Question 5: A UNIQUE CLAN What is so special or unique about Clan Ross?
1. Early References to the Land and the People (Pre 1100)
The ROSS family first appears in the records of Rosshire where they were recorded as an ancient Rosshire family before the year 1100. A Thane of Ross is mentioned in the Norse legends. Finleigh (Findlaec), an early Mormaer of Ross, was assassinated in 1020 by Maolbride, the Mormaer of Moray, and the men of Ross revenged the murder by locking Maolbride with fifty of his men inside his own castle and setting it on fire twelve years later.
The notable ROSS family is shown in the ancient manuscripts and cartularies as tracing their ancestry to Dalriadian origin. [The most ancient ROSS family Coats of Arms were recorded between the 12th and 15th centuries. Continuous records of the Clan Anrias begin in 1234 with the Celtic O'Beolain Earls of Ross , but the surname of Ross was not taken by this particular family until 1357, when Hugh of Rarichies adopted the name from the County of Ross where he held his estates.]
2. First Clan to be Elevated in Status from the Original 7 Paired Districts
"In a list of hereditary precedence of Scottish Clans and Names deriving from Baronage, Ross is first in precedence, dating from 1160," having been raised from one of the seven paired districts once ruled by Mormaers and Righs. The reason for this outstanding record rests with the actions of King Malcolm IV, who elevated the land of Ross from a "paired district" to its new status, and to Malcolm Macbeth, who was made the first Earl of that territory by the same king. Malcolm was followed by a Countess of Ross, and one may speculate that the O'Beolain succession to the title followed ancient Pictish/Celtic matrilineal rules of tanistry.
3. The Land of Ross is One of the Few Legitimate Counties in Scotland
A few counties such as Sutherland, Ross and Fyfe are true Counties in the sense that the territories were once held by Counts (Comes) or Earls. For the COUNTY of Ross, we may credit Malcolm Macbeth (1160 - 1168), the first Earl of Ross (as named in Bouterwek's edition of the extended Chronicle of Melrose and in the Fraser Chronicles). Other territories were shires (Thaneages or Sheriffdoms, i.e. governed by Thanes or Sheriffs).
4. The Clan Wasn't Named After its Duthus
In his Clans, Septs, and Regiments of the Scottish Highlands, Frank Adams references The Chronicles of Scotland in the claim that King Malcolm III Ceann-mor (1058 - 1093) "did bring about a state of progress wherein the chiefs of tribes came to be named from, or gave their names to, their duthus, and began to use such names". It would appear that exceptional status was accorded to Saint Duthac (or Duthus), said to have been born in Tain, and the last of the Celtic saints of the land of Ross. He was killed in 1088 (probably by the Vikings). The shrine of this martyr was visited by many pilgrims, including the Kings - James IV and V.
In fact, Clan Ross was very closely tied to the land it lived upon, particularly in the stronghold of Easter Ross. The early Picts were seafarers greatly feared by the Romans. Even the O'Beolain Earls of Ross supported their kings with galleys manned by the men of Ross. These people, from the earliest times, were very much aware of the shape of their coastline --- the head of the Teutonic "Ross" or steed. [Even Loch Eye is in the position where it should be.]
5. Use of the name "Ross"
The name of Ross, as applied to the Earls, appears as in the Norman form of de Ros in papers around the time of Robert de Brus. Normanized documents don't aid in clarifying matters, but some documents of the period also refer to William the Ross in the same fashion as King Robert I was called the Bruce. None of the Earls of Ross actually bore the surname of Ross but, when William O'Beolain, the 5th Earl of Ross of his line, died in 1372, his brother, Hugh of Rarichies adopted the name of Ross and became the first of Balnagowan and Chief of Clan Ross. The earlier designation of the Ross, however, suggests the earlier existence of Ross families.
During the years between the introduction of clan names and surnames in the mid to late 11th century and the adoption of the surname Ross by the rightful successor to the earldom in the late 14th century, the men of Ross had distinguished themselves in several battles. Many had obtained status as land owners, sheriffs, merchants and skilled workers. Sons of Highland chiefs were becoming educated at universities. It would be difficult to believe that the surname of Ross had not been used many times during those 300 years, particularly in the stronghold of Easter Ross. It is especially significant that the Rosses would be the most numerous of all clan names over the next 200 years.
A Norman de Ros or de Roos family in Yorkshire moved to Ayrshire. The Halkhead/Hawkhead family of de Ros in Renfrewshire adopted the Celtic name of Ross in 1489 when Sir John Ros (sic) was inserted among the Barons of Parliament as "Lord Ross of Hawkhead". Thus, the Rosses of Balnagowan held title to the first use of the surname in Scotland by a margin of 118 years. After the fall of Balnagowan in 1711, fraudulent claims upon the property were made by a descendant in the Norman family. Clan Ross historians refer to the Hawkhead-Rosses or the Lockhart-Rosses in order to distinguish them from the Rosses with the Pictish/Celtic origins who were named after the land of Ross.
6. As a Clan Represented at the Court of Robert the Bruce
William, the 3rd O'Beolain Earl of Ross and 4th Chief of Ross, was one of two earls present at the Court of Robert the Bruce. The other one was his ward, the Earl of Sutherland. Bruce's first parliament was held at St. Andrews in 1309.
Before the first parliament of Robert the Bruce, William (3rd O'Beolain Earl of Ross) was forced to surrender Bruce's wife and daughter, who had taken sanctuary at the shrine of Saint Duthac. Robert and William were soon reconciled. William's son, Hugh, became married to the king's sister, Princess Maud. Hugh's daughter Euphemia was the second wife of King Robert II the Stewart, the grandson of Robert the Bruce.
7. The Ross Clan had the Largest Population at the First Census
In an Act of Parliament, passed in 1587, all Highland clans were specifically listed. In that year, the Rosses were the most numerous of the family names in the Highlands and outnumbered all of the other clans. The majority of the population of the county of Ross considered themselves to belong to the family of Rosses of Balnagowan, descendants of the ancient Earls of Ross.
In the 1845 Statistical Account, under the heading of Tain, the record states,"Most of the landowners, and in truth most of the people, bore the name of Ross; or, to speak more correctly, almost everybody possesses two surnames, by one of which (in general a patronymic beginning with Mac) he was universally known in conversation, though he deemed himself called upon to change it to Ross, or sometimes to Munro, whenever he acquired any status in society, or became able to write his name... When the by-names of those who had risen in society had been forgotten, it became absolutely necessary to invent others to distinguish the multitudes of Rosses and Munros."
8. Historical Involvement in Declarations Involving Individual Rights
The topic has been fully covered in this section for FAQs, but serves to emphasize the unique contributions of the clan.