Castles Sinclair & Girnigoe ***
Region: Caithness, Sutherland & Ross
This wonderful set of ruins can be found just a few kms north of Wick. Girnigoe is the oldest of the two dating back to the last decades of the 15th century, but both belonged to the Earls of Caithness. Castle Sinclair can be viewed as an extension of Girnigoe.
The fortified forecourt of Girnigoe was separated from the main castle by a deep cleft with a drawbridge and in 1606 the 5th Earl decided to turn the forecourt into a separate castle, hence Castle Sinclair.
The Earls of Caithness were a prime example of the corruption of power. The 4th Earl, suspected his son of a plot against him and threw him into the dungeon, where he lived for seven years in darkness. During the last months of his life, his two jailers (actually Sinclair kin) began feeding him salt-beef while depriving him of water. The history books say that in 1577, John, Master of Caithness, “died insane from thirst".
Almost 100 years later the 6th Earl, because of heavy debts, had to sell off much of the Sinclair lands.
After his death in 1676, Sir John Campbell of Glenorchy, the future Earl of Breadalbane immediately claimed the earldom (he owned most of the mortgaged estates). However a member of another branch of the Sinclairs, George Sinclair of Keiss was violently opposed.
George gathered his forces and laid siege to Girnigoe. A pitched battle was fought between the Campbells and Sinclair troops near Wick. The Campbells won the battle, but lost the war, as the Scottish Parliament in 1681 returned the Earldom to the Sinclairs. The castles however by that time were in a very sorry state and soon after, were abandoned.
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