Relationship with Clan Sutherland

Sutherland Clan Crest

Probably the widely toted, certainly in the Americas, misconception about Clan Oliphant is its relationship with Clan Sutherland.

It is believed that the progenitor of Clan Sutherland was Hugh Freskin, who was believed to be Flemish although, it is said that he is descended from the Ancient Gaelic tribe of Moray. The Sutherland name comes from the area the tribe inhabited, named by the Norsemen Sudrland or South land, as it lies geographically there in respect of the Norse lands of Caithness. The race of the Clan Sutherland is unknown, some believe it to be mainly Pictish, some believe mainly Celtic, some believe mainly Norse but, like most, it is probably a combination of the three. The Sutherland Clan controlled huge amounts of land and was awarded many prestigious titles, including Earl of Sutherland and Lord of Duffus (for more information on Clan Sutherland see Links).

The first connection with Clan Oliphant is that Alexander Sutherland of Duffus, Strathbrock and Berriedale died leaving only a daughter, who was the heiress of the great lands of Caithness. She married William Oliphant, second or third son of John, 2nd Lord Oliphant. The second connection between the two Clans is the mutual bond of manrent signed by the Chief of the Sutherlands with the Chief of the Oliphants (Laurence 3rd Lord,) pledging mutual support against their common enemy, the Gunns and the Sinclairs. Some authors mistakenly took these two events to have ensepted the smaller Oliphant Clan to the larger Sutherland. This idea is incorrect for two reasons: Firstly, the Oliphant who married the Sutherland heiress was never the Chief of the Oliphant Clan. On later being styled Oliphant of Berriedale, he became an Oliphant chieftain but was never chief. Therefore his marriage or any action of his could not,by definition, have ensepted Clan Oliphant to any other Clan. Secondly, the bond signed by the two chiefs with regards to mutual protection was undoubtedly a mutual bond of manrent and therefore cannot be deemed to have ensepted the Oliphants to the Sutherlands any more than it did the Sutherlands to the Oliphants.

This misconception most probably was made during the Victorian era, due to the absence of a Chief of Clan Oliphant and the tenuous early links with Clan Sutherland. However, given what is now known and the evidence in the documents mentioned above, which are understood to be in Dunrobin also, means that to continue to propagate such a misconception today transforms it from misinformation to disinformation. Both the Countess of Sutherland and the head of the Sutherland Society of North America now concur that there is no link between these two Clans.

A Sutherland highlander by R.R. MacIan

Back to top