Pope Family

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During research into the Melville families of the Doll in the parish of Clyne in Sutherland I came across a connection between Melvilles and a Pope family living in that area through the marriage of John Melville to Roberta Pope.  As research progressed much information was collected locally and through researchers in this country and abroad and their names are recorded in the reference section to this work.  From the collected material it became clear that the Pope name had some importance for the Melvilles making a home in the antipodes, in addition to those remaining in Scotland, with Pope being carried as a middle name through a number of generations and families.


The Popes and connected families in the Doll lived at various places but principally at Sputie. Two areas not far distant from one another are designated Sputie on this map from the 1870s.  One by the A9 road and the other a little up the Sputie Burn which marked the boundary between the Parishes of Golspie and Clyne.


In addition to the Pope Melvilles of Australia and with a branch designated the Dun Popes, it came to light that in that country and in New Zealand there were Pope Smiths.  Families who had kept the name of Pope alive as a middle name to remind themselves and others of their fore bearers.  


It became clear that the Pope families of Sutherland, Ross and Cromarty, and Caithness, needed extensive research in an effort to sort out the relationships between the various groups and the groups of related families elsewhere in the World.  At an early stage it became apparent that, being an unusual name in the far north of Scotland, there was likely to be a relationship between most, if not all of the Popes.  At the outset, little was known of the family connected to the Melvilles before the early 1800s other than a few names from baptismal, marriage and death records and from the 1841 census and this was an obvious starting point for research.  Little did I realize how far and wide and distant into the past the quest would lead.


This work tries to logically and clearly document the known facts about the Pope connected families and briefly put their lives in the context of the periods in which they lived.  There may be errors and omissions but hopefully this will not detract from the understanding of the significance of the prominent and important families in this family history research.  By setting out what is known it is to be hoped that further information will come to light through others working in the same area of research.


The Different Principal Pope Lines


The Popes lines which are most distinctive and which are researched in the greatest detail here are:


The Popes of East Sutherland

            This group includes the families in Clyne and Kildonan Parishes

            The Popes of Leith and Dumbarton


The Pope Melvilles of Australia


The Popes of Durness and Scourie

            This group includes the Pope families in Australia descendant from James Pope of Scourie’s         son James Dun Pope


The Pope Smiths of New Zealand

            There are other families in Australia and New Zealand connected to the East Sutherland      Popes through Isabella Ross, the daughter of Alexander Ross and Henrietta Pope, who       married James Smith of Olrig in Caithness.  This branch is from this source and details of those trees can be found in the reference section.


It quickly became obvious that success in the quest for the origins of the Sutherland and Caithness Popes, and the other associated lines, probably lay in identifying the family of Hector Pope of Loth.  Though there were many uncertain areas in this family descent in the East Sutherland branch their connection to Hector seemed proven.  However, the Durness group and their ancestry were more problematic and required extensive research.


The Pope family members of interest identified in Australia, apart from those descended from the Melville Pope lines, in the most part, derive from a family of Popes, headed by an Alexander Pope, resident in the parish of Durness in the latter part of the 18th century.  Those Popes in Australia descended from Alexander Pope of Durness and the North Sutherland related families are now known with certainty to be from the same source as the other Sutherland lines and their subsequent Worldwide connections. 


Circumstantial evidence existed for this supposition before the final proof and this was as follows:


At the birth of James to Alexander Pope and Ann Mackay in Durness in 1787 Alexander is described as ‘from Sutherland’.  This is a very significant remark indicating that he was neither a Mackay country man from Strathnaver in the widest 19th century terminology covering the north of Sutherland nor a Caithness man.


The above being the case what was his parentage?  James Pope a Writer in Dornoch had at least two sons to Isobell Monro – Alexander and Hugh.  Alexander was born in 1739 and so would have been about the correct age to be in Durness and marrying in 1787.  James being a professional man working in the law would be a good candidate to be Alexander’s father coming from the Popes of East Sutherland who were a high status and generally professional or landed family at that time.


Alexander in Durness names his first son James in accordance with naming tradition if James was his own father.  The next son was called Neil after Ann Mackay’s father and the third son Hugh which may be reference to the child’s uncle and Alexander’s brother from Dornoch.  The girls are a little more problematic.  But his second child was Alexie and could well have been named after himself and this often happened in Scottish families of the time.  Neilina is also possibly referring back to the maternal side and the child’s grandfather.  Fairly is a name which appears on the north coast of Sutherland and I was uncertain as to its derivation though this has now become clear. The middle name of Gordon for this daughter may well be a reflection of the family’s east coast links as the Popes and the Gordons were closely linked in both marriage and business in East Sutherland.


A John Pope who went to Australia and gave Hector Pope Melville as his cousin was from Durness. He appears to have been a widower and have left his young daughter Jess with George Mackay and Janet Mackay MS Pope in Durness.  Finding Jess or Janet as she was baptised has proved difficult after the 1861 census.  John’s cousin was from the East Sutherland Pope line and his family originated in the Doll of Brora.


Two Popes from Scourie were said to go to Brora to live with a cousin Angus Pope.  Though they did not live there permanently it is clear that the Scourie resident who made this report knew of Angus Pope and was aware he was a relative of the Scourie Popes.


