This article appears in the Clan Sinclair Association Canada
brochure. Further details may be found in the
Timeline on the Clan Sinclair UK website.
The Origins of the Sinclairs
The Sinclairs descend from Tognvald "the Mighty",
Earl of Moere in Norway and of the Orkneys. In 876 his son Hrolf
"the Ganger" entered the River Seine and pillaged the
countryside. King Charles "the Simple" of France made peace by granting him the Province of Normandy, and the overloardship of Brittany. The
treaty was signed at Castle Saint-Clair-Sur-Epte...
The Norman Conquest
William The Conqueror was a first cousin of the St Clairs. Nine Sinclair
knights fought with him at the Battle of Hastings.
The St Clairs were granted vast estates in England.
The St Clair presence in Scotland pre-dates the Norman Conquest. William
St Clair accompanied Edgar "the Atheling" to Hungary and later escorted
Edgar's sister Margaret to Scotland with the Holy Rood, part of the true cross. William
was granted Rosslyn "in life-rent" by the King in 1057. Rosslyn has been in the
family's hands ever since.
Scottish Achievements and Templar Connections
William was succeeded by Henri de St Clair, who took part in the First Crusade
and the Fall of Jerusalem in 1096. This was the beginning of the Sinclair involvement
with the Crusades and the Knights Templar.
The Knights Templar were welcomed to Scotland by Robert The Bruce
after the Order had been suppressed by the Pope. The Sinclairs allowed them
to set up a headquarters at Ballintradoch, on the Rosslyn Estate.
Bannockburn and the Heart of Bruce
At the Battle of Bannockburn
in 1314, Sir William Sinclair and two sons led out
the Knights Templar to rout the English army. This victory is still remembered
by the Knights Templar at a ceremony at Bannockburn on St John's Day.
Two Sinclairs were entrusted with the task of taking the Bruce's heart to the
Holy Land for burial. During the journey through Spain with Sir James Douglas
and a company of knights, they fought a fierce battle against the Moors. Both
James Douglas and William Sinclair were killed. The Moors, impressed by the
courage of the Scottish knights, allowed the dead, together with the heart of
the Bruce, to be returned to Scotland for burial.
The New World
In 1398 Henry Sinclair,
Earl of Orkney and Prince of Norway, set sail for the New World with
200 men-at-arms in 12 ships fitted with cannon. They reached
Newfoundland and later sailed on to Nova Scotia, where Henry built
After overwintering with the Mi'kmaq Indians, Henry
sailed to Massachusetts where one of his knights died. An effigy of
the knight, now thought to be Sir James Gunn of Clyth,
was chiselled into a rock face.
Henry sailed on to Rhode Island where he is thought to have built the Newport Tower.
Further proof of Henry's voyage is visible in Rosslyn Chapel where
there are carvings of Indian Maize and North American Aloe cacti,
all carved before Columbus was born.
The Caithness Earldom
The Earldom of Caithness appears on record in 1129 when William was designated
Earl in a Charter issued by King David I.
In 1455 the Earldom was granted to William St Clair of Orkney. There is little
doubt that there were Sinclairs in Caithness long before this date. The
Sinclairs of Dun are said to have settled there in 1379.
The Sinclairs produced many notable persons. Among them was Sir John Sinclair of
Ulbster, who was first President of the Board of Agriculture at the time of
Pitt, and the compiler and editor of the First
Statistical Account of Scotland, 1791-99.
Another famous descendant was Major General Arthur St Clair who served with
Amherst at Louisberg and with Wolfe at Quebec. However, during the American War
of Independence he was a trusted adviser of General Washington and served at
many battles. He was President of Congress and Governor of the North-western
Territory of the USA.
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