DURING the years sixteen hundred and twelve and thirteen, the peace of Lochaber was disturbed by the Clan-Cameron, who put the whole of that country into an uproar. George, Lord Gordon, eldest son of the Marquis of Huntly, raised a force to put them down, and wrote to Sir Robert Gordon and Donald Mackay to meet him at Inverness, for the purpose of accompanying him into Lochaber. Having collected a body of three hundred men, well armed and appointed, they went to Inverness at the time appointed; but on arriving there, in the month of August, they were informed that the proposed expedition had, in the meantime, been postponed. In the course of the following year, however, the enterprize was entered upon, and the earl of Sutherland, who had just returned from his travels, sent Donald Mackay and John Gordon, younger of Embo, with three hundred able and resolute men, and one hundred and forty servants, to assist Lord Gordon in his expedition. Immediately on their arrival in Lochaber, the Sutherland men accidentally fell in with Alain-Mac-Dhonnil-Duibh, captain of the Clan-Cameron, and his party, whom they proposed immediately to attack; but they were dissuaded from engaging by some of Lord Gordon’s men, who assured them that a truce, for two days, had been entered into between the clan and his lordship. Lord Gordon having pursued these disturbers of the peace, and restored Lochaber to quiet in the meantime, returned home; but he was soon again despatched thither by the privy council, in consequence of fresh disturbances on the part of Alain-Mac-Dhonnil-Duibh, who had killed thirteen of his clan whom he suspected of treachery. Order was again restored, for a time, by the submission of Alain-Mac-Dhonnil-Duibh, who surrendered himself to Lord Gordon in the latter end of sixteen hundred and fourteen. Alain was imprisoned at Inverness, but was released from confinement on giving sufficient surety to keep the king’s peace in time coming.1
As the privy council showed no inclination to decide the questions submitted to them by the earl of Caithness and his adversaries, the earl sent his brother, Sir John Sinclair of Greenland, to Edinburgh, to complain of the delay which had taken place, and desired him to throw out hints, that if the earl did not obtain satisfaction for his supposed injuries, he would take redress at his own hands. The earl thought that he would succeed by such a threat in concussing the council to decide in his favour, for he was well aware that he was unable to carry it into execution. To give some appearance of an intention to enforce it, he, in the month of October, sixteen hundred and thirteen, while the earl of Sutherland, his brothers and nephews, were absent from the country, made a demonstration of invading Sutherland or Strathnaver, by collecting his forces at a particular point, and bringing thither some pieces of ordnance from Castle Sinclair. The earl of Sutherland, having arrived in Sutherland while the earl of Caithness was thus employed, immediately assembled some of his countrymen, and along with his brother Sir Alexander, went to the marches between Sutherland and Caithness, near the height of Strathully, where they waited the approach of the earl of Caithness. Here they were joined by Mackay who had given notice of the earl of Caithness’s movements to the lairds of Foulis, Balnagown, and Assint, and the sheriff of Cromarty, and the tutor of Kintail, all of whom prepared themselves to assist the earl of Sutherland on receiving notice that their services were wanted.
While matters stood thus, Sir John Sinclair returned from Edinburgh, who, along with the laird of Murkle, went to his brother’s camp, reported what he had done, and advised him not to hazard an appeal to arms, but wait the pleasure of the council, who would undoubtedly give him satisfaction. Earl George, very wisely, took his brother’s advice, and returned home with his men, who made a narrow escape from drowning, in consequence of being overtaken in their journey home by a tremendous tempest of wind and rain. The earl of Sutherland sent his brother, Sir Alexander, Donald Mackay, and Gordon, younger of Embo, with a party of men after the earl of Caithness, to watch his movements, who remained in Caithness three days, and having witnessed the dissolution of his force, returned to Sutherland.
To prevent the earl of Caithness from attempting any farther interference with the privy council, either in the way of intrigue or intimidation, Sir Robert Gordon obtained a remission and pardon from the king, in the month of December, sixteen hundred and thirteen, to his nephew, Donald Mackay, John Gordon, younger of Embo, John Gordon in Broray, Adam Gordon Georgeson, and their accomplices, for the slaughter of John Sinclair of Stirkage at Thurso. An impediment was thrown in the way of its passing the seals by Sir Gideon Murray, the Deputy Treasurer of Scotland, in consequence of a private warrant from his Majesty, directed to Sir Gideon to pass the signature of the remission gratis; but this impediment was removed by a second warrant from the king to Sir Gideon, who passed the remission through the seals, in the beginning of the year sixteen hundred and sixteen.2
The earl of Caithness, being thus baffled in his designs against the earl of Sutherland and his friends, fell upon a device which never failed to succeed in times of religious intolerance and persecution. Unfortunately for mankind and for the interests of Christianity, the principles of religious toleration, involving the inalienable right of every man to worship God according to the dictates of his conscience, have been, till of late, but little understood, and at the period in question, and for upwards of one hundred and sixty years thereafter, the statute book of Scotland was disgraced by penal enactments against the Catholics, almost unparalleled for their sanguinary atrocity. By an act of the first parliament of James VI., any Catholic who assisted at the offices of his religion, was, “for the first fault,” that is, for following the dictates of his conscience, to suffer confiscation of all his goods, moveable and immoveable, personal and real; for the second banishment; and death for the third fault! But the law was not confined to overt acts only – the mere suspicion of being a Catholic placed the suspected person out of the pale and protection of the law, for if, on being warned by the bishops and ministers, he did not recant and give confession of his faith according to the approved form, he was excommunicated and declared infamous and incapable to sit or stand in judgment, pursue or bear office.3
Under this last mentioned law, the earl of Caithness now sought to gratify his vengeance against the earl of Sutherland. Having represented to the archbishop of St Andrews and the clergy of Scotland, that the earl of Sutherland was a Catholic in private, he prevailed upon the bishops, with little difficulty, it is supposed, to acquaint the king thereof. His majesty, thereupon, issued a warrant against the earl of Sutherland, who was, in consequence, apprehended and imprisoned at St Andrews. The earl applied to the bishops for a month’s delay, namely, till the fifteenth day of February, sixteen hundred and fourteen, promising that, before that time, he would either give the church satisfaction, or surrender himself; but his application was refused by the High Commission of Scotland. Sir Alexander Gordon, the brother of the earl, being then in Edinburgh, immediately gave notice to his brother, Sir Robert Gordon, who was at the time in London, of the proceedings against their brother, the earl. Sir Robert having applied to his Majesty for the release of the earl for a time, that he might make up his mind on the subject of religion, and look after his affairs in the north, his Majesty granted a warrant for his liberation till the month of August following. On the expiration of the time, he returned to his confinement at St Andrews, from whence he was removed, on his own application, to the abbey of Holyrood house, where he remained till the month of March, sixteen hundred and fifteen, when he obtained leave to go home, “having,” says Sir Robert Gordon, “in some measure satisfied the church concerning his religion.”
The earl of Caithness, thus again defeated in his views, tried, as a dernier resort, to disjoin the families of Sutherland and Mackay. Sometimes he attempted to prevail upon the marquis of Huntly to persuade the earl of Sutherland and his brothers to come to an arrangement altogether independent of Mackay; and at other times he endeavoured to persuade Mackay, by holding out certain inducements to him, to compromise their differences without including the earl of Sutherland in the arrangement; but he completely failed in these attempts.4
Ever since the death of John Sinclair at Thurso, the earl of Caithness used every means in his power to induce such of his countrymen, individually, as were daring enough, to show their prowess and dexterity to make incursions into Sutherland or Strathnaver, for the purpose of annoying the vassals and dependants of the earl of Sutherland and his ally, Mackay. Amongst others he often communicated on this subject with William Kenneth-son, whose father, Kenneth Buidhe, had always been the principal instrument in the hands of Earl George in oppressing the people of his own country, and for the furtherance of his plans he at last prevailed upon William, who already stood rebel to the king in a criminal cause, to go into voluntary banishment into Strathnaver, and put himself under the protection of Mackay, to whom he was to pretend that he had left Caithness to avoid any solicitations from the earl of Caithness to injure the inhabitants of Strathnaver. To cover their designs they caused a report to be spread that William Mac-Kenneth was to leave Caithness because he would not obey the orders of the earl to execute some designs against Sir Robert Gordon, the tutor of Sutherland, and Mackay, and when this false rumour had been sufficiently spread, Mac-Kenneth, and his brother John, and their dependents, fled into Strathnaver and solicited the favour and protection of Mackay. The latter received them kindly; but as William and his party had been long addicted to robbery and theft, he strongly advised them to abstain from such practices in all time coming; and that they might not afterwards plead necessity as an excuse for continuing their depredations, he allotted them some lands to dwell on. After staying a month or two in Strathnaver, during which time they stole some cattle and horses out of Caithness, William received a private visit, by night, from Kenneth Buidhe, his father, who had been sent by the earl of Caithness for the purpose of executing a contemplated depredation in Sutherland. Mackay was then in Sutherland on a visit to his uncle, Sir Robert Gordon, which being known to William Mac-Kenneth, he resolved to enter Sutherland with his party, and carry off into Caithness all the booty they could collect Being observed in the Glen of Loth, by some of the Clan Gun, collecting cattle and horses, they were immediately apprehended, with the exception of lain-Garbh-Mac-Chonald-Mac-Mhurchidh-Mhoir, who, being a very resolute man, refused to surrender, and was, in consequence, killed. The prisoners were presented to Sir Robert Gordon at Dornoch, who committed William and his brother, John, to the castle of Dornoch for trial. In the meantime, two of the principal men of Mac-Kenneth’s party were tried, convicted and executed, and the remainder were allowed to return home on giving surety to keep the peace. This occurrence took place in the month of January, sixteen hundred and sixteen.
