The Castle and Lands of Lochslin by Prof. Richard Oram
The estate of Lochslin lies on the northern side of the ross or peninsula which stretches north-eastward to Tarbatness, from which Ross takes its name. We have no surviving record of when the estate first came into being as a recognisable unit or who were its earliest possessors, but it can be inferred that in common with many of the estates of Easter Ross Lochslin is a property of great antiquity. The district around Lochslin itself is littered with placenames which reveal a pattern of small estates dating back to at least the Pictish or early Gaelic periods, such as Pithogarty, Pitnellies or Pitkerrie,1 while others, such as Arboll or Cadboll, were named by Scandinavian colonists slightly later in the 9th and 10th centuries. It is very likely that many of these properties were formed originally in the yet more distant past and that the castle which lay at the heart of the estate in the 16th century was the successor of the hall of an Iron Age nobleman.
Down to the later 12th century, we have little concrete evidence for the history of Ross and only a general picture of recurrent conflict between Orkney- and Caithness-based Norse jarls and Ross- and Moray-based Gaelic rulers which saw the emergence of the Dornoch Firth and Kyles of Sutherland as a frontier between Gaelic Scotland and the Scandinavian North in the 11th century. When Easter Ross starts to emerge from the historical shadows in the early 13th century, it is in the low-lying districts in the peninsula between the Cromarty and Dornoch firths that the main concentration of estates belonging to the earls of Ross can be seen. The first of the line of earls from whom the Rosses of Balnagown were descended, Ferchar mac an t-saccairt (son of the priest), had his principal residence at Allan, 2km SSW of the southern end of Loch Eye, and from the properties which he made over to the abbey which he founded originally and Mid Fearn in Kincardine parish in the 1220s, and then transplanted to Fearn (2km east of Allan), it is clear that this district was the heartland of the earldom, the seat of government and the focus of its economic wealth. It was here that the earls gave estates to junior members of their own kin (the Rosses of Balnagown were the most successful of these) and the majority of the earls' vassals received their land-holdings. It is very unlikely that the estates which they were given were entirely new creations carved out indiscriminately from the earls' lands. Instead, it is likely that already long-established units were granted to individuals. Lochslin, it appears, was one such estate.
The Vaus Family and the Earls of Ross
The earliest documented holders of these lands were the Vaus family, who were designated `of Lochslin' by 1457.2 The Vauses — or Vasses as they are sometimes called - are believed to be kinsmen of the Wigtownshire Vaux or Vance family, whose main branch were lairds of Barnbarroch near Whithorn and who served the priory there as baillies and also provided several priors and canons. Whithorn priory offers the most likely connection through which the Vauses made the move to Easter Ross, for the abbey at Fearn was a daughter-house of the Galloway monastery and it is possible that some early Vaus came north as a lay official for the new colony or that a senior Vaus canon of Fearn established one of his kinsmen as a tenant on a portion of the abbey estate. Lochslin, however, was not one of the abbey's lands, for in the 15th and 16th centuries it is clear that the Vauses were vassals of the earls, not of Fearn. We can only guess at how a member of this Galloway family came to pass from the service of the canons of Fearn into the service of the earls of Ross.
Although none of the early Vaus charters and documents makes any specific mention of a castle or tower at Lochslin, their designation as 'of Lochslin' makes it almost certain that it
was the location of their chief residence. We can also see from their prominence in 15th-century charters that they were considered to be men of substance in the following of the earls but, significantly, they were not of knightly rank. When John Vaus of Lochslin is first recorded at a meeting of the court of John, earl of Ross, at Dingwall in December 1457, he was serving as procurator for one of the parties in a legal settlement involving land — a role which indicates that he was a well-respected and, possibly, educated man — but he is named in a quite lowly position among the witnesses, behind members of the earl's own kin, Ross of Balnagown, Munro of Foulis and Urquhart of Cromarty, the heads of the leading kindreds of Easter Ross.3 The Vauses were gentlemen of quality, but they were in the ranks of what, by the 16th century, were referred to as 'lairds' rather than lords. This status may have affected the nature of their home, for the residences of men of different ranks were identifiable from the elements which they contained. For example, earls and other important lords, who had rights of jurisdiction and a substantial following, would have possessed a large, public hall as part of a complex of buildings, distinct from a private hall in their own suite of chambers. This public hall would have served as a ceremonial location, for the holding of law-courts and similar assemblies as well as for great banquets. A man of non-knightly rank like Vaus of Lochslin did not require a great chamber of that type.
