The Chiefs of Clan Ross

The Earls of Ross, who presided over Ross-shire from 1153 until an indistinct point late in the sixteenth century, "created" the use of Ross as a surname.   Since it is the name that we are tracing, not the earldom, it seems inappropriate to pursue the history of the Earls of Ross prior to the original use of the name.

Hugh of Rarichies, first Chief of Clan Ross, was the third son of Hugh, fourth Earl of Ross.   The second son apparently died young because he is not mentioned in the various sources consulted.   Consequently, when King David II removed William, fifth Earl of Ross, for desertion, Hugh of Rarichies became the direct male heir to the earldom.   King David's wrath, however, was consuming, and in 1372 he appointed Sir Walter Leslie (husband of William's sister) as sixth Earl of Ross.   Thus the earldom passed out of the male line of descendancy and lost, for a time, the name Ross.

In 1371, at the time of King David's vengeance upon Earl William of Ross, he exercised justice in conferring rightful ownership of William's lands to his brother, Hugh of Rarichies.   It was at that point that Hugh of Rarichies adopted the name of the county and became Hugh Ross of Rarichies - -the first Ross.

Due to a series of coincidences and the general merging of the Clan chieftainship into the form of the earl, William had been both earl and Clan Chief.   And, although the earldom could be taken from the family, the chieftainship could not.   So Hugh Ross of Rarichies became the first Chief of Clan Ross as a separate and distinct title.

Hugh Ross also owned the lands of Balnagowan (sometimes spelled Balnagown) around Tain, and established the line of Rosses known as Clan Ross of Balnagowan.   This branch claims, probably rightly, to be the true descendants of the Celtic O'Beolain Earls of Ross, able to trace their ancestry back to the early twelfth century.   The Balnagowan branch of the Rosses provided the Clan Chief until the death of David Ross (1711), the thirteenth Chief of the O'Beolain Rosses.

Hugh married Margaret Barclay, and they had children William and Jean.   Jean married Robert Munro, eighth baron of Foulis; William succeeded his father.

Hugh, the original bearer of the name Ross as we know it, was killed in the Battle of Halidon Hill in 1374.

William Ross, second Chief of Clan Ross, was also the second Laird of the estates.   King Robert II was his uncle by marriage.   William married Christina, daughter of Lord Livingstone.   They had at least one son, Walter, prior to William's death in 1398.

Walter Ross, third Chief of Clan Ross.   As mentioned earlier, the earldom of Ross passed to the Leslie line.   Some realization of this bad judgment on the part of King David II must have occurred, because Alexander Leslie, Earl of Ross (Walter's contemporary) granted Walter the lands of Culisse upon Walter's succession of Clan chieftainship.   Walter also, of course, became Laird of Balnagowan estates upon the death of his father.   Walter married Catherine, daughter of Paul MacTyre, "the freebooter of Strathcarron."   Walter Ross and his wife received in dowry the lands of Strathcarron, Strathoykel, and Westray.   Walter died about 1412, and was succeeded by his son, Hugh Ross.

Hugh Ross, fourth Chief of Clan Ross.   According to the Chronicles of the Earls of Ross, this laird is said to have married Lady Janet, daughter of the Earl of Sutherland and his wife, Helen Sinclair - -who was a daughter of the Earl of Orkney.   Hugh and Janet had children (1) John, who became fifth Laird of Balnagowan; (2) Hugh, of whom nothing is known; (3) William of Little Allen, who established the Shadwick Rosses that have become notably prominent; and (4) Thomas, who became Rector of the Collegiate Church of Tain.

John Ross, fifth Chief of Clan Ross, married Christina, daughter of Torquil MacLeod of Lewis.   They had five sons, which included (1) Alexander, who became the sixth Laird of Balnagowan; and (2) Donald, who established the Priesthill line of Rosses.

Alexander Ross, sixth Chief of Clan Ross, married Dorothy, daughter of Alexander Sutherland of Duffus.   They had children (1) David, who succeeded his father as Laird; and (2) Isobell, who married George Munro, tenth Laird of Foulis.

