‘The Earldom of Ross and an Intrusive Bishop: The Impact of Thomas Tulloch on MacDonald Lordship in Ross, 1440-1461’

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On 6 May 2014, the Centre was pleased to welcome David Cochran-Yu to discuss ‘The Earldom of Ross and an Intrusive Bishop: The Impact of Thomas Tulloch on MacDonald Lordship in Ross, 1440-1461’. Below is this listener’s brief summary of the lecture.

The main protagonist of David’s talk was a clergyman named Thomas Tulloch, an ambitious pluralist driven by a desire to improve the fortunes of his friends and family. Tulloch was a paradox: thrice excommunicated, yet a staunch Papal ally. His career began as a priest in Brechin in the 1420s, but he soon climbed the ecclesiastical career ladder.  Between 1427-36 he was the Archdeacon of Caithness, before becoming the Dean of Ross (1436-1440), and then moving onto the lofty position of Bishop of Ross from 1440 until his death in 1461.

Tulloch’s swift rise to power ruffled the feathers of the church establishment in Ross, and he soon made a catalogue of enemies including the Clan Munro and the Clan Innes. Before Tulloch’s appointment to the Deanery of Ross in 1436, the incumbent Subdean, John Innes, was regarded as the natural successor to the position, yet Tulloch’s strong ties to the papacy won the day. He renounced his claim to the prebend of Kirkmichael in order to obtain the Deanery, but this was a false sacrifice as it was granted to his kinsman, Robert Tulloch, in 1437.

Upon the death of the Bishop of Ross in September 1440, there was fierce competition to be his successor, and concurrently, the ‘Little Schism’ was playing out in Rome. Pope Eugenius IV was deposed by the Council of Basel in 1439, yet he continued to back Thomas Tulloch’s appointment. The antipope, Felix V, backed Tulloch’s rival, Andrew Munro, who also enjoyed the support of the local establishment in Ross. Significantly, the 7th Earl of Douglas supported Munro, who also had lasting enmity with another Thomas Tulloch, the Bishop of Orkney. Ultimately, Tulloch received the bishopric of Ross and in 1441 Pope Eugenius provided Munro with a stipend in recompense. (Pope Eugenius eventually made his return to Rome in 1443, and he enjoyed widespread support in Scotland throughout his exile.) The MacDonald Earls of Ross found it difficult to work with Tulloch as he was competing with their adherents, the Dingwalls and Munros, for ecclesiastical office. It is notable he does not appear in any of their contemporary documents.

Fortrose Cathedral in Ross
Fortrose Cathedral

The Earls of Ross aligned with James Innes, the new Dean of Ross, in an attempt to achieve political unity in the diocese. However, Innes soon proved a liability. He was excommunicated for three years and was accused of attacking a clerk in the cathedral church of Ross (Fortrose, pictured above), resulting in unspecified ‘bloodshed’. Eventually, Donald Stewart, the bastard son of the old MacDonald enemy, the earl of Mar, attempted to supplant Innes as Dean.

David suggested the famous clan battle at Clachnaharry in 1454 between the Munros and the Mackintoshes was directly linked to a Munro/Douglas alliance, and may indicate the Munros were defending Douglas land from Mackintosh attack, who had allied with the Gordons in opposition to the Douglases. Clearly, this period was characterised by complex political machinations and alliances!

A third (!) Thomas Tulloch was also active during this period. He was appointed the treasurer of Ross by Thomas (the Bishop) in 1444, and again we find opposition to the Tulloch powerhouse, this time by the (brilliantly named) Lancelot Ross. Later in 1465, this Thomas Tulloch was challenged by Alexander Gray, who accused him of being a ‘manslayer’ and of maintaining a woman and child.

Concluding, David asserted that Tulloch was plainly a divisive figure in the history of Ross, a clergyman at the centre of many complex political struggles. He shrugged off excommunication three times and pursued the interests of his family above all else, showing that the clergy could be devious political schemers the equal of any contemporary noble.

Summary by Ross Crawford (PhD Researcher)

Our seminar series continues next week, Tuesday 13 April, with Dr Kate Mathis’, “‘An Ideal Wife?’ Alexander Carmichael’s Deirdire & Revivalist ideals of beauty, dignity & death”. This will be held in Room 202, 3 University Gardens at 5.30pm. All welcome.

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