As vassals of the MacDonald Lords of the Isles and Earls of Ross, the Vaus family faced uncertain times in 1476 when their superior John, earl of Ross, was forfeited by King James III for his treasonable alliance with the English king, Edward IV, and the earldom title and lands were annexed to the crown and designated as property for the support of James's second son. King James, however, could not afford to alienate the local nobility of Ross and the tenants of the forfeited earl were admitted into the king's peace and confirmed in their possessions as vassals of their new lord, Prince James, who in 1480 was created Marquis of Ormond, then Duke of Ross, by his father.4 Following the 1488 rebellion against James III which led to the old king's death after the battle of Sauchieburn and the accession of his elder son, James, Duke of Rothesay, as King James IV, Ross, who had enjoyed a closer relationship with their father than his elder brother had, found himself in an awkward position. Eventually, in 1497 James IV 'persuaded' his younger brother to enter the Church, securing his appointment as Archbishop of St Andrews, and, following the duke-archbishop's death in 1504, adding the dukedom of Ross to the crown titles. By this complex route, the Vauses of Lochslin went from being tenants of the Earls of Ross, to immediate vassals of the king, a relationship which was to open intriguing possibilities for them in future years.
The downfall of the MacDonald earls of Ross opened a period of protracted instability in the northern Highlands as the forfeited Earl's John's bastard son, Angus 6g, and various of his kinsmen attempted to regain control of Ross.5 In the course of these disturbances, in 1487 John Vaus was killed in a skirmish at Aldecharwis.6 His successor, another John Vaus, possibly his son, emerges only into recorded history on 16 August 1512 when James IV confirmed him in possession of Lochslin as a vassal of the royal earldom of Ross. He was clearly in the king's favour, for he was granted his land in what is called blenchferme, an arrangement whereby payment of a nominal sum or a token gift was demanded by an estate's superior instead of any onerous services or high rents. John's blench payment was highly unusual — one pound of cucumbers annually or three silver pennies.' Sadly, we have no royal receipts which tell us which form of payment John chose to make.
Royal Servants and Acquisitive Neighbours
Despite the light service demanded by the king, by the 1530s, the Vauses were in serious financial difficulties and appear to have been heavily burdened with debt. At that time, it was normal practice for heads of kin who found themselves in such a position to turn to their kinsmen for support, often selling or leasing portions of their estates to junior members of the family to ensure that the land was kept in the hands of the wider kin-group, usually with a proviso that permitted its repurchase or redemption when and if funds allowed. For John Vaus of Lochslin in 1534 the position must have been especially serious, for by a charter drawn up at Fearn Abbey on 28 June that year and confirmed under the Great Seal at Stirling ten days later, he sold the core estates of his family — Lochslin itself and Newton, with all `annexes, lie outsettis, etc' — to his kinsman (probably his younger brother) Robert Vaus, burgess of Inverness.8 John, however, retained the 'free tenement' of the estate for life, which meant that he could continue to live at the castle but that on his death the property would pass to Robert or his heirs. Despite the formality of these arrangements, it seems that John viewed the sale as a temporary expedient to be reversed in future, for when he married Elizabeth Urquhart, daughter of the powerful regional nobleman, Sir Thomas Urquhart of Cromarty, in November 1536, he settled Lochslin on her in conjunct feu as her marriage portion.9 This meant that the land was held jointly by John and Elizabeth and that whichever of them lived longer would retain possession until their death. Such an arrangement could have led to a great extension of the free tenancy agreed with Robert Vaus, if Elizabeth outlived her husband for many years, and could not have been settled without his consent. Robert, clearly, understood that there was little likelihood that he would ever gain physical possession of the castle or lands. Nevertheless, in January 1537/8, a new agreement was formally drawn up between John, Elizabeth and Robert, giving the liferent of the estate to whichever of the couple lived longer and restating Robert's rights.10
John Vaus died on 5 February 1546, apparently leaving only three young daughters as his heirs." Elizabeth Urquhart did not long remain a widow, for her life interest in Lochslin made her an attractive partner for neighbouring lairds who were seeking to extend their local influence. She had remarried sometime before June 1547, taking as her second husband William Denoon of Pitnellies. Denoon, one of several bastard sons of Donald Denoon, abbot of Fearn, was a rising star of the local land-holding circle, who had received generous provision from his father carved out of the abbey estate. Abbot Donald had settled him in possession of Little Rhynie, Easter Fearn (in Edderton parish), Amat Abbot (in Strathcarron), one third of Arboll, Pithogarty, Balkeith and Pitnellies, from which he took his designation.12 Their marriage settlement, drawn up at Lochslin on 29 June 1547, reads like a business contract.13 In fulfilment of the promises he had made before the celebration of their marriage, and in recognition of the dower which Elizabeth's kinsmen had paid him, William granted his new wife the liferent of his lands of Pitnellies and Pithogarty. Elizabeth, of course, brought Lochslin with her as her propertied contribution to the marriage. The couple, however, did not enjoy married life for long, for William answered the military summons sent out by the regent for the child, Queen Mary, and marched south to repel the English invaders, only to die in the crushing defeat of the Scottish army at Pinkie near Musselburgh on 10 September 1547.14
Elizabeth Urquhart and William Denoon had been married for long enough to produce a legitimate male heir, but young William Denoon II must have been only months old at most at
the time of his father's death. While Elizabeth, under the watchful eye of her scheming father, Sir Thomas, was secure in her liferent possessions of Lochslin, Pithogarty and Pitnellies, her son's inheritance was far from safe. Before long, the vultures were circling and control of the heritage was to be fought over by the child's several paternal uncles, his mother's Urquhart kinsmen, and the new laird of Lochslin, Jasper Vaus, who planned to marry the boy to his daughter, Katherine.15 On 3 March 1561, probably at the time of their betrothal, William — or rather his guardians, given that he was probably not yet 14 years old -granted to the 'chaste maiden' Katherine Vaus of Lochslin, in her pure virginity, the liferent of his lands of Pitnellies.16 Sadly, young William did not live to enter his inheritance, dying in 1565 aged about 17.17 Over the next few years the remains of the Denoon estate was carved up, with his brother-in-law John, son of Jasper Vaus, taking Over Pitnellies, Amat Abbot and part of Pithogarty.
