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Book of Scottish Story
Lachlan More


A TRADITIONARY TALE OF THE WESTERN HIGHLANDS

Lachlan More Maclean, of Duart, was one of the most remarkable men connected with the Highlands of Scotland in his days. His father having died early, King James the Fifth took a considerable interest in this young man, and he was educated at his expense. Lachlan’s grandfather had been at the fatal battle of Flodden, with a large body of his clan, and he was killed in the immediate defence of his unfortunate prince.

The son and successor of James the Fourth was not unmindful of this, and he was desirous of forming a matrimonial connection between the young chief and the heiress of Athole. Preliminaries having been settled among the parties, the bridegroom was suddenly called to his own country, and on his way he visited the Earl of Glencairn, at his castle on the banks of the Clyde. Cards were introduced in the evening, and Maclean’s partner was one of the earl’s daughters. In the course of the evening the game happened to be changed, and the company again cut for partners ; on which another of the daughters whispered in her sister’s ear, that if the Highland chief had been her partner, she would not have hazarded the loss of him by cutting anew. The chief heard the remark, and was so pleased with the compliment, and so fascinated with the charm of Lady Margaret Cunningham, that a match was made up between them, and they were speedily married. Maclean thus gave great offence to the king, and lost the richest heiress at that time in Scotland.

Lachlan More’s sister was married to Angus Macdonald of Islay and Kintyre, then the most powerful of the branches which sprung from the Lord of the Isles. These two chiefs appear to have been much of the same disposition,—both were violent, ambitious, and turbulent. Their bloody feuds were productive of much misery to their people, and ended injuriously to all parties. Macdonald, on his return from the Isle of Skye, was forced to take shelter in that portion of the island of Jura which was the property of Maclean; and it unfortunately happened that two villains of the clan Macdonald, whose bad conduct had induced them to take refuge in Mull, to escape punishment from their own chief, happened to be than in Jura. It would seem that they delighted in mischief, and they adopted an expedient which effectually answered their purpose.

Maclean had some cattle close to the place where the Macdonalds lay; the two renegades slaughtered some of these, and carried away many more of them. They left Jura before daylight, and contrived to convey information to Lachlan More that Macdonald had done him all this damage. Duart collected a considerable number of his men, and arrived in Jura before the Macdonalds departed. Without making proper inquiry into the circumstances, he rashly attacked the other party, and many of them were slain, but their chief escaped. It appears to be admitted on all hands that this was the beginning of the sanguinary warfare which followed, and Maclean was certainly culpable. Mutual friends interfered, and endeavoured to effect a reconciliation between persons so nearly connected. The Earl of Argyle was maternal uncle to Lachlan, and chiefly by his powerful intercession the further effusion of blood was prevented for a time.

Macdonald had occasion to be again in Skye, and on his return he was invited by Maclean to visit him in the castle of Duart. After dinner, some unfortunate circumstance occurred which produced a quarrel. Tradition varies in regard to what immediately followed. It seems, however, that Maclean demanded that the other should yield to him possession of the whole island of Islay, of which he then held but the half. Some consideration was to have been given in return for this concession ; but Maclean chose to detain as hostages, to ensure the fulfilrnent of the treaty, the eldest son of Macdonald, then a boy, and also a brother, together with several other persons of some note. Maclean soon after set out for Islay to take possession of that island. His nephew accompanied him, but the other hostages were left in Mull until the whole business should be arranged. What ensued was no more than might have been expected: Macdonald pretended to be disposed for an amicable adjustment of the terms formerly agreed upon, and prevailed on Lachlan More to visit him at his house in Islay, where nothing appeared to create alarm.

After supper, Maclean and his people retired to a barn for rest; but Macdonald soon knocked at the door, and said he had forgotten to give his guests their reposing draught, and desired to be admitted for that purpose. A large force had by this time been collected, and Lachlan soon understood that he would be made to suffer for his former conduct. He was determined, however, to make a resolute defence. He stood in the door fully armed, and in his left hand he held his nephew, who lay with him. He was a man of extraordinary size and strength, as the appellation ‘More’ indicates, and his situation required all his prowess. Macdonald, desirous to save the life of his son, agreed to permit Lachlan to quit the barn, which had by this time been set on fire. The greater part of his attendants also followed their chief; but the two Macdonalds, who had first fomented this unhappy quarrel, were consumed in the flames.

