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  A Brief History of Orkney

Pawned to Scotland

Earls Palace : Picture by Sigurd TowrieFollowing the Battle of Largs, in 1263, and the loss of the Western Isles as a result of the Treaty of Perth, in 1266, Orkney and Shetland were the only part of what is now Scotland to remain in Norwegian hands.

But although the islands were still officially under Norse rule, the control Scottish Earls had over Orkney was on the increase.

This culminated in the appointment of Henry Sinclair, Earl of Roslin to the Earldom in 1379, and heralded changes in the ownership of land and the gradual break-up of the Norse systems of tenure.

The Earldom of Orkney was held for the Norwegian (and later Danish) Crown until 1468, at which time the impoverished Christian I, King of Denmark, Norway and Sweden, gave Orkney to the Scottish Crown as part of a marriage agreement with King James III.

The Scottish king was to marry Christian's daughter, Margaret, and by this agreement Orkney was held as a pledge, redeemable by the payment of 50,000 Rhenish Florins.

At the end of the first year the payment had not been forthcoming so Shetland was pledged for a further 8,000 Florins.

Two years later, Christian had still not made the payment so the Earldom of Orkney and Lordship of Shetland were annexed to the Scottish Crown.

As the years passed, the Scottish influence over the islands grew and gradually the Norse way of life and language slipped away. By the late 17th century the variant of the Norse language of Orkney - Norn - was spoken only by the inhabitants of one or two remote parishes.

In 1564, Mary Queen of Scots gifted the Royal Estates in Orkney and Shetland to one Robert Stewart - her half-brother and natural son of James V. Thus began the tyranny of the Stewart line - traditionally hailed as Orkney's darkest years.

Robert Stewart's acquisition, and subsequent "handling" of the islands, was documented as followed:

"This miscreant, having secured in addition the whole temporal estates of the bishopric by an excambion effected in 1568, and having become Earl of Orkney in 1581, spent the rest of his life - with the exception of a short period during which he was imprisoned, partly as a penalty for improper negotiations with Denmark - in oppressing the islanders for his own personal advantage."

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