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Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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First published 1974 (SND Vol. IX). Includes material from the 1976 supplement.
This entry has not been updated since then but may contain minor corrections and revisions.

TOISEACH, n. Also toisech, -ich, toshach, -ich, -och, toschach. An official of the Celtic Kingdom of Scotland with civil and military authority over a tuath or tribal district, corresponding in the Lowlands to an Anglo-Saxon Thane and developing in feudal times into a clan chieftain. Gael. and hist. Derivs. toschachdor, an official in the Highland areas whose duties evolved into those of the feudal sergeant or mair of fee (see Mair, n.2 and 1941 quot.), tosche(o)derach, toschachdorach(t), the office of such (see etym. note). [′tɔ:ʃəx]Sc. 1768 J. Macpherson Crit. Dissert. 184:
Toshich was another title of honour which obtained among the Scots of the middle ages.
Sc. 1807 G. Chalmers Caledonia I. 451:
Toscheoderach, an officer, or jurisdiction, not unlike to an baillierie, specially, in the isles, and highlands. This officer existed also among the Gaelic people of Galloway.
Sc. 1859 C. Innes Thanes Cawdor (S.C.) x.:
The administrator of the Crown lands, the collector of rents, the magistrate and head man of a little district, known among his Celtic neighbours as the “Toshach”, took a charter of the whole district from the Sovereign, whereby he became, under the Saxon name of Thane, hereditary tenant.
Sc. 1862 E. W. Robertson Scot. under Early Kings I. 237, 240:
The Toshach and the Brehon — the chief, or captain, and the judge of the clan. . . . The Toshachdorach, or captaincy of the family.
Sc. 1880 W. F. Skene Celtic Scotland III. 281:
The Toschachdor was considered the equivalent of the coroner, and this office was mainly confined to the Highlands and Islands.
Sc. 1911 Home Life Highlanders 2:
The earliest name for a tribe (or its land) was tuath, and for its head tòiseach or toshach . . . The tòiseach, becoming a thane, has his lands as a family possession, to be used in the building up of a family group.
Sc. 1937 J. Cameron Celtic Law 169:
Under the Ardrí, immediately, and over the provinces, were the Mormaers who were the earls of later times, and under the Mormaers were the tribal chieftains or Tòiseachs.
Sc. 1941 Juridical Review LIII. 106:
It may be possible to offer a final interpretation that the toschederach was the toiseach who had under him an officer or officers in charge of a sacred relic used in the administration of justice and notably in those functions later assigned to the feudal sergeant.
Sc. 1957 W. R. Kermack Sc. Highlands 32:
The office of toisech was widespread, and within the Highland Line the Clan Mackintosh are Clann an Toisich, “the toisech's children.” The official position in question may have been that of toisech of Badenoch under the Comyns.

[O.Sc. tossachiorschip, 1351, tochachderety, 1430, tossochdoir, 1539, Gael. toiseach, toiseadrach, toiseadaireachd, id. Professor W. C. Dickinson in his article in the Juridical Review on toschederach quoted above holds that the second element represents deòrachd, the custodianship of a relic of a saint or the like.]

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"Toiseach n.". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 11 Dec 2023 <>



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