IN the early part of the year sixteen hundred and two, the west of Scotland was thrown into a state of combustion, in consequence of the renewal of some old quarrels between Colquhoun of Luss, the chief of that surname, and Alexander Macgregor chief of the Clan-Gregor. Aggressions had formerly been committed on both sides; first by Luss and his party against some of the Macgregors, and then by John Macgregor, the brother of Alexander, against the laird of Luss and his dependants and tenants. To put an end to these dissensions, Alexander Macgregor left Rannoch, accompanied by about two hundred of his kinsmen and friends, entered Lennox, and took up his quarters on the confines of Luss’s territory, where he expected, by the mediation of his friends, to bring matters to an amicable adjustment. As the laird of Luss was suspicious of Macgregor’s real intentions, he assembled all his vassals, with the Buchanans and others, to the number of 300 horse, and 500 foot, with the design, if the result of the meeting should not turn out to his expectations and wishes, to cut off Macgregor and his party. But Macgregor, anticipating his intention, was upon his guard, and, by his precautions, defeated the design upon him. A conference was held for the purpose of terminating all differences; but the meeting broke up without any adjustment; Macgregor then proceeded homewards. The laird of Luss, in pursuance of his plan, immediately followed Macgregor with great haste through Glenfreon, in the expectation of coming upon him unawares, and defeating him; but Macgregor, who was on the alert, observed, in due time, the approach of his pursuers, and made his dispositions accordingly. He divided his company into two parts, the largest of which he kept under his own command, and placed the other part under the command of John Macgregor, his brother, whom he dispatched by a circuitous route, for the purpose of attacking Luss’s party in the rear, when they should least expect to be assailed. This stratagem succeeded, and the result was, that after a keen contest, Luss’s party was completely overthrown, with the loss of two hundred men, besides several gentlemen and burgesses of the town of Dumbarton. It is remarkable that of the Macgregors, John, the brother of Alexander, and another person alone, were killed, though some of the party were wounded.
The laird of Luss and his friends sent early notice of their disaster to the king, and they succeeded so effectually by misrepresenting the whole affair to him, and exhibiting to his majesty eleven score bloody shirts belonging to those of their party who were slain, that the king grew exceedingly incensed at the Clan-Gregor, who had no person about the king to plead their cause, proclaimed them rebels. and interdicted all the lieges from harbouring or having any communication with them. The earl of Argyle with the Campbells were afterwards sent against the proscribed clan, who hunted them through the country. About sixty of the clan made a brave stand at Bentoik against a party of two hundred chosen men belonging to the Clan-Cameron, Clan-Nab, and Clan-Ronald, under the command of Robert Campbell, son of the laird of Glenorchy, when Duncan Aberigh, one of the chieftains of the Clan-Gregor, and his son Duncan, and seven gentlemen of Campbell’s party were killed. But although they made a brave resistance, and killed many of their pursuers, the Macgregors, after many skirmishes and great losses, were at last overcome. Commissions were thereafter sent through the kingdom, for fining those who had harboured any of the Clan, and for punishing all persons who had kept up any communication with them, and the fines so levied were given by the king to the earl of Argyle, who converted the same to his own use as a recompense for his services against the unfortunate Macgregors.
Alexander Macgregor, the chief, after suffering many vicissitudes of fortune, and many privations, at last surrendered himself to the earl of Argyle, on condition that he should grant him a safe conduct into England to king James, that he might lay before his majesty a true state of the whole affair from the commencement, and crave the royal mercy; and as a security for his return to Scotland, he delivered up to Argyle thirty of his choicest men, and of the best reputation among the clan as hostages to remain in Argyle in custody, till his return from England. But no sooner had Macgregor arrived in Berwick on his way to London, than he was basely arrested, and brought back by the earl to Edinburgh, and, by his influence, executed along with the thirty hostages. Argyle hoped, by these means, ultimately to annihilate the whole clan; but in this cruel design he was quite disappointed, for the clan speedily increased, and became almost as powerful as before.1
While the Highland borders were thus disturbed by the warfare between the Macgregors and the Colquhouns, a commotion happened in the interior of the Highlands, in consequence of a quarrel between the Clan Kenzie and the laird of Glengarry, who, according to Sir Robert Gordon, was “unexpert and unskilfull in the lawes of the realme.” From his want of knowledge of the law, the Clan-Kenzie are said by the same writer to have “easalie intrapped him within the compas thereof,” certainly by no means a difficult matter in those lawless times; and having thus made him commit himself, they procured a warrant for citing him to appear before the justiciary court at Edinburgh, which they took good care should not be served upon him personally. Either not knowing of these legal proceedings, or neglecting the summons, Glengarry did not appear at Edinburgh on the day appointed, but went about revenging the slaughter of two of his kinsmen, whom the Clan-Kenzie had killed after the summons for Glengarry’s appearance had been issued. The consequence was that Glengarry and some of his followers were outlawed. Through the interest of the earl of Dunfermline, lord chancellor of Scotland, Kenneth Mackenzie, afterwards created Lord Kintail, obtain a commission against Glengarry and his people, which occasioned great slaughter and trouble. Being assisted by many followers from the neighbouring country, Mackenzie, by virtue of his commission, invaded Glengarry’s territories, which he wasted and destroyed with fire and sword without control. On his return, Mackenzie besieged the castle of Strome, which ultimately surrendered to him. To assist Mackenzie in this expedition, the earl of Sutherland, in token of the ancient friendship which had subsisted between his family and the Mackenzies, sent two hundred and forty well equipped and able men, under the command of John Gordon of Embo. Mackenzie again returned into Glengarry, where he had a skirmish with a party commanded by Glengarry’s eldest son, in which the latter and sixty of his followers were killed. The Mackenzies also suffered some loss on this occasion. At last, after much trouble and bloodshed on both sides, an agreement was entered into, by which Glengarry renounced in favour of Kenneth Mackenzie, the castle of Strome and the adjacent lands.2
In the year sixteen hundred and five, the peace of the northern Highlands was about being disturbed by one of those atrocious occurrences, so common at that time. The chief of the Mackays had a servant named Alastair-Mac-Uilleam-Mhoir. This man having some business to transact in Caithness, went there without the least apprehension of danger, as the earls of Sutherland and Caithness had settled all their differences. No sooner, however, did the latter hear of Mac-Uilleam-Mhoir’s arrival in Caithness, than he sent Henry Sinclair, his bastard brother, with a party of men to kill him. Mac-Uilleam-Mhoir, being a bold and resolute man, was not openly attacked by Sinclair; but on entering the house where Mac-Uilleam-Mhoir had taken up his residence, he and his party pretended that they had come on a friendly visit to him to enjoy themselves in his company. Not suspecting their hostile intentions, he invited them to sit down and drink with him; but scarcely had they taken their seats when they seized Mac-Uilleam-Mhoir, and carried him off prisoner to the earl of Caithness, who caused him to be beheaded, in his own presence, the following day. The fidelity of this unfortunate man to Mackay, his master, during the disputes between the earls of Sutherland and Caithness, was the cause for which he suffered. Mackay, resolved upon getting the earl punished, entered a legal prosecution against him at Edinburgh, but by the mediation of the marquis of Huntly the suit was quashed.3