It was not just the Denoon heritage that was fought over in the 1540s and 1550s, for John Vaus and Elizabeth Urquhart's three daughters, Katherine, Margaret and Agnes, were sought-after as brides for their shares of the Vaus inheritance. Although the main lands and titles had passed into another branch of the family, the daughters would have received portions for their future support. In December 1554, Master Patrick Vaus, parson of Wigtown, a distant kinsman, purchased from the crown for 200 merks (£133.6s.8d.) the right to arrange the marriages of the three girls and to pocket the 'arrangement fees' that would be paid by prospective husbands!' Katherine married her cousin, John Vaus, the son of Jasper Vaus, which would have united the old senior line of the family with that of its junior creditors and reinforced their possession of Lochslin.19
Jasper Vaus, who was probably the son of Robert Vaus, had gained possession of the title to Lochslin in 1546. Like John before him he married well, his wife Elizabeth Dunbar being a daughter of the laird of Ballone.29 Under him, Lochslin became the centrepiece in a complex of properties which extended from Lochslin as far west as Strathcarron in Kincardine parish. Not all of it remained in his hands, most of the portions of the Denoon estate that had been plundered by Abbot Donald to provide for William Denoon and which Jasper obtained after William II's death, including the kirklands of Little Rhynie and Easter Fearn, were resigned into the hands of the Rosses of Balnagown in June 1568.21
John Vaus, last of Lochslin
Jasper was succeeded probably in 1572 by his eldest son, John, under whose leadership the Vaus fortunes reached both their peak and their nadir. To this point, the Vauses had succeeded in avoiding the political and religious conflicts that had been sweeping Scotland for the previous decade and a half, other than as beneficiaries from the carve-up of monastic estates which had accompanied the Reformation. Further benefits came in the course of the civil wars which followed the deposition of Queen Mary in 1567, as the rival parties sought to win the support of uncommitted noble families. In December 1570, John received the valuable remission of the `nonentries' for the lands of Lochslin and Innerathie, which appear to have extended back for nearly ninety years.22 The political leadership in Edinburgh did not want to risk alienating an influential local laird or his expected heir.
The precept extends the period for Lochslin back to the death of John Vaus 'that deceist at the field of [blank]', probably Aldechawaris in 1487, and Innerathy back to the death of the
On 18 April 1573, an inquest was held at Inverness into the lands and rights of the late Jasper Vaus of Lochslin, father of John.23 The jurors found that Jasper had died 'vest and seised' in the lands of Lochslin and Newton, with the parts, pendicles and pertinents of the same, and also the lands of Pitnellies, Pithogarty and Balkeith, and that John was his legitimate and next heir. Lochslin and Newton were then valued at £6 13s 4d (but only 30s during Jasper's lifetime), while the other lands were valued at £20 (only £5 during Jasper's tenure). Although these figures seem paltry by modern standards, in the late 16th century they represented a significant landed holding of a substantial gentleman. The estate, however, was burdened still with liferent interests, John's sister, Katherine, the widow of William Denoon II, and wife of Donald Ross of Balmuchy, having possession of Pitnellies, which her first husband had settled on her. John's step-mother, Janet Stewart, also held a substantial portion of the estate, having the liferent of Balkeith. No service and retour survives, but it is likely that the inquest was closely followed by the formal admission of John to his heritage.
Having entered his inheritance, John moved quickly to consolidate his hold over it and close off any possibility of alternative claims to portions of it. In May 1576, for example, he secured a renunciation by Margaret McCulloch, grand-daughter of William McCulloch of Plaids, of her reversionary rights to Pitnellies, Pithogarty and Balkeith, which William had sold originally to William Denoon I of Pitnellies.24 John was clearly determined to remove any threat, no matter how remote, to his possession of the most valuable component of his property. Pitnellies, indeed, became the focus of John's ambitions, probably because it contained significant blocks of valuable arable land and grazings on the southern edge of the Morrich More. In early 1583, for example, he extended his interest in the area by infefting his sister-in-law, Margaret, and her husband, Findlay Manson, in Newton of Lochslin in return for their renunciation of their sasine in Over Pitnellies,25 which had been given to them by his father. That John was prepared to give them 200 merks to secure the deal underscores the value which he placed in the property. By 1591, Margaret and Findlay's tack of Newton had been converted into a liferent grant, and extended to cover also the life of their son, William.26 John was clearly trying desperately to retain his grip over his acquisitions whilst his financial position otherwise crumbled.
