Chapter V. – A.D. 1107-1411, pp.59-71.

[History of the Scottish Highlands Contents]

Kings of Scotland during the Period:-

Alexander I., 1107-1124. John Baliol, 1292-1306. 
David I., 1124-1153. Robert Bruce, 1306-1329. 
Malcolm IV., 1153-1165. David II., 1329-1332. 
William the Lion, 1165-1214. Edward Baliol, 1332-1341. 
Alexander II., 1214-1249. David II., restored, 1341-1370. 
Alexander III., 1249-1285. Robert II. (Stewart), 1370-1390. 
Regency, 1286-1290. Robert III., 1390-1406. 
Interregnum, 1290-1292. James I., 1406-1436. 

Alexander I. – David I. – Insurrections in Highlands – Somerled – Moraymen and Malcolm IV. – William the Lion – Disturbances in the Highlands – Ross-shire – Orkney – Alexander II. – Argyle – Caithness – Alexander III. – Disturbances in Ross – Expedition of Haco – Battle of Largs – Robert Bruce – Expedition into Lorn – Subdues Western Isles – Isles revolt under David II. and again submit – Contest between the Monroes and Clan Chattan – The Clan Chattan and the Camerons – Battle on North Inch – Wolf of Badenoch – His son Alexander Stewart – Disturbances in Sutherland – Lord of the Isles invades Scotland – Battle of Harlaw. 

   THE reign of Alexander I. was disturbed, about the year 1116, by an attempt made by the men of Moray and Merne to surprise the king while enjoying himself at his favourite residence at Invergowrie, on the north bank of the Tay, not far from its mouth. The king, however, showed himself more than a match his enemies, as he not only defeated their immediate purpose, but, pursuing them with his army across the Moray Frith, chastised them so effectually as to keep them quiet for the remainder of his reign, which ended by his death, in April, 1124. In 1130, six years after the accession of King David I. to the Scottish throne, while he was in England, the Moraymen again rose against the semi-Saxon king, but were defeated at Strickathrow, in Forfarshire, by Edward the Constable, son of Siward Beorn, Angus the Earl of Moray being left among the dead, Malcolm his brother escaping to carry on the conflict. In 1134 David himself took the field against these Highlanders, and, with the assistance of the barons of Northumberland, headed by Walter L’Espec, completely subdued the Moraymen, confiscated the whole district, and bestowed it upon knights in whose fidelity he could place confidence, some of these being Normans. 

   This was manifestly, according to Dr. Maclauchlan, the period of the dispersion of the ancient Moravienses. Never till then was the power of the Moray chiefs thoroughly broken, and only then were the inhabitants proscribed, and many of them expelled. The Murrays, afterwards so powerful, found their way to the south, carrying with them the name of their ancient country, and some of the present tribes of Sutherland, as well as of Inverness-shire, who, there is reason to believe, belonged to the Scoto-Pictish inhabitants of Moray, removed their dwellings to those portions of the country which they have occupied ever since. The race of Mac Heth may appear among the Mac Heths or Mac Aoidhs, the Mackays of Sutherland, nor is this rendered less probable by the Morganaich or sons of Morgan, the ancient name of the Mackays, appearing in the Book of Deer as owning possessions and power in Buchan in the 10th or 11th century.1 

   The next enterprise of any note was undertaken by Somerled, thane of Argyle and the Isles, against the authority of Malcolm IV., who, after various conflicts, was repulsed, though not subdued, by Gilchrist, Earl of Angus. A peace, concluded with this powerful chieftain in 1153, was considered of such importance as to form an epoch in the dating of Scottish charters. A still more formidable insurrection broke out among the Moraymen, under Gildominick, on account of an attempt, on the part of the Government, to intrude the Anglo-Norman jurisdiction, introduced into the Lowlands, upon their Celtic customs, and the settling of Anglo-Belgic colonists among them. These insurgents laid waste the neighbouring counties; and so regardless were they of the royal authority, that they actually hanged the heralds who were sent to summon them to lay down their arms. Malcolm despatched the gallant Earl Gilchrist with an army to subdue them, but he was defeated, and forced to recross the Grampians. 

   This defeat aroused Malcolm, who was naturally of an indolent disposition. About the year 1160 he marched north with a powerful army, and found the enemy on the moor of Urquhart, near the Spey, ready to give him battle. After passing the Spey, the noblemen in the king’s army reconnoitred the enemy; but they found them so well prepared for action, and so flushed with their late success, that they considered the issue of a battle rather doubtful. On this account, the commanders advised the king to enter into a negotiation with the rebels, and to promise, that in the event of a submission their lives would be spared. The offer was accepted, and the king kept his word. According to Fordun,2 the king, by the advice of his nobles, ordained that every family in Moray which had been engaged in rebellion should, within a limited time, remove out of Moray to other parts of the kingdom, where lands would be assigned to them, that their places should be supplied with people from other parts of the kingdom. For the performance of this order, they gave hostages, it is said,3 and at the time appointed transplanted themselves, some into the northern, but the greater number into the southern counties. Chalmers considers this removal of the Moraymen as “an egregious improbability,” because “the dispossessing of a whole people is so difficult an operation, that the recital of it cannot be believed without strong evidence;”4 it is very probable that only the ringleaders and their families were transported. The older historians say that the Moraymen were almost totally cut off in an obstinate battle, and strangers brought into their place.5 

   About this time Somerled, the ambitious and powerful lord of the Isles, made another and a last attempt upon the king’s authority. Having collected a large force, chiefly in Ireland, he landed, in 1164, near Renfrew; but he was defeated by the brave inhabitants and the king’s troops in a decisive battle, in which he and his son Gillecolum were slain. 