Gordin, in the "Earldom of Sutherland," describes the disastrous battle in which Alexander was killed in 1486.   As was customary among Highlanders, raiding parties of the MacKays had for some years been invading the territories of Ross, killing and plundering as they went.   Angus MacKay, in one particular raiding excursion, invaded Strathoykell where he "burnt, spoiled, and wasted many lands appertaining to the Rosses."   Upon hearing of the invasion, Alexander Ross gathered the clansmen and surprised Angus MacKay and his forces at Alt'a Charrais.   During the lengthy battle, Alexander Ross was slain "with seventeen other landed gentlement of the Province of Ross, besides a great number of common soldiers."   The loss of their chief caused the Rosses to flee.   No quarter was given, and the slaughter was conducted without mercy.

David Ross, seventh Chief of Clan Ross, is credited with having built the original wing and towers of Balnagowan Castle from field stone found on the estate.   He was knighted, for some reason not recorded, and was properly called Sir David Ross.

David was twice married: (1) to Helen Keith, daughter of the Laird of Inverguie, and (2) to a daughter of the Duke of Albany.   By his first wife, he had four sons: (1) Walter, who became eighth of Balnagowan; (2) William, who became first of Invercharron; (3) Hugh, who became first of Archnacloich; and (4) Angus, who married the daughter of William MacCullough of Plaids.

Walter Ross, eighth Chief of Clan Ross.   According to old records (the Kalendar of Fearn), Walter was slain, probably in a Clan feud, at Tain in 1528.   He had married Marion, daughter of Sir John James Grant of Grant.   They had children: (1) Alexander, who succeeded his father; (2) Katherine, who married John Denoon of Cadboll, a magistrate of Tain; and (3) Janet, who married the fifth Lord Lovat.

Alexander Ross, ninth Chief of Clan Ross, was first married to Janet, daughter of Earl John of Caithness, by whom he had children: (1) Robert; (2) Hector; (3) George, who became tenth of Balnagowan; (4) Katherine; (5) Agnes, who married Duncan Campbell of Boath; and (6) Christian, who married Kenneth MacKenzie, third of Dochmaluack.   By his second wife, who is not identified, Alexander had two more children: (1) Nicholas, who became first of Pitcalnie; and (2) Malcolm, who died childless.

This Laird and Clan Chief was one of the most powerful, and one of the most unscrupulous, men in Ross.   He was confined in the Castle of Tantallon for his avowed opposition to King James VI, but was later returned to freedom.   He was an active raider of surrounding lands, and was considered a "cheater" because he took full advantage of the most modern military equipment of the day--eighteen-pound cannon and coats of mail.   He conducted numerous under-the-table dealings with Nicholas Ross, Abbot of Fearn, in acquiring abbey lands.

Although the passage is long, the following excerpt from Chambers' Domestic Annals of Scotland (Volume I, page 203) is an excellent illustration of the superstitions and witchcraft which flourished during Alexander's time--with Alexander himself as victim!

(Speaking of Katherine, Alexander's oldest daughter): "Her husband and his (Alexander's) eldest son were dead when, sometime after, she and Hector, then representative of the family, were tried separately for sundry offences.   Hector being, strange to say, the private pursuer against his stepmother, although he had immediately after to take his own place at the bar as criminal.   The dittay (complaint) against the lady set forth a series of attempts at serious crime, partly procured by natural means and partly by superstitious practices.   It appears that she desired to put her eldest stepson out of the way, not, as might be supposed, to favor the succession of her own offspring, but that her brother George Ross of Balnagowan, might be free to marry Robert Munro's wife; to which end she also took steps for the removal of the wife of George Ross.   It appears that she was not only prompted but assisted in her attempts by George himself, although no judicial notice was taken of his criminality.   Catherine Ross, described as a daughter of Sir David Ross of Balnagowan, was also concerned.

"Having formed her design sometime in the year 1576, Lady Foulis opened negotiations with various wretched persons in her neighborhood who practiced witchcraft, and first with one named William MacGillivray, whom see feed with a present of linen cloth, and afterwards with sums of money.   One Angus Roy, a notorious witch (wizard), was sent by her to secure the services of a particularly potent sorceress, named Marion McKean McAllister, or more commonly Lasky Loncart, who was brought to Foulis and lodged with Christina Ross Malcolmson, that she might assist with her diabolical arts.   Christina, too, was sent to Dingwall to bring John McNillan, who appears to have been a wizard of note.   Another named Thomas McKean McAllen McEndrick was taken into Counsel, besides whom there were a few subordinate instruments.   Some of the horrible crew being assembled at Canorth, images of the young Laird of Foulis, and the young Lady Balnagowan were formed of butter, set upon, and shot at by Lasky Loncart with an elf arrow - that is one of those flint arrow-heads which are occasionally found, and believed by the ignorant to be fairy weapons, while in reality they are relics of our savage ancestors.   The shot was repeated eight times, but without hitting the images, so this was regarded as a failure.

