West Coast of Ross – Summary Text

West Coast of Ross


There are a small number of documents, possibly copied from each other, where there appears to be an anomaly in the exchange rate between merklands and davachs. Old Extent in this section of the NW coast (Glenelg, Lochalsh, Lochcarron & Kishorn) is generally 1 davach = 4 merks Old Extent. This means that 1m (13s 4d) equated with a quarterland. However we have 4 documents which do not follow this general rule. They are:


ALI (122) 1492

RMS III (534) 1527-8

RSS II (2994) 1539

RSS VIII (1484) 1583.


In these 4 sources it appears that 10s was equal to a quarterland and that 3m (40s) was a davach. I cannot explain this but land-assessment is sometimes complicated by local anomalies. However, the documents, particularly the earliest, do offer internal consistency and we also have later davach evidence which supports them. Accordingly I accept this evidence as a valuable extra resource. It is only the later, Scottish, merkland assessment which appears out of kilter – not the earlier, davach assessment. We can recognise this anomaly – and the extra complexities it introduces – whilst still allowing ourselves to extract the davach -related material which builds a better picture of the total number of davachs in Lochalsh, Lochcarron and Kishorn.


We also have a number of later rentals for the area between Glenshiel and Applecross – particularly in the early 18th century when some of the lands were forfeited. Rentals are a rich resource because there is little doubt that in early times there were standard rents for set units of land-assessment – i.e. so much silver rent (money), victual (oats/barley), cheese, mutton, eggs etc per davach or part thereof. I have gone through a number of these rentals but have had, reluctantly, to set them aside. I am convinced there was a standard rental (expressed best by the items in kind rather than the silver rent) but there are gaps and inconsistencies which mean I cannot be completely confident of conclusions. However, more work can and will be done in pursuing the evidence still hidden in early rentals.


The land-assessment picture on the west coast is completely different to the east coast:


Firstly we have pennylands which stretch between Glenshiel and Lochcarron – but perhaps not further north? Perhaps they were planted – but did not survive. Perhaps they were never there.


Secondly the total number of davachs was probably 60 – of which half were held by the family of the Lords of the Isles. Only tiny parts of the west coast were held by the bishops of Ross. This is in contrast to their huge estate on the east coast. What land the church held on the west coast seems to have come down from the earlier Celtic church rather than being part of a bishopric estabished by the mediaeval Scottish kings.


Thirdly we can recognise some 10-davach units or parishes in Kintail, Lochalsh and possibly Lochbroom. Lochcarron may be an amalgam including a 5-davach unit around Lochcarron itself. Was there once a quintal or decimal system behind the parish structure of what is now Wester Ross? Could it have had any relationship with 5-house structures of the Dalriadic Scots?


Finally we should acknowledge the enormous disparity in wealth between east and west coast parishes. The total assessment value of the west coast was some 60 davachs. On the east coast it was more than three times that – even after omitting large hinterland parishes such as Contin and Kincardine. This disparity was known from the time the davach system was first imposed (or evolved) – a period which I think predates the Dalriadic settlement and has its roots at least in Iron Age times.


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