The ‘de Insulis’ family estate.
This text file tries to clarify the general land-holding position in a huge section of the north-west seaboard comprising (from S. to N.) Lochalsh, Lochcarron, Kishorn, Torridon and Loch Broom. A detailed breakdown will be found under each parish but at one time most of these lands were part of a single vast estate and it is helpful to place the various components within that framework.
(When looking at the documents it is important to remember that a description such as ‘half of Loch Broom’ is cast in general terms. All the above names are now used as descriptions of area but we should see them also as estate descriptions. It was seldom the case that a lay landowner held every portion of an area. Parts might belong to another landowner, or the church, or the bishop. General assessments are not always to be taken literally).
Our starting point is a branch of the family of the Lords of the Isles. Alexander, Lord of the Isles from c. 1423-1449 had a son Celestine to whom he probably gave the above huge estate. It was confirmed in 1462/3 by Celestine’s brother John who was now Lord of the Isles himself. No detail is given but they are said to be ‘our lands of Loch Broom, Lochalsh, Lochcarron, Torridon & Kishorn’. (ALI No 76 & RMS II (806)). Celestine was known as ‘de Insulis’ (of the Isles) but later members of his family could be called ‘de Ilis’ or ‘Ylis’ or ‘Yla’. (Members of Celestine’s family are comprehensively described in ALI pp 303-309. This text file does not deal with Celestine’s lands in Ferincoskry – for which see under Creich parish, Sutherland).
Celestine fostered a close relationship with the Camerons of Lochiel and in 1472 he gave the constabulary of Strome Castle and 12 (unnamed) merklands of Kishorn to Allan, son of Donald Cameron. (ALI No 102 & RMS II (2281.1).
Celestine had a son, Alexander, who granted further lands to Alan Cameron’s son, Ewen. These are specified in ALI No 122 & RMS II (2281.2). There are 14 merklands in Lochalsh (16 place-names are given) and 6 merklands in Lochcarron (4 place-names are given). In RMS III (534) 1527-8 these lands in Lochalsh & Lochcarron are confirmed to Ewen Cameron of Lochiel by James V. They are again named.
The estate then passed from Alexander to his son Donald and there is a reference to it in 1499/1500 in Fraser, Earls of Cromartie II, No 545. The lands that concern us are listed as Lochalsh, Kishorn, Lochcarron and Loch Broom. For some reason Torridon is missing but I think this is just an oversight.
Donald died in 1519 and his lands were inherited by two sisters, Janet and Margaret. Janet married William Dingwall of Kildun; Margaret married Alexander of Glengarry. From now on things become more complicated and although we have evidence of some of the transactions we know far more detail about the Glengarry possessions than we do about those of Dingwall of Kildun.
GD93/45 1524 describes William Dingwall of Kildun as laird of half the lands of Lochalsh. GD93/46 1524 describes Margaret as Margaret ‘Ylis’, wife of Alexander ‘Ylis’ of Glengarry and refers to three properties in the strath of Loch Broom.
RMS III (534) 1527-8 is a royal confirmation to Ewen Alanson of Lochiel of 12m Kishorn (unnamed) with the constabulary of Strome Castle, 14m in Lochalsh (named and valued), and (6m) in Lochcarron (named and valued but with no total).
RMS III (1924) 6 March 1538-9 tells us Margaret brought Alexander of Glengarry the castle of Strome plus half of the lands of Lochalsh, Lochcarron, and Loch Broom. (Again Torridon is not mentioned but Retours (Ross) (12) 1584 proves that Margaret did bring half of Torridon with her). The Glengarry family already had a base on the west coast where they held the relatively small estate of North Morar. Their access to Lochalsh and Lochcarron, at least, would be fairly straightforward – just a few hours by sea.
The position of the Dingwalls of Kildun was quite different. Kildun is just south of Dingwall which meant they had the whole width of the North Highlands to cross before they reached their new west coast properties. Understandably they seem to have adopted a more realistic approach. GD93/51 1540 suggests they may have first made an arrangement with the more important family of Munro of Foulis. The Munros already held the davach of Inverlael at the head of Loch Broom which they had acquired in 1370. (GD93 No’s 7, 8, 19, 23, 124 etc although No’s 26 & 34 suggest the Munros themselves had difficulties in retaining possession). By GD93/51 Robert Munro, eldest son of Munro of Foulis, is described as tenant of the lands of half of Loch Broom. However the document makes it plain that even he had no traction with the local tenants of Loch Broom who were unwilling to subject themselves to an east coast laird and gave him short shrift – in Gaelic.
The Dingwalls came fairly quickly to a decision to cut their losses. RMS III (2957) 1543 shows how Thomas Dingwall of Kildun sold his lands of Loch Broom to Mackenzie of Kintail in return for the lands and mill of Fodderty plus cash. Fodderty is conveniently close to Dingwall. The Mackenzie perspective is voiced in RMS III (3005) 1543-4 where it is described as a lot of cash!
