This clan derived its name from the old Pict Mormaer of Ross in northern Albann. Ross means 'a point of land'. Fearchar Mac an t-Sagairt (Farquhar, Son of the Priest) was head of the ancient house of O'Beolain in Wester Ross, hereditary lay lords of the vast lands of the Abbey of Applecross, which had been founded by St. Maelrubha in the 7th century. It is sometimes referred to in Gaelic as "Clan Andreus" (St. Andrew).
The Rosses were politically adroit, able to sense the tides of fortune down through Scottish history. They supported successively the extension of the Scottish crown to the north, the cause of Bruce, the Reformation, the Covenant, the Revolution and the Hanoverian dynasty, all winners that rewarded the Rosses.
In 1215, a rebellion broke out in Moray and Ross against the newly-introduced feudal system, a formidable challenge to the authority of King Alexander II. Farquhar put down the revolt and was knighted as a reward. By 1226, he was the Earl of Ross. Earl Farquhar died in 1251, and was succeeded by his son, William, who conquered Sky and Lewis. His son and namesake, became Earl in 1274, and later fought in the Wars of Independence. In 1306, he was forced to vio9late the shrine of St. Duthac by handing over Bruce's wife and daughter to the English. He fought at Bannockburn, was a signatory of the Declaration of Abroath, and died in 1322.
His son, Hugh, 4th Earl of Ross, was killed at Halidon Hill in 1333. When Hugh's son, William, died in 1372, he left only a daughter, Euphemia, who brought the Earldom of Ross into Clan Leslie by marriage making the Clan Ross vassals o the Leslies. From the 15th to the 16th century, the Rosses were preoccupied with a feud against the MacKays of Strathnaver. This reached a disastrous climax in July 1486, when Alexander, 6th Earl of Balnagown, and 17 clansmen were among those killed in battle.
At the Reformation, the clan embraced Protestantism, and fought against Montrose at Carbisdale. He later fought for Charles II at Worcester, died a prisoner in London in 1653 and was buried in Westminster Abbey. His son, David, 13th of Balnagown, who supported William and Mary in 1689, was the last of the direct line. He willed the Balnagown estate to the Renfrewshire family of Ross of Hawkhead.
In both Jacobite rebellions, the Rosses took the Whig side. During the Clearances in the 19th century, the clan suffered heavily. George Ross was a signatory of the American Declaration of Independence. Many Rosses also achieved distinction in Canada, and in Prussia, the Counts Von Ross were famous soldiers. Balnagown is no longer owned by the Rosses, and the Rosses of Shandwick appear to be the senior surviving line.
Ross septs are Corbett, Denoon, Fern, MacCulloch, MacTaggart, MacTear, Mitchell, Tarrell, and Vass.