Sutherland Summary Text

Sutherland – General Sources & Conclusions


General Sources


I have listed the more important sources within the parishes they refer to. Here I give some general sources.


RMS II (148, 149) 1429-30, (2506) 1499

RMS III (475, 477, 520) 1527, (557) 1527-8, (2048) 1539, (2882) 1542-3 on original of 1539, (3165) 1545, (3215) 1545-6

RMS IV (241) 1548, (1635, 1669) 1565

RMS V (277) 1581 on original of 1580

RMS VI (1170) 1601, (2089) 1608 on original of 1606, (2155) 1608 (on an original of 1607)

RMS VII (766) 1612, (1508) 1616, (2008) 1619

RMS VIII (1045) 1627 on original of 1626

RMS XI (200) 1662


RRS VI (96) 1345


RSS II (624) 1530

RSS III (1570) 1545-6

RSS IV (333) 1549, (1371-3, 1375) 1551, (3060) 1555

RSS V Part I (1463) 1563, (1704) 1564

RSS V Part II (2718, 3034, 3141) 1566

RSS VII (988, 1055) 1577


ER XIII pp 263-5 1509-10

ER XVIII p 568 1554

ER XIX pp 52-55 1556-8

ER XXI p 466 1581-2


Records of the Parliaments of Scotland – (online) – NAS PA2/10, II, ff 22v-23r


RHP679 Plan of the contraverted grazings of Fionauld, Sutherland, 1768

RHP2927 1914

RHP3353 1919

RHP6935/1 1866

RHP11594 Plan of intended road from Ullapool to Portinliek, 1790

RHP11598 Plan of intended road from Lochinver to Portinleik Ferry, 1793

RHP11600 Plan of intended roads from Tongue, 1794

RHP11603 Plan of intended road from Portenleik Ferry … to Dunrobin Castle, 1794

RHP11656 Plan of the different roads leading from Rhives to Bonar Ferry, 1808

RHP11657 Plan of proposed road from Tongue to Creich, 1809

RHP11667 Plan of road from Lochinver in Assynt to the proposed Tongue Road at Invershin, c. 1812

RHP22562 Plan of the marches between the Reay and Sutherland estates in the area berween Ben Leoid and Fionn Loch Beag 1822

RHP44272 1894

RHP92547 Plan of controverted ground at Duchally, 1765

RHP92546 Copy plan of controverted marches and grazings at Duchally, 1766


GD84/2/2 1504

GD95/11/5/6 Presbytery of Dornoch

GD95/11/5/22 A Description of the parish of Tong, 1755

GD128/47/8/6, Rental of the Earldom of Sutherland 1623


NLS Dep.313/3622/49 Sketch of the Reay Country n.d.

NLS Dep.313/1598 Sir Robert Gordon’s tutor accounts with copy of the Sutherland Rental of 1624-5

Sibbald’s Topographical Notices of Scotland (Adv.MS.34.2.8) transcribed by Dr Jean Munro on the National Library of Scotland maps website. This is the source for material in Macfarlane’s Geographical Collections Vol II.


The National Library of Scotland digital map web-pages include:

Sutherland (Anon) 1815, from Sutherland Papers Dep.313/3597/1. This is particularly useful since it gives some internal farm boundaries. By 1815 many of the mediaeval units had combined but the indications of external boundaries reveal a pattern that was probably many centuries earlier. There is also a table naming and locating the farms as well as giving the names of tenants.

  1. Forbes, Sutherlandshire, 1820

J Thomson, Sutherland Shire, 1823

G Burnett & W Scott, Map of the county of Sutherland made on the basis of the trigonometrical survey of Scotland in the years 1831, 1832 (published 1833). (With additional names and corrections by Hector Morrison, Inverness, 1853, + another version 1868).

Macfarlane’s Geographical Collections I, Scottish History Society, Edinburgh, 1906, pp 186-203

Macfarlane’s Geographical Collections II, Scottish History Society, Edinburgh, 1907, pp 412-469, 545, 600-601

Macfarlane’s Geographical Collections III, Scottish History Society, Edinburgh, 1908, pp 57-60, 96-110


A Genealogical History of the Earldom of Sutherland, by Sir Robert Gordon of Gordonstoun, Edinburgh, 1813

Acts of the Lords of Council, Volume III, 1501-3, ed. A.B. Calderwood, Edinburgh, 1993

Acts of the Lords of Council in Public Affairs 1501-1554, Edinburgh, 1932

Illustrations of the Topography and Antiquities of the Shires of Aberdeen and Banff, Vol IV, Spalding Club, Aberdeen, 1862

Pennant, T., A Tour in Scotland 1769, 5th edition, London, 1790, Appendix No V, p 338 ff, ‘Of Caithness, Strathnaver and Sutherland’ by Rev. Mr Alexander Pope, Minister of Reay.

