The 2nd Statistical Account

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Sir John Sinclair, Baronet of Ulbster in Caithness (Image taken from Raeburn painting) with background of west coast outline

Sir John Sinclair, Baronet of Ulbster in Caithness standing in front of map of Ross and Cromarty



The town of Rosemarkie, though not large, is of considerable antiquity. It was erected into a royal burgh by Alexander, King of Scotland probably Alexander II. About a mile to the west of it stands the town of Chanonry, so called from its being the Chanonry of Ross, where the bishop formerly had his residence, and which is now the Presbytery seat. It is beautifully situated on an elevated plain, commanding an extensive prospect, particularly of the Moray Frith. It was united to the burgh of Rosemarkie by a charter granted by King James II, anno 1444, under the common name of Fortross, now softened into Fortrose, which charter was ratified by King James VI, anno 1592, and confirmed in a still more ample form by the same monarch in the year 1612. These charters bear that it was to be entitled to all the “privileges, liberties, and immunities granted to the town of Inverness”. Fortrose is then spoken of as a town flourishing in the arts and sciences, being at time the seat of divinity, law and physics in this corner of the Kingdom. The Bishop of Ross was originally styled Episopus Rosmarkiensis, and the Cathedral church stood in the town of Chanonry, in a spacious square, where, together with the bishop, resided a number of his clergy, so that there is scarce a house in the burgh but was formerly a manse belonging to some of the Chapter, as appears by the ancient charters and insestments.

The Episcopal see was founded by David I, King of Scotland, but there is no certain account at what period the Cathedral was built, though it is said to have been a fine one, with a lofty steeple. Bishop Leslie also takes notice of the palace, which stood at a little distance from the houses of the canons, and he represents it, in his time, as a splendid and magnificent building. This statement was so confirmed a few years ago, while trenching the field called the “Precincts” where it was said to have stood, by the foundation walls being discovered considerably under the surface, which walls, including the court or area, were found to cover about an acre of ground. Only a small part of the ancient cathedral now remains. This seems to have been a wing that ran from east to west, with an arched roof, about 100 feet in length, and 80 in breadth. It had a communication by entries or porches with the main body of the cathedral. It was preserved and repaired by some of the bishops since the Restoration, as a place for public worship, but it has long since fallen into a state of decay, and is only now used for the purpose of interment. It is highly probable that this cathedral, at the Reformation, had suffered the fate of many others, though it be a current tradition in the place that the greater part of it, together with the Bishop’s Palace, just mentioned, was pulled down in the time of Oliver Cromwell. By his order the stones were carried by sea to Inverness, about the distance of eight miles for erecting a fort there, called “Cromwell’s Fort”, whereof the ditch and traces of the rampart are still discernible. No chartulary belonging to the bishopric has been found in Scotland. It is highly probable that Leslie, the last Popish Bishop of Ross, and the zealous advocate for the unfortunate queen Mary, when he was forced to go abroad, carried all the records of the diocese with him, either to France or to Brussels, where he died, and where these parchments may, still be mouldering in dust and solitude.

No inscriptions are to be found about what remains of the old cathedral worthy of notice, excepting on a large old bell now hung in a small modern spire. It bears the name of Mr Thomas Tulloch as Bishop of Ross, and states that it had been “dedicated to the most holy Mary, and the blessed Boniface, anno Domyny, 1460”. In the direction of the main body of the cathedral, at the east, and detached from its remains, stands a building that was probably the vestry. It contains a vault below, with a strong arched roof, now converted into a prison, and the upper part of it is used as the town-house and council-chamber of the burgh.

St Boniface appears to have been, by every ancient monument, the favourite saint and patron of the place, and his history, according to tradition, is simply this. In the year 693, or, according to others, about the year 697, Boniface, an Italian, a grave and venerable person, came to Scotland to make up our acquaintance with the Church of Rome. He built to the memory of St Peter a church where he landed, at the mouth of a little water, betwixt the shires of Angus and Mearns; erected another church at Felin, a third at Restennoth, and a fourth at Rosemarkie; where, being taken with the pleasantness of the place, he thought fit to reside, and was buried there. Bishop Leslie speaks of Rosemarkie as decorated with the relics of the saint, and the very ancient sepulchres and monuments of him and his parents, whence it would seem that he had brought his parents from Italy with him in this pious expedition.