   The reign of William the Lion, who succeeded his brother in 1165, was marked by many disturbances in the Highlands. The Gaelic population could not endure the new settlers whom the Saxon colonization had introduced among them, and every opportunity was taken to vex and annoy them. An open insurrection broke out in Ross-shire, headed by Donald Bane, known also as MacWilliam, which obliged William, in the year 1181, to march into the north, where he built the two castles of Eddirton and Dunscath to keep the people in check. He restored quiet for a few years; but, in 1187, Donald Bane again renewed his pretensions to the crown, and raised the standard of revolt in the north. He took possession of Ross, and wasted Moray. William lost no time in leading an army against him. While the king lay at Inverness with his army, a party of 3,000 faithful men, under the command of Roland, the brave lord of Galloway, and future Constable of Scotland, fell in with Donald Bane and his army upon the Mamgarvy moor, on the borders of Moray. A conflict ensued in which Donald and five hundred of his followers were killed. Roland carried the head of Donald to William, “as a savage sign of returning quiet.” After this comparative quietness prevailed in the north till the year 1196, when Harold, the powerful Earl of Orkney and Caithness, disturbed its peace. William dispersed the insurgents at once; but they again appeared the following year near Inverness, under the command of Torphin, the son of Harold. The rebels were again overpowered. The king seized Harold, and obliged him to deliver up his son, Torphin, as an hostage. Harold was allowed to retain the northern part of Caithness, but the king gave the southern part of it, called Sutherland, to Hugh Freskin, the progenitor of the Earls of Sutherland. Harold died in 1206; but as he had often rebelled, his son suffered a cruel and lingering death in the castle of Roxburgh, where he had been confined. 

   During the year 1211 a new insurrection broke out in Ross, headed by Guthred or Godfrey, the son of Donald Bane or MacWilliam, as he was called. Great depredations were committed by the insurgents, who were chiefly freebooters from Ireland, the Hebrides, and Lochaber. For a long time they baffled the king’s troops; and although the king built two forts to keep them in check, and took many prisoners, they maintained for a considerable period a desultory and predatory warfare. Guthred even forced one of the garrisons to capitulate, and burnt the castle; but being betrayed by his followers into the hands of William Comyn, Earl of Buchan, the Justiciary of Scotland, he was executed in the year 1212. 

   Shortly after the accession of Alexander II. in 1214, the peace of the north was attempted to be disturbed by Donald MacWilliam, who made an inroad from Ireland into Moray; but he was repulsed by the tribes of that country, led by McIntagart, the Earl of Ross. In 1222, notwithstanding the formidable obstacles which presented themselves from the nature of the country, Alexander carried an army into Argyle, for the purpose of enforcing the homage of the western chiefs. His presence so alarmed the men of Argyle, that they immediately made their submission. Several of the chiefs fled for safety, and to punish them, the king distributed their lands among his officers and their followers. After this invasion Argyle was brought under the direct jurisdiction of the Scottish king, although the descendants of the race of Somerled, Lord of the Isles, still continued to be the chief magnates. 

   During the same year a tumult took place in Caithness, on account of the severity with which the tithes were exacted by Adam, the bishop, who, with his adviser, Serlo, was murdered by the bonders. The king, who was at the time at Jedburgh, hearing of this murder, immediately hastened to the north with a military force, and inflicted the punishment of death upon the principal actors in this tragedy, who amounted, it is said, to four hundred persons; and that their race might become extinct, their children were emasculated, a practice very common in these barbarous times. The Earl of Caithness, who was supposed to have been privy to the murder, was deprived of half of his estate, which was afterwards restored to him on payment of a heavy fine. The Earl is said to have been murdered by his own servants in the year 1231, and in order to prevent discovery, they laid his body into his bed and set fire to the house. 

   In 1228 the country of Moray became the theatre of a new insurrection, headed by a Ross-shire freebooter, named Gillespoc McScolane. He committed great devastations by burning some wooden castles in Moray, and spoiling the crown lands. He even attacked and set fire to Inverness. A large army of horse and foot, under the command of John Comyn, Earl of Buchan, Justiciary of Scotland, was, in 1229, sent against this daring rebel, who was captured, with his two sons, and their heads sent to the king. 

   The lords of Argyle usually paid homage to the king of Norway for some of the Hebrides which belonged to that monarch, but Ewen, on succeeding his father Duncan of Argyle in 1248, refused his homage to the Scottish king, who wished to possess the whole of the Western Isles. Though Ewen was perfectly loyal, and indeed was one of the most honourable men of his time, Alexander marched an army against him to enforce obedience, but his Majesty died on his journey in Kerrera, a small island near the coast of Argyle opposite Oban, on July 8, 1249, in the fifty-first year of his age, and the thirty-fifth of his reign. 

