SUTHERLAND, William, Lord Strathnaver (1683-1720).

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1690-1715, ed. D. Hayton, E. Cruickshanks, S. Handley, 2002
Available from Boydell and Brewer



26 May - 3 Dec. 1708

Family and Education

b. c.19 Dec. 1683, o. s. of John Sutherland (formerly Gordon), 16th Earl of Sutherland [S] by his 1st w. Helen, da. of William Cochrane, Ld. Cochrane (1st s. d.v.p. of William Cochrane, 1st Earl of Dundonald [S]), sis. of John Cochrane, 2nd Earl of Dundonald.  m. contract 9 Oct. 1705 (with 60,000 merks), Katharine (d. 1765), da. of William Morison*, 8s. (4 d.v.p.) 2 da.  Styled Master of Strathnaver to 4 Mar. 1703, Ld. Strathnaver 4 Mar. 1703–d.1

Offices Held

Col. of ft. 1702–10.

Burgess, Forres 1707; admiral depute and bailie depute, regality of Sutherland by 1711; chamberlain of Ross 1715–d.; sheriff, Inverness 1718–d.2


A young man of high promise, at least in his father’s eyes, Lord Strathnaver seems to have sacrificed his bright prospects to a love of the bottle, which even before he reached his majority had given his face ‘as many colours as the rainbow’. Already a colonelcy of foot had been secured for him, and soon afterwards a lucrative match was arranged with the daughter of an influential political associate, William Morison of Prestongrange. Once the marriage had taken place his father handed over to him responsibility for the great Sutherland estate. This gave Strathnaver the disposal of the family’s electoral patronage, in Sutherland and in the burgh of Dornoch in the Northern district. At the 1708 election he put up for the district, against stiff opposition from the Earl of Cromarty’s younger son Sir James Mackenzie of Royston. Like the Earl of Sutherland he was staunch to the ‘Revolution’ interest, for all that the Jacobite agent Scot tried to persuade himself that Strathnaver was ‘much better disposed than his father’ to the Pretender’s cause. Although he was sure of electoral support from other ‘Revolution’ men like Lord Ross, the precise nature of his political affiliations at this time was not entirely clear, owing to Sutherland’s temporary estrangement from his erstwhile allies in the Squadrone, which had encouraged the Duke of Argyll among others to make overtures to him. Daniel Defoe described Strathnaver to Lord Treasurer Godolphin (Sidney†) as follows:

He is son to the E[arl] of Sutherland, who it seems is revolted to the Squadr[one], and is one of those they call the Squadruche or little Squadrone, but he married the daughter of Morison of Prestongrange, and by whom and the E[arl] of Glasgow he is chiefly guided; besides that he has a regim[en]t of foot in the forces here, without which he is hardly able to subsist, and ought by that to be taught his duty.

There was, however, little opportunity for Strathnaver to show his colours, for after securing his return to the Commons and preparing to resist a petition from Mackenzie of Royston, he found himself disqualified from sitting after a decision taken by the House on 3 Dec. 1708 in the case of Lord Haddo (William Gordon*) in Aberdeenshire, that the eldest sons of Scottish peers, not having been permitted to sit in the Scottish parliament, were thus barred from election to the Parliament of Great Britain under the terms of the Union.3

Losing his seat in the House was not the last setback Strathnaver was to suffer, for his somewhat inflated military ambitions were to meet with frustration. In October 1708 his regiment had been sent to Flanders. Having no other commitments he accompanied his men, something of a change of heart compared with the previous February when it had been reported that he and his lieutenant-colonel, the Earl of Glencairn, had ‘received orders to go to their respective posts upon pain of cashiering’. Scarcely had the campaign begun when he put the Duke of Marlborough (John Churchill†) in mind of ‘my just title to brigadier[-general], being the eldest colonel now in the service’. His father called on Secretary Sunderland (Charles, Lord Spencer*) to intercede on Strathnaver’s behalf to have ‘justice done him’ and received a promise of assistance but no more, and although Strathnaver took himself over to Flanders again in 1710 he did not long retain his command, selling out in June of that year in some pique at being refused ‘my rank’ while several younger colonels were promoted over his head. He was not, however, alienated from the Whig interest in general, nor from the Squadrone in particular. In the 1710 election he returned Sir William Gordon again for Sutherland and assisted the young Robert Munro* in the district; and in 1713 put up Munro for re-election by the burghs while nominating his father-in-law instead of Gordon in the county as insurance in case of defeat in his own shire.4