In July, sixteen hundred and five, a murder was committed in Strathnaver, by Robert Gray of Hopsdale or Ospisdell, upon the body of Angus-Mac-Kenneth-Mac-Alister, one of the Siol-Mhurchaidh-Rhaibhaich, under the following circumstances. John Gray of Skibo held the lands of Ardinsh under John, the fifth of that name, earl of Sutherland, as superior, which lands the grandfather of Angus Mac-Kenneth had in possession from John Mackay, son of Y-Roy-Mackay, who, before the time of this earl John, possessed some lands in Breachat. When John Gray obtained the grant of Ardinsh from John the fifth, he allowed Kenneth Mac-Alister, the father of Angus Mac-Kenneth, to retain possession thereof, which he continued to do till about the year fifteen hundred and seventy-three. About this period a variance arose between John Gray and Hugh Murray of Aberscors, in consequence of some law-suits which they carried on against one another; but they were reconciled by Alexander, earl of Sutherland, who became bound to pay a sum of money to John Gray, for Hugh Murray, who was in the meantime to get possession of the lands of Ardinsh in security. As John Gray still retained the property and kept Kenneth Mac-Alister in the possession thereof at the old rent, the Murrays took umbrage at him, and prevailed upon the earl of Sutherland to grant a conveyance of the wadset or mortgage over Ardinsh in favour of Angus Murray, formerly bailie of Dornoch. In the meantime, Kenneth Mac-Alister died, leaving his son, Angus Mac-Kenneth, in possession. Angus Murray having acquired the mortgage, now endeavoured to raise the rent of Ardinsh, but Angus Mac-Kenneth refusing to pay more than his father had paid, was dispossessed, and the lands were let to William Mac-lain-Mac-Kenneth, cousin of Angus Mac-Kenneth. This proceeding so exasperated Angus that he murdered his cousin William Mackenneth, his wife, and two sons, under cloud of night, and so determined was he that no other person should possess the lands but himself, that he killed no less than nine other persons, who had successively endeavoured to occupy them. No more tenants being disposed to occupy Ardinsh at the risk of their lives, and Angus Murray getting wearied of his possession, resigned his right to Gilbert Gray of Skibo on the death of John Gray, his father. Gilbert, thereafter, conveyed the property to Robert Gray of Ospisdell, his second son; but Robert, being disinclined to allow Angus Mackenneth, who had again obtained possession, to continue tenant, he dispossessed him and let the land to one Finlay Logan, but this new tenant was murdered by Mackenneth in the year sixteen hundred and four. Mackenneth then fled into Strathnaver with a party composed of persons of desperate and reckless passions like himself, with the intention of annoying Robert Gray by their incursions. Gray having ascertained that they were in the parish of Creich, he immediately at tacked them and killed Murdo Mackenneth, the brother of Angus, who made a narrow escape, and again retired into Strathnaver. He again returned into Sutherland on the first of May sixteen hundred and five, and, in the absence of Robert Gray, burnt his stable with some of his cattle at Ospisdell. Gray then obtained a warrant against Mackenneth, and having procured the assistance of a body of men from John, earl of Sutherland, he entered Strathnaver and attacked Mackenneth at the Cruffs of Hoip and slew him.4
The earl of Caithuess, disliking the unquiet state in which he had for some time been forced to remain, made another attempt in the month of July, sixteen hundred and seven, to hunt in Bengrime, without asking permission from the earl of Sutherland; but he was prevented from accomplishing his purpose by the sudden appearance in Strathully, of the earl of Sutherland, attended by his friend Mackay, and a considerable body of their countrymen. Almost the whole of the inhabitants or Dornoch turned out on this occasion, and went to Strathully. During their absence a quarrel ensued in the town between one John Macphaill, and three brothers of the name of Pope, in which one of the latter was killed; the circumstances leading to and attending which were these. In the year fifteen hundred and eighty-five, William Pope, a native of Ross, settled in Sutherland, and, being a man of good education, was appointed schoolmaster in Dornoch, and afterwards became its resident minister. He also received another clerical appointment in Caithness, by means of which, and of his other living, he became, in course of time, wealthy. This good success induced two younger brothers, Charles and Thomas, to leave their native country and settle in Sutherland, Thomas was soon made chancellor of Caithness, and minister of Rogart, Charles became a notary public and a messenger-at-arms, and having by his good conduct and agreeable conversation ingratiated himself with the earl of Sutherland, he was appointed to the office of sheriff-clerk of Sutherland. Charles and Thomas, being, like their brother, of very provident dispositions, soon acquired considerable wealth, which they laid out, in conjunction with their brother William, in the purchase of houses in the town of Dornoch, where they chiefly resided. Having acquired a very considerable property in this way, many of the inhabitants of the town envied their acquisitions, and took every occasion to insult them as intruders, who had a design, as they supposed, to drive the ancient inhabitants of the place from their possessions. On the occasion in question, William and Thomas Pope, along with other ministers, had held a meeting at Dornoch on church affairs, on dissolving which, they went to breakfast at an inn. While at breakfast, John Macphaill entered the house, and demanded some liquor from the mistress of the inn, but she refused to give him any, as she knew him to be a troublesome and quarrelsome person. Macphaill, irritated at the refusal, spoke harshly to the woman, and the ministers having made some excuse for her, Macphaill vented his abuse upon them. Being threatened by Thomas Pope, for his insolence, he pushed an arrow with a barbed head, which he held in his hand, into one of Pope’s arms. The parties then separated, but the two Popes being observed walking in the churchyard, in the evening, with their swords girt about them, by Macphaill, who looked upon their so arming themselves as a threat, he immediately made the circumstance known to Houcheon Macphaill, his nephew, and one William Murray, all of whom entered the churchyard and assailed the two brothers with the most vituperative abuse. Charles Pope, who had been absent from town the whole day, learning, on his return, the danger his brothers were in, immediately hastened to the spot, where he found the two parties engaged. Charles attacked Murray, whom he wounded in the face, whereupon Murray instantly killed him. William and Thomas were grievously wounded by Macphaill and his nephew, and left for dead, but they ultimately recovered. As there were at that time no persons in the town friendly to the Popes, almost the whole population having gone to Strathully, the murderers escaped. Macphaill and his nephew fled to Holland, where they ended their days. After this occurrence, the surviving brothers left Sutherland and went back into their own country.
By the mediation of the marquis of Huntly, the earls of Caithness and Sutherland again met at Elgin with their mutual friends, and once more adjusted their differences. On this occasion, the earl of Sutherland was accompanied by large parties of the Gordons, the Frasers, the Dunbars, the Clan-Kenzie, the Monroes, the Clan-Chattan, and other friends, which so displeased the earl of Caithness, who was grieved to see his rival so honourably attended, that he could never afterwards be induced to meet again with the earl of Sutherland or any of his family.
In the following year, viz. sixteen hundred and eight, the earl of Caithness embroiled himself with the notorious Patrick Stewart, earl of Orkney. Some servants of the latter being forced, by stress of weather, to land in Caithness, the earl of Caithness apprehended them, and, after forcing them to swallow a quantity of spirits, which completely in toxicated them, he ordered one side of their heads and beards to be shaved, which being done, he compelled them to go to sea although the storm had not abated. Having with some difficulty reached Orkney, they laid their case before their master, who immediately complained to the king and council. His majesty directed his council to take steps for bringing the case to trial; but the two earls having arrived in Edinburgh for the purpose of mutual recrimination, they were induced, by their friends, to adjust their private quarrels between themselves, a proposal to which they wisely acceded, for assuredly neither could gain by a contrary proceeding, and both might, by exposing one another’s crimes, have suffered greatly.