"On another day images of clay were set up and shot at twelve times yet equally without effect.   Linen cloth had been provided, wherewith to have swathed the images in the event of their being hit, after which they would have been interred under the bridge end of the tank of Foulis.   The subject of all these proceedings was, of course, to produce the destruction of the persons represented by the images.   This plan being ineffectual, Lady Foulis and her brother are described as soon after holding a meeting in a kiln at Drimnin to arrange about further procedure.   The result was a resolution to try the more direct means of poison with both the obnoxious persons.   A stoup of poisoned ale was prepared and set aside, but was nearly all lost by a leak in the vessel.   Lady Foulis then procured from Lasky Loncart a pipkin of ranker poison, which she sent to young Munro by her nurse on purpose to have destroyed him.   It fell by the way and broke, when the nurse tasting the liquor was immediately killed by it.   It was said that the place where the pig (pipkin) broke the gerse (grass) that grew upon the same were so heich lye (beyond) the nature of other gerse, that neither cow nor sheep ever privit (tasted) thereof, whilk is manifest and notorious to the haill Country of Ross."

Due to the length of this narrative, other details of Alexander's life will be omitted, except that he died at Ardmore in 1592.

George Ross, tenth Chief of Clan Ross, succeeded his father in May 1560, probably due to his father's imprisonment, as mentioned earlier.   At this time Clan Ross was numerically the largest of the Highland Clans and wielded great influence and power throughout northern Scotland.

George was the first of the Chiefs of Clan Ross to receive a university education, having been educated at St. Andrew's.   In spite of his higher learning, however, George apparently inherited some of the lawless characteristics of his father.   In June 1592, George Ross and his son were charged with high treason for having sheltered and assisted the Earl of Bothwell, arch enemy of the King.   George and a host of other Rosses, for a reason not recorded, also captured John Ross of Edinburgh and held him prisoner at Balnagowan for over a month.

Chief George Ross was married first to Marion, daughter of Sir John Campbell of Calder (Cawdor), by whom he had a son, David, who became eleventh of Balnagowan, and four daughters.   By his second marriage to Isobell, second daughter of Angus MacIntosh of MacIntosh, he had at least one more son, Alexander.

George died in 1615, leaving the estate heavily indebted, the result of poor management and lawless behavior.

David Ross, eleventh Chief of Clan Ross, married first Lady Mary Gordon, second daughter of Alexander, Earl of Sutherland, who is described in Gordon's Earldom of Sutherland as "a virtuous and comely woman, lady of ane (an) excellent and quick with."   She died at Overskibo without children, and was buried at Dornoch.

Secondly, he married Lady Annabella Murray, daughter of John, Earl of Tullibardine, by whom he had an only son, David, who succeeded his father as twelfth Laird of Balnagowan and Chief of Clan Ross.

Chief David was honored in 1615 by King James who erected the Balnagowan estates into a Barony and appointed Chief David as Baron.   David managed the estates firmly, efficiently, and compassionately, gaining the respect and support of his crofters.   He died November 20, 1632, and was buried in the family vault in the Abbey of Fearn.

David Ross, twelfth Chief of Clan Ross, succeeded his father while yet a young man.   He married Marie, eldest daughter of Hugh, Lord Fraser of Lovat.   She died at Ardmore on December 22, 1646, having borne children (1) David, who became thirteenth and last Laird of Balnagowan of the old family; (2) Alexander, who died at the age of twenty; (3) Isobell, who married James Innes of Lightness, brother of Sir Robert Innes of that Ilk (of Innes); and (4) Catherine, who married John MacKenzie, fourth of Inverlaul (Inveraul).

It was this David who became responsible, for better or for worse, for the very first Ross settlers in America.

Oliver Cromwell, the devout Puritan, forceful statesman, and brilliant military leader, was an avowed opponent both of Presbyterianism (which was the primary Highland religion), and of absolutism, particularly in the form of Kings Charles I and Charles II.   He was responsible for the execution of Charles I in 1649 and the subsequent short-lived Commonwealth of England which Cromwell headed.   King Charles II received the dedicated support of all Scotland in opposing the dictator Cromwell.   After massacring the garrisons of Wexford and Drogheda in Ireland, Cromwell turned his attention to Scotland where he defeated the Royalist forces at Dunbar in 1650.

