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General History of the Highlands
Disturbances through to Robert the Bruce


Reign of Alexander I, David I, Angus the Earl of Moray, the Murrays, Somerled, thane of Argyle and the Isles, Malcolm IV, William the Lion, the Saxons, Harold, the powerful Earl of Orkney and Caithness, Donald Bane or MacWilliam, Alexander II, Earl of Ross, Alexander III, Haco and the battle of Largs, King Robert Bruce, battle of bannockburn, foundation of the Stewart dynasty.

The reign of Alexander I was disturbed, about the year 1116, by an attempt made by the men of Moray and Merns to surprise the king while enjoying himself at his favorite residence at Invergowrie, on the north bank of the Tay, not far from its mouth. The king, however, showed himself more than a match for 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 Morgnaich or sons of Morgan, the ancient name of the Mackays, appearing in the Book of the Deer as owning possessions and power in Buchan in the 10th or 11th century.

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 dispatched the gallant Earl Gilchirst 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 Unquhart, near the Spey, ready to give him battle. After passing the Spey, the noblemen in the king's army reconnoitered 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, the king, by the advice of his nobles, ordained that every family in Moray which had been engaged in the rebellion should, within a limited time, remove out of Moray to other parts of the kingdom, where lands would be assigned to them, and that their places should be supplied with people from other parts of the kingdom. For the performance of this order, they have hostages, it is said, 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"; 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.

About this time Somerled, the ambitious and powerful lord of the Isles, made another and a last attempt upon the kings' authority. Having collected a large force, chiefly from 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 Saxons 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 Mangarvy 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 excecuted 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 M'Intagart, the Earl of Ross. In 122, notwithstanding the formidable obsctacles 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 feld 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, names Gillespoc M'Scolane. 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 Ewan, 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 honorable 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 looks, approached the king, and in bended and reverential attitude, recited, from memory, in his native language, the genealogy of all the Scottish kings, deducing the descent of the youthful monarch from Gathetus, the fabulous founder of the nation. The reign of this prince was distinguished by the entire subjugation of the western islands to the power of the Scottish crown. The Scandinavian settlers were allowed to leave the islands, if inclined, and such of them as remained were bound to observe 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 utelie extinguished and slain". The Monroes and Dingwalls lost a great many men. Dingwall of Kildrum, 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.

In 1263, the aged king of Norway, sailed with a large and powerful fleet, determined to enforce acknowledgement 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 honorable exception being the stanch Ewen of Argyle. Meantime Haco brought his fleet to anchor in the Frith of Clyde, between Arran and the Ayreshire coast, his men committing ravages on the neighboring 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. (Click here to read an EText which includes mention of Hakon)Those of the islemen 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 amuscade 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 of 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 chiefs (Mackay, Mackintosh, Macpherson, Cameron, Sinclair, Campbell, Menzies, Maclean, Sutherland, Robertson, Grant, Fraser, Macfarlane, Ross, Macgregor, Munro, Mackenzie and Macquarrie) 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 accompanies 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 therby 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.

Pictures below are copyright Sunnyside Studio

Statue of Robert the Bruce
Statue of Robert the Bruce

The Bannock Burn
The Bannock Burn

The Abbey Church
The Abbey Church

This impressive memorial to Scotland's greatest hero stands, where Bruce would have stood himself, looking out across the shallow valley of the Bannock Burn to the English army, led by Edward II coming up from Falkirk.

At this time, June 1314, Stirling was besieged and held by the English. Its garrison commander had agreed he would surrender it to the Scots if relief did not come by the 24th of June. Bruce positioned his forces so that the relieving force must fight him, before reaching Stirling.

Although greatly outnumbered, the Scots prevailed through Bruce's choice of ground; the formidable English cavalry being disadvantaged by the soft swampy terrain.
This unimpressive little stream rises on the slopes of Earls Hill and winds its way gently down to the Forth. The main English force crossed near here on the morning of June 24th. One can imagine the soft boggy ground being churned quickly into mud by thousands of hooves bringing the cavalry to a standstill and no match for the Scottish spearmen. Later that day the burn at this spot would have been choked with the bodies of horses and men, and the water red with blood.
Robert Bruce was buried under the Choir of the old church after his death in 1329. His name is found around the church tower. The body is not quite complete as his heart was removed and, after some adventures, was eventually interred at Melrose Abbey.

During some restoration work during the nineteenth century a body was revealed, which was described at the time as that of a tall man.

This view is from the south.

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