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Henry I Sinclair, Earl of Orkney: Wikis


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Henry I Sinclair, Earl of Orkney and feudal baron of Roslin (c. 1345 – c. 1400), was a Scottish nobleman. He is sometimes identified by another spelling of his surname, St. Clair. He was the grandfather of William Sinclair, 1st Earl of Caithness, the builder of Rosslyn Chapel. He is best known today because of a modern legend that he took part in explorations of Greenland and North America almost 100 years before Christopher Columbus. William Thomson, in his History of Orkney, wrote: "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."[1]



Henry Sinclair was the son and heir of William Sinclair, Lord of Roslin, and his wife Isobel of Strathearn, a daughter of Maol Ísa, Earl of Orkney. Henry Sinclair's maternal grandfather had been deprived of much of his lands (the earldom of Strathearn being completely lost to the King of Scots).[2]

Sometime after 13 Sep 1358, Henry's father died, at which point Henry Sinclair succeeded as Baron of Roslin, Pentland and Cousland, a group of minor properties in Lothian. The Sinclair Diploma states he married Joneta (or Joan) Halyburton, daughter of Walter, Lord of Dirleton, and that they had a son Henry, who became the next Earl of Orkney. Also they apparently had a daughter, Elizabeth Sinclair, who married the justiary John Drummond of Cargill.

Three cousins - Alexander de L'Arde, Lord of Caithness; Malise Sparre, Lord of Skaldale; and Henry Sinclair - were rivals for the succession to the earldom of Orkney. On August 2, 1379, at Marstrand, near Tønsberg, Norway, King Haakon VI of Norway invested and confirmed Sinclair as the Norwegian Earl of Orkney over a rival claim by his cousin Malise Sparre.

In 1389, Sinclair attended the coronation of King Eric of Pomerania in Norway, pledging his oath of fealty. Historians have speculated that in 1391 Sinclair and his troops slew Malise Sparre near Scalloway, Tingwall, Shetland.

It is unclear when Henry Sinclair died. The Sinclair Diploma, written or at least commissioned by his grandson states: "...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..." We also know that sometime in 1401: "The English invaded, burnt and spoiled certain islands of Orkney." This was part of an English retaliation for a Scottish attack on an English fleet neer Aberdeen. The assumption is that Henry either died opposing this invasion, or was already dead.[3]

The alleged voyage to North America

Almost nothing more is known about Sinclair's life. However, much has been written through conjecture about his supposed career as an explorer. In 1784, he was identified by Johann Reinhold Forster as possibly being the Prince Zichmni described in letters allegedly written around the year 1400 by the Zeno brothers of Venice, in which they describe a voyage throughout the North Atlantic under the command of Zichmni.[4]

The authenticity of the letters (which were allegedly rediscovered and published in the early 16th century), the exact course of the voyage, as well as whether it even took place, are challenged by historians. Most regard the letters (and the accompanying map) as a hoax by the Zenos, their publishers. Moreover, the identification of Zichmni as Henry Sinclair is not taken seriously by historians, although it is taken for granted by the supporters of the theory.

Supporters of the theory contend that there are stone carvings of American plants in Rosslyn Chapel in Scotland.[5] The Chapel was built by Henry Sinclair's grandson William Sinclair and was completed in 1486. Columbus made his first voyage in 1492. This is seen by writers Christopher Knight and Robert Lomas as being compelling evidence for the theory that Sinclair had sailed to America,[5] although scholars have said the plants are simply stylised depictions of common European plants.[6]

The claim that Henry Sinclair explored North America is based on several separate propositions:

  1. That the letters and map ascribed to the Zeno brothers and published in 1558 are authentic.
  2. That the voyage described in the letters as taken by Zichmni around the year 1398 to Greenland actually reached North America.
  3. That Zichmni is Henry Sinclair.

Also, Native American historian Evan Pritchard said he believes Sinclair established a settlement in the 14th century in Canada's Nova Scotia among the Micmac and that Sinclair is represented in about 20 Micmac folk stories as Glooscap, a prominent Micmac folkloric hero. Pritchard's comments were part of Holy Grail in America, a television documentary about the Kensington Runestone first broadcast on the History Channel on 20 September 2009.[7][8]

Pritchard is a descendant of the Micmac people, founder of the Center for Algonquin Culture in Woodstock, New York and professor of Native American history at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, New York.[9]

Alleged Templar connections

Intertwined with the Sinclair voyage story is the claim that Henry Sinclair was a Knight Templar and that the voyage either was sponsored by or conducted on the behalf of the Templars, though the order was suppressed almost a century before Henry's lifetime.[10]

Knight and Lomas speculate that the Knights Templar discovered under the Temple Mount in Jerusalem a royal archive dating from King Solomon's times that stated that Phoenicians from Tyre voyaged to a westerly continent following a star called "La Merika". According to Knight and Lomas, the Templars learned that to sail to that continent, they had to follow a star by the same name, which became the origin of the name "America". Sinclair supposedly followed this route.[11]

The theory also makes use of the supposed Templar connection to explain the name Nova Scotia ("New Scotland" in Latin), basing themselves on the 18th century tale that some Templars escaped the suppression of their order by fleeing to Scotland of Robert the Bruce[12] and fought in the Battle of Bannockburn.[13]