   According to the custom of the times, his son, Alexander III., then a boy only in his eighth year, was seated on the royal chair, or sacred stone of Scone, which was placed before the cross that stood within the burying-ground. Immediately before his inauguration, the bishop of St. Andrews girded him with the sword of state, and explained to him, first in Latin and afterwards in Norman French, the nature of the compact he and his subjects were about to enter into. The crown, after the king had been seated, was placed on his head, and the sceptre put into his hand. He was then covered with the royal mantle, and received the homage of the nobles on their knees, who, in token of submission, threw their robes beneath his feet. On this occasion, agreeably to ancient practice, a Gaelic sennachy, or bard, clothed in a red mantle, and venerable for his great age and hoary locks, approached the king, and in a bended and reverential attitude, recited, from memory, in his native language, the genealogy of all the Scottish kings, deducing the descent the youthful monarch from Gathetus, the fabulous founder of the nation.6 The reign of this prince was distinguished by the entire subjugation of the western islands to the power the Scottish crown. The Scandinavian settlers were allowed to leave the islands, if inclined, and such of them as remained were bound to observe the Scottish laws. 

   Shortly after the accession of Alexander III an insurrection broke out against the Earl of Ross, of some of the people of that province. The Earl apprehended their leader or captain, whom he imprisoned at Dingwall. In revenge, the Highlanders seized upon the Earl’s second son at Balnagown, took him prisoner, and detained him as a hostage till their captain should be released. The Monroes and the Dingwalls immediately took up arms, and having pursued the insurgents, overtook them at a place called Bealligh-ne-Broig, between Ferrandonald and Loch Broom, where a bloody conflict ensued. “The Clan Iver, Clan-Talvich, and Clan-Laiwe,” says Sir Robert Gordon, “wer almost uterlie extinguished and slain.” The Monroes and Dingwalls lost a great many men. Dingwall of Kildun, and seven score of the surname of Dingwall, were killed. No less than eleven Monroes of the house of Foulis, who were to succeed one after another, fell, so that the succession of Foulis opened to an infant then lying in his cradle. The Earl’s son was rescued, and to requite the service performed, he made various grants of lands to the Monroes and Dingwalls.7 

   In 1263, Haco, the aged king of Norway, sailed with a large and powerful fleet, determined to enforce acknowledgment of his claims as superior of the Western Islands on their chiefs, as well as upon the king of Scotland. Sailing southwards among the islands, one chief after another acknowledged his supremacy, and helped to swell his force, the only honourable exception being the stanch Ewen of Argyle. Meantime Haco brought his fleet to anchor in the Frith of Clyde, between Arran and the Ayrshire coast, his men committing ravages on the neighbouring country, as, indeed, they appear to have done during the whole of his progress. Negotiations entered into between Haco and Alexander III. came to nothing, and as winter was approaching, and his fleet had suffered much from several severe storms which caught it, the former was fain to make his way homewards. A number of his men, however, contrived to effect a landing near Largs, where they were met by a miscellaneous Scottish host, consisting of cavalry and country people, and finally completely routed. The date of this skirmish, which is known as the battle of Largs, is October 2d, 1263. Haco died in the end of the same year in Orkney, and in 1266 Magnus IV., his successor, ceded the whole of the Scottish Islands held by Norway, except Orkney and Shetland, the Scottish king paying a small annual rent. Those of the islesmen who had proved unfaithful to the Scottish king were most severely and cruelly punished. 

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

   During the civil wars among the competitors for the Scottish crown, and those under Wallace and Bruce for the independence of Scotland, the Highlanders scarcely ever appear as participators in those stirring scenes which developed the resources, and called forth the chivalry of Scotland; but we are not to infer from the silence of history that they were less alive than their southern countrymen to the honour and glory of their country, or that they did not contribute to secure its independence. General Stewart says that eighteen Highland chiefs8 fought under Robert Bruce at Bannockburn; and as these chiefs would be accompanied by their vassals, it is fair to suppose that Highland prowess lent its powerful aid to obtain that memorable victory which secured Scotland from the dominion of a foreign yoke. 

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

   The feeble and effeminate reign of David II. was disturbed by another revolt by the Lord of the Isles, who was backed in his attempt to throw off his dependence by a great number of Highland chiefs. David, with “an unwonted energy of character, commanded the attendance of the steward, with the prelates and barons of the realm, and surrounded by this formidable body of vassals and retainers, proceeded against the rebels in person. The expedition was completely successful. The rebel prince, John of the Isles, with a numerous train of those wild Highland chieftains who followed his banner, and had supported him in his attempt to throw off his dependence, met the king at Inverness, and submitted to his authority. He engaged in the most solemn manner, for himself and his vassals, that they should yield themselves faithful and obedient subjects to David, their liege lord; and not only give due and prompt obedience to the ministers and officers of the king in suit and service, as well as in the payment of taxes and public burdens, but that they would coerce and put down all others, of whatever rank or degree, who dared to raise themselves in opposition to the royal authority, and would compel them either to submit, or would pursue and banish them from their territories: for the fulfilment of which obligation the Lord of the Isles not only gave his own oath, under the penalty of forfeiting his whole principality if it was broken, but offered the high-steward, his father-in-law, as his security, and delivered his lawful son, Donald, his grandson, Angus, and his natural son, also named Donald, as hostages for the strict performance of the articles of the treaty.”9 The deed by which John of the Isles bound himself to the performance of these stipulations is dated 15th November, 1369.10 