Caithness and Sutherland Records Vol I, Parts I-XI, London, 1909-1928

Baldwin, J.R. (ed.), The Province of Strathnaver, Golspie, 2000

Two Ancient Records of the Bishopric of Caithness, from the Charter-Room at Dunrobin. Bannatyne Miscellany III, Edinburgh, 1855.

Dowden, J., The Medieval Church in Scotland, Glasgow, 1910

  1. Fraser, The Sutherland Book, Vol III – Charters, Edinburgh, 1892

Gunn, A. & Mackay, J. (eds.), Sutherland and the Reay Country, Glasgow, 1897

A Mackay, The Book of Mackay, Edinburgh, 1906

  1. Kirk, (ed.), The Books of Assumption of the Thirds of Benefices, Oxford, 1995

The Book of Ross by D. Macdonald and Sutherland & Caithness by A. Polson, Dingwall, 1931

  1. MacBain, Place Names of the Highlands & Islands of Scotland, Stirling, 1922
  2. Mackay, History of the House and Clan of Mackay, Edinburgh, 1829

The Sutherland Book, ed D Omand, Golspie, 1982 (NB pp 177-179)

I.R.M. Mowat, Easter Ross 1750-1850: the Double Frontier, Edinburgh, 1981

Firthlands of Ross and Sutherland, ed. Baldwin, J. R., Scottish Society of Northern Studies, 1986

Ross, A., Land Assessment and Lordship in Medieval Northern Scotland, Brepols, 2015, (hereafter TMC 14).

Pre-1855 Tombstone Inscriptions in Sutherland Burial Grounds, Cowper, A.S. & Ross, I. (eds), Scottish Genealogy Society, Edinburgh, 1991.

Second Report and Inventory of Monuments and Constructions in the County of Sutherland, RCAHMS, Edinburgh, 1911

North Sutherland Studies (Scottish Vernacular Buildings Working Group), Glasgow, 1987

Fitzpatrick, E., ‘Finn’s Wilderness and Boundary Landforms in Medieval Ireland’ pp 113-146, in Egeler, M., (ed.), Landscape and Myth in North-Western Europe, Brepols, Belgium, 2019

Description of the Dune of Dornadilla. By the Rev. Mr. Alexander Pope, Minister of Reay. Archaeologia Vol V, 1779, pp 216-223.

An Account of ancient Monuments and Fortifications in the Highlands of Scotland. In a Letter from Mr. James Anderson. Archaeologia Vol V, 1779, pp 241-266.

Romilly Allen, J. & Anderson, J., The Early Christian Monuments of Scotland, Republished by The Pinkfoot Press, Angus, 1993

PSAS 11 (1875) pp 87-102: John Stuart, ‘Articles by Robert, Bishop of Caithness, against George, Earl of Caithness’, … AD 1549.



Exchequer Rolls evidence

In Exchequer Rols Vol XIII there is an important account of the earldom lands of Sutherland from 1509-1510. These are discussed by AJG Mackay, one of the editors, in his Preface (pp cxxxvi-cxlv).


The lands fall under two headings – those held by the earl himself as his own property and those held by others in tenandry. Mr Mackay suggests (p cxxxix) that what was paid “in both cases appears to have been the Retour Duty”. On p cxli he equates the Retour Duty with the Old Extent of the lands.


At the moment I am not willing to go as far as Mr Mackay simply because we have so little evidence of merkland Old Extent in the far north of Scotland. I don’t think we are yet in a position to be confident about how the Scottish system of merklands was mapped to a pre-existing Pictish system of davachs in the northern counties. However what I think we can do is determine a standard rental for a davach. If we can prove there was such a thing then this would allow us to deduce the davach extent of properties where we have a rent – but nothing else.


How are we to determine a standard rent from the ER evidence? Well, each property paid a silver rent and/or one or more of the following:

chalders and bolls of barley

marts (i.e. cattle for slaughter)




iron (this last only on 5 farms).

The lands in tenandry almost always paid only in money.

I have omitted mills, ‘brewlands’, crofts and fisheries which leaves us with 112 properties we can describe as farms.


