Chapter VII., pp.144-162.

[History of the Highlands Contents]

WE now resume the thread of our historical narrative. During the short reign of Edgar, which lasted nine years, viz. from one thousand and ninety-seven to eleven hundred and six, Scotland appears to have enjoyed repose; but that of his brother and successor, Alexander I., was disturbed in the year eleven hundred and twenty by an insurrection in Moray, under Angus, the grandson of Lulach, who laid claim to the crown. This rising was immediately suppressed by the king in person, who, from the promptitude displayed by him, obtained the appellation of the fierce from his people. The Earl of Moray, ten years afterwards, again took the field for the purpose of overthrowing the government of King David; but the latter having collected all his forces, and being aided by the martial barons of Northumberland, with Walter L’Espec at their head, Angus was completely defeated at Stracathrow, one of the passes in Forfarshire, whither he had advanced with his army. 

The next enterprise of any note was undertaken by Somerled, Thane of Argyle and the Isles, against the authority of Malcolm IV.; who, after various conflicts, was repulsed, though not subdued, by Gilchrist, earl of Angus. A peace, concluded with this powerful chieftain in eleven hundred and fifty-three, was considered of such importance as to form an epoch in the dating of Scottish charters. A still more formidable insurrection broke out among the Moray men, under Gildominick, on account of an attempt, on the part of the government, to intrude the Anglo-Norman jurisdiction, introduced into the Lowlands, upon their Celtic customs; and the settling of Anglo-Belgic colonists among them. These insurgents laid waste the neighbouring counties, and so regardless were they of the royal authority, that they actually hanged the heralds who were sent to summon them to lay down their arms. Malcolm despatched the gallant Earl Gilchrist with an army to subdue them, but he was defeated, and forced to recross the Grampians. 

This defeat aroused Malcolm, who was naturally of an indolent disposition. About the year eleven hundred and sixty he marched north with a powerful army, and found the enemy on the muir of Urquhart, near the Spey, ready to give him battle. After passing the Spey, the noblemen in the king’s army reconnoitered the enemy; but they found them so well prepared for action, and so flushed with their late success, that they considered the issue of a battle rather doubtful. On this account, the commanders advised the king to enter into a negotiation with the rebels, and to promise, that in the event of a submission their lives would be spared. The offer was accepted, and the king kept his word; but as the Moray men were, as Buchanan says, “Homines inquieto semper ingenio,” men of a factious disposition, his Majesty, by the advice of his nobles, ordained that every family in Moray which had been engaged in the rebellion should, within a limited time, remove out of Moray to other parts of the kingdom, where lands would be assigned to them, and that their places should be supplied with people from other parts of the kingdom. For the performance of this order, they gave hostages, and at the time appointed transplanted themselves, some into the northern, but the greater number into the southern counties.1 Chalmers considers this removal of the Moray men as “an egregious probability,” because “the dispossessing of a whole people is so difficult an operation, that the recital of it cannot be believed without strong evidence;”2 but it is not said that the whole people were removed, and it is very probable that only the ringleaders and their families were transported. The older historians say that the Moray men were (pene internecionem) almost totally cut off in an obstinate battle, and strangers brought into their place; but this statement is at variance with the register of Paisley, and the fact, that while there are very few persons of the name of Murray in Moray, they are numerous in the counties on the English borders, and are to be found in the more northern counties, where some of them have taken the name of Sutherland, favours the account which that writing gives of the transportation of the Moray men. 

About this time Somerled, the ambitious and powerful lord of the isles, made another and a last attempt upon the king’s authority. Having collected a large force, chiefly in Ireland, he landed in eleven hundred and sixty-four near Renfrew, the seat of the Steward of Scotland; but he was defeated by the brave inhabitants and the king’s troops in a decisive battle, in which he and his son Gillecolane were slain. 

The reign of William the Lion was marked by many disturbances in the Highlands. The Gaëlic population could not endure the new settlers whom the Saxon colonization had introduced among them, and every opportunity was taken to vex and annoy them. At this period, the Gaëlic people rose upon them, and forced them to retire to the towns and castles for shelter. An open insurrection broke out in Ross-shire, which obliged William, in the year eleven hundred and seventy-nine, to march into the north, where he built two garrisons to keep the people in check. He restored quiet for a few years; but in eleven hundred and eighty-seven, Donal Bane again renewed his pretensions to the crown, and raised the standard of revolt in the north. He took possession of Ross, and wasted Moray. William lost no time in leading an army against him. While the king lay at Inverness with his army, foraging party under the command of Roland, the brave lord of Galloway, fell in with Donal Bane and his army upon the Mamgarvy moor, on the borders of Moray. A conflict ensued, in which Donal and five hundred of his followers were killed. Roland carried the head of Donal to William, “as a savage sign of returning quiet.” This happened on the fifth of July, eleven hundred and eighty-seven. After this, matters remained pretty quiet in the north till the year eleven hundred and ninety-six, when Harold, the powerful earl of Orkney and Caithness, disturbed its peace. William dispersed the insurgents at once; but they again appeared the following year near Inverness, under the command of Torphin, the son of Harold. The rebels were again over powered. The king seized Harold, and obliged him to deliver up his son, Torphin, as an hostage. Harold was allowed to retain the northern part of Caithness, but the king gave the southern part of it, called Sutherland, to Hugh Freskin, the progenitor of the earls of Sutherland. Harold died in twelve hundred and six; but as he had often rebelled, his son suffered a cruel and lingering death in the castle of Roxburgh, where he had been confined. 

During the year twelve hundred and eleven, a new insurrection broke out in Ross, headed by Guthred, the son of Donal Bane, or McWilliam, as he was called. Great depredations were committed by the insurgents, who were chiefly freebooters from Ireland, the Hebrides, and Lochaber. For a long time they baffled the king’s troops; and although the king built two forts to keep them in check, and took many prisoners, they maintained for a considerable period a desultory and predatory warfare. Guthred even forced one of the garrisons to capitulate, and burnt the castle; but being betrayed by his followers, and delivered up to William Comyng, the Justiciary of Scotland, he was executed in the year twelve hundred and twelve. 

