Origins of the Clan
Clan Ross is a Highland Scottish clan first named as such by King Malcolm IV of Scotland in 1160. The first of the chiefs was Fearchar, Earl of Ross from the O’Beolain family, also known as ‘Fearchar Mac-an-t-sagairt’ (meaning “son of the priest”) of Applecross.
Ferquhard Ross helped King Alexander II of Scotland (1214 - 1249) crush a rebellion in Moray and Ross-shire. When King Alexander II ascended to the throne, a rebellion broke out in Moray and western Ross-shire, whose Celtic population were opposed to the laws and customs of the south. The King marched northwards with his army but was unable to crush the insurgents from Ross and Moray. However, Fearchar, Earl of Ross, with a large body of men from his own clan and his allies, appeared on the scene and soon wiped out all opposition to the King’s authority. Fearchar brought the King the heads of the rebel leaders and was knighted on 15 June 1215. He was created Earl of Ross in about 1234.
Clan Ross fought at the Battle of Largs in 1263 in support of Alexander III of Scotland against King Haakon IV of Norway. The Norwegian forces were defeated by the victorious Scots.
Wars of Scottish Independence
During the Wars of Scottish Independence the Clan Ross fought against the English at the Battle of Dunbar (1296) where their chief, the Earl of Ross was captured. This meant that for a short time Uilleam II, Earl of Ross sided with the English but he later supported Robert the Bruce of Scotland. The Clan Ross fought alongside King Robert the Bruce when Earl Fearchar’s grandson William led the clan against the English at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314. Aodh, the 5th earl, was killed at the Battle of Halidon Hill in 1333, and his successor William died without male issue. The earldom of Ross and the chiefship of Clan Ross were then separated:
15th Century & Clan Conflicts
The chiefship of the Clan Ross passed to Earl William’s brother Hugh Ross of Rariches, who was granted a charter, in 1374, for the lands of Balnagowan. The Rosses of Balnagowan held the chiefship for 300+ years. David, the last of that direct line, passed the chiefship to the Hon. Charles Ross, son of Lord Ross of Hawkhead, Renfrewshire, although they were not connected by blood.
The earldom of Ross passed through a female line, and that later led to dispute between two rival claimants — the Lord of the Isles and the Duke of Albany. This resulted in the Battle of Harlaw 1411, where the Clan Ross fought as Highlanders in support of the Lord of the Isles against an army of Scottish Lowlanders who supported the Duke of Albany.
The title reverted to the crown in 1424. King James I of Scotland restored the title to Margaret, whose son was Alexander, 3rd Lord of the Isles. The earldom of Ross remained with the Lord of the Isles until that lordship was forfeited to the crown in 1476.
The Rosses took part in the Battle of Verneuil 1424, against the English in France. On the death of the Earl of Buchan and Ross, at that battle, the Earldom of Ross reverted to the crown. James I on his return from his long captivity in England, restored it to the heiress of line, the mother of Alexander, Lord of the Isles.
At the Battle of Tarbat, 1486, Angus Roy Mackay was overthrown and slain at Tarbet Church by the Clan Ross. The MacKays and Rosses had long feuded. Again and again the Rosses had suffered attacks on their lands from their enemies and when at last, driven to desperation and thoroughly infuriated, they gathered their forces and marched against the Mackay Chief, they were in the mood to teach the MacKays a severe lesson. The Mackays, with Angus of Strathnaver at their head, finding themselves fiercely attacked and being defeated by the Rosses, sought shelter in the church of Tarbat. There many were slain, and the church being set on fire, Angus Mackay and many of his clansmen were burnt to ashes.
Battle of Auldicharish, 1487, to take revenge on the Clan Ross, chief Ian MacKay of Strathnaver, also helped by a force from the Clan Sutherland marched south invading the territory of Clan Ross and began laying waste to it. Chief Alistair Ross gathered his forces of 2000 men and engaged in a long and desperate battle with the invading forces. In the end the battle went against the Rosses with the MacKays and Sutherlands gaining the upper hand. The Ross chief was killed along with many of his clan. Amongst the dead “gentlemen” of the province were Angus MacCulloch of Tarell, Alexander Tarell, William Ross of Little Allan, John Vass, Thomas Vass, Hugh Vass, John Mitchell and William Ross. After this the Clan Ross took many years to recover their once large numbers of fighting men.
Within a few years the MacKays were raiding Ross lands once again and more blood was shed. In 1496 the King summoned chiefs David Ross and Iye Roy MacKay. He ordered them to appear before the Earl of Argyll who was then the Lord High Chancellor of Scotland and make peace, on the understanding that should they not be peacful that they would be fined 500 merks. The MacKays continued to raid the Rosses and it would appear the civil authority was too feeble to stop them. However the MacKays soon became involved in feuding with the Clan Sutherland and raids on the Rosses did not continue.
