Henry I Sinclair, Earl of Orkney

Henry I Sinclair, Earl of Orkney

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 also noted for the modern legend that he undertook early explorations of Greenland and North America in about the year 1398. According to a biography published a few decades after his death, he died in battle against English forces around the year 1400.Fact|date=December 2007


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

On his father's death in 1358, Henry succeeded as baron of Roslin, Pentland and Cousland, a group of minor properties in Lothian.

Three cousins: Alexander de L'Arde, Lord of Caithness; Malise Sparre, Lord of Skaldale; and Henry, 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 Henry as the Norwegian Earl of Orkney over a rival claim by his cousin Malise Sparre.

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

The Sinclair voyage to America

Little else is known about Sinclair's life. Much has been written through conjecture, however, about his possible career as an explorer. In particular, starting 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. [ [http://www.biographi.ca/EN/ShowBio.asp?BioId=34714 Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online ] ]

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 or not it even occurred, are challenged by historians. Most regard the letters (and the accompanying map) as a hoax by the Zenos, who published them. Moreover, the identification of Zichmni as Henry Sinclair is very controversial, although it is taken for granted among supporters of the theory.

The most controversial theories speculate that Henry/Zichmni traveled not only to Greenland but to present-day Nova Scotia, where he may have founded a settlement among the Micmac indigenous people. The physical evidence gathered to support this voyage, although sparse, consists of the Micmac flag, which is an adopted, although reversed, sailing flag supposedly of the Knights Templar as well as an Italian-made cannon found in Louisbourg Harbour, now housed in Fortress Louisbourg that was made in Italy before single-cast forging of cannons was invented. A duplicate cannon is housed in a museum in Italy.

A Sinclair family reunion in 2000 in Nova Scotia welcomed Laura Zolo who sailed from Italy on Henry Sinclair's route, and the Micmac Chief. [Sinclair family reunion in 2000 in Nova Scotia [http://sinclair.quarterman.org/zolo/] ] .

The voyage in 1398 perhaps went as far south as present-day Massachusetts and Rhode Island. According to these theories, his expedition may have been responsible for the building of the Newport Tower and the carving of the Westford Knight.

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

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

The theory also hinges on the contention that there are stone carvings of American plants in Rosslyn Chapel in Scotland, plants supposedly not seen by Europeans until Columbus.Knight & Lomas, "The Hiram Key", Fair winds Press. ISBN 1-59233-159-9.]

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 authors Christopher Knight and Robert Lomas as being compelling evidence for the theory that Henry sailed to America, however some scholars have theorized that the plants are not American at all, but stylised depictions of common European plants. [Historian Mark Oxbrow, quoted in [http://heritage.scotsman.com/myths.cfm?id=515952005 "The ship of dreams"] by Diane MaClean, Scotsman.com, 13 May, 2005]

Regardless of the spartan physical evidence and controversy surrounding an earlier Scottish-Italian voyage to North America prior to that of Columbus, many people believe an early voyage was possible following Viking/Norse sailing routes, which Henry Sinclair would have known about given his Earldom in Orkney, as a vassal of the King of Norway. Proof of early Viking settlements are found in L'Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland, not far from Nova Scotia, Canada.

inclair's Voyage and the Knights Templar

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. [ [http://www.atlantisrising.com/issue20/20templar.html "The Lost Treasure of the Knights Templar: New Light on the Oak Island Mystery"] by Steven Sora, Atlantis Rising Magazine #20, 1999]

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, by orders of Solomon, 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. [Simon Jenkins, " [http://www.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,,1690917,00.html The Guardian] ", Friday January 20, 2006]

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 BruceChristopher 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] and fought in the Battle of Bannockburn, [, despite the fact that the term Nova Scotia was invented in the reign of James VI, three centuries after Sinclair's legendary voyage. [http://heritage.scotsman.com/myths.cfm?id=2213682005#pref Scotsman.com] Heritage & Culture - Myths & Mysteries, 10 Nov 2005.] However, this story was invented by Fr. Hay c.1700 and is not supported by any evidence.fact|date=June 2008

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 [ [http://heritage.scotsman.com/topics.cfm?tid=542&id=2213682005 Scotsman.com Heritage & Culture - Myths & Mysteries, 10 Nov 2005] ] : 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. [ [http://www.robertlomas.com/Freemason/Origins.html Origins of Freemasonry on www.robertlomas.com] ] 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). [ [http://www.robertlomas.com/Freemason/Origins.html Origins of Freemasonry on www.robertlomas.com] ]

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), [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).] 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. It is believed that St Clair was the ninth of the first members, that his name was secret (i.e. he was a sleeperclarifyme|date=June 2008), and that the position of sleeper continued in the Sinclair family line.