The Munros of Foulis retained an interest in the west coast. (As did other members of the clan. It was Dean Munro who wrote the first detailed description of the Hebrides in 1549). GD176/50 of 30/8/1546 is a precept and GD93/57 14/9/1546 an associated notarial instrument which deal with the granting by Angus ‘Yla’, lord of half of Lochalsh, Lochcarron & Loch Broom, of the lands of Erbusaig in Lochalsh to Robert Munro of Foulis. Angus ‘Yla’ was of the Glengarry family and GD176/50 was dated at Gaersuallach (Garrygualach?) in Glengarry. (Alasdair of Glengarry had a son, Angus, and Angus’s maternal uncle Donald describes himself as Donald of Ila of Lochalsh in GD93/41 1511). This grant is confirmed by two retours of the Munros of Foulis. The first (GD93/53) in 1542, does not include Erbusaig. The second (GD93/59) in 1547-8 includes the ‘half-lands of Arbsek’. It appears from this that the lands of Lochalsh were halved internally. Instead of the estate being divided up into separate sections it is clear that each property formerly owned by Celestine was notionally divided in two.
The above deals with the Glengarry and Kildun portions of the ‘de Insulis’ estate but there were also the Cameron lands granted out in 1472 and 1492. These were reaffirmed by RSS II (2994) 11 April 1539. The lands are listed as 12m Kishorn (unnamed) with constabulary of Strome Castle; 14m in Lochalsh (named and valued) and (6m) in Lochcarron (also named and valued but a total not given). They were to be held of the king. However RSS IV (2157) 1553 shows that the lands of Strome and Kishorn (at least) had then been forfeited by the Camerons.
In October 1544 the Glengarry clan and their allies mounted a large raid on Glenmoriston and, in April 1545 another on Culnakirk in Glen Urquhart. The victims went to law and by RMS IV (203) 1548 John Grant of Culcabock was apprised of 2½ merklands in Lochcarron (belonging to Alistair of Glengarry) and 5 merklands in Lochalsh (belonging to Ewen, heir of Ewen Alanson of Lochiel). (The properties in Lochcarron and Lochalsh are named but there are problems with the former which I have covered in the accompanying table).
On the same day even larger compensation was afforded to James Grant of Freuchie by RMS IV (204) 1548. This refers to the enormous spoil taken from Glen Urquhart in April 1545 by the Glengarry family and their Cameron allies. Grant was given 9 merklands in Lochalsh, 13 merklands in Kishorn, another 12 merklands in Lochalsh, 4m 20d in Lochcarron, 17m 40d in Loch Broom plus other lands in Glengarry & North Morar. All the lands in Lochalsh, Lochcarron & Loch Broom are named. The 9 merkland unit in Lochalsh and the 13m unit of Kishorn had previously belonged to Ewen, heir of Ewen Alanson of Lochiel; the rest to Glengarry. Between the two charters we have 26m in Lochalsh, 6m 8s 4d in Lochcarron and 17m 3s 4d in Loch Broom. (Problems with these figures are discussed in the accompanying table).
RMS IV (969) 1554 gives us more detail about the Dingwall of Kildun lands. Thomas Dingwall had now decided to sell his half of Lochalsh to Mackenzie of Brahan. The lands are named but no assessments are given in either davach or merkland terms. By now the Dingwalls had divested themselves of their lands in both Loch Broom and Lochalsh.
In the 1570s we come to a resolution of the power struggle involving the Mackenzies and the Glengarry family. In 1571 John Grant of Freuchie and Angus (son of Alasdair) of Glengarry entered into a contract which was confirmed by RMS IV (2270) 1574. John Grant sold to Angus the apprised lands of Glengarry, North Morar, 12 merklands of Lochalsh and 4 merklands of Lochcarron. Since the 12 merklands of Lochalsh bear the same names as those sold by Dingwall of Kildun in RMS IV (969) 1554 it is plain that each party held just half of each property. (The only difference is Erbusaig which appears in the Kildun document of 1554 but not in the Glengarry document of 1574. This is because the Glengarry half of Erbusaig had gone to Munro of Foulis in 1546).
Two days after RMS IV (2270) we have another charter, RMS IV (2273), which confirmed a contract between John Grant of Freuchie and Colin Mackenzie of Kintail dated 25 April 1572. This concerned the sale of Freuchie’s half of Loch Broom to the Mackenzies of Kintail. Various fractions of a davach are listed with a total extent of 17¼m. (Problems with the list are addressed in the accompanying table). This meant that both halves of Celestine’s estate in Loch Broom now belonged to the Mackenzies of Kintail. The contract of 25 April 1572 also concerned the marriage between Colin Mackenzie of Kintail and Freuchie’s daughter, Barbara (RMS IV (2063)).
In the meantime, by RSS VI (1549) 6 April 1572, we have a precept for a charter of confirmation on a charter by John Grant of Culcabok (now deceased) to his son, John Grant of Carron, of the lands which had come to Culcabok from Alexander of Glengarry and Ewen Cameron in 1548. These are the 2½ merklands of Lochcarron and 5 merklands of Lochalsh – all named and with davach valuations. (I cannot see anything in RMS to match this).