The earl of Caithness, whose restless disposition and lawless proceedings have been already so fully noticed, now finished his career of iniquity by the perpetration of a crime, which, though trivial in its consequences, was of so highly a penal nature in itself as to bring his own life into jeopardy. As the circumstances which led to the burning of the corn of William Innes, a servant of Lord Forbes at Sanset in Caithness, and the discovery of the earl of Caithness as the instigator, are somewhat curious, it is thought that a recital of them may not be here out of place.
Among other persons who had suffered at the hands of the earl was his own kinsman, William Sinclair of Dumbaith. After annoying him in a variety of ways, the earl instigated his bastard brother, Henry Sinclair, and Kenneth Buidhe, to destroy and lay waste part of Dumbaith’s lands, who, unable to resist, and being in dread of personal risk, locked himself up in his house at Dunray, which they besieged. William Sinclair immediately applied to John, earl of Sutherland, for assistance, who sent his friend Mackay, with a party to rescue Sinclair from his perilous situation. Mackay succeeded and carried Sinclair along with him into Sutherland, where he remained for a time, but he afterwards went to reside in Moray where he died. Although thus cruelly persecuted and forced to become an exile from his country, by the earl of Caithness, no entreaties could induce him to apply for redress, choosing rather to suffer himself than to see his relative punished. William Sinclair was succeeded by his grandson, George Sinclair, who married a sister of Lord Forbes. By the persuasion of his wife, who was a mere tool in the hands of the earl of Caithness, George Sinclair was induced to execute a deed of entail, by which, failing of heirs male of his own body, he left the whole of his lands to the earl. When the earl had obtained this deed, he began to devise means to make away with Sinclair, and he actually persuaded Sinclair’s wife to assist him in this nefarious design. Having obtained notice of this conspiracy against his life, Sinclair left Caithness and took up his residence with his brother-in-law, Lord Forbes, who received him with great kindness and hospitality, and reprobated very strongly the wicked conduct of his sister. Sinclair now recalled the entail in favour of the earl of Caithness, and made a new deed by which he conveyed his whole estate to Lord Forbes. George Sinclair died soon after the execution of the deed, and having left no issue, Lord Forbes took possession of his lands of Dunray and Dumbaith.
Disappointed in his plans to acquire Sinclair’s property, the earl of Caithness seized every opportunity of annoying Lord Forbes in his possessions, by oppressing his tenants and servants, in every possible way, under the pretence of discharging his duty as sheriff, to which office he had been appointed by the earl of Huntly on occasion of his marriage with Huntly’s sister. Complaints were made from time to time against the earl, on account of these proceedings, to the Privy Council of Scotland, who, in some measure, afforded redress; but to protect his tenants more effectually, Lord Forbes took up a temporary residence in Caithness, relying upon the aid of the house of Sutherland in case of need.
As the earl was aware that any direct attack on Lord Forbes would be properly resented, and as any enterprise undertaken by his own people would be laid to his charge, however cautious he might be in dealing with them, the earl fixed on the Clan-Gun as the fittest instruments for effecting his designs against Lord Forbes. Besides being the most resolute men in Caithness, always ready to undertake any desperate action, they depended more upon the earl of Sutherland and Mackay, from whom they held some lands, than upon the earl of Caithness, a circumstance which the earl supposed, should the contemplated outrages of the Clan-Gun ever become matter of inquiry, might throw the suspicion upon the earl of Sutherland and Mackay as the silent instigators. Accordingly, the earl opened a negotiation with John Gun, chief of the Clan-Gun in Caithness, and with his brother, Alexander Gun, whose father he had hanged in the year fifteen hundred and eighty-six. In consequence of an invitation, the two brothers, along with Alexander Gun, their cousin-german, repaired to Castle Sinclair, where they met the earl. The earl did not at first divulge his plans to all the party; but taking Alexander Gun, the cousin, aside, he pointed out to him the injury he alleged he had sustained, in consequence of Lord Forbes having obtained a footing in Caithness, – that he could no longer submit to the indignity shown him by a stranger, – that he had made choice of him (Gun) to undertake a piece of service for him, on performing which, he would reward him most amply; and to secure compliance, the earl desired him to remember the many favours he had already received from him, and how well he had treated him, promising at same time, to show him even greater kindness in time coming. Alexander, thereupon, promised to serve the earl, though at the hazard of his life; but upon being interrogated by the earl whether he would undertake to burn the corn of Sanset, belonging to William Innes, a servant of Lord Forbes, Gun, who had never imagined that he was to be employed in such an ignoble affair, expressed the greatest astonishment at the proposal, and refused, in the most peremptory and indignant manner, to undertake its execution; yet, to satisfy the earl, he told him that he would, at his command, undertake to assassinate William Innes, an action which he considered less criminal and dishonourable, and more becoming a gentleman, than burning a quantity of corn! Finding him obdurate, the earl enjoined him to secrecy.
The earl next applied to the two brothers, John and Alexander, with whom he did not find it so difficult to treat. They, at first, hesitated with some firmness in undertaking the business on which the earl was so intent; and they pleaded an excuse, by saying, that as justice was then more strictly executed in Scotland than formerly, they could not expect to escape, as they had no place of safety to retreat to after the crime was committed; as a proof of which, they instanced the cases of the Clan-Donald and Clan-Gregor, two races of people much more powerful than the Clan-Gun, who had been brought to the brink of ruin, and almost annihilated, under the authority of the laws. The earl replied, that as soon as they should perform the service for him, he would send them to the western isles, to some of his acquaintances and friends, with whom they might remain until Lord Forbes and he were reconciled, when he would obtain their pardon, – that in the mean time he would profess, in public, to be their enemy, but that he would be their friend secretly, and permit them to frequent Caithness without danger. Alexander Gun, overcome at last by the entreaties of the earl, reluctantly consented to his request, and going into Sanset, in the dead of night, with two accomplices, he set fire to all the corn stacks which were in the barn-yard, belonging to William Innes, and which were in consequence consumed. This affair occurred in the month of November, sixteen hundred and fifteen. The earl of Caithness immediately spread a report through the whole country that Mackay’s tenants had committed this outrage; but the deception was of short duration.
Sir Robert Gordon, tutor of Sutherland, having arrived in the north of Scotland from England, in the month of December following this occurrence, resolved to probe the matter to the bottom, not merely on account of his nephew, Mackay, whose men were suspected, but to satisfy Lord Forbes, who was now on friendly terms with the house of Sutherland; but the discovery of the perpetrators soon became an easy task, in consequence of a quarrel among the Clan-Gun themselves, who up braided one another as the authors of the fire-raising. Alexander Gun, the cousin of Alexander Gun the real criminal, thereupon fled from Caithness, and sent some of his friends to Sir Robert Gordon and Donald Mackay with these proposals; – that if they would receive him into favour, and secure him from danger, he would confess the whole circumstances, and reveal the authors of the conflagration, and that he would declare the whole before the privy council, if required. On receiving this proposal, Sir Robert Gordon appointed Alexander Gun to meet them privately at Helmsdale, in the house of Sir Alexander Gordon, brother of Sir Robert. A meeting was accordingly held at the place appointed, at which Sir Robert and his friends agreed to do every thing in their power to preserve Gun’s life; and Mackay promised, moreover, to give him a possession in Strathie, where his father had formerly lived.
When the earl of Caithness heard of Alexander Gun’s flight into Sutherland, he became greatly alarmed, lest Alexander should reveal the affair of Sanset; and anticipating such a result, the earl gave out every where, that Sir Robert Gordon, Mackay, and Sir Alexander Gordon, had hired some of the Clan-Gun to accuse him of having burnt William Innes’ corn. But this artifice was of no avail, for as soon as Lord Forbes received notice from Sir Robert Gordon of the circumstances related by Alexander Gun, he immediately cited John Gun, and his brother Alexander, and their accomplices, to appear for trial at Edinburgh, on the second day of April, sixteen hundred and sixteen, to answer to the charge of burning the corn at Sanset; and he also summoned the earl of Caithness, as sheriff of that county, to deliver them up for trial. John Gun, thinking that the best course he could pursue, under present circumstances, was to follow the example of his cousin, Alexander, sent a message to Sir Alexander Gordon, desiring an interview with him; which being granted, they met at Navidale. John Gun then offered to confess and reveal every thing he knew concerning the fire, on condition that his life should be spared; but Sir Alexander observed, that he could come under no engagement, as he was uncertain how the king and the council might view such a proceeding; but he promised, that as John had not been an actor in the business, but a witness only to the arrangement between his brother and the earl of Caithness, he would do what he could to save him, if he went to Edinburgh in compliance with the summons.
