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Updated 03/18/2020



Helmsdale is a village on the east coast of Sutherland, in the Highland council area of Scotland. The Gaelic name for the village, Bun Ilidh, means Ilie-foot.

Helmsdale Castle, the remains of which were demolished in the 1970s in order to build the new road bridge, was the location of the murder of the 11th Earl of Sutherland in 1567. The Earl and his Countess Marie Seton were poisoned by Isobel Sinclair.

In September 1562, Mary, Queen of Scots and her half-brother James Stewart newly made Earl of Moray came north to Inverness and Aberdeen. Their discussions with John's cousin the Earl of Huntly led to armed conflict. After the battle of Corrichie, secret letters between John Gordon and the Earl of Huntly were discovered. John Gordon fled to Louvain in Flanders. At the Parliament of Scotland on May 28, 1563, in the presence of Queen Mary, Huntly and Sutherland were forfeited. In 1565 Queen Mary of Scotland restored the Earls of Huntly, Sutherland and others of the name Gordon who had been forfeited.

The Earl of Sutherland was invited to return to Scotland. The Earl of Bedford, Governor of Berwick on Tweed sent a privateer called Wilson who carried Swedish letters of marque to intercept his ship, and the Earl was imprisoned at Berwick. Sutherland was considered a danger to English policy in Scotland. Mary, Queen of Scots, demanded the release of the Earl, who was now sick with an ague. Bedford wrote to Elizabeth on his behalf. The Earl was released in February 1566 after the assurance that he was reconciled with the Earl of Moray. On his return he married Marie Seton, daughter of Lord Seton. Both were poisoned at Helmsdale Castle by Isobel Sinclair, and died at Dunrobin Castle on 23 June 1567.