During the year last mentioned, a quarrel occurred in Sutherland between Iver Mac-Donald-Mac-Alister, one of the Siol-Thomais, and Alexander Murray in Auchindough. Iver, and his eldest son, John, meeting one day with Alexander Murray, and his son Thomas, an altercation took place on some questions in dispute. From words they proceeded to blows, and the result was, that John, the son of Iver, and Alexander Murray, were killed. Iver then fled into Strathnaver, whither he was followed by Thomas Murray, accompanied by a party of twenty-four men, to revenge the death of his father. Iver, however, avoided them, and having assembled some friends, he attacked Murray, unawares, at the hill of Binchlibrig, and compelled him to flee, after taking five of his men prisoners, whom he released after a captivity of five days. As the chief of the Mackays protected Iver, George Murray of Pulrossie took up the quarrel, and annoyed Iver and his party; but the matter was compromised by Mackay, who paid a sum of money to Pulrossie and Thomas Murray, as a reparation for divers losses they had sustained at Iver’s hands during his outlawry. This compromise was the more readily entered into by Pulrossie, as the earl of Sutherland was rather favourable to Iver, and was by no means displeased at him for the injuries he did to Pulrossie, who had not acted dutifully towards him. Besides having lost his own son in the quarrel, who was killed by Thomas Murray, Iver was unjustly dealt with in being made the sole object of persecution.5
A civil dissension occurred about this time in Moray, among the Dunbars, which nearly proved fatal to that family. To understand the origin of this dispute, it is necessary to state the circumstances which led to it, and to go back to the period when Patrick Dunbar, sheriff of Moray, and tutor and uncle of Alexander Dunbar of Westfield, was killed, along with the earl of Moray at Dunibristle. Alexander Dunbar did not enjoy his inheritance long, having died at Dunkeld, shortly after the death of his uncle, under circumstances which led to a suspicion that he had been poisoned. As he died without issue he was succeeded by Alexander Dunbar, son of Patrick, slain at Dunibristle, by a sister of Robert Dunbar of Burgy. This Alexander was a young man of great promise, and was directed in all his proceedings by his uncle Robert Dunbar of Burgy. Patrick Dunbar of Blery and Kilbuyack and his family, imagining that Robert Dunbar, to whom they bore a grudge, was giving advice to his nephew, to their prejudice, conceived a deadly enmity at both, and seized every occasion to annoy the sheriff of Moray and his uncle. An accidental meeting having taken place between Robert Dunbar, brother of Alexander, and William Dunbar, son of Blery, high words were exchanged, and a scuffle ensued, in which William Dunbar received considerable injury in his person. Patrick Dunbar and his sons were so incensed at this occurrence, that they took up arms and attacked their chief, Alexander Dunbar, sheriff of Moray, in the town of Forres, where he was shot dead by Robert Dunbar, son of Blery. John Dunbar, sheriff of Moray, who succeeded his brother Alexander, and his brother Robert Dunbar of Burgy, endeavoured to bring the murderers of his brother to justice; but they failed in consequence of Alexander Dunbar being, at the time of his death, a rebel to the king, having been denounced at the horn for a civil cause. The absurdity of a man being declared an outlaw whom any person might slay with impunity, merely because he had not fulfilled a civil contract, became now so apparent, that the king procured an act to be passed in the ensuing parliament declaring that any man who killed one of the king’s subjects should be liable to the penalties of the law, unless the person killed should at the time of his death have stood denounced for a criminal cause. But although John Dunbar and his brother did not succeed in their prosecution, Blery was obliged to pay a sum of money to John Dunbar in satisfaction of his brother’s slaughter, and he was compelled to remit his claim upon Robert Dunbar for the bodily injury which his son had received. Robert Dunbar, son of Blery, consented to go into voluntary banishment into Ireland; and thus this deadly feud was stayed, and a sort of reconciliation effected by the friendly mediation of the earl of Dunfermline, then lord chancellor of Scotland, who fixed the terms of the arrangement above-mentioned.6
In the year sixteen hundred and ten the earl of Caithness and Houcheon Mackay, chief of the Mackays, had a difference in consequence of the protection given by the latter to a gentleman named John Sutherland, the son of Mackay’s sister. Sutherland lived in Berridale under the earl of Caithness, but he was so molested by the earl that he lost all patience, and went about avenging the injuries he had sustained. The earl, therefore, cited him to appear at Edinburgh to answer to certain charges made against him; but not obeying the summons, he was denounced and proclaimed a rebel to the king. Reduced, in consequence, to great extremities, and seeing no remedy by which he could retrieve himself, he became an outlaw, wasted and destroyed the earl’s country, and carried off herds of cattle, which he transported into Strathnaver, the country of his kinsman. The earl thereupon sent a party of the Siol-Mhic-Imheair to attack him, and, after a long search, they found him encamped near the water of Shin in Sutherland. He, however, was aware of their approach before they perceived him, and, taking advantage of this circumstance, he attacked them in the act of crossing said water before they were acquainted with his movements. They were in consequence defeated and pursued, leaving several of their party dead on the field.
This disaster exasperated the earl, who resolved to prosecute Mackay and his son, Donald Mackay, for giving succour and protection within their country to John Sutherland, an outlaw. Accordingly, he served both of them with a notice to appear before the privy council to answer to the charges he had preferred against them. Mackay at once obeyed the summons, and went to Edinburgh, where he met Sir Robert Gordon, who had come from England for the express purpose of assisting Mackay on the present occasion. The earl, who had grown tired of the troubles which John Sutherland had occasioned in his country, was induced, by the entreaties of friends, to settle matters on the following conditions:- that he should forgive John Sutherland all past injuries, and restore him to his former possessions; that John Sutherland and his brother Donald should be delivered, the one after the other, into the hands of the earl to be kept prisoners for a certain time; and that Donald Mac-Thomais-Mhoir, one of the Sliochd-Iain-Abaraich, and a follower of John Sutherland, in his depredations, should be also delivered up to the earl to be dealt with as to him should seem meet, all of which stipulations were complied with. The earl hanged Donald Mac-Thomais as soon as he was delivered up. John Sutherland was kept a prisoner at Girnigo about twelve months, during which time Donald Mackay made several visits to Earl George, for the purpose of getting John Sutherland released, in which he at last succeeded; besides procuring a discharge to Donald Sutherland, who, in his turn, should have surrendered himself as prisoner on the release of his brother John; but upon the condition that he and his father Houcheon Mackay should pass the next following Christmas with the earl at Girnigo. Mackay and his brother William, accordingly, spent their Christmas at Girnigo, but Donald Mackay was prevented by business from attending. The design of the earl of Caithness in thus favouring Mackay, was to separate him from the interests of the earl of Sutherland, but he was unsuccessful.
Some years before the events we have just related, a commotion took place in the Lewis, occasioned by the pretensions of Torcuill Connaldagh of the Cogigh to the possessions of Roderick Macleod of the Lewis his reputed father. Roderick had first married Barbara Stuart, daughter of Lord Methven, by whom he had a son named Torcuill-Ire, who, on arriving at manhood, gave proofs of a warlike disposition. Upon the death of Barbara Stuart, Macleod married a daughter of Mackenzie, lord of Kintail, whom he afterwards divorced for adultery with the Breive of the Lewis, a sort of judge among the islanders, to whose authority they submitted themselves when he determined any debateable point between them. Macleod next married a daughter of Maclean, by whom he had two sons, Torcuill Dubh and Tormaid.