Shortly after the accession of Alexander II. in twelve hundred and fourteen, the peace of the north was attempted to be disturbed by Donald McWilliam, who made an inroad from Ireland into Moray; but he was repulsed by the tribes of that country, led by McIntagart, the earl of Ross. In twelve hundred and twenty-two, an insurrection broke out in Argyle. Notwithstanding the formidable obstacles which presented themselves from the nature of the country, Alexander carried his army into it, which so alarmed the men of Argyle, that they immediately made their submission. Several of the chiefs fled for safety, and to punish them, the king distributed their lands among his officers, and their followers. 

During the same year a tumult took place in Caithness, on account of the severity with which the tithes were exacted. Adam, the bishop, after being cruelly scourged, was burnt in his palace of Halkirk. The king, who was at the time at Jedburgh, hearing of this horrid murder, immediately hastened to the north with a military force, and inflicted the punishment of death upon the principal actors in this tragedy, who amounted, it is said, to four hundred persons; and that their race might become extinct, their children were emasculated, a practice very common in these barbarous times. The earl of Caithness, who was supposed to have been privy to the murder, was deprived of his estate, which was afterwards restored to him on payment of a heavy fine. The earl was murdered by his own servants in the year twelve hundred and thirty-one, and in order to prevent discovery, they laid his body into his bed and set fire to the house. 

In twelve hundred and twenty-eight the country of Moray became the theatre of a new insurrection, headed by a Ross-shire freebooter, named Gillespoc McScolane. He committed great devastations by burning some wooden castles in Moray, and spoiling the crown lands. He even attacked and set fire to Inverness. The king led an army against him, but without success. Next year a larger army of horse and foot, under the command of John Comyn, earl of Buchan, Justiciary of Scotland, was sent against this daring rebel, whom he captured, with his two sons, and sent their heads to the king. Chalmers thinks that it was on this occasion that the king gave the great district of Badenoch to Walter Comyn, the son of the earl of Buchan. 

Angus, the lord of Argyle, who had usually paid homage to the king of Norway for some of the Hebrides, having refused his homage to the Scottish king, Alexander marched an army against him to enforce obedience, but his Majesty died on his journey in Kerreray, a small island near the coast of Argyle, on the eighth day of July, twelve hundred and forty-nine, in the fifty-first year of his age, and the thirty-fifth of his reign. 

According to the custom of the times, his son, Alexander III., then a boy only in his eighth year, was seated on the royal chair, or sacred stone of Scone, which stood before the cross, in the eastern division of the chapel. Immediately before his inauguration, the bishop of St Andrews knighted him, by girding him with the belt of knighthood, and explained to him, first in Latin and afterwards in Norman French, the nature of the compact he and his subjects were about to enter into. The crown, after the king had been seated, was placed on his head, and the sceptre put into his hand. He was then covered with the royal mantle, and received the homage of the nobles on their knees, who, in token of submission, threw their robes beneath his feet. On this occasion, agreeably to ancient practice, a Gaëlic sennachy, or bard, clothed in a red mantle, and venerable for his great age and hoary locks, approached the king, and in a bended and reverential attitude, recited, from memory, in his native language, the genealogy of all the Scottish kings, deducing the descent of the youthful monarch from Gathetus, the fabulous founder of the nation.3 The sennachy, after pronouncing his blessing in his native tongue, Beannachdte do Righ Albainn, Alexander, Mac-Alexander, Mac-William, Mac-David, Mac-Malcom, was dismissed with handsome presents. The reign of this prince was distinguished by the entire subjugation of the western islands to the power of the Scottish crown. The Scandinavian settlers were allowed to leave the islands, if inclined, and such of them as remained were bound to observe the Scottish laws. 

Shortly after the accession of Alexander III., an insurrection broke out against the earl of Ross, of some of the people of that province. The earl apprehended their leader or captain, whom he imprisoned at Dingwall. In revenge, the Highlanders seized upon the earl’s second son at Balnagown, took him prisoner, and detained him as an hostage till their captain should be released. The Monroes and the Dingwalls immediately took up arms, and having pursued the insurgents, overtook them at a place called Bealligh-ne-Broig, between Ferrandonald and Loch Broom, where a bloody conflict ensued. “The Clan Iver, Clan-Talvich, and Clan-Laiwe,” says Sir Robert Gordon, “wer almost uterlie extinguished and slain.” The Monroes and Dingwalls lost a great many men. Dingwall of Kildun, and seven score of the surname of Dingwall, were killed. No less than eleven Monroes of the house of Foulis, who were to succeed one after another, fell, so that the succession of Foulis opened to an infant then lying in his cradle. The earl’s son was rescued, and to requite the service performed, he made various grants of lands to the Monroes and Dingwalls.4 

No event of any importance appears to have occurred in the Highlands till the time of king Robert Bruce, when he was attacked, after his defeat at Methven, by Stewart, lord of Lorn, who defeated his small army in Strathfillan. But Bruce was determined that Stewart should not long enjoy his petty triumph. Having been joined by his able partizan, Sir James Douglas, he entered the territory of Lorn. On arriving at the narrow pass of Cruachan Ben, between Loch Awe and Loch Etive, Bruce was informed that Stewart had laid an ambuscade for him. As the pass was dangerous, and might be defended by a handful of men against a considerable army, Bruce resolved not to enter the pass at first, but to divide his army into two parts. One of these divisions, consisting entirely of archers who were lightly armed, was placed under the command of Douglas, who was directed to make a circuit round the mountain, and to attack the Highlanders in the rear. As soon as Douglas had gained possession of the ground above the Highlanders, Bruce entered the pass, and, as soon as he had advanced into its narrow gorge he was attacked by the men of Lorn, who, from the surrounding heights, hurled down stones upon him accompanied with loud shouts. They then commenced a closer attack, but, being instantly assailed in the rear by Douglas’ division, and assaulted by the king with great fury in front, they were thrown into complete disorder, and defeated with great slaughter. Stewart, who was, during the action, on board a small vessel in Loch Etive, waiting the result, took refuge in his castle of Dunstaffnage. After ravaging the territory of Lorn, and giving it up to indiscriminate plunder, Bruce laid siege to the castle, which, after a slight resistance, was surrendered by the lord of Lorn, who swore homage to the king; but John, the son of the chief, refused to submit, and took refuge in England. 