   To enable him the better to succeed in reducing the inhabitants of the Highlands and islands to the obedience of the laws, it is stated by an old historian,11 that David used artifice by dividing the chiefs, and promising high rewards to those who should slay or capture their brother chiefs. The writer says that this diabolical plan, by implanting the seeds of disunion and war amongst the chiefs, succeeded; and that they gradually destroyed one another, a statement, to say the least of it, highly improbable. Certain it is, however, that it was in this reign that the practice of paying manrent began, when the powerful wished for followers, and the weak wanted protection, a circumstance which shows that the government was too weak to afford protection to the oppressed, or to quell the disputes of rival clans. 

   In the year 1333,12 John Monroe, the tutor of Foulis, in travelling homeward, on his journey from Edinburgh to Ross, stopped on a meadow in Stratherdale that he and his servants might get some repose. While they were asleep, the owner of the meadow cut off the tails of their horses. Being resolved to wipe off this insult, he immediately, on his return home to Ross, summoned his whole kinsmen and followers, and, after informing them how he had been used, craved their aid to revenge the injury. The clan, of course, complied; and, having selected 350 of the best and ablest men among them, he returned to Stratherdale, which he wasted and spoiled; killed some of the inhabitants, and carried off their cattle. In passing by the isle of Moy, on his return home, Macintosh, the chief of the clan Chattan, being urged by some person who bore Monroe a grudge, sent a message to him demanding a share of the spoil. This was customary among the Highlanders when a party drove cattle which had been so taken through a gentleman’s land, and the part so exacted was called a Staoig Rathaid, or Staoig Creich, that is, a Road Collop. Monroe, not being disposed to quarrel, offered Macintosh a reasonable share, but this he was advised not to accept, and demanded the half of the booty. Monroe refused to comply with such an unreasonable demand, and proceeded on his journey. Macintosh, determined to enforce compliance, immediately collected his clansmen, and went in pursuit of Monroe, whom he overtook at Clach-na-Haire, near Inverness. As soon as Monroe saw Macintosh approaching, he sent home five of his men to Ferrindonald with the cattle, and prepared for action. But Macintosh paid dearly for his rapacity and rashness, for he and the greater part of his men were killed in the conflict. Several the Monroes also were slain, and John Monroe himself was left for dead in the field of battle, and might have died if the predecessor of Lord Lovat had not carried him to his house in the neighbourhood, where he was cured of his wounds. One of his hands was so mutilated, that he lost the use of it the remainder of his life, on which account he was afterwards called John Bac-laimh, or Ciotach.13 

   Besides the feuds of the clans in the reign of David II., the Highlands appear to have been disturbed by a formidable insurrection against the government, for, in a parliament which held at Scone, in the year 1366, a resolution was entered into to seize the rebels in Argyle, Athole, Badenoch, Lochaber, and Ross, all others who had risen up against the royal authority, and to compel them to submit to the laws. The chief leaders in this commotion (of which the bare mention in the parliamentary record is the only account which has reached us,) were the Earl of Ross, Hugh de Ross, John of the Isles, John of Lorn, and John de Haye, who were all summoned to attend the parliament and give in their submission, but they all refused to do so in the most decided manner; and as the government was too weak to compel them, they were suffered to remain independent. 

   In the year 1386, a feud having taken place between the clan Chattan and the Camerons, a battle took place in which a great number of the clan Chattan were killed, and the Camerons were nearly cut off to a man. The occasion of quarrel was as follows. The lands of Macintosh14 in Lochaber, were possessed by the Camerons, who were so tardy in the payment of their rents that Macintosh was frequently obliged to levy them by force by carrying off his tenants’ cattle. The Camerons were so irritated at having their cattle poinded and taken away, that they resolved to make reprisals, preparatory to which they marched into Badenoch to the number of about 400 men, under the command of Charles Macgilony. As soon as Macintosh became acquainted with this movement he called his clan and friends, the Macphersons and Davidsons, together. His force was superior to that of the Camerons, but a dispute arose among the chiefs which almost proved fatal to them. To Macintosh, as captain of the clan Chattan, the command of the centre of the army was assigned with the consent of all parties; but a difference took place between Cluny and Invernahavon, each claiming the command of the right wing. Cluny demanded it as the chief of the ancient clan Chattan, of which the Davidsons of Invernahavon were only a branch; but Invernahavon contended that to him, as the oldest branch, the command of the right wing belonged, according to the custom of the clans. The Camerons came up during this quarrel about precedency, on which Macintosh, as umpire, decided against the claim of Cluny. This was a most imprudent award, as the Macphersons exceeded both the Macintoshes and Davidsons in numbers, and they were, besides, in the country of the Macphersons. These last were so offended at the decision of Macintosh that they withdrew from the field, and became, for a time, spectators of the action. The battle soon commenced, and was fought with great obstinacy. Many of the Macintoshes, and almost all the Davidsons, were cut off by the superior number of the Camerons. The Macphersons seeing their friends and neighbours almost overpowered, could no longer restrain themselves, and friendship got the better of their wounded pride. They, therefore, at this perilous crisis, rushed in upon the Camerons, who, from exhaustion and the loss they had sustained, were easily defeated. The few that escaped, with their leader, were pursued from Invernahavon, the place of battle, three miles above Ruthven, to Badenoch. Charles Macgilony was killed on a hill in Glenbenchir, which was long called Torr-Thearlaich, i.e., Charles’-hill.15 

