The Barony of Coigach

The Barony of Coigach – Western Highlands, Scotland

The Barony of Coigach is a rank of the ancient feudal nobility of Scotland and refers to the holder of the feudal barony of Coigach, a feudal superiority over a proper territorial entity erected into a free barony by Crown Charter. The barony is sited in Wester Ross, divided by mountains from Strathpeffer, and is characteristically West Highland Scots. The Barony lands comprise about 145,000 acres, the northwest third of the Parish of Lochbroom, largest Parish in the County of Ross and Cromarty. Always remote, Coigach only became accessable to wheeled transport from the east in 1790. Much of the land nowadays is designated national park and is protected. The Coigach Peninsula featured extensively as a setting for the 2011 Roman era action film "The Eagle" starring Channing Tatum, Jamie Bell, and Donald Sutherland.

2011 represented the 500th anniversary of the creation of the Barony.

The Baronial Letters Patent issued by the Lord Lyon, the Queen's Representative for Scotland, to the current Baron.

Coigach has changed hands with the fluctuating fortunes of Highland nobility through the ages, belonging in turn to McLeod, Mackay of Strathnaver, the Earl of Ross and again to MacLeod of Lewis, of the Mackenzie Clan. It was assigned to Christopher Anthony Devonshire-Ellis in April 2011, who has become the 19th Baron of Coigach.

Early History

Throughout the late Middle Ages there seems to have been rivalry and feuding between the neighbouring clans of the Mackenzies and the MacLeods in north western Scotland. The MacLeods based on the island of Lewis were attempting to resist the western expansion of the MacKenzies into Wester Ross. By the late sixteenth century the Scottish Crown felt able to intervene and increasingly began to favour the Mackenzies at the expense of the MacLeods. This intensified when King James authorised the establishment of a colony of Scots Lowlanders near Stornaway. This was opposed by the MacLeods who drove out the colonists around 1609. Consequently the king allocated lands in Wester Ross, including Coigach, and later in Lewis to the MacKenzies who had provided support for the Crown.

According to Alick Morrison, co-author of 'The MacLeods – the Genealogy of a Clan' [Edinburgh, 1977] the MacLeods of Coigeach derive from the MacLeods of Assynt. He claims that Norman MacLeod of Assynt, born around 1400, second son of Roderick MacLeod of Lewis, had three sons – Angus, John Riabhach, and Norman Ban. Roderick granted his second son John Riabhach, born around 1434, the estate of Coigeach. This John married a McNicol. Their son John Mor, born circa 1466, succeeded his father in Coigeach. John was a warrior who took part in a raid on Caithness which culminated in the battle of Blairtannie. On John's death he was succeeded by his son Donald who was born around 1498. Donald married a Margaret McMartin and they had two sons – Kenneth, born 1530, and John Mor born 1532. Coigach seems to have been created as a barony within their lifetime.

Stac Polaidh and Cul Beag from the birchwoods below Coigach

The 1511 Charter & The MacLeods

Possibly the earliest existing charter pertaining to Coigach lies in a grant by King James IV on 29 June 1511 to Malcolm MacLeod, son and heir to Rory MacLeod of Lewis, of the lands and castle of Lewis and Waternish, the lands of Assynt, and the lands of Coigach incorporated in the free barony of Lewis. At some point in the sixteenth century Coigach evidently became a distinct barony according to a crown charter of 1572. On 14 February 1572 King James VI granted Torquil MacLeod, son and heir apparent of Roderick MacLeod of Lewis, the lands and barony of Assynt with the lands and barony of Coigach. However Torquil MacLeod fell out of favour with the government as he was molesting and interfering with the Lowland herring fishermen operating in the Minch around 1586. On 20 January 1592 the king granted to Colin MacKenzie of Kintail the lands and barony of Assynt which Torquil MacLeod of Lewis, Assynt, and Coigach had resigned. In a crown grant dated at Falkland on 10 August 1596 King James VI granted Torquil MacLeod and his heirs the land and barony of Assynt, the lands and barony of Coigach, and the land and barony of Lewis, the document also refers to Ullapool as the principal messuage of the barony of Coigach. However in a crown charter dated 17 March 1607 the king allocated these lands and baronies, formerly held by Torquil MacLeod, to Kenneth McKenzie of Kintail.