In sailing from the Lewis to Skye, Torcuill-Ire, eldest son of Macleod, and two hundred men, perished in a great tempest. Torquill Connaldagh, above mentioned, was the fruit of the adulterous connexion between Macleod’s second wife and the Breive, at least Macleod would never acknowledge him as his son. This Torcuill being now of age, and having married a sister of Glengarry, he took up arms against Macleod, his reputed father, to vindicate his supposed rights as Macleod’s son, being assisted by Tormaid, Ougigh, and Murthow, three of the bastard sons of Macleod. The old man was apprehended and detained four years in captivity, when he was released on the condition that he should acknowledge Torcuill Connaldagh as his lawful son. Tormaid Ougigh having been slain by Donald Macleod, his brother, another natural son of old Macleod, Torcuill Connaldagh, assisted by Murthow Macleod, his reputed bastard brother, took Donald prisoner and carried him to Cogigh, but he escaped from thence and fled to his father in the Lewis, who was highly offended at Torcuill for seizing his son Donald. Macleod then caused Donald to apprehend Murthow, and having delivered him to his father, he was imprisoned by him in the castle of Stornoway. As soon as Torcuill heard of this occurrence, he went to Stornoway and attacked the fort, which he took, after a short siege, and released Murthow. He then apprehended Roderick Macleod, killed a number of his men, and carried off all the charters and other title-deeds of the Lewis, which he gave in custody to the Mackenzies. Torcuill had a son named John Macleod, who was in the service of the marquis of Huntly; he now sent for him, and on his arrival committed the charge of the castle of Stornoway to him, into which old Macleod was imprisoned. John Macleod being now master of the Lewis, and acknowledged superior thereof, he proceeded to expel Rorie-Og and Donald, two of Roderick Macleod’s bastard sons, from the island; but Rorie-Og attacked him in Stornoway, and after killing him, released Roderick Macleod, his father, who possessed the island in peace during the remainder of his life. Torcuill Connaldagh, by the assistance of the Clan-Kenzie, got Donald Macleod into his possession and executed him at Dingwall.
Upon the death of Roderick Macleod, his son Torcuill Dubh succeeded him in the Lewis and married a sister of Sir Roderick Macleod of Harris. Taking a grudge at Rorie-Og, his brother, he apprehended him and sent him to Maclean to be detained by him in prison; but he escaped out of Maclean’s hands, and afterwards perished in a snow storm. As Torcuill Dubh excluded Torcuill Connaldagh from the succession of the Lewis, as a bastard, the Clan-Kenzie formed a design to purchase and conquer the Lewis, which they calculated on accomplishing from the simplicity of Torcuill Connaldagh, who had now no friend to advise with, and from the dissensions which unfortunately existed among the race of the Siol-Thorcuill. This scheme, moreover, received the aid of a matrimonial alliance between Torcuill Connaldagh and the clan, by a marriage between his eldest daughter and Roderick Mackenzie, the lord of Kintail’s brother. The clan did not avow their design openly, but they advanced their enterprise under the pretence of assisting Torcuill Connaldagh, who was a descendant of the Kintail family, and they ultimately succeeded in destroying the family of Macleod of Lewis, together with his tribe, the Siol-Thorcuill, and by the ruin of that family and some neighbouring clans, this ambitious clan became very powerful and made themselves complete masters of Lewis and other places. As Torcuill Dubh was the chief obstacle in their way, they formed a conspiracy against his life, preparatory to which a private meeting was held, which was attended by Kenneth Mackenzie, afterwards Lord Kintail, Torcuill Connaldagh, Macleod, Breive of Lewis, and Murthow Macleod, the bastard brother of Torcuill Dubh. At this meeting Kenneth Mackenzie delivered an opinion, that in order to advance Torcuill Connaldagh to the possession of the Lewis, it was absolutely necessary to put Torcuill Dubh out of the way, a proposition which was unanimously adopted; but a difficulty occurred in getting a person willing to undertake such a barbarous task. At last the Breive was persuaded by the earnest entreaties of the other three, and on being promised a great reward, to agree to assassinate Torcuill Dubh, after which the meeting broke up. Thereafter the Breive, accompanied by the greater part of his tribe, the Clann-Mhic-Ghille- Moir, went in a galley towards the isle of Rasay, and in his course fell in with a Dutch ship partly laden with wine, which he compelled to follow him into the Lewis. Having arrived there, he invited Torcuill Dubh and a party of his people to a banquet on board the Dutch vessel; but they had scarcely seated themselves, in the expectation of being regaled with wine, when they were all apprehended, tied with cords and carried to the country of the Clan-Kenzie, into the presence of the lord of Kintail, who ordered Torcuill Dubh and his company to be beheaded, which they accordingly were in the month of July fifteen hundred and ninety-seven. At the time of their execution an earthquake happened, which struck terror into the minds of the executioners.
The Mackenzies had now gained a great step in the advancement of their avaricious plans. but they nevertheless hated the Breive and the tribe for their perfidy towards their master. These, repenting of what they had done, and seeing themselves detested by all men, returned into Lewis, and dreading an attack, strengthened themselves within a fort in the island called Neisse. But they were soon driven from this strong hold by Neill Macleod, the bastard brother of Torcuill Dubh with the loss of several men.
Some of the barons and gentlemen of Fife, hearing of these disturbances in Lewis, were enticed, by the encouragement held out by persons who had visited the island, and by the reputed fertility of the soil, to attempt to take possession of the island. The professed object of these adventurers was to civilize the inhabitants, but their real design was, by means of a colony, to supplant the ancient inhabitants, and to drive them from the island; but the speculation proved ruinous to many of them, who, in consequence of the losses they sustained, lost their estates, and were, in the end, obliged to abandon the island. In pursuance of their plan, they obtained from the king, in the year fifteen hundred and ninety-nine, a gift of the Lewis, which was then alleged to be at his gratuitous disposal. Having assembled in Fife, these adventurers collected a body of soldiers and artificers of all sorts, whom they sent, along with every thing necessary for a plantation, into the Lewis, where, immediately on their arrival, they began to erect houses in a convenient part of the island, and soon completed a small but handsome town, in which they took up their quarters. The new settlers were however much annoyed in their operations by Neill and Murthow Macleod, the only sons of Roderick Macleod who remained in the island. Murthow Macleod succeeded in apprehending the Laird of Balcolmy, and, having taken his ship, killed all his men. After detaining Balcolmy six months in captivity, he was released upon promising a ransom; but he died on his return to Fife, and Murthow in consequence was disappointed of the promised sum.
In the meantime, Neill Macleod quarrelled with his brother Murthow, for harbouring and maintaining the Breive, and such of his tribe as were still alive, who had been the chief instruments in the murder of Torcuill Dubh. Neill thereupon apprehended his brother, and some of the Clan Mhic-Ghille-Mhoir, all of whom he killed, reserving his brother only alive. When the Fife speculators were informed that Neill had taken Murthow, his brother, prisoner, they sent him a message offering to give him a share of the island and to assist him in revenging the death of Torcuill Dubh, provided he would deliver Murthow into their hands. Neill agreed to this proposal, and having gone thereafter to Edinburgh, he received a pardon from the king for all his past offences.