   In the opinion of Shaw this quarrel about precedency was the origin of the celebrated judicial conflict, which took place on the North Inch of Perth, before Robert III., his queen, Annabella Drummond, and the Scottish nobility, and some foreigners of distinction, in the year 1396, and of which a variety of accounts have been given by our ancient historians. The parties to this combat were the Macphersons, properly the clan Chattan, and the Davidsons of Invernahavon, called in the Gaelic Clann-Dhaibhidh. The Davidsons were not, as some writers have supposed, a separate clan, but a branch of the clan Chattan. These rival tribes had for a long period kept up a deadly enmity with one another, which was difficult to be restrained; but after the award by Macintosh against the Macphersons, that enmity broke out into open strife, and for ten years the Macphersons and the Davidsons carried on a war of extermination, and kept the country in an uproar. 

   To put an end to these disorders, it is said that Robert III. sent Dunbar, Earl of Moray, and Lindsay of Glenesk, afterwards Earl of Crawford, two of the leading men of the kingdom, to endeavour to effect an amicable arrangement between the contending parties; but having failed in their attempt, they proposed that the differences should be decided in open combat before the king. Tytler16 is of opinion that, the notions of the Norman knights having by this time become familiar to the fierce mountaineers, they adopted the singular idea of deciding their quarrel by a combat of 30 against 30. Burton, however, with his usual sagacity, remarks that, “for a whole race to submit to the ordeal of battle would imply the very highest devotion to those rules of chivalry which were an extravagant fashion in all the countries under the Norman influence, but were utterly unknown to the Highlanders, who submitted when they must submit, and retaliated when they could. That such an adjustment could be effected among them is about as incredible as a story about a parliamentary debate in Persia, or a jury trial in Timbuctoo.”17 The beautiful and perfectly level meadow on the banks of the Tay at Perth, known as the North Inch, was fixed on, and the Monday before Michaelmas was the day appointed for the combat. According to Sir Robert Gordon, who is followed by Sir Robert Douglas and Mr. Mackintosh, it was agreed that no weapon but the broad sword was to be employed, but Wyntoun, who lived about the time, adds bows, battle-axes, and daggers. 

“All thai entrit in Barreris, 

With Bow and Axe, Knyf and Swerd, 

To deal amang them thair last Werd.” 

The numbers on each side have been variously reported. By mistaking the word triceni, used by Boece and Buchanan, for treceni, some writers have multiplied them to 300. Bower, the continuator of Fordun and Wyntoun, however, mentions expressly 60 in all, or 30 on either side. 

   On the appointed day the combatants made their appearance on the North Inch of Perth, to decide, in presence of the king, his queen, and a large concourse of the nobility, their respective claims to superiority. Barriers had been erected on the ground to prevent the spectators from encroaching, and the king and his party took their stations upon a platform from which they could easily view the combat. At length the warriors, armed with sword and target, bows and arrows, short knives and battle-axes, advanced within the barriers, and eyed one another with looks of deadly revenge. When about to engage, a circumstance occurred which postponed the battle, and had well-nigh prevented it altogether. According to some accounts, one of the Macphersons fell sick; but Bower says, that when the troops had been marshalled, one of the Macphersons, panic-struck, slipped through the crowd, plunged into the Tay and swam across, and, though pursued by thousands, effected his escape. Sir Robert Gordon merely observes, that, “at their entrie into the feild, the clan Chattan lacked one of their number, who wes privilie stolne away, not willing to be pertaker of so deir a bargane.” A man being now wanting on one side, a pause ensued, and a proposal was made that one of the Davidsons should retire, that the number on both sides might be equal, but they refused. As the combat could not proceed from this inequality of numbers, the king was about to break up the assembly, when a diminutive and crooked, but fierce man, named Henry Wynd, a burgher of Perth, better known to readers of Scott as Hal o’ the Wynd, and an armourer by trade, sprung within the barriers, and as related by Bower, thus addressed the assembly: “Here am I. Will any one fee me to engage with these hirelings in this stage play? For half a mark will I try the game, provided, if I escape alive, I have my board of one of you so long as I live. Greater love, as it is said, hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. What, then, shall be my reward, who stake my life for the foes of the commonwealth and realm?” This demand of Gow Crom, “Crooked Smith,” as Henry was familiarly styled, adds Bower, was granted by the king and nobles. A murderous conflict now began. The armourer, bending his bow, and sending the first arrow among the opposite party, killed one of them. After showers of arrows had been discharged on both sides, the combatants, with fury in their looks, and revenge in their hearts, rushed upon one another, and a terrific scene ensued, which appalled the heart of many a valorous knight who witnessed the bloody tragedy. The violent thrusts of the daggers, and the tremendous gashes inflicted by the two-handed swords and battle-axes, hastened the work of butchery and death. “Heads were cloven asunder, limbs were lopped from the trunk. The meadow was soon flooded with blood, and covered with dead and wounded men.”18 

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

“Am fear nach cunntadh rium 

Cha chunntainn ris,” 

which Macintosh thus renders, 

“The man that reckons not with me 

I will not reckon with him.” 

