Ross – Sources and Definitions

Ross: Sources and definitions


General Sources (see also under individual parishes)


RMS II (1227) 1475-6, (1318) 1477, (1978) 1490

RMS III (422) 1526-7, (1924) 1538-9, (2817, 2823) 1542

RMS IV (1618) 1565

RMS V (1331) 1587

RMS VI (265) 1595, RMS VI (2109, 2114) 1608

RMS VII (298) 1610, (482, 499) 1611

RMS VIII (38) 1620, (602) 1624, (1720) 1631

RMS IX (2140) 1649



RSS VI (47) 1567

RSS VIII (1901) 1583-4


ER VI pp 210-223 1455-6, pp 459-477 1457-8, pp 647-664 1459-60

ER VIII pp 536-538 1473-8, pp 592-599 1476-9

ER IX pp 58-62, 116-118, 402-407, 529-535

ER X pp 23-26 1487-8, pp 93-95 1488-89

ER XII pp 235-246 1503-4, pp 660-666 1504

ER XIII pp 596-7 1507

ER XVII pp 662-681 1539-42

ER XX pp 233-245 1574-5

ER XXI pp 293-5 1585-6, pp 327-339 1588



ALI (31) 1439-40, (56) 1453, (76) 1462-3


Retours (Ross) (141) 1682

Retours (Sutherland) (19) 1614


GD93/100 1582, GD93/296 1700

GD96/466 1622

GD297/161-233 Ross of Balnagowan papers

GD305/1/32/4 1673

GD305/1/33/4 1701 is a useful list of chaplainries. See also RMS V (1625) 1588-9.

GD305/1/105/296 1499-1524


RS36/2/208r 1607


CWMF (113) 1587


RHP 13299 1808  Plans of the estate of Balnagown


Valuation Roll of the County of Ross for the Year Ending Whitsunday 1880, Inverness, 1879

RJ Adam (ed.), The Calendar of Fearn, Scottish History Society, Edinburgh, 1991

D Gregory, History of the Western Highlands and Isles of Scotland from AD 1493 to AD 1625, Edinburgh, 1836

W Macgill, Old Ross-shire and Scotland as seen in the Tain and Balnagown Documents, Inverness, 1909

Ross, A., The Province of Moray, c. 1000-1230, unpublished PhD thesis, Aberdeen, 2003

S Taylor with R MacLean & Jacob King, Place-Names of the Aird and Strathglass, Inverness-shire, Kiltarlity Community Council, 2019

WJ Watson, Place-Names of Ross & Cromarty, Inverness, 1904 & 1976.




What did Ross comprise?


One of our first difficulties is how to define Ross. For this study I have just followed the modern county boundary and silently included Cromarty. However in earlier times Ross did not include Wester Ross which was regarded as North Argyll. I have included Kilmorack because it was formerly in Ross and therefore the River Beauly was the southern boundary.


The papal confirmation concerning the Cathedral Church of Ross (Earls of Cromartie II, No 521, 1257) sets out that the churches of ‘Ergayethl’ (Argyll) shall be held in common once they fall vacant. RSS V (II) (3173) 1566-7 states that the common kirks in the diocese of Ross are Kintail, Lochalsh, Lochcarron, Gairloch, Applecross and Lochbroom. Argyll stretched as far north as the northern border of Lochbroom parish. (Documents which have specifically to do with church lands include RMS V (1625) 1588-9 & RMS VIII (410) 1623. See also Theiner No 264 1275). It appears that North Argyll was being absorbed into Ross from about 1220 – but the original Ross was based on the East coast. We also find that the Earldom of Ross and the lordship of Ardmeanach (the Black Isle) were often listed separately. In its earliest form perhaps Ross just meant the peninsula north of the Black Isle.



The davach-merkland exchange rate


There is a little evidence for the davach-merkland exchange rate in Ross. ER I p 26 1264-6 gives the account of William de Monte Alto, sheriff of Cromarty. He states a return of 24 merks from the 6 davachs of land which he holds of the king. This would be 4m per davach which I think was probably the Old Extent exchange rate prevalent in both Easter and Wester Ross. However it has to be said that valuations were seldom given in terms of merklands – they were usually given as davachs or their subdivisions.