Macdonald of Islay having now recovered possession of his son, was determined to put Maclean and all his people to death; but fortunately for them, he had a fall from his horse, by which one of his legs was fractured. This retarded the execution of his fell purpose, and enabled the Earl of Argyle to make a representation of the case to the government. Maclean was permitted to return to Mull; but several of the principal gentlemen of his clan, who had accompanied them to Islay, were retained as hostages for the safety of those who still remained in the same condition at Duart.

Very soon after Maclean’s departure from Islay, Macdonald of Ardnamurchan, commonly distinguished by the patronimic of ‘Mac-vic-Ian’, the son of John’s son, arrived there, and falsely informed Macdonald that Lachlan More had destroyed all his hostages on his return home. This was retaliated on Maclean’s hostages, who were all put to death, and the next day the other hostages arrived safely from Mull.

This is a specimen of the deplorable state of barbarism into which Scotland sank during the minority of James the Sixth. The whole kingdom was full of blood and rapine, but the Highlands were in the worst condition of all. For a century afterwards very little amelioration seems to have taken place; but it is pleasing to reflect that for the last fifty years there is not in Europe a country where the law bears more absolute sway than in the Scottish Highlands.

Macdonald and Maclean were both committed to ward, one in the Bass, and the other in the Castle of Edinburgh, where they were detained for several years. They were liberated on strong assurances of peaceable conduct, and on giving hostages. Maclean was afterwards ordered to join the Earl of Argyle, who took the command of the army appointed to oppose the Earls of Huntly and Errol, then in open rebellion against the government of James the Sixth.

The two armies encountered at Glenlivat, and the rebels were victorious. Argyle, though brave, was young and inexperienced, nor were all his officers faithful to their trust. Innes, in his ‘History of Moray’, asserts that some of the principal men of his own name were in correspondence with the enemy ; and other writers ascribe much effect to the cannon used by the rebel earls. On this occasion Lachlan More was greatly distinguished for bravery and for prudence, having acted the part of an experienced commander, and gained the applause of both armies.

It were well if he had always confined his warfare to such honourable combats. Soon after we find him again engaged in Islay against his nephew, James Macdonald, Angus, his former antagonist, being dead. On this occasion, it would seem, however, that he was disposed for peace. Lachlan had embraced the Protestant religion; and it was a practice with his Catholic ancestors to walk thrice in procession around the shores of a small island lying in Lochspelvie, invoking success to the expedition on which they were about to be engaged. With singular absurdity, Lachlan resolved to show his contempt for Catholic superstition: he walked thrice around the island, but his ancestors had always walked right about, or in the same course with the sun; but this enlightened Protestant reversed it. The day following he departed with his forces for Islay, and he never returned. The weather became boisterous, and he was compelled to bear away for Island Nare, in the mouth of Loch Gruinard. A day was appointed for a conference between himself and his nephew; and Lachlan, attended by a small portion of his men, was to be met by Macdonald with an equal number. Macdonald had, however, placed a large body in ambush at some distance. The conference commenced under favourable appearances, but a misunderstanding soon arose, and swords were drawn. A dreadful conflict ensued, and Maclean fought with astonishing bravery. The reserve which had lain concealed joined their friends ; but both were on the eve of being defeated, when a body of auxiliaries from the island of Arran arrived, and Lachlan More was killed, with all those who had accompanied him on this fatal expedition. [Lachlan More was killed in the year 1598.]

His son had remained on the island with a much larger force, but the pacific appearances deceived him, and he neglected to keep the boats afloat. When the tight commenced on shore, he and his men were looking on, but could not launch their heavy boats, or render assistance. The Macdonalds suffered severe loss, and James (afterwards Sir James) was left for dead on the field.

A poor woman of his own clan, assisted by her son, conveyed Lachlan’s body on a sledge to the church of Kilchomen, in Islay, where she got him buried. By the jolting of the sledge, the features of the body acquired a particular expression, at which the young man smiled. His name was Macdonald, and his mother was so enraged at his sneer, that she made a thrust at him with a dirk, and wounded him severely.—‘Lit. Gazette’.


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