During the civil wars among the competitors for the Scottish crown, and those under Wallace and Bruce for the independence of Scotland, the Highlanders scarcely ever appear as participators in those stirring scenes which developed the resources, and called forth the chivalry of Scotland; but we are not to infer from the silence of history that they were less alive than their southern countrymen to the honour and glory of their country, or that they did not contribute to secure its independence. General Stewart says that eighteen Highland chiefs5 fought under Robert Bruce at Bannockburn; and as these chiefs would be accompanied by their vassals, it is fair to suppose that Highland prowess lended its powerful aid to obtain that memorable victory which secured Scotland from the dominion of a foreign yoke. 

After Robert Bruce had asserted the independence of his country by the decisive battle of Bannockburn, the whole kingdom, with the exception of some of the western islands, under John of Argyle, the ally of England, submitted to his authority. He, therefore, undertook an expedition against those isles, in which he was accompanied by Walter, the hereditary high-steward of Scotland, his son-in-law, who, by his marriage with Marjory, King Robert’s daughter, laid the foundation of the Stewart dynasty. To avoid the necessity of doubling the Mull of Kintyre, which was a dangerous attempt for the small vessels then in use, Robert sailed up Loch-Fine to Tarbet with his fleet, which he dragged across the narrow isthmus between the lochs of East and West Tarbet, by means of a slide of smooth planks of trees laid parallel to each other. It had long been a superstitious belief amongst the inhabitants of the Western Islands, that they should never be subdued till their invader sailed across this neck of land, and it is said that Robert was thereby partly induced to follow the course he did to impress upon the minds of the islanders a conviction that the time of their subjugation had arrived. The islanders were quickly subdued, and John of Lorn, who, for his services to Edward of England, had been invested with the title of Admiral of the Western fleet of England, was captured and imprisoned first in Dumbarton castle, and afterwards in the castle of Lochleven, where he died. 

The feeble and effeminate reign of David II. was disturbed by another revolt by the lord of the Isles, who was backed in his attempt to throw off his dependence by a great number of the Highland chiefs. David, with “an unwonted energy of character, commanded the attendance of the steward, with the prelates and barons of the realm, and surrounded by this formidable body of vassals and retainers, proceeded against the rebels in person. The expedition was completely successful. The rebel prince, John of the Isles, with a numerous train of those wild Highland chieftains who followed his banner, and had supported him in his attempt to throw off his dependence, met the king at Inverness, and submitted to his authority. He engaged in the most solemn manner, for himself and his vassals, that they should yield themselves faithful and obedient subjects to David, their liege lord; and not only give due and prompt obedience to the ministers and officers of the king in suit and service, as well as in the payment of taxes and public burdens, but that they would coerce and put down all others, of whatever rank or degree, who dared to raise themselves in opposition to the royal authority, and would compel them either to submit, or would pursue and banish them from their territories: for the fulfilment of which obligation the lord of the Isles not only gave his own oath, under the penalty of forfeiting his whole principality if it was broken, but offered the high-steward, his father-in-law, as his security, and delivered his lawful son, Donald, his grandson, Angus, and his natural son, also named Donald, as hostages for the strict performance of the articles of the treaty.”6 The deed by which John of the Isles bound himself to the performance of these stipulations is dated fifteenth November, thirteen hundred and sixty-nine.7 

To enable him the better to succeed in reducing the inhabitants of the Highlands and islands to the obedience of the laws, it is stated by an old historian,8 that David used artifice by dividing the chiefs, and promising high rewards to those who should slay or capture their brother chiefs. The writer says that this diabolical plan, by implanting the seeds of disunion and war amongst the chiefs, succeeded; and that they gradually destroyed one another, a statement, to say the least of it, highly improbable. Certain it is, however, that it was in this reign that the practice of paying manrent began, when the powerful wished for followers, and the weak wanted protection, a circumstance which shows that the government was too weak to afford protection to the oppressed, or to quell the disputes of rival clans. 

In the year thirteen hundred and thirty-three9 John Monroe, the tutor of Foulis, in travelling homeward, on his journey from Edinburgh to Ross, stopped on a meadow in Stratherdale that he and his servants might get some repose. While they were asleep, the owner of the meadow cut off the tails of their horses. Being resolved to wipe off this insult, he, immediately on his return home to Ross, summoned his whole kinsmen and followers, and, after informing them how he had been used, craved their aid to revenge the injury. The clan, of course, complied; and, having selected three hundred and fifty of the best and ablest men among them, he returned to Stratherdale, which he wasted and spoiled; killed some of the inhabitants, and carried off their cattle. In passing by the isle of Moy, on his return home, Macintosh, the chief of the clan Chattan, being urged by some person who bore Monroe a grudge, sent a message to him demanding a share of the spoil. This was customary among the Highlanders when a party drove cattle which had been so taken through a gentleman’s land, and the part so exacted was called a Staoig Rathaid, or Staoig Creich, that is, a Road Collop. Monroe, not being disposed to quarrel, offered Macintosh a reasonable share, but this he was advised not to accept, and demanded the half of the booty. Monroe refused to comply with such an unreasonable demand, and proceeded on his journey. Macintosh, determined to enforce compliance, immediately collected his clansmen, and went in pursuit of Monroe, whom he overtook at Clach-na-Haire, near Inverness. As soon as Monroe saw Macintosh approaching, he sent home five of his men to Ferrindonald with the cattle, and prepared for action. But Macintosh paid dearly for his rapacity and rashness, for he and the greater part of his men were killed in the conflict. Several of the Monroes also were slain, and John Monroe himself was left for dead in the field of battle, and might have died if the predecessor of Lord Lovat had not carried him to his house in the neighbourhood, where he was cured of his wounds. One of his hands was so mutilated, that he lost the use of it the remainder of his life, on which account he was afterwards called John Bac-laimh, or Ciotach.10 The Monroes had great advantage of the ground by taking up a position among rocks, from which they annoyed the Mackintoshes with their arrows. 