The part played by the Sutherland family in securing the Hanoverian succession in the north of Scotland resulted in Strathnaver’s appointment in September 1715 to the vacant chamberlainry of Ross. In resisting the subsequent Jacobite invasion he surmounted another bout of ill-health to take command of a regiment of Sutherland clansmen the Earl had raised. Although in private Sutherland was disappointed at the leniency Strathnaver had shown to individual rebels, in public no praise was too high for his son’s efforts, and, arguing that the family estates had contributed heavily to the raising and equipping of local volunteers, Sutherland also obtained for him a warrant for a pension of £500 p.a. to be added to the place of chamberlain of Ross, ‘in consideration of the eminent services performed by him to his Majesty and the royal family’. However, the money had to be raised from the rents and duties of the earldom of Ross, and the barons of the Scottish exchequer opposed the warrant on the grounds that the receipts from the earldom were insufficient to support it. Only after the victory of Sutherland’s Squadrone allies in the ministerial reconstruction of 1717 was the pension finally passed, together with a grant of £1,250 from royal bounty to make good the arrears which had accumulated since the original warrant. In 1719 Strathnaver was involved once more in organizing resistance to a threatened Jacobite invasion, but not long afterwards he again fell ill, this time of consumption, to which he finally succumbed a year later, dying on 13 July 1720, v.p. His eldest son survived him by only a few months, and the second ultimately inherited the peerage.5

Ref Volumes: 1690-1715

Author: D. W. Hayton


  • 1. W. Fraser, Sutherland Bk. i. 369, 395–6, 398–400.
  • 2. CSP Dom. 1702–3, p. 464; Add. 61589, f. 145; 61624, f. 71; Fraser, i. 370, 372, 375; ii. 225.
  • 3. Fraser, i. 370; More Culloden Pprs. ii. 129; SRO, Ogilvy of Inverquharity mss GD205/31/1/109, Strathnaver to William Bennet*, 13 May 1707; Scots Peerage, ed. Paul, viii. 353; SRO, Cromartie mss GD305 addit./bdle. 12, Mackenzie of Royston to [Cromarty], 24 June 1708; Orig. Pprs. ed. Macpherson, ii. 6; Add. 61631, f. 125; 61628, f. 174; NLS, Sutherland mss Dep. 313/533, Argyll to Sutherland, 13 Nov. [1708]; Lincs. AO, Yarborough mss 16/7/1, Defoe to Godolphin, 26 June 1708; Cromartie Corresp. ii. 73–75.
  • 4. Add. 61288, ff. 85, 87; 61589, ff. 145–6; 61631, ff. 152, 180; Marlborough–Godolphin Corresp. 1123, 1137; NLS, Advocates’ mss, Wodrow pprs. letters Quarto 5, f. 6; More Culloden Pprs. 13; Sutherland mss Dep. 313/532, 529, 572, Sunderland to Sutherland, 26 Oct. 1708, Munro to Strathnaver, 20 Dec. 1712, Alexander Ross to [?same], 21 June 1711, 20, 29 Aug. 1713; SRO, Breadalbane mss GD112/39/243/36, Ld. Glenorchy to Breadalbane, 26 Aug. 1713.
  • 5. Fraser, i. 373, 375–6, 379, 382–93; ii. 210–11, 213, 225; Add. 61624, f. 71; Master of Sinclair, Mems. of Insurrection in Scotland (Abbotsford Club), 195; Cal. Treas. Bks. xxx. 272; xxxi. 24, 28, 617; xxxii. 63, 65, 137, 380; More Culloden Pprs. 151.