The Rosses of Balnagowan succeeded the Earls as chiefs of Clan Ross after the death in 1372 of William O'Beolan, the last Earl of Ross in his line. It appears that Clan Ross anticipated the need for a new chief when it became apparent that the Earldom would be passing to Sir Walter Leslie, and that Hugh would be deprived of his rightful title as direct heir male to the Earldom of Ross. Thus, a gift of the lands of Easter Allan and Balnagowan (in 1357) was confirmed in a charter by King David II in 1371 to Hugh of Rarichies (a brother of William) and Hugh took the name of the county --- Ross --- as his surname. Hugh Ross, the first Laird of Balnagowan, married Margaret Graham of Ury, and their offspring were William and Jean.

William Ross, the second Laird of Balnagowan after his father's death in 1374, and his uncle, King Robert II, confirmed the second chief's possession of the estates of Balnagowan, Wester Ross, Strathglass, Eilandonan, Westray and Easter Allan. William married Christina, daughter of Lord Livingstone, and was succeeded by their son Walter upon his death in 1398.

Walter Ross was granted the lands of Cullisse in the Parish of Nigg to add to his inherited estates. His marriage to Katherine McTyre added her dowry of the lands of Strathcarron and Strathoykel. Her father, Paul McTyre, the grandson of Olaf the Red, was a freebooter who controlled a large part of Sutherland and the Parish of Kincardine in the County of Ross.

Hugh Ross, the son of Walter Ross and Katherine McTyre, became the fourth Laird of Balnagowan and Chief of Clan Ross in 1412. He is said to have married the daughter of the Earl of Sutherland, and had as issue four sons: (1) John, the fifth laird; (2) Hugh, about whom little is known; (3) William Ross of Meikle Allan, who became the first laird of Shandwick from whom Sheriff Charles Campbell Ross traced his descent; and (4) Rev. Thomas Ross, who became the Rector of the Collegiate Church of Tain.

John Ross, the fifth Laird of Balnagowan, married Christina Macleod of Lewis, and they had many sons. Alexander succeeded as the next laird and Donald became first of Priesthill and Dean of Caithness. The Earldom of Ross was forfeited to the Crown by Earl John MacDonald in 1476, and there were battles in the Highlands which the Earldom to be wasted and seized by other clans. Attempts by John of Balnagowan to recover the Earldom of Ross failed.

Alexander Ross of Balnagowan married Dorothy, daughter of the Earl of Sutherland, and had a son and daughter: (1) David, who became the seventh Laird of Balnagowan, and (2) Isabella, who married George Munro, the tenth Baron of Foulis. The Rosses and MacKays had been involved involved in clan battles during the lifetime of Alexander Ross, and the feud was rekindled when Angus MacKay began raiding, killing and plundering within the territories of Ross. The Rosses caught Angus and his men at Tarbat, locked them inside the church and set it afire. Angus's son revenged this act with a bloody battle against the Ross Clan at Alt'a Charrais in June of 1486, where Alexander of Balnagowan was killed.

Sir David Ross, seventh Laird of Balnagowan, built the original wing and towers of the castle from fieldstone on the lands. David's first wife, Helen Keith of Inverguie, gave birth to four sons: (1) Walter, who became the eighth Laird; (2) William, who became the first Laird of Invercharron; (3) Hugh, who became the first of the Rosses of Achnacloich; and Angus, who married the daughter of William MacCulloch of Plaids. David's second marriage was to the daughter of the Duke of Albany.

The eighth Laird, Walter of Balnagowan, married Marion, the daughter of Sir John James Grant of Grant, and produced the following offspring: (1) Alexander; (2) Katherine, who married a magistrate of Tain; and (3) Janet, who married the fifth Lord Lovat. He was supposedly killed in a clan feud at Tain in 1528.