Besides the feuds of the clans in the reign of David II. the Highlands appear to have been disturbed by a formidable insurrection against the government, for, in a parliament which was held at Scone, in the year thirteen hundred and sixty-six, a resolution was entered into to seize the rebels in Argyle, Athole, Badenoch, Lochaber and Ross, and all others who had risen up against the royal authority, and to compel them to submit to the laws. The chief leaders in this commotion (of which the bare mention in the parliamentary record is the only account which has reached us) were the Earl of Ross, Hugh de Ross, John of the Isles, John of Lorn, and John de Haye, who were all summoned to attend the parliament and give in their submission, but they all refused to do so in the most decided manner; and as the government was too weak to compel them, they were suffered to remain independent. 

In the year thirteen hundred and eighty-six a feud having taken place between the clan Chattan and the Camerons, a battle took place in which a great number of the clan Chattan were killed, and the Camerons were nearly cut off to a man. The occasion of the quarrel was this. The lands of Mackintosh11 in Lochaber, were possessed by the Camerons, who were so tardy in the payment of their rents that Mackintosh was frequently obliged to levy them by force by carrying off his tenants’ cattle. The Camerons were so irritated at having their cattle poinded and taken away, that they resolved to make reprisals, preparatory to which they marched into Badenoch to the number of about four hundred men, under the command of Charles Macgilony. As soon as Mackintosh became acquainted with this movement he called his clan and friends, the Macphersons and Davidsons, together. His force was superior to that of the Camerons, but a dispute arose among the chiefs which almost proved fatal to them. To Mackintosh, as captain of the clan Chattan, the command of the centre of the army was assigned with the consent of all parties; but a difference took place between Cluny and Invernahavon, each claiming the command of the right wing. Cluny demanded it as the chief of the ancient clan Chattan, of which the Davidsons of Invernahavon were only a branch; but Invernahavon contended, that to him, as the oldest branch, the command of the right wing, belonged according to the custom of the clans. The Camerons came up during this quarrel about precedency, on which Mackintosh, as umpire, decided against the claim of Cluny. This was a most imprudent award, as the Macphersons exceeded both the Mackintoshes and Davidsons in numbers, and they were, besides, in the country of the Macphersons. These last were so offended at the decision of Mackintosh, that they withdrew from the field, and became, for a time, spectators of the action. The battle soon commenced, and was fought with great obstinacy. Many of the Mackintoshes, and almost all the Davidsons, were cut off by the superior number of the Camerons. The Macphersons seeing their friends and neighbours almost overpowered, could no longer restrain themselves, and friendship got the better of their wounded pride.12 They, therefore, at this perilous crisis, rushed in upon the Camerons, who, from exhaustion and the loss they had sustained, were easily defeated. The few that escaped, with their leader, were pursued from Invernahavon, the place of battle, three miles above Ruthven, in Badenoch. Charles Macgilony was killed on a hill in Glenbenchir, which was long called Torr-Thearlaich, i.e. Charles’-hill.13 

In the opinion of Shaw, this quarrel about precedency was the origin of the celebrated judicial conflict, which took place on the North Inch of Perth, before Robert III., his queen, Annabella Drummond, and the Scottish nobility, and some foreigners of distinction, in the year one thousand three hundred and ninety-six, and of which a variety of accounts have been given by our ancient historians. The parties to this combat were the Macphersons, properly the clan Chattan, and the Davidsons of Invernahavon, called in the Gaëlic Clann-Dhaibhidh, and commonly pronounced Clann-Chai. The Davidsons were not, as some writers have supposed, a separate clan, but a branch of the clan Chattan. These rival tribes had for a long period kept up a deadly enmity at one another, which was difficult to be restrained; but after the award by Mackintosh against the Macphersons, that enmity broke out into open strife, and for ten years the Macphersons and the Davidsons carried on a war of extermination and kept the country in an uproar. 

To put an end to these disorders, Robert III. sent Dunbar earl of Moray, and Lindsay of Glenesk, afterwards earl of Crawfurd, two of the leading men of the kingdom, to endeavour to effect an amicable arrangement between the contending parties; but having failed in their attempt, they proposed that the differences should be decided in open combat before the king. “The ideas of chivalry, the factitious principles of that singular system of manners from which we derive our modern code of honour, had hitherto made little progress amongst them (the Highlanders;) but the more intimate intercourse between the northern and southern portions of the kingdom, and the residence of the lowland barons amongst them, appear to have introduced a change; and the notions of the Norman knights becoming more familiar to the fierce mountaineers, they adopted the singular idea of deciding their quarrel by a combat of thirty against thirty. This project, instead of discouragement, met with the warm approval of government, who were happy that a scheme should have suggested itself, by which there was some prospect of the leaders in those fierce and endless disputes being cut off.”14 A precedent had occurred in Robert the First’s time, when Hugh Hardinge fought William de Saintlowe, on the North Inch of Perth, in the royal presence. The same ground was now fixed on, and the Monday before Michaelmas was the day appointed for the combat. According to Sir Robert Gordon, who is followed by Sir Robert Douglas and Mr Mackintosh, it was agreed that no weapon but the broad sword was to be employed, but Wyntoun, who lived about the time, adds bows, battle-axes, and daggers. 

“All thai entrit in Barreris,
With Bow and Axe, Knyf and Swerd,
To deal amang them thair last Werd.” 

The chronicler is borne out by Bower, in regard to the bow at least. The numbers on each side have been variously reported. By mistaking the word triceni, used by Boece and Buchanan for treceni, some writers have multiplied them to three hundred. Bower, the continuator of Fordun and Wyntoun, however, mention expressly sixty in all, or thirty on either side. 