Claims persist that Rosslyn Chapel contains Templar imagery. Andrew Sinclair speculates that the grave slab now in the crypt is that of a Templar knight[14]: According to author Robert Lomas, the chapel also has an engraving depicting a knight templar holding the sword over a head of an initiate, supposedly to protect the secrets of the templars.[15] Rosslyn Chapel was built by Sir William St Clair, last St Clair Earl of Orkney, who was the grandson of Henry. According to Lomas, Sir William, the chapel builder, is also the direct ancestor of the first Grand Master of Masons of Scotland, also named William St Clair (Sinclair).[15]

According to Lomas, the Sinclairs and their French relatives the St. Clairs were instrumental in creating the Knights Templar. He claims that the founder of Templars Hugh de Payns was married to a sister of the Duke of Champaine (Henri de St. Clair), [16] who was a powerful broker of the first Crusade and had the political power to nominate the Pope, and to suggest the idea and empower it to the Pope.

However, a biography of Hugues de Payen by Thierry Leroy [17] identifies his wife and the mother of his children as Elizabeth de Chappes. The book draws its information on the marriage from local church cartularies dealing chiefly with the disposition of the Grand Master's properties, the earliest alluding to Elizabeth as his wife in 1113, and others spanning Payen's lifetime, the period following his death and lastly her own death in 1170.

Criticisms of this theory

One primary criticism of this theory is that if either a Sinclair or a Templar voyage reached the Americas, they did not, unlike Columbus, return with a historical record of their findings. In fact, there is no known published documentation from that era to support the theory that such a voyage took place. The physical evidence relies on speculative reasoning to support the theory, and all of it can be interpreted in other ways. For example, according to one historian, the carvings in Rosslyn Chapel may not be of American plants at all but are nothing more than stylized carvings of wheat and strawberries.[6]

Historians Mark Oxbrow, Ian Robertson,[18] Karen Ralls and Louise Yeoman[19] have each made it clear that the Sinclair family had no connection with the mediaeval Knights Templar. Karen Ralls has shown that among those testifying against the Templars at their 1309 trial were Henry and William Sinclair - an act inconsistent with any alleged support or membership.[20][21] This leaves the ties to the Knights Templars still in question.

Alternative histories

In the 1980s, modern alternative histories of Earl Henry I Sinclair and Rosslyn Chapel began to be published. Popular books (often derided as pseudo-history) such as The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail by Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh and Henry Lincoln (1982) and The Temple and the Lodge by Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh (1989) appeared. Books by Timothy Wallace-Murphy and Andrew Sinclair soon followed from the early 1990s onwards.


  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^ "Henry Sinclair: The Genuine History" at Orkneyjar, The Heritage of the Orkney Islands (online). The entire diploma, in Latin, is transcribed here
  4. ^ Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online
  5. ^ a b Knight & Lomas, The Hiram Key, Fair winds Press. ISBN 1-59233-159-9.
  6. ^ a b Historian Mark Oxbrow, quoted in "The ship of dreams" by Diane MaClean,, 13 May, 2005
  7. ^ Holy Grail in America
  8. ^ History Channel press release for Holy Grail in America
  9. ^ Info on Prof. Evan Pritchard
  10. ^ "The Lost Treasure of the Knights Templar: New Light on the Oak Island Mystery" by Steven Sora, Atlantis Rising Magazine #20, 1999
  11. ^ Simon Jenkins, The Guardian, Friday January 20, 2006
  12. ^ Christopher Knight & Robert Lomas, The Second Messiah: Templars, the Turin Shroud and the Great Secret of Freemasonry, Fair Winds Press, 2001. ISBN 1-931412-76-6
  13. ^ , despite the fact that the term Nova Scotia was invented in the reign of James VI, three centuries after Sinclair's legendary Heritage & Culture - Myths & Mysteries, 10 Nov 2005.
  14. ^ Heritage & Culture - Myths & Mysteries, 10 Nov 2005
  15. ^ a b Origins of Freemasonry on
  16. ^ The claim that Hugues de Payens married Catherine St. Clair was made in Les Dossiers Secrets d'Henri Lobineau (1967), "Tableau Généalogique de Gisors, Guitry, Mareuil et Saint-Clair par Henri Lobineau" in Pierre Jarnac, Les Mystères de Rennes-le-Château, Mélanges Sulfureux (CERT, 1995).
  17. ^ Thierry Leroy, Hugues de Payns, chevalier champenois, fondateur de l'ordre des templiers (Troyes: edition de la Maison Boulanger, 1997).
  18. ^ "The Da Vinci Connection", Sunday Herald, 14 November 2004
  19. ^ "Historian attacks Rosslyn Chapel for 'cashing in on Da Vinci Code'",, 03-May-06
  20. ^ Karen Ralls, The Templars and the Grail, Quest Books; 1st Quest edition (2003), p.110. ISBN 0-8356-0807-7; The Knights Templar in England, p. 200f.
  21. ^ Processus factus contra Templarios in Scotia, 1309, being the testimony against the Templars by Henry and William St Clair, translation available in Mark Oxbrow, Ian Robertson, Rosslyn and the Grail, p. 245-256.

Further reading

Peerage of Scotland
Preceded by
William Sinclair
Baron of Roslin
Succeeded by
Henry Sinclair
Preceded by
(new creation)
Earl of Orkney Succeeded by
Henry Sinclair
Military offices
Preceded by
Lord High Admiral of Scotland
Succeeded by
George Crichton, 1st Earl of Caithness


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