Alexander Ross, the ninth of Balnagowan, invested in "modern" military equipment, including a cannon and coats of mail for unscrupulous acts against neighbouring clans. Laird Alexander, as a supporter of the Congregation of Reformers, was fined £80 for refusing to join the royal standard of the Queen Regent, mother of Mary Queen of Scots, supported by the Catholics. Nicholas Ross Abbot of Fearn received a bond of alliance and protection from the laird and, when he resigned in 1567 as Catholic Abbot and Provost of the Collegiate Church of Tain, the relics of St. Duthac were handed over to Laird Alexander for safe keeping. The members of Clan Ross had accepted the doctrines of the Reformed Church of Scotland. Nevertheless, the wild and lawless Alexander continued to be a thorn in the side of the Regency and paid fines or came under letters of "fire and sword" or agreed to rebuild destroyed properties. His marriage to Janet, the daughter of the third Earl of Caithness, produced six offspring: (1) Robert; (2) Hector; (3) George, who became the tenth of Balnagowan; (4) Catherine, who was the second wife of Robert Munro of Foulis, and was tried for witchcraft; (5) Agnes and (6) Christian, who married Kenneth MacKenzie third of Dochmaluak. By his second wife, Catherine daughter of Kenneth MacKenzie of Kintail, there were two sons: (1) Nicholas, who became the first laird of Pitcalnie and also generated three further cadet branches of Clan Ross (the Rosses of Kindeace, Invercastley and Calrossie), and (2) Malcolm, who died without issue. Chief Alexander Ross died at Ardmore in 1592, and was buried at Fearn.

George Ross, tenth Laird of Balnagowan, became chief of the numerically largest clan in the Highlands. Educated at St. Andrew's, he was the first of the Chiefs of Clan Ross to obtain a university education. In spite of this, George proved to be almost as wild and lawless as his father, in as much as he was charged with high treason, denounced as a rebel and censured for raiding neighbouring properties. His first marriage to Marion Campbell of Cawdor produced a son and four daughters; son David became the next Laird of Balnagowan. Chief George died in 1615 and left his estate burdened with debts.

David Ross, eleventh Laird of Balnagowan was more law-abiding than his predecessors. His first wife, Lady Mary Gordon of Sutherland, died without issue. His second marriage to Lady Annabella Murray of Tullibardine produced an only son David, who succeeded as twelfth Laird of Balnagowan. In 1615, Chief David was honoured in having the Balnagowan estates erected into a Barony for managing in an efficient manner and gaining the respect of his crofters. He died in 1632, and was buried in the family vault in Fearn Abbey.

David Ross, twelfth Baron of Balnagowan, was quite young when he inherited the estates, but he was quick to suppress crime in Ross-shire. At his own expense, David raised a regiment of 800 men of Ross for the Scottish army in order to reinstate King Charles II, but they were defeated by Cromwell at the battle of Worcester in 1651 and members of the clan were either slain or taken prisoner to be sold as slaves. The considerable expense of outfitting his regiment with weapons and the red Ross tartan trews left David's estates in greater debt than before. He died after two years of imprisonment in the Tower of London, and he was buried at Westminster on December 29, 1653. David had married Marie, the eldest daughter of Lord Fraser of Lovat, leaving as issue: (1) David, who became the last laird of Balnagowan; (2) Alexander, who died at 20; (3) Isobell, and (4) Catherine, who married John Mackenzie, fourth of Inveraul.

David Ross, thirteenth and last Chief of the Balnagowan estates, was only nine when his father died, and David Ross of Pitcalnie was appointed his legal guardian. David obtained the favour of King William of Orange, and was appointed Sheriff of Ross and governor of Inverness. He built a new wing during his residence at Balnagowan Castle, but the debts of the family had increased so much that he had to mortgage the lands he owned. In disposing of his properties, David also relinquished any claim to the already forfeited Earldom of Ross in favour of William twelfth Lord Ross of Hawkhead. There were no children from his marriage to Lady Anne Stewart, daughter of the Earl of Moray, so the Stewarts and the unrelated Rosses of Hawkhead began scheming to possess the lands and Castle of Balnagowan before his death in 1711.


The sources for this chapter have included The Great Clan Ross by Dr. John Robert Ross and other general references. The fraudulent and "nominal" possession of the Chiefship and Estates between 1711 and 1903 is documented in Dr. Ross's book for those who are interested. The unrelated Rosses of Hawkhead eventually gained the respect of the clan. Sir John Lockhart-Ross (whose family adopted the name of Ross) was the first laird to introduce the Cheviot sheep and have his tenants forcibly evicted; I would recommend The Highland Clearances by John Prebble for an informative understanding of this period in Clan Ross history. Respect is accorded by Dr. John Robert Ross to Sir Charles Henry Augustus Frederick Lockhart-Ross, the inventor of the "Ross rifle", which (with modifications) was approved for use by Canadian forces during World War I.

. . . TO BE CONTINUED . . .

© J. Douglas Ross