Janet Ross the Dowager Lady Lovat


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A short account of the life of Janet Ross the Dowager Lady Lovat (c 1510-1565)

Janet Ross was likely born close to Tain around the time of King James IV of Scotland's many pilgrimages to the town in the early 1500s. She was the granddaughter of two Highland chiefs; her father Walter Ross was the eldest son of Sir David Ross the Chief of Clan Ross; whilst her mother Marion Grant was the (forgotten) daughter of John Grant of Freuchie the Chief of Clan Grant. Janet's father, Walter Ross became chief of Clan Ross in 1527 but within a year he was dead; "Murdered by a near Cousin of his own...called Hugh Ross in his own house at Teabrackie near Taine." (1) Teabreakie is now named Knockbreak and it was likely there on the outskirts of Tain that Janet grew up with her siblings, including young Alexander Ross who was chief of the Ross Clan for most of the 16th century. 

Janet first really comes to notice after the death of her husband Hugh Fraser, Lord Lovat. Hugh, along with his eldest son, and around one hundred of their Fraser clansmen were slain at the Battle of 'Kinlochlochy' in July of 1544. The 17th-century author of the Chronicles of the Frasers, the Rev Fraser wrote;

"the death of famous Lord Hugh, who dyed in the bloudy batle of Lochy, his sone, Lord Alexander, being 17 yeares of age, succeeded. Whatever need there was of a tutor non is extant to officiat, being all cut off in the battle. His mother, Janet Rosse, now Lady Dowager of Lovat, an active woman, undertakes the management of the estate, which she did well and wisely, as by the event will be found." (2)

If this is correct and Alexander Fraser was seventeen, Janet must have married Lord Lovat around 1527 shortly before her father was slain. Lord Lovat had been married to Janet's late aunt, her mother's sister Anna Grant with whom he had two children; Master Hugh Fraser who was killed alongside his father and a daughter Janet who died young. For the next three years, with so many of the leading Fraser men having been killed in battle, the management of their lands fell to the now Dowager Lady Lovat Janet Ross and although Lord Alexander served as heir to his father in 1547, when he was twenty years of age, Janet never really stepped back from Clan affairs. Unusually for the time, she refused all offers of marriage. After Lord Alexander married Jean Campbell, he built his mother a house at Kirktown of Farnaway not far from Inverness.

When the Dowager Queen, and then Regent of Scotland, Mary of Guise came north to hold court in Inverness in the summer of 1555, Janet Ross went to attend her, the Queen is said to have; "commended the civility and integrity of the people here, as equal to the polisht south". As the Dowager Queen continued her journey, Lord Alexander, with his clansmen, escorted her through Murray to the river of Spey. Tragically three years later, aged only 31, Lord Alexander died after returning from a pilgrimage to Iona. He left behind a widow Jean Campbell and four children, including the thirteen-year-old Master Hugh Fraser the next Lord Lovat. The Fraser Clan was again left with another chief too young to inherit and Janet's younger son William of Struy became Tutor of Lovat leading the Clan until his nephew Hugh came of age.

It was William who ordered the Fraser Clan, with young Hugh Lord Lovat at their head, to escort Mary Queen of Scots as she travelled to Inverness in May of 1562. When the Earl of Huntly ordered the gates of the castle to be barred against her, the Frasers were joined by the Ross, Munro and Mackenzie Clans who all helped to lay siege to the castle, which fell after three days. Amongst the many Ladies who came to attend the young Queen was the Dowager Lady Lovat Janet Ross, who is said to have told the Queen of her meeting her mother when she held court in Inverness. 

After his mother, Jean Campbell remarried the young Hugh Lord Lovat lived with his grandmother at Kirkton of Farnaway and when he was invited to travel to court in Edinburgh it was Janet's permission he sought for the journey, not William's. Unlike his 'bookish father', Hugh was a fit young man who, like his grandfather, was fond of football, whilst also being a great wrestler and swimmer who was said to be unrivalled with the bow. Nonetheless, in the winter of 1564 he fell gravely ill causing his grandmother great concern;

"Lady Dowager of Lovat, had him still with her, being his best doctrix, and dyeted him well, and had him at the sea aire, and would often oblidge him to divert himselfe be boat up and down the firth, and herselfe with him, yet often and often would she say that her dear child Hugh was gone and was certain he could not be a long liver, and alas, said she, I have outlived my noble husband and also my sone, and I feare shall outlive my grandchild also." (2)

Janet's fears were not realised and Hugh recovered in the spring of the following year but his illness is said to have deeply affected his grandmother. In the summer, as Hugh recovered, Janet fell seriously ill and after perhaps just short of forty years as Lady Lovat she passed away at her home in Kirkton of Farnway on the 7th of September 1565. Rev Fraser describes several funerals in his genealogy, explaining how the Chiefs of Clans were expected to attend funerals with a full military muster. No doubt the Munros, Mackenzies, Urquharts and Rosses, led by Janets's brother Alexander Ross, with their clansmen would have attended the funeral alongside the Fraser clan as Lady Lovat was laid to rest at Beauly Abbey.