Ben More, Coigach

1607 - Ownership Passes To Clan MacKenzie

Coigach was disputed territory until the early seventeenth century; Sir Rory Mackenzie of Castle Leod, the younger brother of the then Chief, was granted patent of 'Fire and Sword' by King James. When his brother died he became defacto Chief and was known as the Tutor of Kintail, Kintail being the patronym of the Chief of the Mackenzies and Sir Rory was determined to help his young nephew in gaining more territory for the clan. He laid waste to the MacLeod lands and indeed was so feared in the Highlands that there was a popular saying, 'there are only two things worse than the Tutor of Kintail; mist in the Dog days and frost in spring'. Another story relates to his travelling down past the Duke of Atholl's lands in Badenoch. Stopped by Atholl's men near Blair Atholl he was asked what he was doing when seen to be sharpening his sword. He replied that he was going to 'make a road between your master's head and his shoulders unless he was allowed free passage'. When this was related to the Duke he replied 'It could only have been the Devil or the Tutor of Kintail, so let him pass safely'. The claims of the MacLeods and the MacKenzies for both Coigach and Lewis remained unsettled until a key marriage resolved the issue and Coigach became the western extremity of the MacKenzie estates. The formal contract for the wedding of Sir Rory MacKenzie with Margaret MacLeod was made in Dingwall in May 1605, and the Coigach Charter was confirmed by the Crown in 1609 and was then held in the family for the next four centuries. Coigach was totally different in character from the fat corn lands of Tarbat or from the moderate prosperity of Strathpeffer. It was mainly grazing country and the people of Coigach ran stock – cattle, sheep and goats; they bred horses, and wove and fished. The district never grew enough grain for its own requirements, and until the middle of the eighteenth century there was no corn mill anywhere in Coigach. Coigach was administered by a tacksman as the landlord did not reside in the barony. Coigach was a Gaelic speaking area. By 1626 the three baronies of New Tarbat, Strathpeffer and Coigach were welded into a stable unit – the Tarbat Estate which became Cromartie in 1684.

The broughs of Coigach

Mackenzie, Earls of Cromartie

Sir Roderick Mackenzie of Coigach and Tarbat, second son of Colin Mackenzie of Kintail and his wife Barbara Grant, and immediate younger brother of Kenneth, 1st Lord Mackenzie of Kintail, was ancestor of the Earls of Cromartie. Sir Roderick alias Rory was born around 1579. He and his wife were granted Coigach and others by his brother in 1608. This, and other grants were confirmed in charters from King James VI in 1609, 1621, and 1623 of the lands and baronies of Coigach, Barray, Meikle Turrel, and others. He married Margaret, daughter of Torquil McLeod of Lewis, in 1605. He died during September 1626 in Castle Leod near Strathpeffer. He and his wife had seven children, including John, Colin, and Kenneth. Margaret MacLeod or MacKenzie later married Thomas Fraser of Strechin. [NAS.RS36/RS37; GD23.4.5]

He was succeeded by his eldest son Sir John Mackenzie who was created a baronet of Nova Scotia on 21 May 1628. He married Margaret daughter of Sir George Erskine of Innerteil, brother of Thomas, 1st Earl of Kellie. Sir John was a Member of Parliament in the 1620s and 1630s. He was also a Covenanter and a Colonel of the Inverness Foot during the War of the Three Kingdoms, 1638 to 1651. Latterly he became an 'Engager', one of those who gave their support to King Charles I, and consequently he was imprisoned by Oliver Cromwell. He died on 10 September 1654. Sir John and his wife had eleven children.

H e was succeeded by his eldest son Sir George Mackenzie who was born in 1630. He was educated in Aberdeen and St Andrews, qualified as a lawyer. He too had Royalist sympathies and took part in Glencairn's rising on behalf of the Stuarts. In1654 he fled to the Continent and only returned at the Restoration, then he became Lord of Session on 1 June 1661, Justice General for Scotland 16 October 1678, Lord Clerk Register in 1681; Viscount Tarbat 15 April 1685, Earl of Cromartie 1 January 1693. He also represented Ross-shire in Parliament. Queen Anne appointed him Secretary of State for Scotland and in 1703 he became Earl of Cromartie, Viscount Tarbat, Lord MacLeod and Castlehaven, also Captain General of the Royal Company of Archers. Sir George married (1) Anna, daughter of Sir James Sinclair of Mey, and (2) Margaret, Countess of Wemyss. He died 17 August 1714 at New Tarbat aged 84. By his first wife he had eight children of whom he second son John succeeded.