John's fears for Pitnellies, Pithogarty and Balkeith were not unfounded, for the means by which both Abbot Donald Denoon and, subsequently, Jasper Vaus had secured their transfer was of questionable legality. In May 1585, the important Caithness laird, George Sinclair of Mey, produced a series of documents dating back to the 1530s through which he claimed an interest in the properties and he offered to pay to redeem the outstanding loans borrowed against the land, intending to take control for himself.27 George's relatives were to reappear with an interest in Lochslin in the 1640s.
Through the 1580s and 1590s, John became involved in a series of other long-running and, ultimately, financially ruinous law-suits with his neighbours and with the Rosses of Balnagown in particular. In February 1585, he began litigation against James Dunbar of Tarbat and James Corbett, portioner of the east third of Arboll, over the boundary between the
semi-legendary Paul McTyre in the late 14th century. The nonentries were the fines accumulated covering the period between the death of a crown tenant and the formal service and entry of their heir, when a money payment (the 'relief) would be made to the Exchequer, and had been introduced to deter the unnecessary prolonging of the period before the formal service of the next heir. Usually assessed at one tenth of the annual value of the estate in question, the amount due from the Vaus lands by 1570 would have been almost ten times their annual value.
mid-third of Arboll (which he held) and Corbett's lands.28 This dispute was still simmering in 1600 when he went in the company of a notary to the disputed ground and had a formal record made of his complaints as part of a legal process against James Dunbar's kin, William, John Ross of Little Tarrell, Nicholas Ross of Pitcalnie and James Corbet. The document records how he went to 'ye houses biggingis and cornefeild landis' beside Arboll, and there formally protested against 'ye interruptionn' made to those lands during his absence by those men, and asserted that there actions should in no way impinge upon his heritable title and possession of the said `landis, houses biggingis turf stackis peitt stackis fauldis yairdis and yaird dykis' 29 In January 1601, John Vaus entered into a cautionary bond for 2000 merks not to harm James Corbett of Arboll or his son, John, while John Corbett in return gave a similar bond not to harm John Vaus." Embedded within this acrimonious property dispute were elements of other, over-lapping conflicts with his neighbours, principally the extended Ross network. The trigger in that conflict came in 1586, when he entered into a dispute with George Ross of Balnagown over the boundaries of Dalerny.31 This was the beginning of a bitter struggle between Vaus and the Rosses that would lead ultimately to his ruin.
In the late 1580s, however, despite the gathering storm clouds represented by these disputes, John Vaus was probably at the peak of his influence. At this time he was baillie depute of the earldom of Ross on behalf of one of King James VI's favourites, Sir William Keith of Delnies. As baillie depute, Vaus would have enjoyed considerable local power and would have been in receipt of a substantial fee for his services. Keith, however, was regarded as an outsider and interloper in a region where power was vested mainly in two families, the Munros and the Rosses, and John Vaus' association with him saw some of Keith's unpopularity rub off on him. At the end of 1587, he became involved in a serious dispute with an important member of the Munro kindred, Andrew Munro of Newmore, who had a grievance against Keith. On December 1587, when John Keith and John Vaus were holding the barony court of Delnies, Munro and some 400 men, all armed with jakkis, steilbonnettis, pistollis, bowis, darlochs' and other weapons, had come to the court and, declaring their intention to be revenged for Sir William's `allegeit wrung done in the said courte' to Andrew Munro, forced the court to break up.32 Such violent incidents were evidently incapable of overawing a man of John Vaus' character, and he continued in office despite the local tensions it produced. indeed, by the early 1590s he was holding the office of chamberlain of the earldom of Ross, an office which gave him control of the revenues gathered from the crown tenants in that part of northern Scotland.33 It should perhaps come as no surprise to us that around this time he appears to have been spending large sums of money on improving his own property, sums which even his extended income from his fees for his crown offices could not cover.