From this traditional account of St Boniface, it would appear that the parish church in the ancient town of Rosemarkie had its foundation laid by him. In repairing it, anno 1735, in a vault under a very ancient steeple, there were found some stone coffins of rude workmanship, one of which might probably contain the bones of this venerable apostle. To perpetuate his memory we have here an annual market, called St Boniface Fair; and a spring of excellent water is also distinguished by his name. Nay, what is stil1 more, the seal of the cathedral, or Diocesan Seal, is yet preserved, and used as the public seal of the burgh, with this inscription in Saxon characters: “Scapituli sco Petri et Bonefacii de Rosemarkin”. St Peter stands on it with his keys, and Boniface with his crook, in excellent order.

The seal of the ancient burgh of Rosemarkie, which is also in good preservation, has inherited on it the figure apparently of St Peter, mitred in a shield, with the circumscription I. +. SIGILLVM IES MVNE BVRGI DE ROSSMARKYN.

In the church yard here, too, lies the body of Andrew Murray, very brave man, Regent of the Kingdom on the reign of David II, who, after defeating the English in many battles, and quieting the state of the nation (according to Buchanan), having gone to the north to take a view of his possessions there, died in 1338, and was buried at Rosemarkie.

Eminent Men
Sir George Mackenzie of Rosehaugb, that eminent statesman and able lawgiver, passed a part of his time at Fortrose. Dr George Mackenzie, too, the laborious compiler of the Lives of the most Eminent Writers of the Scottish Nation, resided here, in an old castle belonging to the Earl of Seaforth, and lies interred in the tomb of that family in the cathedral. And Dr James Mackenzie, who writes The Art of preserving Health, is said to have been for some time employed in teaching the grammar school of the burgh. In addition to these, it may be mentioned, that Sir James Mackintosh, so well known to the literary world, here received the elements of his education, and even at that early period, his studious habits, and great proficiency, gave strong indications of his possessing high intellectual endowments.

Chief Land-Owners
The principal proprietors are: Roderick Mackenzie, Esq. of Flowerburn; James Fowler, Esq. of Raddery; Evan Baillie, Esq. of Dochfour and Ethies; Sir James W. Mackenzie of Scatwell, Bart.; the Rev. R. M. Millar of Kincurdie; and Malcolm Maclean, Esq. of Hawkhill.

There are several other smaller heritors, who are possessed of burgage lands and tenements. Only one of the principal heritors resides in the parish, namely, James Fowler, Esq. of Raddery. The total valued rent of the parish is L.3725. 3s. 8d. Scots money.

Parochial Registers
From the loss of some of the old registers, by accident or carelessness, and the negligence of the people in former times in registering the births of their children, these records do not extend far back, and are somewhat incomplete, previous to the induction of the present incumbent in the year 1815. Since then, the session records of births, marriages, deaths, and poor’s funds, have been regularly kept.

An ancient shaft of stone, forming the Cross of Rosemarkie, and bearing as capital a ducal crown, stands at the west end of the street; another of a similar description erected of old in the market place of Chanonry or Fortrose; a third of an interior description on the Ness, where, according to tradition, the last witch in Scotland was burnt. Immediately above the town of Rosemarkie, there is a mound of nearly a circular form, and level on the top, which seems to be artificial, and has always been called the Court-hill. In ancient times, it was probably the place where courts were held for the administration of justice. This rather interesting spot, in all likelihood connected with such judicial proceedings, has of late been injured in its appearance, by the erection upon it of some small cottages.

It was already observed that the landward part of the parish stretches up towards the summit of the Mulbuie, along the ridge of which tradition supplies “tales of battles fought”, to which cairns and tumuli, and the marks of ancient encampments bear ample testimony; and one cairn in particular is distinguished by the designation of the Cats-Cairn – a natural English corruption from Cair-a-Chath, signifying the cairn of the battle. Under some of these have been found stone-coffins, and weapons of copper and other metals, confirming the tradition that in this place a gigantic Danish Chief was killed and buried. Indeed, from its vicinity, to the coast, and particularly the inviting landing place at Cromarty, it is easy to conceive this district to have been a scene of incessant strife between these northern rovers, and the tenacious Gaelic tribes of the country.

In 1787, several silver coins were found in a small cairn of stones near Rosemarkie. They were mostly shillings of Queen Elizabeth, with a mixture of other coins, and particularly some of the times of James I and Charles I. It is probable they were deposited there in the time of the civil war, and may have been brought into the country by the gallant Marquis of Montrose, or some of his followers. About 900 more silver coins were found in a copper jug of an antique form, in digging up the foundation of an old house at Chanonry. They were coined in the reign of Robert King of Scots. Small copper coins are frequently found in labouring the grounds about the place, and more especially in gardens.

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