Fearchar, Earl of Ross

Fearchar of Ross or Ferchar mac in tSagairt (Fearchar mac an t-sagairt, often anglicized as Farquhar MacTaggart), was the first Mormaer or Earl of Ross (1223-1251) we know of from the thirteenth century, whose career brought Ross into the fold of the Scottish kings for the first time, and who is remembered as the founder of the Earldom of Ross.

Enlarge picture
Hutton's sketch of Ferchar's tomb, Fearn Abbey, 1819.


The traditional story is that Fearchar was part of the ancient family who provided the hereditary lay abbots of Applecross. This idea goes back to the work of the great William F. Skene, and indeed, even before him, with W. Reeves, whom Skene cited.[1] The historian Alexander Grant has recently challenged this theory, arguing that the evidence for this origin is far too thin to contradict the intuitive and well attested idea that he came from Easter Ross. Grant takes up the idea instead that mac an t-Sacairt (= Son of the Priest') probably refers to a background as keeper of the shrine to St Duthac, at Tain, Scotland.[2]


Scholarly work on Fearchar has led to the conclusion that Fearchar was a native nobleman who benefitted by upholding the interests of the King of Scots.[3] Fearchar emerges from nothingness in 1215, as the local warlord who crushed a large-scale revolt against the Scottish king, Alexander II. The Chronicle of Melrose reported that :

"Machentagar attacked them and mightily overthrew the king's enemies; and he cut off their heads and presented them as gifts to the new king ... And because of this, the lord king appointed him a new knight."[4]

Fearchar's ability to defeat the proven might of the Meic Uilleim and MacHeths together suggests that Fearchar could command large military resources, and as McDonald points out, this can hardly be entirely explained by his background as a hereditary priest from Tain.[5] However, it should be remembered that the Scottish kings themselves were hardly without authority in Ross, and their position could command social power even in this distant land, something proved by the MacWilliams, whose authority depended on their descent from a Scottish king. Fearchar's power then is not so mysterious.

Promotion to Mormaer

It is possible that Fearchar was made Mormaer when the grateful King Alexander II visited Inverness in 1221.[6] Macdonald, however, gives some reasons why this might be a little early; around 1226 is a more likely date, but he was almost certainly Mormaer by 1230, and definitely by 1232, the year in which Fearchar's initial (as the father of his son Uilleam) appears in a charter, with the style Comes de Ross (i.e Mormaer of Ross). Fearchar's initial and comital style also appear in a charter granting some lands to Walter de Moravia, a charter dating somewhere between 1224 and 1231.[7]

So did Fearchar appear from nowhere as a "novus homo"? The facts are that we do not know what happened to the Mormaerdom of Ross after the death, in 1168, of the last known Mormaer, Malcolm MacHeth. We might compare Ross with other Mormaerdoms, such as Lennox and Carrick, in which these apparently new Mormaerdoms were merely de iure royal grants to native lords who already possessed kinship leadership and de facto status as provincial rulers. In this view, conferring this style was simply an act of harnassing organic Gaelic power structures to the political, terminological and ideological framework of the regnum Scottorum.

Fearchar & Scotland

In 1235, it is reported that Fearchar was active in Galloway. The Revolt of Gille Ruadh in Galloway in 1234/5 required a large-scale levying by the Scottish king. King Alexander invaded Galloway, and Gille Ruadh ambushed the royal army, almost bringing it to destruction. However the Scottish King was saved by Fearchar, who appeared to the rescue with the Men of Ross.[8]

The defeat of the rebellious Galwegians by another peripheral Gaelic lord in the service of the Scottish King had been paralled in 1187, when Lochlann, Lord of Galloway defeated the rebellious Domnall Bán mac Uilleim, claimant of the Scottish throne, at Mam Garvia, somewhere near Dingwall. In fact, one historian has linked the two events as revenge.[9]

Fearchar was also recorded as being present at the negotiations which led to the Treaty of York, signed in 1237

Marriages & Family

We know that Fearchar married one of his daughters, called Euphemia, to Walter de Moravia, a magnate who ruled Duffus. Walter's family were of Flemish origin, and had been planted in Moray by the Scottish crown as agents of royal authority, but were steadily building an independent power-base. Christina, another of Fearchar's daughters, was married to Amlaibh, the King of Mann. If we are to use the chronology of the Chronicle of Mann, this happened sometime before 1223, but after 1188. Such a move is not surprising, as the Manx king ruled over the isle of Skye.[10] This reminds us that Fearchar was not merely a slavish Scottish magnate with narrow local aspirations, but an ambitious Gaelic warlord with greater regional goals in the Norse-Gaelic world of the Irish Sea, the world of Alan, Lord of Galloway and the Manx kings.

Church Patronage

Fearchar's wider connections are further illustrated by his religious patronage. In the 1220s he granted the Premonstratensian Order (perhaps the most modern one about) of Whithorn in Galloway a new monastery at Mid Fearn in Ross, moving it a decade later to New Fearn.[11] They brought with them some relics of St Ninian too, which is why to this day Fearn Abbey is associated with that saint. Such a move was hardly surprising, since all aspiring magnates needed their own monastery.


We simply do not know the precise year in which Fearchar died. The traditional date, 1251, is based on the date given in the spurious Ane Breve Cronicle of the Erllis of Ross. The latter gives his birth place as Tain. Despite the unreliability of this source and date, he was certainly dead by the 1250s, when his son appears as Mormaer in his own right.[12]


1. ^ Reeves, "Saint Maelrubha" pp. 275-6; Skene Celtic Scotland, Vol. II, pp. 483-4 .
2. ^ Grant, "The Province of Ross", p. 121.
3. ^ e.g. McDonald, "Old and new", p. 24.
4. ^ A.O.Anderson, Early Sources, Vol. II, p. 404, with Macdonald, p. 28.
5. ^ MacDonald, p. 29.
6. ^ Grant, p. 122.
7. ^ For all this, see McDonald, pp. 30-3.
8. ^ Anderson, Vol. II, p. 476.
9. ^ e.g. Brooke, Wild Men & Holy Places, p. 136.
10. ^ McDonald, p. 39
11. ^ McDonald, p. 41.
12. ^ McDonald, p. 42.