In this state of matters, the earl of Caithness wrote to the marquis of Huntly, accusing Sir Robert Gordon and Mackay of a design to bring him within the reach of the law of treason, and to injure the honour of his house by slandering him with the burning of the corn at Sanset – that, in the year sixteen hundred and twelve, they had insinuated to the king and council that he was privy to Arthur Smith’s doings, – that his brother’s son had lost his life in consequence, and that not satisfied therewith, they were now accusing him of new treasonable practices. He, therefore, requested the marquis, as a mutual friend, to persuade them to desist from pursuing this business, and he offered, on his own part, to submit to the marquis any controversy between them. Sir Robert Gordon and Mackay having occasion to meet the marquis at the Bog-a-Gight on other business, they were made acquainted by him of the earl’s communication. They observed, in answer, that they had never at any time insinuated any thing against the earl of Caithness; but that if his own conscience did accuse him of any thing, they were not to be blamed on that account, – that they could not refuse to assist Lord Forbes in finding out the persons who had burned the corn at Sanset, but that they had never imagined that the earl would have acted so base a part as to become an accomplice in such a criminal act; and farther, that as Mackay’s men were challenged with the deed, they certainly were entitled at least to clear Mackay’s people from the charge, by endeavouring to find out the malefactors, – in all which they considered they had done the earl no wrong. And as to John Sinclair’s death, the same had been occasioned by his own act in opposing his majesty’s warrant, on which account the king had pardoned the parties concerned, by a remission under the great seal. The marquis of Huntly did not fail to write the earl of Caithness the answer he had received from Sir Robert Gordon and Mackay, which grieved him exceedingly, as he was too well aware of the consequences which would follow if the prosecution of the Guns was persevered in.
At the time appointed for the trial of the Guns, Sir Robert Gordon, Mackay, and Lord Forbes, with all his friends, went to Edinburgh, and upon their arrival they entreated the council to prevent a remission in favour of the earl of Caithness being passed the signet until the affair in hand was tried; a request with which the council complied. The earl of Caithness did not appear; but he sent his son, Lord Berridale, to Edinburgh, along with John Gun and all those persons who had been summoned by Lord Forbes, with the exception of Alexander Gun and his two accomplices. He alleged as his reason for not sending them that they were not his men, being Mackay’s own tenants, and dwelling in Dilred, the property of Mackay, which was held by him of the earl of Sutherland, who, he alleged, was bound to present the three persons alluded to. But the lords of the council would not admit of this excuse, and again required Lord Berridale and his father to present the three culprits before the court on the tenth day of June following, because, although they had possessions in Dilred, they had also lands from the earl of Caithness on which they usually resided. Besides, the deed was committed in Caithness, of which the earl was sheriff, on which account also he was bound to apprehend them. Lord Berridale, whose character was quite the reverse of that of his father, apprehensive of the consequences of a trial, now offered satisfaction in his father’s name to Lord Forbes, if he would stop the prosecution; but his lordship refused to do any thing without the previous advice and consent of Sir Robert Gordon and Mackay, who, upon being consulted, made articles of agreement to be drawn up, which were presented to Lord Berridale by neutral persons for his acceptance, but considering the conditions sought to be imposed upon his father too hard, he rejected them.
In consequence of the refusal of Lord Berridale to accede to the terms proposed, John Gun was apprehended by one of the magistrates of Edinburgh, on the application of Lord Forbes, and committed a prisoner to the jail of that city. Gun thereupon requested to see Sir Robert Gordon and Mackay, whom he entreated to use their influence to procure him his liberty, promising to declare every thing he knew of the business for which he was prosecuted before the lords of the council. Sir Robert and Mackay then deliberated with Lord Forbes and Lord Elphinston on the subject, and they all four promised faithfully to Gun to do every thing in their power to save him, and that they would from thenceforth maintain and defend him and his cousin, Alexander Gun, against the earl of Caithness or any person, as long as they had reason and equity on their side; besides which, Mackay promised him a liferent lease of the lands of Strathie to compensate for his possessions in Caithness, of which he would, of course, be deprived by the earl for revealing the earl’s connexion with the fire-raising at Sanset. John Gun was accordingly examined the following day by the lords of the council, when he confessed that the earl of Caithness made his brother, Alexander Gun, burn the corn of Sanset, and that the affair had been proposed and discussed in his presence. Alexander Gun, the cousin, was examined also at the same time, and stated the same circumstances precisely as John Gun had done. After examination, John and Alexander were again committed to prison.
As neither the earl of Caithness nor his son, Lord Berridale, complied with the commands of the council to deliver up Alexander Gun and his accomplices in the month of June, they were both outlawed and denounced rebels; and were summoned and charged by Lord Forbes to appear personally at Edinburgh in the month of July immediately following, to answer to the charge of causing the corn of Sanset to be burnt. This fixed determination on the part of Lord Forbes to bring the earl and his son to trial, had the effect of altering their tone, and they now earnestly entreated him and Mackay to agree to a reconciliation on any terms; but they declined to enter into any arrangement until they had consulted Sir Robert Gordon. After obtaining Sir Robert’s consent, and a written statement of the conditions which he required, from the earl of Caithness in behalf of his nephew, the earl of Sutherland, the parties entered into a final agreement, in the month of July, sixteen hundred and sixteen. The principal heads of the contract, which was afterwards recorded in the books of council and session, were as follow:- That all civil actions between the parties should be settled by the mediation of mutual friends, that the earl of Caithness and his bon should pay to Lord Forbes and Mackay the sum of 20,000 merks Scots money, – that all quarrels and criminal actions should be mutually forgiven, and particularly, that the earl of Caithness and all his friends should forgive and remit the slaughter and mutilation at Thurso, – that the earl of Caithness and his son should renounce for themselves and their heirs all jurisdiction, criminal or civil, within Sutherland and Strathnaver, and any other jurisdiction which they should thereafter happen to acquire over any lands lying within the diocese of Caithness then pertaining, or which should afterwards belong, to the earl of Sutherland or his heirs, – that the earl of Caithness should deliver Alexander Gun and his accomplices to Lord Forbes, – that the earl, his son, and their heirs, should never from thenceforth contend with the earl of Sutherland for precedency in parliament or priority of place, – that the earl of Caithness and his son, their friends and tenants, should keep the peace in time coming, under the penalty of great sums of money, and should never molest nor trouble the tenants of the earl of Sutherland and Lord Forbes, – that the earl of Caithness, his son, or their friends, should not receive nor harbour any fugitives from Sutherland or Strathnaver, – and that there should be good friendship and amity kept amongst them in all time to come.
In consequence of this agreement, the two sons of Kenneth Buy, William and John before-mentioned, were delivered to Lord Berridale, who gave security for their keeping the peace; and John Gun and Alexander, his cousin, were released and delivered to Lord Forbes and Mackay, who gave surety to the lords of the council to present them for trial whenever required; and as the earl of Caithness had deprived them of their possessions in Caithness on account of the discovery they had made, Mackay, who had lately been knighted by the king, gave them lands in Strathnaver as he had promised. Matters being thus settled, Lord Berridale presented himself before the court at Edinburgh to abide his trial; but no person of course appearing against him, the trial was postponed. The earl of Caithness, however, failing to appear, the diet against him was continued till the twenty-eighth day of August following.
Although the king was well pleased, on account of the quiet which such an adjustment would produce in his northern dominions, with the agreement which had been entered into, and the proceedings which followed thereon, all of which were made known to him by the privy council; yet, as the passing over such a flagrant act as wilful fire-raising, without punishment, might prove pernicious, he wrote a letter to the privy council of Scotland, commanding them to prosecute, with all severity, those who were guilty of, or accessory to the crime. Lord Berri dale was thereupon apprehended on suspicion, and committed a prisoner to the castle of Edinburgh; and his father, perceiving the determination of the king to prosecute the author of the fire, again declined to appear for trial on the appointed day, on which account he was again outlawed, and declared a rebel as the guilty author.
In this extremity Lord Berridale had recourse to Sir Robert Gordon, then resident at court, for his aid. He wrote him a letter, entreating him that as all controversies were now settled, he would, in place of an enemy, become a faithful friend, – that for his own part, he, Lord Berridale, had been always innocent of all the jars and dissensions which had happened between the two families, – that he was also innocent of the crime with which he was charged, and that he wished his majesty to be informed by Sir Robert of these circumstances, hoping that he would order him to be released from confinement. Sir Robert’s answer was to this effect, – that he had long desired a perfect agreement between the houses of Sutherland and Caithness, which he would endeavour to maintain during his administration in Sutherland, – that he would intercede with the king, in behalf of his lordship, to the utmost of his power, that all disputes being now at an end, he would be his faithful friend, – that he had a very different opinion of his disposition, from that he entertained of his father, the earl; and he concluded by entreating him to be careful to preserve the friendship which had been now commenced between them.
