Robert Stewart, 1st Earl of Orkney

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Robert Stewart, Knt., 1st Earl of Orkney and Lord of Zetland (Shetland) (1533–4 February 1593) was a recognized illegitimate son of James V, King of Scotland, and his mistress Eupheme Elphinstone.[1]

In 1539 Robert was made Abbot of Holyrood Abbey, and Commendator of Charlieu Abbey in France by 1557.[2] On 9 February 1560 he testified against the Hamilton Duke of Châtellerault and Earl of Arran, and the Protestant Lords of the Congregation to James MacGill and John Bellenden of Auchnoule. They were collecting evidence for Henri Cleutin and Jacques de la Brosse, the French advisors of his step-mother Mary of Guise who planned to have the Hamiltons charged with treason against his half-sister, Mary, Queen of Scots and France. Robert himself had signed some of the letters that were to be cited as evidence.[3]

He was knighted as Sir Robert Stewart of Strathdon on 15 May 1565, as part of marriage celebrations of Mary, Queen of Scots and Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley.[4] In 1581 he was named, by James VI, the 1st Earl in a second creation of the Earldom of Orkney. The new earldom replaced a short-lived Dukedom of Orkney, which had been awarded in 1567 by Mary, Queen of Scots, to her notorious third husband James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell. This dukedom was forfeit later that same year after Mary was forced to abdicate and Bothwell was charged with treason. Prior to this dukedom there had existed an Earldom of Orkney that was surrendered in 1470 by William Sinclair, 3rd Earl of Orkney.

Mary wrote a will at Sheffield in 1577 ineffectually declaring his title to Orkney null and void,[5] after Robert was imprisoned in 1575 for obtaining a letter from the King of Denmark declaring him sovereign of Orkney. His crimes included colluding with Shetland pirates. The Earl was imprisoned at Linlithgow Palace.[6] He was released in 1579.

On 14 December 1561 Robert Stewart married Jean Kennedy, daughter of Gilbert Kennedy, 3rd Earl of Cassilis, and Margaret Kennedy. On the death of Robert Stewart in 1593 the earldom passed to his son Patrick Stewart, 2nd Earl of Orkney. His younger sons included a James Stewart and John Stewart, 1st Earl of Carrick. Robert built the Palace of Birsay on Orkney.


  1. James Balfour Paul and John Maitland Thomson, eds., The Register of the Great Seal of Scotland, A.D. 1513-1546 (Edinburgh, 1883), 360-61 (no. 1620); Original Letters of Mr John Colville, 1582-1603 (Edinburgh, 1858), 337.
  2. Joseph Robertson, Inventaires de la Royne d'Ecosse, Bannatyne Club (1863), xxxviii, note.
  3. Dickinson, Gladys, ed., 'Report by De La Brosse and D'Oysel,' in Miscellany of the Scottish History Society, no.9, SHS (1958), pp.98, 118-120
  4. Calendar State Papers Scotland, vol. 2, (1900), 161.
  5. A. Labanoff, Lettres de Marie-Stuart, vol. 1, 44; vol. 4, 361.
  6. Calendar State Papers Scotland, vol. 5 (1907), 205-209, 277.
Preceded by
Recreated earldom
Earl of Orkney
Succeeded by
Patrick Stewart