It is at this point that Lochslin Castle finally makes its entry into the surviving record in a charter dated at Elgin 28 February 1589/90.34 The charter set out the terms of an agreement between John Vaus of Lochslin and his younger brother, Alexander, whereby John sold to him one half of the moiety (half-share) of the toun and lands of Lochslin, reserving to himself and his heirs 'the castle or manor of Lochslin, with other gardens and houses adjacent to it'. Like the earlier John Vaus in the 1530s, the laird of Lochslin was evidently in financial difficulties. The cause of those difficulties may, in part, have been the castle itself, where the architectural detailing of the great stepped L-plan towerhouse, which represented the core of the last major complex on the site, indicates its construction or radical remodelling in the late
16th century.35 John's ambitions to stress his local status with an architectural display on a par with the grand designs of the Mackenzies at Castle Leod near Strathpeffer and the Dunbars of Tarbat at nearby Ballone Castle may have crippled his finances and plunged him deep into debt.36 The crisis did not improve in the following years, and in July 1600 John, with the consent of Katherine his wife and their son, also called John, was obliged to grant Alexander possession of 'the toun and lands of Lochslin, with fortalice, manor, mills, woods, fishery, tenantries etc' at feuferme for an annual render of only 30 merks.37 John, however, clearly considered his problem to be one of cash-flow and alongside his building work at the castle was also set on expanding his propertied possessions as much as possible. In 1590, he took a heritable lease from Walter Mayer of Maverstoun of his lands of Meikle Allan, paying an annual rent of 54s.4d for the lands, 16s for the tenements on it, plus 3 chalders of barley, 3 chalders of flour and 10 treikhennis' (low-grade poultry), 13s.4d for the rents of the brewhouse and brewer's croft, and 13s.4d `grassum' (fee paid for renewal of a lease).38 As John's personal fortunes disintegrated in the early 1600s (see below) and when he must have seen clearly that the writing was on the wall for him, he still attempted to stave off the crisis and make provision for his sons using these properties that did not form part of his heritable and heavily mortgaged estate. In March 1604, he granted his three-quarters of the davoch, toun and lands of Meikle Allan to his second son, David.39 His son, however, did not long enjoy possession of this still substantial gift, for in June 1606 he was obliged to grant Mr John Munro of Fearn the south and west quarters of the property, while in July 1607 he and his father (described as hereditary feuar of the property) made over the remaining portion of the land to Munro in return for a payment of 1600 merks.46 The Vaus fortunes were clearly not destined to recover.
John may have hoped to benefit from the forging of close political associations with the greatest nobleman in northern Scotland, George Gordon, earl of Huntly. Gordon power in the north was such that John may have seen service to such a man as a potential escape route from his financial woes. Good service could bring significant returns in terms of land and money, but it was possible that too close association could also bring disaster. On 7 February 1592, John participated in the murder of James Stewart, earl of Moray, by Huntly, his kinsmen and followers, at Moray's house of Donisbristle in Fife.41 This was a particularly violent act even in this violent age and represented the climax in a long, bitter feud over political power between the two earls in northern Scotland. Moray's mutilated body, which his mother had recorded in a graphic painting, became a symbol of the political and religious tensions that existed in the kingdom still, his Gordon murderer being the leadingkRoman Catholic nobleman, while Moray himself had been the darling of the ultra-Presbyterian element in the Protestant party.42 George Gordon, however, was a favourite of the king, and although he and his associates, including Vaus, were denounced as rebels for failing to surrender themselves into royal custody, there seemed to be little prospect that James VI would pursue any aggressive action against them. Indeed, by March 1593, the murderers had all been readmitted to the king's peace.43 Vaus may have escaped more serious consequences for his involvement in this brutal killing, but he did not gain any rewards from the earl for his
service. Instead, it may have been the event that tipped him further into crisis, for it appears that the king's one act against Vaus was to strip him of his offices in the earldom of Ross.
John, however, was still clearly considered to be a man of substance in Easter Ross, and in January 1595 he was a subscriber to four cautionary bonds issued by his neighbours (including two — George Munro of Meikle Tarrell and Andrew Munro of Newmore - with whom his dealing were not always the most cordial) who were involved in litigation with a number of individuals over property.44 His subscription bound him to stand as a cautioner on behalf of these lairds, which obliged him to pay an agreed fine of 2000 merks should any of them breach the terms of the bond and attack their rivals. It was a calculated gamble, exposing John to 8000 merks-worth of fines should all the bonds be breached, but we can assume that he was expecting to be shown favour in return by the men for whom he was standing caution. He was going to require all of their favour, and more, in the following decade.
John's already tempestuous relationship with neighbouring lairds took a further downward twist in the summer of 1600 when a serious dispute arose between him and the Innes of Innerbreakie. On 9 July 1600, Walter Innes of Innerbreakie and his son, James, entered a bond of caution for £1000, not to harm John Vaus of Lochslin. On 13 August, at Lochslin, John and his eldest son, also John, entered a cautionary bond, subscribed by Alexander Dunbar, heir to Tarbat, for 2000 merks to harm neither of the Inneses.46 This dispute, however, was of minor proportions in comparison with the storm that was about to break over John Vaus and his family.