In a letter to James Dun Pope in Australia, in 1867, from his father in Scourie, James Dun Pope is informed of the death of James Pope in Leith and reference is made to one of this James Pope’s children.  Since ‘East Sutherland’ and  the ‘Reay Country’ of the Mackays were almost two counties with less than harmonious relationships over the centuries it is very likely that the knowledge of this James in Leith, who was a descendant of the east Coast line, was by way of a family relationship.


Both James Dun Pope and James Pope of Leith appear to have unsuccessfully claimed an inheritance from a David or Alexander Pope.  Neither was successful but since both thought they had a legitimate claim one can at least speculate that this was another indication of a family relationship between those men.  The Popes referred to in the claims have not been identified though there was a sum of money part of which eventually ended up in the Treasury coffers from Chancery. This was the unclaimed residue from the will of Hector Lythgoe (Lithgow), the son of Helen Pope of Loth who was herself the daughter of Hector Pope of Loth. Later this last Will and Testament became very important in the quest for Pope family clarity through documents relating to claimants in the will and monies in Chancery.


The records in Dunrobin Castle at the time of the Hector Lithgow Last Will  and Testament indicated Helen Pope, Hector’s mother, to be the daughter of Hector Pope of Loth and indicated that all the Sutherland Popes were from the same family.


However, the circumstantial evidence, most of it correctly assumed, becomes almost irrelevant with the appearance of all the evidence from the various claims and litigation surrounding the Hector Lithgow inheritance relating to the will of this Hector who was the son, possibly illegitimate, of Helen Pope of Loth.  Sources are quoted later but the principal providers of information were George Sutherland Taylor, a Writer (Solicitor/Lawyer) in Golspie who in the late 1820s and early 1830s was commissioned to draw up a Pope family outline with regard to the claims, Depositions and correspondence from the 1820s through to 1848 provided by Pope Descendant Charles Rigg in Worcestershire and researcher Alistair Gordon in London who has collected much information and particularly that associated with the Gordons and Popes.


George S Taylor was commissioned by a Mr Nichol of Doctor’s Commons, also called College of Civilians, which was a society of lawyers practising civil law in London.  Like the Inns of Court of the common lawyers, the society had buildings with rooms where its members lived and worked and a big library. Court proceedings of the civil law courts were also held in Doctors' Commons.


The Society of Genealogy describes the Doctors' Commons as follows:

The Court of the Bishop of London sat in Doctors' Commons near St Paul's Cathedral as did the registries of several other Church Courts. Amongst them were the offices of the Bishop of Winchester, the Archdeacon of Surrey as well as the Archdeacons of London and Middlesex, the Deans and Chapters of St Paul's and Westminster, and many others. Wills were proved and the Vicars General of the Bishop of London and the Archbishop of Canterbury also issued marriage licences. Here was heard the various disputes that caused the courts such infamous repute. The Courts within Doctors Commons were very much associated in the public mind with the making and unmaking of marriage from the 17th Centuries. Gradually the London Consistory Court assumed a virtual monopoly in matrimonial suits and became the most important matrimonial court for the whole of the country. It became the court of first instance for most matrimonial cases with only the Court of Arches and the Supreme Court of Delegates as the highest courts of appeal. The procedures of the courts were very different from the system we know today. The parties in each case provided witnesses to attempts to persuade the court of their case (or defence). These witnesses were known as deponents as their evidence was given not orally but by written depositions taken in response to written lists of questions (interrogatories) drawn up in advance.

The name "Doctors' Commons" goes back to the 15th century. Advocates (equivalent to modern solicitors) were also doctors of law (having obtained doctors' degrees). They formed an association called the College of Advocates which was based in a building which became known as Doctors' Commons. The College then moved to an area, near St Paul's Cathedral, close to many church courts and to civil lawyers' chambers; the name Doctors' Commons then became used for the whole area.


George S Taylor conducted his enquiries in the late 1820s and early 1830s concluding them around 1834 and submitting his results as of 31 August 1835. The wheels of justice grind slowly and the date of the forwarding of the information to the Lords of the Treasury by the above Mr Nicol is not clear.  However, a letter to the Lords of the Treasury of 24 March 1840 from Mr Nichol shows the regard in which both George S Taylor and his endeavours were held.


The letter stated:

“Your Lordships are aware from the various reports which I have had the honour to submit detailing the enquiries made in Sutherland for the purpose of discovering the history and connections of the late Hector Lithgow and of the different members of the family of the late Rev. Hector Pope, formerly Minister of the Parish of Loth in the county of Sutherland, that those enquiries were conducted by George S Taylor of Golspie with the sanction of your Lordships, that gentleman having been recommended as a person having peculiar means of access to the muniments in Dunrobin Castle, from which much of the information desired was ultimately obtained, and of the satisfactory means in which Mr Taylor performed the services required of him.’


Clearly there was satisfaction with George S Taylor’s work which included research at Dunrobin Castle, where he examined rent books in particular, his checking of other official records and his interviewing of family and friends of the Popes.  Research by me taken independently before the information relating to the work of George S Taylor appeared corresponds well with his findings and confirms his research in almost all aspects that can be now readily checked.