On the appointed day the combatants made their appearance on the North Inch of Perth, to decide in presence of the king, his queen, and a large concourse of the nobility, their respective claims to superiority. Barriers had been erected on the ground to prevent the spectators from encroaching, and the king and his party took their stations upon a platform from which they could easily view the combat. At length the warriors, armed with sword and target, bows and arrows, short knives and battle-axes, advanced within the barriers, and eyed one another with looks of deadly revenge. When about to engage, a circumstance occurred which postponed the battle, and had well-nigh prevented it altogether. According to some accounts, one of the Macphersons fell sick; but Bower says, that when the troops had been marshalled, one of the Macphersons, panic-struck, slipped through the crowd, plunged into the Tay and swam across, and, though pursued by thousands, effected his escape.15 Sir Robert Gordon merely observes, that, “at their entrie into the feild, the clan Chattan lacked one of their number, who wes privilie stolne away, not willing to be pertaker of so deir a bargane.” A man being now wanting on one side, a pause ensued, and a proposal was made that one of the Davidsons should retire, that the number on both sides might be equal, but they refused. As the combat could not proceed from this inequality of numbers, the king was about to break up the assembly, when a diminutive and crooked, but fierce man, named Henry Wynd, a Burgher of Perth, a foundling reared in the hospital of the burgh, and an armourer by trade, sprung within the barriers, and, as related by Bower, thus addressed the assembly: “Here am I. Will any one fee me to engage with these hirelings in this stage play? For half a mark will I try the game, provided, if I escape alive, I have my board of one of you so long as I live. Greater love, as it is said, hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. What then shall be my reward, who stake my life for the foes of the common wealth and realme.” This demand of Gow Crom, “Crooked Smith,” as Henry was familiarly styled, adds Bower, was granted by the king and nobles. A murderous conflict now began. The armourer bending his bow, and sending the first arrow among the opposite party, killed one of them. After showers of arrows had been discharged on both sides, the combatants with fury in their looks and revenge in their hearts, rushed upon one another, and a terrific scene ensued which appalled the heart of many a valorous knight who witnessed the bloody tragedy. The violent thrusts of the daggers, and the tremendous gashes inflicted by the two-handed swords and battle-axes, hastened the work of butchery and death. “Heads were cloven asunder, limbs were lopped from the trunk. The meadow was soon flooded with blood, and covered with dead and wounded men.”16 

After the crooked armourer had killed his man, as already related from Bower, it is said that he either sat down or drew aside, which being observed by the leader of Cluny’s band, he asked his reason for thus stopping; on which Wynd said, “Because I have fulfilled my bargain, and earned my wages.” – “The man,” exclaimed the other, “who keeps no reckoning of his good deeds, without reckoning shall be repaid,” an observation which tempted the armourer to earn, in the multiplied deaths of his opponents, a sum exceeding by as many times the original stipulation. This speech of the leader has been formed into the Gaelic adage, 

Am fear nach cunntadh rium
Cha chunntainn ris,” 

which Mackintosh thus renders, 

“The man that reckons not with me
I will not reckon with him.” 

Victory at last declared for the Macphersons, but not until twenty-nine of the Davidsons had fallen prostrate in the arms of death. Nineteen of Cluny’s men also bit the dust, and the remaining eleven, with the exception of Henry Wynd, who by his excellence as a swordsman had mainly contributed to gain the day, were all grievously wounded. The survivor of the clan Kay escaped unhurt. Mackintosh, following Buchanan, relates, that this man, after all his companions had fallen, threw himself into the Tay, and making the opposite bank, escaped; but this is an improbable story, and is most likely a new version of Bower’s account of the affrighted champion before the commencement of the action, which seems to have been metamorphosed by the genius of fiction into a concluding embellishment. 

The leader of the clan Kay or Davidsons, is called by Bower Schea-beg, and by Wyntoun, Scha-Ferquharis son. Boetius, who superintended the press in the first edition of his work, calls him Stratberge. These three authors agree in calling the leader of the opposite force Christi-Jonson, for Boece does not differ from the others, except by using the Gaëlic form of Jonson, viz. Mac-lain. “Shaw Macintosh,” as Sir Robert Douglas styles him, or Shaw Oig, as he is also called by Sir Robert, is, by this genealogist, stated to have been uncle of Lachlan Mackintosh, captain of the Clan Chattan, in right of his paternal grandmother, and to have commanded the Clan Chattan. But are we to believe Sir Robert in opposition to the united testimony of Wyntoun, Bower, and Boetius? Who Christi-Mac-lain, or Christi-Jonson was genealogically, we are not informed, but one thing is pretty clear, that he, not Schea-beg, or Shaw Oig, for these are obviously one and the same, commanded the ClanChattan, or “Clann-a-Chait.” Both the principals seem to have been absent or spectators merely of the battle, and as few of the leading men of the clan, it is believed, were parties in the combat, the savage policy of the government, which, it is said, had taken this method to rid itself of the chief men of the clan, by making them destroy one another, was completely defeated. This affair seems to have produced a good effect, as the Highlanders remained quiet for a considerable time thereafter. 

The disorders in the Highlands occasioned by the feuds of the clans, were, about the period in question, greatly augmented by Alexander of Badenoch, fourth son of Robert II., whom he had constituted Lieutenant or governor from the limits of Moray to the Pentland Firth. This person, from the ferocity of his disposition, obtained the appropriate appellation of “the Wolf of Badenoch.” Avaricious, as well as cruel, the Wolf seized upon the lands of Alexander Barr, bishop of Moray, and as he persisted in keeping violent possession of them, he was excommunicated. The sentence of excommunication not only proved unavailing, but tended to exasperate the lord of Badenoch to such a degree of fury, that, in the month of May thirteen hundred and ninety, he descended from his heights, and burnt the town of Forres, with the choir of the church, and the manse of the archdeacon. And in June following, he burnt the town of Elgin, the church of St Giles, the hospital of Maison Dieu, and the cathedral, with eighteen houses of the canons and chaplains in the college of Elgin. He also plundered these churches of their sacred utensils and vestments, which he carried off. For this horrible sacrilege the Lord of Badenoch was prosecuted, and obliged to make due reparation. Upon making his submission he was absolved by Walter Trail, bishop of St Andrews, in the church of the Black friars in Perth. He was first received at the door, and afterwards before the high altar, in presence of the king, (Robert III. his brother,) and many of the nobility, on condition that he should make full satisfaction to the bishop of Moray, and obtain absolution from the pope.17 