Next came John Mackenzie, 2nd Earl of Cromartie, who was born around 1656. John was a member of parliament until his father's ennoblement in 1685. John was arrested in 1689 as a suspected opponent of William and Mary, but was released on parole in 1690. In 1691 he was tried for the murder of Elias Poiret, a French Huguenot, in Edinburgh but was acquitted. He married (1) Lady Elizabeth Gordon, daughter of Charles, Earl of Aboyne, (2) Mary Murray, daughter of Patrick, Lord Elibank, (3) Anne, daughter of Hugh, Lord Lovat. He died 20 February 1731. John Mackenzie was the father of a dozen children by his three wives. He was succeeded by his eldest son George as Earl of Cromartie.

George, 3rd Earl of Cromartie, was born around 1702. In 1722 King George I, subscribed to a charter under the Great Seal, in favour of George, Lord Tarbat, eldest son of John, Earl of Cromarty, of the lands of Coigach, the lands Cromartie, from Sir Robert Innes that Ilk, and the lands and barony of Tarbat. [NAS.GD305.1.53.1]. In 1745 he, and his son John, gave their support to Prince Charles Edward Stuart in his unsuccessful attempt to restore the House of Stuart to the throne of Great Britain. George Mackenzie married Isabel, daughter of Sir William Gordon of Invergordon, and they had ten children. He died in London on 28 September 1766.

In 1745 the Earl of Cromartie supported the Jacobite cause and raised his own regiment which included over 200 men from Coigach, many went under pressure. After having participated in the Battle of Falkirk and the Siege of Stirling Castle, Cromartie's Regiment was sent north to counter the Hanoverian clans and Loudoun's Regiment there. On 15 April 1746 John Mackenzie, Lord MacLeod and his men were surprised and routed near Little Ferry close to Dunrobin Castle. They were en route to Culloden having spared the town of Dingwall but fired Foulis Castle, seat of the Hanoverian Clan Munro whilst John's father had captured Dunrobin Castle. Indeed, while John was engaged in a one-way battle with General Louden and his Hanoverian troops, George Mackenzie, the third earl, was having a glass of wine with the Countess of Sutherland (who was a Jacobite whilst her husband was a Hanoverian). Both were surprised by Louden and Cromartie tried to hide under the Countesses voluminous skirts but unfortunately left his feet sticking out and was thus captured in what is still known as the Cromartie Room at Dunrobin.

Panorama of Coigach

1745 – Rebellion & Forfeiture

While many of his men were transported in chains to America, the Earl of Cromartie was sentenced to be executed. However, due to his wife's intercession with the King he was reprieved – however his estates were forfeited to the Crown. The Mackenzie lands, so forfeited, were run by factors on behalf of a government commission. Substantial records of this have survived and can be consulted in the National Archives of Scotland in Edinburgh. For example there is correspondence from tenant, creditors, factors, and others. [see NAS.E376]

Cromartie was among the estates forfeited to the Crown as a consequence of the landowner's participation in the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745-1746. The Board of the Annexed Estates had all such estates surveyed. In the case of Coigach it was undertaken by the Aberdonian Peter May. His survey of 1755 revealed, for the first time, vital data on the barony, for example the population was 896 of which 28% was aged under 10 years, the average family size was 5.36 people, only 7.55 of the population spoke English, there was 1.92 cattle per head of population, and so on. Coigach was a pastoral district with 463 horses, 1413 sheep and 1728 black cattle, which sent substantial quantities of butter and cheese to the markets in the east of the county, no flax, hay or cereals were produced, some potatoes were grown, while the herring fishing had potential for development and the distilling of whisky was common.

In the aftermath of the Seven Years War, 1756-1763, the government settled demobilised soldiers on various of the 'Forfeited Estates' including Tarbat. About 70 soldiers in total were settled including a number at Ullapool and Ardmair in the barony of Coigach in 1764. Most were Highlanders, especially Mackenzies. The objective, in part, was to introduce new skills and trades into the district. However, as far as Coigach was concerned, the scheme was a failure and the settlement was abandoned by the 'King's cottagers' by 1772. [see NAS.E746/136]

Emigration from the Highlands of Scotland to North America which can be traced back to the 1730s became significant in the period between the end of the French and Indian Wars in 1763 and the outbreak of the American War of Independence in 1776. About twenty percent of all known emigrants from Great Britain during that period originated in the Highlands – a number far out of proportion to the overall population. The Hector, which was the first ship to carry emigrants from the Highlands to Canada, sailed in 1773 from Loch Broom with nearly two hundred emigrants many of whom came from Coigach. They settled in Pictou, Nova Scotia, where many of their descendants still live. A full scale replica of The Hector lies on the quay side at Pictou as a memorial and tourist attraction.