However, George S Taylor’s work was not the start of the story and certainly not the end.  The search for the search for the rightful heirs to Hector Lithgow and the fight for a share of the vast fortune he left preceded and followed Taylor’s efforts.  But more of that much later as who the Popes were needs to be understood first.




The Popes, or Papes/Paips, as the name was often spelt at that time, was one of prominent families in East Sutherland in the 1600, 1700 and 1800s.  They were teachers, ministers, Tenant Farmers, even if sometimes on small lots of land, and soldiers and influential and notable in the area through their learning and social contacts with a number having studied for university degrees.


Black, in his Surnames of Scotland, identifies a number of Popes, and the variant spellings of the name, in the North of Scotland and the Northern Isles.  Of most interest from this source are the Elgin in Morayshire, Ross-Shire and Dornoch references.  He notes that a family of Paips or Papes appears to have belonged to the Elgin area and that some of them were in the legal profession before the reformation.  The papers of the Gaelic Society of Inverness make reference to the Elgin Papes and their move to Ross-shire and then the move by three brothers, William, Charles and Thomas, to Dornoch.  It was not a big step for this family to move to Ross-Shire from whence the first Sutherland mention of the name appeared with the appointment of William Pape from Ross-Shire being appointed Schoolmaster in Dornoch.


One of the earliest references found to Pope families is to be found in a charter of William Pop, son and heir of William Pop who was a burgess of Elgin.  This charter was witnessed by Malcolm of Alves, Dean of Caithness.  There is also some indication that Pope family members were prominent in Aberdeen prior to the reformation and were, as in Elgin, engaged in the legal profession.


Pope family tradition in the North of Scotland, as reported by George S Taylor, suggested that the first Pope to arrive in the area was a ‘stranger’ of the name of Pope, a churchman, who landed in Cromarty bay about the close of the 15th century.  Certainly the present research might also lead to the conclusion that the Pope family originated from an incomer to that area at around that time.  This ‘stranger’ would then appear to be the progenitor of William, Charles and Thomas Pope and their other noted but unconfirmed siblings.  Cleary he was not their parent but possibly their grand or great grand parent though this is unlikely ever to be proved.




William Pape, native of Ross-shire, may be the gentleman first noted as a Reader at Ardersier, in the county of Inverness-shire, in 1580.  The post indicated that this individual did not hold Holy Orders but it was a post frequently combined with other duties, such as being Schoolmaster. At that time Ardersier was part of the Diocese of Ross and the prebend of Ardersier was held by the Dean of Ross at Fortrose Cathedral.  The prebend was simply the stipend for that parish.  This Cathedral at Fortrose was dedicated to St Curadan who ministered in this part of the Black Isle and died in 716AD. The See of Ross was actually founded in 1128 by King David the First and the Cathedral was built in 1309.


Fortrose Cathedral


Readers were used by the church after the Reformation in 1560 as there were too few ministers to cover the whole country.  Ministers were responsible for an area with more than one church and they travelled around preaching in their various places of worship.  The Readers read the service from a service book on the Sundays when the minister could not be present in the church.


William matriculated at St. Andrew’s University in 1583 and was a graduate of St. Andrew’s University in 1587.  However, courses of study were not necessarily continuous in those times and he was, in fact, appointed Schoolmaster at Dornoch in 1585.   He became the parson there in 1588.  In 1599 further honour followed with his appointment, by King James, to the Chantry of the Diocese and he is later stated to have been appointed Chanter of Dornoch in 1602.  This was followed in 1606 with his appointment as constant Moderator of the Presbytery.  With the consent of the Bishop, Dean and Chapter he received from John, Earl of Sutherland, in 1607, for life and to his heirs for 19 years the tiend sheaves of the Chanter’s Quarter, town and lands in the parish of Dornoch.  This land tenancy and the products thereof probably provided William with considerable social status and not a little financial gain.  It should be noted that there is no inconsistency with William having been appointed reader and teacher and then attending University and subsequently becoming a minister of religion.  This routeway to the ministry was not an uncommon one.  Also as noted above the matriculation and graduation might be separated by a shorter or longer period and a graduation date was not always noted.  There was an inference of graduation at that time if matriculation took place.


William is next reported in records as present at the Glasgow Assembly in 1610 along with his brother Thomas Pape, parson of Rogart and Chancellor of the Diocese,  who attended on behalf of the Caithness Diocese.


Dornoch Cathedral as it appears today.It would have been in this ar
ea of the grounds where the Pope Riot, described later, took place.

The parish of Dornoch was dedicated to St Finn Barr.  Within this parish, indeed in the centre of Dornoch, there also stood St Gilbert’s, the Cathedral Church of Caithness.  This church was to become the church of the parish in the later part of the 16th century.  The church took its name from the St Gilbert, Bishop of Caithness, who founded the Cathedral.  The Bishop was buried in the Cathedral in 1245 and also within the building is a chapel of St James.  A convent of the Red Friars was founded at Dornoch in 1271, no doubt, due to the town’s importance as a religious centre.  Further indications of the importance given to the early religious influence can be seen the fairs of St Finn Barr and St Gilbert held in the town.


The Cathedral spent many decades, even centuries, in disrepair due to a number of incidents.  It was burned down in 1570 and in 1605 greatly ruined by a very violent storm.  It was not until 1835 that a full restoration of the building was begun by Elizabeth, Duchess of Sutherland and this work went on for many years. 