The lord of Badenoch had a natural son, named Duncan Stewart, who inherited the vices of his father. Bent upon spoliation and bloodshed, and resolved to imitate the barbarous exploits which his father had just been engaged in, he collected a vast number of Catherans, armed only with the sword and target, and with these he descended from the range of hills which divides the county of Aberdeen and Forfar, devastated the country, and murdered the inhabitants indiscriminately. A force was instantly collected by Sir Walter Ogilvy, sheriff of Angus, Sir Patrick Gray, and Sir David Lindsay of Glenesk, to oppose him, and although inferior in numbers, they attacked Stewart and his party of freebooters at Gasklune, near the water of Ila. A desperate conflict took place, which was of short duration. The Catherans fought with determined bravery, and soon overpowered their assailants. The sheriff, his brother, Wat of Lichtoune, Young of Ouchterlony, the lairds of Cairncross, Forfar, and Guthry, and sixty of their followers, were slain. Sir Patrick Gray and Sir David Lindsay were severely wounded, and escaped with difficulty. Winton has preserved an anecdote illustrative of the fierceness of the Highlanders. Lindsay had run one of them, a strong and brawny man, through the body with a spear, and brought him to the earth; but although in the agonies of death, he writhed himself up, and with the spear sticking in his body, struck Lindsay a desperate blow with his sword, which cut him through the stirrup and boot into the bone, on which he instantly fell and expired.18 

Following chronological exactness, the following occurrence should have been previously related, had not a necessary connexion existed between the history of the battle on the North Inch of Perth, and the account which precedes it. Nicolas, Earl of Sutherland, had a feud with Y-Mackay of Far, in Strathnaver, Chief of the Clanwig-worgm, and his son Donald Mackay, in which many lives were lost, and great depredations committed on both sides. In order to put an end to this difference, the Earl proposed a meeting of the parties at Dingwall, to be held in presence of the Lord of the Isles, his father-in-law, and some of the neighbouring gentry, the friends of the two families. The meeting having been agreed to, the parties met at the appointed time, and took up their residence in the Castle of Dingwall in apartments allotted for them. A discussion then took place between the Earl and Mackay, regarding the points in controversy, in which high and reproachful words were exchanged, which so incensed the Earl, that he killed Mackay and his son with his own hands. Having with some difficulty effected his escape from the followers and servants of the Mackays, he immediately returned home and prepared for defence, but the Mackays were too weak to take revenge. This event took place in the year thirteen hundred and ninety-five. The matter was in some degree reconciled between Robert, the successor of Nicolas, and Angus Mackay, the eldest son of Donald.19 

Some years after this event a serious conflict took place between the inhabitants of Sutherland and Strathnaver, and Malcolm Macleod of the Lewis, which arose out of the following circumstances. Angus Mackay above mentioned, had married a sister of Malcolm Macleod, by whom he had two sons, Angus Dow, and Roriegald. On the death of Angus, Houcheondow Mackay, a younger brother, became tutor to his nephews, and entered upon the management of their lands. Malcolm Macleod, understanding that his sister, the widow of Angus, was ill treated by Houckeondow, went on a visit to her, accompanied by a number of the choicest men of his country, with the determination of vindicating her cause either by entreaty or by force. He appears not to have succeeded in his object, for he returned homeward greatly discontented, and in revenge laid waste Strathnaver and a great part of the Breachat in Sutherland, and carried off booty along with him. As soon as Houcheon Dow and his brother Neill Mackay learnt this intelligence, they acquainted Robert, Earl of Sutherland, between whom and Angus Mackay a reconciliation had been effected, who immediately despatched Alexander Ne-Shrem-Gorme (Alexander Murray of Cubin,) with a number of stout and resolute men, to assist the Mackays. They followed Macleod with great haste, and overtook him at Tuttim-Turwigh, upon the marches between Ross and Sutherland. The pursuing party at first at tempted to recover the goods and cattle which had been carried off, but this being opposed by Macleod and his men, a desperate conflict ensued, in which great valour was displayed on both sides. It “was long, furious, cruel, and doubtful,” says Sir Robert Gordon, and was “rather desperate than resolute,” as the same author quaintly observes. At last the Lewismen, with their commander, Malcolm Macleod, nick-named Gilealm Beg McBowen, were slain, and the goods and cattle were recovered. One man alone of Macleod’s party, who was sorely wounded, escaped to bring home the sorrowful news to the Lewis, which he had scarcely delivered when he expired.20 

These feuds were followed by a formidable insurrection in fourteen hundred and eleven by Donald, Lord of the Isles, of such a serious nature as to threaten a dismemberment of the kingdom of Scotland. The origin of this rebellion arose out of the following circumstances. The male succession to the Earldom of Ross having become extinct, the honours of the Peerage devolved upon a female, Euphemia Ross, wife of Sir Walter Lesley. Of this marriage there were two children, Alexander, afterwards Earl of Ross, and Margaret afterwards married to the Lord of the Isles. Earl Alexander married a daughter of the Duke of Albany. Euphemia, Countess of Ross, was the only issue of this marriage, but becoming a nun she resigned the earldom of Ross in favour of her uncle John Stewart, Earl of Buchan. The Lord of the Isles conceiving that the Countess, by renouncing the world, had forfeited her title and estate, and, moreover, that she had no right to dispose thereof, claimed both in right of Margaret his wife. The duke of Albany, governor of Scotland, at whose instigation the Countess had made the renunciation, of course refused to sustain the claim of the prince of the islands. The Lord of the Isles then raised the standard of revolt; and having formed an alliance with England, from whence he was to be supplied with a fleet far superior to the Scottish, he, at the head of an army of ten thousand men, fully equipped and armed after the fashion of the islands with bows and arrows, pole-axes, knives, and swords, burst like a torrent upon the Earldom  and carried every thing before him. He, however, received a temporary check at Dingwall, where he was attacked with great impetuosity by Angus Dubh Mackay of Farr, or Black Angus, as he was called, but Angus was taken prisoner, and his brother Roderic Gald and many of his men were killed. 

