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The Prophecies of The Brahan Seer
Sketch of the Family of Seaforth


THE most popularly-received theory regarding the Mackenzies is that they are descended from an Irishman of the name of Colinas Fitzgerald, son of the Earl of Kildare or Desmond, who distinguished himself by his bravery at the battle of Largs, in 1263. It is said that his courage and valour were so singularly distinguished that King Alexander the Third took him under his special protection, and granted him a charter of the lands of Kintail, in Wester Ross, bearing date from Kincardine, January the 9th, 1263.

According to the fragmentary “Record of Icolmkill,” upon which the claim of the Irish origin of the clan is founded, a personage, described as “Peregrinus et Hibernus nobilis ex familia Geraldinorum” - that is “a noble stranger and Hibernian, of the family of the Geraldines” - being driven from Ireland with a considerable number of his followers was, about 1261, very graciously received by the King, and afterwards remained at his court. Having given powerful aid to the Scots at the Battle of Largs, two years afterwards he was rewarded by a grant of the lands of Kintail, which were erected into a free barony by royal charter, dated as above mentioned. Mr. Skene, however, says that no such document as this Icolmkill Fragment was ever known to exist, as nobody has ever seen it; and as for Alexander’s charter, he declares (Highlanders, vol. ii., p. 235) that it “bears the most palpable marks of having been a forgery of a later date, and one by no means happy in the execution”. Besides, the words “Colino Hiberno” contained in it do not prove this Colin to have been an Irishman, as Hiberni was at that period a common appellation for the Gael of Scotland. Burke, in the “Peerage” has adopted the Irish origin of the clan, and the chiefs themselves seem to have adopted this theory, without having made any particular inquiry as to whether it was well founded or not. The Mackenzie chiefs were thus not exempt from the almost universal, but most unpatriotic, fondness exhibited by many other Highland chiefs for a foreign origin. In examining the traditions of our country, we are forcibly struck with this peculiarity of taste. Highlanders despising a Caledonian source trace their ancestors from Ireland, Norway, Sweden, or Normandy. The progenitors of the Mackenzies can be traced with greater certainty, and with no less claim to antiquity, from a native ancestor, Gillean (Cailean) Og, or Colin the Younger, a son of Cailean na h’Airde, ancestor of the Earls of Ross; and, from the MS. of 1450, their Gaelic descent may now be considered beyond dispute. [See Nos. XXVI. and XXVII. of the Celtic Magazine, Vol. III., in which this question is discussed at length.]

Until the forfeiture of the Lords of the Isles, the Mackenzies always held their lands from the Earls of Ross, and followed their banner in the field, but after the forfeiture of that great and powerful earldom, the Mackenzies rapidly rose on the ruins of the Macdonalds to the great power, extent of territorial possession, and almost regal magnificence for which they were afterwards distinguished among the other great clans of the north. They, in the reign of James the First, acquired a very powerful influence in the Highlands, and became independent of any superior but the Crown. Mackenzie and his followers were, in fact, about the most potent chief and clan in the whole Highlands.

Kenneth, son of Angus, is supposed to have commenced his rule in Kintail about 1278, and was succeeded by his son, John in 1304, who was in his turn succeeded by his son, Kenneth. John, Kenneth’s son, was called Iain MacChoinnich, John MacKenneth, or John son of Kenneth, hence the family name Mackenny or Mackenzie. The name Kenneth in course of time became softened down to Kenny or Kenzie. It is well known that, not so very long ago, z in this and all other names continued to be of the same value as the letter y, just as we still find it in Menzies, MacFadzean, and, many others. There seems to be no doubt whatever that this is the real origin of the Mackenzies, and of their name.

Murchadh, or Murdo, son of Kenneth, it is said, received a charter of the lands of Kintail from David II.

In 1463, Alexander Mackenzie of Kintail obtained the lands of Strathgarve, and other possessions, from John, Earl of Ross. They afterwards strenuously and successfully opposed every attempt made by the Macdonalds to obtain possession of the forfeited earldom. Alexander was succeeded by his son, Kenneth, who married Lady Margaret Macdonald, daughter of the forfeited Earl John, Lord of the Isles; but through some cause, [For full details of this act, which afterwards proved the cause of such strife and bloodshed, see Mackenzie’s “History of the Clan Mackenzie”.] Mackenzie divorced the lady, and sent her home in a most ignominious and degrading manner. She had only one eye, and Kintail sent her home riding a one-eyed steed, accompanied by a one-eyed servant, followed by a one-eyed dog. All these circumstances exasperated the lady’s family to such an extent as to make them ever after the mortal and sworn enemies of the Mackenzies.

Kenneth Og, his son by the divorced wife, became chief in 1493. Two years afterwards, he and Farquhar Mackintosh were imprisoned by James V. in Edinburgh Castle. In 1497, however, they both made their escape, but were, on their way to the Highlands, seized, in a most treacherous manner, at Torwood, by the laird of Buchanan. Kenneth Og made a stout resistance, but he was ultimately slain, and Buchanan sent his head as a present to the King.