As the king understood that Lord Berridale was supposed to be innocent of the crime with which he and his father stood charged, and as he could not, without a verdict against Berridale, proceed against the family of Caithness by forfeiture, in consequence of his lordship having been infeft many years before in his father’s estate; his majesty, on the earnest entreaty of the then bishop of Ross, Sir Robert Gordon, and Sir James Spence of Wormistoun, was pleased to remit and forgive the crime on the following conditions:- 1st. That the earl of Caithness and his son should give satisfaction to their creditors, who were constantly annoying his majesty with clamours against the earl, and craving justice at his hands. 2d. That the earl of Caithness, with consent of Lord Berridale, should freely renounce and resign perpetually, into the hands of his majesty, the heritable sheriffship and justiciary of Caithness. 3d. That the earl of Caithness should deliver the three criminals who had burnt the corn, that public justice might be satisfied upon them, as a terror and example to others. 4th. That the earl of Caithness, with consent of Lord Berridale, should give and resign in perpetuum to the bishop of Caithness, the house of Strabister, with as many of the feu lands of that bishoprick as should amount to the yearly value of two thousand merks Scots money, for the purpose of augmenting the income of the bishop which was at that time small in consequence of the greater part of his lands being in the hands of the earl. Commissioners were sent down from London to Caithness, in October sixteen hundred and sixteen, to see that these conditions were complied with. The second condition as well as the last was immediately implemented; and as the earl and his son promised to give satisfaction to their creditors, and to do every thing in their power to apprehend the burners of the corn; the latter was released from the castle of Edinburgh, and directions were given for drawing up a remission and pardon to the earl of Caithness. Lord Berridale, however, had scarcely been released from the castle, when he was again imprisoned within the jail of Edinburgh, at the instance of Sir James Home of Cowdenknowes, his cousin-german, who had become surety for him and his father to their creditors for large sums of money. The earl himself narrowly escaped the fate of his son and retired to Caithness, but his creditors had sufficient interest to prevent his remission from passing till they should be satisfied. With consent of the creditors the council of Scotland gave him a personal protection, from time to time, to enable him to come to Edinburgh for the purpose of settling with them, but he made no arrangement and returned privately into Caithness before the expiration of the supersedere which had been granted him, leaving his son to suffer all the miseries of a prison. After enduring a captivity of five years Lord Berridale was released from prison by the good offices of the earl of Enzie, and put, for behoof of himself, and his own, and his father’s creditors, in possession of the family estates from which his father was driven by Sir Robert Gordon acting under a royal warrant, a just punishment for the many enormities of a long and misspent life.5
Desperate as the fortunes of the earl of Caithness were even previous to the disposal of his estates, he most unexpectedly found an ally in Sir Donald Mackay who had taken offence at Sir Robert Gordon, and who being a man of quick resolution and of an inconstant disposition, determined to forsake the house of Sutherland, and to ingratiate himself with his mortal enemy, the earl of Caithness. The pretended cause of Mackay’s discontent was, that Sir Robert Gordon had excluded him from all share in the government of Sutherland, in which he had participated jointly with John the last earl of Sutherland, and that Sir Robert had dispossessed him of all the property he had purchased or intended to purchase in that country; that he had taken from him by a decree arbitral a part of the Diriemoor which John, the last earl, had given him, and that Sir Robert, instead of countenancing, was rather an enemy to such as depended upon him in Sutherland; in one word, that all the favours he had received from the earl were now withdrawn from him by his uncles Sir Robert and Sir Alexander. Besides these reasons, Mackay was influenced by pecuniary considerations; for having, as he alleged, burdened his estates with debts incurred for some years past in following the house of Sutherland, he thought that, in time coming, he might, by procuring the favour of the earl of Caithness, turn the same to his own advantage and that of his countrymen; and as he had been induced to his own prejudice to grant certain liferent tacks of the lands of Strathie and Dilred to John and Alexander Gun, and others of the Clan-Gun for revealing the affair of Sanset, he thought that by joining the earl of Caithness, these Clan-Gun might be destroyed, by which means he would get back his lands which he meant to convey to his brother, John Mackay, as a portion; and he, moreover, expected that the earl would give him and his countrymen some possessions in Caithness. But the chief ground of discontent on the part of Sir Donald Mackay was an action brought against him and Lord Forbes before the court of session, to recover a contract entered into between the last earl of Sutherland and Mackay, in the year sixteen hundred and thirteen, relative to their marches and other matters of controversy, which being considered by Mackay as prejudicial to him, he had endeavoured to get destroyed through the agency of some persons about Lord Forbes, into whose keeping the deed had been intrusted.
After brooding over these subjects of discontent for some years, Mackay, in the year sixteen hundred and eighteen, suddenly resolved to break with the house of Sutherland, and to form an alliance with the earl of Caithness, who had long borne a mortal enmity at that family. Accordingly, Mackay sent John Sutherland, his cousin-german, into Caithness to request a private conference with the earl in any part of Caithness he might appoint. This offer was too tempting to be rejected by the earl, who expected, by a reconciliation with Sir Donald Mackay, to turn the same to his own personal gratification and advantage. In the first place, he hoped to revenge himself upon the Clan Gun, who were his principal enemies, and upon Sir Donald himself, by detaching him from his superior, the earl of Sutherland, and from the friendship of his uncles, who had always supported him in all his difficulties. In the second place, he expected that, by alienating Mackay from the duty and affection he owed the house of Sutherland, that he would weaken its power and influence. And lastly, he trusted that Mackay would not only be prevailed upon to discharge his own part, but would also persuade Lord Forbes to discharge his share of the sum of 20,000 merks Scots, which he and his son, Lord Berridale, had become bound to pay them, on account of the burning at Sanset.
The earl of Caithness having at once agreed to Mackay’s proposal, a meeting was held by appointment in the neighbourhood of Dunray, in the parish of Reay, in Caithness. The parties met in the night-time, accompanied each by three men only. After much discussion, and various conferences, which were continued for two or three days, they resolved to destroy the Clan-Gun, and particularly John Gun, and Alexander, his cousin. To please the earl, Mackay undertook to despatch these last, as they were obnoxious to him, on account of the part they had taken against him, in revealing the burning at Sanset. They persuaded themselves that the house of Sutherland would defend the clan, as they were bound to do by their promise, and that that house would be thus drawn into some snare. And to confirm their friendship, the earl and Mackay arranged that John Mackay, the only brother of Sir Donald, should marry a niece of the earl, a daughter of James Sinclair of Murkle, who was a mortal enemy of all the Clan-Gun. Having thus planned the line of conduct they were to follow, they parted, after swearing to continue in perpetual friendship.
Notwithstanding of the private way in which the meeting was held, accounts of it immediately spread through the kingdom; and every person wondered at the motives which could induce Sir Donald Mackay to take such a step so unadvisedly, without the knowledge of his uncles, Sirs Robert and Alexander Gordon, or of Lord Forbes. The Clan Gun receiving secret intelligence of the design upon them, from different friendly quarters, retired into Sutherland. The clan were astonished at Mackay’s conduct, as he had promised, at Edinburgh, in presence of Lords Forbes and Elphingston and Sir Robert Gordon, in the year sixteen hundred and sixteen, to be a perpetual friend to them, and chiefly to John Gun and to his cousin Alexander.
After Mackay returned from Caithness, he sent his cousin-german, Angus Mackay of Bighouse to Sutherland, to acquaint his uncles, who had received notice of the meeting, that his object in meeting the earl of Caithness was for his own personal benefit, and that nothing had been done to their prejudice. Angus Mackay met Sir Robert Gordon at Dunrobin, to whom he delivered his kinsman’s message, which, he said, he hoped Sir Robert would take in good part, adding, that Sir Donald would show, in presence of both his uncles, that the Clan-Gun had failed in duty and fidelity to him and the house of Sutherland, since they had revealed the burning; and, therefore, that if his uncles would not forsake John Gun, and some others of the clan, he would adhere to them no longer. Sir Robert Gordon returned a verbal answer, by Angus Mackay, that, when Sir Donald came in person to Dunrobin to clear himself, as in duty he was bound to do, he would then accept of his excuse, and not till then. And he, at the same time, wrote a letter to Sir Donald, to this effect – That for his own (Sir Robert’s) part, he did not much regard Mackay’s secret journey to Caithness, and his reconciliation with Earl George, without his knowledge or the advice of Lord Forbes; and that, however unfavourable the world might construe it, he would endeavour to colour it in the best way he could, for Mackay’s own credit. He desired Mackay to consider that a man’s reputation was exceedingly tender, and that if it were once blemished, though wrongfully, there would still some blot remain, because the greater part of the world would always incline to speak the worst; that whatever had been arranged in that journey, between him and the earl of Caithness, beneficial to Mackay, and not prejudicial to the house of Sutherland, he should be always ready to assist him therein, although concluded without his consent: and, as to the Clan-Gun, he could not with honesty or credit abandon them, and particularly John and his cousin Alexander, until tried and found guilty, as he had promised faithfully to be their friend, for revealing the affair of Sanset; that he had made them this promise at the earnest desire and entreaty of Sir Donald himself; that the house of Sutherland did always esteem their truth and constancy to be their greatest jewel; and seeing that he and his brother, Sir Alexander, were almost the only branches of it then of age or man’s estate, they would endeavour to prove true and constant, wheresoever they did possess friendship; and that neither the house of Sutherland, nor any greater house whereof they had the honour to be descended, should have the least occasion to be ashamed of them in that respect: that if Sir Donald had quarrelled or challenged the Clan-Gun, before going into Caithness and his arrangement with Earl George, the clan might have been suspected; but he saw no reason to forsake them until they were found guilty of some great offence. Such was the substance of Sir Robert Gordon’s letter to Sir Donald Mackay, who was displeased that his uncles should hesitate for a moment in forsaking John Gun and his clan, at his desire.
