How the Earl of Ross won his Earldom


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The following unlikely story from the 16th century tells us how Fearchar won his earldom but could it be true?

'In the year of God 1272 years, Alexander the Third, King of Scots, passed with his Lady Queen Margaret, accompanied by many nobles and barons of Scotland, to London, for the coronation of King Edward Longshanks, King of England, brother to the said King Alexander's wife; and on the assumption day of our Lady in the same year one thousand two hundred three-score and twelve years, upon the sixteenth day of November, was the coronation of the said king Edward at London with great triumph. 

At this time, there was one Norman, a Frenchman, called Dougal Duncanson, in the said King Edward’s house, of marvellous strength, and had sic craft in wrestling, that he defeated all men that assailed him, nevertheless he was finally vanquished by Fearchar Ross, ane Scotsman. King Alexander, for his notable deed, gave to the said Fearchar the earldom of Ross. 

Fearchar Ross made a vow to God that if he beat the Frenchman and God gave him the victory he should found an Abbey within the earldom of Ross… After obtaining the victory, he happened to meet with two monks, in Galloway, carrying certain relics of Saint Ninian’s with them. The said earl brought them to Ross, and founded an abbey at Fearn, beside Kincardine in Strathcarron… And thereafter… with the consent of the abbot… for the more tranquillity, peace, and quietness thereof, translated the said monastery where it presently stands.'

This story is from a late 16th-century manuscript called 'A brief Chronicle of the Earls of Ross', but written hundreds of years after the described events the author makes a few glaring mistakes.

The first Earl of Ross died twenty years before King Edward's Coronation whilst let’s be honest Dougal Duncanson is the most unlikely name for a Frenchman. That said, we know that Fearchar certainly founded the Abbey at Fearn.

Although I doubt the wrestling was the real reason Fearchar was granted an Earldom, I suspect there is some truth to the story and I was keen to see if it was in any way probable. As it turns out there were several events where Fearchar could have competed at a tournament but perhaps the most likely is the wedding of King Alexander II and ‘Joan of England.’ This took place at York Minster on the 19th of June 1221 just before Fearchar became the Earl of Ross.

The wedding was said to have been witnessed by King Henry III and the great magnates of both Scotland and England and was followed by three days of celebrations that no doubt would have included tournaments with knights taking part in jousts and melees.
Of course, I doubt, we will ever know if there is any truth to this story but it does seem at least possible and if so, it is a shame we have no details regarding the real event.