The simmering tensions between John and the Rosses which had arisen in the 1580s began to burn with fresh intensity in the early 1600s. The first clear sign of a re-kindling of the feud came on 11 December 1600 when Alexander Dunbar of Cumnock subscribed to a cautionary bond of 2000 merks for John, who promised not to harm George Ross of Balnagown, while a fortnight later, George Munro of Meikle Tarrell (for whom John had stood cautioner in 1595) signed a similar bond for 2000 merks, with Vaus promising not to harm Nicholas Ross of Pitcalnie.47 On 3 January 1601, a third bond was subscribed by David Ogilvy of Pitmuies (in Angus), for a further 2000 merks, with John promising not to harm ten names Rosses and two Denoons.48 What lay behind the bad blood appears to have been Balnagown's success in capitalising on John's legal difficulties by paying off part of an escheat (confiscation of property by way of a fine) on the Vaus estates and taking in return the rents due from the land in question. What was at stake can be seen in a receipt of 1601, from David Ross `appeirand' (heir-apparent) of Balnagown, who had contributed to the payment of these fines due by Vaus, to his kinsman, William Ross of Invercarron, for payment to him of rents due to Vaus for the lands of Amatnatua in Strathcarron.49 The lands of Amat were very valuable and possibly represented one of the main assets in John's hands, but in 1601 it looked as though the Rosses were aiming to secure outright control of them. In September 1602, John raised letters before the Privy Council in Edinburgh against George Ross of Balnagown, Nicholas Ross, his brother, Alexander Ross of Invercarron and Malcolm Ross of Cambuscurrie, charging them to answer for their having laid waste his lands of Amat in Strathcarron. They had, he claimed, destroyed the hained grass and pasturage of his lands, wards, hainings and meadows, and fished out of his salmon fishings on the water of Amat. More seriously, he claimed that in early September 1602, the accused men, plus Gillechallum Ross, George's brother, had come to the lands of Lochslin at night, and stolen his stored grain, cattle and
other goods, and had attacked Donald McGalliniche and his wife, cottars on Lochslin's lands, and carried off Donald as a captive. When William Ross, procurator for the accused men, appeared before the Privy Council on 4 January 1603 to answer the charges, neither Vaus nor any representative for him turned up.5°
John clearly recognised that he was in serious trouble over this episode and attempted to salvage something from the wreckage. On 22 March 1603, his brother, Alexander, merchant and burgess of Edinburgh, arranged to pay £100 to the George, David, Nicholas and Gillechallum Ross, to Alexander and William Ross of Invercarron, and William Ross of Priesthill, as compensation for expenses incurred by them in protesting the charges that John had brought against them.51 John had not yet been charged with contempt, but he clearly expected to be. The documentation that would tell us what happened next has been lost, but it appears that a £100 compensation package was deemed inadequate by the Rosses and at some stage in 1603 they had pushed their own complaint in court and, as a result, John had been denounced rebel and put to the horn at their instance. He, however, clearly carried on as normal, ignoring the horning against him, and for two years he continued his defiance of both the authorities and his Ross enemies.
This unreal situation could not last forever. The crisis came to a climax in 1605 when fresh letters of commission were issued by the crown to the sheriffs and provosts of the northern counties and burghs, and several northern lairds. These set out how in 1603 John Vaus of Lochslin had been `orderlie denuncit rebel and put to our horne' following an action for non-payment against him by David Ross.52 John, it was reported, `takand na regaird' of the outlawry declared against him, `frequentis...publickle...in all pairtis of [the] realme', therefore the commissioners were instructed to `convocat our leigis in armes... search, seik and tak...Johne Vaus our rebel and...hald...him in captivite'. If he offered resistance, the commissioners were instructed to take him by force and, if necessary, kill him. There was, however, no spectacular show-down, for on 29 March 1605 legal papers were served on John in his house at Inverness and on 22 April a Great Seal charter was issued in favour of his main creditor, his brother Alexander, apprising to him the lands of Amatnatua and the superiority and lands of Over Pitnellies in place of the sum of £2843.6s.8d owed to him and a further £142.3s.4d of legal expenses.53 Why John's own brother turned against him and foreclosed on his debts is explained by an action brought before the Privy Council earlier in March by Alexander, alleging his 'riot and oppression'.54 John, it can be assumed, had displayed his characteristic violence towards one of the few men who had been prepared to stand by him until that point. Alienated by his brother's actions, Alexander had withdrawn his extended credit and taken action to recover the substantial sums he had loaned to John. Alexander, however, was not able to get his hands directly on much of the property, for Over Pitnellies had been mortgaged to William Ross of Balliecuthy, and still lay unredeemed in his hands. The possibility of recovery of the lands was held out to John in the form of a right of regress should he be able to pay off his debts within seven years. The chances of that, however, given the collapsed state of his finances, were extremely remote.
The depths of the family's crisis can be seen in the continued haemorrhaging of lands which followed even the seizure of their main properties. As mentioned above, John had settled the lands of Meikle Allan on his second son, David, but by July 1607 had made over the property to John Munro of Fearn for the sum of 1600 merks. That, however, did not meet their immediate financial needs, and in August 1608, when they confirmed Munro's infeftment with rights of reversion and redemption should they manage to repay the 1600 merks, they
also granted him a three year tack of some of their remaining property for an additional sum of £112 Scots, paid to them 'in our urgent necessitie for outredding of certane our necessaris affairis'.55 The level of desperation in their actions is palpable.
