Earl of Orkney

Earl of Orkney

The Earl of Orkney was originally a Norse jarl ruling Orkney, Shetland and parts of Caithness and Sutherland. The Earls were periodically subject to the kings of Norway for the Northern Isles, and later also to the kings of Alba for those parts of their territory in mainland Scotland (i.e. Caithness and Sutherland). The Earl's status as a Norwegian vassal was formalised in 1195. In 1232 a Scottish dynasty descended from the Mormaers of Angus replaced the previous family descended from the Mormaers of Atholl, although it 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 passed to Scots control.

The first known Earl of Orkney was Rognvald Eysteinsson (Rognvald, Earl of Møre), who died around 890. Subsequent Earls, with one exception, were descended from Rognvald or his brother Sigurd until 1232.


Norse Earls of Orkney

The Norse Earldom was frequently under joint rule. The possessions of the Earldom included the Mormaerdom of Caithness and, until 1194, the Shetland Islands.

  • Ragnvald Eysteinsson, Earl of Møre, 9th century
  • Sigurd Eysteinsson (Sigurd the Mighty), brother of Ragnvald, 9th century
  • Guthorm Sigurdsson, c. 890
  • Hallad Rognvaldsson, c. 891–c. 893
  • Turf-Einar Rognvaldsson (Turf-Einar), c. 893–c. 946
  • Arnkel Turf-Einarsson, 946–954 (died at the same battle as Eric Bloodaxe)
  • Erlend Turf-Einarsson, (d. 954) (died at the same battle as Eric Bloodaxe)
  • Thorfinn Turf-Einarsson (Thorfinn Skull-Splitter), c. 963–c. 976
  • Arnfinn Thorfinnsson, with Havard, Ljot and Hlodvir, c. 976–c. 991
  • Havard Thorfinnsson, with Arnfinn, Ljot and Hlodvir, c. 976–c. 991
  • Ljot Thorfinnsson, with Arnfinn, Havard and Hlodvir, c. 976–c. 991
  • Hlodvir Thorfinnsson, with Arnfinn, Havard and Ljot, c. 980–c. 991
  • Sigurd Hlodvirsson (Sigurd the Stout), 991–1014
  • Brusi Sigurdsson, with Einar, Sumarlidi and Thorfinn, 1014–1030
  • Einar Sigurdsson (Einar Wry-mouth), with Brusi and Sumarlidi, 1014–1020
  • Sumarlidi Sigurdsson, with Brusi and Einar, 1014–1015
  • Thorfinn Sigurdsson (Thorfinn the Mighty), with Brusi and Rögnvald, 1020–1064
  • Rögnvald Brusason, with Thorfinn, c. 1037–c. 1045
  • Paul and Erlend Thorfinnsson, 1064–1098
  • Sigurd Magnusson (Sigurd the Jerusalem-farer), later King of Norway, son of King Magnus Bareleg, 1098–1103
  • Haakon Paulsson, son of Paul Thorfinsson, with Magnus, 1103–1123
  • Magnus Erlendsson (Saint Magnus), with Haakon, 1108–1117
  • Harald Haakonsson, with Paul, 1122–1127
  • Paul Haakonsson, with Harald, 1122–1137
  • Rögnvald Kali Kolsson (Saint Rögnvald), with Harald Maddadsson and Erlend, 1136–1158
  • Harald Maddadsson, with Rögnvald, Erlend and Harald Eiriksson, 1134–1206
  • Erlend Haraldsson, son of Harald Haakonsson, with Harald Maddadsson, 1151–1154
  • Harald Eiriksson, in Caithness, grandson of Rögnvald Kali, with Harald, 1191–1194
  • David Haraldsson, with Heinrik and Jon, 1206–1214
  • Heinrik Haraldsson, in Caithness, with David and Jon, 1206–before 1231
  • Jon Haraldsson, with David and Heinrik, 1206–1231

Scottish Earls under the Norwegian Crown

The Angus Earls

In 1236, Magnus, son of Gille Brigte, Mormaer of Angus, was granted the Earldom of Orkney by King Haakon Haakonsson.

The Strathearn and Sinclair Earls

Some time after Magnus Jonsson's death, around 1331, the Earldom was granted to Maol Íosa (Malise), Mormaer of Strathearn, a distant relative of the first Earl Gille Brigte. Maol Íosa ruled Orkney and Caithness from 1331 to 1350. He left several daughters, but no sons. Orkney passed to his son-in-law, the Swedish councillor Erengisle Suneson. Another son-in-law, Alexander de l'Ard, ruled as Earl of Caithness from 1350 until 1375, when the Earldom passed to the King of the Scots.