   Victory at last declared for the Macphersons, but not until 29 of the Davidsons had fallen prostrate in the arms of death. Nineteen of Cluny’s men also bit the dust, and the remaining 11, with the exception of Henry Wynd, who by his excellence as a swordsman had mainly contributed to gain the day, were all grievously wounded. The survivor of the clan Davidson escaped unhurt. Mackintosh following Buchanan, relates that this man, after all his companions had fallen, threw himself into the Tay, and making the opposite bank, escaped; but this is most likely a new version of Bower’s account of the affrighted champion before the commencement of the action. 

   The leader of the clan Kay or Davidsons is called by Bower Schea-beg, and by Wyntoun, Scha-Ferquharis son. Boece calls him Stratberge. Who Christi-Mac-lain, or Christi-Jonson was genealogically, we are not informed; but one thing is pretty clear, that he, not Schea-beg, or Shaw-oig, – for these are obviously one and the same, – commanded the clan Chattan, or “Clann-a-Chait.”19 Both the principals seem to have been absent, or spectators merely of the battle; and as few of the leading men of the clan, it is believed, were parties in the combat, the savage policy of the government, which, it is said, had taken this method to rid itself of the chief men of the clan, by making them destroy one another, was completely defeated. This affair seems to have produced a good effect, as the Highlanders remained quiet for a considerable time thereafter. 

   The disorders in the Highlands occasioned by the feuds of the clans were, about the period in question, greatly augmented by Alexander of Badenoch, fourth son of Robert II., whom he had constituted Lieutenant or governor from the limits of Moray to the Pentland Frith. This person, from the ferocity of his disposition, obtained the appropriate appellation of “the Wolf of Badenoch.” Avaricious as well as cruel, the Wolf seized upon the lands of Alexander Barr, bishop of Moray, and as he persisted in keeping violent possession of them, he was excommunicated. The sentence of excommunication not only proved unavailing, but tended to exasperate the Lord of Badenoch to such a degree of fury that, in the month of May, 1390, he descended from his heights and burnt the town of Forres, with the choir of the church and the manse of the archdeacon. And in June following, he burnt the town of Elgin, the church of Saint Giles, the hospital of Maison-Dieu, and the cathedral, with eighteen houses of the canons and chaplains in the college of Elgin. He also plundered these churches of their sacred utensils and vestments, which he carried off. For this horrible sacrilege the Lord of Badenoch was prosecuted, and obliged to make due reparation. Upon making his submission he was absolved by Walter Trail, bishop of St. Andrews, in the church of the Black Friars, in Perth. He was first received at the door, and afterwards before the high altar, in presence of the king (Robert III. his brother,) and many of the nobility, on condition that he should make full satisfaction to the bishop of Moray, and obtain absolution from the pope.20 

   The Lord of Badenoch had a natural son, named Alexander Stewart, afterwards Earl of Mar, who inherited the vices of his father. Bent upon spoliation and bloodshed, and resolved to imitate his father’s barbarous exploits, he collected, in 1392, a vast number of caterans, armed only with the sword and target, and with these he descended from the range of hills which divides the county of Aberdeen and Forfar, devastated the country, and murdered the inhabitants indiscriminately. A force was instantly collected by Sir Walter Ogilvy, sheriff of Angus, Sir Patrick Gray, and Sir David Lindsay of Glenesk, to oppose him, and although inferior in numbers, they attacked Stewart and his party of freebooters at Gasklune, near the water of Ila. A desperate conflict took place, which was of short duration. The caterans fought with determined bravery, and soon overpowered their assailants. The sheriff, his brother, Wat of Lichtoune, Young of Ouchterlony, the lairds of Cairncross, Forfar, and Guthry, and 60 of their followers, were slain. Sir Patrick Gray and Sir David Lindsay were severely wounded, and escaped with difficulty. Winton has preserved an anecdote illustrative of the fierceness of the Highlanders. Lindsay had run one of them, a strong and brawny man, through the body with a spear, and brought him to the earth; but although in the agonies of death, he writhed himself up, and with the spear sticking in his body, struck Lindsay a desperate blow with his sword, which cut him through the stirrup and boot into the bone, on which he instantly fell and expired.21 

   Nicolas, Earl of Sutherland, had a feud with Y-Mackay of Far, in Strathnaver, chief of the Clanwig-worgm, and his son Donald Mackay, in which many lives were lost, and great depredations committed on both sides. In order to put an end to this difference, the Earl proposed a meeting of the parties at Dingwall, to be held in presence of the Lord of the Isles, his father-in-law, and some of the neighbouring gentry, the friends of the two families. The meeting having been agreed to, the parties met at the appointed time, in the year 1395, and took up their residence in the castle of Dingwall in apartments allotted for them. A discussion then took place between the Earl and Mackay, regarding the points in controversy, in which high and reproachful words were exchanged, which so incensed the Earl, that he killed Mackay and his son with his own hands. Having with some difficulty effected his escape from the followers and servants of the Mackays, he immediately returned home and prepared for defence, but the Mackays were too weak to take revenge. The matter was in some degree reconciled between Robert, the successor of Nicolas, and Angus Mackay, the eldest son of Donald.22 

