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Issue 60 - The Clan Rose

Scotland Magazine Issue 60
December 2011


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The Clan Rose

James Irvine Robertson looks at one of Scotland's great families.

One generation passes by after another, of these peaceful Barons of Kilravock, with scarcely a shade of variety in their individual characters.

The revolutions of their country, or the empire, little affected them.

Through changes of government and of dynasty, amid Church schisms and Celtic rebellions, they held the even tenor of their way - keeping aloof from faction - shunning the crowd; yet not merely vegetating, nor sunk in stupid indifference. They had felt the charms of music, and solaced themselves with old books, and old friends, and old wine. They enjoyed the society of a few neighbours; did their duty to their people: they had their garden to tend, the interest of their woods and fields, the sports of the moorland and the river. If these memorials of their peaceful lives record few events of stirring interest, or of a political or public character, they show more than has been hitherto known of the domestic life of our northern gentry, and mark a progress in cultivation and refinement in their rank, fully keeping pace with the remarkable improvement in the physical condition of the commons.’ In the turbulent and bloody history of the struggle for survival and power of the clans of Scotland, the Roses of Kilravock are quite exceptional. No other clan in Scotland enjoyed anything like its eight centuries of documented occupation of its territory without serious strife.

The chiefs - almost all named Hugh - died in their beds, spread their numerous offspring across their lands and delicately tiptoed through brutal centuries of Highland politics offending nobody and allowing their clansfolk to live in a tranquillity which was afforded to none other. But they were not quite as saintly as the antiquary Cosmo Innes made out.

The origin of the family is not certain but the obvious link with the name Ross, meaning a promontory and carried by the eponymous clan is considered by most experts as coincidental and the preferred descent is southern due to a similarity of coats of arms to the Norman family of Roose.

Pronunciation of the names of both the family and the estate have changed over the centuries but today the clan is known as Rose rather than Ross and the name of the estate is pronounced Kilrork rather than as it is spelt or, more rarely, as Kilrake.

The first recorded Hugh held Geddes a few miles east of Kilravock Castle which lies midway between Inverness and Nairn. The dominant local family were the Bissets but in 1242 the head of the family, William, was suspected of murdering his brother-in-law the earl of Atholl and was banished leaving his estates to his daughters. Hugh of Geddes married William’s granddaughter who brought with her Kilravock.

Potential trouble with an ambitious neighbour, the Thane of Cawdor - the last man in Scotland known by this ancient title - was settled when Isabella Rose was married to the most able of the thane’s five sons to whom his father had made over all his estates under a new crown charter. The marriage was not a success but the couple produced a daughter, Muriel. Her father died and his widow returned with her daughter to Kilravock and the protection of the new tower castle on the banks of the river Nairn which, fortunately, had been completed. a generation earlier for Muriel was the heiress to all the thane’s lands. Under the terms of the charter the child was a ward of the crown and the Justiciar of Scotland was appointed her guardian and he was the Earl of Argyll. His emissary, Campbell of Inverliver, arrived to collect the child and had to battle his way south against the thane’s forces. He made it back to Inveraray with the loss of seven of his own sons. When Muriel was 12, the Earl of Argyll married her to his second son John and he became Earl of Cawdor and these Campbells are still the Roses’ neighbours.

Hugh, the Black Baron, fought at the battle of Pinkie in 1546 when Henry VIII was trying force marriage between his son Edward and the 4 year old queen Mary. He was captured, paid a ransom roughly equivalent to $400,000 today and still managed to provide dowries for 17 female relations as well as build a manor house by his castle. In 1562 he wisely entertained Queen Mary, just before she hanged the governor of Inverness castle who had refused her entry. The Black Baron was made governor in his place. James VI visited Kilravock in 1589 and asked the Black Baron how he managed to live amid such wild neighbours. He replied “That they were the best neighbours he could have, for they made him thrice a-day go to God upon his knees, when, perhaps, otherways he would not have gone once.” The chiefs of other clans may have cost their people dear by involving them in the turmoil of religious and civil wars of the 17th century, but the Roses of Kilravock adroitly steered a course that kept the clan out of trouble, save for an unfortunate appearance against the Marquis of Montrose at the battle of Auldearn in 1645. The 14th chief was sympathetic to the Covenanters but let it also be known that he was in favour of the Divine Right of Kings and the Stuarts.

The 15th chief supported James VII’s replacement by King William and the Protestant succession. He voted against the Act of Union but represented Scotland in the new Westminster Parliament. In the 1715 Rising he declared for the government and made his castle a refuge for those seeking sanctuary from the Jacobites and took Inverness.

Shortly before the battle of Culloden in 1746, Prince Charles visited Kilravock and inspected the gardens. The following day the Duke of Cumberland came and spent the night.

The peaceful, cultured life of the Roses continued through the 19th century and into the 20th. The 24th of Kilravock had a distinguished career in the army, dying in 1946. His son, a 20 year-old lieutenant in the Black Watch was killed at the battle of El Alamein in 1942 and his sister Elizabeth became the 25th baron of Kilravock. She has been chief of the clan for the past 65 years.