The Sutherland Estates: The Scottish Estates

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Date:1785 - 1900 (c.)

Description:The Sutherland Estate had been the largest landed estate in the Highlands for much of the eighteenth century, and previous to that date; owned by the Gordon family, under their title of Earls of Sutherland until 1785, when Elizabeth Gordon, Countess of Sutherland married George Granville Leveson-Gower, Lord Stafford, combining nearly 1 million acres of land and one of the greatest fortunes of the Industrial Revolution. More land in Sutherland was purchased by the heirs of the Countess (Duchess from 1833) of Sutherland, principally the Reay Estate from Lord Reay in 1829, bringing the total acreage owned in Sutherland over the 1 million mark. Additionally, when in 1853 Lord Stafford, later to become the 3rd Duke of Sutherland, married Anne Hay Mackenzie, the ailing Cromartie Estate in Ross-shire also came under the umbrella of the Sutherland Estates.

Documents in Staffordshire County Record Office reflect a variety of key themes in the Scottish estate management in the nineteenth century:

• The changing financial health of the ducal family and estate: although the Sutherland family were one of the richest patrician landowning families in Britain, this did not mean that the landed estate in Sutherland was in good financial straights – indeed, the situation in Sutherland was often dire.
• Personal dynastic disagreements among members of the ducal family had a direct bearing on the personal reputation and financial health of the Sutherland estate.
• The estate management had wider issues to worry about in the late nineteenth century, however: the land reform debate raged in the Highlands from the early 1880s, centring on crofters’ rights to the land, commonly known as the Crofters War.
• The dukes of Sutherland had considerable political interests, which are dealt with in the estate papers. Despite the efforts in the First and Second Reform Acts, the dukes of Sutherland effectively controlled both the county seat of Sutherland (until 1884) and the Wick Burgh seat; local politics in the form of School and Parochial Board elections were also in the power of the local factors up to the 1880s.

Click on the images on the left to learn more about documents in the Sutherland Papers relating to the Scottish Estates.

These pages have been researched and written by Dr. Annie Tindley, Lecturer in History at Glasgow Caledonian University.