Some years after this event a serious conflict took place between the inhabitants of Sutherland and Strathnaver, and Malcolm Macleod of the Lewis, which arose out of the following circumstances. Angus Mackay above mentioned, had married a sister of Malcolm Macleod, by whom he had two sons, Angus Dow, and Roriegald. On the death of Angus, Houcheon Dow Mackay, a younger brother, became tutor to his nephews, and entered upon the management of their lands. Malcolm Macleod, understanding that his sister, the widow of Angus, was ill treated by Houcheon Dow, went on a visit to her, accompanied by a number of the choicest men of his country, with the determination of vindicating her cause either by entreaty or by force. He appears not to succeeded in his object, for he returned homeward greatly discontented, and in revenge laid waste Strathnaver and a great part of the Breachat in Sutherland, and carried off booty along with him. As soon as Houcheon Dow and his brother Neill Mackay learnt this intelligence, they acquainted Robert, Earl of Sutherland, between whom and Angus Mackay a reconciliation had been effected, who immediately despatched Alexander Ne-Shrem-Gorme (Alexander Murray of Cubin,) with a number of stout and resolute men, to assist the Mackays. They followed Macleod with great haste, and overtook him at Tittum-Turwigh, upon the marches between Ross and Sutherland. The pursuing party at first attempted to recover the goods and cattle which had been carried off, but this being opposed by Macleod and his men, a desperate conflict ensued, in which great valour was displayed on both sides. It “was long, furious, cruel, and doubtful,” says Sir Robert Gordon, and was “rather desperate than resolute.” At last the Lewismen, with their commander, Malcolm Macleod, nicknamed Gilealm Beg McBowen, were slain, and the goods and cattle were recovered. One man alone of Macleod’s party, who was sorely wounded, escaped to bring home the sorrowful news to the Lewis, which he had scarcely delivered when he expired.23 

These feuds were followed by a formidable insurrection, or more correctly, invasion, in 1411, by Donald, Lord of the Isles, of such a serious nature as to threaten a dismemberment of the kingdom of Scotland. The male succession to the earldom of Ross having become extinct, the honours of the peerage devolved upon a female, Euphemia Ross, wife of Sir Walter Lesley. Of this marriage there were two children, Alexander, afterwards Earl of Ross, and Margaret, afterwards married to the Lord of the Isles. Earl Alexander married a daughter of the Duke of Albany. Euphemia, Countess of Ross, was the only issue of this marriage, but becoming a nun she resigned the earldom of Ross in favour of her uncle John Stewart, Earl of Buchan. The Lord of the Isles conceiving that the countess, by renouncing the world, had forfeited her title and estate, and moreover, that she had no right to dispose thereof, claimed both in right of Margaret his wife. The Duke of Albany, governor of Scotland, at whose instigation the countess had made the renunciation, of course refused to sustain the claim of the prince of the islands. The Lord of the Isles having formed an alliance with England, whence he to be supplied with a fleet far superior to the Scottish, at the head of an army of 10,000 men, fully equipped and armed after the fashion of the islands with bows and arrows, pole-axes, knives, and swords, in 1411 burst like a torrent upon the earldom, and carried everything before him. He, however, received a temporary check at Dingwall, where he was attacked with great impetuosity by Angus Dubh Mackay of Farr, or Black Angus, as he was called; but Angus was taken prisoner, and his brother Roderic Gald and many of his men were killed. 

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

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

On a signal being given, the Highlanders and Islesmen, setting up those terrific shouts and yells which they were accustomed to raise on entering into battle, rushed forward upon their opponents; but they were received with great firmness and bravery by the knights, who, with their spears levelled, and battle-axes raised, cut down many of their impetuous but badly armed adversaries. After the Lowlanders had recovered themselves from the shock which the furious onset of the Highlanders had produced, Sir James Scrymgeour, at the head of the knights and bannerets who fought under him, cut his way through the thick columns of the Islesmen, carrying death everywhere around him; but the slaughter of hundreds by this brave party did not intimidate the Highlanders, who kept pouring in by thousands to supply the place of those who had fallen. Surrounded on all sides, no alternative remained for Sir James and his valorous companions but victory or death, and the latter was their lot. The constable of Dundee was amongst the first who suffered, and his fall so encouraged the Highlanders, that seizing and stabbing the horses, they thus unhorsed their riders, whom they despatched with their daggers. In the meantime the Earl of Mar, who had penetrated with his main army into the very heart of the enemy, kept up the unequal contest with great bravery, and, although he lost during the action almost the whole of his army, he continued the fatal struggle with a handful of men till nightfall. The disastrous result of this battle was one of the greatest misfortunes which had ever happened to the numerous respectable families in Angus and the Mearns. Many of these families lost not only their head, but every male in the house. Lesley of Balquhain is said to have fallen with six of his sons. Besides Sir James Scrymgeour, Sir Alexander Ogilvy the sheriff of Angus, with his eldest son George Ogilvy, Sir Thomas Murray, Sir Robert Maule of Panmure, Sir Alexander Irving of Drum, Sir William Abernethy of Salton, Sir Alexander Straiton of Lauriston, James Lovel, and Alexander Stirling, and Sir Robert Davidson, Provost of Aberdeen, with 500 men-at-arms, including the principal gentry of Buchan, and the greater of the burgesses of Aberdeen who followed their Provost, were among the slain. The Highlanders left 900 men dead on the field of battle, including the chiefs Maclean and Mackintosh. This memorable battle was fought on the eve of the feast of St. James the Apostle, July 25th, 1411. It was the final contest for supremacy between the Celt and the Teuton, and appears to have made at the time an inconceivably deep impression on the national mind. For more than a hundred years, it is said, the battle of Harlaw continued to be fought over again by schoolboys in their play. “It fixed itself in the music and the poetry of Scotland; a march, called the ‘Battle of Harlaw,’ continued to be a popular air down to the time of Drummond of Hawthornden, a spirited ballad, on the same event, is still repeated in our age, describing the meeting of the armies, and the deaths of the chiefs, in no ignoble strain.”24 