                                                                                            Drawing by Cordiner from about 1776 of the Dornoch Cathedral nave.

William Pape finished his career in the ministry and his life as Pastor of Nigg in Ross-shire.  The date of his removal to Nigg appears to have been about 1613 to 1616.  In the Nigg Chrurch records William is listed without firm dates between Finlay Manson who was recorded as ‘continuing’ there in 1607 and George Corbet given as 1615 and ‘continuing in 1615. The next date mentioned is for William Ross from 1644.  Following the sequence it would suggest William was only the incumbent for a shirt time from 1613 to 1614 but there is the possibility that he was there after George Corbett in 1615.


William’s church at Nigg was described as a mensal kirk of the Bishop of Ross which indicates a church where the revenues were appropriated to the bishopric.  In the parish there were also chapels at Cullins and Shandwick.  In the area of William’s ministry there was in addition two holy wells, Tobar Chormaig and Tobar Eoin.  The former was dedicated to St Cormac and the latter to St John the Baptist.  


William’s influence in the affairs of Sutherland were not insignificant being a Commissioner for the county and through this, between 1593 and 1599, coming into contact and being an associated of Robert Pont (1524 – 1606) and  his son, mapmaker and clergyman, Timothy Pont (c1564 – c1614).  The influence in religious affairs of William Pape at a time of change was considerable due to his consistent supporter of Episcopacy.  In this regard it was for this purpose he atteended the Assembly of Glasgow in 1610 along with his brother Thomas, parson of Rogart and Chancellor of the Diocese.


It is interesting in family history research and writings for family details to be put in the social, religious and political context of the times in which they lived.  While not connected to the Pope family under consideration it is worth saying a few words about the Pont family who were undoubtedly known to the Papes of Dornoch.


William Pape would have met Robert Pont, an eminent and influential Scottish clergyman, practicing lawyer and writer, as the latter became increasingly active in church affairs in the North of Scotland.  Pont opposed the appointment by James VI of Patrick Adamson as Bishop of Caithness in 1587 and he was very much involved in several commissions for ‘stamping out popery’ and for instigating proceedings against Papists and establishing kirks from Aberdeen to Caithness.  In the 1590s, as William Pape established himself and his family in Dornoch, Pont was a senior statesman giving advice on all matters relating to the church in the Scotland.  It was said by A.H. Williamson that ‘Reverend Robert Pont spoke with great learning, vast experience and enormous authority’.  This author also points out that Robert Pont was deeply interested in astrology, chronology and the natural world.


Though much more is known about the life of Robert Pont than his son, Timothy, it is the name of Timothy that is often remembered due to his mapping of Scotland. A graduate of St Andrew’s University in 1583, as William Pape was in 1587, Timothy probably mapped the Dornoch area at the time when William Pape was there as pastor.  This being the case they would undoubtedly have met as the Dornoch and Tain map shows a sketch of the Castle in Dornoch with a small number of dwellings around it.  The two would also have been known to one another as ministers in the same diocese and they would have probably met together during the period from 1601 to 1610 when Timothy Pont was the minister of Dunnet in Caithness.


The life and times of William Pope is an intriguing and interesting one and equally so is the work and life of the Ponts.  It is hardly possible here to give little more than a short description of the work of the Ponts in the Scottish Highlands.  There are many sources of information on this family worth consulting but a good start can be made by looking at the Pont website at www.nls.uk/pont.  The description of the work in which the Ponts were involved gives a good insight into the structure of society in which William Pape had to live and work.


William Pape married Cristine (Christian) Monypenny and a plaque to their memory with their initials adorned their dwelling in what is possibly the old Deanery.  This plaque can be seen in the Dunrobin Castle Museum.  I have no certain information on the origins of the Monypenny family in general or Cristine in particular.  Black in Surnames of Scotland lists a number of instances of the name from as early as the 1200s.  Of interest in his list is Kentigern Monepenny (Monypenny) who was Dean of Ross in 1546.  The area and date is as close to Sutherland as I can get and maybe there is some connection here. After all the clergy’s families did tend to inter-marry and you will find many instances in the Caithness and Sutherland of family connections between the offspring of the clergy.  The fact, noted above, that William worked in the Diocese of Ross and under the Dean of Ross may well be a clue to the ancestry of his wife Cristine Monypenny.





The second of William’s brothers who came to Dornoch from Ross-shire and settled was Thomas.  He is said to have been encouraged to come by William’s prosperity.  Thomas became Chancellor of the Diocese and Minister at Rogart in 1590 and, as we have seen, along with brother William, was a member of the Assembly in Glasgow in 1610. The prebend of the church at Rogart was held by the Cathedral Chapter of Dornoch and dedicated to St Colin.  Thomas transferred to the parish of Cullicudden in Ross-shire in 1614 and was still in the ministry there in May 1634. 