In March 1609, John Vans 'now of Lochslin', son and heir of John, appeared to give up the struggle to regain his ancestral lands.56 On 13 March, John gave an assignation to a Mr Robert Ferlie of a special reversionary agreement signed and sealed by Alexander Vaus on 1 March, evidently in respect of a portion of the lands apprised in 1605. Ferlie then met with Alexander `quhen he was gangand at ye eist end of St Geillis kirk' in Edinburgh, delivered the reversion and assignation, and took over his interest in the properties." What John Vaus gained in return for the assignation is nowhere stated explicitly, but we can assume that it was a respite for some of the debts that he had inherited from his father. The family's decline, however, continued unabated, for in December 1610 a Great Seal confirmation was secured by George Munro of Meikle Tarrell of a charter to him by John Vaus of Lochslin, with the agreement of his four brothers, selling him irredeemably the lands of Over Pitnellies.58
By a process that is not made clear in the surviving record, between securing Over Pitnellies in 1610 and 1622, Munro of Meikle Tarrell managed to gain possession of all of the key components of the old Vaus lordship. On 27 May, he sold the lands, tower and manor of Lochslin, Newton, Inver, Over Pitnellies and Amatnatua to James Cuthbert of Draikies, provost of Inverness.59 For Cuthbert, this was simply a property investment and it is unlikely that he ever spent much time in his newly acquired 'tower and manor', being resident mainly in his Inverness townhouse. Two years later, he realised part of his investment by selling Lochslin to John Mackenze of Applecross.60
The Mackenzie and Sinclair Lairds
The Mackenzies had steadily been expanding their influence and landed interests eastwards from their heartland in Kintail throughout the 16th century, and by 1600 they had established a dominant land-holding position in the area around Dingwall and in the Black Isle (where the Chanonry of Ross at Fortrose became their powerbase). The head of the family, Kenneth Mackenzie, Lord Kintail, had worked assiduously to place his large brood of children into useful positions in Easter Ross, marrying them into prominent local kindreds or purchasing property for them from bankrupt lairds. John, his second son, already had a significant presence in Wester Ross, but this eastern acquisition was intended to extend Mackenzie influence north into a region otherwise dominated by their only real rivals in the area, the Rosses. John Mackenzie, however, did not enjoy his possession of Lochslin for long, dying on 23 October 1630 at the Chanonry of Ross. I Although he had a daughter, Margaret, the lands had been entailed in his heirs male and passed to his younger brother, Simon, the ninth son of Kenneth Mackenzie of Kintail.62 Traditionally, Simon has been presented as largely resident at the castle, but he was a man of standing and active in the political life of the kingdom. His prominent political role would have taken him regularly away from Lochslin, although it is probable that he undertook a programme of refurbishment at his new
possession. It was during one of these periods away from Lochslin that the castle's most famous resident was born. In 1636 at Dundee, at that time the second most important burgh in the kingdom, Simon's wife, Elizabeth Bruce, gave birth to their eldest son, George. It is likely that Elizabeth and her son were sent north, and it is probable that the future Lord Advocate spent his early years close to his father's kin in Easter Ross,
During the Civil Wars after 1638, in which the Mackenzies were active Royalists, the costs of raising and maintaining men to fight for the king and the burden of fines imposed by the victorious Covenanters on their defeated opponents, Simon Mackenzie was forced to sell Lochslin and his other lands to raise capital. On 14 July 1642, Simon `heritably and irredeemably' sold to Sir James Sinclair of Canisbay in Caithness the lands of Lochslin, Newton, Knockdhu, Inver of Lochslin, the quarterland of Inver, Pitnellies, Amat and their pertinents, but on 14 August Sinclair granted Simon and his wife, Elizabeth Bruce, a reversion on the lands for 14,000 merks. The following May, Sinclair completed payment to Simon and his wife of the sale price of 20,000 merks for the lands and received a quitclaim from them of their interest in the property comprising 'the haill towne and landis of Lochesline with the tour fortalice and maner place yrof and diverse utheris landis'. Finally, in March 1646, with the consent of his elder brother the Earl of Seaforth, Simon granted a new heritable and irredeemable infeftment to Sinclair.63
Sir James Sinclair maintained direct ownership of Lochslin down to 1649, but since his principal residence was at Barrogill Castle in Caithness it is unlikely that Lochslin was visited other than when its new laird was travelling to and from the south. In January 1649, he arranged that it and the associated lands (Newton etc) would form the key component of the property which he settled on his eldest son, William, and his wife, to support them after their marriage. It was agreed, however, that William and his wife would be 'entertained' at Barrogill until Martinmas (11 November) 1649 and provided with money to 'buy his necessaris and pay servandis feis' and have the rents of Lochslin to buy clothes and other necessary items.64 Why this eight-month delay was necessary is unclear, but it is entirely possible that repairs or alterations to Lochslin were being made to modernise it before the newly-weds took up residence.