Sir Robert Gordon, therefore, acting as tutor for his nephew, took the Clan-Gun under his immediate protection, with the exception of Alexander Gun, the burner of the corn, and his accomplices. John Gun thereupon demanded a trial before his friends, that they might hear what Sir Donald had to lay to his charge. A meeting was accordingly held at Dornoch, at which the parties met, in presence of Sir Robert and his brother, Sir Alexander Gordon, before whom the whole matter was debated; but nothing was laid to the charge of the Clan Gun but mere imputations, which were suggested by the earl of Caithness, who alleged that they had suggested to him a plot against Sir Donald’s life. This charge being unsupported by any evidence, John Gun and his kinsmen were acquitted, and declared innocent of any of. fence, either against the house of Sutherland or Mackay, since the fact of the burning.
Sir Donald Mackay, dissatisfied with this result, went to Edinburgh, for the purpose of obtaining a commission against the Clan-Gun from the council, for old crimes, committed by them before his Majesty had left Scotland for England; but he was successfully opposed in this, by Sir Robert Gordon, who wrote a letter to the lord chancellor and to the earl of Melrose, afterwards earl of Haddington and lord privy seal, showing that the object of Sir Donald, in asking such a commission, was to break the king’s peace, and to breed fresh troubles in Caithness. Disappointed in this attempt, Sir Donald returned home to Strathnaver, and, in the month of April, sixteen hundred and eighteen, he went to Braill, in Caithness, where he met the earl, with whom he continued three nights. On this occasion, they agreed to despatch Alexander Gun, the burner of the corn, lest Lord Forbes should request the earl to deliver him up; and they hoped that, in consequence of such an occurrence, the tribe might be drawn into some snare. Before parting, the earl delivered to Mackay some old writs of certain lands in Strathnaver, and other places within the diocese of Caithness, which belonged to Sir Donald’s predecessors; by means of which the earl thought he would put Sir Donald by the ears with his uncles, who, he expected, would bring an action against the earl of Sutherland, for the warrandice of Strathnaver, and thus free himself from the superiority of the earl of Sutherland.
Shortly after this meeting was held, Sir Donald entered Sutherland, privately, for the purpose of capturing John Gun; but, after lurking two nights in Golspie, watching Gun, without effect, he was discovered by Adam Gordon of Kilcalmkill, a trusty dependant of the house of Sutherland, and thereupon returned to his country. In the mean time, the earl of Caithness, who sought every opportunity to quarrel with the house of Sutherland, disputed with Sir Alexander Gordon of Navidale, about the marches between Torrish, in Strathully, and the lands of Berridale. The earl, alleging that Sir Alexander’s servants had built their summer sheillings beyond their old accustomed limits, sent some men to pull them down; and he, moreover, sent a letter to Sir Alexander Gordon, complaining that he had passed the old marches of Torrish, and desiring him, out of courtesy and kindness, to confine himself within his own bounds. Sir Alexander received this letter, and the intelligence that the sheillings had been cast down, at one and the same time, when he returned for answer, that he did not expect such treatment from him; but, as the earl had thought proper to begin matters in such a way, Sir Alexander assured him, that, on a certain day during the ensuing week, he would repair these sheillings again, whatever opposition the earl might show to the measure. When Sir Donald Mackay heard of this dispute, and the threat of Sir Alexander Gordon, he sent a message to the earl of Caithness, desiring to know whether he had any intention of meeting Sir Alexander and the Sutherland men on the day appointed, as he intended to be present also, if the earl meant to attend. The earl, however, neither returned an answer nor met Sir Alexander, who was consequently allowed to rebuild his sheillings without molestation.
When Sir Robert Gordon heard of these occurrences in the north, he returned home from Edinburgh, where he had been for some time; and, on his return, he visited the Marquis of Huntly at Strathbogie, who advised him to be on his guard, as he had received notice from the earl of Caithness that Sir Donald meant to create some disturbances in Sutherland. The object the earl had in view, in acquainting the Marquis of Mackay’s intentions, was to screen himself from any imputation of being concerned in Mackay’s plans, although he favoured them in secret. As soon as Sir Robert Gordon was informed of Mackay’s intentions, he hastened to Sutherland; but, before his arrival there, Sir Donald had entered Strathully with a body of men, in quest of Alexander Gun, the burner, against whom he had obtained letters of caption. He expected that if he could find Gun in Strathully, where the clan of that name chiefly dwelt, they, and particularly John Gun, would protect Alexander, and that in consequence he would ensnare John Gun and his tribe, and bring them within the reach of the law, for having resisted the king’s authority; but Mackay was disappointed in his expectations, for Alexander Gun escaped, and none of the Clan-Gun made the least movement, not knowing how Sir Robert Gordon stood affected towards Alexander Gun. In entering Strathully, without acquainting his uncles of his intention, Sir Donald had acted improperly, and contrary to his duty, as the vassal of the house of Sutherland: but, not satisfied with this trespass, he went to Badinloch, and there apprehended William McCorkill, one of the Clan-Gun, and carried him along with him towards Strathnaver, on the ground that he had favoured the escape of Alexander Gun; but McCorkill escaped, while his keepers were asleep, and went to Dunrobin, where he met Sir Alexander Gordon, to whom he related the circumstance.
Hearing that Sir Robert Gordon was upon his journey to Sutherland, Mackay left Badinloch in haste and went privately to the parish of Culmaly, and took up his residence in Golspietour with John Gordon, younger of Embo, till he should learn in what manner Sir Robert would act towards him. Mackay perceiving that his presence in Golspietour was likely to lead to a tumult among the people, he sent his men home to Strathnaver, and went himself, the following day, taking only one man along with him, to Dunrobin castle, where he met Sir Robert Gordon, who received him kindly according to his usual manner; and after Sir Robert had opened his mind very freely to him on the bad course he was pursuing, he began to talk to him about a reconciliation with John Gun; but Sir Donald would not hear of any accommodation, and, after staying a few days at Dunrobin, returned home to his own country.
A dispute having occurred on the subject of the eastern marches between Sutherland and Strathnaver, it was agreed by the parties interested that some mutual friends should meet at Rimbisdale for the purpose of fixing them. The time fixed had now arrived, and, accordingly, Sir Alexander Gordon, John Mackay, and John Monroe of Leamlair, who were appointed to adjust the marches, met at the time and place appointed. To save trouble, it was agreed that they should meet with only twenty-four men on each side; but the inhabitants of Caithness having flocked to the place of meeting to await the issue, the people of Strathnaver also generally attended, a circumstance which induced Sir Robert Gordon to send five hundred men, without delay, to attend his brother, Sir Alexander, for protecting him in case of necessity, while Sir Robert himself was prepared to join him with the rest of the inhabitants of Sutherland. The affair of the marches was, however, so effectually settled by Monroe of Leamlair, that all the parties returned quietly to their respective homes.
Sir Donald Mackay perceiving the danger in which he had placed himself, and seeing that he could place no reliance on the hollow and inconstant friendship of the earl of Caithness, became desireous of a reconciliation with his uncles by submitting himself to the house of Sutherland, and with this view he offered to refer all matters in dispute to the arbitrament of friends, and to make such satisfaction for his offences as they might enjoin. As Sir Robert Gordon still had a kindly feeling towards Mackay, and as the state in which the affairs of the house of Sutherland stood during the minority of his nephew, the earl, could not conveniently admit of following out hostile measures against Mackay, Sir Robert embraced Mackay’s offer. The parties, therefore, met at Tain, and matters being discussed in presence of Sir Alexander Gordon of Navidale, George Monroe of Milntoun, and John Monroe of Leamlair, they adjudged that Sir Donald should send Angus Mackay of Bighouse, and three gentlemen of the Slaight-ean-Aberigh, to Dunrobin, there to remain prisoners during Sir Robert’s pleasure, as a punishment for apprehending William McCorkill at Badinloch. After settling some other matters of little moment, the parties agreed to hold another meeting for adjusting all remaining questions, at Elgin, in the month of June of the following year, sixteen hundred and nineteen, and subscribed a submission to that effect. Sir Donald wished to include Gordon of Embo and others of his friends, in Sutherland, in this arrangement; but as they were vassals of the house of Sutherland, Sir Robert would not allow Mackay to treat for them.