The other brother of William Pape who came to Dornoch was Charles, a Notary Public and Messenger at Arms. The records held by St Andrew’s University notes that Charles was the brother of William and was from Meikle Reny.  There a number of places with the name Meikle in Ross & Cromarty and identifying where Charles moved from to Dornoch was not at first thought possible with any certainty.  However, it became apparent that the most likely was Meikle Rhynie to the east of Tain and in the area of Fearn Abbey.  Since there was clearly a strong religious settlement and tradition here before the reformation and even after 1560 the Abbey continued to be used as a church it soon became clear that Meikle Rhynie would most likely have been Charles’s former abode.  Black in his surnames of Scotland spells the name Rhynie as Ryny which is not a step too far from Reny.  Incidently, A resident of Ross-shire when asked by me where Meikle Reny might be immediately said it was most likely Meikle Rhynie.


Charles was given the Sheriff Clerkship and was the unfortunate family member killed in the Pope Riot described later.  Fasti Ecclesiae Scoticanae Volume 7 in the same section, on William Pope of Nigg, states that both Charles from Meikle Reny was William Popes brother and also tells of his death in the Pope Riot of Dornoch. This being the case it is most likely that Charles came directly from Meikle Reny to Dornoch. It is said that Charles was an affable individual and a merry conversationalist who was popular in the area.


It was only when I became aware of a book entitled ‘The Calendar of Fearn’ published in 1991 by the Scottish History Society that the sought after place was identified with certainty as Meikle Rhynie.  This book confirmed a number of suspicions about the origins of the Pope family and added to the family relationships with some other families in the Fearn area.  It recorded the wife of Charles as Margaret Gordon, who elsewhere is noted as the daughter of Alexander Gordon of Siddera, and also identified a daughter Barbara.


The ‘Calendar of Fearn’ reproduces information collected in a manuscript from before 1517.  The Scottish History Society edition relied largely on a version bound in or soon after 1844.  It would appear that there were several contributors to the Calendar and many additions throughout the 17th century.  Later writers knew of its existence and referred to it and the Calendar was placed at an unknown date in Dunrobin Castle.


It is worth printing part of the details here  as they appear in the Calendar of Fearn:


Hugh Ross’s first wife Catherine Ross was dead by 23 October 1609, when her widower made a marriage contract with Margaret Gordon, widow of Charles Pope, portioner of Meikle Rhynie (RS37/7, 75r-v, 8June 1650: for Pope, ‘publict notary and messenger at arms’, killed in Dornoch in 1607, see Gordon, 246-8; Blackie, 45, traces his ancestry to Bishop Henry Cockburn [d. 1476]). Barbara Pope, Margaret Gordon’s daughter, contracted to marry her mother’s stepson Walter Ross, apparent of Kindeace, on 22 July 1622, very shortly before Hugh Ross’s death (RS37/7, 74r-75r, 22 march 1650).  When Walter Ross lost Kindeace almost thirty years later his wife and his stepmother had to renounce their rights (RS37/7, 74r-75v, 22 March 1650).  Margaret Gordon had remarried and was now the wife of Thomas or Hugh Ross of Resolis (RS37/7, 75r-v gives both names.


To sumarise this it appears that after Charles Pope was killed in the Pope Riot his widow, Margaret Gordon, married Hugh Ross in 1609.  Hugh Ross had previously been married to Catherine Ross and their son, Walter Ross, married Barbara Pope thus resulting in the marriage of Barbara Pope to her mother’s stepson.


After the death of Hugh Ross in 1622 Margaret Gordon (Pope and Ross by her previous marriages) married for a third time.  This marriage was to Thomas Ross who had previously been married to Helen Ross and another and he too was therefore entering into marriage for the third time.  Hugh Ross, the first husband of Margaret Gordon, was the son of a Walter Ross and Margaret Simson.  This Walter later married to Agnes Vaus and he was probably the son of another Walter Ross.




In 1662 the parish of Cullicudden joined with Kirkmichael and became known as Resolis. Charles Pope of Cullicudden was still in the charge in August 1655 according to the Mackay Presbytery Records of Dingwall but by 1662 the charge was vacant hence the joining of the parishes.  Whether Charles disappearance from the scene was through death or retirement is not known.  There is no indication that he moved on to another church.


The Cathedral of Fortrose held the prebend or stipend of Cullicudden, and that of Kirkmichael.  The former parish was dedicated to St Martin and the latter to St Michael.  The parish church of Kirkmichael was not itself removed to Resolis until 1767. 


Charles Pope of Cullicudden, is said in Fasti and by Sage to be most probably the son of the aforementioned Thomas who moved from Rogart to Cullicudden.  He succeeded Thomas of Cullicudden there and he took up the charge before 1638 as he is mentioned in Mackay’s Dingwall Presbytery records as Clerk to the Presbytery in November 1638.  It is from this Charles Pope of Cullicudden that Alexander Pope of Reay was descended according to Sage who also stated that Alexander was a descendant, through Hector Pope of Loth, of William Pope (Pape).  It has also been suggested, though maybe less credibly, that Hector of Loth was son  that Gilbert Pape, Burgess of Tain and son of Charles Pape who was killed in the Pope Riot at Dornoch.


Charles Pope, the Minister of Cullicudden and assumed son of Thomas Pope and nephew of Charles Pope of the Pope Riot, therefore appears to have been married but his wife’s name is not known at this time.



The area of Ross in the vicinity of Tain, Fearn and Meikle Rhynie according to Pont’s map of about 1580.



Above Kirkmichael Churchyard and Church in 2010 and similarly below Cullicudden and church remains.






