İ By Malcolm Cowan Hamilton
BISSETS, THE EARLS OF ROSS, AND EARLY ASSOCIATIONS WITH THE MUNROS, LATER OF FOULIS
The last issue of the Munro Clan Magazine reproduced the first document in the Calendar of Writs of Munro of Foulis , a charter by Elizabeth Byseth to William, earl of Ross. Over the years, many have wondered why this Charter was included, since it lacks any reference to a member of the Munro family.
From what we know, early on the Munros who were not servants of the church were vassals of the earls of Ross. Therefore, the Rosses are of particular interest in tracing Munro history. One has to go back into the late Middle Ages to put Elizabeth Bisset and the earls of Ross into a Munro context.
In the first few years of the reign of King David I (r. 1124-1153), the position of the Scottish crown had to be secured against a very real danger from dynastic rivalry. The death of Angus, mormaer of Moray, in 1130, and the subsequent imprisonment of Malcolm MacHeth in 1134, meant the kingıs possession of the throne was no longer seriously challenged. For having led a rising against David, Malcolm Macheth, the son[?] of Angus and a rival claimant to the throne was imprisoned in Roxburgh Castle, where he was held for 23 years.
There is some debate about whether Malcolm Macheth should be counted as the first earl of Ross. He was granted this dignity around 1160, but he is unlikely to have been the earl with whom the Munros were first associated. The earldom lapsed for over a century following his death in 1168 when it reverted to the crown.
THE NEXT EARLS OF ROSS
Sometime after Angusıs line died out, part of the living of the land of Ross was awarded to the Abbot of Applecross [Appurcrossan] by king Alexander II in or before A.D. 1230. The abbotıs son Farquhar MacTaggart, became earl of Ross in 1234, and he is often counted as the first earl of Ross. He had been made a knight by Alexander in 1215 and granted substantial lands in Galloway for rendering material aid to the king. He was succeeded by his son William, the 2nd earl, and then by his son William, who became the 3rd earl around 1309, following a period of imprisonment in the Tower of London. His son Hugh followed as the 4th earl. He was killed at the battle of Halidon Hill in 1333 and was succeeded by his son, William, the 5th earl. It is he who would grant lands to Robert de Munroo of Westerlogy.
THE BISSETT FAMILY
To be sure that the risings in Moray were finally put to a stop, Malcolm IV, who succeeded David, scattered the native clans. ³The inhabitants of the northern portion were principally either driven out or removed to the crown lands of Breadalbane in Perthshire, and the conquered district was bestowed upon the Norman families of Bisset, Thirlstane, and Lauder²
In his introduction to Fordunıs Chronicle of the Scottish Nation, William Skene observes that ³The statement that Malcolm removed the whole population of Moray and replaced them with strangers is no doubt an exaggeration, but so far foundations for it, in so far as regards the districts of Moray adjacent to Scotia proper, and as in the same year we find Malcolm granting a charter to Beroald the Fleming of lands of Innes between the Spey and Finhorn.; and other strangers may have been planted there to form a bulwark against the incursions of the inhabitants of the more mountainous regions²
In the next year (1161), following the policy of his grandfather, he deprived a part of the inhabitants of Moray of their lands, and bestowed them upon Norman barons.
The Norman-French name Bisset first appears in Scotland with Henricus de Byset in 1198. His son John acquired vast holdings around Loch Ness, but Byset power suddenly collapsed around 1243 when his uncle Walter Byset, after losing to the Earl of Athol in a tournament, vented his spleen by burning down the house where Athol was sleeping. As a consequence, then King Alexander II banished Walter and his male heirs, leaving the Byset lands in the possession of the female line, who eventually brought them by marriage into the Chisholm and Fraser of Lovat families.
From the Chronicle of Melrose, we have these accounts of the Byset men:
AD 1243: John Biseth and his uncle Walter and others of their accomplices were outlawed because (as fame reported) this John [not Walter?] had murdered Patric de Athol.
AD 1244: During this year, the accursed traitor Walter Biset and his accomplices ceased not to pour in the ears of Henry, king of England, the poison of discord, until he summoned an army and marched as far as Newcastle, against our lord Alexander, the king of Scotland. The king of Scotland met him at Ponteland with a large army; but a treaty of peace was concluded between them, on 24 August, chiefly at the instance of the archbishop of York and of other nobles.
THE FIRST TWO CHARTERS
The first document in the published Calendar of Writs of Munro of Foulis [which is dated between 1299 and 1311] is a ³Charter by Elizabeth Byseth, relict [widow] of Sir Andrew de Bosco, ...giving, granting, and confirming for ever to William, earl of Ross, and his heirs, the whole barony of Edidouer [and other lands] in chief fee and heritage of the king of the Scots² It seems unlikely that the Charter could have been granted before 1309, when this William assumed the title of [3rd ] earl of Ross.
As documented in the 2nd Writ of Munro of Foulis, Williamıs grandson, William, the 5th earl of Ross, granted lands to ³Robert de Munroo of Westerlogy² sometime between 1333 and 1350.
This, one must guess, is why the first Charter was important enough to the Munro family for it to have it been included with their legal documents. It traces land titles back to the Bissets and, with the second charter, documents their early relationship with the earls of Ross, from whom they would later receive the land of Estirfowlys by charter sometime between 1350 and 1371 (Writ #5.)
- No. 23, 2003, p. 10.
- McInnes, C.T., ed. Calendar of Writs of Munro of Foulis, 1299-1823. Edinburgh: printed for the Society by J. Skinner & Company, Ltd., 1940. Scottish Record Society [publications] vol. 71, 136-137.
- Acts of Malcolm IV, King of the Scots 1153-1165; Regesta Regum Scottorum I, p. 3. and Alan O. Anderson, Scottish Annals from English Chroniclers, A.D. 500 to 1286, p.225.
- Some sources suggest that Macheth was the illegitimate son of king Alexander I, but most authorities accept his lineage through Angus, mormaer of Moray. By some, he is also called Wimund, an English monk who became Bishop of Man and who later made his claim to the throne through his father [or brother], Angus.
- Seven Scottish earls were imprisoned because of a dispute with the English King Edward I over the right of succession to the Scottish throne and for making Scotland an English dependency, choosing John Balliol over Robert the Bruce as king of Scotland.
- According to tradition (but undocumented with contemporary evidence) George Munro, so-called 7th Baron of Fowlis, is also supposed to have been killed at Halidon Hill. This George, at least as a baron of Foulis, may be fictional, since the Munros did not receive by grant from the earl of Ross the lands of Foulis until some time later.
- William Skene, Highlanders of Scotland, p. 282.
- During this period, Moray was not considered part of Scotland.
- Text accompanying the Domesday Collection maps İ John Garnons Williams, 1994. ³Scotland under Robert the Bruce, 1314. http://www.gwp.enta.net/
- A charter by King Robert I on 16 March  was witnessed by Willelmo, comite de Ross.
- Writ #2 [1333-50] Charter by William, Earl of Ross, Lord of Sky, to Robert de Munroo of Westerlogy. The date of this Writ is unlikely to have been earlier than 1336 because William did not return from Norway until three years after his father, Hugh, the 4th earl, was killed, in 1333, at the battle of Halidon Hill near Berwick.