RMS IV (2284) 19 July 1574 is a royal grant of the lands of Glengarry, North Morar, 12m of Lochalsh and 4m of Lochcarron to Donald M’Angus M’Allestare of Glengarry. Essentially this is a repeat of RMS IV (2270) 8 July 1574 and the same lands in Lochalsh and Lochcarron are named. The Glengarry family had lost a considerable portion of the lands originally brought to them by Margaret Ylis but still retained some of Lochalsh and Lochcarron.
RSS VII (68) and RMS IV (2368) 6 March 1574-5 (both) are a precept and charter of confirmation of the sale, by Thomas Dingwall of Kildun, in March 1571, of his half of Torridon, to Alexander Bayne (Bain) of Tulch (Tullich/Tulloch). This confirms that Torridon too was divided between the Dingwall family and the Glengarry family. Retours (Ross) (12) 1584 shows that Donald M’Angus, M’Alester still held half of Torridon.
RSS VII (178) 1575 is a gift to John Dingwall of Kildun, heir of Thomas Dingwall, of the nonentry of the lands of ‘Lochcarroun’ (Lochcarron), ‘Kisrynie’ (Kishorn) and ‘fortalice of Strome’ (Strome Castle), since Thomas’s death in 1573. This shows that the Dingwalls of Kildun still had a significant foothold in the west. However Strome Castle and Kishorn plus 14m in Lochcarron had earlier belonged to the Camerons. In light of RSS VIII (1484) 1583 (below) it is worth noting that the nonentry was only since the death of Thomas Dingwall in 1573. It wasn’t until 1579 that the Dingwall family divested themselves of their Lochcarron lands (see RMS V (665) 1583-4 below).
RSS VII (327) 5 November 1575 is a gift to Alexander Bane of Tullycht (Tullich/Tulloch) of the ward and nonentry of the lands of Torridon and Dalmartene since the deaths of Jonet and Margaret Ilis, sisters, heiresses of the lands. Dalmartene is a single property in Lochcarron for which see below under RMS V (665). Alexander Bane had bought his half of Torridon from Thomas Dingwall of Kildun in March 1571. This document helps to prove that the lands of the ‘de Insulis’ family in both Torridon and Lochcarron were halved between the two heiresses.
RSS VIII (1484) 1583 is a gift to Glengarry of the nonentry of erstwhile Cameron lands in Lochalsh, Kishorn and Lochcarron. These are named and given merkland valuations. (This document has to be seen beside RSS VII (178) 1575 (above)). It is notable that the nonentry was since the death of Donald Ilis (in 1519). Glengarry is expected to enter and ‘seize’ (take sasine) himself in these lands within 18 months.
RMS V (665) 1583-4 is royal confirmation of a contract dated 30/5/1579 by which John Dingwall of Kildun sold to Mackenzie of Kintail his half of lands in Lochcarron and the superiority of half of Dalmartin which had been feued to Roderick Bane. RSS VIII (1798) 1583-4 is the precept for this.
RMS VI (1879) 1607 is a royal grant to Mackenzie of Kintail of Strome Castle, half of Lochalsh, half of Lochcarron and half of Kishorn which the Glengarry family had resigned. In addition Mackenzie was granted 9m of Lochalsh formerly belonging to Ewen Donal(d)sone (Cameron); 13m of Kishorn and Strome Castle which belonged to the same Ewen; 12m in Lochalsh belonging to the late Alexander M’Keane V’Alester (Glengarry); 4m 20d of Lochcarron formerly belonging to the said Alexander (Glengarry), which John Grant of Freuchie had resigned. The names and davach valuations of these properties are given. It had taken nearly 90 years but most of the ‘de Insulis’ estate had now been sold by or lost to the descendants of Margaret and Jonet. Torridon is not mentioned.
We can see from the internal evidence of the documents that the properties in Lochalsh, Lochcarron and Loch Broom were split in half on the death of Donald de Insulis. One half went to each of his two sisters, Margaret & Jonet. What did this mean in practice? I am not sure it will have meant a great deal on the ground since the farms probably remained in the hands of the local tenants. I doubt the divisions were formalised because the new owners were both absentees and the local families probably went on as before. However the number of place-names within each specified settlement suggests that few of them were of davach size. Most were probably half-davachs or less. Should division have become more permanent I imagine these smaller units would have split from each other, not within each unit.
The accompanying table attempts to assemble all the data from the above documents into a coherent geographic format. This lets us compare place-names and valuations over time. There are anomalies but by doing this we are able to build a better picture of the land assessment situation over a huge area of the north-west Highlands. The table also gives context to the individual parish tables. Lochalsh was composed of a Cameron portion (14m), a Glengarry portion (12m) and a Kildun portion (also apparently 12m). This comes to 38m which, plus a few church lands, probably meant a 40m or 10-davach parish. Lochcarron had a 6m Cameron part, 6⅝m Glengarry and 6⅝m Kildun. Add in some church lands and we probably have a 20m or 5-davach unit. In the case of Loch Broom the Glegarry and Kildun portions comprised 34½m between them (just over 8 davachs). But there were other lands in Loch Broom as well.
The table shows a total de Insulis estate of 29⅛ davachs. This may represent one half of the land in the west coast parishes.