I am going to ignore poultry and oats because they are relatively uncommon. I am also going to ignore muttons and marts because they do not feature amongst the tenandry rents. Of the categories remaining money is by far and away the most important but there are also indications of a standard rate in payments of barley and iron. I shall touch on these first before discarding them.


Four of the five properties yielding wethyis of iron suggest a standard rental of 40 wethyis per davach. With regard to those properties which gave rent in barley there seem to have been two rates, either 1½ chalders per davach or 2 chalders per davach. There are also a few properties where I cannot be sure if I am comparing like with like and so I have ignored the evidence – as with ‘Yondir Helmsdale’.


Nevertheless for the 112 properties in the study we can safely say that there was a standard silver rental of 40s (3 merks) per davach for 50 of them. (This is on the basis that we have other land-assessment evidence which gives us their extent). We can add to these the four properties which rendered 40 wethyis of iron per davach. For farms rendering barley 6 of them seem to have given 2 chalders per davach while another 3 (possibly 5) gave 1½ chalders per davach.


The reason why this standard rental is so important is that for a number of other farms – for which I have no other evidence – we can deduce their davach valuation on the basis of the silver rent they paid. If they paid a rent of 40s they were likely to have been a davach. This allows us to deduce valuations for a further 32 farms (omitting all ambiguous cases). In the tables I always put derived valuations (such as these) in brackets. However I count them as valid.



‘Papers on Sutherland Estate Management’, RJ Adam.

The two volumes of ‘Papers on Sutherland Estate Management’ edited by RJ Adam for the Scottish History Society, Edinburgh, 1972, provide copious source material:


Volume I

There is a Report by Patrick Sellar in 1811 with the lands arranged by parish:

  1. I) Assynt pp 47-55
  2. II) Creich p 55

III) Lairg pp 56-57

  1. IV) Dornoch pp 57-68
  2. V) Rogart pp 69-81
  3. VI) Golspie pp 82-90

VII) Clyne pp 90-98

VIII) Loth pp 99-101

  1. IX) Kildonan pp 101-109
  2. X) Farr pp 109-118


There are rentals of the farms and parishes for 1808 & 1815 on pp 216-232.

Lists of wadsets (1802-16) are given on pp 238-240.

There is also a loose map of the various estates in Sutherland.


Volume 2 has a rough survey of the farms of Assynt in 1799 on pp 2-3.


These lists are enormously valuable in providing guidance as to which farms were important and which were just pendicles.




As far as the conversion rate between davachs and pennylands is concerned the 1623 rental confirms that the ratio was 1 davach to 6d in the following parishes:




Kilmalie [Golspie]





(It is important to remember that all these parishes belonged to the old ‘Sutherland’ rather than Strathnaver).


Sutherland Book III No 28 of 1444 gives the Torboll estate of 16 davachs as worth £40 (60m).


Sutherland Book Volume III No 55 shows that in 1514 the earldom of Sutherland was thought to have been worth 500 merks Old Extent.


The ratio between davachs and pennylands is quite clear: 1 davach was equal to 6 pennylands. Although we don’t have direct evidence of ouncelands in Sutherland it is likely that 1 ounceland was worth 18d or 3 davachs. That is the relationship we find in Caithness and I see no reason why it should be any different in Sutherland. We do find a number of 3-davach or 18d units which were likely to have been ouncelands:


Ascoile (Clyne)

Torboll, Proncy & Skibo (Dornoch); (Skibo was actually a 2 ounceland estate)

Culmaily (Golspie)

Lairg (Lairg)

Garty (Loth)

Loth (Loth – a 2 ounceland farm)

Crackaig (Loth)

Manse of Durness (Durness)

Invernaver (Farr)

Carnachy (Farr)

Farr (Farr)

Rogart (Rogart)

Kirkiboll (Tongue – a 4 davach farm)


In contrast, evidence for the merkland extent is conspicuous by its absence. Even where there is evidence it is not obvious that there is a consistent pattern. Merklands may have been important for the royal authorities but in local terms they don’t seem to have mattered at all. The only important definitions were davachs and pennylands. However we do also see sub-divisions of davachs – quarterlands in particular.


These three units of davachs, quarterlands and pennylands are all reflected in Sutherland place-names.


My summary table shows a minimum of 265 davachs in Sutherland. I think the true total is more likely to have been closer to 300 davachs – approximately 100 ouncelands.


Ross contained at least 276½ davachs so it is tempting to compare these two 300-davach provinces. It is a temptation we should indulge with caution. The old provinces cannot be directly compared with the modern counties. I suspect the ‘old’ Sutherland comprised about 200 davachs. The ‘old’ Ross is not so easy to define.


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