At his own expense, Chief David Ross raised a regiment of 800 men of Clan Ross and joined with the Scottish Army that invaded England, marching on London to reinstate Charles II with his rightful powers.   The Scots were met by Cromwell in the Battle of Worcester in 1651, and were severely defeated.   King Charles escaped with some difficulty to France.   More than 2,000 of the Scottish "Royalists" were slain and 8,000 prisoners were taken--including Chief David Ross and the surviving members of the Clan Ross regiment.   David was taken and jailed in the Tower of London where he died after two years of imprisonment.   He was buried at Westminster on December 29, 1653.

The vast majority of the 8,000 prisoners, including the Rosses, were sold as slaves to American colonists, and some were "bound out" as indentured servants to English taskmasters.

In searching the records of the old Massachusetts Bay Colony, we find that the earliest of the Rosses to arrive were nine men "of that Ilk" who came to Charlestown, Massachusetts, in the latter part of 1652.   These were beyond any doubt among the 272 Scots who arrived in Boston harbor in 1652 aboard the ship "John and Sarah"--all of whom were prisoners taken by Cromwell at Worcester.   Some, however, were given their freedom upon arrival in the new land, and settled in the vicinity of Boston.   And so was the Ross seed planted in America--only 32 short years after the Pilgrims arrived at Plymouth in 1620.

David Ross, thirteenth Chief of Clan Ross.   His father having plunged the estates deeply in debt with the equipping and outfitting of his regiment to battle Cromwell, David assumed the chieftainship under conditions of virtual destitution.   Since he was only nine years of age at the time his father died, David Ross of Pitcalnie was appointed his legal guardian and acted in his stead as Clan Chief and Laird of Balnagowan.

Later, through additional "wadsetting" (mortgaging), this David built a new wing to the Balnagowan Castle and accomplished extensive renovations throughout the Ross stronghold.   His clansmen considered him a wise and just Laird and rallied to his support on all occasions; but he was at the same time reported to be a weak man who was entirely under the control of his strong -minded wife, Lady Anne Stewart, daughter of the Earl of Moray.   Chief David died in 1711, unfortunately having no children to succeed him.

A Series of "Stranger" Clan Chiefs.   When David died in 1711, after nearly four hundred years of Balnagowan Ross chieftainship, this ancient O'Beolain race came to an end in the male line.   The rightful heir was Malcolm Ross, Fifth of Pitcalnie--a branch established by Nicholas, son of he ninth Clan Chief, Alexander.   Malcolm made an attempt to recover the estates, but was totally unsuccessful.   Malcolm, nevertheless, was an active leader, and in the Jacobite Rising in 1715, he mobilized five hundred Rosses and marched at their head to Alness, where he joined the Munros and the men of Sutherland.   The Rosses suffered heavily for this display of pro-Hanovarian support when Seaforth ravaged their lands.

Actual ownership of the Balnagowan estates passed to Mr. Francis Stewart, son of Alexander, Earl of Moray.   This stranger (brother of the widow of David, twelfth Chief) similarly purchased the title and arms of Chief of Clan Ross.   Due, however, to the extreme indebtedness of the estates, he was forced to sell them to Lord William Ross, Twelfth of Hawkhead, who also was a stranger to the Balnagowan line.

Lieutenant General Charles Ross purchased the lands and titles in 1713.   Having no family of his own, this "Chief" left the estates to the children of his sister, Honorable Grizel Ross, wife of Sir James Lockhart of Carstairs.   Accordingly, Sir William Lockhart and Sir James Lockhart became Lairds of the properties and chiefs of the Clan.   They adopted the name Ross in addition to their own and were known as the Lockhart-Rosses of Balnagowan.   Descendants of this family retained possession of Balnagowan until 1903.

The Modern Clan Chiefs.   In 1903 the original O'Beolain line of succession was re-established, although in the female line.   In the form of Miss Ethel Frances Sarah Williamson Ross, who served as Clan Chief until 1957.

Upon the death of Chief Ethel, she was succeeded by Miss Rosa R. Williamson Ross, who functioned quite admirably as Chief until 1968.

Miss Rosa Williamson Ross
Miss Rosa Williamson Ross

Chief Rosa was succeeded by David Ross of Dollar.

© MCMXCIII  Hank Ross