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Conflicts of the Clans

The Burning of the Dornoch Cathedral

John, Earl of Sutherland, together with his lady, being poisoned, the year 1567, his son Alexander (being young) succeeded unto him, whose ward and marriage George Earl of Caithness had right to, and withal gets the custody of Earl Alexander during the time of his ward; whereat Alexander's most tender friends (and chiefly the Murrays of Sutherland) being grieved, they lay a plot among themselves to convey Earl Alexander from the Earl of Caithness; which they effect, and deliver him to the Earl of Huntley, with whom he staid until his ward was expired, the year 1573, during which time the Earl of Caithness kept possession of the land; whereupon divers troubles did ensue.

Hutcheon Murray, with divers of his friends, do possess themselves with the town of Dornoch and the adjacent lands, being formerly possessed by them. The Earl of Caithness sent his son John, Master of Caithness, with a number of men to remove the Murrays from Dornoch. Y Mackay did also accompany the Master of Caithness in this journey. Being come to Dornoch, they besiege the Murrays there; who, for the space of some days, issued forth and skirmished with the enemy. In end, the Master of Caithness burnt the town and the cathedral church, which the inhabitants could not longer defend. Yet, after the town was lost, they kept the Castle, the enemy still assaulting them, but in vain, without any success, for the space of a month.

Then, by the mediation of some indifferent friends, they surrendered the Castle, and gave three pledges that, within two months, they should depart from Sutherland; which they did, and retired themselves to the Earl of Huntley, with whom they staid until the expiring of the Earl Alexander's ward; at which time they recovered their ancient possessions. Notwithstanding that the Murrays had retired themselves, as they had promised, yet they were no sooner departed, but the pledges were beheaded.

During the time that the Sutherland men staid with the Earl of Huntley, they served him in his wars against the Forbeses, and chiefly at Crabstaine, where they did good service against the foot supply that was sent by the Regent to assist the Forbeses.

This burning of Dornoch and of the Cathedral Church happened in the year of God 1570. The next year following (which was 1571), George, Earl of Caithness, became jealous of some plots which his eldest son John, Master of Caithness, and Y Mackay of Strathnaver had contrived against him, and thereupon apprehended his son John, whom he imprisoned closely at Girnigo, where he died, after seven years' captivity. Y Mackay, perceiving that John, Master of Caithness, was imprisoned by his father, he retired home into Strathnaver, and died within six months thereafter, the same year of God 1571.


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