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THE MOWATS OF BUCHOLLIE AND FRESWICK

The estates of Buchollie and Freswick are in the parish of Canisbay.
Photos of the ruins of Buchollie Castle (12th century) can be seen on www.caithness.org/caithness/castles/photogallery

The family of Muat or Mowat is said to have originally borne the name of Montealt, from lands so designated in Flint, North Wales; and the name occurs in the Ragman Roll and other documents as "de Monte alto". They are supposed to have settled in Scotland in the reign of David I, the principal family having been that of Buchollie, now called Hatton, near Turriff, in Aberdeenshire.

The date of the Mowats' first connection with Caithness is uncertain. The earliest writ extant concerning the lands of Freswick is a charter granted by King Robert Bruce to one of this family; and between 1406 and 1413 the Duke of Albany, as Regent of Scotland, confirmed a wadset of Freswick and Aukingill, granted by William Mowat of Loscraggy to his son John-the same person who, in 1419, was killed at the chapel of St. Duthus, at Tain, by Thomas McKay of Strathmore. Loscraggy was in the barony of Buchollie, in Aberdeen. There is an indenture, dated in 1495, between Alexander Mowat of Loscraggy, as nearest and lawful heir of William of Clyne, his cousin, and William of Clyne, son of the said William, whereby Alexander Mowat confirms to William, the son, a right granted to him by his father of Knock-clyne, Clyne-Ieish, etc., in Sutherland; and William confirms to Alexander the lands of Cultalord, Drynie, and others in Ross, now the estate of Cadboll.

Buchollie Castle, a short distance from the house of Freswick, of which there still exist considerable and picturesque ruins, was the ancient residence of the Caithness Mowats, and it is supposed to occupy the same site as Lambaburgh, which was a fort and stronghold in 1142. The name of the castle and the family title were, no doubt, derived from the Aberdeenshire property of the Mowats, but it does not appear that their lands in Caithness, which form the modern estate of Freswick, went by the name of Buchollie.

From the time of William Mowat, in 1413 to 1522, there is an interval during which no mention is found of the Laird of Buchollie. In the latter year, however, Magnus Mowat of Loscraggy and Freswick was infeft in Harpsdale.

In 1548 Patrick Mowat of Buchollie entered into a contract with Malcolm Halcro of that Ilk, in Orkney, for the marriage of their son and daughter.

In 1549 Patrick Mowat sold, under reversion, the lands of Tofts, Overtyre, and Aukingill, in the barony of Freswick, to Alexander Mowat in Tofts; and in 1554 Patrick is mentioned as "Lord of Buchollie and Freswick". Whether this Patrick was the son of Magnus Mowat of 1522 does not appear. Patrick Mowat had a son, Patrick, and probably a daughter.

In Hay's "Sinclairs of Roslyn", John and Patrick Sinclair of Ulbster are said to have been sons of "Margaret Mowat, daughter of James Mowat of Buchollie and Lucy Gordon, daughter of the Laird of Gight". William Sinclair, their father, died in 1573, and if Margaret Mowat's father was James, he may have been also the predecessor and father of Patrick Mowat of 1549 and 1554.

PATRICK MOWAT OF FRESWICK AND HARPSDALE was served heir to his father in these lands in 1565, and appears on record until 1593. He is, no doubt, the Patrick Mowat of Buchollie who is mentioned in the Spalding Papers, referred to by Calder, as witness to a testamentary deed by Andrew, Earl of Errol, dated at Slains Castle, 3d October 1585.

Patrick Mowat married Christian Ogilvie, and had two sons and a daughter: -

  1. Magnus
  2. James
  1. Isabella, who was the first wife of William Bruce of Stanstill, and died in 1601, as appears from the inscription on a gravestone, originally placed inside the kirk of Canisbay, and now standing in the kirkyard, wherein she is named as "Lady Stanstill, daughter of the Laird of Buchollie"
MAGNUS MOWAT OF FRESWICK obtained a charter from his father in 1602. He married Isabella Cheyne, relict of John Kennedy of Kermuick, Aberdeenshire, a family which held possessions for some time in the island of Stroma. In 1605 Magnus sold his lands of Harpsdale to the Earl of Caithness. He died in 1634, and appointed his son-in-law Sir John Sinclair of Dunbeath, to be his executor. He left 2000 merks to Thomas Mowat, son of James of Ardo; and he directed Roger Mowat, advocate, to give titles to his brother and successor, James. He had two daughters: -
  1. Elizabeth
  2. Christian, who was, in 1601, infeft in Loscraggy and other lands. She married Sir John Sinclair of Geanies and Dunbeath
JAMES MOWAT OF FRESWICK obtained a precept of clare-constat in 1634 as heir to his brother, Magnus.

In 1634 there was an agreement between Patrick Mowat of Buchollie and James Mowat of Freswick, by which the latter became bound to dispone Freswick to his grandson, Magnus.

ROGER MOWAT OF BUCHOLLIE, Advocate, obtained a Crown charter in 1635; and in 1644 a charter of novodamus, on which he was infeft in 1645. Probably these charters relate only to the Aberdeenshire estate, and it is thought that this Roger Mowat of Buchollie was the same who joined Montrose as a Royalist, and who was slain at the battle of Alford in 1645. In 1629 he had apprized Swinzie and Brabstermyre from the Mowats, who were then the owners of these properties, and in 1644 he is designed as heritable proprietor of these lands.

SIR GEORGE MOWAT OF BUCHOLLIE was, in 1653, served heir-male to his father, Roger, in the lands of Freswick, Burnside, Harlie, Middletown, Oakengill, Strupster, and others, in the parish of Canisbay, with the patronage of the kirk of Canisbay, which belonged to the family in 1610, and which had all been united with the Aberdeenshire estate into the barony of Buchollie.

Although it is presumed that Roger Mowat and his son, Sir George, were descended from Patrick Mowat of Buchollie, it is not known that Patrick was the son of James Mowat of Freswick, and it is probable that the estate of Freswick had come to be possessed by a branch of the family separately from Buchollie. It may thus have been only the superiority of the Freswick estate which was included in the titles made up by Roger Mowat and his son, Sir George.

MAGNUS MOWAT OF BUCHOLLIE, the grandson of James Mowat, was the last Mowat of Freswick. In 1651 he married Jean, daughter of Alexander Sinclair of Latheron. In 1661 Freswick was sold to William Sinclair of Rattar, grandson of Sir John of Greenland, and it has ever since belonged to the Sinclair family.

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