The government attempted to improve the infrastructure of the Highlands in various ways. One method was to encourage the activities of the British Fisheries Society which was establishing fishing stations throughout the Highlands and Islands including one at Ullapool around 1788. Ullapool, on the east side of Loch Broom, was to be the metropolis of Coigach with a community of farmers, fishers and merchants. However the herring proved unreliable and Ullapool did not achieve the aspirations of the British Fisheries Society. Ullapool did act as an emigration port, for example 500 emigrants sailed from there bound for Nova Scotia in 1803.

Ben More, Coigach, in winter

1800's – Emigration to Canada & Australia

Coigach did not escape the emigration fever that swept the Highlands during the nineteenth century especially during the Great Highland Famine. Initially the emphasis of emigration from the Highlands was to Canada but by the mid-nineteenth century it was on Australasia. The potato blight that caused the Irish famine and subsequent emigration, also occurred in the west Highlands in areas such as Coigach, and the situation was intensified through a rapid expansion of the population. In 1836 there were 1600 people living within the barony of Coigach but by 1847 there were 1760 people there – a rise of 10% in ten years. One way of relieving the situation was to encourage emigration, another was to clear the people off the estate and settle them elsewhere, for example in 1847 there was large scale removals from the township of Drumchork near Loch Broom. Attempts to clear crofters off the lands of Coigach resulted in serious rioting particularly around 1852 to 1853. The Highland and Island Emigration Society arranged the emigration of thousands of Highlanders to Australia, including a number from Coigach bound for Australia aboard the Sir Alan Macnab in 1853. These Coigach emigrants were described as "of a very superior class, healthy robust people, most of them speak English tolerably well"

John Mackenzie, Lord Macleod, born 1727, son of George Mackenzie and his wife Isabel Gordon, a Jacobite in 1745, guilty of high treason but pardoned in 1748. He then entered the service of the King of Sweden but returned home in 1777. He was Colonel, then Major, of the 71st Regiment. He married Marjory, daughter of James, 16th Lord Forbes, in 1786. On 3 May 1786 Lord Macleod executed an entail of the Cromartie-Mackenzie estates, in virtue of which he was succeeded by his cousin Kenneth Mackenzie of Cromartie. Lord Macleod died 2 April 1789 and his widow married John the 4th Duke of Atholl. There being no children of John's marriage the lands and titles went to the said Kenneth Mackenzie. Seven years later Kenneth died in London and was succeeded under the entail by his cousin Lady Isabella Mackenzie, Lady Elibank.

Isabella was born 30 March 1725. She married George, 6th Lord Elibank, in January 1760. She succeeded to the Cromartie Estates in 1796, and died 28 December 1801. They had two children – Maria and Isabella.

The lands and titles then went to her elder daughter the Hon. Maria Murray Hay-Mackenzie who married Edward Hay of Newhall who became Edward Hay Mackenzie of Cromartie. The couple had four children and their son John Hay-Mackenzie succeeded.

John Hay Mackenzie of Cromartie married Anne, third daughter of Sir James Gibson Craig baronet of Riccarton, on 23 April 1828. John died on 9 July 1849.

Their only daughter Anne Hay Mackenzie was born in 1829 and became Baroness Macleod of Castle Leod, Baroness Castlehaven, Viscountess Tarbat, and Countess of Cromartie in the Peerage of the UK in 1861. She married George William, Marquess of Stafford, who became Duke of Sutherland on his father's death in 1861. The couple had five children of whom the third son Francis succeeded to the Earldom of Cromartie.

Francis, succeeded to the title of Earl of Cromartie, under the special remainder in his mother's patent. He was born at Tarbat House on 3 August 1852. Francis was Vice Lieutenant for Ross and Cromartie, and Deputy Lieutenant for Sutherland, and Major of the 2nd Volunteer Battalion of the Seaforth Highlanders. He died on 24 November 1893. He married Lilian Janet, daughter of the fourth Lord Macdonald, and the couple had two children – Sibell and Constance.

The Hon. Sibell Lilian Mackenzie was born on 14 August 1878. In 1894 she became suo jure Countess of Cromartie, Viscountess Tarbat, Baroness Macleod of Castle Leod, and Baroness Castlehaven. She married Major Edward Walter Blunt in 1899, and the couple had three children Roderick, Walter and Isabel. The Countess died on 20 May 1962 and was succeeded by her elder son Roderick.

Roderick Grant Francis Blunt-Mackenzie, Viscount Tarbat, was born 24 October 1904. He was educated at the Royal Military College at Sandhurst, then he commanded the Seaforth Highlanders and served on the North West Frontier of India. During World War II he was a Major and was taken prisoner. He married (1) Dorothy Porter Downing from Kentucky, (2) Olga Laurance from Paris. The son of his second marriage, John Ruaridh Blunt Grant Mackenzie succeeded as 5th Earl Cromartie.

