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General History of the Highlands
Dissension among the Clan Chattan in 1526


The year 1526 was signalized by a great dissension among the clan Chattan. The chief and head of that clan was Lauchian Macintosh of Dunnachtan, "a verne honest and wyse gentleman," says Bishop Lesley, "an barroun of gude rent, quha keipit hes hole ken, friendes and tennentis in honest and guid rewll;" and according to Sir Robert Gordon, "a man of great possessions, and of such excellencies of witt and judgement, that with great commendation he did conteyn all his followers within the limits of ther dueties." The strictness with which this worthy chief curbed the lawless and turbulent dispositions of his clan raised up many enemies, who, as Bishop Lesley says, were "impacient of vertuous living." At the head of this restless party was James Maloolmeson, a near kinsman of the chief, who, instigated by his worthless companions, and the temptation of ruling the clan, murdered the good chief. Afraid to face the well-disposed part of the clan, to whom the chief was beloved, Malcolmeson, along with his followers, took refuge in the island in the looh of Rothiemurchus; but the enraged clan followed them to their hiding places and despatched them.

As the son of the deceased chief was of tender age, and unable to govern the clan, with common consent they made choice of Hector Macintosh, a bastard brother of the late chief, to act as captain till his nephew should arrive at manhood. In the meantime the Earl of Moray, who was uncle to young Macintosh, the former chief having been married to the Earl’s sister, took away his nephew and placed him under the care of his friends for the benefit of his education, and to bring him up virtuously. Hector Madintosh was greatly incensed at the removal of the child, and used every effort to get possession of him; but meeting with a refusal he became outrageous, and Iaid so many plans for accomplishing his object, that his intentions became suspected, as it was thought he could not wish so ardently for the custody of the child without some bad design. Baffled in every attempt, Hector, assisted by his brother William, collected a body of followers, and invaded the Earl of Moray’s lands. They overthrew the fort of Dykes, and besieged the castle of Tarnoway, the country surrounding which they plundered, burnt the houses of the inhabitants, and slew a number of men, women, and children. Raising the seige of Tamowar, Hector and his men then entered the country of the Ogilvies and laid siege to the castle of Pettens, which belonged to the Laird of Durnens, one of the families of the Ogilvies, and which, after some resistance, surrendered. No less than twenty-four gentlemen of the name of Ogilvie were massacred on this occasion. After this event the Macintoshes and the party of banditti they had collected, roamed over the whole of the adjoining country, carrying terror and dismay into every bosom, and plundering, burning, and destroying everything within their reach. To repress disorders which called so loudly for redress, King James V., by the advice of his council, granted a commission to the Earl of Moray to take measures accordingly. Having a considerable force put under his command, the earl went in pursuit of Macintosh and his party, and having surprised them, he took upwards of 300 of them and hanged them, along with William Macintosh, the brother of Hector. A singular instance of the fidelity of the Highlanders to their chiefs is afforded in the present case, where, out of such a vast number as suffered, not one would reveal the secret of Hector Macintosh’s retreat, although promised their lives for the discovery. "Ther faith wes so true to ther captane, that they culd not be persuaded, either by fair meanes, or by any terror of death, to break the same or to betray their master."

Seeing no hopes of escaping the royal vengeance but by a ready submission, Hector Macintosh, by advice of Alexander Dunbar, Dean of Moray, tendered his obedience to the king, which was accepted, and he was received into the royal favour. He did not, however, long survive, for he was assassinated in St Andrews by one James Spence, who was in consequence beheaded. After the death of Hector, the clan Chattan remained tranquil during the remiaining years of the minority of the young chief, who, according to Bishop Lesley, "wes sua well brocht up by the meenes of the Erie of Murray and the Laird of Phindlater in vertue, honestie, and civile poiicye, that after he had received the governement of his cuntrey, he was a mirrour of vertue to all the hieland captanis in Scotland." But the young chieftain’s "honestie and civile policye" not suiting the ideas of those who had concurred in the murder of his father, a conspiracy was formed against him by some of his nearest kinsmen to deprive him of his life, which unfortunately took effect.

The Highlands now enjoyed repose for some years. John Mackay died in 1529, and was succeeded by his brother Donald, who remained quiet during the life of Adam Earl of Sutherland, to whom his brother had twice granted his bond of service. But, upon the death of that nobleman, he began to molest the inhabitants of Sutherland. In 1542 he attacked the village of Knockartol, which he burnt; and at the same time he plundered Strathbroray. To oppose his farther progress, Sir Hugh Kennedy collected as many of the inhabitants of Sutherland as the shortness of the time would permit, and, being accompanied by Gilbert Gordon of Gartay, John Murray of Aberscors, his son Hutcheon Murray, and Mac-Mhic-Sheumais of Kihiernan, he attacked Mackay quite unawares near Alt-Na-Beth. Notwithstanding this unexpected attack, Mackay’s men met their assailants with great firmness, but the Strathnaver men were ultimately obliged to retreat with the loss of their booty and a great number of slain, amongst whom was John Mackean-Mac-Angus, chief of Sliochd-Mhic-Iain-Mhic-Hutcheon, in Edderachillis. Though closely pressed by Gilbert Gordon and Hutcheon Murray, Donald Mackay made good his retreat into Strathnaver.

By no means disheartened at his defeat, and anxious to blot out the stain which it had thrown upon him, he soon returned into Sutherland with a fresh force, and encamped near Skibo. Houcheon Murray collected some Sutherland men, and with them he attacked Mackay and kept him in check till an additional force which he expected should arrive. As soon as Mackay saw this new body of men approaching, with which he was quite unable to contend, he retreated suddenly into his own country, leaving several of his men dead on the field. This affair was called the skirmish of Loch-Buy. This mode of annoyance, which continued for some time, was put an end to by the apprehension of Donald Mackay, who, being brought before the Earls of Huntly and Sutherland, was, by their command, committed a close prisoner to the castle of Foulis, where he remained a considerable time in captivity. At last, by means of Donald Mac-Iain-Mhoir, a Strathnaver man, he effected his escape, and, returning home, reconciled himself with the Earl of Sutherland, to whom he gave his bond .of service and manrent, on the 8th of April, 1549.


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