Fearchar Mac an t-Sagairt, Earl of Ross

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Farquhar MacTaggart (Mac an t-Sagairt), 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", "Ferquhard", "Ferquard", "Farquhar"
Birthplace: Ross-Shire, Scotland
Death: February 01, 1257 (66-87)
Cromarty, Ross & Cromarty, Scotland
Place of Burial: Highland, Scotland, United Kingdom
Immediate Family:

Son of The Priest "An Sagart" O'Beolan and The mother of Fearchar, Earl of Ross
Husband of Lady MacTaggart
Father of Malcolm Mac Taggart; Christina MacTaggart, Queen of Mann and the Isles; Euphemia MacTaggart and William I, 2nd Earl of Ross

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

About Fearchar Mac an t-Sagairt, 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.

However, despite "Ross" being a word describing the land the Earls managed (hence the Earl of Ross), Sir Robert Gordon (Earldom of Sutherland, P.36) states the Earls of Ross were first of the surname Ó Beólláin, and then were Leslies…) and continues on page 46 they are called by the surname Ó Beólláin through 1333 when "Hugh Beolan, Earl of Ross" is recorded as one of the slain at the battle of Halidon Hill. The surname remains as the surname of the Earls of Ross from Uilleam Ó Beólláin I, Earl of Ross until the death of Uilleam Ó Beólláin III, Earl of Ross in 1372 when his daughter, Euphemia I, Countess of Ross married to Sir Walter Leslie. Ross became the surname of the Earls of Ross much later in the history of the Earldom (much like the name "Windsor" is also used as the 20th century surname for the Royal Family). {it was the 4th Earl of Ross that 1st took on the Surname Ross.}


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 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)



I. Ferquhard Mac Taggart,(d-142) Earl of Ross [S.], is traditionally said to have been lay priest or abbott of Applecross, co. Ross. In 1215 "Machentagar" defeated an incursion into Moray under Donald Bane and others, and on 15 June delivered the leaders' heads, in token of his success, to the new king Alexander II, who knighted him.(f-142) Later, possibly before 12 Dec. 1225,(g-142) as Ferquhard Ros, he was cr. EARL OF ROSS. Some time before 1230,(h-142) he founded the Abbey of Fearn, in Mid-Fearn, parish of Edderton, later removed to the parish of Fearn.(i-142) In 1235 _Comes Rossensis nomine Mackinsagart_ again rendered notable service to the King in Galloway, by taking a force of rebels in the rear, and putting them to flight.(j-142) In 1237 he witnessed the agreement between Henry III and Alexander II at York; and in 1244 was one of the magnates [S.] who, with the King, notified the Pope of their treaty with England.(k-142) He d. in Jan. 1250/1, at Tain, and is said to have been bur. in the abbey of Fearn.(a-143)

  • (d-142) More accurately Fearchar Mac an t’sagart, i.e. the son of the priest. Ross was later adopted as the surname of the family, “as best answering the English tongue” (Macdonald, _Hist. of the Macdonalds_, in _Highland Papers_, Scottish Hist. Soc., vol. i, p. 34).
  • (e-142) MacPhail (_Highland Papers_, voi. ii, p. 238) says that the north part of Argyll seems to have belonged to the lay abbots of Applecross, and that Farquhar’s ancestral territory appears to have become, and remained, part of the Earldom of Ross; the grant to Randolph of the Earldom of Moray says: _usque ad marchias borealis Ergadie que est camitis de Ros_. _Cf. Origines Parochiales Scotie_ (Bannatyne Club), vol. ii, p. 485.
  • (f-142) _Chron. de .Mailros_, p. 117.
  • (g-142) _Reg. Mag. Sig._ [S.], 1306-1424, App. ii, no. 1. The Scots Peerage cites a reference by C. F. Mackintosh (_Antiquarian Notes_) to a confirmation by King Alexander, 12 Dec. in the 12th year of his reign, of a grant by Malcolm, son of Farquhard, Earl of Ross. If this was Alexander II, it proves that the Earldom of Ross was cr. before 12 Dec. 1225; if Alexander III (as is more probable), its date is 1260. He appears as Earl of Ross in a writ [? after 1226] (_Reg. Moraviense_, Bannatyne Club, p. 333).
  • (h-142) When the 1st abbot was installed.
  • (i-142) The _Statistical Account of Scotland_ (1792), vol. iv, p. 292, remarks: “The abbot’s income behoved to be very considerable, as his lands and thirlage now amount to above £900 stirling.”
  • (j-142) _Chron. de Mailros_, p. 145.
  • (k-142) _Fœdera_, vol. i, p. 234; M. Paris, _Chron. Maj._, Rolls Ser., vol. iv, p. 383.
  • (a-143) _Breve Cron. of the Erllis of Ross_ (Glasgow Arch. Soc. _Transactions_, N.S., vol. vii, p. 319; _Scots Peerage_, vol. vii, p. 232). His da. Christine is said to have been 3rd wife of Olaf, King of Man and the Isles (_Chron. Regum Man._, Langebek, _Scriptores_, vol. iii, p. 228).

