in itt seized upon the sd Robert Stewart with some of the Earles servants, whom he sent to Edinburgh, where shortly after they were hanged at the markat Cross.  And the nixt year, being 1614 Febr 6 the Earle himselfe for several reasons & oppressions proved against him (being brought from dunbarton to Edinburgh was there beheaded.  He was a man of profuse spending and ye

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the builder of that beautifull fabrick wherein the Bishops of Orkney do reside.

1 The king by this means being fully possessed of this Countrey, He made Sr James Stewart Lord Ochiltrie chamberlaine & Sherrif yrof as is sd.  After whom others succeeded to be Governors of it, till the year 1647 at what tyme William Douglas Earle of Morton got a wadsett of this Countrey from king Charles the first.

To him succeeded Robert Douglas his son, likewise Earle of Morton, Anno 1649.  In which year the noble  & valiant Marquess of Montrose came to this Countrey with severall Gallant Comanders and some companies of forreigne Souldiers, haveing stayed a few months in kirkwall, he there raised some forces most of whom were either killed or taken prisoners in yt unfortunat encounter at Carbesdale.

To him succeeded in the possession of Orkney & Zetland his sone William Douglas Earle of Morton.  In the tyme of warr betwixt our king & the Hollanders (Anno 1664 or therby) it cam to passthat a great ship called the Carmelan of Amsterdam was cast away at zetland, upon which ship there were some chests of Coyned gold which were seized on by the Earles trusties for his behoof who received and keeped them, giving none of them to the king.  Whereupon the Lords of Treasurie being offended called the Earle to ane account & Redeemed his wadset of Orkney & Zetland and Obtained a decreit of declarator against him.  And so in the year 1669 these Countries of Orkney and zet

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zetland thus redeemed from the Earle of Morton were (excepting the Bishop’s interrest) reannexed to the Croun and erected in Stewartrie by act of Parliament.

1.  The first Stewart was Master George Scot of Gibliston who keeped the Countrey five year.

2.  To him Anno 1675 succeeded Capt. Andrew Dick who keeped it six year.

3.  To him succeeded Charles Murray of Haddon and Robert Milne of Barnetone who are the present Stewarts of the Countrey & govern it by their deputy William Craigie of Gairsa.

[8]   The date inserted in the margin

[9]   A.D. 839 inserted in the margin

[10]   Hagin inserted in margin here

[11]   or Magnus k. of Norwey & Sweden first named Smeck inserted in margin


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