William succeeded to his father's lands and titles in the early 1650s and Lochslin appears once again to have been abandoned by its owners in favour of Barrogill. Clearly, the new laird of Canisbay had no strong attachment to what had been his first married home, and in July 1661 Sir William sold the property to Patrick Smyth of Braco, reserving a liferent interest in the property for Elizabeth Leslie.65 Lochslin had now passed through nine different owners in the space of sixty years. Smyth, however, faced a serious problem, for Sir William was deeply indebted by the 1650s as a consequence of the punitive fines levied by the Cromwellian administration in Scotland. In 1664, Alexander Cuthbert, provost of Inverness, a relative of Lochslin's short-term owner of the 1620s, James Cuthbert, secured the Sinclair lands and baronies — including Lochslin - under letters of reversion in respect of nearly 7000 merks owed to him by Sir William.66 At the same time, Alexander Dunbar, burgess of Inverness, received an identical charter in respect of over £1000 owed to him by Sinclair,67 and in June 1667 an Edinburgh lawyer, James Robertson, had a third charter in respect of £2279.0s.8d owed to him.68 The picture, then, is of a similar slide into irrecoverable financial crisis by another of Lochslin's owners, with the property becoming an item of security against multiple mortgages. Throughout this period, the castle evidently stood empty, possibly
stripped of furnishings and anything else of value to its owner as he struggled to service his debts, while around it the laird's tenants continued their daily routines.
The picture from that point onwards is one of progressive decline. Lochslin continued to pass through various hands down into the 18th century, mainly to men whose main landed interests were already well established elsewhere. The castle itself was probably occupied principally by agricultural tenants but consequently suffered neglect by its owners and may have begun quickly to deteriorate. By the time that Simon Mackenzie's great-great-grandson, George Mackenzie of Allangrange, was served as heir to his ancestor in the lands and barony of Lochslin in 1829, re-kindling a connection dormant for nearly two centuries, the castle was a gaunt, gutted shell.
Mackenzie of Rosehaugh
Through the son of one former Mackenzie owner, Lochslin can claim a link to one of the inspiring figures behind the framing of the American Declaration of Independence. Ironically, the man, Sir George Mackenzie of Rosehaugh, who lived at the castle in the late 1630s, was an ardent Royalist, loyal servant to both kings Charles II and James VII, and as Lord Advocate in Scotland responsible for the conviction and transportation to the American colonies as indentured labour of so many of the radical religious and political opponents of his masters' regime. Not only did his rigorous enforcement of the law export to America many individuals whose personal political and religious beliefs added rich texture and depth to the American dissenting tradition, but his loyal support for his king led him to publish a series of key historical documents to vindicate his defence of the hereditary monarchy of the Stuarts, including one text which may have had an influence far beyond what he intended.
Mackenzie's learning and desire to support his political and legal theories with sound research led in 1680 to his publication amongst other documents of the first printed text of the Declaration of Arbroath, that great statement of Scottish political nationhood produced in 1320. Mackenzie's work, the Observations upon the Laws and Customs of Nations as to Precedency, was an ardent defence of the hereditary principle and of the powers of the Stuart monarchy. In it, he quoted and cited the Arbroath declaration extensively to show the hostility of the Scots nobility towards submission to the English crown, highlighting how `they would disown him, and chuse another'69 if Robert Bruce had subjected them to English overlordship. Mackenzie was careful to qualify his comment with the observation that the power to make or break kings was not and never had been vested in the nobility, but sprang from the king effectively forfeiting himself by his betrayal of his royal duties. Despite that qualification, other men were going to take from Mackenzie's work altogether different messages and apply them with far-reaching consequences on the other side of the world.
In the late 1750s, a young Fife student called James Wilson was studying at the University of St Andrews. Whilst there, he evidently read Mackenzie's Observations and became intimately familiar with the Declaration of Arbroath and the political theories which it contained, through it and the writings of two other scholars and political thinkers Gilbert Burnet and James Anderson. The young Mr Wilson was already a radical political thinker when he emigrated to Philadelphia, where he started as a teacher at the College, but quickly gave up to study Law. It was, therefore, as a deeply learned man of letters, saturated with the radical political theories of his native Scotland which Sir George Mackenzie had worked so hard to suppress, and fortified with constitutional theory and the law, that James Wilson joined the convention in 1776 which provided the intellectual arguments which underpinned the American Declaration of Independence and the eventual Constitution of the United
69 Quoted in E.J.Cowan, 'For Freedom Alone', The Declaration of Arbroath, 1320 (East Linton, 2003), 99.
States.” How the ardent Royalist Mackenzie would have reacted had he learned of his role in the establishment of the Republican principle in America we can only imagine.
For an extended discussion of the role of Sir George Mackenzie, James Wilson and the possible influence of the 1320 Declaration of Arbroath on the American Declaration of Independence, see Cowan, ‘For Freedom Alone’.