[Ref: CP XI:142-3]

I. Ferquhard, first Earl of Ross, who is said to have been Ferquhard Macintagart, son of the lay parson of the territory of the monastery of Applecross, which had passed into the hands of a family of lay abbots called Sagarts or Priests of Applecross, and he was therefore a powerful Highland chief .(5-231) When Alexander II., soon after his accession, was forced, in 1215, to suppress an insurrection in Moray and Ross, Ferquhard, siding with him, seized the insurgent leaders, beheaded them, and presented their heads to the King, 15 June 1215, and was knighted by him.(1-231) He was, at a later date, created Earl of Ross, appearing as such in a writ dated probably after June 1226.(2-231) The charter was at one time upon record, but the roll is now lost.(3-231) He may have been Earl in 1225, but this is not certain. He founded the Abbey of Ferne, in the parish of Edderton, some time before 1230,(4-231) the first Abbot being installed in that year. In 1235 he greatly assisted King Alexander II. in suppressing the insurrection in Galloway.(5-231) In 1237 he was witness to an agreement between the Kings of England and Scotland, in presence of Odo, the Legate.(6-231) Dominus Fercardus, Comes de Ross, is a witness to a composition between Andrew, Bishop of Murray, and Walter Cumyn, Earl of Menteith, concerning the lands of Kincardine in 1234,(7-231) to a composition between the Chapter of Moray and Alexander de Stryvelene concerning the half davach of land in Devath in 1234;(8-231) and in 1244 he was one of those who informed the Pope of the treaty of peace made with the King of England.(9-231) He died about 1251, and was buried in the Abbey he had founded, where the stone effigy of a warrior is said to mark his grave. He had:—

  1. William, his successor.
  2. Malcolm, named in a confirmation by King Alexander of the donation made by Malcolm, son of Ferquhard, Earl of Ross, to William de Byset of the lands Craigarn, 24 December and twelfth of reign.(10-231)
  3. Euphemia, married to Walter de Moravia, knight, Lord of Duffus, 1224-62.
  4. Christina, said to have been third wife of Olaus, fifth King of Man and the Isles, who died 1237.
  • (5-230) Skene's _Celtic Scotland_, i. 482, 483. It was probably to his family that the patronymic 'Ghilleandrias' applied. In another place he is said to be of the Celtic family of O'Beolan; __Collectanea de Rebus Albanicis_, 304.
  • (1-231) _Chron. de Mailros_, 117.
  • (2-231) _Reg. Moraviense_, 333, cf . 77, 78.
  • (3-231) Cf . _Antiquarian Notes_, by C. F. Mackintosh.
  • (4-231) The Abbey was, not long after its foundation, removed from its original site to another a few miles distant; hence it was often called Abbacia de Nova Farnia. In 1597 part of the Abbey lands was erected into the temporal lordship of the barony of Geanies, and in 1607 the remaining lands were annexed by Act of Parliament to the Bishopric of Ross; _Statistical Account of Scotland_.
  • (5-231) Fordun à Goodall, ii. 61.
  • (6-231) _Fœdera_, Record ed., i. 233.
  • (7-231)_Registrum, Moraviense_, 99, No. 85.
  • (8-231) _Ibid._, No. 86.
  • (9-231) _Cal. Doc. Scot._, i. No. 1655.
  • (10-231) _Antiquarian Notes_, by C. F. Macintosh, Inverness. The King is not defined in the note of the charter, and the date may either be December 1225 or December 1260.


ID: I18849 Name: Ferquard Mac Taggart Sex: M Birth: in 1st Earl of Ross Death: ABT JAN 1250/51 Reference Number: 18849 Note: Ferquard Mac Taggart, 1st Earl of Ross died circa January 1251. Ferquard Mac Taggart, 1st Earl of Ross gained the title of 1st Earl of Ross.

Family Child William de Ross, 2nd Earl of Ross+ b. b 1251, d. May 1274

Marriage 1 Spouse Unknown

Earl Farquhar (Ferquhard) "1st Earl of Ross" MacTaggart

Born 1170 in Applecross, Ross & Cromarty, Scotlandmap

Son of Malcolm II (Ross MacHeth) Macbeth and Intagart DeRoss

Brother of Donald De Ross

Husband of Margaret MacGillvray — married [date unknown] [location unknown]

Husband of N N O Beolain — married 1224 [location unknown]

Father of William (Ross) de Ross, Christina (Ross) de Ross, Malcolm MacTaggart (Ross) de Ross and Euphemia (Ross) Mactaggart

Died 1251 in Castle of Delney, Tain, Ross & Cromarty, Scotlandmap

Please see this Discussion http://www.geni.com/discussions/152075?msg=1061362 about his father.

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Fearchar Mac an t-Sagairt, Earl of Ross's Timeline

Ross-Shire, Scotland
Ross, Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland
Fearn, Ross and Cromarty, Scotland
Fearn, Ross, Ross And Cromarty, Scotland
February 1, 1257
Age 87
Cromarty, Ross & Cromarty, Scotland
Highland, Scotland, United Kingdom