Locating medieval lordships in Sutherland

This week Dr Alasdair Ross from the University of Stirling is our guest blogger.  Alasdair is Senior Lecturer in Medieval and Environmental History.  His research interests include historic units of land assessment in northern Europe so for this week’s blog Alasdair has  considered this issue along the north bank of the Kyle of Sutherland. 

Sutherland was separated from Caithness at the beginning of the thirteenth century by the Scottish crown and members of the de Moravia family were thereafter quickly elevated to the status of earls of Sutherland and bishop of the diocese of Caithness. The core of the earldom demesme lands at this time seem to have been located in the south-east of Sutherland. One part of these properties is referred to in charters as Ferincoskry (Fearann Coscraigh – Coscrach’s land) which is thought to have comprised a large part of the parish of Creich; another two parts consisted the lands of Ferenbeuthlin’ and Skibo (the latter assessed at six dabhaichean [davochs]). In 1971 Barrow argued that Ferenbeuthlin’ and Ferincoskry were different names for the same stretch of land but this suggestion surely cannot be sustained. Even allowing for some scribal error the second elements of each place-name are wildly different.

A number of different sources are quite clear that Ferincoskry comprised the majority of lands in the parish of Creich that directly bordered upon the province of Ross, extending northwards along the River Oykell as far north as Glencasley and beyond to the boundary with Assynt. This extensive lordship had been granted to the earls of Ross by King Robert I between 1306 and 1329 (though it is never explained why these lands had been taken away from the Sutherland earls at that time) and was later piecemeal granted out to different families. The first of these, a charter dated 28 May 1450 specifies that both Olsbustule (Ospisdale) and Innerwyrcastelaye (Invercassly), at opposite ends of the parish of Creich, lay in Farnacoskyre. A second charter of 10 January 1464 states that Crechmor, Spanegydill, Davacharry, Pladd and Pulrossy were all part of the land of Fernacostrech. To these can be added the lands of Inveran, Lemsetmoir, Lemsetbeg, Altesbeg, Altes mor, Acheness, Swordale, Migdale, Creichmore, and Little Creich from various sources. According to the available evidence then, it very much looks as though Ferincoskry was an elongated area of lordship that lay along most of the north bank of the Dornoch Firth and the River Oykell to its junction with Glen Cassley, and then westwards to the summits of Conval (987m) and Ben More Assynt (998m) on the boundary of the parish of Creich with Assynt, perhaps a total of seventeen dabhaichean. Essentially, it gives every impression of having been a massively important frontier lordship. It is just a shame that we do not know how old it actually is.

But according to the surviving evidence Ferincoskry cannot have comprised the whole of the parish of Creich because the eight dabhaichean of Auchinduich, Auchnafearn, Invershin, Knocken, Ardinch, Tutointorroch, Glenchasley, and Dauchallie are never associated with it in any surviving source. This, however, may just be an accident of survival since written medieval records for Creich are exceedingly rare. Ferincoskry itself as an early unit of lordship may also be more nuanced that we have previously realised. That part of it which lay to the west of the River Shin possessed a separate identity and was regularly variously referred to as Chilis, Slishchells, and Slishchewlis. One dabhach containing the same suffix, Daauchelis / Daawchelis / Deawchelive, remains unlocated but on the balance of the available evidence is most likely to have been an alternative name for Inveran (itself a half-dabhach).


Looking towards Ferincoskry from the Province of Ross.  Photo from collection of Alasdair Ross.

So where was Ferenbeuthlin’? A charter of 1235 specifies that Ferenbeuthlin’ / Fernbeilldyn’ lay between Skibo and the lands in the east of Creich which bordered upon Ross:

[…] scilicet de tota terra de Skellebolle et de Fernbeilldyn et pretera de tota terra que jacet inter dictas terras de Skellebolle et de Fernbeilldyn et diuisas de Ros uersus occidentem […]

[…] namely the whole land of Skellebolle (Skibo) and Fernbeilldyn and also the whole land lying between the said lands of Skellebolle and Fernbeilldyn and the marches of Ross to the west […]

Clearly, this charter indicates that Skelleboll and Ferenbeuthlin’ / Fernbeilldyn’ lay to the east of those unspecified lands in Creich that bordered upon Ross. Since Ferincoskry included the lands of Acharry, Ospisdale, Fload, and Pulrossie, all of which were located immediately to the west of the boundary between the parishes of Creich and Dornoch, Ferenbeuthlin’ / Fernbeilldyn’ must have been located in Dornoch parish itself and may even have included the town. Beyond this, it is currently impossible to state precisely which dabhaichean to the immediate west of Skibo lay in Ferenbeuthlin’ / Fernbeilldyn’ and the place-name itself seems to have disappeared shortly thereafter. For what it is worth, an oral record dating to the nineteenth century records the place-name Tornabuchaillin, where the second element may be the same as that of Ferenbeuthlin’, was recorded near the dabhaichean of Proncy, between Skelleboll and Ferincoskry.

1 thought on “Locating medieval lordships in Sutherland

  1. Any comments on the use of fearann – which seems to be associated with Ross and Sutherland? Could Fearn – across the water be a derivative of an older Fearann?

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