Taking their name from a territory in the far north of Scotland which was originally known as ‘sudrland’ or ‘southland’, the Sutherland family are probably descended from Freskin, a Flemish nobleman who was also the progenitor of Clan Murray. Freskin’s grandson, Hugh, would be given land in the Moray area by David I in 1130 and would then acquire estates in the Sutherland area, from which he would gain the title, Lord of Sutherland, giving the family their recognisable name.
The Sunderland chiefs would later progress to the title of Earls of Sutherland during the 13th century and would become heavily involved in Scotland’s struggle for independence over the subsequent years as the 4th Earl, Kenneth, was unfortunately killed during the Battle of Halidon Hill in 1333.
Despite this loss, the family’s reputation would only be strengthened by this involvement in the conflict as the 5th Earl was married to Princess Margaret, the daughter of Robert the Bruce, with the couple’s son briefly becoming the heir to the throne prior to 1361 – when he died of the plague. The earl would soon follow his son to the grave as he was infamously murdered by the Mackays in 1370 during a feud which would last for the next 400 years.
The next Earl to take control of the clan would also be the man who would build the family’s distinctive home at Dunrobin Castle and he would also gain the hand in marriage of royalty as he wed the niece of Robert III. He would be the last significant head of the family for a lengthy period, however, as his successors would struggle with scandal and financial mismanagement and it would not be until the 18th century that a notable earl would surface again as Johh, 16th Earl, became Lord-Lieutenant for the north of Scotland in 1715 as he garrisoned Inverness against Jacobite forces. John would successfully repair the reputation of the clan and his son, William, would reconcile the family with their previous enemies, the MacKays.
This relative peace would be shortlived, however, as Dunrobin Castle was occupied by Jacobites in 1745 before being taken back by the Sutherlands. Further controversy would then follow as, after the death of the 17th Earl, the only direct heir to the chiefship was Elizabeth, the Earl’s daughter. After a lengthy legal battle with other relatives, Elizabeth would be confirmed as Countess of Sutherland in 1771, becoming the clan’s first female head.
In more recent times, the family would focus on a complete redevelopment of their spiritual home, Dunrobin Castle, as it was renovated to resemble a French chateau. The Earls still own the beautiful castle to this day and it is now open to visits by the public. The current clan chief of Clan Sutherland is Alastair Sutherland. He is the 25th Earl of Sutherland.