These proceedings frustrated for a time the designs of the Mackenzies upon the island, and the lord of Kintail almost despaired of obtaining possession by any means. As the new settlers now stood in his way, he resolved to desist from persecuting the Siol-Torcuill, and to cross the former in all their undertakings, by all the means in his power. He had for some time kept Tormaid Macleod, the lawful brother of Torcuill Dubh, a prisoner; but he now released him, thinking that, upon his appearance in the Lewis, all the islanders would rise in his favour, and he was not deceived in his expectations, for, as Sir Robert Gordon observes, “all these islanders, (and lykwayes the Hielanders,) are, by nature, most bent and prone to adventure themselves, their lyffs, and all they have, for their masters and lords, yea beyond all other people.”7 In the meantime, Murthow Macleod was carried to St Andrews, and there executed. Having at his execution revealed the designs of the lord of Kintail, the latter was committed by the order of the king to the castle of Edinburgh, from which, however, he contrived to escape without trial, by means, as is supposed, of the then Lord-Chancellor of Scotland.
On receiving pardon Neill Macleod returned into the Lewis with the Fife adventurers; but he had not been long in the island when he quarrelled with them on account of an injury he had received from Sir James Spence of Wormistoun. He, therefore, abandoned them, and watched a favourable opportunity for attacking them. They then attempted to ap prehend him by a stratagem. In the middle of a very dark night Sir James Spence sent a party to apprehend Neill and Donald Dubh-Mac-Rory, a gentleman of the island, who had assisted Neill against them; but Neill, contrary to Sir James’s expectations, was completely on his guard, and as soon as he became aware of the approach of the party, he attacked them furiously, killed sixty of them, and pursued the remainder till day light next morning, when they took refuge in their camp. When the lord of Kintail heard of this disaster, he thought the time was now suitable for him to stir, and accordingly he sent Tormaid Macleod into the Lewis, as he had intended, promising him all the assistance in his power if he would attack the Fife settlers.
As soon as Tormaid arrived in the island, his brother Neill, and all the natives, assembled and acknowledged him as their lord and master. He immediately attacked the camp of the adventurers, which he forced, burnt the fort, killed the greater part of their men, took the commanders prisoners, whom he released, after a captivity of eight months, on their solemn promise not to return again to the island, and on their giving a pledge that they should obtain a pardon from the king for Tormaid and his followers for all past offences. After Tormaid had thus obtained possession of the island, John Mac-Donald-Mac-Houcheon apprehended Torcuill Connaldagh, and carried him into Lewis to his brother, Tormaid Macleod. Tormaid inflicted no punishment upon Connaldagh, but merely required from him delivery of the title deeds of the Lewis, and the other papers which he had carried off when he apprehended his father Roderick Macleod. Connaldagh informed him that he had it not in his power to give them up, as he had delivered them to the Clan-Kenzie, in whose possession they still were. Knowing this to be the fact, Tormaid released Torcuill Connaldagh, and allowed him to leave the island contrary to the advice of all his followers and friends, who were for inflicting the punishment of death upon Torcuill, as he had been the occasion of all the miseries and troubles which had befallen them.
The Breive of Lewis soon met with a just punishment for the crime he had committed in betraying and murdering his master, Torcuill Dubh Macleod. The Breive and some of his relations had taken refuge in the country of Assint. John Mac-Donald-Mac-Houcheon, accompanied by four persons, having accidentally entered the house where the Breive and six of his kindred lodged, found themselves unexpectedly in the same room with them. Being of opposite factions, the consequence was that a battle immediately ensued, in the course of which the Breive and his party fled out of the house, but they were pursued by John and his men, and the Breive and five of his friends killed. To revenge the death of the Breive, Gille-Calum-Mhoir-Mac-lain, who became chief of the Clan-Mhic-Ghille-Mhoir after the death of the Breive, searched for John Mac-Donald-Mac-Houcheon to kill him. Meeting one day by chance, in the Cogigh, Gille-Calum-Mhoir was defeated by John, the greater part of this men killed, and he himself was taken prisoner, and being carried into the Lewis to Tormaid Macleod, was there beheaded.
Although the Fife settlers had engaged not to return again into the Lewis, they nevertheless made preparations for invading it, having obtained the king’s commission against Tormaid Macleod and his tribe, the Siol-Thorcuill. They were aided in this expedition by forces from all the neighbouring countries. The earl of Sutherland, in particular, sent a party of men under the command of William Mac-Mhic-Sheumais, chief of the Clan-Gun in Sutherland, to assist the gentlemen of Fife in subduing Tormaid Macleod. As soon as they had effected a landing in the island with all their forces, they sent a message to Macleod, acquainting him that if he would surrender himself to them, in name of the king, they would transport him safely to London where his majesty then was; and that, upon his arrival there, they would not only obtain his pardon, but also allow him to deal with the king in behalf of his friends, and for the means of supporting himself. Macleod, afraid to risk his fortune against the numerous forces brought against him, agreed to the terms proposed, contrary to the advice of his brother Neill, who refused to yield. Tormaid was thereupon sent to London, where he took care to make the king to be rightly informed of all the circumstances of his case; he showed his majesty that the Lewis was his just inheritance, and that his majesty had been deceived by the Fife adventurers in making him believe that the island was at his disposal, which act of deception had occasioned much trouble and a great loss of blood. He concluded by imploring his majesty to do him justice, by restoring him to his rights. Understanding that Macleod’s representations were favourably received by his majesty, the adventurers used all their influence at court to thwart him; and as some of them were the king’s own domestic servants, they at last succeeded so far as to get him to be sent home to Scotland a prisoner. He remained a captive at Edinburgh till the month of March, sixteen hundred and fifteen, when the king granted him permission to pass into Holland, to Maurice, Prince of Orange, where he ended his days. The settlers soon grew wearied of their new possession. Some of them had spent their all in the undertaking, and had no longer the means to supply the wants of the colony; some had died; others had business elsewhere to attend to; and as all of them had declined in their circumstances in this luckless speculation, and as they were continually annoyed by Neill Macleod, they finally abandoned the island, and returned to Fife to bewail their loss.
The death of Tormaid Macleod, and the abandonment of the island by the Fife settlers, were fortunate circumstances for Lord Kintail, who, no longer disguising his intentions, obtained, through the means of the Lord Chancellor, a gift of the Lewis, under the great seal, for his own use, in virtue of the old right which Torquill Connaldagh had long before resigned in his favour. Some of the adventurers having complained to the king of this proceeding, his Majesty became highly displeased at the lord of Kintail, and made him resign his right into his Majesty’s hands by means of Lord Balmerino, then secretary of Scotland, and Lord President of the session; which right his Majesty now vested in the persons of Lord Balmerino, Sir George Hay, afterwards chancellor of Scotland, and Sir James Spence of Wormistoun, who undertook the colonization of the Lewis. Sir George Hay and Sir James Spence accordingly made great preparations for accomplishing their purpose; and, being assisted by most of the neighbouring countries, invaded the Lewis for the double object of planting a colony, and of subduing and apprehending Neill Macleod, who now alone defended the island.
On this occasion Lord Kintail played a deep and deceitful part, for while he sent Roderick Mackenzie, his brother, with a party of men openly to assist the new colonists who acted under the king’s commission, promising them at the same time his friendship, and sending them a vessel from Ross with a supply of provisions; he privately sent notice to Neill Macleod to intercept the vessel on her way; so that the settlers being disappointed in the provisions to which they trusted, might abandon the island for want. The case turned out exactly as Lord Kintail anticipated, for the vessel being taken by Neill Macleod, and Sir George Hay and Sir James Spence having failed in apprehending Neill, and having no provisions for the support of their army, they abandoned the island, leaving a party of men behind to keep the fort, and disbanded their forces. Sir George Hay and Sir James Spence, on their return into Fife, intended to have sent a fresh supply of men, with provisions, into the island; but Neill Macleod having, with the assistance of his nephew, Malcolm Macleod, son of Roderick Og, the some others of the Lewis men, burnt the fort, and apprehended the men who were left behind in the island, from whence he sent them safely into Fife, they abandoned every idea of again taking possession of the island; and, along with their co-proprietor, sold their right to Lord Kintail for a sum of money, who thus at length obtained what he had so long and anxiously desired.
