Fearchar, Earl of Ross

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Farquhar MacTaggart, Earl of Ross

Scots Gaelic: Fearchar mac an t-sagairt O'Beolan, Mormaer na Rois, Latin: Ferkar de Ross, comes de Ross
Also Known As: "Son of the Priest", "Farquhar MacTaggart", "Ferchar", "Machentagard", "Ferquhard MacTaggart", "Fearchar of Ross", "Ferchar mac in tSagairt", "Fearchar Earl of Ross", "son of the priest"
Birthplace: Ross-Shire, Scotland
Death: Died in Cromarty, Ross & Cromarty, Scotland
Place of Burial: Highland, Scotland, United Kingdom
Immediate Family:

Son of "t-sagairt" and The mother of Fearchar, Earl of Ross
Husband of Lady MacTaggart
Father of Christina MacTaggart, Queen of Mann and the Isles; Euphemia MacTaggart; William I, 2nd Earl of Ross and Malcolm MacTaggart

Occupation: Earl (Mormaer) of Ross, Scotland, Warlord
Managed by: Christer Lyrholm
Last Updated:

About Fearchar, Earl of Ross

Farquhar MacTaggart, Earl of Ross

He 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.


The traditional story is that he 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 William Reeves, whom Skene cited. 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.


Scholarly work has led to the conclusion that Farquhar was a native nobleman who benefitted by upholding the interests of the Scottish kings. He emerges 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."

Farquhar's ability to defeat the proven might of the Meic Uilleim and MacHeths together suggests that he 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. 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. Farquhar's power then is not so mysterious.

Promotion to Mormaer

It is possible that he was made Mormaer when the grateful King Alexander II visited Inverness in 1221. 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 Farquhar's initial (as the father of his son Uilleam) appears in a charter, with the style Comes de Ross (i.e. Mormaer of Ross). His initial and comital style also appear in a charter granting some lands to Walter de Moravia, 2nd Lord of Duffus the husband of his wife's sister Euphemia, in a charter dating somewhere between 1224 and 1231.

So did he 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 harnessing organic Gaelic power structures to the political, terminological and ideological framework of the regnum Scottorum.

Farquhar & Scotland

In 1235, it is reported that he 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 Farquhar, who appeared to the rescue with the Men of Ross.

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 mac Uilleim, claimant of the Scottish throne, at the Battle of Mam Garvia, somewhere near Dingwall. In fact, one historian has linked the two events as revenge.

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

Marriages & Family

We know that one of his daughters, called Euphemia, was married 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 his daughters, was married to [http://www.geni.com/people/Olaf-II-Gudrödsson/1341507 Olaf II "The Black" Gudrödsson] the King of Mann and the Isles. If we are to use the chronology of the Chronicles 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. This reminds us that he 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

His 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. 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 he 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.


  • Reeves, William, 'Saint Maelrubha: His History and Churches' (in Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, vol. III (1857–60), 258-96, at pp. 275-6); Skene Celtic Scotland, Vol. II, pp. 483-4.
  • A.O.Anderson, Early Sources, Vol. II, p. 404, with Macdonald, p. 28.


  • 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).
  • McDonald, R. Andrew, Outlaws of Medieval Scotland: Challenges to the Canmore Kings, 1058–1266, East Linton, 2003. ISBN 1862322368 (McDonald, Outlaws of Medieval Scotland)


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Fearchar, Earl of Ross's Timeline

Ross-Shire, Scotland
Age 30
Ross, Scotland
Age 40
Scotland, United Kingdom
Age 50
Fearn, Ross, Ross And Cromarty, Scotland
February 1, 1257
Age 87
Cromarty, Ross & Cromarty, Scotland
Highland, Scotland, United Kingdom