The Lord St Clair is a title in the Peerage of Scotland first granted to one William Sinclair in 1449. Thanks to an attainder passed against the heir to the title in 1716 it has been dormant for the best part of three centuries, although the claim to the title currently rests with one John Anstruther Carl Knutsson Bonde of Charleton, who is the Baron Bonde in the Peerage of Sweden.

The Sinclairs of Rosslyn

There are a number of accounts of the origins of the Sinclair family which make reference to a William Sinclair known as 'The Seemly', allegedly one of the Companions of the Conqueror in 1066, who subsequently accompanied Margaret, daughter of Edward the Exile and sister of Edgar Aetheling, to Scotland in 1068. Subsequent to the marriage of Margaret and king Malcolm III Canmore, this William the Seemly was then said to have been granted the barony of Roslin by the king. Said accounts are pure fiction and bear no relation to reality whatsoever.

The true origin of the Sinclairs of Rosslyn are to be found in the thirteenth rather than the eleventh century in the person of one Robert de Saint Clair of Normandy, whose wife Eleanor de Dreux was a cousin of Yolande de Dreux, the second wife of king Alexander III. This family connection appears to have inspired Robert's second son William to seek his fortune to Scotland. There William is believed to have married the daughter and heiress of one Henry de Roskelyn, a reasonable enough assumption given that on the 14th September 1280 Henry resigned his feudal barony of Roskelyn, later known as Roslin or Rosslyn, in favour of William Sinclair. This William later emerged as an opponent of Edward I's conquest of Scotland in the years 1296-1299, for which offence he was imprisoned in the Tower of London where he is believed to have died. He nevertheless established a family tradition of support for the emerging Bruce dynasty, a policy certainly adopted by his son Henry, who appears as one of the signatories of the Declaration of Arbroath in 1320, whilst Henry's son William was killed in battle in Granada in 1330 whilst conveying Robert the Bruce's heart to the Holy Land.

Despite his early demise William did leave a son, also named William, who married Isabel of Caithness, daughter and designated heir of one Malise sometime Earl of Strathearn, Caithness and Orkney. It was this connection that enabled his grandson, Henry Sinclair to win recognition from the King of Norway as the Earl of Orkney on the 2nd August 1379, and it was Henry's grandson William Sinclair, 3rd Earl of Orkney who was later granted the Scottish peerage title of the Lord St Clair in 1449, later became the Earl of Caithness in 1455, but was forced to relinquish his Orcadian title to James III on the 16th September 1470, although he was given Ravenscraig Castle and a pension of 400 merks in compensation. This William was married three times; by his first wife Elizabeth, the daughter of the 4th Earl of Douglas, he had one son named William, whilst his second wife Marjory, daughter of Alexander Sutherland of Dunbeath, bore him two sons named Oliver and also (rather confusingly) William.

The elder of the two half-brothers was known as 'William the Waster' and was later on the 17th April 1482 judged to have been incapable of managing his own affairs for the past sixteen years. This appears to be sufficient explanation as to why William Sinclair, 1st Earl of Caithness decided to surrender his earldom in favour of the younger of the two Williams in 1476. He did not however surrender his title of Lord St Clair, and therefore when the Earl of Caithness died in 1480 this title, together with the barony of Rosslyn, passed into the hands of William the Waster, although he subsequently made an agreement with his half-brother Oliver in 1481 to exchange this for Ravenscraig Castle and various lands in Dysart. In this manner the Earl succeeded in creating two distinct lines of 'noble' Sinclairs; the senior line of the Lords St Clair and the junior line which held the title Earl of Caithness, as well as another line of Sinclairs who held Rosslyn.

The Lords St Clair

William the Waster, the 2nd Lord, died shortly after the 14th July 1487 and was succeeded as 3rd Lord by his son Henry Sinclair, who was held by the Scottish Parliament to be the 'Cheiff of that blude' and recognised as the Lord St Clair on the 26th January 1489. In the same year he obtained a thirteen year lease of Orkney and Shetland, togther with the office of Justiciar of the islands and custody of Kirkwall Castle, which arrangement was later renewed for a further nineteen years in 1501. Like many of the Scottish nobility of his time, the 3rd Lord was later killed at the battle of Flodden on the 9th September 1513 and followed by his son William.