Lord Kintail lost no time in taking possession of the island, and all the inhabitants, shortly after his landing, with the exception of Neill Macleod and a few others, submitted to him. Neill, along with his nephews, Malcolm, William, and Roderick, the three sons of Roderick Og, the four sons of Torcuill Blair, and thirty others, retired to an impregnable rock in the sea called Berrissay, into which Neill had been accustomed, for some years, to send provisions and other necessary articles to serve him, in case of necessity. Neill lived on this rock for three years, during which period Lord Kintail died, which occurrence took place in the year sixteen hundred and eleven. In the following year, Neill and his company left Berrissay, and landed on the Lewis for the purpose of refreshing themselves upon the land, when they were attacked by some of the Clan-Kenzie, and part of the inhabitants; but they all escaped, and again took refuge on the rock of Berrissay. As Macleod could not be attacked in his impregnable position, and as the nearness of his presence was a source of annoyance, the Clan-Kenzie fell on the following expedient to get quit of him. They gathered together the wives and children of those that were in Berrissay, and also all persons in the island related to them by consanguinity or affinity, and having placed them on a rock in the sea, so near Berrissay that they could be heard and seen by Neill and his party, the Clan-Kenzie vowed that they would suffer the sea to overwhelm them, on the return of the flood-tide, if Neill did not instantly surrender the fort. This appalling spectacle had such an effect upon Macleod and his companions, that they immediately yielded up the rock, and left the Lewis.
Neill Macleod then retired into Harris, where he remained concealed for a time; but not being able to avoid discovery any longer, he gave himself up to Sir Roderick Macleod of Harris, and entreated him to carry him into England to the king, a request with which Sir Roderick promised to comply. In proceeding on his journey, however, along with Macleod, he was charged at Glasgow, under pain of treason, to deliver up Neill Macleod to the privy council. Sir Roderick obeyed the charge, and Neill, with his eldest son Donald, were presented to the privy council at Edinburgh, where Neill was executed in April, six teen hundred and thirteen. His son, Donald, was banished from the kingdom of Scotland, and immediately went to England, where he remained three years with Sir Robert Gordon, tutor of Sutherland, and from England he afterwards went to Holland, where he died.
While Neill Macleod was on the rock of Berrissay, Peter Love, an English pirate, arrived in the Lewis with a ship laden with a valuable cargo which he had taken. The pirate and Neill being both outlaws became very friendly and familiar, and they even proposed, by uniting their forces, to make themselves masters of Lewis both by sea and land. But after the pirate had remained some time in the island, he and all his men were taken prisoners by Torcuill Blair and his sons, and were sent, along with the ship, by Neill Macleod to Edinburgh to the privy council, by doing which he hoped not only to obtain his own pardon, but also the release of his brother, Tormaid Macleod, from prison. He was, however, disappointed in this expectation. The pirate and his crew were hanged at Leith.
After the death of Neill Macleod, Roderick and William, the sons of Roderick Og, were apprehended by Roderick Mackenzie, tutor of Kintail, and executed. Malcolm Macleod, his third son, who was kept a prisoner by Roderick Mackenzie, escaped, and having associated himself with the Clandonald in Islay and Kintyre during their quarrel with the Campbells in sixteen hundred and fifteen and sixteen, he annoyed the Clan-Kenzie with frequent incursions. Malcolm, thereafter, went to Flanders and Spain, where he remained with Sir James Macdonald. Before going to Spain, he returned from Flanders into the Lewis, in sixteen hundred and sixteen, where he killed two gentlemen of the Clan-Kenzie.8
The foregoing is a brief sketch of the history of the decay of the family of Macleod of the Lewis and of his tribe, and the causes which led to it; a just punishment for the cruelties which they exercised upon one another during their intestine broils.
From the occurrences in Lewis, we now direct the attention of our readers to some proceedings in the isle of Rasay, which, as usual, ended in bloodshed. The quarrel lay between Gille-Calum, laird of the island, and Murdo Mackenzie of Gairloch, the occasion of which was this:- The lands of Gairloch originally belonged to the Clann-Mhic-Ghille-Chalum, the predecessors of the laird of Rasay; and when the Mackenzies began to prosper and to rise, one of them obtained the third part of these lands in mortgage or wadset from the Clann-Mhic-Ghille-Chalum. In process of time the Clan-Kenzie, by some means or other, unknown to the proprietor of Gairloch, obtained a right to the whole of these lands, but they did not claim possession of the whole till the death of Torcuill Dubh Macleod of the Lewis, whom the laird of Rasay and his tribe followed as their superior. But upon the death of Torcuil Dubh, the laird of Gairloch took possession of the whole of the lands of Gairloch in virtue of his pretended right, and chased the Clann-Mhic-Ghille-Chalum from the lands with fire and sword. The Clan retaliated in their turn by invading the laird of Gairloch, plundering his lands and committing slaughters. In a skirmish which took place in the year sixteen hundred and ten, in which lives were lost on both sides, the laird of Gairloch apprehended John Mac-Alain-Mac-Rory, one of the principal men of the clan; but being desirous to get hold also of John Holmoch-Mac-Rory, another of the chiefs, he sent his son Murdo the following year along with Alexander Bane, the son and heir of Bane of Tulloch in Ross, and some others, to search for and pursue John Holmoch; and as he understood that John Holmoch was in Skye, he hired a ship to carry his son and party thither; but instead of going to Skye, they unfortunately, from some unknown cause, landed in Rasay.
On their arrival in Rasay, Gille-Calum, laird of Rasay, with twelve of his followers, went on board with the intention of purchasing some wine. When Murdo Mackenzie saw them approaching, he and his party, that they might not be seen, concealed themselves in the lower part of the vessel, leaving the mariners only, on deck. On coming on board, the laird of Rasay, after some conversation with the sailors, left the vessel, intending to return immediately. When Murdo Mackenzie understood that Rasay and his party had gone on shore, he came upon deck, and on perceiving Rasay return, he resolved to conceal himself no longer. When Rasay returned first from the vessel, he had desired his brother, Murdo Mac-Ghille-Chalum, to accompany him to the ship with another galley to carry the wine, which he said he had bought from the sailors. On returning to the ship he unexpectedly found Murdo Mackenzie on board. After consulting with his men, he resolved to take Mackenzie prisoner, in security for his cousin, John Mac-Alain-Mac-Rory, whom the laird of Gairloch detained in captivity. The party then attempted to seize Mackenzie, but he and his party resisting, a keen conflict took place on board, which continued a considerable time. At last, Murdo Mackenzie, Alexander Bane, and the whole of their party, with the exception of three only, were slain. These three fought manfully, and succeeded in killing the laird of Rasay and the whole men who accompanied him on board, and they wounded several persons that remained in the two boats. Finding themselves seriously wounded, they took advantage of a favourable wind which offered, and sailed away from the island, but the whole three expired on the voyage homewards. The laird of Gairloch, after this event, obtained peaceable possession of these lands.9
About the time this occurrence took place, the peace of the north was almost again disturbed in consequence of the conduct of William Mac-Angus-Roy, one of the Clan Gun, who, though born in Strathnaver, had become a servant to the earl of Caithness. This man had done many injuries to the people of Caithness by command of the earl; and the mere displeasure of Earl George at any of his people, was considered by William Mac-Angus as sufficient authority for him to steal and take away their goods and cattle. William got so accustomed to this kind of service, that he began also to steal the cattle and horses of the earl, his master, and, after collecting a large booty in this way, he took his leave. The earl was extremely enraged at his quondam servant for so acting; but, as William Mac-Angus was in possession of a warrant in writing under the earl’s own hand, authorising him to act as he had done towards the people of Caithness, the earl was afraid to adopt any proceedings against him, or against those who protected and harboured him, before the privy council, lest he might produce the warrant which he held from the earl. The confidence which the earl had reposed in him served, however, still more to excite the earl’s indignation.