16th Century & Anglo-Scottish Wars
During the Anglo-Scottish Wars, John Ross, Lord of Halkhead, died when leading his forces against the English at the Battle of Flodden Field on September the 9th, 1513. Fought in the county of Northumberland, in northern England, between an invading Scots army under King James IV and an English army commanded by Thomas Howard, Earl of Surrey. It ended in a bloody defeat for the Scots. It is sometimes referred to as the Charge of the Earls.
Chief Alexander Ross 9th of Balnagowan (d.1592) is recorded as being a man of violence, utterly unscrupulous, given to raiding lands and forcing his clansmen to draw out agreements in his favour with total disregard for the law. Soon he was imprisoned in Tantallon Castle. Later he was released on the condition that he would live peacefully but he did not. His own son George was given permission to use fire and sword against him but Alexander could not be brought in. Alexander died in 1592.
17th Century & Civil War
George 10th of Balnagowan was educated at St Andrew’s University, the first Ross chief to receive university education. However, he became as notorious as his father and died in 1615. His son David 11th of Balnagowan was a more peace- and law-abiding chief than his father and grandfather. David died in 1632 and his son, also called David, succeeded him.
David Ross 12th of Balnagowan signed the National Covenant at Inverness on 26 April 1638. He later joined the royalists for a short time only to become a covenanter again and was present at the defeat of James Graham, 1st Marquess of Montrose in 1650.
During the Civil War at the Battle of Carbisdale the Clan Ross and Clan Munro fought on the side of the Scottish Government, then led by the Duke of Argyll. In 1650 James Graham, 1st Marquess of Montrose, who was a Royalist, and his invading army of foreigners, mainly Germans and Danes, landed in Easter Ross. The Munros and Rosses had initially indicated that they would join him and arranged to meet him at a specified location; he waited two days for them but the Rosses and Munros did not turn up as they had actually taken the side of the Scottish Government, along with Clan Sutherland. A day later the battle took place in Scroggie Wood. The Germans and Danes fought gallantly deeper and deeper into the wood but they were losing the battle and in the end the need for self-preservation took over and those that were left attempted to flee. Montrose’s force of cavalry also fought bravely but were soon overwhelmed. History records that the bloodshed in the wood continued for over two hours and even after the battle ended, the slaughter did not cease, for the clansmen of Ross-shire continued the killing of the escaped from the battle for many days thereafter. Shortly after Montrose’s death the Scottish Covenanter Government became disillusioned with the English parliament and decided to support the Royalists instead.
David Ross, 12th of Balnagowan later led some of the clan at the Battle of Worcester in 1651 where he was captured and imprisoned at the Tower of London. He is said to have died there in 1653 and been buried in Westminster.
In 1689 100 men of the Clan Ross occupied Castle Leod to watch for movements of the Jacobite MacKenzies.
18th Century Jacobite Uprisings & War in France
1715 - 1719 Jacobite Uprisings
Clan Ross supported the Hanoverian Government during the Jacobite uprisings. In 1715 The Earl of Seaforth led a force of 3000 men headed by the Clan MacKenzie which also included men from the Clan MacDonald, Clan MacKinnon, Clan MacRae and the Clan Chisholm. He was opposed by Colonel Sir Robert Munro of Foulis who had formed a camp at the Bridge of Alness with 600 men, which also included men from the Clan Ross. Munro had sent many of his own men south to protect the lands of the Clan Forbes of Culloden from the Jacobites. Munro was soon joined by the Earl of Sutherland and the Chief of Clan MacKay who both brought with them only a portion of their clans. As a result of underestimating the strength of the enemy the government force totalled just 1800 and expected support from the Clan Grant did not arrive. The Earl of Seaforth’s forces advanced on the Sutherland’s camp who made a quick retreat to avoid contact with their more powerful foe. Soon afterwards a council of war was held between the two sides and the Sutherlanders and MacKays peacefully moved back north to their own territory, while much of the Ross’s and Munro’s lands were ravaged.
The clan rivalries which had erupted in rebellion were finding an outlet in local politics. The MacKenzie’s Earl of Seaforth came to an end in 1716, and it seems to have been arranged that while the Clan Ross held the county seat the Munros would represent the Tain Burghs. To secure the burghs, control of three out of the five was necessary. The Ross ascendancy was secure in Tain, and from 1716 to 1745 the Munros controlled Dingwall. In 1719 some men from the Clan Ross fought for the government at the Battle of Glen Shiel where the Jacobites were defeated.