Kiltearn (GD93/5 1350-71) provides some evidence that davachs were valued at 10m each by the late fourteeenth century. (The davach of Easter Fowlis was exchanged for the davach of Petmadwy ‘with warrandice to the extent of an equivalent 10m land’). I do not think this was an Old Extent valuation which implies that New Extent applied in Ross before 1400. There is a good deal of evidence from the fifteenth-century Exchequer Rolls that 1 davach was reckoned at 10 merks.



How many bovates to a davach?


This varied in different parts of Scotland. In Easter Ross there is not a great deal of evidence but it is consistent. Each quarterland consisted of 2 bovates so there were 8 bovates to the davach. (RS36/2/20v 1606 refers to E ¼ of the davach of Midganie as 2 bovates. See also Retours (Ross) (65) 1623, (77) 1629 and OPS II, II p 493 for 1568 quoting RSS Vol 37 f 35 (= RSS VI (135)). It is interesting that this is the same number as obtained in Assynt (Sutherland) on the west coast.

A ‘plough’, ‘ploughgate’ or ‘ploughland’ is a term often used in other parts of Scotland but is uncommon in Ross. It normally meant 2 bovates or a quarterland. There are occasional references such as for the upkeep of ‘yairs’ – proportionately charged to the plough and davach lands of a barony.




Other units of land-assesment


There is evidence of subdivision of land into ‘pecks’ in Retours (Ross) (108), (134), (137), (143), (156), (158), GD23/4/18, GD305/1/51/1 & GD305/1/144/4. There appear to have been 32 ‘pecks’ in a davach (RS37/1/131v 1619) which does not square with the fact that there also seem to have been 48 bolls to a davach. (In dry measure there were 16 pecks to a boll).


Extent is sometimes reckoned in terms of bolls (Retours (Ross) (50)) or firlots (Retours (Ross) (59)) ‘of sowing’. RMS V (717) 1584 lists, in great detail, bolls, firlots and pecks of sowing. (We also find ‘pecks’ of sowing in Bute). What makes things more confusing is that we find bolls of ‘sowing’ and also bolls of ‘pay’. The former describes the quantity of seed-corn needed per unit of land. The latter describes the yield – which could vary according to the ground. In order to draw any conclusions we have to be absolutely certain which we are talking about. For bolls pay see RS38/3/457r 1669 or Macgill p 169 No 427.


There is also subdivision into ‘sheaves’ in Retours (Ross) (39) 1615, (66) 1623, (83) 1635; GD93/375; RS37/3/51v 1624, RS37/5/34r 1632 – which last shows 48 sheaves to a davach. I do not find the evidence for sheaves wholly consistent but see also Bangor-Jones p 157.


For all the above there is some evidence in Ross but it is not universal and it does not seem to be consistent. It may have been partly copied or imported from a neighbouring province such as Moray. However since there is not enough evidence available I have ignored these features of land-assesment for the purposes of this study.


I am not aware of a single pennyland in Easter Ross although they were found in some of the parishes of Wester Ross. This is important for dating the Norse settlement in Easter Ross – or perhaps the period when the Norse controlled this area.



Other land-units


The above all seem to be units of measure, and could therefore be used for assessment. To complicate matters there are other land units which occur in the records but which do not seem to have any reference to measurement. For instance:


Crofts. These are very common and often went with a particular office or function. It is possible that crofts originally approximated to a particular size but normally that is not evident. Crofts and tofts were originally associated with Norse and English traditions but were adopted into the Gaelic world. Sometimes we know exactly how big a croft was. RSS VIII (1697) 1583 refers to a croft of 2 acres called Womanhill in Fife. For the most part documents give no information about the size of crofts in Ross.


Rigs – See RS36/2/273r 1607 (Rosemarkie).


Scheds RSS VIII (1697) 1583 refers to 5 different ‘scheds’ in Fife – all of different acreage. See DOST (Dictionary of the Older Scottish Tongue – online) for further information. Found in Rosemarkie.


Wards (Dingwall) – see DOST.


Butts (Dingwall & Rosemarkie) – see DOST.


Elnes – a precise measurement – found in Rosemarkie (RS38/5/104v 1681).


Acres & Roods – Dingwall. Possibly acres were not originally precise.


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