The 4th Lord was faced with a number of problems imposing his authority on Orkney and Shetland. Notwithstanding the fact that these islands had been acquired by the Scottish crown, the inhabitants were not necessarily happy with this arrangement and frequently rebelled. William was obliged to join forces with his cousin the 3rd Earl of Caithness in an attempt to bring the rebels to heel and fought the battle of Somersdale on Orkney the 18th May 1529 where he was captured and the Earl killed. William nevertheless survived the ordeal and later died sometime after the 17th July 1570. His son Henry Sinclair, appears to have been a supporter of Mary, Queen of Scots, but avoided any direct involvement in the various conflicts of the time, and was so able to switch his support to the young James VI and his adherents without much trouble.

The 5th Lord died on the 21st October 1601 was succeeded in turn by three of his grandsons; Henry, 6th Lord who died unmarried in 1602, James, 7th Lord who similarly died a batchelor in 1607 and finally Patrick, 8th Lord. Nothing much is known of the lives of the 6th and 7th Lords, but it is a different matter for the 8th Lord, who appears to have pursued a profligate lifestyle, being 'put to the horn' for debt once in 1609, and twice in 1612, and was later imprisoned for debt in Edinburgh Castle in December 1614. He also quarrelled with his uncle and namesake Patrick and allegedly attempted to kill another uncle shortly before his death sometime between the years 1615 and 1617. The 8th Lord was however the only one of the three brothers who managed to produce any offspring in the form of a son named John who was thus able to continue the line.

During the English Civil War the 9th Lord was at first an enthusiastic Covenanter but later became an equally enthusiastic Royalist. He was however taken prisoner at the battle of Worcester on the 3rd September 1651 and then held prisoner at Windsor Castle until the restoration of the monarchy in 1660. He subsequently died without male issue on the 10th November 1674, having fathered an only daughter Catherine Sinclair who had married an extremely distant cousin, John St Clair of Herdmanston in Haddingtonshire. As it happened Catherine predeceased her father on the 13th July 1666, but her son Henry St Clair subsequently inherited the Sinclair estates and "probably" became the 10th Lord St Clair. (Or ar least the Complete Peerage expresses doubts as to whether Henry did indeed inherit the title, as although he was the heir of line, the title "may possibly be held to have devolved on the heir male", although no such heir male has ever emerged to legally challenge Henry's assumption of the title.)

In any event Henry the 10th Lord later became renowned as the only peer in the Scottish Parliament who objected to the awarding of the throne to William and Mary in 1689 before his death in 1723. In the meantime his son John St Clair had joined the army where he had killed a man named Shaw or Schaw in a duel, after which he felt obliged to shoot dead Shaw's brother as well. John was court-martialed, convicted and sentenced to death, but was subsequently pardoned in October 1708 although obliged to resign his commission. He left Scotland to serve in the Prussian army but returned to join the Jacobite rebellion of 1715, fought at the battle of Sheriffmuir, and was consequently attainted and so barred from succession to his father's title. John, who later wrote an account the '15 in his Memoirs of the Rebellion (which were later published by the Roxburghe Club in 1858), was later pardoned in 1726, although the pardon did not include the restoration of the title.

Thus when Henry died in 1723 this prior attainder prevented the title from passing into the hands of his eldest son and heir, although thanks to the pardon of 1726 this didn't prevent Henry's estates from passing to his heirs. There is nevertheless a whole sequence of individuals who are regarded as being the Lords, or in many cases, the Ladies of St Clair 'but for the attainder'.

