Nielsen Hayden genealogy

Henry Sinclair

Male - 1401


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  • Name Henry Sinclair  [1, 2
    Gender Male 
    Alternate death Abt 1400  [3
    Died Between 1400 and 1401  [4
    Person ID I27381  Ancestry of PNH, TNH, and others | Ancestor of JMF, Ancestor of TWK
    Last Modified 24 Jun 2020 

    Father William Sinclair,   b. of Roslin, Midlothian, Scotland Find all individuals with events at this location,   d. Aft 17 Sep 1358 
    Mother Isabella of Strathearn 
    Family ID F17292  Group Sheet  |  Family Chart

    Family Jean Halyburton 
    Children 
    +1. Elizabeth Sinclair
    Last Modified 24 Jun 2020 
    Family ID F16352  Group Sheet  |  Family Chart

  • Notes 
    • Earl of Orkney. He was an unremarkable Scottish and Norse nobleman who, for reasons that pass all understanding, has become the focus of a series of ginned-up legends involving Rosslyn Chapel (built by his grandson William Sinclair, 1410-84), Templarism, alleged pre-Columbian Atlantic crossings, and a seemingly endless flow of related nonsense. That odious fountain of bullshit Holy Blood, Holy Grail (1982) is partly responsible. Another OFOB, Dan Brown, is similarly at fault. Even the respectable Complete Peerage is contributory, retailing (volume 10, page 94) as straight fact the made-up tale of his discovery of Greenland. The Scots Peerage (volume 6, pages 568-69) also rolls out the Greenland humbug, along with the entirely imaginary story of his involvement with the Venetian sailor Nicolo Zeno. A reputable historian, William Thomson, remarked in his New History of Orkney (2008) that "It has been Earl Henry's singular fate to enjoy an ever-expanding posthumous reputation which has very little to do with anything he achieved in his lifetime."

      A good summary of his actual history is here, on a site devoted to the factual history of the Orkneys:

      Henry Sinclair was born at Rosslyn Castle, near Edinburgh, in 1345. He enters Orkney history in the late 1370s - a period when the islands were without an earl.

      In Orkney, the death of Earl Malise, Henry's grandfather, in 1365, had resulted in a succession dispute that was not resolved for 26 years. Henry became involved in a struggle for the possession of the earldom with Erngisl Sunesson and Alexander de Ard. Sinclair bested his two rivals, eventually being granted the earldom by the Norwegian King Haakon VI, in 1379.

      His appointment was on the condition that he not only defend Orkney and Shetland but also that, if required, he provide Norway with military support. A further condition was that he build no permanent structures. This, however, was blatantly ignored. Sinclair went on to build the Kirkwall Castle shortly after.

      Not much else is known about Henry Sinclair. He was killed around 1400, his demise described by the Sinclair Diploma:
      "…he retirit to the parts of Orchadie and josit them to the latter tyme of his life, and deit Erile of Orchadie, and for the defence of the country was slain there cruellie by his enemiis..."
      The identity of these "enemiis" and the exact circumstances of Henry's death are unclear. We do not even know where in Orkney he met his death.

      What we do know is that sometime in 1401:
      "The English invaded, burnt and spoiled certain islands of Orkney."
      It is therefore possible that Earl Henry Sinclair died sometime in 1400, or 1401 - possibly repelling an English force who raided Orkney after the Scots attacked an English fleet outside Aberdeen.

      After Henry's death, the earldom passed to his son, also called Henry. Earl Henry II was earl by name only and there is no record of him ever visiting the Orkneys during his 20-year reign.

  • Sources 
    1. [S3862] The Peerage of Scotland by Robert Douglas. Edinburgh: R. Fleming, 1764.

    2. [S800] The Scots Peerage, Founded on Wood's Edition of Sir Robert Douglas's Peerage of Scotland, Containing an Historical and Genealogical Account of the Nobility of That Kingdom. Ed. James Balfour Paul. Edinburgh: David Douglas, 1904-1914.

    3. [S128] The Complete Peerage of England, Scotland, Ireland, Great Britain and the United Kingdom, Extant, Extinct or Dormant ed. Vicary Gibbs, H. A. Doubleday, Duncan Warrand, Howard de Walden, Geoffrey H. White and R. S. Lea. 2nd edition. 14 volumes (1-13, but volume 12 spanned two books), London, The St. Catherine Press, 1910-1959. Volume 14, "Addenda & Corrigenda," ed. Peter W. Hammond, Gloucestershire, Sutton Publishing, 1998.

    4. [S4248] Earl Henry Sinclair: The Genuine History. On the site Orkneyjar: The Heritage of the Orkney Islands.