In the month of November, sixteen hundred and eighteen, the peace of the Highlands was in danger of being disturbed in consequence of a quarrel between George, Lord Gordon, earl of Enzie, and Sir Lauchlan Mackintosh, chief of the Clan-Chattan, which arose out of the following circumstances:- When the earl went into Lochaber, in the year sixteen hundred and thirteen, in pursuit of the Clan-Cameron, he requested Mackintosh to accompany him, both on account of his being the vassal of the marquis of Huntly, the earl’s father, and also on account of the ancient enmity which had always existed between the Clan-Chattan and Clan-Cameron, in consequence of the latter keeping forcible possession of certain lands belonging to the former in Lochaber. To induce Mackintosh to join him, the earl promised to dispossess the Clan-Cameron of the lands belonging to Mackintosh, and to restore him to the possession of them; but, by advice of the laird of Grant, his father-in law, who was an enemy of the house of Huntly, he declined to accompany the earl in his expedition. The earl was greatly displeased at Mackintosh’s refusal, which, afterwards, led to some disputes between them. A few years after the date of this expedition, in which the earl subdued the Clan-Cameron and took their chief prisoner, whom he imprisoned at Inverness, in the year sixteen hundred and fourteen, Mackintosh obtained a commission against Mackronald, younger of Moydart, and his brother, Donald Glas, for laying waste his lands in Lochaber; and, having collected all his friends, he entered Lochaber for the purpose of apprehending them, but, being unsuccessful in his attempt to capture them, he returned home. As Mackintosh conceived that he had a right to the services of all his clan, some of whom were tenants and dependants of the marquis of Huntly, he ordered the latter to follow him, and compelled such of them as were refractory to accompany him into Lochaber. This proceeding gave offence to the earl of Enzie, who summoned Mackintosh before the lords of the privy council for having, as he asserted, exceeded his commission. He, moreover, got Mackintosh’s commission recalled, and obtained a new commission in his own favour from the lords of the council, under which he invaded Lochaber, and expelled Mac-Ronald and his brother, Donald, from that country.
As Mackintosh held certain lands from the earl and his father for services to be done, which the earl alleged had not been performed by Mackintosh, agreeably to the tenor of his titles, the earl brought an action against Mackintosh in the year sixteen hundred and eighteen, for evicting these lands, on the ground of his not having implemented the conditions on which he held them. And, as the earl had right to the tithes of Culloden, which belonged to Mackintosh, he served him, at same time, with an inhibition, prohibiting him to dispose of these tithes. As the time for tithing drew near, Mackintosh, by advice of the Clan Kenzie and the Grants, circulated a report that he intended to oppose the earl in any attempt he might make to take possession of the tithes of Culloden in kind, because such a practice had never before been in use, and that he would try the issue of an action of spuilzie, if brought against him. Although the earl was much incensed at such a threat on the part of his own vassal, yet, being a privy counsellor, and desirous of showing a good example in keeping the peace, he abstained from enforcing his right; but, having formerly obtained a decree against Mackintosh for the value of the tithes of the preceding years, he sent two messengers-at-arms to poind and distrain the corns upon the ground under that warrant. The messengers were, however, resisted by Mackintosh’s servants, and forced to desist in the execution of their duty. The earl, in consequence, pursued Mackintosh and his servants before the privy council, and got them denounced and proclaimed rebels to the king. He, thereupon, collected a number of his particular friends with the design of carrying his decree into execution, by distraining the crop at Culloden and carrying it to Inverness. Mackintosh prepared himself to resist, by fortifying the house of Culloden and laying in a large quantity of ammunition, and having collected all the corn within shot of the castle and committed the charge of it to his two uncles, Duncan and Lauchlan, he waited for the approach of the earl. As the earl was fully aware of Mackintosh’s preparations, and that the Clan-Chattan, the Grants, and the Clan-Kenzie, had promised to assist Mackintosh in opposing the execution of his warrant, he wrote to Sir Robert Gordon, tutor of Sutherland, to meet him at Culloden on the fifth day of November, sixteen hundred and eighteen, being the day fixed by him for enforcing his decree. On receipt of this letter, Sir Robert Gordon left Sutherland for Bog-a-Gight, where the marquis of Huntly and his son then were, and on his way paid a visit to Mackintosh with the view of bringing about a compromise; but Mackintosh, who was a young man of a headstrong disposition, refused to listen to any proposals, and rode post haste to Edinburgh, from whence he went privately into England.
In the meantime, the earl of Enzie having collected his friends, to the number of eleven hundred horsemen well appointed and armed, and six hundred Highlanders on foot, came to Inverness with this force on the day appointed, and, after consulting his principal officers, marched forwards toward Culloden. When he arrived within view of the castle the earl sent Sir Robert Gordon to Duncan Mackintosh, who, with his brother, commanded the house, to inform him, that, in consequence of his nephew’s extraordinary boasting, he had come thither to put his majesty’s laws in execution, and to carry off the corn which of right belonged to him. To this message Duncan made this reply, – that he did not mean to prevent the earl from taking away what belonged to him, but that, in case of attack, he would defend the castle which had been committed to his charge. Sir Robert, on his return, begged the earl to send Lord Lovat, who had some influence with Duncan Mackintosh, to endeavour to prevail on him to surrender the castle. At the desire of the earl, Lord Lovat accordingly went to the house of Culloden, accompanied by Sir Robert Gordon and George Monroe of Milntoun, and, after some entreaty, Mackintosh agreed to surrender at discretion; a party there upon took possession of the house, and sent the keys to the earl. He was, however, so well pleased with the conduct of Mackintosh, that he sent back the keys to him, and as neither the Clan-Chattan, the Grants, nor the Clan-Kenzie, appeared to oppose him, he disbanded his party and returned home to Bog-a-Gight. He did not even carry off the corn, but gave it to Mackintosh’s grandmother, who enjoyed the liferent of the lands of Culloden as her jointure.
As the earl of Enzie had other claims against Sir Lauchlan Mackintosh, he cited him before the lords of council and session, but failing to appear, he was again denounced rebel, and outlawed for his disobedience. Sir Lauchlan, who was then in England at court, informed the king of the earl’s proceedings, which he described as harsh and illegal, and, to counteract the effect which such a statement might have upon the mind of his majesty, the earl posted to London and laid before him a true statement of matters. The consequence was, that Sir Lauchlan was sent home to Scotland and committed to the castle of Edinburgh, until he should give the earl full satisfaction. This step appears to have brought him to reason, and induced him to apply, through the mediation of some friends, for a reconciliation with the earl, which took place accordingly, at Edinburgh, in the year sixteen hundred and nineteen. Sir Lauchlan, however, became bound to pay a large sum of money to the earl, part of which he afterwards remitted. The laird of Grant, by whose advice Mackintosh had acted in opposing the earl, also submitted to the earl; but the reconciliation was more nominal than real, for the earl was afterwards obliged to protect the chief of the Clan-Cameron against them, and this circumstance gave rise to many dissensions between them and the earl, which ended only with the lives of Mackintosh and the laird of Grant, who both died in the year sixteen hundred and twenty-two, when the ward of part of Mackintosh’s lands fell to the earl, as his superior, during the minority of his son. The earl of Seaforth and his clan, who had also favoured the designs of Mackintosh, were in like manner reconciled, at the same time, to the earl of Enzie, at Aberdeen, through the mediation of the earl of Dunfermline, the chancellor of Scotland, whose daughter the earl of Seaforth had married.6
In no part of the Highlands did the spirit of faction operate so powerfully, or reign with greater virulence, than in Sutherland and Caithness, and the adjacent country. The jealousies and strifes which existed for such a length of time between the two great rival families of Sutherland and Caithness, and the warfare which these occasioned, sowed the seeds of a deep-rooted hostility, which extended its baneful influence among all their followers, dependants, and friends, and retarded the advancement of the social system. The most trivial offences were often magnified into the greatest crimes, and bodies of men, animated by the deadliest hatred, were instantly congregated to avenge imaginary wrongs. It would be almost an endless task to relate the many disputes and differences which occurred during the seventeenth century in these distracted districts; but as a short account, or an abridged narrative of the principal events is necessary in a work of this nature, we again proceed agreeably to our plan.
During the year sixteen hundred and twenty-one, a dispute arose between Sutherland of Duffus and John Gordon, younger of Embo, respecting the marches between Embo and the lands of Cuttle, which belonged to the former. Duffus, accompanied by his brother, James Sutherland, and seven other persons, visited the marches one evening, when he sent for young Embo to come and speak with him respecting them. Though late in the evening, Embo went unaccompanied by any person, and met Duffus and his party, and after exchanging some words, they attacked Gordon and wounded him before he had time to draw his sword. As soon as this attack became known, the Gordons and the Grays, with some of the earl of Sutherland’s tenants, came to Embo, and proceeded from thence to the castle of Skelbo, where Duffus then resided, with the design of attacking him. They did not enter the house, but rode round about it, defying him and daring him to come gut. Sir Alexander Gordon, sheriff of Sutherland, hearing of the meeting, immediately hastened to the spot to prevent mischief; and being assisted by John Gray, dean of Caithness, he took all the parties bound to keep the peace till the arrival of Sir Robert Gordon, who, it was expected, would adopt measures of pacification. Sir Robert afterwards prevailed upon the parties to hold a friendly meeting, at which they agreed to refer their disputes to arbitration.
