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  The First Duke of Sutherland


Dominating the skyline above the village of Golspie (and visible from many parts of east Sutherland) is the 100 foot tall statue on top of Ben Bhraggie. It is of George Granville Leveson-Gower, Marquess of Stafford and first Duke of Sutherland who became notorious through the part he played in the Highland clearances.

He was born in 1758, the son of the Marquess of Stafford. In 1785 he married Elizabeth, daughter of the Earl of Sutherland. She had inherited the Earldom and its associated estates following a well-known legal case which established the unusual principle that the Earldom could pass through the female as well as the male line.

In the early nineteenth century the couple initiated sweeping reforms to their estate in Sutherland. This is where the Duke's reputation will vary, depending upon who you are talking to. Some would say that he was shocked by the conditions his tenants were living in and he became convinced that the interior of Sutherland could not support these subsistence farmers long term. Advised to follow the latest economic and social theories he decided to resettle the population in new villages along the coast to make way for large sheep farms inland. The other - and probably more common view - is that he decided it would be more profitable for the estate to turn the land over to large scale sheep farming, and so the tenants would have to go, whether they wanted to or not.

Either way, these reforms led to thousands of people being evicted from their homes and farms. There are many accounts of people being forcibly evicted and houses, even whole settlements, being set on fire by the over zealous actions of the people employed by the Duke. The Sutherland clearances were not by any means the only clearances - this period saw similar occurences throughout Scotland, not just in the Highlands but in many rural lowland areas as well. However the Sutherland clearances are among the most notorious.

Leveson-Gower was created first Duke of Sutherland for his services to politics in 1833, just a few months before his death. He died in July of that year at Dunrobin Castle and was buried at Dornoch Cathedral. In 1834 a subscription was started in order to pay for a monument in his memory. Subscriptions came in from far and wide, which is surprising given his reputation today. Work soon began and the stone for the massive base and plinth was quarried from the north east side of Ben Bhraggie, just 50 yards or so from the monument's location. The statue itself was scultped by Sir Francis Chantrey and it was taken up to the top of the Ben in pieces by horse and cart. The monument, all 100 feet of it, was completed in 1837 and it has dominated the views of east Sutherland ever since.


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