Flushed with the progress he had made, Donald now resolved to carry into execution a threat he had often made to burn the town of Aberdeen. For this purpose he ordered his army to assemble at Inverness, and summoned all the men capable of bearing arms in the Boyne, and the Enzie, to join his standard on his way south. This order being complied with, the Lord of the Isles marched through Moray without opposition. He committed great excesses in Strathbogie and in the district of Garioch, which belonged to the earl of Mar. The inhabitants of Aberdeen were in dreadful alarm at the near approach of this marauder and his fierce hordes; but their fears were allayed by the speedy appearance of a well equipped army, commanded by the earl of Mar, who bore a high military character, assisted by many brave knights and gentlemen in Angus and the Mearns. Among these were Sir Alexander Ogilvy, sheriff of Angus, Sir James Scrymgeour, constable of Dundee and hereditary standard bearer of Scotland, Sir William de Abernethy of Salton, nephew to the duke of Albany, Sir Robert Maule of Panmure, Sir Alexander Irvine of Drum, and Sir Robert Melville. The Earl was also joined by Sir Robert Davidson, the Provost of Aberdeen, and a party of the burgesses. 

Advancing from Aberdeen, Mar marched by Inverury, and descried the Highlanders stationed at the village of Harlaw, on the water of Ury near its junction with the Don. Mar soon saw that he had to contend with tremendous odds, but although his forces were, it is said, as one to ten to that opposed to him, he resolved, from the confidence he had in his steel-clad knights, to risk a battle. Having placed a small but select body of knights and men-at-arms in front, under the command of the constable of Dundee and the sheriff of Angus, the Earl drew up the main strength of his army in the rear, including the Murrays, the Straitons, the Maules, the Irvings, the Lesleys, the Lovels, the Stirlings, headed by their respective chiefs. The Earl then placed himself at the head of this body. At the head of the Islesmen and Highlanders was the Lord of the Isles, subordinate to whom were Mackintosh and Maclean and other Highland chiefs, all bearing the most deadly hatred to their Saxon foes, and panting for revenge. 

On a signal being given, the Highlanders and Islesmen, setting up those terrific shouts and yells which they were accustomed to raise on entering into battle, rushed forward upon their opponents; but they were received with great firmness and bravery by the knights, who, with their spears levelled, and battle axes raised, cut down many of their impetuous but badly armed adversaries. After the Lowlanders had recovered themselves from the shock which the furious onset of the Highlanders had produced, Sir James Scrymgeour, at the head of the knights and bannerets who fought under him, cut his way through the thick columns of the Islesmen, carrying death every where around him; but the slaughter of hundreds by this brave party did not intimidate the Highlanders, who kept pouring in by thousands to supply the place of those who had fallen. Surrounded on all sides, no alternative remained for Sir James and his valorous companions but victory or death, and the latter was their lot. The constable of Dundee was amongst the first who suffered, and his fall so encouraged the Highlanders, that seizing and stabbing the horses, they thus unhorsed their riders whom they despatched with their daggers. In the mean time the earl of Mar, who had penetrated with his main army into the very heart of the enemy, kept up the unequal contest with great bravery, and, although he lost during the action almost the whole of his army, he continued the fatal struggle with a handful of men till nightfall. The disastrous result of this battle was one of the greatest misfortunes which had ever happened to the numerous respectable families in Angus and the Mearns. Many of these families lost not only their head, but every male in the house. Lesley of Balquhain is said to have fallen with six of his sons. Besides Sir James Scrymgeour, Sir Alexander Ogilvy the sheriff of Angus, with his eldest son George Ogilvy, Sir Thomas Murray, Sir Robert Maule of Panmure, Sir Alexander Irving of Drum,21 Sir William Abernethy of Salton, Sir Alexander Straiton of Lauriston, James Lovel, and Alexander Stirling, and Sir Robert Davidson, Provost of Aberdeen, with five hundred men-at-arms including the principal gentry of Buchan, and the greater part of the burgesses of Aberdeen who followed their Provost, were among the slain. The Highlanders left nine hundred men dead on the field of battle, including the chiefs, Maclean and Mackintosh. This memorable battle22 was fought on the eve of the feast of St James the Apostle, the twenty-fourth day of July, in the year fourteen hundred and eleven, “and from the ferocity with which it was contested, and the dismal spectacle of civil war and bloodshed exhibited to the country, it appears to have made a deep impression on the national mind. It fixed itself in the music and the poetry of Scotland; a march, called the Battle of Harlaw, continued to be a popular air down to the time of Drummond of Hawthornden, and a spirited ballad, on the same event, is still repeated in our age, describing the meeting of the armies, and the deaths of the chiefs, in no ignoble strain.”23 

Mar and the few brave companions in arms, who survived the battle, were so exhausted with fatigue and the wounds they received, that they were obliged to pass the night on the field of battle, where they expected a renewal of the attack next morning; but when morning dawned, they found that the Lord of the Isles had retreated, during the night, by Inverury and the hill of Benochie. To pursue him was impossible, and he was therefore allowed to retire, without molestation, and to recruit his exhausted strength. 

As soon as the news of the disaster at Harlaw reached the ears of the duke of Albany, then regent of Scotland, he set about collecting an army, with which he marched in person to the North, in autumn, with a determination to bring the Lord of the Isles to obedience. Having taken possession of the castle of Dingwall, he appointed a governor, and from thence proceeded to recover the whole of Ross. Donald retreated before him, and took up his winter-quarters in the islands. Hostilities were renewed next summer, but the contest was not long or doubtful – notwithstanding some little advantages obtained by the King of the Isles – for he was compelled to give up his claim to the earldom of Ross, to become a vassal to the Scottish crown, and to deliver hostages to secure his future good behaviour. A treaty to this effect was entered into at Pilgilbe or Polgillip, the modern Loch-Gillip in Argyle. 


1  Shaw’s Hist. of Moray, p. 259-60, New Ed. 

2  Caledonia, vol. i. p. 627. 

3  Almost the same ceremonial of inauguration was observed at the coronation of Macdonald, king of the Isles. Martin says, that “there was a big stone of seven feet square, in which there was a deep impression made to receive the feet of Mack-Donald, for he was crowned king of the Isles standing in this stone; and swore that he would continue his vassals in the possession of their lands, and do exact justice to all his subjects; and then his father’s sword was put into his hand. The bishop of Argyle and seven priests anointed him king, in presence of all the heads of the tribes in the isles and continent, and were his vassals; at which time the orator rehearsed a catalogue of his ancestors.” – Western Islands, p. 211. 