The resignation which the earl of Caithness was compelled to make of part of the feu lands of the bishoprick of Caithness, into the hands of the bishop, as before related, was a measure which preyed upon his mind, naturally restless and vindictive, and, in consequence, he continually annoyed the bishop’s servants and tenants. His hatred was more especially directed against Robert Monroe of Aldie, commissary of Caithness, who always acted as chamberlain to the bishop, and factor in the diocese, whom he took every opportunity to molest. The earl had a domestic servant, James Sinclair of Dyren, who had possessed part of the lands which he had been compelled to resign, and which were now tenanted by Thomas Lindsay, brother-uterine of Robert Monroe, the commissary. This James Sinclair, at the instigation of the earl, quarrelled with Thomas Lindsay, who was passing at the time near the earl’s house in Thurso, and, after exchanging some hard words, Sinclair inflicted a deadly wound upon him, of which he shortly thereafter died, Sinclair immediately fled to Edinburgh, and from thence to London, to meet Sir Andrew Sinclair, who was then transacting some business for the king of Denmark there, that he might intercede with the king for a pardon; but his majesty refused to grant it, and Sinclair, for better security, went to Denmark along with Sir Andrew.
As Robert Monroe did not consider his person safe in Caithness under such circumstances, he retired into Sutherland for a time. He then pursued James Sinclair and his master, the earl of Caithness, for the slaughter of his brother, Thomas Lindsay; but, not appearing for trial on the day appointed, they were both outlawed, and denounced rebels. Hearing that Sinclair was in London, Monroe hastened thither, and in his own name and that of the bishop of Caithness, laid a complaint before his majesty against the earl and his servant. Amongst other grievances of which he complained, was the slaughter of his brother, which he satisfied the king, had been brought about by the earl; that he himself had narrowly escaped with his life, and, as the earl had been out lawed for the crime, he begged his majesty to issue such order against him, as he should judge expedient. His majesty, thereupon wrote to the Lords of the Privy Council of Scotland, desiring them to adopt the most speedy and rigorous measures to suppress the oppressions of the earl, that his subjects in the north, who were well affected, might live in safety and peace; and to enable them the more effectually to punish the earl, his majesty ordered them to keep back the remission which had been granted the earl for the affair of Sanset, which had not yet been delivered to him. His majesty also directed the Privy Council, with all secrecy and speed, to give a commission to Sir Robert Gordon to apprehend the earl, or force him to leave the kingdom, and to take possession of all his castles for his majesty’s behoof; that he should also compel the landed proprietors of Caithness to find surety not only for keeping the king’s peace in time coming, but also for their personal appearance at Edinburgh twice every year, as the West Islanders were bound to do, to answer to such complaints as might be made against them. The letter containing these instructions is dated from Windsor, twenty-fifth of May, sixteen hundred and twenty-one.
The privy council, on receipt of this letter, communicated the same to Sir Robert Gordon, who was then in Edinburgh; but he excused himself from accepting the commission offered him, lest his acceptance might be construed as proceeding from spleen and malice against the earl of Caithness. This answer, however, did not satisfy the privy council, who insisted that he should accept the commission, which he, therefore, did, but on condition that the council should furnish him with shipping, and the munitions of war and all other necessaries to force the earl to yield, in case he should fortify either castle Sinclair or Acrigell, and withstand a siege.
While the privy council were deliberating on this matter, Sir Robert Gordon took occasion to speak to Lord Berridale, who was still a prisoner for debt in the jail of Edinburgh, respecting the contemplated measures against the earl, his father, and as Sir Robert was still very unwilling to enter upon such an enterprize, he advised his Lordship to undertake the business, by engaging in which he might not only get himself relieved of the claims against him, save his country from the dangers which threatened it, but also keep possession of his castles, and that as his father had treated him in the most unnatural manner, by suffering him to remain so long in prison without taking any steps to obtain his liberation, he would be justified, in the eyes of the world, in accepting the offer now made. Being encouraged by the Lord Gordon, Earl of Enzie, to whom Sir Robert Gordon’s proposal had been communicated, to embrace the offer, Lord Berridale notified to the lords of the council the danger which might arise to the peace of the north country, on account of the ancient and long-standing enmity which existed between the inhabitants of Sutherland and Caithness, if Sir Robert Gordon or any other person belonging to the house of Sutherland, were employed in the proposed service, as his father would stand out more against Sir Robert than against any other commissioner not connected with the house of Sutherland. He then offered to undertake the service without any charge to his majesty, and that he would, before being liberated, give security to his creditors, either to return to prison after he had executed the commission, or satisfy them for their claims against him. The privy council embraced at once Lord Berridale’s proposal, but, although the earl of Enzie offered himself as surety for his lordship’s return to prison after the service was over, the creditors refused to consent to his liberation, and thus the matter dropt. Sir Robert Gordon was again urged by the council to accept the commission, and to make the matter more palatable to him, they granted the commission to him and the earl of Enzie jointly, both of whom accepted it. As the council, however, had no command from the king to supply the commissioners with shipping and warlike stores, they delayed proceedings till they should receive instructions from his majesty touching that point.
When the earl of Caithness was informed of the proceedings contemplated against him, and that Sir Robert Gordon had been employed by a commission from his majesty to act in the matter, he wrote to the Lords of the Privy Council, asserting that he was innocent of the death of Thomas Lindsay; that his reason for not appearing at Edinburgh to abide his trial for that crime, was not that he had been in any shape privy to the slaughter, but for fear of his creditors, who, he was afraid, would apprehend and imprison him; and promising, that if his majesty would grant him a protection and safe conduct, he would find security to abide trial for the slaughter of Thomas Lindsay. On receipt of this letter, the lords of the council promised him a protection, and in the month of August, his brother, James Sinclair of Murkle, and Sir John Sinclair of Greenland, became sureties for his appearance at Edinburgh, at the time prescribed for his appearance to stand trial. Thus the execution of the commission was in the meantime delayed.
Notwithstanding the refusal of Lord Berridale’s creditors to consent to his liberation, Lord Gordon afterwards did all in his power to accomplish it, and ultimately succeeded in obtaining this consent, by giving his own personal security either to satisfy the creditors, or deliver up Lord Berridale into their hands. His lordship was accordingly released from prison, and returned to Caithness in the year sixteen hundred and twenty-one, after a confinement of five years. As his final enlargement from jail depended upon his obtaining the means of paying his creditors, and as his father, the earl, staid at home consuming the rents of his estates, in rioting and licentiousness, without paying any part either of the principal or interest of his debts, and without feeling the least uneasiness at his son’s confinement, Lord Berridale, immediately on his return, assisted by his friends, attempted to apprehend his father, so as to get the family estates into his own possession; but without success.
In the meantime the earl’s creditors, wearied out with the delay which had taken place in liquidating their debts, grew exceedingly clamorous, and some of them took a journey to Caithness in the month of April, sixteen hundred and twenty-two, to endeavour to effect a settlement with the earl personally. All, however, that they obtained were fair words, and a promise from the earl that he would speedily follow them to Edinburgh, and satisfy them of all demands; but he failed to perform his promise. About this time, a sort of reconciliation appears to have taken place between the earl and his son, Lord Berridale; but it was of short duration. On this new disagreement breaking out, the earl lost the favour and friendship not only of his brothers, James and Sir John, but also that of his best friends in Caithness. Lord Berridale, there upon, left Caithness and took up his residence with the Lord Gordon, who wrote to his friends at Court to obtain a new commission against the earl. As the king was daily troubled with complaints against the earl by his creditors, he readily consented to such a request, and he accordingly wrote a letter to the Lords of the Privy Council of Scotland, in the month of December sixteen hundred and twenty-two, desiring them to issue a commission to the Lord Gordon to proceed against the earl. Lord Gordon, thinking the present a favourable opportunity to bring matters to an amicable accommodation between the father and the son, which would have superseded the execution of the commission, entered into a negotiation with them for that purpose, but to no effect, and he, therefore, resolved to proceed against the earl by force. The execution of the commission was, however, postponed in consequence of a message to the Lord Gordon to attend the Court and proceed to France on some affairs of state, where he accordingly went in the year sixteen hundred and twenty-three. On the departure of his lordship, the earl made an application to the Lords of the Council for a new protection, promising to appear at Edinburgh on the tenth day of August sixteen hundred and twenty-three, and to satisfy his creditors, this was a mere pretence to obtain delay, for although the council granted the protection, as required, upon the most urgent solicitations, the earl failed to appear on the day appointed. This breach of his engagement incensed his majesty and the council the more against him, and made them more determined than ever to reduce him to obedience. He was again denounced and proclaimed rebel, and a new commission was granted to Sir Robert Gordon to proceed against him and his abettors with fire and sword. In this commission there were conjoined with Sir Robert, his brother, Sir Alexander Gordon, Sir Donald Mackay his nephew, and James Sinclair of Murkle, but on this condition, that Sir Robert should act as chief commissioner, and that nothing should be done by the other commissioners in the service they were employed in without his advice and consent.