The Lords but for the attainder

As it happens Henry, the 10th Lord St Clair had six sons, none of whom managed to produce any children of their own. His eldest son John St Clair, the 11th Lord died on the 2nd November 1750 without issue as indeed did his younger brothers James on the 30th November 1762, and Henry in January 1766. Of Henry, little is known, so little in fact that he was quite forgotten about at the time (indeed the authors of the Complete Peerage were quite unaware of his existence). His older brother James St Clair, nominally the 12th Lord, was however a soldier and served as the commander-in-chief of the expedition which destroyed the French fortifications at Quiberon in 1746, later became a general in 1761, and was also a Whig Member of Parliament for various constituencies between the years 1722 and 1762. In addition to inheriting the Ravenscraig and Dysart estates it was this James who in 1735 purchased Rosslyn Castle and its estate from the last heir of Oliver St Clair, the third of the 1st Lord's three sons.

As it was the only one of the 10th Lord's children to produce any offspring was his only daughter Grizel St Clair who married a John Paterson of Prestonhall in Fife, and although she had earlier died on the 22nd August 1737, she did have issue in the form of her son John Paterson, who later changed his surname to St Clair when he duly inherited the Sinclair estates following Henry's death in 1766. He died unmarried on the 14th May 1789 and the claim passed to his sister Margaret who married a John Thomson of Charleton in 1744. She did not however receive the Sinclair family estates of Ravenscraig, Dysart and Rosslyn which passed from her brother to his kinsman the Earl of Rosslyn.

It is not entirely certain when Margaret died, but it is known that she left an only surviving child named Grizel Maria Thomson who married a John Anstruther before her death on the 5th July 1795. Her son John later adopted the surname of Anstruther-Thomson on inheriting the Charleton estate from his maternal grandfather. He died on the 10 April 1833 leaving a son also named John who became an officer in the 9th Lancers and the 13th Light Dragoons and died on the 8th October 1904. He was succeeded by his second but eldest surviving son named Charles Frederick, who had command of the 2nd Life Guards during the Boer War in 1899–1900, and dropped the surname of Anstruther-Thomson name in preference for that of Anstruther of Charleton.

By the time Charles Frederick Anstruther of Charleton died on the 21st October 1925, his only son John Arnold had been killed in action during World War I earlier on the 30th October 1914 and left no issue. His heir was therefore his daughter Grizel Margaret who on the 18th April 1911 had married a Swedish diplomat by the name of Knut Bonde who happened to be the Baron Bonde in the Peerage of Sweden. She was therefore succeeded after her death on the 10th May 1970 by her son John Anstruther Carl Knutsson Bonde of Charleton, who is therefore the 21st Lord St Clair (but for the attainder) whilst also being the Baron Bonde in the Peerage of Sweden. John Anstruther experienced something of a cosmopolitan upbringing, having been born in Washington, DC on the 28th April 1918, he was then educated at Eton College in Britain and the University of Uppsala in Sweden. He has a son named St Clair Knut Harald Jöns Bonde of Charleton who is (or would be but for the attainder) the heir apparent to the title and known as the Master of St Clair.

St Clair and Sinclair

It should be noted that the above follows the line taken by the modern Burke's Peerage which makes a distincion between the line holding the extant title of the Lord Sinclair and the separate line holding the dormant title of Lord St Clair. The point at issue here is that Henry, the 10th Lord St Clair referred to above, was granted a confirmation of his title by charter under the Great Seal on the 1st June 1677. Although it was relatively common for Scottish titles to be surrendered and regranted in this fashion, often under quite different terms than the original grant, it so happens that in this case the charter of 1677 failed to mention the surrender or resignation of the original title and consequently, as the Complete Peerage notes, "it seems clear that this confirmation, or new creation, could not exclude the right of the *previous* heirs" or as Burke's Peerage explains it "had the effect of creating a second peerage".

It is this "second peerage", being the title of the Lord Sinclair that is currently recognised, whilst the rights to the original dignity passed, subject to the attainder, as outlined above. It should be noted however, that not everyone makes this precise distinction.




Lords 'but for the attainder'


  • George Edward Cokayne, Vicary Gibbs, et al, The Complete Peerage (St Catherine's Press, 1910-1959)
  • The entry for CAITHNESS, CHIEF OF SINCLAIR from Burke's Peerage and Baronetage 107th Edition
  • Barbara E. Crawford, ‘Sinclair family (per. 1280–c.1500)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, Sept 2004; online edn, Jan 2006

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