4  Gordon’s Genealogical History of the Earldom of Sutherland, p. 36. 

5  The chiefs at Bannockburn were McKay, Mackintosh, Macpherson, Cameron, Sinclair, Campbell, Menzies, Maclean, Sutherland, Robertson, Grant, Fraser, Macfarlane, Ross, Macgregor, Munro, Mackenzie, and Macquarrie. After the lapse of five hundred years since the battle of Bannockburn was fought, it is truly astonishing to find such a number of direct descendants who are now in existence, and still possessed of their paternal estates. 

6  Tytler’s Hist. of Scotland, vol. ii. 185. Robertson’s Parliamentary Records, p. 115. 

7  Vide the Deed printed in the Appendix to Mr Tytler’s History, vol. ii. 

8  Fordun a Goodal, vol. ii. 380. 

9  This is the date assigned by Sir Robert Gordon, but Shaw makes it more than a century later, viz., in 1454. 

10  Sir R. Gordon, p. 47. – Shaw, p. 264. 

11  According to that eminent antiquary, the Reverend Donald Macintosh, non-juring episcopal clergyman, in his historical illustrations of his Collections of Gaelic Proverbs, published in 1785, the ancestor of Mackintosh became head of the clan Chattan in this way. During these contests for the Scottish crown, which succeeded the death of King Alexander III., and favoured the pretensions of the King of the Isles, the latter styling himself “King,” had, in 1291, sent his nephew Angus Macintosh of Macintosh to Dougall Dall (Blind) MacGillichattan, chief of the clan Chattan, or Macphersons, to acquaint him that “the King” was to pay him a visit. Macpherson, or MacGillichattan, as he was named, in honour of the founder of the family Gillichattana Mor, having an only child, a daughter, who, he dreaded might attract an inconvenient degree of royal notice, offered her in marriage to Macintosh along with his lands, and the station of the chief of the clan Chattan. Macintosh accepted the offer, and was received as chief of the lady’s clan. 

a  “A votary or servant of St Kattan,” a most popular Scottish saint. We have thus Gillichallum, meaning a “votary of Columba,” and of which another form is Malcolm or Molcalm, the prefix Mol, being corrupted into Mal, signifying the same as Gilly. Thus Gilly-Dhia is the etymon of Culdee, signifying “servant of God,” – Gilli-christ means “servant of Christ.” 

12  The Reverend Donald Mackintosh gives a different account of this matter. He says that Macintosh, irritated at Cluny’s conduct, despatched to Cluny’s camp a minstrel, who was instructed to feign he had been sent by the Camerons, and, to sing a few Gaëlic lines reflecting on the cowardice of those who had hung aloof in the hour of danger. Cluny, stung by the satire, attacked the supposed authors that night in their camp, and put them to flight with the loss of their chief. 

13  Shaw’s History of Moray, p. 260, 261. 

14  Tytler, vol. iii. 76, 77. 

15  Lesley, (1st. edition, p. 252.) says that the fugitive in question belonged to the clan Kay. His words are, “Anno imperii sui (Roberti IIItii.) quinto, maximæ in Scotia herbæ a duabus Sylvestrium familiis clankaya, et clanquhattana, ciebantur, &c. . . Tempus præfinitur, locus insulor apud Perthum figitur, hostes in palestram descendunt. Sed cum ex Clankaya tribu unus timore perculsus se clanculum subducebat, a pugna tantis per abstinetur dum aliquis cognatus fugitur locum subiret.” 

16  Tales of a Grandfather, vol. II. 

17  Shaw’s Moray, p. 314-15. – Winton, vol. ii. 363. – Keith’s Catalogue, p. 83. 

18  Winton, vol. ii. 369. 

19  Sir Robert Gordon’s History, p. 60. 

20  Sir Robert Gordon, p. 61, 62. 

21  The Laird of Maclean according to a tradition in the family of Irving of Drum, was killed by Sir Alexander Irving. Genealogical collections, MS. Advocates’ Library, Jac. v. 4. 16. Vol. I. p. 180. 

22  The site of the battle is thus described in the manuscript geographical description of Scotland, collected by Macfarlane and preserved in the Advocates Library, Vol. I. p. 7. “Through this parish (the chapel of Garioch formerly called Capella Beatæ Mariæ Virginis de Garryoch, Chart. Aberdon, p. 31.) runs the king’s high way from Aberdeen to Inverness, and from Aberdeen to the high country. A large mile to the east of the church lies the field of an ancient battle called the battle of Harlaw, from a country town of that name hard by. This town, and the field of battle, which lies along the king’s highway upon a moor, extending a short mile from S. E. to N. W. stands on the north east side of the water of Urie, and a small distance therefrom. To the west of the field of battle, about half a mile, is a farmer’s house, called Legget’s Den, hard by, in which is a tomb, built in the form of a malt steep, of four large stones, covered with a broad stone above, where, as the country people generally report, Donald of the Isles lies buried, being slain in the battle, and therefore they call it commonly Donald’s tomb.” This is an evident mistake, as it is well known that Donald was not slain. Mr Tytler conjectures with much probability that the tomb alluded to may be that of the chief of Maclean or Mackintosh, and he refers, in support of this opinion, to Macfarlane’s genealogical collections (MS. Advocates’ Library. Jac. V. 4. 16. Vol. I. p. 180.) in which an account is given of the family of Maclean, and from which it appears that Lauchlan Lubanich had, by Macdonald’s daughter, a son, called Eachin Rusidh ni Cath, or Hector Rufus Bellicosus, who commanded as lieutenant-general under the earl of Ross at the battle of Harlaw, when he and Irving of Drum, seeking out one another by their armorial bearings on their shields, met and killed each other. This Hector was married to a daughter of the earl of Douglas. 

23  Tytler, vol. III. 177.

2 thoughts on “Chapter VII., pp.144-162.

Leave a Reply