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General History of the Highlands
Continued strife through to 1601


The warlike operations in the north seem, for a time, to have drawn off the attention of the clans from their own feuds; but in the year 1597 a tumult occurred at Loggiewreid in Ross, which had almost put that province and the adjoining country into a flame. The quarrel began between John Mac-Gille-Calum, brother of Gille-Calum, Laird of Rasay, and Alexander Bane, brother of Duncan Bane of Tulloch, in Ross. The Monroes took the side of the Banes, and the Mackenzies aided John Mac-Gille-Calum. In this tumult John MacGille-Caluin and John Mac-Murthow-MacWilliam, a gentleman of the clan Kenzie, and three persons of that surname, were killed on the one side, and on the other were slain John Monroe of Culcraigie, his brother Houcheon Monroe, and John Monroe Robertson. This occurrence renewed the ancient animosity between the clan Kenzie and the Monroes, and both parties began to assemble their friends for the purpose of attacking one another; but their differences were in some measure happily reconciled by the mediation of common friends.

In the following year the ambition and avarice of Sir Lauchlan Maclean, of whom notice has been already taken, brought him to an untimely end, having been slain in Islay by Sir James Macdonald, his nephew, eldest son of Angus Macdonald of Kintyre. Sir Lauchlan had long had an eye upon the possessions of the clan Ronald in Islay; but having failed in extorting a conveyance thereof from Angus Macdonald in the way before alluded to, he endeavoured, by his credit at court and by bribery or other means, to obtain a grant of these lands from the crown in 1595. At this period Angus Macdonald had become infirm from age, and his son, Sir James Macdonald was too young to make any effectual resistance to the newly acquired claims of his covetous uncle. After obtaining the gift, Sir Lauchlan collected his people and friends, and invaded Islay, for the purpose of taking possession of the lands which belonged to the clan Donald. Sir James Macdonald, on hearing of his uncle’s landing, collected his friends, and landed in Islay to dispossess Sir Lauchlan of the property. To prevent the effusion of blood, some common friends of the parties interposed, and endeavoured to bring about an adjustment of their differences. They prevailed upon Sir James to agree to resign the half of the island to his uncle during the life of the latter, provided he would acknowledge that he held the same for personal service to the clan Donald in the same manner as Maclean’s progenitors had always held the Rhinns of Islay; and he moreover offered to submit the question to any impartial friends Maclean might choose, under this reasonable condition, that in case they should not agree, his Majesty should decide. But Maclean, contrary to the advice of his best friends, would listen to no proposals short of an absolute surrender of the whole of the island. Sir James therefore resolved to vindicate his right by an appeal to arms, though his force was far inferior to that of Sir Lauchlan. A desperate struggle took place, in which great valour was displayed on both sides. Sir Lauchlan was killed fighting at the head of his men, who were at length compelled to retreat to their boats and vessels. Besides their chief, the Macleans left 80 of their principal men and 200 common soldiers dead on the field of battle. Lauchlan Barroch-Maclean, son of Sir Lauchlan, was dangerously wounded, but escaped. Sir James Macdonald was also so severely wounded that he never fully recovered from his wounds. About 30 of the clan Donald were killed and about 60 wounded. Sir Lauchlan, according to Sir Robert Gordon, had consulted a witch before he undertook this journey into Islay, who advised him, in the first place, not to land upon the island on a Thursday; secondly, that he should not drink of the water of a well near Groynard; and lastly, she told him that one Maclean should be slain at Groynard. "The first he transgressed unwillingly," says Sir Robert, "being driven into the island of Ila by a tempest upon a Thursday; the second he transgressed negligentlie, haveing drank of that water befor he wes awair; and so he wes killed ther at Groinard, as wes foretold him, bet doubtful]ie. Thus endeth all these that doe trust in such kynd of responces, or doe hunt after them!"

On hearing of Maclean’s death and the defeat of his men, the king became so highly incensed against the clan Donald that, finding he had a right to dispose of their possessions both in Kintyre and Islay, he made a grant of them to the Earl of Argyle and the Campbells. This gave rise to a number of bloody conflicts between the Campbells and the clan Donald in the years 1614, -15, and -16, which ended in the ruin of the latter.