In 1379, the Earldom of Orkney, without Caithness, was granted to another son-in-law of Maol Íosa, Henry Sinclair, by King Haakon VI Magnusson. Earl Henry ruled until his death in 1401, and was succeeded by a son named Henry, who was followed by his son Earl William, to whom the Earldom of Caithness was granted by the King of Scots in 1455. However, Orkney and Shetland were pledged to James III in place of a dowry for his bride Margaret of Denmark by Christian I. James took the Earldom of Orkney for the Crown in 1470, and William was thereafter Earl of Caithness alone until he resigned the Earldom in favour of his son William in 1476, dying in 1484.

Scottish Earls

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 his wife was forced to abdicate.

The second creation of the title was for Lord Robert Stewart, an illegitimate son of King James V. His successor Patrick, however, forfeited the title.

The last creation of the earldom was in favour of the man who would become the first British Field Marshal, Lord George Hamilton, the fifth son of William Douglas, Duke of Hamilton. By marriage, the title passed to the O'Brien family, then to the Fitzmaurice family, and finally to the St John family. The present earl holds the subsidiary titles of Viscount of Kirkwall and Lord Dechmont. Both subsidiary titles were created at the same time as the earldom, in 1696.

Dukes of Orkney (1567)

Earls of Orkney, Second Creation (1581)

Earls of Orkney, Third Creation (1696)

Earl of Orkney
George Douglas-Hamilton, 1st Earl of Orkney.
Creation date 3 January 1696
Created by William II of Scotland
Peerage Peerage of Scotland
First holder Lord George Hamilton
Present holder Oliver St John, 9th Earl of Orkney
Heir apparent Oliver St John, Viscount Kirkwall
Remainder to heirs whatsoever of the 1st Earl (a woman can succeed if she has no brothers or if all her brothers died childless)
Subsidiary titles Viscount of Kirkwall; Lord Dechmont

The third creation came in 1696 when the soldier Lord George Hamilton was made Lord Dechmont, Viscount of Kirkwall and Earl of Orkney in the Peerage of Scotland. Hamilton was the fifth son of William Douglas-Hamilton, Duke of Hamilton and 1st Earl of Selkirk and his wife Anne Hamilton, 3rd Duchess of Hamilton. The peerages were created with remainder to the heirs whatsoever of his body, which means that the titles can be passed on through both male and female lines. Lord Orkney was succeeded by his eldest daughter Anne, the second Countess. She married her first cousin William O'Brien, 4th Earl of Inchiquin. On her death the titles passed to her daughter, the third Countess. She married her second cousin Murrough O'Brien, 1st Marquess of Thomond (the nephew of the fourth Earl of Inchiquin). She was succeeded by her daughter, the fourth Countess. She married the Hon. Thomas Fitzmaurice, second son of John Petty, 1st Earl of Shelburne and younger brother of Prime Minister William Petty, 1st Marquess of Lansdowne. On her death the titles passed to her grandson, the fifth Earl. He sat in the House of Lords as a Scottish Representative Peer from 1833 to 1874.

His son, the sixth Earl, was a Scottish Representative Peer from 1885 to 1889. He was succeeded by his nephew, the seventh Earl. On his death the peerages passed to his second cousin twice removed, the eighth Earl. He was the great-grandson of the Hon. Frederick Fitzmaurice, third son of the fifth Earl. The succession was approved by the Court of the Lord Lyon in 1955. He died childless and was succeeded by his third cousin, the ninth Earl. He is the son of Frederick Oliver St John, son of Isabella Annie Fitzmaurice, daughter of the Hon. James Terence Fitzmaurice, fifth son of the fifth Earl of Orkney. Lord Orkney lives in Canada and has been a professor at the University of Manitoba. His paternal grandfather Sir Frederick Robert St John was the youngest son of the Hon. Ferdinand St John, third son of George St John, 3rd Viscount Bolingbroke and 4th Viscount St John. Consequently, Lord Orkney is also in remainder to the viscounties of Bolingbroke and St John and their subsidiary titles.

The heir apparent is the present holder's son Oliver St John, Viscount Kirkwall (b. 1969).