Further information upon the ancestry of the Popes appears in the Calendar of Fearn in a minor reference to Bishop Henry Cockburn.  Blackie, in the transcription of Laing MSS III 666, Edinburgh University, traces the ancestry of Charles Pope to this Bishop Henry Cockburn.  The MSS Laing III 666 is a brief of the chronicle of the Earls of Ross, Ross of Balnagown, with the various collateral branches of those families and it is on page 45 it mentions Henry Cockburn as being an ancestor of Charles Pope. Gordon Johnson, a genealogical researcher living Wick and specializing in 1700 research, provides the following information on Bishop Cockburn.


The Chanonry of Ross, by C.G.MacDowall (Fortrose, 1963), p.37:

"Further, it was possible for men who were not in holy orders to be appointed prelates and canons. In Ross a notable example of this cynical attitude towards what the modern mind might regard as the neccessity for the preparation and training of the clergy was provided by the example of Henry Cockburn who although not even in minor orders had a promise from the Pope of the Bishopric of Ross whenever it should fall vacant, an event which occurred in 1460. The Pope thereupon granted Cockburn, described as having the tonsure only, a faculty or permission to receive successively
the minor orders and the orders of sub-deacon, deacon and priest and to receive consecration after taking the oath of fealty. Cockburn was thus enabled to bypass the various orders and jump
at one bound from a clerk's desk in St. Andrews to an episcopal throne in the Chanonry of Ross."


An enquiry to St Andrew’s University Library produced some further information, printed as received below, on Bishop Henry Cockburn and also attributed an illegitimate son to the Bishop. 


I can confirm from the Acta Facultatis Artium and Early Records that Henry Cockburn matriculated in 1448-9 at the University of St. Andrews, and was licensed in 1450-51. It is probable that he was the man who became Bishop of Ross. He was provided 23.3.1461, and probably consecrated in 1463. He was still in office 22.7.1476, but died or demitted before 20.8.1476. He had a bastard son John, legitimized in 1507.


The source of the St Andrew’s information was from the book by Bishop John Dowden called ‘The Bishops of Scotland’ and published in 1912, just after the author’s death.  Dowden states that Henry Cockburn was provided with the Bishopric in March 1461 and paid his ‘commune servitium’ in April of that year.  His election and confirmation as Bishop took place, he states, on 19th October 1463.  Further information regarding Bishop Cockburn is provide by Dowden when he says that ‘Henricus episcopus Rossen’ witnessed many Great Seal charters, the earliest being 16th August 1464 and the latest, 22nd July 1476.  He also notes the Bishop as being present at Arbroath on the occasion of the election of Abbot Richard Guthrie in 1470 and as one of an embassy to England in 1473.  Yet another event noted is the Bishop of Ross being present in Parliament held in Edinburgh on 15th July 1476.  This later reference being the last to Henry Cockburn as he appears not to have been in office in the following month and the Bishopric of Ross was noted as void in 1477.   


Why or how this son was legitimized, according to Dowden on 20th September 1507, 31 years after the death of his father, is somewhat puzzling!  However, legitimization could happen at any time, but usually when the father wanted to see the illegitimate offspring inherit. The legitimization process was normally a request to the king, and the official document then made it possible for the offspring to inherit some or all of the parent's land (eldest son, usually) or goods. The process could also be used to disinherit a younger, legitimate son, by making an older, illegitimate son a legal heir!  Since the father was already some time dead it is probable that the latter reason applied in this case.  One other alternative that comes to mind might be that the illegitimate individual wanted to be more acceptable in his profession or to gain more credibility and stature within that profession.


According to the Laing Manuscript Bishop Henry Cockburn had a concubine called Bessy Gordon and they had a daughter Ellen Cockburn.  This Ellen was then named as the concubine of Sir John Reid, Vicar of Avah (unclear, might this be Avoch?) and they in turn had a son, John Reid.  At this point there is mention of an Agnes Reid, most probably the daughter of this latter John though she could be his sister.  This Agnes Reid appears to have been the mother of Charles Pope and several other children.  The author of the manuscript lists the others as Father Jerom Pope, Thomas Pope, James Pope, David Pope, Nans Pope, Janet Pope and Bessy Pope.  In all instances in the manuscript the name Pope is written as Pape.


One omission from the list is the name of William Pope the Pastor of Dornoch.  There is little doubt that he was a brother to Charles and Thomas who are both mentioned.  Whether he was not known about or missed out is unclear and it is possible that he was known by another name.  Jerom (Jerome) is a possibility and it may have been that when William took his religious vows that this was his chosen name. 


Bessy Gordon not only appears to have been an ancestor of the Pope family but also was a concubine of the parson of Alness, Father Nicholas Tulloch, the nephew of Bishop Thomas Tulloch.  This line from Bessy Gordon leads through the Tulloch line into the Ross family of Shandwick, the family of William Sinclair of Channonry and the family of Sir John Spens in the Channonry of Ross.  While those are interesting connections and indicate strong links between some of the principal families of Ross and the Popes it is not possible here to do little more than indicate some of the interesting and intriguing connections.                                             


The above is constructed from information in a number of sources but mainly the Calendar of Fearn, the Laing Manuscript and information from the Aberdeen and St Andrews Universities Archives.                                         





One of the most notable and infamous events to befall the Pope family while in Dornoch was what is known as the Pope Riot of July 1608.  It should noted that an Privy Council enquiry dates the event to this time while Gordon in his history gives the year as 1607.  The records of the Gaelic Society of Inverness point out this error on the part of Gordon and give a full account of the riot and the aftermath. 