In 1720 a force of men from the Clan Ross, led by chief William Ross 6th of the Pitcalnie line and his brother Robert went on a rent collecting expedition into the lands of the MacKenzies. They were confronted by a force of 300 men from the Clan MacKenzie and Clan MacRae, led by a Colonel Donald Murchison. The Rosses were outnumbered and after a short battle some discussion took place between the two sides and the Rosses withdrew realising that further resistance was useless. The next day chief William Ross died of his wounds. His nephew William, son of Robert Ross was also wounded but survived.
War in France
Col. Charles, 13th Lord Ross of Hawkhead and 15th of Balnagowan was killed in 1745 leading some members of the clan at the Battle of Fontenoy fighting against the French on 30 April 1745. Balnagowan passed to George, 13th Lord Ross, in 1745. William, 14th Lord Ross, died unmarried, and Balnagowan then passed to Sir James Lockhard, 2nd Baronet of Carstairs.
1745 - 1746 Jacobite Uprising
During the Jacobite Risings in the County of Ross, although from the Pitcalnie line, the nominal 18th Chief of Clan Ross was Alexander Ross of Pitcalnie. He was a staunch Protestant, somewhat more tolerant of Jacobites than his father but definitely pro-Hanoverian. In addition, Alexander’s uncle, Duncan Forbes of Culloden, was Lord President of the Court of Session for King George II of Great Britain’s government in London. Duncan Forbes and Alexander Ross the Pitcalnie chief raised a Ross Independent Company to garrison Inverness Castle against the Jacobites.
The McFarquhars of Redcastle brought a strong Jacobite contingent from the Black Isle to join the forces of the Earl of Cromarty and a rebel, John Ross joined them. Prior to the Battle of Culloden on April 16, 1746, several forays were undertaken and on the day before the battle, about 200 of the McFarquhar’s Jacobite force were ambushed by Scots, loyal to the government, between Skelbo Castle and Dunrobin Castle in Caithness. Only one-tenth at the most escaped to equally perilous Sutherland. John Ross escaped to Sutherland but was first to be put on a list of rebels. However, apart from this individual the Clan Ross on the whole supported the government.
The chiefship of Clan Ross devolved upon Ross of Pitcalnie, heir of David who was the last of the direct line of Balnagowan. Sir John, the 5th baronet, assumed the name “Ross” and then, after Carstairs was sold in 1762, the designation “of Balnagowan.”
Name of Clan Ross Chief
Fearchar, Earl of Ross (Fequhard 1st Earl of Ross)
Crushed a rebellion in Moray and Ross, brought the King the heads of the rebel leaders and was knighted on 15 June 1215.
Uilleam I, Earl of Ross (William 2nd Earl of Ross)
Justiciar of Scotland, North. Dau of William Comyn, Earl of Buchan.
Uilleam II, Earl of Ross (William 3rd Earl of Ross)
Changed sides during the Wars of Independence, his son Walter fought at Bannockburn for Scotland.
Aodh, Earl of Ross (Hugh 4th Earl of Ross)
A favorite of King Robert the Bruce. Married the Bruce’s sister, Matilda.
Uilleam III, Earl of Ross
(William 5th Earl of Ross)
The last Chief of Clan Ross that was also Earl of Ross.
Uilleam married the daughter of Angus Og of Islay, Lord of the Isles. Had a daughter Euphemia I, Countess of Ross (6th Earl of Ross but not Chief of Clan Ross).
Euphemia first married Alexander Leslie then divorced. She later married Alexander Stuart. Her child called Alexander Leslie from her first marriage took over as Earl of Ross when she died in 1398.
Alexander Leslie (7th Earl of Ross but not Chief of Clan Ross) married Isabel, daughter of Robert Stuart the Earl of Fife and Duke of Albany.
Their second daughter Mary married MacDonald, Lord of the Isles, he then claimed right as the Earl of Ross through marriage. The Earldom of Ross would later pass from the Macdonalds to the Stuarts and did not return to the Clan Ross Chief.
Hugh Ross of Rarichies later the 1st of Balnagowan.
Hugh Ross of Rarichies who later became the 1st of Balnagowan was descended from Aodh, 4th Earl of Ross. He took over as Chief of the Clan Ross when Uilleam III 5th Earl of Ross died in 1372, however the title of Earl of Ross had gone elsewhere (see above). Hugh Ross married Jean, a daughter of Robert Munro of Foulis.
William Ross 2nd of Balnagowan
Married Catherine, daughter of Paul Macintyre.
Walter Ross 3rd of Balnagowan
Hugh Ross 4th of Balnagowan
Married the daughter of the Earl of Sutherland. The Earl of Sutherland was married to Helen Sinclair. Helen Sinclair was the daughter of the Earl of Orkney.