Mar and the few brave companions in arms who survived the battle, passed the night on the field; when morning dawned, they found that the Lord of the Isles had retreated during the night, by Inverury and the hill of Benochy. To pursue him was impossible, and he was therefore allowed to retire without molestation, and to recruit his exhausted strength.25 

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

1  Maclauchlan’s Early Scottish Church, pp. 346-7. 

2  Book viii. ch. 6. 

3  Shaw’s Hist. of Moray, new ed., pp. 259-60. 

4  Caledonia, vol. i. p. 627. 

5  “Whilst the lowlands and the coast of Moray, which had already been partitioned out among the followers of David, would have presented comparatively few obstacles to such a project, it is hardly possible to conceive how it could ever have been successfully put into execution amidst the wild and inaccessible mountains of the interior. It appears, therefore, most reasonable to conclude, that Malcolm only carried out the policy pursued by his grandfather ever since the first forfeiture of the earldom; and that any changes that may have been brought about in the population of this part of Scotland – and which scarcely extended below the class of the lesser Duchasach, or small proprietors – are not to be attributed to one sweeping and compulsatory measure, but to the grants of David and his successors; which must have had the effect of either reducing the earlier proprietary to a dependant position, or of driving into the remoter Highlands all who were inclined to contest the authority of the sovereign, or to dispute the validity of the royal ordinances which reduced them to the condition of subordinates.” – Robertson’s Early Kings, vol. i. p. 361. 

6  Almost the same ceremonial of inauguration was observed at the coronation of Macdonald, king of the Isles. Martin says, that “there was a big stone of seven feet square, in which there was a deep impression made to receive the feet of Mack-Donald, for he was crowned king of the Isles standing in this stone; and swore that he would continue his vassals in the possession of their lands, and do exact justice to all his subjects; and then his father’s sword was put into his hands. The bishop of Argyle and seven priests anointed him king, in presence of all the heads of the tribes in the isles and continent, and were his vassals; at which time the orator rehearsed a catalogue of his ancestors.” – Western Islands, p. 241. 

7  Sir R. Gordon’s History of the Earldom of Sutherland, p. 36. 

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

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

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

11  Fordun a Goodal, vol. ii. p. 380. 

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

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

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

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

15  Shaw’s History of Moray, pp. 260, 261. 

16  Vol. iii. pp. 76, 77. 

17  Vol. iii. p. 72. 

18  Tales of a Grandfather, vol. ii. 

19  For a more thorough discussion of this fight, see the account of the Clan Mackintosh in Vol. II. 

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

21 Winton, vol. ii. p. 369. 

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

23 Sir Robert Gordon, pp. 61, 62. 

24 Tytler, vol. iii. p. 177. The ballad of the Battle concludes thus:- 

There was not, sin’ King Kenneth’s days, 

Sic strange intestine cruel strife 

In Scotlande seen, as ilk man says, 

Where monie likelie lost their life; 

Whilk made divorce tween man and wife, 

And monie children fatherless, 

Whilk in this realm has been full rife; 

Lord help these lands! our wrangs redress! 


In July, on Saint James his evin, 

That four-and-twenty dismal day, 

Twelve hundred, ten score, and eleven 

Of years sin’ Christ, the soothe to say; 

Men will remember, as they may, 

When thus the veritie they knaw; 

And monie a ane will mourne for aye 

The brim battle of the Harlaw. 

25 “So ended one of Scotland’s most memorable battles. The contest between the Lowlanders and Donald’s host was a contest between foes, of whom their contemporaries would have said that their ever being in harmony with each other, or having a feeling of common interests and common nationality, was not within the range of rational expectations… It will be difficult to make those not familiar with the tone of feeling in Lowland Scotland at that time believe that the defeat of Donald of the Isles was felt as a more memorable deliverance even than that of Bannockburn.” – Burton, vol. iii. pp. 101, 102. 

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