The rival houses of Sutherland and Caithness had now lived on friendly terms for some years. After spending about eighteen months at court, and attending a convention of the estates at Edinburgh in July, 1598, John, sixth Earl of Sutherland, went to the Continent, where he remained till the month of September, 1600. The Earl of Caithness, deeming the absence of the Earl of Sutherland a fit opportunity for carrying into effect some designs against him, caused William Mackay to obtain leave from his brother Houcheon Mackay to hunt in the policy of Durines belonging to the Earl of Sutherland. The EarI of Caithness thereupon assembled all his vassals and dependents, and, under the pretence of hunting, made demonstrations for entering Sutherland or Strathnaver. As soon as Mackay was informed of his intentions, he sent a message to the Earl of Caithness, intimating to him that he would not permit him to enter either of these countries, or to cross the marches. The Earl of Caithness returned a haughty answer; but he did not carry his threat of invasion into execution on account of the arrival of the Earl of Sutherland from the Continent. As the Earl of Caithness still continued to threaten an invasion, the Earl of Sutherland collected his forces, in the month of July 1601, to oppose him. Mackay, with his countrymen, soon joined the Earl of Sutherland at Lagan-Gaincaimhd in Dirichat, where he was soon also joined by the Monroes under Robert Monroe of Contaligh, and the laird of Assynt with his countrymen.

While the Earl of Sutherland’s force was thus assembling, the Earl of Caithness advanced towards Sutherland with his army. The two armies encamped at the distance of about three miles asunder, near the hill of Bengrime. In expectation of a battle on the morning after their encampment, the Sutherland men took up a position in a plain which lay between the two armies, called Leathad Reidh, than which a more convenient station could not have been selected. But the commodiousness of the plain was not the only reason for making the selection. There had been long a prophetic tradition in these countries that a battle was to be fought on this ground between the inhabitants of Sutherland, assisted by the Strathnaver men, and the men of Caithness; that although the Sutherland men were to be victorious their loss would be great, and that the loss of the Strathnaver men should even be greater, but that the Caithness men should be so completely overthrown that they should not be able, for a considerable length of time, to recover the blow which they were to receive. This superstitious idea made such an impression upon the minds of the men of Sutherland that it was with great difficulty they could be restrained from immediately attacking their enemies.

The Earl of Caithness, daunted by this circumstance, and being diffident of the fidelity of some of his people, whom he had used with great cruelty, sent messengers to the Earl of Sutherland expressing his regret at what had happened, stating that he was provoked to his present measures by the insolence of Mackay who had repeatedly dared him to the attack and that, if the Earl of Sutherland would pass over the affair, he would permit him and his army to advance twice as far into Caithness as he had marched into Sutherland. The Earl of Sutherland, on receipt of this offer, called a council of his friends to deliberate upon it. Mackay and some others advised the earl to decline the proposal, and attack the Earl of Caithness; while others of the earl’s advisers thought it neither fit nor reasonable to risk as many lives when such ample satisfaction was offered. A sort of middle course was, therefore, adopted by giving the Earl of Caithness an opportunity to escape if he inclined. The messengers were accordingly sent back with this answer, that if the Earl of Caithness and his army would remain where they lay till sunrise next morning they might be assured of an attack.

When this answer was delivered in the Earl of Caithness’ camp, his men got so alarmed that the earl, with great difficulty, prevented them from running away immediately. He remained on the field all night watching them in person, encouraging them to remain, and making great promises to them if they stood firm. But his entreaties were quite unavailing, for as soon as the morning dawned, on perceiving the approach of the Earl of Sutherland’s army, they fled from the field in the utmost confusion, jostling and overthrowing one another in their flight, and leaving their whole baggage behind them. The Earl of Sutherland resolved to pursue the flying enemy; but, before proceeding on the pursuit, his army collected a quantity of stones which they accumulated into a heap to commemorate the flight of the Caitbness men, which heap was called Carn-Teiclie, that is, the Flight Cairn.