The events leading to the riot are not entirely clear but the consequences certainly were.  Some say that the prosperity of the Pope brothers and their consequent pride of position and power was their downfall while others suggest that they were merely carrying out a duty to quell a disturbance in the Churchyard.


It would seem that while most of the able-bodied men of the parish were on duty guarding the Sutherland border against an attack from Caithness some Dornoch men, the worse for drink, met the Popes at an inn and later met and fought in the Churchyard.  William and Thomas were grievously wounded in the battle and Charles was killed.  William recovered and became pastor of Nigg where he died a few years later.  Thomas continued as Chancellor of the Diocese until 1610 and in that year he, along with William, attended the Glasgow Assembly from the Diocese of Caithness.


For some clarity of the event it is worth reproducing here part of the text of the Gaelic Society of Inverness report on the matter as presented by William Matheson in 1974 in an article in a Society publication.


The fullest account of the Pape Riot is to be found in the pages of Sir Robert Gordon's History of the Earldom of Sutherland, and it deserves to be quoted at some length. though, as will appear, some details require to be corrected. The affair has come to be known as the Pape Riot because three brothers of that name were the victims. The oldest brother, William, was minister of Dornoch, Thomas was minister of Rogart, and Charles Sheriff-clerk of Sutherland. At the time in question the Earl of Sutherland had gathered his forces to oppose an expected invasion of his territory by a considerable army assembled on his borders under the command of the Earl of Caithness. The men of Sutherland set off to Strathully to confront the enemy, but a few of them for some reason remained behind in Dornoch, intending to depart for the hosting on the following day. In the meantime there seems to have been some drinking at a local inn, and this was the scene of a quarrel that had a tragic outcome. But let Sir Robert Gordon take up the story.


" Everie man," he writes, " being departed from the toun of Dornogh vnto this convention at Strathully, the yeir of God 1607, except William Morray, a boyer, and some few others, who were also readie to goe away the nixt morning, Mr William and Thomas Paips, with some others of the ministrie, had a meitting at Domogh, concerning some of the church effairs. After they had dissolved their meitting, they went to breakfast to ane inn, or victualling-hous of the toun. As they were at breakfast, one lohn Mackphaill entered the house and asked some drink for his money, which the mistress of the house refused to give him, therby to be red of his company, because shee knew him to be a brawling fellow. John' Mackphaill taking this refusall in evil pairt, reproved the woman, and spok somewhat stub-bornlie to the ministers, who began to excuse her; wherevpon Thomas Pape did threattin him, and he agane did thrust into Thomas his arme ane arrow, with a broad forked head, which then he held in his hand. So, being parted and set asunder that tyme, Mr William and his brother Thomas came the same evening into the churchyaird, with their swords about them, which John Mackphaill perceaveing, and taking it as a provocation, he went with all diligence and acquented his nepheu Houcheon Mackphaill, and his brother-in-law William Morray, the boyer, therewith; who, being glaid to find this occasion whereby to revenge ther old grudge against these brethren, they hastned furth, and meitting with them in the churchyaird, they fell a quarrelling, and from quarrelling to feighting. Charles Pape hade berie all that day abroad, and at his retume, vnderstanding in what case his brethren were, he came in a preposterous hast to the fatall place of his end and rwyne. They fought a little whyle: in end, Charles hurt William Morray in the face, and  therevpon William Morray killed him. Mr William and Thomas were both extremlie wounded by John Mackphaill and his nepheu Houcheon, and were lying there for deid persons, without hope of recoverie; but they recovered afterward beyond expectation. The offenders escaped becaus their wes none in the toun to apprehend them (except such as favored them), the inhabitants being all gone to the assemblie at Strathvilie. John Mackphaill, and his nephiu Houcheon, have both since ended their dayes in Holland. William Morray yet lives (reserved, as should seim) to a greater judgement." '


The Pape brothers were comparatively recent immigrants from Ross-shire, but in the space of some twenty years they had become men of considerable wealth and position in Sutherland. Their busy acquisition of property in Dornoch was bitterly resented by many of the inhabitants' and, though the immediate cause of the affray was trivial enough, it was in fact the final eruption of hostile feelings that had been smouldering in the community for some time.


Sir Robert Gordon was absent at court in London when the Pape Riot took placet and it is not surprising that, lacking personal knowledge of what happened and writing many years afterwards, his account is inaccurate in some respects. He assigns the riot to the year 1607; but the records of the Privy Council show that the actual date was 1st July 1608/ Then, again, his identification of some of the people involved is at variance with what is found in contemporary sources. According to him, Houcheon MacPhail was a nephew of John MacPhail; whereas, as we shall see, in the Privy Council records John is Houcheon's nephew. Furthermore, as will appear later, there is reason to suppose that Sir Robert was misinformed in regard to the fate of at least one of the MacPhails. We may well imagine that, in the absence of reliable information, there were various unconfirmed rumours as to the whereabouts of the fugitives; and the statement that two of them ended their days in Holland may have had no better warrant than one such rumour.