The earl of Caithness seeing now no longer any chance of evading the authority of the laws, prepared to meet the gathering storm by fortifying his castles and strongholds. Proclamations were issued interdicting all persons from having any communication with the earl, and letters of concurrence were given to Sir Robert in name of his majesty, charging and commanding the inhabitants of Ross, Sutherland, Strathnaver, Caithness, and Orkney, to assist him in the execution of his majesty’s commission; a ship well furnished with the munitions of war, was sent to the coast of Caithness to prevent the earl’s escape by sea, and to furnish Sir Robert with ordnance for battering the earl’s castles in case he should withstand a siege.
Sir Robert Gordon having arrived in Sutherland in the month of August sixteen hundred and twenty-three, was immediately joined by Lord Berridale for the purpose of consulting on the plan of operations to be adopted; but, before fixing on any particular plan, it was concerted that Lord Berridale should first proceed to Caithness to learn what resolution his father had come to, and to ascertain how the inhabitants of that country stood affected towards the earl. He was also to notify to Sir Robert the arrival of the ship of war on the coast. A day was, at the same time, fixed for the inhabitants of the adjoining provinces, to meet Sir Robert Gordon, in Strathully, upon the borders between Sutherland and Caithness. Lord Berridale was not long in Caithness when he sent notice to Sir Robert acquainting him that his father, the earl, had resolved to stand out to the last extremity, and that he had fortified the strong castle of Acrigell, which he had supplied with men, ammunition, and provisions, and upon holding out which he placed his last and only hope. He advised Sir Robert to bring with him into Caithness as many men as he could muster, as many of the inhabitants stood still well affected to the earl.
The earl of Caithness, in the meantime, justly apprehensive of the consequences which might ensue if unsuccessful in his opposition, despatched a messenger to Sir Robert Gordon, proposing that some gentlemen should be authorized to negotiate between them, for the purpose of bringing matters to an amicable accommodation. He enforced his request by desiring Sir Robert to recollect that he was a nobleman, a peer of the realm, who had once been a commissioner himself in his majesty’s service; that nothing of a criminal nature could be laid to his charge; that his creditors were alone concerned; that he was the first nobleman ever proclaimed a rebel, or challenged as a traitor for debt, without any criminal cause judicially proved against him; on all which grounds he entreated Sir Robert that such offers as he might make might be again sent to the Privy Council. Sir Robert, who perceived the drift of this message, which was solely to obtain delay, returned for answer that he was exceedingly sorry that the earl had refused the benefit of his last protection for clearing away the imputations laid to his charge; that although some of the charges against him were civil offences, yet, by his disobedience in failing to appear before the Lords of the Council to make his answer, he had changed their nature, and made them criminal; that, besides these civil actions, he had been charged with several criminal offences, which, by absenting himself from trial, he must be held to have acknowledged; that the Privy Council had already seen how futile all his promises were; that he, Sir Robert, clearly perceived, that the earl’s object in proposing a negotiation, was solely to waste time and to weary out the commissioners and army by delays, which he, for his own part, would not submit to, because the harvest was nearly at hand, and the king’s ship could not be detained upon the coast idle. Unless, therefore, the earl would at once submit himself unconditionally to the king’s mercy, that he would proceed against him and his supporters immediately. The earl had been hitherto so successful in his different schemes to avoid the ends of justice, that such an answer was by no means expected, and the firmness displayed in it served greatly to shake the earl’s courage.
Upon receipt of the intelligence from Lord Berridale, Sir Robert Gordon made preparations for entering Caithness without delay; and, as a precautionary measure, he took pledges from such of the tribes and families in Caithness as he suspected were favourable to the earl. Before all his forces had time to assemble, Sir Robert received notice that the war ship had arrived upon the Caithness coast, and that the earl was meditating an escape beyond seas. Unwilling to withdraw men from the adjoining provinces during the harvest season, and considering the Sutherland forces quite sufficient for his purpose, he sent couriers into Ross, Strathnaver, Assynt, and Orkney, desiring the people who had been engaged to accompany the expedition to remain at home till farther notice, and, having assembled all the inhabitants of Sutherland, he picked out the most active and resolute men among them, whom he caused to be well supplied with warlike weapons, and other necessaries, for the expedition. Having thus equipped his army, Sir Robert, accompanied by his brother, Sir Alexander Gordon, and the principal gentlemen of Sutherland, marched on the third day of September sixteen hundred and twenty-three from Dunrobin to Killiernan in Strathully, the place of rendezvous previously appointed. Here Sir Robert divided his forces into companies, over each of which he placed a commander. The following morning he passed the river of Helmsdale and arranged his army in the following order: Half a mile in advance of the main body, he placed a company of the Clan-Gun, whose duty it was to search the fields as they advanced for the purpose of discovering any ambuscades which might be laid in their way, and to clear away any obstruction to the regular advance of the main body. The right wing of the army was led by John Murray of Aberscors, Hugh Gordon of Ballellon, and Adam Gordon of Kilcalmkill. The left wing was commanded by John Gordon, younger of Embo, Robert Gray of Ospisdale, and Alexander Sutherland of Kilphidder. And Sir Robert Gordon himself, his brother Sir Alexander, the laird of Pulrossie, and William Mac-Mhic-Sheumais of Killiernan, led the centre. The two wings were always kept a short distance in advance from the centre, from which they were to receive support when required. In this manner the army advanced towards Berridale, and they observed the same order of marching during all the time they remained in Caithness.
As soon as Lord Berridale heard of Sir Robert Gordon’s advance, he and James Sinclair of Murkle, one of the commissioners, and some other gentlemen, went forward in haste to meet him. The parties accordingly met among the mountains above Cayen about three miles from Berridale. Sir Robert continued his march till he arrived at Brea- Na-Henglish in Berridale, where at night he encamped. Here they were informed that the ship of war, after casting anchor before Castle Sinclair, had gone from thence to Strabister road, and that the earl of Caithness had abandoned the country, and had sailed by night into one of the Orkney islands with the intention of going from thence into Norway or Denmark. From Brea-Na-Henglish the army advanced to Lathron, where they encamped. Here James Sinclair of Murkle, sheriff of Caithness, Sir William Sinclair of May, the laird of Ratter, the laird of Forse, and several other gentlemen of Caithness, waited upon Sir Robert Gordon and tendered their submission and obedience to his Majesty, offering, at the same time, every assistance they could afford in forwarding the objects of the expedition. Sir Robert received them kindly, and promised to acquaint his Majesty with their submission; but he distrusted some of them, and he gave orders that none of the Caithness people should be allowed to enter his camp after sunset. At Lathron, Sir Robert was joined by about three hundred of the Caithness men, consisting of the Cadels and others who had favoured Lord Berridale. These men were commanded by James Sinclair, fiar of Murkle, and were kept always a mile or two in advance of the army till they reached Castle Sinclair.
No sooner did Sir Robert arrive before Castle Sinclair, which was a very strong place, and the principal residence of the earl of Caithness, than it surrendered, the keys of which were delivered up to him in name of his Majesty. The army encamped before the castle two nights, during which time the officers took up their quarters within the castle, which was guarded by Sutherland men.
From Castle Sinclair Sir Robert marched to the castle of Acrigell, another strong place, which also surrendered on the first summons, and the keys of which were delivered in like manner to him. The army next marched in battle array to the castle of Kease, the last residence of the earl, which was also given up without resistance. The countess of Caithness had previously removed to another residence not far distant, where she was visited by Sir Robert Gordon, who was her cousin-german. The countess entreated him, with great earnestness, to get her husband again restored to favour, seeing he had made no resistance to him. Sir Robert promised to do what he could if the earl would follow his advice; but he did not expect that matters could be accommodated so speedily as she expected from the peculiar situation in which the earl then stood.
From Kease Sir Robert Gordon returned with his army to Castle Sinclair, where, according to the directions he had received from the privy council, he delivered the keys of all these castles and forts to Lord Berridale to be kept by him for his Majesty’s use, for which he should be answerable to the lords of the council until the farther pleasure of his Majesty should be known.
The army then returned to Wick in the same marching order which they had observed since their first entry into Caithness, at which place the commissioners consulted together, and framed a set of instructions to Lord Berridale for governing Caithness peaceably in time coming conformably to the laws of the kingdom, and for preventing the earl of Caithness from again disturbing the country should he venture to return after the departure of the army. At Wick Sir Robert Gordon was joined by Sir Donald Mackay, who had collected together the choicest men of Strathnaver; but, as the object of the expedition had been obtained, Sir Donald, after receiving Sir Robert’s thanks, returned the same day to Strathnaver. Sir Robert having brought this expedition to a successful termination, led back his men into Sutherland, and, after a stay of three months went to England, carrying with him a letter from the privy council of Scotland to the king, giving an account of the expedition, and of its happy result.7
1 Sir R. Gordon, p. 295.
2 Sir R. Gordon, p. 298.
3 Act James VI., Parl. 3 Cap. 45.
4 Sir R. Gordon, p. 299.
5 Sir R. Gordon, p. 329. et seq.
6 Sir R. Gordon, p. 356, et seq.
7 Sir Robert Gordon, p. 366. et seq.