Not wishing to encounter the Earl of Sutherland under the adverse circumstances which had occurred, the Earl of Caitlmess, after entering his own territories, sent a message to his pursuer to the effect that having complied with his request in withdrawing his army, he hoped hostile proceedings would cease, and that if the Earl of Sutherland should advance with his army into Caithness, Earl George would not hinder him but he suggested to him the propriety of appointing some gentlemen on both sides to see the respective armies dissolved. The Earl of Sutherland acceded to this proposal, and sent George Gray of Cuttle, eldest son of Gilbert Gray of Sordell, with a company of resolute men into Caithness to see the army of the Earl of Caithness broken up. The Earl of Caithness, in his turn, despatched Alexander Bane, chief of the Caithness Banes, who witnessed the dismissal of the Earl of Sutherland’s army.

About the period in question, great commotions took place in the north-west isles, in consequence of a quarrel between Donald Gorm Macdonald of Slate, and Sir Roderick Macleod of Harris, arising out of the following circumstances. Donald Gorm Macdonald, who had married the sister of Sir Roderick, instigated by jealousy, had conceived displeasure at her and put her away. Having complained to her brother of the treatment thus received, Sir Roderick sent a message to Macdonald requiring him to take back his wife. Instead of complying with this request, Macdonald brought an action of divorce against her, and having obtained decree therein, married the sister of Kenneth Mackenzie, lord of Kintail. Sir Roderick, who considered himself disgraced and his family dishonoured by such proceedings, assembled all his countrymen and his tribe, the Siol-Thormaid, without delay, and invaded with fire and sword the lands of Macdonald in the isle of Skye, to which he laid claim as his own. Macdonald retaliated by landing in Harris with his forces, which he laid waste, and after killing some of the inhabitants retired with a large booty in cattle. To make amends for this loss, Sir Roderick invaded Uist, which belonged to Macdonald, and despatched his cousin, Donald Glas Macleod, vith 40 men, into the interior, to lay the island waste, and to carry off a quantity of goods and cattle, which the inhabitants had placed within the precincts of the church of Killtrynard as a sanctuary. This exploit turned out to be very serious, as Donald Macleod and his party were most unexpectedly attacked in the act of carrying off their prey, by John Mac-Iain-Mhic-Sheumais, a kimsman of Macdonald, at the head of a body of 12 men who had remained in the island, by whom Donald Macleod and the greater part of his men were cut to pieces, and the booty rescued. Sir Roderick, thinking that the force which had attacked his cousin was much greater than it was, retired from the island intending to return on a future day with greater force to revenge his loss.

This odious system of warfare continued till the hostile parties had almost exterminated one another; and to such extremities were they reduced by the ruin and desolation which followed, that they were compelled to eat horses dogs, cats, and other animals, to preserve miserable existence. To put an end, if possible, at once to this destructive contest, Macdonald collected all his remaining forces, with the determination of striking a decisive blow at his opponent; and accordingly, in the year 1601, he entered Sir Roderick’s territories with the design of bringing him to battle. Sir Roderick was then in Argyle, soliciting aid and advice from the Earl of Argyle against the clan Donald; but on hearing of the approach of Macdonald, Alexander Macleod, brother of Sir Roderick, resolved to try the result of a battle. Assembling, therefore, all the inhabitants of his brother’s lands, together with the whole tribe of the Siol-Thormaid, and some of the Siol-Thorquil, he encamped close by the hill of Benquhillin, in Skye, resolved to give battle to the clan Donald next morning. Accordingly, on the arrival of morning, an obstinate and deadly fight took place, which lasted the whole day, each side contending with the utmost valour for victory; but at length the clan Donald overthrew their opponents. Alexander Macleod was wounded and taken prisoner, along with Neill-Mac-Alastair-Ruaidh, and 30 others of the choicest men of the Siol-Thormaid. Iain-Mac-Thormaid and Thornaid-Mac-Thormaid, two near kinsmen of Sir Roderick, and several others, were slain.

After this affair, a reconciliation took place between Macdonald and Sir Roderick, at the solicitation of old Angus Macdonald of Kintyre, the laird of Coil, and other friends, when Macdlonald delivered up to Sir Roderick the prisoners he had taken at Benquhillin; but although these parties never again showed any open hostility, they brought several actions against each other, the one claiming from the other certain parts of his possessions.


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