As William Mac-Angus continued his depredations in other quarters, he was apprehended in the town of Tain, on a charge of cattle stealing; but he was released by the Monroes, who gave security to the magistrates of the town for his appearance when required, upon due notice being given that he was wanted for trial. The Monroes granted this favour out of respect to the chief of the Mackays, whose countryman William Mac-Angus was; but, as a measure of precaution, they detained Mac-Angus in the castle of Foulis until they should receive Mackay’s instructions how to act. Impatient of confinement, and thinking that his friends in Strathnaver were either careless about him in not sending back an answer to the notice sent by the Monroes, or, considering his life in danger, William determined to attempt an escape by jumping from the height of the tower of the castle of Foulis, but he injured one of his legs so much in the fall, that he could not proceed. The laird of Foulis again took him into custody, and, being offended at him for his attempt, he delivered him back again to the provost and bailies of Tain, from whence he was sent into Caithness by Sir William Sinclair of May, sheriff of Tain. The earl of Caithness thereupon put him in fetters, and imprisoned him within Castle Sinclair. His confinement in Castle Sinclair was, however, of short duration; for, disengaging himself from his fetters, he jumped from the castle into the sea which washed its walls, swam safely to the shore, and, after lurking two days among the rocks and mountains in the neighbourhood, effected his escape into Strathnaver in the year sixteen hundred and twelve. The earl of Caithness sent his son, William, Lord Berridale, in pursuit of him; and, understanding that he was in the town of Gall-waill in Strathnaver, he hastened there with a party of men, but missing the fugitive, he, in revenge, apprehended a servant of Mackay, called Angus Henriach, without any authority from his majesty, and carried him to Castle Sinclair, where he was put into fetters and closely imprisoned on the pretence that he had assisted William Mac-Angus in effecting his escape from Gall-waill. When this occurrence took place, Donald Mackay, son of Houcheon Mackay, the chief, was at Dunrobin castle, who, on hearing of the apprehension and imprisonment of his father’s servant, could scarcely be made to believe the fact on account of the recent friendship which had been contracted between his father and the earl the preceding Christmas. But being made sensible thereof, and of the cruel usage which the servant had received he prevailed with his father to summon the earl and his son to answer to the charge of having apprehended and imprisoned Angus Henriach a free subject of the king, without a commission. The earl was also charged to present his prisoner before the privy council at Edinburgh in the month of June next following, which he accordingly did; and Angus being tried before the lords and declared innocent, was delivered over to Sir Robert Gordon, who then acted for Mackay.10
During the same year (1612) another event occurred in the north, which created considerable uproar and discord in the northern Highlands. A person of the name of Arthur Smith, who resided in Banff, had counterfeited the coin of the realm, in consequence of which he, and a man who had assisted him, fled from Banff into Sutherland, where, being apprehended in the year fifteen hundred and ninety-nine, they were sent by the countess of Sutherland to the king, who ordered them to be imprisoned in Edinburgh for trial. They were both accordingly tried and condemned, and having confessed to crimes even of a deeper dye, Smith’s accomplice was burnt at the place of execution. Smith himself was reserved for farther trial. During his imprisonment he contrived to get possession of instruments belonging to his trade, and made a lock of such ingenious device and beautiful workmanship, that it could no where be matched. The lock was presented to the king as a rare and curious piece of work, who was so pleased with it that he ordered Smith’s execution to be delayed. Lord Elphinston, the Lord Treasurer of Scotland, regretting that such an ingenious workman should be deprived of life, obtained a fresh respite for him, and afterwards got him liberated from jail. Smith then went to Caithness, and entered into the service of George, Earl of Caithness, in whose employment he continued for seven or eight years. His workshop was under the rock of Castle Sinclair, in a quiet retired place called the Gote, and to which there was a secret passage from the earl’s bed chamber. No person was admitted to Smith’s workshop but the earl; and the circumstance of his being often heard working during the night, raised suspicions that some secret work was going on which could not bear the light of day. The mystery was at last disclosed by an inundation of counterfeit coin in Caithness, Orkney, Sutherland, and Ross, which was first detected by Sir Robert Gordon, brother of the earl of Sutherland when in Scotland, in the year sixteen hundred and eleven, and who, on his return to England, made the king acquainted therewith. His Majesty thereupon addressed a letter to the lords of the privy council of Scotland, authorising them to grant a commission to Sir Robert to apprehend Smith, and bring him to Edinburgh. Sir Robert returned to Scotland the following year, but was so much occupied with other concerns that he could not get the commission executed himself; but before his departure to England, he entrusted the commission to Donald Mackay, his nephew, and to John Gordon, younger of Embo, whose name was jointly inserted in the commission along with that of Sir Robert. Accordingly, Mackay and Gordon, accompanied by Adam Gordon Georgeson, John Gordon in Broray, and some other Sutherland men, went to Strathnaver, and assembling some of the inhabitants, they marched into Caithness next morning, and entered the town of Thurso, where Smith then resided.
After remaining about three hours in the town, the party went to Smith’s house and apprehended him. On searching his house they found a quantity of fictitious gold and silver coin. Donald Mackay caused Smith to be put on horseback, and then rode off with him out of the town. To prevent any tumult among the inhabitants, Gordon remained behind in the town with some of his men to show them, if necessary, his Majesty’s commission for apprehending Smith. Scarcely, however, had Mackay left the town, when the town-bell was rung and all the inhabitants assembled. There were present in Thurso at the time, John Sinclair of Stirkage, son of the earl of Caithness’ brother, James Sinclair, brother of the laird of Dun, James Sinclair of Dyrren, and other friends, on a visit to Lady Berridale. When information was brought them of the apprehension of Smith, Sinclair of Stirkage, transported with rage, swore that he would not allow any man, no matter whose commission he held, to carry away his uncle’s servant in his uncle’s absence. Lady Berridale and the rest of the company remonstrated with him on the impropriety of such a rash resolution, and advised him to submit to the king’s authority; but he contemned the advice given him, and upbraiding his party, ran hastily out of the house. His friends followed him quickly, and overtook him just as the inhabitants of the town were collecting. There was no time for deliberation, and seeing Sinclair and the people resolute, they joined him in attacking John Gordon and his party. A furious onset was made upon Gordon, but his men withstood it bravely, and after a warm contest, the inhabitants were defeated with some loss, and obliged to retire to the centre of the town. Donald Mackay hearing of the tumult, returned to the town to aid Gordon, but the affair was over before he arrived. Sinclair of Stirkage was killed on this occasion, and James Sinclair, brother of the laird of Dun, was left for dead, and would probably have died but for the kind attentions of John Gordon in Broray, and Adam Gordon Georgeson, his kinsmen. James Sinclair of Dyrren saved himself by flight, but was so closely pursued, that he received several blows on his back while running away. Some of the Sutherland men were wounded, including John Gordon in Broray, Adam Gordon Georgeson, and John Baillie in Killen. To prevent the possibility of the escape or rescue of Smith, he was killed by the Strathnaver men as soon as they heard of the tumult in the town. This affair happened in the month of May sixteen hundred and twelve.
