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Euphemia Elphinstone (or Euphame or Eupheme), lived from 11 May 1509 to some time after 1547. She was a mistress of James V who became mother to the king's illegitimate son Robert Stewart, 1st Earl of Orkney. The wider picture in Scotland at the time is set out in our Historical Timeline.
Euphemia Elphinstone was the second daughter of Alexander Elphinstone, Lord Elphinstone, who was killed at the Battle of Flodden Field when she was four in 1513. Some time after 1530 she became a mistress of King James V of Scotland, who was three years older than Euphemia. The most notable outcome of this relationship was Robert Stewart, 1st Earl of Orkney, the king's illegitimate son by Euphemia born in 1533. Some sources say that Euphemia had a second illegitimate child by the king, which died in infancy. If so it suggests that their relationship lasted for some time.
By 1535 the relationship with the king was presumably over, and Euphemia had married John Bruce of Cultmalindie, a descendent of Robert the Bruce. They had five children together, the best known of whom was Laurence Bruce of Cultmalindie who was born in 1547. There is no record of Euphemia's death, and some sources suggest she died in 1542. Most agree, however, that Laurence Bruce was not born until 1547, so Euphemia must have lived until at least then.
One of the most fascinating aspects of the story of Euphemia Elphinstone was the way the legitimate and illegitimate sides of her family interacted and the lasting impact that has had on Shetland and Orkney. In 1564, Robert Stewart's half sister Mary Queen of Scots granted him the Royal estates in Orkney and Shetland together with the post of Sheriff of Orkney and Shetland and made him 1st Earl of Orkney and Lord of Zetland. Robert proved to be a tyrant who governed the northern isles with an iron fist, and appointed his half brother Laurence Bruce Sheriff of Shetland to help him do so. Robert died peacefully in his bed on 4 February 1593 and was succeeded by his, if anything, even more tyrannical son, Patrick Stewart, 2nd Earl of Orkney. Relations between Patrick Stewart and Laurence Bruce were so bad that the latter built Muness Castle on the island of Unst to defend himself: which Earl Patrick did attack in 1608 before withdrawing.
Patrick Stewart eventually annoyed so many people he was beheaded for treason in 1615. He was outlasted by Laurence Bruce, who died in his bed at Muness Castle in 1617. It is said that many people living in Shetland and Orkney today number Euphemia Elphinstone amongst their ancestors, via either Laurence Bruce or Robert Stewart.