John Ross 5th of Balnagowan
Married Christian daughter MacLeod of Torquil.
Alexander Ross 6th of Balnagowan
Married Dorothy daughter of Alexander Sutherland. Killed leading the Clan Ross into battle against the Clan MacKay and Clan Sutherland at the Battle of Auldicharish (Battle of Strathcarron).
Sir David Ross 7th of Balnagowan
Married Helen, daughter of Keith of Inverugie.
Walter Ross 8th of Balnagowan
Married Marrion, daughter of Sir John Grant of Freuchie.
Alexander Ross 9th of Balnagowan
Married Janet, daughter of the 3rd Earl of Caithness.
George Ross 10th of Balnagowan
Married Marrion, daughter of Sir John Campbell of Calder. Later married Isobel, daughter of Angus MacKintosh of Torcastle.
David Ross 11th of Balnagowan
Married Mary, daughter of Alexander Earl of Sutherland.
David Ross 12th of Balnagowan
Married Mary, daughter of the 7th Lord Fraser of Lovat. Fought at the Battle of Worcester in 1651 where he led some of the clan, captured and imprisoned at the Tower of London, said to have died there and been buried in Westminster.
David Ross 13th of Balnagowan
Last of Balnagowan O’ Beolain line. Married Anne, daughter of the 4th Earl of Moray. Left his estates to a stranger in blood: Charles Ross.
Lt-General Charles Ross 12th of Hawkhead and 14th of Balnagowan
First of Hawkhead. Also inherited the estates of Balnagowan.
Col. Charles, 13th Lord Ross of Hawkhead and 15th of Balnagowan.
Killed in 1745 leading some members of the clan at the Battle of Fontenoy 30 April 1745.
George, 14th Lord Ross of Hawkhead and 16th of Balnagowan.
Chieftainship passed to Lockhart line of Ross.
William, 15th Lord Ross of Hawkhead and 17th of Balnagowan.
Chieftainship passed to Lockhart line of Ross.
Grizel Lockhart Ross, daughter of William, 12th Lord Ross of Hawkhead
On expiry of the male Ross of Hawkhead line the estates of Balnagowan passed to James Lockhart of Carstairs whose grandfather had married Grizel the daughter of Lt-General Charles Ross 12th of Hawkhead and 14th of Balnagowan. Sir James assumed the name Lockhart-Ross.
Sir William Lockhart-Ross
First of Lockhart line.
Sir James Lockhart-Ross
Second of Lockhart line.
Sir George Lockhart-Ross
Third of Lockhart line.
Admiral Sir John Lockhart-Ross
Fourth of Lockhart line.
Lt. General Sir Charles Lockhart-Ross of Balnagown
Fifth of Lockhart line.
Sir Charles William Augustus Lockhart-Ross of Balnagown
Sixth and last of Lockhart-Ross line.
Ethel Frances Sarah Williamson Ross
The Rosses of Pitcalnie. The Chieftainship of Balnagowan then passed to a line who were direct descendants of Nicholas Ross who was the second son of Chief Alexander Ross 9th of Balnagowan who died in 1592. (The Chieftainship back then had gone to Alexander’s first son George 10th of Balnagowan who died in 1615)
Rosa Williamson Ross
The Rosses of Pitcalnie.
David Campbell Ross
The current Chief of Clan Ross.
The Chieftainship passed to another line of Rosses. The Rosses of Shandwick are direct descendants of William Ross who was killed in battle in 1486. William was the grandson of Hugh Ross the 4th of Balnagowan and the brother of Alexander Ross 6th of Balnagowan.
Gaelic Names: Clann Andrias, Ròs, Ròis.
Origin of name: Ross-shire.
Motto: Spem successus alit (”Success nourishes hope”).
Plant Badge: Juniper.
Pipe Music: The Earl of Ross’s March.
Clan Ross has three tartans:
Red ancient Ross tartan (shown)
Red dress Ross tartan
Green Ross hunting tartan (shown)
(These graphics need to be added)
Clan Ross Today
The Balnagowan estate itself is no longer in Ross hands. It is currently owned by the millionaire Egyptian proprietor Mohammed Al-Fayed of the Harrods department store who has put a lot of money into improving the estate and restoring the castle. The current Chief lives in Perthshire. His son, Hugh lives in Aberdeen with his family: Jennifer, Calum and Catriona Ross.
The seat of the chief of Clan Ross is still at Balnagown Castle. The correct spelling is actually Balnagown (correct locally as in Balnagown Arms, Tain and Ardgay (now defunct Public Houses), or alternatively Balnagowan or Balnagowen.
Other castles that have been held by the Clan Ross include Portencross Castle and Sanquhar Castle
Septs of Clan Ross