Leaving no issue, Kenneth was succeeded by his brother John, whose mother, Agnes Fraser, his father’s second wife, was a daughter of Lovat. He had several other sons, from whom have sprung other branches of the Mackenzies. As John was very young, his uncle, Hector Roy (Eachainn Ruadh) Mackenzie, progenitor of the house of Gairloch, assumed command of the clan and the guardianship of the young chief. Gregory informs us, that “under his rule the Clan Kenzie became involved in feuds with the Munroes and other clans; and Hector Roy himself became obnoxious to the Government as a disturber of the public peace. His intentions towards the young chief of Kintail were considered very dubious, and the apprehensions of the latter and his friends having been roused, Hector was compelled by law to yield up the estate and the command of the tribe to the proper heir.” [Highlands and Isles of Scotland, p. 111.] John, the lawful heir, on obtaining possession, at the call of James IV., marched at the head of his clan to the fatal field of Flodden, where he was made prisoner by the English, but afterwards escaped.

On King James the Fifth’s expedition to the Western Isles in 1540, John joined him at Kintail, and accompanied him throughout his whole journey. He fought with his clan at the battle of Pinkie in 1547, and died in 1561, when he was succeeded by his son, Kenneth, who had two sons by a daughter of the Earl of Athole - Colin and Roderick - the latter becoming ancestor of the Mackenzies of Redcastle, Kincraig, Rosend, and several other branches. This Colin, who was the eleventh chief, fought for Queen Mary at the battle of Langside. He was twice married. By his first wife, Barbara Grant of Grant - whose elopement with him will be found described in a poem in the Highland Ceilidh, Vol. I. pp. 215-220, of the Celtic Magazine - he had four sons and three daughters, namely - Kenneth, who became his successor; Sir Roderick Mackenzie of Tarbat, ancestor of the Earls of Cromartie; Colin, ancestor of the Mackenzies of Kennock and Pitlundie; and Alexander, ancestor of the Mackenzies of Kilcoy, and other families of the name. By Mary, eldest daughter of Roderick Mackenzie of Davochmaluag, he had a natural son, Alexander, from whom descended the Mackenzies of Applecross, Coul, Delvin, Assynt, and others of note in history.

Kenneth, the eldest son, soon after succeeding his father, was engaged in supporting Torquil Macleod of Lewis, surnamed the “Conanach,” the disinherited son of the Macleod of Lewis, and who was closely related to himself. Torquil conveyed the barony of Lewis to the Chief of the Mackenzies by formal deed, the latter causing the usurper to the estate, and his followers, to be beheaded in 1597. He afterwards, in the following year, joined Macleod of Harris and Macdonald of Sleat, in opposing James the Sixth’s project for the colonisation of the Lewis by the well-known adventurers from the “Kingdom of Fife”.

In 1602, the old and long-standing feud between the Mackenzies and the Macdonalds of Glengarry, concerning their lands in Wester Ross, was renewed with infuriated violence. Ultimately, after great bloodshed and carnage on both sides, an arrangement was arrived at by which Glengarry renounced for ever, in favour of Mackenzie, the Castle of Strome and all his lands in Lochalsh, Lochcarron, and other places in the vicinity, so long the bone of contention between these powerful and ferocious chieftains. In 1607, a Crown charter for these lands was granted to Kenneth, thus materially adding to his previous possessions, power, and influence. “All the Highlands and Isles, from Adnamurchan to Strathnaver, were either the Mackenzies’property or under their vassalage, some few excepted,” and all around them were bound to them “by very strict bonds of friendship”. In this same year Kenneth received, through some influence at Court, a gift, under the Great Seal, of the Island of Lewis, in virtue of, and thus confirming, the resignation of this valuable and extensive property previously made in his favour by Torquil Macleod. A complaint was, however, made to his Majesty by those of the colonists who survived, and Mackenzie was again forced to resign it. By patent, dated the 19th of November, 1609, he was created a peer of the realm, as Lord Mackenzie of Kintail. Soon after, the colonists gave up all hopes of being able to colonize the Lewis, and the remaining adventurers - Sir George Hay and Sir James Spens - were easily prevailed upon to sell their rights to Lord Mackenzie, who at the same time succeeded in securing a grant from the king of that part of the island forfeited by Lord Balmerino, another of the adventurers. He (Lord Mackenzie) now secured a commission of fire and sword against the islanders, soon arrived with a strong force, and speedily reduced them to obedience, with the exception of Neil Macleod and a few of his followers. The struggle between these two continued for a time, but ultimately Mackenzie managed to obtain possession of the whole island, and it remained in the possession of the family until it was sold by the “Last of the Seaforths”.

This, the first, Lord Mackenzie of Kintail died in 1611. One of his sons, Simon Mackenzie of Lochslin, by his second wife, Isabella, daughter of Sir Alexander Ogilvie of Powrie, was the father of the celebrated Sir George Mackenzie, already referred to. His eldest son, Colin, who succeeded him as second Lord Mackenzie of Kintail, was created first Earl of Seaforth, by patent dated the 3rd December, 1623, to himself and his heirs male. Kenneth, Colin’s grandson, and third Earl of Seaforth, distinguished himself by his loyalty to Charles the Second during the Commonwealth. He supported the cause of the Royalists so long as there was an opportunity of fighting for it in the field, and when forced to submit to the ruling powers, he was committed to prison, where, with much firmness of mind and nobility of soul, he endured a tedious captivity during many years, until he was ultimately released, after the Restoration, by authority of the king. He married a lady descended from a branch of his own family, Isabella Mackenzie, daughter of Sir John Mackenzie of Tarbat, and sister of the first Earl of Cromartie. To her cruel and violent conduct may undoubtedly be traced the remarkable doom which awaited the family of Seaforth, which was predicted in such an extraordinary manner by Coinneach Odhar, fulfilled in its minutest details, and which we are, in the following pages, to place before the reader.


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