  • Anderson, Alan Orr, Early Sources of Scottish History: AD 500-1286, 2 Vols (Edinburgh, 1922)
  • Brooke, Daphne, Wild Men and Holy Places, (Edinburgh, 1994)
  • Grant, Alexander, "The Province of Ross and the Kingdom of Alba" in E.J. Cowan and R.Andrew McDonald (eds.) Alba: Celtic Scotland in the Medieval Era", (Edinburgh, 2000)
  • McDonald, R. Andrew, "Old and new in the far North: Ferchar Maccintsacairt and the early earls of Ross" in Steve Boardman and Alasdair Ross (eds.) The Exercise of Power in Medieval Scotland, c.1200-1500, (Dublin/Portland, 2003)
  • Reeves, W., "Saint Maelrubha, his history and churches" in Proceedings of the Antiquaries of Scotland, III, 258-96
  • Roberts, John L., Lost Kingdoms: Celtic Scotland in the Middle Ages, (Edinburgh, 1997)
  • Skene, William Forbes, Celtic Scotland: A History of Ancient Alban, Vol. II: Church and Culture, (1877).

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Preceded by
Mormaer of Ross
Succeeded by
Uilleam I

Anglicisation or anglicization (see -ise vs -ize) is a process of making something English.[1]

The term most often refers to the process of altering the pronunciation or spelling of a foreign word when it is borrowed into English.
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The title of Mormaer designates a regional or provincial ruler in the medieval Kingdom of the Scots. In theory, although not always in practice, a Mormaer was second only to the King of Scots, and the senior of a toisech.
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Earl or Jarl was an Anglo-Saxon and Scandinavian title meaning "chieftain" and referring especially to chieftains set to rule a territory in a king's stead. In Scandinavia, it became obsolete in the Middle Ages and was replaced with duke (hertig/hertug
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Mormaer or Earl of Ross refers to the leader of a medieval Gaelic lordship in northern Scotland, roughly between the Oykell and the Beauly. Initially, it was probably confined entirely to Easter Ross to an area between the Dornoch Firth and the Cromarty Firth, i.e.
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As a means of recording the passage of time, the 13th century was that century which lasted from 1201 to 1300. In the history of European culture, this period is considered part of the High Middle Ages, and after its conquests in Asia the Mongol Empire stretched from Korea to
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Ross (Ros in Scottish Gaelic) is a region of Scotland and a former mormaerdom, earldom, sheriffdom and county. The name Ross allegedly derives from a Gaelic word meaning a headland - perhaps a reference to the Black Isle.
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Mormaer or Earl of Ross refers to the leader of a medieval Gaelic lordship in northern Scotland, roughly between the Oykell and the Beauly. Initially, it was probably confined entirely to Easter Ross to an area between the Dornoch Firth and the Cromarty Firth, i.e.
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Applecross peninsula ( A' Chomraich in Gaelic ) is a peninsula in Wester Ross, Highland, on the west coast of Scotland. The name Applecross is at least 1300 years old and is not used locally to refer to the 19th century village with the pub and post office, lying on
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William Forbes Skene (7 June, 1809– 29 August, 1892), Scottish historian and antiquary, was the second son of Sir Walter Scott's friend, James Skene (1775–1864), of Rubislaw, near Aberdeen, and was born on June 7 1809.
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Easter Ross is a loosely defined area in the east of Ross, Highland, Scotland.

The name is used in the constituency name Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross, which is the name of both a British House of Commons constituency and a Scottish Parliament constituency.
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Saint Duthac, or Duthus (1000-1065), is the patron saint of Tain in Scotland.

According to the Breviary of Aberdeen, Duthac was a native Scot. Tradition has it that Duthac was educated in Ireland and died in Tain.
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Gaelic - Baile Dhubhthaich
Scots - Tain

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monarch of Scotland was the head of state of the Kingdom of Scotland. According to tradition, the first King of Scots was Kenneth MacAlpin (Cináed mac Ailpín), who founded the state in 843, although this is no longer taken seriously by historians.
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Alexander III
King of Scots

Reign July 6, 1249 – 19 March, 1286
Born 4 September 1241(1241--)
Died March 19 1286 (aged 46)
Buried Dunfermline Abbey

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The Meic Uilleim (MacWilliams) were the Gaelic descendants of William fitz Duncan, grandson of Máel Coluim mac Donnchada, king of Scots. They were excluded from the succession by the descendants of Máel Coluim's son David I during the 12th century and raised a number of
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The MacHeths were a Gaelic kindred who raised several rebellions against the Scotto-Norman kings of Scotland in the 12th and 13th centuries. Their origins have long been debated.


The main controversy concerning the MacHeths is their origin.
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Gaelic - Inbhir Nis

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Uilleam I of Ross was the first successor of Ferchar mac an tSagairt, as Mormaer of Ross, with his comital dates traditionally given as 1251-1274.

Uilleam appears as early as 1232, witnessing a charter as the son of Ferchar.
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For other uses of charter, see Charter (disambiguation).

A charter is a document bestowing certain rights on a town, city, university, land or institution; sometimes used as a loan of money.
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Novus homo (or: homo novus, Latin for "new man"; plural novi homines) was the term in ancient Rome for a man who was the first in his family to serve in the Roman Senate or, more specifically, to be elected as consul.
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