However, a biography of Hugues de Payen by Thierry Leroy [Thierry Leroy, "Hugues de Payns, chevalier champenois, fondateur de l'ordre des templiers" (Troyes: edition de la Maison Boulanger, 1997).] 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.

The area that would cross-breed the family ties among the Sinclair/St. Clair/Saint Clair lineage is from familial ties from Normandy, France where the words "Sint Clair" are old French Norman words meaning "clear spring" or "clear well". This genealogical linguistic tie remains despite the dispute over evidence of the Sinclair familial ties to the Knights Templar.

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. There is no known published documentation from that era to support the theory, and apart from the carvings in the Rosslyn Chapel and the supposed resemblance of the Micmac flag to a Templar sailing flag and the cannon found in Louisbourg harbour, there is no physical evidence that could prove that Templars or Sinclair had explored the Americas. Advocates of the theory contend that this lack of documentation can be explained by a strong motivation of the Sinclair voyagers to keep their activities secret. [In "The Hiram Key" many references are made to entrusted secrets, which the authors claims were encoded in the architecture of the Sinclair's Rosslyn Chapel.] Historians deride this as being supposition, not fact.fact|date=June 2008 They also question the authenticity of the Westford Knight, claiming that it is not clearly inscribed, and may be a hoax or a result of erosion that makes it appear to resemble a knight.fact|date=June 2008 And 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. [Historian Mark Oxbrow, quoted in [http://heritage.scotsman.com/myths.cfm?id=515952005 "The ship of dreams"] by Diane MaClean, Scotsman.com, 13 May, 2005] However, the Sinclair family today do believe that their ancestor did sail to North America and this is espoused by Niven Sinclair, who has genealogical documentation to support family ties to Henry Sinclair.

Historians Mark Oxbrow, Ian Robertson, [ [http://www.sundayherald.com/45946 "The Da Vinci Connection", Sunday Herald, 14 November 2004] ] Karen Ralls and Louise Yeoman [ [http://news.scotsman.com/edinburgh.cfm?id=658952006 "Historian attacks Rosslyn Chapel for 'cashing in on Da Vinci Code'", Scotsman.com, 03-May-06] ] 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. [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.] [ [http://www.nls.uk/print/search/indx/indx.cfm?key=39.4 "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.] 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.


Further reading

*"The Sinclair Saga", by Mark Finnan, 1999, Formac Press, ISBN 0-887-80466-7
*"Rosslyn: Guardian of the Secrets of the Holy Grail", by Tim Wallace-Murphy and Marilyn Hopkins, 1999, Harper-Collins Canada, ISBN 1-862-04493-7
*"The Sword and the Grail : the Story of the Grail, the Templars and a True Discovery of America", by Andrew Sinclair, 2005, Birlinn Press, ISBN 1-841-58396-0
*"From Jamestown to Texas: A History of Some Early Pioneers of Austin County the Colonial Capitol...", by Betty Smith Meischen, iUniverse, 2002, ISBN 0-595-24223-5
*"Second Messiah: Templars, the Turin Shroud and the Great Secret of Freemasonry", by Christopher Knight and Robert Lomas, Fair Winds Press, August 1 2001, ISBN 1-931412-76-6
*"Prince Henry Sinclair: His Expedition to the New World in 1398", 1974 and 1995, by Frederick J. Pohl, Clarkson N. Potter, New York, ISBN 1-55109-122-4.
* [http://www.users.zetnet.co.uk/ahamilton/sinclair.htm Earl Henry Sinclair's fictitious trip to America] by Brian Smith, First published in New Orkney Antiquarian Journal, vol. 2, 2002
* [http://www.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,,1690917,00.html "Of course the Chinese didn't discover America. But then nor did Columbus"] by Simon Jenkins, January 20 2006 article in "The Guardian" mentioning the La Merika theory among others
* [http://heritage.scotsman.com/myths.cfm?id=515952005 "The ship of dreams"] by Diane MacLean, May 13 2005, Scotsman.com
* [http://sinclair.quarterman.org/sinclair/phssna.html Prince Henry Sinclair Society of North America] This society celebrates the visit of Prince Henry Sinclair from Orkney to America in 1398.
* [http://www.renaissancemagazine.com/backissues/sinclair.html "The Sinclair Voyage to America"] "Renaissance Magazine" #12, 1999
* [http://www.atlantisrising.com/issue20/20templar.html "The Lost Treasure of the Knights Templar: New Light on the Oak Island Mystery"] by Steven Sora, Atlantis Rising Magazine #20, 1999
* [http://sinclair2.quarterman.org/who/henry.html Brief biography in support of theory]
* [http://www.clansinclairusa.org/gatherings/clan_gat_orksymp.html Report of 1997 symposium] declaring the 1398 expedition Not Proven

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