Sir Robert Gordon being at this time in Edinburgh, his brother, Sir Alexander Gordon, immediately made him acquainted with all that had taken place under the commission; and Sir John Sinclair of Greenland sent a gentleman, at the same time, to Edinburgh to inform his brother, the earl of Caithness, of the occurrences in the town of Thurso. The earl was exceedingly grieved at the death of his nephew, for whom he entertained a great affection, and he was extremely vexed to think that an affair, so disgraceful, as he thought, to himself personally, should have occurred in the heart of his own country, and in his chief town. The earl, therefore, resolved to prosecute Donald Mackay, John Gordon, younger of Embo, with their followers, for the slaughter of Sinclair of Stirkage, and the mutilation of James Sinclair, brother of the laird of Dun, and summoned them, accordingly, to appear at Edinburgh. On the other hand, Sir Robert Gordon and Donald Mackay prosecuted the earl of Caithness and his son, Lord Berridale, with several other of their countrymen for resisting the king’s commission, attacking the commissioners, and apprehending Angus Herriach, without a commission, which was declared treason by the laws. The earl of Caithness endeavoured to make the Privy Council believe that the affair at Thurso arose out of a premeditated design against him, and that Sir Robert Gordon’s intention in obtaining a commission against Arthur Smith was, under the cloak of its authority, to find means to slay him and his brethren; and that in pursuance of his plan, Sir Robert had, a little before the skirmish in Thurso, caused the earl to be denounced and proclaimed a rebel to the king, and had lain in wait to kill him; but Sir Robert showed the utter groundlessness of these charges to the Lords of the Council, and although it was quite true that he had caused the earl to be denounced rebel, yet he made it evident, from various circumstances, that his reason for this was very different from that assigned by the earl.
On the day appointed for appearance, the parties met at Edinburgh, attended by their respective friends. The earl of Caithness and his son, Lord Berridale, were accompanied by the Lord Gray, the laird of Roslin, the laird of Cowdenknowes, a son of the sister of the earl of Caithness, and the lairds of Murkle and Greenland, brothers of the earl, along with a large retinue of subordinate attendants. Sir Robert Gordon and Donald Mackay were attended by the earl of Winton and his brother, the earl of Eglintoun, with all their followers, the earl of Linlithgow, with the Livingstones, the Lord Elphinston, with his friends, the Lord Forbes, with his friends, the Drummonds, Sir John Stewart, captain of Dumbarton, and bastard son of the duke of Lennox; the Lord Balfour, the laird of Lairg Mackay in Galloway; the laird of Foulis, with the Monroes, the laird of Duffus, some of the Gordons, as Sir Alexander Gordon, brother of the earl of Sutherland, Cluny, Lesmoir, Buckie, Knokespock, with other gentlemen of respectability. The absence of the earl of Sutherland and Houcheon Mackay mortified the earl of Caithness, who could not conceal his displeasure at being so much overmatched in the respectability and number of attendants by seconds and children, as he was pleased to call his adversaries.
According to the usual practice on such occasions, the parties were accompanied by their respective friends, from their lodgings, to the house where the council was sitting; but few were admitted within. The council spent three days in hearing the parties and deliberating upon the matters brought before them, but they came to no conclusion, and adjourned their proceedings till the king’s pleasure should be known. In the mean time, the parties, at the entreaty of the Lords of the Council, entered into recognizances to keep the peace, in time coming, towards each other, which extended not only to their kinsmen but also to their friends and dependants. Lord Elphinston became surety for the earl of Sutherland, and his friends and the laird of Cowdenknowes engaged for the other party. As soon as this arrangement had been entered into, the earl of Caithness dispatched one of his friends to England to lay a favourable statement of his case before the king; but Sir Robert Gordon being made acquainted with the earl’s design, and afraid that he might, by his statement, prejudice his majesty, he posted in haste to England, and arrived at Eltham Park, where the Court was then held, before the earl’s messenger reached his destination. Having made the king acquainted with the real state of the facts, Sir Robert returned to Edinburgh.
The king, after fully considering the state of affairs between the rival parties, and judging that if the law was allowed to take its course, the peace of the northern countries might be disturbed by the earls and their numerous followers, proposed to the Lords of the Privy Council to endeavour to prevail upon them to submit their differences to the arbitration of mutual friends. Accordingly, after a good deal of entreaty and reasoning, the parties were persuaded to agree to the proposed measure. A deed of submission was then subscribed by the earl of Caithness and William, Lord Berridale, on the one part, and by Sir Robert Gordon and Donald Mackay on the other part, taking burden on them for the earl of Sutherland and Mackay. The arbiters appointed by Sir Robert Gordon were the earl of Kinghorn, the master of Elphinston, the earl of Haddington, afterwards Lord Privy Seal of Scotland, and Sir Alexander Drummond of Meidhop. And the Archbishop of Glasgow, Sir John Preston, Lord President of the Council, Lord Blantyre, and Sir William Oliphant, Lord Advocate, were named by the earl of Caithness. The earl of Dunfermline, Lord Chancellor of Scotland, was chosen oversman and umpire by both parties. As the arbiters had then no time to hear the parties, or to enter upon the consideration of the matters submitted to them, they appointed them to return to Edinburgh in the month of May, sixteen hundred and thirteen.
At the appointed time, the earl of Caithness and his brother, Sir John Sinclair of Greenland, came to Edinburgh, where Sir Robert Gordon also arrived, at the same time, from England. Sir Alexander Gordon, brother of Sir Robert, likewise went to Edinburgh to give him his advice and assistance. The arbiters, however, who were all members of the Privy Council, being much occupied with state affairs, and finding the matters submitted to them to be of too tedious and intricate a nature to take up at that time, resolved to adopt the following course. They made the parties subscribe a new deed of submission, under which they gave authority to the marquis of Huntly, by whose friendly offices the differences between the two houses had formerly been so often adjusted, to act in the matter by endeavouring to bring about a fresh reconciliation. As the marquis was the cousin-german of the earl of Sutherland, and brother-in-law of the earl of Caithness, who had married his sister, the council thought him the most likely person to be entrusted with such an important negotiation. Besides the authority of the council, the marquis had sufficient powers conferred on him, many years before, to decide all questions which might arise between the earls under a bond subscribed by Alexander, earl of Sutherland, and the earl of Caithness. The marquis entered upon the performance of the task assigned him, but finding the parties obstinate and determined not to yield a single point of their respective claims and pretensions, he declined to act farther in the matter, and remitted the whole affair back to the Privy Council.
1 Sir R. Gordon, p. 247.
2 Ibid. p. 248.
3 Sir R. Gordon, p. 253.
4 Sir R. Gordon, p. 254.
5 Sir R. Gordon, p. 259.
6 Sir R. Gordon, p. 261.
7 Hist. p. 271.
8 Sir R. Gordon, p. 276.
9 Sir Robert Gordon, p. 278.
10 Sir R. Gordon p. 281.