The Coigach Tartan

The Coigach Tartan is registered with the Scottish Register of Tartans, which is part of the National Archives of Scotland and an affiliate of the Government.

The Coigach District tartan incorporates elements from the Coigach Estate Tweed of 1846 and three of the clan tartans associated with the area - the Mackenzie of 1819, the Macleod of Lewis of 1829 and the Ross of 1819. The dominant design feature is the rust, white and black check of the estate tweed (universally known as the Gun Club tweed) which is here set against a backdrop of the blue and green bands of the MacKenzie tartan. The MacLeod of Lewis connection is represented by the yellow and black and the Ross by the blue, green and red. The five black lines on the green represent Coigach - the Gaelic for fifth, which refers to the area being one fifth of the Earl of Cromartie’s land holding.

The tartan may be ordered directly from the current Baron of Coigach at

The Current Baron Coigach

  The Historic Barons Of Coigach
  Barons of Coigach Succeeded
  Malcolm MacLeod   1511
  Roderick MacLeod unknown
  Torquil MacLeod   1572
  Kenneth McKenzie   1607
  Sir Robert MacKenzie   1609
  Sir John MacKenzie   1628
 Sir George MacKenzie   1693
  John MacKenzie   unknown
  George MacKenzie   1722
  Crown Estates   1745
  Kenneth MacKenzie   1786
  Lady Isabella MacKenzie   1796
  Hon. Maria Murray Hay-MacKenzie   1801
  John Hay-MacKenzie   unknown
  Baroness MacLeod of Castle Leod   1861
  Francis William, Earl of Cromartie   unknown
  Hon. Sibell Lilian MacKenzie   1894
  Roderick Blunt Grant MacKenzie   1962
  John Blunt Grant MacKenzie   1989
  Christopher Anthony Devonshire-Ellis   2011

The Barony of Coigach was assigned to Christopher Anthony Devonshire-Ellis in April 2011. He is the 19th Baron, and holds a bond of alliance with Clan MacKenzie under the Clan Head, the Earl Cromartie.

The current Barons Father, John Henry Devonshire-Ellis (1923-2001), served in World War Two in the Royal Navy prior to being demobbed and taking a position with the BBC, while his Grandfather, Samuel Henry Devonshire-Ellis (1890-1953), was a commander of the Royal Navy in World War One and was involved in the battle of Jutland.

His Great-Grandfather, Sir William Henry Ellis, (1860-1945) was President of the Institute of Civil Engineers, the Master Cutler of the Company of Cutlers in Sheffield, and awarded the Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the British Empire for engineering services to the nation. His portrait hangs in the National Portrait Gallery in London.

The current Baron's Great-Great Grandfather John Devonshire-Ellis (1824-1906) was the Chairman and Managing Director of John Brown Engineering which became one of the worlds largest shipbuilders based in Clydebank, Scotland. John Brown Engineering went on to build many notable ships including the Lusitania, HMS Hood, HMS Repulse, the RMS Queen Mary, RMS Queen Elizabeth and RMS Queen Elizabeth 2, and the Royal Yacht Britannia.

Some of the family graves may be visited at Bolton Abbey, home of the Duke & Duchess of Devonshire.

Christopher Anthony Devonshire-Ellis was born 8 May 1960, is a Scottish businessman with extensive interests in China and the Far East, while currently serving as Vice Chairman of the advisory council for the United Nations Development Programme for China, Russia, Mongolia, North & South Korea. He is Chairman of and founded the international law/tax practice Dezan Shira & Associates in 1992 and the Publishing House Asia Briefing in 1999. He is a member of the Royal Overseas League, a Fellow of the Institute of Directors Hong Kong, and a Founder member of the Beijing Capital Club and a life member of the Hanoi Press Club. His portrait hangs in the members Private Dining Hall alongside other Life Members.

He is related to the Tetley Family of teamakers, HG Wells, Rudyard Kipling and Beatrix Potter. The family origins are from Shetland as at the earliest recorded birth in the year 790. The current Baron has written several legal and tax books concerning China including his most recent title concerning the Silk Road ambitions of the country.

He divides his time between his business interests throughout Asia, his winter homes in Sri Lanka and Malta and summer homes in Mongolia and St. Petersburg, with regular visits back to Coigach.

Christopher Devonshire-Ellis, the 19th Baron Coigach.

Tamara Mor, the largest of the Summer Isles

Coigach Seals

The Summer Isles

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