The matter was further pursued by the Privy Council and the fugitives involved in the case were pursued though at the end of the day there seems to have been little real justice achieved in the case with the perpetrates of what amounted to a murderer effectively going free.





Hector Pope (Pape) (c1650 – 1719)


Golspie’s Story by Margaret Wilson Grant makes no mention of Melvilles and only one Pope (Pape) but this reference to the latter is of some importance.  It is stated that Hector Pape, Minister at Loth, met along with others, at a diocesan synod in 1682 and also in the following year. According to Fasti Hector graduated MA at Marschal College, Aberdeen in 1672.  This suggests a birth year of around 1650 though due to the fact that university studies started earlier in those days, often as early as 14 years, the date could be closer to 1655.  It is also said in the Fasti that Hector of Loth was the last parish minister to appear in the pulpit clothed in a surplice. 


Hector firstly married Christian Leith and then he later married to Christian Dunbar and not a lot more is known of this lady at this time.  The only separate reference I have been able to find for this second wife is in the Sutherland Estate Records.  It is record that in 1725 she received support from the estate as the ‘ relict of Hector Pope of Loth’.   When reading about the family relationships of men of the cloth in those times it is clear that many were followed into the ministry by their sons and many of the sons married the daughters of ministers.  A starting point in the search for a suitable Dunbar ancestor for Christian uncovered a number of Dunbar individuals in the ministry in the area of Nairn and Auldearn to the east of Inverness.  Since this is not ‘a million miles’ across the water from the Diocese of Ross and even closer to Ardersier, where William Pape was a reader, further research in this area would be necessary.  In Ross itself, in the area of Fearn, there were a number of Dunbar families and they also could be considered as the home of Christian Dunbar.  However, this speculation and those searches were ended by the revelation in the Pope manuscript by George Sutherland Taylor that Christian Dunbar came from Cyderhall, Dornoch.  Not an unreasonable locality since the Popes, including Hector, were very much associated with the Dornoch area.


Hector was the father of the well known Alexander Pope, Minister of Reay in Caithness, of which more below, and he, it was said came from, and had, a large family.  Two questions immediately came to mind as research progressed.  Was this Hector the one whose name was perpetuated in the Pope and Melville names in Scotland and Australia and was his family the source of many, if not all, of the North of Scotland mainland Popes?


Alexander Sage, in Memorabilia Domestica, indicates that Alexander Pope, Minister of Reay, was the son of Hector and quotes Sir Robert Gordon who said, in his history of the Sutherland family, that Hector had a numerous family of sons and daughters.  To date this numerous family amounts to a son and a daughter by his first marriage and four sons and two daughters by Christian Dunbar. 


The church that stands at Loth today was not the one that Hector Pope preached in and it may not be on exactly the same spot as the old church.  Marauding Mackays burned down one early church in the 16th Century and a new church was built there but the plaque above the present church door seems to indicate a date of 1822.  The present is building rather too modern to be the one that would have been the house of God used by Hector.  About 100 metres lower down the hillside at Loth is situated the old Loth Cemetery and this is a very likely place for the earlier church.  It is most likely that it would have been within the area of the Churchyard and there is one small old building there which might be considered as the likely location.  In those early times not all parishioners were able to get into the covered area of the church and ministers did preach from a covered area or outside to the gathered worshippers.  For want of further information the location of the earliest church and Hector’s must for the time being be left to educated speculation.


What is known is that the church at Loth was dedicated to St Curadan and belonged to the Bishop of Caithness.  It was not the only religious building in the area there being at least three chapels.  St Tridwal’s was at Kintradwell, St Inan’s at Easter Garty and a chapel at Navidale dedicated to St Naomhan.  Fasti states that he hospital of St John the Baptist was also in the north of the parish and that at Loth the Fair of St Curadan was held yearly.  The parish of Loth was suppressed in 1927 as a separate parish with parts being united with Clyne and the remainder with Kildonan.


Ancestor of William, Charles and Thomas – Said to be a ‘stranger’ of the name of Pope, a churchman, who landed in Cromarty Bay about the close of the 15th century.


William Pope

Minister of Dornoch, Chanter of Caithness Cathedral.  Married in Sutherland and died Minister of Nigg, Ross-shire before 1630


Charles Pope

Notary Public and Sheriff Clerk of Sutherland.  Married in Sutherland to Margaret Gordon, daughter of Alexander Gordon of Siddera, Dornoch.  Died in affray in Dornoch in 1607.


Thomas Pope

Minister of Rogart and Treasurer of Caithness (Cathedral of Sutherland and Caithness was in Dornoch) in 1612.  Married in Sutherland.  Rector of Cullicudden, Ross-shire in 1634.  Still in Cullicudden in 1655 according to Dingwall Presbytery Records.


Charles Pope

Survived father Charles Pope above and was Curate of Kirkmichael, Ross-shire.


Gilbert Pope

Burgess of Tain, served heir to his father in lands of Meikle Reny (various spellings) in Ross-shire 18/12/1869.


Hector Pope of Loth

Said in one account to be son of Gilbert Pope and in another to be son of Charles Pope of Cullicudden and son of Charles Pope the Notary Public.